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Wrong Place, Wrong Time

By Mikari

Humor / Romance

Chapter 1

There are those who somehow always manage to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Sadly, I'm one of them. (Mainly ReaderxUreksa with a little ReaderxSakuro)

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Chapter 1: Cleru and Sugar

I woke up to the sound of mischievous giggles. The boat was no longer moving atop soft waves, and thus I concluded we must have reached the Wystern port. The voices from above deck continued and I wondered what that was about. I'm pretty sure Master Bron must have been in a good mood to let me sleep in on his boat, but I'm not sure why.

I make my way above deck. The sun has already set but I didn't sleep last night so I ended up sleeping during the afternoon and early evening. The stars are shining and the moon is full, providing enough light for me to clearly see a young man with silvery hair and a young woman with pink hair kissing, or more like making out, and it is once again confirmed that I am one of those people who inevitably will always find herself in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

I wanted to sneak past them and not disturb them, I really did, but when I opened the door, it gently tapped the girl's foot, stretched out in the way as she laid on top of the boy. The pink haired girl, whom at the time I did not realize was a summon creature, looked at me curiously, as if wondering where in the world I came from, while her silver haired companion blushed in the brightest shade of crimson red.

"I'm sorry!" I apologized, it was the only thing that came to mind when I thought of what to do. "I was sleeping below deck and didn't realize we reached the port. I um... Sorry, I should be going to the Silver Guild now. I stumble out of the boat cabin. I don't know exactly where the guild is located but I can't possibly ask them for directions after stumbling on their love session.

I am in fact so distracted and surprised I forgot to grab my luggage. Furthermore I slipped when trying to get from the boat to the docks falling into the water and I can't swim. I frantically splash around and try to grab a hold of anything to stay afloat and when I look up I see the pink hared girl floating above the water and offering her hand in my aid. I grab it and she helps me out of the water. "Thank you, I don't know how to swim."

"You don't?" She sounds a bit surprised. "I thought everyone who came to Wystern knew how to swim. How come you didn't yell?"

"I didn't want to disturb you further. I didn't mean to barge in like that," or rather barge out of the boat's cabin at that very moment.

"Don't worry about it, Sugar is a happy girl! I'm glad you saw that." The girl clasped her hands together, smiling from ear to ear, and I realized she was floating.

She was floating when she saved me, but I was too distracted by both impending doom and embarrassment to notice. "You can fly?"

"Oh yes, I'm a summon creature," she explained, "my name is Sugar, nice to meet you."

I introduced myself as well and after we both knew each other's names another question came to mind. "Why are you happy that I saw you? I thought you would want some privacy."

"Oh no, couples do that all the time. It's called PDA, that's short for public displays of affection. Master Cleru is too shy to do that, but I'm glad that we finally did and you're the very first to witness us kissing." Sugar is a bit unusual, she's innocent and mischievous all at once, like the perfect mixture of cute and attractive, it's too bad I'm not like that at all.

"Well I'm happy you're not mad at me," I smiled. Then I remembered my luggage. "Um... I left my stuff on the ship."

"No problem, Master Cleru is very much a gentleman; he'll help you with your things. You are a fellow Craftknight after all," Sugar is a very kind being, I concluded.

We looked up at the edge of the boat; still a bit embarrassed Cleru was there, listening to our conversation. "I'll get your luggage," he bolted below deck.

"How do you know I'm a Craftknight?" I'm honestly not the best, but I'm not the worse either. I'm just an average Craftknight with no hopes of being a Craftlord but also not bad enough to be unable to join a guild... and the answer to my own question appears.

"You mentioned the Silver Guild," Sugar replied, of course, I forgot I even said it, since I was in such a hurry to get out of there.

Cleru arrives with my luggage, just two big suitcases; I don't own a lot, those are all my possessions right there. "I'll help you carry this back to the guild."

"Oh no, I couldn't ask for that. Thank you for getting my luggage safely off the boat though, I probably would have accidentally dropped them and everything would get ruined." I take the suitcases and start to walk away. "Thank you both for your help, thank you very much! I'll leave you two alone now; we'll probably meet again some time at the guild, bye!"

I heard Cleru say a shy goodbye, he was probably still a bit uneasy being caught with his girlfriend like that. Sugar was quite cheerful.

I ran through the park and once again stumbled upon another loving scene. A young woman who looked a lot like Cleru, save for the difference in gender of course, was kissing with a handsome blond young man. My heart nearly stopped there and then, how could I be so clumsy as to stumble upon two couples in one night? I really do have a talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 2: Varil and Pratty

Other than the young woman looking similar to Cleru, I don't know her, but I know for a fact that's she's not Clarie. I dislike Clarie; she shows too much skin and pretends to be all innocent. Thinking back on it, Sugar might have been showing a bit of skin herself but there was something in her expression that made her look sincere, unlike Clarie she wasn't just pretending to be innocent. Sugar really is the perfect blend of innocence and mischief and I wonder if I, and any other woman should be jealous of her, yet I'm not jealous, somehow I admire her because she seems so open.

I recognize the young man; he's Varil, the son of the Gold Guild's master. He often went to Rugista to run errands for the Gold Guild, though I think he offered to do the deliveries just so he could take a break from the busy life of Wystern. I used to live at Rugista, Clarie was always flirting with Varil but he never returned the advances and I'm glad he didn't. I'll admit I liked him, but I would have lost all the respect I have for him if he had corresponded Clarie's flirting. I feel a pang of jealousy rising in my chest, but then I think that this girl, whoever she may be, must have earned this somehow, because Varil is not easy to win over.

"Um... hi," I wake up from my daze and notice that the girl is looking at me.

"What are you doing here?" I'm not sure if Varil knows who I am or if he is simply asking the random girl why she was spying on him, which I wasn't really.

"I just arrived... I.. um... guild..." I will my voice to work but it's simply not working.

"Oh, you're looking for the guild?" I'm pretty sure that Pratty was about to ask which one, but Varil spoke first.

"Second level, that way," and before I even thought about where he was pointing me towards, I was gone, too embarrassed to question his directions.

I must admit that my sense of direction really isn't all that great. I ran around in circles in the central tower before ending up running around in circles in middle Wystern. Finally, I found a building that looked official and stumbled upon Varil and his date yet again.

I must have wasted too much time being lost and by the time I returned, the girl with silver hair was walking Varil home. I arrived just on time to hear him complain "shouldn't I walk you home?"

"You walked me home yesterday, it's my turn today!" She seems tough but cheerful, tomboyish but charming in her own way, which makes her cool and I can't find it in me to hate her. It was so easy to glare at Clarie with everything I had, but not at this girl.

Once again, I am too spaced out to realize that I have been spotted. "Are you stalking me?" Varil doesn't sound happy.

I shake my head, cheeks ablaze. "I got lost."

The silver haired girl laughs, "I think she's telling the truth Varil, she is new around here. Master Bron never gives good directions so I know what it's like to get lost in a new place."

"Yes, that's right!" I nod assuming that since she mentioned Master Bron, she knows exactly why I'm here.

"Alright, go in then," Varil steps aside.

I mutter an apology and rush into the building. At the time I didn't know that it was all a misunderstanding and that because I assumed too much, and didn't ask enough, I was in the wrong place. I was supposed to be at the Silver Guild but I was at the Gold Guild. The fact that this was apparently Varil's home should have been my first clue, but I was too embarrassed and in a hurry to stop invading their privacy to give anything too much thought.

I wondered around the Gold Guild, without realizing at the time that it was the Gold Guild, until I saw a man and spoke to him, I introduced myself and explained I was looking for my room. He looked confused so I asked about Master Bron and his expression hardened. "Bron is with the Silver Guild." Obviously this man did not like Bron. "This is the Gold Guild," he clarified.

"I um... sorry!" As I rushed out with my luggage in tow I nearly ran into Varil.

"Watch where you're going! Oh it's you again..." I'm sure I must be getting on his last nerve by now and I can't really blame him. I interrupted his date twice and I nearly ran into him. I really am an expert in being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"You're mean, giving me wrong directions as if I'm not lost enough as it is," I'm not sure why I said that. Maybe deep down I had a small amount of resentment because I had and maybe still have a crush on him. But I hardly ever spoke to him, I always knew he was impossible to reach, and maybe because I firmly believed he would never like me, my chances were reduced to zero.

Without giving Varil a chance to reply I ran out of the Gold Guild as fast as the luggage I was carrying allowed me to move. I've never been particularly fast, but he didn't try to stop me anyway. Though I didn't look at him as I ran out, my guess is that he must have been looking at me as if I were crazy. I should point out that I was still soaking wet from when I fell in the ocean.

After wondering around hauling my suitcases around while searching for the Silver Guild and failing miserably to find it with my very poor sense of direction, I was at the Central Tower trying to find someone to tell me which way to go. That's when I peeked into a fancy room and saw a man eating curry.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 3: Sakuro

"Excuse me..." What a strange place to be eating curry. But this man is certainly handsome. "I'm looking for the Silver Guild..."

"Oh, I thought you wanted to scold me for eating curry here," he has a sense of humor. This man is one of those people I feel as if I've known for a long time even if I haven't. He's pretty calm and easy to read, or at least he appears to be that way.

"No, I didn't know you weren't supposed to..." I smile for the first time in what feels like forever and then I sneeze. I know this feeling in my throat, nose and chest signifies the start of a cold. It's no wonder really, since I've been walking around wearing wet clothes.

"Sounds like you've caught a cold. Are wet clothes stylish where you come from?" He jokes.

"Not really," I sniffle, my nose is starting to get annoying and my eyes are a bit watery.

"You should go home soon. Just go out the first floor and you'll find the Silver Guild if you turn left, it's not far," he gives me directions, which I am thankful for.

"Thanks!" I leave as soon as I have the needed information, without even inquiring about his name. I had no idea who he really was and knew nothing of his rank at that time.

I finally made it to the Silver Guild and was lucky enough to find that Bron was still awake. "Master Bron..."

"Took you long enough to get here!" He's back into his usual mood. "Your workshop is upstairs, I expect you to work day and night. Work really hard, don't make me regret bringing you along!" Bron shows me to my workshop where I shall be living, then leaves.

I used to live at Rugista Island. My mother and I never got along. My father in a way served as a barrier to lessen the tensions between us, but that barrier crumbled when he passed away. My mother is a bitter person who thinks only of herself and it's extremely frustrating that in the eyes of most other people she was the perfect mother. Just thinking about being forced into the role of a hypocritical weak little girl makes my blood boil. Eventually I left and escaped that sad excuse for a life. It's a new beginning for me.

When morning came I was full of energy, eager to start my wonderful new life. The first order of business was to help Bron with his tax papers. Well actually I wouldn't be working on the papers, just delivering them to someone who could do the job. I made sure to ask for directions before leaving, I think Bron got annoyed with all my questions, but my sense of direction is bad and I didn't want to get lost again.

To be honest I am not feeling well and I haven't had any food since lunch yesterday. That, mixed with my cold, is making me weak. As I headed to Sakuro's house in middle Wystern, I made sure to stay in the center of the path because if I fell into the water in my condition, I would surely drown. I was surprised that when I finally reached the house that was supposed to belong to Master Sakuro, the Craftlord of Sapphire, a familiar voice told me to come in when I knocked.

Then I saw him, it was curry man! He was the man who had given me directions, the same man who was eating curry at Central Tower. "Excuse me; I was looking for Master Sakuro's house."

"You've found it, what can I do for you?" I stared at him. I had spoken to a Craftlord and had no idea.

"I um..." I had to pause; I know I must have looked stupid just staring at him with my heart racing. Suddenly I didn't care that Varil had found someone. I've always hated my family circumstances that I felt prevented me from being myself, and thus having a successful friendship, very much less a relationship. I still hate that past, but I left it behind and with a new beginning comes a new crush. Yet, in the back of my mind, I knew it was impossible, but this time it didn't bother me because instead of not being able to try my best at all, I would simply try my best and fail. I know it sounds stupid, but after not being myself for so long, it feels so good to be free. "I have a delivery from Bron."

I delivered the papers to Sakuro, "this will take a while," he voiced.

"Okay, I'll tell Master Bron," and this time I actually remembered to give Bron his title of master Craftknight when I spoke, my last sentence was a slip off.

"Actually, I was hoping you would make a little delivery for me if you're not too busy." Sakuro retrieved an envelope from his desk drawer.

"Sure, no problem!" I agreed.

Sakuro gave me the envelope, "this report needs to be delivered to Master Ureksa."

I didn't know it at the time, but something had happened and Master Ureksa, the Craftlord of Jade, was being treated protectively by the other Craftlords. Master Sakuro was trying to help restore the normalcy and encourage Ureksa to participate more in the Craftlord business by including him in certain basic tasks and keeping him informed. "No problem, where can I find Master Ureksa?" I repeated the name to make sure I wouldn't forget.

"Most likely at the Central Tower, possibly on the third floor. They might not let you in, so it's fine to leave this letter with the guard." I nod at Sakuro's explanation, glad to be falling into the pace of my new life.

"No problem, I'll go deliver it right away!" For a long time I have been convinced that I am an expert in being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think I was even born in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, I have tried to fix that, and now it feels as if I'm finally making progress.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 4: Ureksa

They say that fairies are so small that they can only feel one emotion at a time. I am not really a small girl. Within what's normal for a woman I lean more towards being tall. I'm not thin and I'm not fat, just average. Yet, I tend to focus on one mood and everything else revolves around it.

If I am in a good mood, because of a certain event, then my good mood remains even if everything else goes wrong because my first priority went right. But the opposite is also true, if one big thing in my life goes wrong, then no matter how many smaller good things happen, I'll remain in a rotten mood. That's the way it was for a long time, but now I'm so happy to have a new life, I don't feel like hiding anymore and I don't mind that I made a fool of myself several times already even if I've been here for less than twenty-four hours. Right now I'm in a good mood.

Despite my good mood I got a little lost, ending up in the vacant lots of upper Wystern. I blinked amazed at my own bad sense of direction and tried to find the right place. I spotted someone walking down the hall and thought to ask to whom I could give a letter meant to be delivered to Master Ureksa, or maybe that person was Ureksa. "Excuse me..."

"Yes?" The elegant woman replied.

"I'm looking for Master Ureksa, are you her?" And so I proceeded to insert my foot in my mouth yet again.

The woman laughed at a joke I did not understand. "No, my name is Kouren, Ureksa will be leaving soon, If you hurry to the port you can still catch up."

"Oh, thanks!" I ran off wondering what was so funny, but if Ureksa was leaving I didn't have time to ask.

I rushed towards the port getting lost yet again. But by some miracle, when I asked a random passer by if Ureksa had left I was told there was a delay due to problems with a sea inhabiting stray summon creature and Master Ureksa had not yet left.

I rushed over and caught the finale of a battle. A man with dark and light hair, who used a spear, had finished fighting the violent sea monster and the port was ready to function once again. I did not wish to bother the hero as I searched for Master Ureksa, whom I thought was a woman due to the name. Quite frankly, I never stopped to consider the possibility of the name Ureksa belonging to a man.

As I wondered around searching, with the envelope in my hands, I felt worse because of my cold. The dizziness rushed to my head as I passed by the man with the spear. I tried to say something, anything, but no words came.

When I woke up I was in an unfamiliar room with the scent of curry in the air and heard some voices.

"Are you really so desperate to make me play hero?" I didn't recognize the man who was speaking, but he sounded accusing.

"I didn't know she would faint. It's not like I purposely sent her to deliver that report so she would faint in your arms and everything would be set for you to rescue her," another man spoke calmly. I put two and two together and figured out who he was. The voice sounded familiar and the scent of curry was familiar too, plus there was the mention of delivering a report. That was Master Sakuro who just spoke.

"When you say it like that it sounds like you really planned it," the other man sounds annoyed and I wonder who he is. Maybe he's the one with the spear who was fighting that sea creature at the port. The man with the pretty hair... though I don't think I should say that to him, yet somehow I feel as if I already have.

"Honestly, do you think I would do that?" Sakuro asked. "I knew she had a cold, it was obvious, but I thought she had enough sense to know if she was well enough to walk around or not." Apparently I don't. "Let's go check on her."

The two men entered the room which I assume belongs to Sakuro. I was now sitting on the bed with a pathetic feeling sinking to my stomach and yet I remained optimistic. "Sorry for being troublesome." Suddenly, I'm feeling rather self conscious, because I'm not the beautiful girl who any man would dream to rescue. I'm not the kind who can have a hero, but now that I don't have to pretend to be someone whom I'm not, even if I don't have amazing beauty, I feel that I can earn the right to have a hero somehow; but I'm not ready yet, I need to improve first.

"Don't worry about it, I should have sent you home," Master Sakuro, with you, like with Varil, I am completely conscious that you're out of my reach, but the truth is, that's okay, it's alright, I don't really mind.

"It's okay, I don't mind making deliveries; it's really no trouble." I want to fit into Wystern, I want to stay here forever, and the realization comes that I can. I may not be the greatest Craftknight but I'm decent enough and even if I am at the rank of an apprentice for a long, long time, I'll make it.

"In any case, you should return home, Master Ureksa will see you there," Sakuro gave the man with nice hair an amused look. "You can talk about shampoo along the way."

That man was Ureksa, I came to the realization and suddenly Kouren's amusement made sense; she must have known 'she' was a 'he' all along. It proves that once again assumptions lead to mistakes and one cannot judge a person by their name. "No, it's fine, I can go back by myself, I'm feeling better now."

I wonder about the shampoo comment, I wonder if Master Sakuro was suggesting that my hair is messy and I need to wash it. I probably do need to wash it. Yet somehow, I don't think that's quite it, Sakuro wouldn't be direct like that. I wonder if when I was out of it, being taken from the port to Sakuro's house, I actually did tell Ureksa he had pretty hair... Wrong place, wrong time, wrong line.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 5: Girls

When Master Ureksa walked me back to the Silver Guild at Master Sakuro's request, I was too sick to think too much, but I still thought... of Ureksa and of Sakuro. After I got better and continued my Craftknight work, I occupied my free time in various ways to improve myself. I also learned many things such as the fact that both Cleru and Pratty share the title of Craftlord of Iron. Those two are twins, an obvious fact just by looking at them. Cleru and Sugar are in love and engaged, according to her. Pratty and Varil had been dating for less time than Cleru and Sugar, but they're doing great, and after getting to know Pratty I found myself able to be happy for them.

Varil stopped looking at me strangely after my behavior settled into what he thought fell within the norm and he realized Pratty and I had become friends. Razzy and I get along pretty well, I'm content ignoring Ariel and Mariel and they ignore me in return, but Sanary and I don't really get along. The others can tolerate her mood swings but I'm not going to start spontaneously being nice because suddenly she's like a different person. I'm certain that girl is bipolar or has a split personality or something.

I honestly have to thank Sugar for playing make over with me. They say that if you feel good, you'll look good, but maybe it's the other way around. I'm still not gorgeous and no where close, but for once I don't have any big complaints about my appearance. I also need to thank Pratty for giving me advice in crafting. My skills are still not amazing but they have improved. Overall, things are going well.

Maybe I really was in the wrong place before, but at least I was close enough to the right place to get here. It's been a month and the memories of the past have willingly faded. I had nothing worth remembering before last month anyway; and here we are, remembering old times.

"So your crush was on Master Sakuro all along?" Razzy asks curiously.

Today is just us four girls at my work shop on our day off. Razzy, Pratty and Sugar. Zantek is here too, a robot who is Pratty's guardian beast. I think he's adorable, I love machines. I can understand him based on the tone and frequency of his beeps. Certain things escape me but I mostly get the basic idea. Since he is Pratty's guardian beast she can understand him perfectly.

"It's purely platonic, Razzy." I clarify.

"Platonic?" Razzy looks confused and so does Sugar.

"What's that?" The pink haired guardian beast asks.

"It's when you have a crush on someone but you know it can never work out," I try to explain it as simply as I can.

"Why not?" Sugar asks.

I start to list the reasons, "he's a Craftlord and he's handsome and cool." Both Razzy and Sugar blink. I'm sure they're wondering why those are obstacles if they're all good things. "What I mean is we're too different. He would like someone prettier and more talented than me." They immediately protest saying that I am pretty and talented, but that's what any good friend would say.

"Don't give up!" Sugar declares.

"Go tell him how you feel!" Razzy cheers.

I shake my head and look at Pratty for support but she only shrugs indicating it's practically impossible to argue with those two. "I'm quite happy keeping the crush platonic." It's true, honestly.

"But..." Sugar doesn't quite get it. "Why?"

"I would have to try too hard to be at Sakuro's level and I don't want to do that. I will just be me, not the over-achieving version of me. That would be exhausting, if I actually made it." I paused and gave my own words some thought. "I guess I only like Sakuro in a platonic way, I suppose I just don't like him in any other way so I don't want the crush to be anything more than platonic."

I think that Pratty was the only one in the room other than me who understood that. She decided to aid me in a way, and sink me in another. "At first everyone thought you were in love with Ureksa."

"Why is that?" Master Ureksa has an interesting atmosphere. I feel that he could be another platonic crush of mine, but even more platonic than Sakuro. Master Sakuro is the kind of person that's so easy to get along with and Master Ureksa is a little more distant, though I can't blame him after I heard his full story from Pratty.

"Because everyone saw him carrying you to Sakuro's house," Pratty replied.

"Ureksa thought that Sakuro sent me to him knowing that I would faint from my bad cold and then he could play hero to help clear his name of self inflicted guilt. I heard that later he even blamed Sakuro for that summon creature that attacked the port, even if it was only a random coincidence. Anyway, he was sort of stuck with me at the time and we haven't spoken much since then," though I won't deny I think he's way cool with that spear and his guardian beast is absolutely adorable. But when he's not training or defending Wystern from the increasing stray summon beast attacks, I hardly pay attention to him. Ironically it's in those moments when he's being heroic that he's most unreachable.

I wasn't able to get the Master of Jade off my mind after that. I guess I never noticed that I do like him, and thus another platonic crush was formed. Because that's all that it could be, a platonic crush and nothing more, I know that, I accept it, it's alright.

I feel so fickle having two platonic crushes, but they are platonic so I can have as many as I want, right? I keep telling myself that. It will be fine as long as neither crush becomes real; and I know it wouldn't work out, so I won't let them become real.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 6: Valentine

It's Valentine's Day and happy couples are all around. The Silver Guild is looking a bit empty with everyone going about their way. The only ones here are Zantek, who was giving Pratty some time alone with Varil, Razzy who doesn't have a date, Bron who has not yet expressed his feelings for Amariss, and myself, the girl who is only capable of having platonic crushes.

I just finished making a drill so I went to show Master Bron my progress. "Good, good, very good, are you busy right now? Think you can run some errands for me?"

"I'm not really busy. What do you need?" I don't have a boyfriend, thus I have no one to celebrate Valentine's Day with, so I might as well score some extra points with my Craftknight trainer by helping out. I do owe him a lot for letting me join the Silver Guild and live here.

"Cleru and Pratty both disappeared today..." Bron doesn't really sound surprised. No one really knows were the Iron Craftlord twins have run off to, but everyone knows that Cleru is with Sugar and Pratty is with Varil. " I can't ask them about this. I want you to go and... Well... just out of courtesy, so that she doesn't turn out to be allergic or something... it's a gift from the guild I mean..."

When Master Bron's character changes dramatically and he starts to ramble, everyone knows that it's something about Amariss. "Do you want me to find out what Amariss likes? Flowers and candy maybe?"

Master Bron nods. "It's from the guild..." he insists, though I know there's no reason for a guild to be sending out gifts on Valentine's Day.

"Right, I'll figure that out," and because I really want Master Bron's good mood to last, it will be good for everyone at the Silver Guild, I'll try to help him get a date with Amariss while I'm at it. It's been years since her husband passed away, and I think she's ready to see another man. Master Bron is no Shintetsu, whom I heard was quite amazing and handsome. Bron is tough and rugged, but he has his good points.

As I walk to Amariss' house, I see Kenon pacing around outside. He calls out to me and I notice that he's holding a bouquet of sunflowers. I know the flowers are not for me, though Kenon and I get along well we're not close. If they were for me I wouldn't know how to react, and thus it comes to my attention that if any man told me he likes me I wouldn't know what to do.

Though I am a hard worker in a sense, I don't like competitions, I like to settle into my comfort zone and steadily produce. I keep up a certain pace and thus some may say I work hard, but honestly I'm not trying to break any records. I can't possibly handle trying super hard to win a man's heart, because then I would have to keep up that pace to keep his heart, and it would be exhausting.

But then, someone who's so easy to win over, would he be worth it if I get him to like me without even trying? Does such a man exist? I don't think so, because I'm not special enough for any man to say he's been searching for a girl just like me, and being myself is enough. I do feel a whole lot better being myself and I feel that I can have friends. I'm good enough for friendship now that I'm more or less satisfied with myself. I'm good enough to date once maybe... but love? Is there even such a thing?

I'm lost in my musings and only half listening to Kenon as he confesses that he has a crush on Razzy. It's Romeo and Juliet all over again. He's from the Gold Guild, she's from the Silver Guild, and the guilds don't get along. Plus Razzy's uncle Bron can be protective, especially now that Razzy has started to look more like a girl, she's still a tomboy, but she's starting to look more grown up.

"Have you told her how you feel?" I ask dumbly, of course he hasn't, that's his dilemma. "I mean you should tell her how you feel."

"Do you think she'll like me back?" Kenon asks me as if I knew a sure answer, which I don't.

"I think so," it's an honest answer, not a sure thing, but very likely. "If you want, you can wait until Bron goes out. He might be spending the day with Amariss today," if I can manage to make it happen.

Kenon was happy with the possibility and so I hurried to talk to Amariss. She listened to what I had to say and I encouraged her to go out with Bron. Apparently she saw him only as a dear friend, but I talked her into it and she slipped and told me her favorite kinds of sweet, almond white chocolates, and her favorite flowers, red roses.

After talking to Amariss I informed Bron about my findings and he gave me money to go buy the gifts, claiming it was from the guild, and because a girl might choose more accurately. Obviously he was just shy; it's kind of funny seeing him like this.

Accomplishing my mission was not hard; I bought the gifts and delivered them to Master Bron, who in turn insisted that I went along with him to present the Silver Guild's gift, only to ask me to leave after he started feeling more comfortable talking to Amariss.

During that time, Kenon declared his affection to Razzy. When I went back to my workshop I saw them and they both looked very happy. I think Razzy was a bit surprised but happy. They're cute together; there are cute couples all around Wystern.

I wondered what Master Sakuro was doing so I casually passed by his house, the scent of curry noticeable in the air. It smelled delicious. I peeked by the window and saw Kouren and Ureksa about to have lunch with Sakuro. I wondered if Kouren was dating one of them and I wasn't sure which I would rather it be. They were both my platonic crushes after all, but either way I guess it wouldn't matter, because for Kouren it could be real, but for me it's only platonic.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 7: Sinking

I should be heartbroken, I really should. I found out that Ureksa was in Wystern because he was giving Rumari and Tyram some time alone. The three of them have once again become close, but naturally, Ureksa didn't want to play the third wheel. I feel a little sorry for Master Ureksa, tricked by Master Sakuro.

Sakuro has invited Ureksa over for a curry lunch. I suppose that he must have assumed Sakuro was single and bored, and since he didn't have a date he would hang out with anyone who was available. Ureksa agreed but alas, he ended up playing the third wheel anyway because Kouren was also coming over to spend the day with Sakuro.

I think Kouren used to be in love with Shintetsu. But either way, it looked like Sakuro had won her heart. I'm heartbroken, I really am, or maybe I'm not but I should be. My platonic crush has crumbled, and I rather liked thinking of Sakuro as the eternally single, impossible possibility. Because even if he is unreachable for me; I liked to dream, and my dreams are broken.

I suppose I still have that crush on Ureksa. Truthfully I'm not one hundred percent sure what made me get that platonic crush on Ureksa, I know what's to like in a general way, but specifically what is so attractive about him, that I cannot say. I suppose he is in a way mysterious.

A part of me is relieved that Kouren was with Sakuro and not Ureksa, and that's what puzzles me the most. I suppose platonic crushes might be just as confusing as real ones, if not more. Either way it doesn't matter because it isn't real.

Time goes by and life continues. It's been several months since I came to Wystern and I've never regretted it. For some reason, even if I still believe Master Sakuro to be the nicest and most handsome man I've ever met, I haven't been able to stop thinking of Master Ureksa and I can't help it but to work extra hard so that I can earn some free time and casually pass by him now and then. I'm so silly really, we don't talk and I can only pass by some many times without looking suspicious. I always offer to make deliveries and actually take advantage of my bad sense of direction using his location as a point of reference. I have gotten to know Wystern a lot better so I don't wander around in circles as much as I used to, but I still get lost every now and then.

Today Master Bron unwisely asked me to take out his boat, which I scratched against the docks when I left, yet miraculously I didn't sink it along the way to Vance.

Upon arriving at Vance I crashed the boat against the docks and it sank, but not too far since the waters in that area were not too deep. Still it's much deeper than it should be and the workshop below deck is now under water. So I sat at the docks crying like a helpless idiot, which I am. I didn't want to sail the stupid ship to begin with and now I messed up so badly.

"Are you alright?" A woman with a kind gentle voice asks. I recognize her as Rumari, though I've only seen her a few times visiting Wystern I know she's Master Ureksa's sister, and the original Craftlord of Jade.

"I sunk Master Bron's boat..." I answer between sobs.

"Well at least you're safe..." she tries to console me.

"But the boat isn't, how can I fix it? I really don't care if I were injured. Injuries will fix themselves in time but boats won't." I think I must have upset her but I didn't mean to.

"What are you saying? Your life is more important than a boat!" Rumari half scolds and half consoles me.

I nod slowly unsure. "I'll fix this somehow... I will... I'll get a loan and pay for the repairs, no one in Wystern needs to know. I'll pay it all back in installments and no one will even notice." I wish that was possible, but I don't know of anyone who would lend me the money to pull the ship out, save as much as possible and fix it, since it would be far for expensive too start anew. "I just have to figure out where to get the loan..."

"I can help you with that," Rumari offered.

"Really? That would be great." I'm still disappointed over the sunken ship, sad, angry and frustrated all at once, but most of all I can't wait until it's all fixed, done and over with, then I'll once again have peace of mind.

I followed Rumari thinking that she was leading me to some sort of bank, or towards someone who was in the loan business. But instead we ended up in her house; she took an envelope from a drawer and handed it to me. "Take your time paying for it; you don't need to rush it too much."

I stare at the envelope with wide eyes, "but... this is... are you?"

"In the bank business?" Rumari finished for me. "No, I'm not, but I've heard about you from Pratty and Cleru. They said you're trustworthy and a good person so I would like to help."

I am speechless simply staring at my savior. I try to push the words out, "I can't... do you need this for something? I mean you were saving it for something right?"

Rumari only laughs and I know she doesn't want to tell me what she was going to do with the money; and the feeling I have that I shouldn't take it increases. I really don't want to ruin whatever she was planning to buy; I have a feeling that it's something important. "Don't worry about it."

The truth is that even if I feel terribly guilty, I need this. "Thank you so much! I'll pay you back with interest as soon as possible, I'll bring the first payment really soon!"

Rumari shakes her head, "I don't want any interest and make sure you don't push yourself too hard, okay?" Words cannot describe her kindness.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 8: Debt

Master Bron found out what happened to his boat, but since I fixed it he forgave me. I've been working extra hard to pay Rumari back. I heard the money she lent me was for her wedding and honey moon expenses and I feel terrible taking it. I'll work hard and pay her back as fast as humanly possible, for a human of my less than great skill.

In an attempt to find a quick yet legal money maker, I tried combining different weapons. Master Bron saw my poorly drawn sketch of an axe-sword, with the handle of an axe and two sword blades were the axe blades would have been. He told me not to get strange ideas because "even skilled people would hurt themselves if they try to wield something like that," which I'm sure meant that someone of my level could get herself killed with it.

I scrapped the idea of an axe-sword, but I didn't give up on the combinations. Instead I put together a spear and a drill and dumbly laughed at my own messy sketch as if I was subconsciously catching some kind of hidden Irony. The pencil drawing with its crooked lines would make an artist cry.

Then I realized what the hidden Irony was and I laughed again, this time at myself. Rumari's brother, Ureksa of Jade, used spears, as did Rumari. I, a Craftknight lacking skill, used drills, because I can make some pretty decent engines even if I'm terrible at shaping metal with a hammer.

The art of forging still escapes me and my skill is still on apprentice level even if by now I should be an expert after all this time, but I guess I reached my limit. Instead I focus on the drills, on the engines to be specific.

Even if I knew it was a waste of materials, on a whim, I crafted the strange cross between drill and spear, the long handle of a spear, very poorly crafted and bent, crowned with a triangular spiral of messy metal that hid a good engine within.

I was so focused on my little deformed monster of a weapon that I didn't notice Master Ureksa of all people peeking over my shoulder, and I completely froze when I finally did. "You've been writing to Rumari, right?"

I nod and push a reply out my throat, "yes." I try to think of Sakuro, a platonic ex-crush to distract me from a current platonic crush.

"I'm glad you wrote to her about waiting," I honestly had no idea what Master Ureksa was talking about at the time, and it would not be until much later when I came to the realization that he was talking about Rumari's wedding to Master Tyram.

Rumari must have thought it would upset her brother if she said she lend away her wedding money and that's why she couldn't get married, so instead she was pretending to give the wedding some more thought and wait a little longer. I'm not sure if Tyram knew or not, but the thought of causing trouble for Rumari who had showed me such kindness bothered me greatly.

Truth be told, I don't care about strangers. Unlike a hero, I can see disaster and walk by nonchalantly, even if I actually had the skills to do something. I like helping my friends, the people with whom I know I can count should I ever need anything, but I do not like helping those who can't help themselves. I'm a selfish girl, but I'm generous and helpful in the eyes of my friends, the people whom I dim as reliable and able to help me if I'm ever in a jam. Even if I never ask for their help, knowing that I can, makes me feel that the favor wasn't wasted.

Rumari is different; she is truly kind without exception. Razzy isn't as picky as I am making friends, and Kenon is very honorable. Cleru and Pratty, the twin Craftlords of Iron are the basic living definition of heroes; they care about others asking for nothing in return and cannot overlook other people's needs. Varil... well he's a bit prideful but a good guy.

Here I am pathetically wallowing in self pity about how I'm not the nicest person in the world, and how I always have some kind of secondary interest in mind, even when I hope I never find myself in the necessity to collect; and I'm not really listening to Ureksa. I only caught the basic idea of the conversation, something along the lines of Rumari enjoying getting letters from me even if my grammar and spelling are terrible.

I think Rumari is amused figuring out what I'm trying to say and entertained when she finally does. Though my life is mostly dull, I like to retell the rare fun moments and I thought sending only the envelope with the money would be a little rude to someone to whom I owe such gratitude, so I wrapped it with a letter. My guess is that Ureksa has only seen the letters and not the money.

Everyone knows that the three of them, Ureksa, Rumari and Tyram, promised to always be together, but I think Ureksa is feeling too much like the third wheel and might be worried about being left out if Rumari and Tyram get married. I'm so lost in thought, my heart beating wildly and my head in the clouds filled with delusions that I know are delusions, that I'm not even sure for how long Ureksa has been quiet and I've been doing nothing to break the awkward silence.

"Um... I like writing to Rumari... she has interesting stories to tell..." I manage to choke out a few words in the stupidest tone of all, and I wonder why Master Ureksa is still standing there instead of just ignoring the silly girl who can't find her voice and leaving.

He merely nods to acknowledge my words as he is curiously examining the cross between drill and spear I was working on, and I wonder if he's horrified by the marred weapon. "That's never worked before," he picks up the spear-drill and tests its weight, it is relatively light, a whole lot lighter than his spear I'm sure, and I know the durability is quite low. Suddenly, I feel like an idiot for wasting materials on that spear-drill, and even more like an idiot for letting Ureksa see it.

I know of no other place besides my workshop where I could have forged this hybrid weapon that I shouldn't have forged at all, but I certainly did it at the wrong time. Wrong time, wrong weapon...

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 9: Weapons

Ureksa runs his fingers up and down the spear part of the spear-drill. I blush in embarrassment of the lack of smoothness in the material. The spear handle as well as the outer cover of the drill are covered in uneven waves and bumps. He examines the drill part, the spiral had been sharpened with little spikes but they are a bit fragile since I assembled them as separate parts and didn't craft them directly into the drill piece, I don't have enough skill to forge it all at once.

"These will fall off, they're very detailed and sharp but they'll fall off. If you get a durable material and forge the entire drill piece with the spikes and thorns together they might last a little longer." I nod and from the corner of my eyes I look at the little pile of half melted Iron that was my failed attempt to do as he said. "The spear handle is too thin to house the rest of the drill engine, it should be solid but since it's shallow it would break easily and it can't even support the weight of the drill." Ureksa checks the drill part taking note of the part of the engine that extends from the drill to the spear handle. "The engine will be easily damaged; the drill and spear had to be made shallow to house the engine since the spear replaced the drill machine part that would have hosted the engine otherwise."

I continue to nod and feel completely ridiculous. With my experience I should know better, but I guess I'm a slow learner when it comes to forging, even if I am a fast learner when it comes to assembling and fixing engines. But I guess it doesn't make up for what I lack.

Master Ureksa is looking at the engine itself now, his expression shifting from disappointment to surprise. He activates the drill and watches it spin shaking in its handle. Obviously it's not too stable, this waste of material that shouldn't even be called a weapon is clearly about to fall apart. Yet Ureksa continues to watch the drill spin. "The engine is pretty good."

Words cannot describe the relief I feel hearing that at least one piece of my experiment is actually good. I almost say thanks for the compliment, yet I feel that I would sound arrogant if I did because honestly, the spear-drill is more bad then good.

"But it's too delicate..." I should have known there would be something wrong with the engine too. "The design is very detailed, it spins very fast but the parts are so small and thin they would break."

Durability has always been my weak point. While I contemplate the floor and wish to disappear, Ureksa starts laughing and I can't help it but to pout and snatch the spear-drill away. I set it in a corner and start looking over some materials trying to decide on something to make that's quick and easy while I wait for Ureksa to leave. I'm not even going to dignify him by throwing him out.

"I just remembered something," I'm currently ignoring him. "You can't take a little criticism on your weapon?"

I turn around, pace firm, glare piercing. "I know it's bad, but it's my experiment, my research, I didn't make it for your amusement."

Ureksa shakes his head, "I wasn't laughing at your... research."

"At what then? You were looking at it. Just wait till I discover something great." I really don't think that's going to happen but I can't back down now.

"Milkshakes," his answer comes as a surprise and I wonder how are weapons related to milkshakes. "My sister used to make them; she would mix in milk, ice-cream and a little syrup. When I had just started making weapons, the first drill I forged was something I made because the machine Rumari used to make the milkshakes was broken. I put the ingredients in a glass container and tried to mix them with the drill."

My mood lightens a bit with the story. "I can imagine you made a mess."

"Yes, and I got hurt making it. The glass pitcher shattered and sent little pieces of glass flying everywhere. It was a hot summer afternoon and even if Rumari had told me a thousand times it was best to wear long sleeves when forging, and to never even enter the workshop without shoes, I didn't listen. When I tried to clean the mess before Rumari saw it I ended up stepping on some pieces of glass and let's just say it hurt to walk for the next few days," we both laugh this time and a bit of the awkwardness is lifted with Ureksa's story. I heard that they didn't always live in Vance; it must be true since I can't imagine it being hot in the snowy town.

I think Ureksa must have a lot of memories like this with Rumari. Somehow I get the impression that he spent most of his time with her when he was little. I'm not sure if their parents were either busy or not there for whatever reason, but I know Ureksa is very close to his sister. I dare not pry into his past even if I am very curious. "It must be fun, making milkshakes with your sister."

"It's not something you've done?" It is what my tone hints and thus Ureksa asked about it.

"Not really, I didn't have any siblings and had no friends when I was little. I don't have happy memories before coming to Wystern, nothing worth remembering really, just an ordinary life playing a role I didn't choose." The bitterness is evident in my voice, I hate having wasted a good portion of my life stuck in Rugista with a so called family that did not care for my happiness, and in return I didn't care for them. But I have buried those memories to the point where I know it happened but remembering it is a blur, which is fine really, some things are not worth remembering. "I have an idea; I'll make milkshakes and share them with my friends. It's something I shouldn't miss out on, right?"

I feel an immense satisfaction in having accomplished making Master Ureksa smile, "right!" Then I start to wonder if he came here simply to thank me for writing to Rumari or if there's something else.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 10: Heartbreak

I conclude, with little need for too much thought, that there must be some alternate reason for Master Ureksa to be here. Obviously he's not here to see me; he must have stopped when he was passing by for some other reason. "Is there going to be a Craftlord meeting soon?"

"Not really..." Master Ureksa pauses, realizing the reason behind my question. He's about to explain but before he can, footsteps are heard. Those footsteps are not as light as Pratty's or as rushed as Cleru's. They're not sounding at a hyper random rhythm like Razzy's foot steps and it sounds like one set of feet instead of two pairs so it's not Ariel and Mariel. The pace is steady and confident, like the footsteps of a Craftlord. "Could you go see who that is and give me a signal?" Ureksa lowers his voice to a whisper for this request.

I nod accepting my mission, "sure," and casually walk out of the work shop. I find myself facing the Master Craftlord of Sapphire, Sakuro. "Master Sakuro, what brings you here?" My voice is loud disguised as cheerful. I want to make sure Master Ureksa hears me without sounding obvious.

"I'm searching for someone," Sakuro admits with a smile that tells me he has a pretty good idea where that person could be. "Has Master Ureksa been here?"

"I haven't seen him," I feel bad lying to a Craftlord, and such a handsome friendly talented one, but I did agree to help Master Ureksa, even if I'm very curious as to why he doesn't want to be found.

"Oh, well that's too bad, but I have been searching for a while so maybe I'll take a break." I know that Master Sakuro is about to come up with an excuse to go into my work shop, which is also my room and home. "Why don't you show me some of your latest works?"

"I haven't improved that much yet," I shift uncomfortably. I really want to accept. I know Master Sakuro is with Kouren and my platonic crush should be gone, but I think it's starting to surface again. I know that Master Sakuro will give me constructive criticism too, though he might be less direct then Master Ureksa. It's not like I expect him to think my work is perfect, I know it's far from it, but I want to show him. I have made little progress but I have made progress, even if it is a little.

"I'm sure you have. A Craftknight shouldn't be shy about showing her weapons." I know that Sakuro will not leave until he checks my work shop, and every excuse I give him will make him more suspicious.

"I was about to go out, actually... For curry!" Curry is Master Sakuro's addiction, he absolutely loves it.

Sakuro's expression changes, I know he wants the curry but he is not going to forget his mission of finding Master Ureksa, even if I'm not sure why he wants to find him. "Curry sounds great, but you wouldn't leave a guest like this, would you? A friend came all this way to see your weapons and you're throwing him out for curry?"

I am amused by Master Sakuro's dramatic tone, but I also caught a discrepancy in his speech. "I thought you were looking for someone..."

"Yes, that too..." Master Sakuro looks amazing with that hand in the cookie jar expression.

I find myself staring at him, even if I shouldn't. He starts to walk past me and I can't stop him. I freeze for a moment and when I finally react I grab his wrist. "It's a mess in there, you can't go in!" I look into his eyes for a split second in time; they are a deep endless blue like the gem of his Craftlord master title. Then I realize what I'm doing and let him go.

"I don't mind," Sakuro smiles in such a carefree way, thinking nothing of my mistaken action. But my heart is still pounding and I'm starting to wish I could have what I can't. A rush of frustration washes over me and I feel the entrapment I have not felt since I came to Wystern.

Master Sakuro enters my room, he's saying something about how it's really not that bad, only a little unorganized. But I'm not truly listening, I'm just watching him walk around my room, thinking of how things would be if he were my boyfriend coming to visit, or my fiance, or my husband helping me pack to move to his place, and I know these thoughts are wrong.

I never tried to pursue a relationship with Master Sakuro or anyone. All my crushes are platonic because I always end up liking someone unreachable. As strange as it sounds, I wish that Master Ureksa would console me, but I know that's not happening, and I honestly don't want to tell anyone about Sakuro and my broken heart.

Wait, that's right, Master Ureksa, he is right there and I didn't even notice for a moment. I give him an apologetic look and move my lips to word 'sorry', though no sound comes out.

"Well then, I'm not going to intrude with you two." I haven't really been listening to Master Sakuro as he looked at my strange spear drill creation, and only caught the end of his speech. "All six of us should go have curry together some time." To be honest, I have no idea what Master Sakuro means by all six of us.

Master Ureksa has not said anything but he mutters something under his breath about not needing anyone to entertain him. Then I reach a conclusion, this is all about Rumari and Tyram's wedding. Sakuro is offering his friendship to help Ureksa who might have gained a bigger protective brother complex all of a sudden, or maybe he feels that his sister is being stolen, or perhaps if what I heard about what he did is true he must feel uncomfortable facing Tyram. But Master Sakuro is trying too hard... the six must be Rumari, Tyram, Sakuro, Kouren, Ureksa and someone else, possibly a woman, but who?

I want them to leave, both of them. I don't think I can take two heartbreaks in one day and so close to each other. I'm so stupid, I never thought I had a chance, and I don't, so I shouldn't even be bothered, but I am. With the tension that has formed, even if this is my work shop where I can be any time, I can't help it but to feel as if I am in the wrong place at the wrong time.

To be Continued

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Chapter 11: Labyrinth

"I'm going to the labyrinth..." Master Ureksa announces, and without another word he leaves.

I watch him walk out as if I don't exist, I'm sure those words were spoken more to himself than anyone else. After Sakuro is gone as well, following a casual goodbye to me, I'm about to go back to work, but find that I can't focus, so instead I decide to go get some materials, I need more anyway.

I'm pretty sure Master Ureksa must have used the teleporter to go deeper into the labyrinth. I'm not skilled enough to go too far so I'll work my way down. I think I'll start with a work out in the eleventh basement level. I usually don't go much further, but that's enough to get materials, sell some, and get the materials found only deeper underground.

The teleporter is a true wonder, powered by modified summonite gems, the teleporter is activated by a hammer, retrieving the information of the labyrinth from the user's memories and taking a person only as far as they have gone before. To create a sort of check point, one has to hit the teleporter with a hammer and after that jolt, it can be used.

When I reappear on basement level eleven, I am surprised to see that Master Ureksa is there. "Master Ureksa?"

"I decided to walk all the way down; at least the exercise will be good." I understand, Master Ureksa is a great Craftlord, this labyrinth must be no challenge for him, but at least he can get some exercise going all the way to the bottom without using the teleporters.

"Master Ureksa, behind you!" A Jelly Slime is trying to sneak up on him. But the yellow stray summon departed without even realizing what hit it.

With one swift swing, or should I say poke, of his spear, the stray summon was gone. Not only is Master Ureksa very strong and skilled, but his weapons are amazing. The stray summons of level eleven are no match for him and I'm sure none of them are even in the deeper levels.

Now I feel silly for shouting out a warning as if there was actual danger involved. For someone like me it can be dangerous if I'm not alert, but for a master Craftlord, this is nothing. I once again feel as if I am at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

"I need a challenge..." once again I'm not sure if Ureksa is speaking to me, or simply thinking aloud.

I reply anyway, "maybe a different weapon? I mean if you try traveling down the labyrinth with a weapon different from the one you're used to, then it will be more challenging, right?"

"Yes..." he eyes my drill, but I'm sure he won't ask to borrow it, or temporarily trade it, because true Craftknight and Craftlords only fight with they're own weapons. That's when he pulls something out of his coat. "This will do," he places his spear on his back and moves on.

I curiously follow, "I've never seen a drill like that before," I'm assuming it's a drill, but I can't be sure. It looks more like part of a food processor, something used to make milkshakes.

"It's not, I learned this technique from Sakuro, his idea of a friendly get together of Craftlords is making kitchen equipment with everyone. Sometimes I think he knows as many kitchen techniques as he does weapons, if not more." I'm happy to talk to Master Ureksa this way, but at the same time sad because I know I'm not anywhere near his level.

"Sounds like him," I can at least pretend for a moment that we're friends talking casually, but he's a Craftlord and I'm just a kid. I am not a child in age but I feel as if my skill is at the level of a child who just started forging.

Master Ureksa makes his way to the teleporter and vanishes. He says something before disappearing but I'm too lost in thought to catch it or reply. I wish I could watch him fighting strong stray summons with a kitchen appliance, but can't hold my own down there. I have not gotten far enough and I can only use the teleporter to go where I have been before.

I decide that I'm just not in the mood to be at the labyrinth and I head over to the teleporter. As I fade away to reappear on the first level, I see something strange. It's hard to describe but it's like a picture mirroring the background behind it, except it had a shape that's not flat as a picture would be. It's as if an item of a certain color has been placed in front of a wall of the same color. It's hard to see but it's there. I assume it's all an effect of the teleporter and dismiss it. That would later prove to be a mistake.

When I reappear on the first level I hear voices, a man and a woman, and I recognize them as belonging to Master Sakuro and Master Kouren who had just finished speaking. "It's been sudden and fast..."

"Are you still in love with him?" Sakuro's question is direct, but I'm not sure who he is talking about and my mind is flooded with possible answers, everyone from Ureksa to even Bron.

"I'm not," Kouren replied quickly without thinking too much of it. Suddenly I'm relieved because the chance of the man Sakuro asked about being Ureksa no longer matters if Kouren said no.

My heart pounds with anticipation, wondering if they're breaking up. I wouldn't mind if Sakuro is single for the rest of his life, I know I can't be with him, I'm just not good enough, but it would be great if my impossible dreams are never shattered. "Need some time off then, a little time to think about things? That's fine, I can understand. I have no intentions of rushing things."

I know it's wrong of me to wish for Sakuro to live a lonely life but if I can console him even a little, only as a friend, then I'm selfish enough to wish for it... it's only a wish after all.

The footsteps come closer and I rush out of the labyrinth. I'm pretty sure they saw me, or at least heard me. It's the story of my life; I'm always in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 12: Divergence

It's been a week since the day when Sakuro and Kouren started taking some time off. They seem to be interacting as friends quite normally. Things have slowed between Bron and Amariss as if they lingered on the line between friends and more than friends for a while before slowly drifting into the territory of friends. When it comes to Razzy and Kenon it's hard to say. Razzy loves flowers, she loves sneaking to the sunflower garden at Central Tower, she likes going out for candy with Kenon and sparring. They're not lovey dovey which is why it's hard to tell if that's simply how their relationship works or if they are only on friends level right now, getting to know each other better before upgrading the relationship.

It's pretty clear that Cleru and Sugar are in love. Sugar is very affectionate and has no problems showing it in public. Cleru is usually a bit embarrassed but he can be pretty passionate when he thinks no one is looking and doesn't realize that one girl with bad timing happens to be walking by. Varil and Pratty are still together too. It's easy to see that things are going well for them when they give each other those looks, when they walk together hand in hand and the way Varil never wastes an opportunity to put his arms around Pratty.

As for me, I'm single, no surprise there, but I'm not bitter. I'm living the life I always wanted so I'm happy. My thoughts occasionally wander towards Master Sakuro but I haven't said or done anything. More often my thoughts go towards Master Ureksa and I ask myself if that second platonic crush is growing out of proportion.

Time passes, the months fly by and a year is gone. I've been working hard and have managed to repay Rumari in full. She wouldn't take any extra cash so I sent her some gifts instead.

Sometimes, I think back to that strange thing I saw at the Labyrinth, that thing that looked like a perfectly clear glass figure moving. A figure of glass that was so pure that it was practically invisible, save for the barely perceivable effects of the light. Sometimes I wonder what it was and secretly wish it was more than just my imagination or the effect of the world fading and changing before my eyes as I was materialized somewhere else. Secretly, I crave for adventure.

Today is a special day in the crowded Central Tower. The Craftlords are hosting a weapon exhibit, witch of course hosts weapons they made themselves. There are also weapons made by master Craftknights who for various reasons may not hold the title of Craftlord but are at a high enough level to be Craftlords. That of course includes the original Craftlord of Jade, Rumari, who gave her title to her brother Ureksa when she became ill and did not wish to take it back when she was healed, and Bron who refused the title of Craftlord when it was offered to him years ago, or so I heard.

I attended the display, admiring the detail of the elegant but powerful weapons. They are durable and strong, yet they look like decorative pieces even if they're deadly. It makes me realize how behind I truly am in forging, but I haven't been doing that anymore, I've dedicated myself fully to engines, especially drill engines, that's what I'm good at.

Master Sakuro has been quite busy today, answering questions and gracefully accepting compliments. To summarize, he's surrounded by fan girls. I can say the same for Master Ureksa and somehow it just burns me up. I know I can't do anything about it, I would like to think that I'm closer to them than those girls, but when it comes down to it, I'm just another fan girl. Although I would prefer if they didn't find out, I don't want to be seen as just another fan, I wish for more, I wish for what I can't have.

Angry at the situation, I decide that it's best to leave. I've already taken a look around, I could examine the displayed weapons in more detail but I can't stand to listen to those stupid little giggles and from the corner of my eyes watch the mischievous smiles, and the looks that last longer than they should. So I leave; I leave and I go off to the labyrinth to blow off some steam.

I notice that the door is closed but that's fine because I have a key. That door was only recently installed and there was usually someone standing guard there. As I shut the door behind me I heard someone shout "hey!" but it's too late. I disappear in the teleporter by the time the door once again opens.

I realize that everyone who has a key to that door must currently be gathered at the exhibition. In fact, all the apprentice Craftknights were required to attend, and those who were not required to go were invited and the invitation was insisted upon. I realized that I'm probably the only one in the labyrinth right now, and I feel a cold chill run up and down my spine. But being alone has never bothered me; I find peace in being by myself. However, I have the feeling that I'm not alone, and that I'm not in the best company.

I shake my head and press on. I'm being silly, there's nothing to worry about. It's not like I'm going too deep into the labyrinth. Strangely enough, there are hardly any stray summons in my path. I guess I should be thankful. I'm on basement level eleven; this should be easy enough for me. But as I walk south of the teleporter and turn a corner, I see pieces of wood smashed all over the place, a mountain of broken crates and barrels blocking the path.

My first thought was to wonder what in the world happened, and my second was to question the real reason behind the weapons display and the fact that every person who has a key to the Labyrinth was attending. The "hey" I heard when I entered the labyrinth echoes in my mind and I realize that not every person who has a key was at the display. I don't remember seeing anyone in a guard uniform... Suddenly I really feel as if I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when I hear some groans and growls near by, followed by a high pitch sound that I do not recognize, I know it's time to get out of here.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 13: Pride

There's a Sniperhead flying above the teleporter. That kind of stray summon can be commonly found on basement level twenty-six, so why is it on eleven? Either way, I'm pretty sure that what's behind me is far worse.

I rush towards the teleporter, waving my drill around at the Sniperhead; sadly I can't jump too high. I shield myself with my weapon and watch as something grabs the Sniperhead and it fires away desperately, a good amount of the shots reaching me. I didn't see what grabbed it, I saw a glass-like blur of something fierce blending perfectly with the background and I disappeared via the teleporter.

I reappeared on level one, composed myself as fast as I could, and walked over to the door, praying that I wasn't locked in because I just realized that I lost the key. I panicked thinking I was trapped, only to find the key sitting on the floor by my feet. Fortunately, the door responded to the key and the one who shouted before was not there. I wondered if he had gone in after me, taking a wrong guess as to which level I teleported to. But as I shut the door behind me, certain that if the guard is in there he has a key, after all the door was locked a moment ago, I feel as if it's over.

I'm not sure what that was but I feel safe now that I'm away from it. Ironically, the scare doesn't compare to the same event plus a witness. Far from feeling secure I would feel worse knowing that there was someone there to watch it happen and throw it in my face later, telling me how unprepared I am. I fear lectures far more than I fear stray summons, if that's what that thing was.

Once I made certain that no one saw my pathetic frightened expression, I walk with my head held high. Admittedly I'm a mess, but who's to say I didn't get these cuts fighting something big? Far from being worried, I feel adventurous.

I walk out of the forging room next to the labyrinth entrance, arriving at the main entrance to the first level of Central Tower, just as Sakuro is pretending to need a break and some fresh air, but I have a feeling that it's only an excuse to go check out the labyrinth. Surely the missing guards must be part of an investigation team that's already down there. "What happened to you?"

I quickly make up an excuse. "It's nothing, I just wanted a little training." If I tell him what I saw he might know what it is, and he might know that it's strong enough to tare me apart and thus I'll have to admit these injuries are from a less worthy foe because if they were from that invisible thing I would be dead instead of just injured. I know I'm not supposed to know what's going on, and I don't want any extra precautions to be taken to stop me from knowing. Because I like knowing and I can control myself, I wouldn't have gone to the labyrinth if I knew the real reason why I'm not supposed to. I would have enjoyed the exhibition and I wouldn't have taken this risk. Truthfully I don't care if my testimony is helpful, which I doubt it would be beyond hinting the location of the strange phenomenon which they would have easily figured out anyway, but either way, I want to keep my own tiny amount of glory and the feeling of being adventurous.

"I thought you were at the exhibition." I wonder if I really am catching a hint of disappointment in his voice or if I'm just imagining it. I wonder if that disappointment, if it's even there, is due to my leaving or to the possibility of someone knowing what she is not supposed to know. Secretly I wish for the first, but realistically speaking it's probably the latter.

"The weapons were great, very inspiring!" I sound sincere because I am sincere. "Just looking at them made me want to do some training," I'm not lying at all; I'm being completely honest even if I'm saying this mostly as an excuse.

'I'm glad you enjoyed them so much, but the labyrinth will always be there and who knows when the exhibition will come back, so you should enjoy it while you can." I nod unsure if I should assume Sakuro believes that I was left in this state by a regular summon creature of the lower labyrinth levels, or if he thinks it was something more.

"I will! I think I'll just go home and take a shower first, then I'll go back to the exhibition." I'm smiling as if this is nothing, as if it doesn't hurt when the rips in my clothes brush against the fresh cuts, as if I'm cool enough to train like this all the time and tough enough to bear with it.

"Sounds good," Master Sakuro smiles casually, his expression shifting to a serious one in a split second, "just stay out of the labyrinth," and he continues on his way making no effort to hide his destination, the labyrinth. I wonder if I'm just that easy to read, I didn't think I was, or if Master Sakuro is just really good at reading people.

I returned to the Silver Guild and glanced at my water scooter which is sitting in a corner feeling ignored. I used the teleporter to go to level eleven a while ago, and I always walk along the bridges instead of taking the shortcuts through the water when I want to go anywhere. I still don't know how to swim and I remember all the close calls I've had with that scooter, and the impending fear of coming close to losing a limb or two. If I never have to use that thing again I'll be happy. I'll just use the teleporter and stick to the levels that are not too flooded.

While the warm water washes over my body in the shower, I contemplate the necessity of knowing how to swim when living in a tower in the middle of the ocean. But my choice doesn't change; I'm not asking anyone for any lessons until I have the body of a model and the smoothest skin. Taking into consideration the extra scratches from today and the old scars from clumsy forging, it might be a while before any of that comes true. I laugh at myself for putting vanity before safety and for continuing to live here with no intentions of leaving; even knowing that water is always the wrong place for me regardless of the time.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 14: Trust

It was useless to pretend I didn't know about the creature that hid in the labyrinth. Master Bron got the information out of me and sent me to have a talk with Master Sakuro. I did not argue and went.

I knocked on the door to Master Sakuro's house and he opened it. "Come in," he offered me a seat. "What brings you here?"

I sit at the table, watching Master Sakuro steer the contents of a pot in the adjacent kitchen. It's curry, I'm sure, the scent of Master Sakuro's curry is unmistakable. "Master Bron told me to talk to you about the labyrinth."

"There is nothing to worry about," Sakuro assured me. "But if you were sent to me then it's because you must already be aware of the situation, or part of it. Master Bron has told me that when you suspect something is going on you ask around. Those questions might get people thinking about the situation, even more so if you pass along what you have heard so far when searching for new information. Rumors might get started that way and people might come to the wrong conclusions; or the right conclusions..."

"I don't mean to gossip, I just want to know what's going on. If I hear something I don't claim it to be true. If I comment on it I clarify that it's something I heard and don't know if it's true or not," besides, I don't think the Craftlords are being fair telling only a select number of people about what's happening. It's true that the masses are stupid and panicky, but I am not. I want to be part of that group. "Besides, I don't know if I'm dealing with a secret if no one tells me. Until I figure out what's going on I won't know if it was supposed to be a secret or not."

"And by then it will be too late," that's exactly what I wanted Sakuro to say.

"Exactly, but if I'm told to keep a secret then I'm good at it," I'm proud of myself for being a little troublesome to him. It's not supposed to be something to be proud of but I am, because it means I'm smart enough not to be so easily tricked and he'll just have to accept that.

"I see..." Sakuro steers the pot some more, adding in some spices. I think I have him right where I want him, I think that I'm about to be included on the inside information, but my hopes soon fall. "Then I will ask you to keep anything you hear a secret."

"Anything? That's not very specific; if it's not a secret then I rather share." He's turning my own words against me, trying to keep me quiet without telling me anything in return.

"You know how it is, the less you know the safer you are..." This is a well known saying, in other words, ignorance is bliss, but not for me.

"I'm not a panicky idiot, nor do I enjoy ignorance," I'm starting to get annoyed.

Master Sakuro puts the finishing touches on the curry; the funniest part is when he starts blowing kisses at it. "You have to add love, it's an important ingredient," he explains, changing the subject for a moment. I nod, lost in his Sapphire eyes, he's charming, but I need to remember why I'm here. "Tell you what," he smiles that irresistible smile, "if you hear anything come to me and tell me all about it but don't spread it and don't search for more information since that might cause rumors to spread even if you're not trying to cause that."

I have a feeling I might not be coming very often. "Just because you're a Craftlord doesn't mean you're better than everyone else," watch as I insert my foot in my mouth yet again. "A lot of people are panicky idiots but some are actually smart. I'm not your messenger girl, Sakuro. Whatever I find out for myself is my business and you can't tell me not to socialize with people."

"You're going to gain a reputation for being a gossipy girl," Sakuro is getting annoyed, his expression becoming serious.

"I don't care, I rather be a gossipy girl than an ignorant fool," it is the truth.

"You're being childish and selfish!" The curry is done and Sakuro lets the pot cool for a few minutes.

"So are you," I glare; I'm not going to let anyone step all over me.

Sakuro sighs, "if you spread rumors-"

I cut him off, "I'm not spreading rumors I'm looking for the truth!"

He raises his voice signaling for me to listen, "if you spread rumors intentionally or not, it will cause trouble. You shouldn't put your own curiosity before Wystern."

"Why should I have any loyalty towards a nation that doesn't trust me? I cannot believe that those who do not trust me will protect me, so inevitably I'll try to be ready. I mean no harm; I just don't trust you because you don't trust me. I'm not stupid and I can't tolerate being treated as such." I'm not going to back down.

"Yet you're okay with it as long as you're in," Sakuro makes an important point, but not enough to shut me up.

"I understand that not everyone knows how to remain calm and I have no intensions of telling the wrong people," I argue.

And he turns it against me, "yes you're right, not everyone knows how to stay calm."

"I am calm when I know what I'm facing. I can't be calm surrounded by lies," I give him my deadliest glare. "I hate being used."

"Maybe you should leave Wystern..." I can't believe he suggested that.

"You can't kick me out," or maybe he can? "You know it's not fair and I would have full rights to come back even if it's just to walk around the public areas."

"And cause trouble? Do you know what you're saying? You're basically telling me that you don't care about Wystern, you just want to be a part of some game that's not even a game, this is serious business and you're talking about personal grudges and revenge?"

"When did I ever say that?" He read too far into my words, I did hint I would try to get back at him and he caught it, but the problem isn't that he caught it; the problem is that he turned it against me. "Wystern are its people not the Central Tower building and not a small group of elite Craftknights. Wystern may be the city of swords but a sword is not strength, or skill or fellowship," I throw out Wystern's famous saying, which Sakuro likes to quote. "There's more to things than just appearances, excuse me for valuing trust." I get up and head for the door fuming.

"Wait! This is serious, what do you intend to do?" He grabs my arm and I shake him off.

"Nothing, I'm not selfish enough to cause a panic over a personal grudge as you called it. I'll stop trying to figure things out. I'll live in blissful ignorance and I won't pass any information along to anyone. What I hear I will not speak of, just don't expect me to help when it all blows up, because the truth always comes out." I reach for the doorknob and unnecessarily add some very bitter tasting words, "you just lost my respect. But don't worry; I can still pretend you have it for the sake of the honest Craftlords of Iron." Then I leave, fuming all the way to the Silver Guild and I realize that maybe I was being too hard on Sakuro, he must be under a lot of stress after all.

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Chapter 15: Sakuro's Kitchen

I'm such an idiot. After I told off Sakuro I went straight to my room to cry on my pillow. I have a really big mouth sometimes and I know I was harsher than I needed to be. I wouldn't be surprised if I really am labeled as a traitor and kicked out.

There is a knock on my door and I immediately try to dry my tears. I take long deep breaths and try to calm down. I clear my throat and reply as well as I can, "just a minute." I sprint from my bed and search for a mirror. It's evident I've been crying so I run into the adjacent bathroom, which is uncomfortably small but serves its purpose. I splash some cool water on my face and cup my hands together to drink some in hopes of getting rid of the lump in my throat. I quickly dry off with a towel and run to answer the door.

I find it odd that Master Bron didn't simply come in, since he barges in all the time. He assumes that if I want privacy I'll use the lock, and if the door is not locked, there's no need to knock. Then I realize that the reason this was a bit unusual for Master Bron was because the one knocking wasn't Master Bron.

Master Sakuro stood at the door to my work shop and room holding a bowl of curry with a cheesy smile plastered on his face as if we never argued at all. I stared at him in shock, wishing to just disappear off the face of the planet, then I moved to close the door but he stopped it with his foot. "I had some extra curry, so I thought I should share some."

"Ah... Um... Ah..." I'm too surprised to say anything coherent right now.

"Oh is my curry really that good? You were rendered speechless just by its delicious scent!" Sakuro places the bowl in my hands and it takes everything I have to make sure it doesn't slip out of my grip. My arms and legs feel like jelly right now.

"I... Ah..." The words just refuse to come out, no matter how hard I try to push them out they refuse.

"You should eat up; it's obvious you're very impressed by the curry. Let's eat dessert together, okay? I'll be at my house," and without another word, Sakuro leaves.

I stand there for a moment frozen in shock and a few minutes later Master Bron walks by. "That smells good! Sakuro didn't bring me any curry, but I prefer Amariss' cooking anyway. Hey, if you're not gonna eat that then I will, don't just stand there holding the curry."

"Huh?" I look at the curry then at Master Bron, then back at the curry and back at Bron. "Of course I'm going to eat it." I go back into my work shop and set the bowl down on the table. I dig out my homemade spoon and dig in. The spoon is a crooked forged mess, but serves its purpose. Sakuro is really a great cook.

After eating the curry I washed the bowl and summoned all my courage to return to Sakuro's house. I took a deep breath, willed any possible left over tears to evaporate and knocked on the door.

As soon as my hand made contact with the door it was opened and there stood Sakuro with that same silly smile. "I'm glad you could make it, come in, have a seat."

I nod and follow him in, handing him the empty bowl, "thanks for the curry, it was really great."

"You're welcome, I'm glad to share the joys of curry," Sakuro really likes curry and has an amazing ability in the kitchen. He also has the amazing ability to easily overcome awkward moments or so it seems.

"Um... I..." I'm not sure how to phrase things. I came but I didn't take time to organize my thoughts.

"Right, right, you came because you were promised dessert." Sakuro placed a delicious looking chocolate cake on the table. "The lady down the street makes cakes and sells them. It's not a formal business, but the cake is delicious. We did a recipe trade and she gave me the cake recipe in exchange for my curry recipe. Do you know what the secret ingredient for curry is?"

I feel a little silly saying this, but I think this is what Master Sakuro expects me to answer. "Love?"

"No, not 'love?'" He mimics my unsure tone, "it's 'love'." This time he speaks in a voice that tells he's sure of it. Do you know what the secret ingredient for chocolate cake is?" He serves a generous piece of said cake and places the plate in front of me along with a fork.

"This is big..." honestly, it looks delicious and I don't mind having this much to myself, just not all at once.

"Oh don't give me that," Sakuro sounds like he's teasing me, "I don't like it when you girls diet. You have to be willing to try my cooking. You know what they say about the way to the heart being through the stomach."

"The way to a man's heart that is," I correct him.

"Exactly, so don't break my heart by refusing my cooking," I laugh when Sakuro says this, but I'm incredibly confused.

I know he's not dating Kouren right now, but he can't possibly be interested in me. I think he's just trying to apologize for our argument and I'm thankful he broke the ice, yet at the same time I'm mad at him for playing with my heart. I feel like laughing at the Irony that is the fact that he has provided me with a big piece of chocolate cake to eat away my sorrow. I take a bite and taste a little piece of heaven.

"You haven't answered me yet," Sakuro reminds me. "What's the secret ingredient for chocolate cake?" He starts on his cake while waiting for my answer.

I swallow savoring the bite and I'm tempted to take another before replying but I don't. "Love?"

"Not quite," Sakuro encourages me to guess again.

"Love!" I say with a more certain tone this time.

"That was better, but not exactly. Love is used for curry and many other foods, but chocolate needs an additional ingredient." I wonder what Sakuro is getting at. I wonder if he'll give me a strange analogy about the secret ingredient being friendship or trust or something like that. But his reply is unexpected. "Passion," and my face becomes red. Little did I know that my hopes would die a second later.

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Chapter 16: The Inspirational Speech of a Craftlord

"Pa-pass-ion?" I repeat while my mind is in a blissful daze. I'm spacing out imagining Sakuro explaining that my bravery telling him off had inspired him and made him fall in love with me. I know that's impossible but I'm enjoying my dream.

"No, not 'pa-pass-ion,' it's passion." How can he smile so casually while saying that? "Do you know what the most important ingredient to friendship is?"

I'm still in the clouds from his last statement and have little room to think as my mind is occupied with thoughts of Sakuro. I smile sheepishly wondering if Sakuro's lips will taste like curry because he eats so much of it, or like chocolate because that's the last thing he ate.

"Have you thought about it?" He tried to wake me from my daze, but I'm quite happy flying on cloud nine. I don't realize that he's not purposely being flirty; he's being friendly and joking around. He's not implying anything but I wish he was; it's all my wishful thinking. "Have you thought about the main ingredient for friendship?"

I continue to stare and smile like a complete idiot, but finally manage to push a single word out, "love," I blink and shake my head then change my answer, "trust."

"Right, though the love of friends is important, love cannot exist without trust, so the main ingredient of friendship is trust." Sakuro takes a deep breath and I know his speech will be extensive. "The people of Wystern trust us Craftlords to handle certain things and would rather focus on their own duties. That is why there wasn't an outrage when the events of several years ago were thrown into the public light. The events with Parista and the true purpose of the tournament, I'm sure you've heard about that, were eventually revealed. It was all made known and people where thankful it was handled and Wystern was saved."

Sakuro paused for a breath and continued, "I suppose that part of it is due to the love that the people of Wystern have for this city. They don't wish to leave so it's not like they would have demanded an evacuation plan should the situation been revealed earlier. Though many would be willing to help, they might have been throwing away their lives uselessly, or moving towards hasty actions before enough information was gathered. In the end they trusted us and were grateful to us, especially to the Craftlords of Iron Cleru and Pratty, the heroes whom the people determined both deserved equal credit."

Sakuro took another deep breath and delivered the last part of his speech, "The Craftlords of Iron have a similar way to see things in comparison to you, they are more open and try not to hide anything, even when people might say 'it's Craftlord business' they want to share what's going on. I believe they're right, but the fact still remains that unnecessary casualties need to be avoided, and that the many heroes in training of this city need to complete the training of life before they are ready to face the challenges of being a hero."

Master Sakuro gives me a moment to let it all sink in. "It's for their protection." I can understand now. I see how hard it is for Sakuro to make these choices, and how hard it must be for all the Craftlords. They don't want to hide things but they know that it would cause an unnecessary panic and bring danger if they didn't. Even the very people who were tricked understand they were saved from being caught in the rush of the moment and when it comes down to it, they know the Craftlords are willing to, and have, risked their lives for Wystern.

"Right, but there is a group of people who, like you, prefer to know what's going on, a group that helps keep the peace and reassures everyone else. That group is not limited only to the Craftlords. Various Craftknights and civilians are a part of that group. Should an emergency ever arise, those people will become leaders of small groups within Wystern. There are many people living here, and many visitors come every day. If an emergency occurs, we will need as much help as we can get to make sure everyone is safe. In the event of say, a full scale attack, the Craftlords and the classified Craftknights would be in the battle field, who would keep the peace with the civilians and apprentices who are not yet ready for battle then?" I have a feeling that Master Sakuro isn't only giving me a random example, but rather he's hinting at something that could or is expected to happen.

"That group of people, they help support the civilians, the apprentices and each other." I reply, keeping a calm expression, even if I'm dying to ask about his 'full scale attack' example.

"Right, and don't forget the Craftlords and Craftknights, they need help and support too," Sakuro reminds me. "I never thought I was superior to anyone, this is my duty, my responsibility, but I'm still human."

I'm feeling embarrassed for being so harsh before. "I'm sorry; I was frustrated and said some mean things. I just wish... I wish to be more useful."

"It's alright, I apologize too if I gave out the wrong idea," this is the same man who eats curry in the formal activity hall in the second floor of Central Tower and goes shopping for ingredients in the exotic shop in the first level of Wystern before the shop is even open. All of it is permitted just because he's a Craftlord, but even if he takes advantage of those details, he still has a great sense of duty towards being a Craftlord. "You can join that group if you wish, but you must prove that you can handle pressure, keep secrets and think rationally under stress. You might also have to hide certain information for people's protection, to stop them from acting rashly. Can you do that?"

"I can," I try to sound sure of myself and I really am. I try to tell myself that all those secret things were happening anyway and if I didn't worry about them too much before, then I shouldn't worry now. Reality is still the same; the only difference is that now I know about it. Sakuro didn't declare undying love to me, but at least he's letting me into the secret group.

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Chapter 17: Explanations from the Craftlords

Today I'm going to meet with the secret group for the first time. The meeting is taking place on the ceremonial hall on the second floor of Central Tower. When I arrive I see that the Craftlords are here. It looks like I was the last one to arrive, but I think Master Sakuro gave me a later arrival time on purpose.

The Craftlords who are present include, Master Rondeau the Craftlord of Diamond, Master Sakuro the Craftlord of Sapphire, Master Ureksa the Craftlord of Jade, Master Kouren the Craftlord of Ruby, Master Tyram the Craftlord of Crystal and Masters Cleru and Pratty the Craftlords of Iron.

The other people present are Master Bron head of the Silver Guild and Master Libody head of the Gold Guild, I'm surprised those two could stop fighting long enough to work together, but I guess the situation is more important and they are both thinking about the good of Wystern.

Amariss, the mother of Cleru and Pratty is here. Rumari, the original Craftlord of Jade and Ureksa's sister is in the group. There are also several Craftknights here, Varil, Razzy, Sanary and Kenon. Cleru and Pratty's summon beasts; Sugar and Zantek respectively are present too.

I stand awkwardly to the side until Master Sakuro calls me over, "looks like the latest addition to our group has arrived."

"Am I late?" I'm certain I'm not, I'm sure he told me to arrive late, possibly so they could discuss certain things before I got here, most likely things about me.

"Not at all, welcome to the PoW, that is Protectors of Wystern." Sakuro put at least that worry to rest, but I wonder what they said about me. "Well then, we should start by giving you the update on the current situation, and this will serve as a review for everyone else. Master Kouren..."

Kouren, who is actually Sanary's sister, though it's a little hard to believe, stands in the center of the stage where Sakuro was a moment ago. "During the time of the weapons exhibit, a team of investigators was sent into the labyrinth to find the cause of a series of unusual events. People had reported seeing distortions in the scenery and crates and barrels moving on their own close to those distortions. The weapons exhibit was made with the purpose of sealing off all entries to the labyrinth while inviting people to willingly avoid the labyrinth during the investigation."

It's just as I thought, the exhibit was a cover up.

"During their investigation, the team made several discoveries," Kouren continued. "Usually, the strongest stray summons that reside in the labyrinth gather in the deepest levels, however, they had been moving up. Those summons prey on the weaker summons that inhabited the upper levels of the labyrinth and significantly reduced their numbers. The investigation team also found the source of the strange sightings of distorted sceneries, a rare stray summon with unusual chameleonic abilities. It was that stray summon, which we will call chameleon, that was moving the crates and barrels, blending so well into its surroundings that the witnesses thought that the crates and barrels were moving by themselves and saw nothing but a distortion in the scenery where the chameleon was."

We're all quietly paying attention while Kouren goes over the situation. I know that chameleon stray summon must have been the one I saw.

"At first, the chameleon didn't attack humans and the confrontations with other stray summons were minimal, hence why it took some time for it to be noticed," Kouren continued her explanation. "That changed on the day before the exhibit when the chameleon started becoming violent in a rush to leave the labyrinth while our investigation team tried to stop it from leaving and running rampant around the city. Several members of the team were injured and even the door's guard had to help assist them. In short, the situation rapidly became much more serious then we thought. At first we were trying to find out what was happening and trying to avoid the problem being blown out of proportions, but the situation worsened, and it was not until later that we were able to explain why."

I understand now. The guard did call out to me that day, he went to find me but instead ended up having to help rescue the investigators who were still there since the day before. The Craftlords didn't initially go into the labyrinth themselves because they didn't know the chameleon was that strong and didn't want to cause people to worry if things were not that serious. Then it all took a turn for the worse when the chameleon started attacking.

"That was what we had determined so far up until yesterday, but there are still some unanswered questions that were discovered with recent investigations. Master Ureksa..." Kouren finished her review and now Ureksa stood at the stage to speak.

Master Ureksa began his explanation, "this situation started a lot earlier than we thought, during the time Wystern was constructed. Stray sea serpent summons used to inhabit this area. Because of the depth of the ocean and properties of the water, Parista's shrine was built here and Wystern was constructed on top of it."

Wow, I had no idea the story went back that far into the past. Even if I should be worried and even if I should be taking this seriously, I can't help it but to be excited to listen to all of this. For a long time before coming to Wystern I've been dreaming of adventure, and now it's finally coming true.

I focus on Master Ureksa and listen to his speech. "The sea serpent stray summons hold a grudge against Wystern and everyone who lives here because they see this city as an invasion of their territory. However, when Parista was sealed they started avoiding the area. The reason for this is that the sea serpents, affiliated to water, feared Parista, the spirit of Fire. Though logically one would think that water would have the advantage over fire, Parista was so powerful it was an exception. After Parista returned to its world, traces of its energy were left behind, making the sea serpents believe that Parista was being suppressed but still present. They feared that the people of Wystern would free and manipulate Parista if they needed to defend their home from the sea serpents." Parista was sealed because it couldn't be controlled. I guess those sea serpents thought the people of Wystern were only keeping Parista for emergencies.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 18: The Gravity of the Situation

Master Ureksa's expression is serious as he links the events together. "Around a year ago, a sea serpent attacked the port and was defeated."

I remember that! It was when I came to Wystern and was delivering a written report from Master Sakuro to Master Ureksa. Back then I didn't realize the name 'Ureksa' belonged to a man and had been searching for a woman to give her the report. At that time I had a bad cold and fainted. Master Ureksa thought that Master Sakuro had set him up to play hero for the new girl, so he took me back to Master Sakuro's place.

I noticed that Master Ureksa didn't really mention that he was the one who defeated the sea monster. I'm not sure if he thought it was an unimportant detail, or if he simply didn't think it was proper to say it that way, even if it's true. Perhaps he didn't say it because everyone must already know.

I continued to listen to Master Ureksa, "We have determined that the sea stray summon was here to investigate if Parista was still sealed and being suppressed or if it was gone. Because it couldn't accomplish its mission, the herd assumed that the defeat was a sure sign of Parista still being here. They thought that we were getting power from Parista and could gain more if needed. Master Tyram..."

The Craftlords switch places once again, and now it's Tyram's turn to speak. He's Rumari's fiance. I heard he came close to giving up his title as a Craftlord but Rumari talked him into keeping it. I'm not sure if my attention is wavering because I'm tired of listening for so long, because Tyram is long winded or if it was just the effect of going from listening to my secret platonic crush, to my rival for said crush, to my other secret platonic crush, and finally to a man who is in no way linked to my non-existent love life.

Master Tyram's explanations about his research become a blur and I am only able to catch the end of his speech. "To summarize, the sea serpents have a complex under sea society. They fear Parista as an absolute being that will inevitably always defeat them. This is most likely based on a past experience that nearly wiped out their race. Because of the possibility of Parista still being here and empowering the people of Wystern, they were fearful and held back all this time."

Sounds like Master Tyram is reviewing what he said. That's good; with this I can make sure I didn't miss anything too important. "Realizing that they could not effectively investigate since they are creatures of water, they made some kind of deal with the chameleon stray summon and it came to investigate. That is a wonder in itself, since the sea serpents usually do not get along with land dwelling stray summons."

I catch Master Ureksa from the corner of my eyes, making a scissors signal with his hand, as if telling Master Tyram to avoid the parts of his research that interest only him.

I think Master Tyram caught the hint; he cleared his throat and finished off in a more technical manner. "The chameleon snuck into Wystern and the labyrinth avoiding all confrontations, as warned by the sea serpents. After realizing beyond a doubt following a long investigation, that the energy coming from Wystern is only left over energy, and Parista is no longer here, the chameleon became more confident and started to violently make its way out of the labyrinth. We were about to stop the chameleon but it turns out that it had the ability to split itself dividing it's power."

This is getting good... "One of the less powerful parts escaped while we fought the main one. After the main part was defeated, it is safe to assume the portion that has split from the main body died, but it had already carried out the mission of informing the fish stray summons that were at port about its findings. Those fish were weak and were not thought of as a danger, hence why they easily escaped and informed the sea serpents." Master Tyram finally finished, "Master Rondeau," and now it's time for the head master of the Craftlords to speak.

"As you might have concluded, we were terribly careless in underestimating the threats," Master Rondeau looks very serious. "Because of that, we are currently surrounded by an army of sea serpents with no possibilities of escaping by sea; any normal ship will be sunk."

Master Rondeau certainly dropped the bomb with that news. "We will try to maintain order here in Wystern while we work on getting some battle ships ready. All communications with Vance and Rugista are currently cut off and we're all stuck here until a path can be opened by sea. The sea serpents are gathering for the attack and convincing the entire herd that Parista is gone. We must be ready to fight before they approach Wystern. We can only hope that the neighboring countries will notice the lack of trading activities from Wystern and investigate, and that those investigators make it back alive. However, even if they send help it will take time and the battle will most likely start before then."

What came next was a list of the duties that needed to be done. The Craftlords would be making strong weapons to prepare, and helping arm the battle ships. The guild masters would begin to train their Craftknights, but not reveal the gravity of the situation yet, since not all the apprentices will be qualified to go to battle on time and would get in the way if they're not ready.

Special training will also take place, and an upcoming tournament will be announced to justify the intensity of the training. I know that if people find out the situation is this bad, there will be a panic and hopelessness will settle in. We can't afford to lose our fighting spirit; we need it now more than ever.

As for my task, since my usual job is making drill engines and I have gained a decent amount of experience repairing different types of engines, I was assigned to work on the engines that will power the ships, as well as the giant drills attached to them. As a general assistant I'll be working on the engine area where ever I'm needed, design, assembly, repair, inventory, wherever I need to be.

I realize that my free time has basically evaporated, that I won't be working with Master Sakuro, Master Ureksa, or any of my friends, and that this will be harder than it sounds, even if it already sounds pretty hard. I hope that I can keep thinking this is noble, and keep feeling like a hero, even if a time comes when I may begin to envy the blissful ignorance I threw away that time at Master's Sakuro's house. I can't help it but to fear that I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that I always will be.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 19: Love is Confusing and Doubts are Painful

I am exhausted. I've been working on engines for the past three days with virtually no sleep. Let's not forget that other than the extra work I'm doing for PoW, Protectors of Wystern, I need to do my job of making drill engines, which actually earns me some money.

Then I need to track down Master Bron and have him inspect and approve the engines so I can sell them with the seal of the Silver Guild. It's been a long time since one of my engines has failed inspection. I guess that after living in Wystern for over a year, I'm finally getting good at this after I decided to focus on my best area, engines.

Tired of being exhausted, I decided to take the day off. If PoW's work is free and voluntary, then they shouldn't complain if I take a day off. Besides, they have plenty of help from people who are not even in PoW. They're making engines, weapons and fortifying ships thinking they're working on durability and elegance, because metal plated ships look oh so pretty and shiny, and they don't realize they're constructing battle vessels. Or maybe they do, but they decided to trust the Craftlords and keep their blissful ignorance intact.

Today I took the time to take a long bath and scrub the dirt and salt out of my hair, since I have been working near the port and the sea breeze doesn't do wonders for hair. I used a generous amount of soap, covering myself in layers of it several times, and plenty of much needed shampoo. I filed my nails as nicely as I could, good thing I always wear gloves at work, and even took the time to paint them. Once the personal hygiene is done I brush my hair, look over my clothes and go out. I'm taking the day off!

At first I thought about saying I was feeling ill and hiding out in my room resting, but I realized that's the coward's way out and when I came to Wystern I decided to be brave.

I went to middle Wystern and looked for the house of the lady who gave Master Sakuro the chocolate cake recipe. She also sells other kinds of sweets too. I purchased a small box of caramel filling chocolate bonbons and went up to upper Wystern to eat some. If Master Sakuro's secret hobby is eating curry in the ceremony hall in the second foor of Central Tower, then mine shall be to eat chocolate in the vacant lots of the third level of Wystern.

I walked across the bridge that's practically identical to the ones in the other two levels of the City of Swords. The arcs forming stripes of sun and shade, it's a beautiful day, the calm before the storm.

I reach the vacant lot at the south side and sit behind the fence. There's another lot towards the east, I want to go there but I'm too chicken to walk over the relatively thin metal path. I'm not absolutely terrified of heights but I'm not fond of them either. I know I can be clumsy and I realize that I am quite lacking in balance, so maybe that's my survival instinct telling me not to go there.

I sit here for a while eating sweets. The bonbons are nicely wrapped in little paper cups and they're absolutely delicious and well worth the price. Though I realize that this box is probably meant to be sold to a dashing young man who intends to steal his lady's heart, I have no prince charming so I bought them for myself.

While I'm eating these sweets, I can't help it but to think about Sakuro and Ureksa. I laugh at myself and at the calories, but it's silly really, because I've always been average, not fat and definitely not a model. Well maybe a little chubby as a child, but I doubt a few chocolates will have too much of an effect with the extra exercise I've been doing.

I can't help it but to remember the story of how Ureksa sold Wystern and his friends for his sister's sake, even if Rumari would not have wanted that. Then another thought comes to mind, my taste in men. I always end up liking unreachable men, and when I try to lower my standards to something more realistic I don't like the men who fall into that category. Am I shallow? I don't just want someone to love, I want someone to treasure, but I can't do that unless I feel like he is a treasure.

I connect the thoughts and fall into a deeper confusion. Am I just trying to replace Sakuro with Ureksa? Does Ureksa's dark past lower his level in a way and eliminates some of the competition so that he's a little more reachable, even if he is a Craftlord like Sakuro? Or is it that I have also truly fallen for Ureksa as I have for Sakuro? Deep down, I know the conversation about chocolate cake and passion didn't mean much to Sakuro, I keep telling myself that because the bottom line is I'm lacking when it comes to confidence.

My thoughts shift around, almost randomly, swimming in confusion. If a man ever told me that he was willing to destroy a city for me I would think it's romantic. I would ask him not to do it, but I would be honored by the thought. Of course in Ureksa's case it was all sibling love, but I wonder if he would do the same for a girlfriend and I wonder if he has one. I have been assuming he doesn't but who am I to say? Maybe she isn't from Wystern, maybe she's waiting for him in Vance.

I'm lost in thought and confused by my feelings, but at the same time I laugh at myself. I laugh because it doesn't matter if I love Sakuro, or Ureksa, or both of them, because they are unreachable.

Even if one has more competition than the other, I'm lying to myself if I think that means he'll like me. I'm not the only girl left who's willing to overlook Ureksa's past, and even if I were, I wonder if he would be interested.

Then I realize that I find it difficult to trust men, and assume that they could never see me as more than a friend unless I'm gorgeous, like Kouren. I'm becoming more conscious of every little detail about me that isn't perfect. I know this isn't healthy but I can't help it, maybe I'm just stressed that my platonic crushes are crossing the line between platonic and real, and that will inevitably result in an even more broken heart.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 20: Confessions for Pouso

I wonder if I'm the one who's in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if it is that adorable little yellow ghost. The being, far from scary, is unbelievably cute. "Hi there," I can't help it but to smile.

The little summon approaches me with curious eyes. He's wearing a cute purple hat with a yellow star decoration and a fuzzy yellow ball on top. In its short little arms it holds a rolled up paper. The summon creature squeaked and gave me the paper.

"For me?" I stretched out the sheet and saw plans for a torpedo. The inner workings of the torpedo were comparable to that of a drill.

There was a short note in messy handwriting in a corner of the plans. "I know you don't like crowds and prefer to work on smaller engines by yourself, -Bron." I should thank Master Bron later. I wonder if this is his guardian beast, or someone else's guardian beast who's been deemed the official delivery boy for everyone? I think I've seen him before, but can't remember where.

"Thanks for the delivery, want some candy?" I offer the little cutie some bonbons which he accepts with a happy little squeal. "Are you Master Bron's guardian beast?" I feel silly asking, because the little guy doesn't look like Bron's type.

The yellow ghost shakes his head, the fuzzy yellow ball at the end of his purple hat bouncing from side to side with the movements.

"I should have known. Are you the guardian beast of a Craftlord?" This time he nods, the end of his hat bouncing up and down with the movement. I giggle, "you're so cute." Cute beings are lucky, everyone instantly adores them. I feel jealous but try to push such strange thoughts away since it would be odd to say I'm jealous of a little yellow ghost.

So far I've learned that my new little friend likes chocolate and he's the guardian beast of a Craftlord... I blush. "Are you Master Sakuro's guardian beast?" The little guy shakes his head. "Master Ureksa then?" He nods and I blush some more, I don't even know why. "Oh that's right, I've seen you before," how could I forget? "It was over a year ago..."

Somehow, I feel like foolishly spilling out my heart to this summon creature. He speaks in squeals, which remind me of Zantek's beeps that Pratty can understand perfectly. But with Zantek I can at least understand some of it by the tome of the sounds and his expression.

So far I have only been able to interpret the yellow ghost's nods and shakes and nothing more. I should have known I would be better with machines than living beings, which is an Ironic thing to think since he has the appearance of a ghost, though he is alive.

"Will you listen to me for a moment?" He nods. "There's this man I like... Well actually there are two men I like. I'm still getting to know them and I think my feelings are just a passing crush, or I try to make them that way. Sometimes I really want to get to know one of them. I guess the reason I can't choose is because neither likes me back so it would be a bit pointless to choose."

The little cutie gives me a confused look; I myself don't think I'm making a lot of sense. "I don't think either would like me back even if they knew, that's why it's pointless. But for some unknown reason I just felt like telling someone." I'm not sure what I'm trying to accomplish, if anything, but I feel pretty stupid and conclude that I have a big mouth.

Suddenly I realize that secretly I'm not only heartbroken over Sakuro, but I'm wishing that Ureksa would do something crazy for me like sink Wystern if I don't go out with him. I know it's extreme and it's not going to happen, but only when a man does something extreme for me will I be convinced that he cares for me, otherwise I'll always doubt, because I'm just not that special, I'm not special at all.

"You know, I'm not sad about it. I've always thought that people who cry because they're not loved are pathetic and that they should grow up and be mature enough to accept that they have nothing to offer. After all, I have standards too and would reject any man who doesn't fit into them, even if he tries really hard. That's never happened but I have the maturity to accept that I'm not super special and automatically liked."

I'm a contradiction. I have no confidence when it comes to winning a man's heart but plenty of confidence when it comes to being able to live without one. I don't want to be heartbroken but at the same time I know I can get over it. No one knows of this lack of confidence I hide. On the outside I'm confident, but that's just because the goals I set for myself are not that hard, so of course I'll be confident that I can achieve them.

"Hey little guy, I'm going to work on this." I'll work hard, I'll get better at making engines and I'll continue to make a living out of it. I'll eventually forget about those two men, because even if I have no confidence, I still have my pride, and I'm never going to beg for attention.

I've decided I need to be stronger. Dwelling on these thoughts about Sakuro and Ureksa won't do anyone any good. "Little guy... if I don't like those men enough to make an effort to make them like me back, does that mean it really is just a passing crush, or that I'm just smart enough not to waste my time?"

I don't understand the squeak I get as a response, but my goal has been lowered. I'm more confident now, because I've decided that I won't care about what Sakuro or Ureksa think of me. I'll just do my job, make a living, be a helper to the Craftlords, be in PoW, and hopefully I'll stop being caught up on myself enough to realize that there are bigger things going on.

"Pouso," Master Ureksa arrives at upper Wystern and Pouso starts squeaking at him full speed. I can't help it but to feel I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time once again. That sneaky little tattle tell...

To be Continued

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Chapter 21: Ureksa, the Knight in Shining Armor?

"What?" Master Ureksa looks at his guardian beast in surprise. "Wait, slow down, what are you talking about, Pouso?"

I learn that Pouso is the name of the little yellow ghost. His squeaks slow down as he has a conversation that only his master can understand.

"What are you saying? That doesn't concern me!" I wonder what Pouso told Master Ureksa. I don't know, but they're having some kind of argument and I can only understand Ureksa's half. "Rumari wouldn't say that. Well, actually she might say that, but... No, it doesn't mean it has to be me. What?! Duty?! I do have a duty and it's not to-" he stops and looks at me, I'm giving him a blank confused look. "I can understand him..."

"Yes, I know," It's not that I think he's crazy, I'm just confused by the incomplete argument I'm listening to. "It's like Pratty and Zantek, except I can make out a little of what Zantek says."

"It must be because of your affinity to machines, you choose correctly if a drill is your primary weapon." Master Ureksa gave me a compliment, sort of, and even if I said I wouldn't care about Ureksa or Sakuro anymore I'm happy.

Life is easy when you don't have big aspirations. There are no disappointments if your goals are not hard. My goal will be to enjoy life, and perhaps to let the gravity of Wystern's situation finally sink in. "That's right!" I'm not trying to make him fall for me, I'm not trying to impress him so I don't need to be disappointed if I don't. If I'm only aiming to be average then I can be confident that I'll do it.

Pouso starts to squeak again and I get the feeling that he's talking about me. Ureksa sighs and looks at me, as if to please his guardian beast and make him shut up. "Are you alright?"

"Yes, I'm fine, I was exhausted before but I'm okay now. I took a break and I'm feeling better." I wonder what Pouso told Ureksa to make him ask me this.

"See? She's fine," now he addressed Pouso.

"Master Ureksa, what did Pouso tell you?" I wonder if I'll like the answer or if I was better off not knowing... probably the latter.

"He said that your heart was fragile and that you were very honest and open which made you vulnerable to be swept away by a vile villain, and that I had to be your knight in shining armor," Master Ureksa shakes his head.

I can only blink as I feel my cheeks become red. "I don't have a fragile heart!" I huff, embarrassment blending with offense.

Pouso starts squealing again and Master Ureksa translates for me. "Pouso is saying that you give up too easily, you don't value yourself enough and you have too much pride." He pauses indicating the end of the translation. "I think, that's a contradiction, one who doesn't value herself can't be proud."

Pouso takes a long look at Ureksa as if debating if he should say something or not and finally he squeaks causing Ureksa to look surprised then angry.

"Just like a hero can't be a villain..." I whisper because that's the first contradiction that comes to mind when I look at Master Ureksa.

"I thought you couldn't understand him," Ureksa's glare turns to me.

"I can't, but what else would he say that would bother you?" I realize that I must sound very rude. "I'm sorry I shouldn't speak of such things."

"Then don't," it's evident that Ureksa is angry and somehow I wish I could tell him that I don't mind his past and that I don't judge him by it.

But the words are caught in my throat choking me. "Pouso was the one who brought it up," I mentally kick myself the second those words leave my mouth. I don't want to get Pouso into more trouble. "But don't blame him, blame me. I'm the contradiction, the one who's mature enough to know she's sub par in many areas and mature enough to accept it, but too proud to stop trying to find happiness, while being completely childish about everything in life."

I have been told that though I'm childish quite often, I am mature in other areas. I think that maybe it's not so much that I'm mature, but that I can accept the fact that certain emotions are pointless. I can be stupid sometimes, letting my heart flutter, but then I remember it's pointless.

"Well you are an odd one..." Ureksa comments and I can't help it but to laugh.

"The honesty is appreciated," I don't know if I'm laughing at myself or at my foolish confusion.

When I lived in Rugista I was forced into a role that didn't fit me. I was the goody-goody damsel in distress who never questioned authority and believed everything she was told. Except in reality, I wasn't and that role made me feel ugly. For the longest time I have hated pink and skirts. I think the tomboyish look is cute, I think a tough woman is a real woman and the porcelain dolls are just dolls. I was always told I was wrong.

Now here I am; I'm finally free of my closed minded mother, whom I hope I never cross paths with again. I have Master Bron to thank for letting me come here, providing me with transportation to Wystern, a home and a job at the Silver Guild. But inevitably, due to my childhood, old doubts will return and my personal definition of beauty will be second guessed.

I suppose that I am ashamed I was too scared to run away before I had the possibility of a stable life. Maybe I was wise, or maybe I was a coward, I guess there's no way for me to know. But I feel as if my inner turmoil is ending and I can finally come to terms with myself. I think I can accept the look of a tough girl, battle scars included, even if said scars were inflicted by pathetically weak stray summons, I'm strong because I can accept them.

Yes, I'll just work that psychology on myself and get wrapped up in my own logic because for a long time when I was growing up I was in fact at the wrong place all the time. But that changed, because as long as I'm free I'm at the right place any time.

I laugh at the irony, my moodiness is settling down, yet I remember I really am trapped, along with everyone else in Wystern. But I will choose to foolishly think of this, not as danger, but as an adventure, and I will enjoy it.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 22: Panic Leads to Violence

Without realizing it, I have followed Master Ureksa into Central Tower and down the stairs. He enters the forging room next to the labyrinth entrance. It looks like he's overseeing the mass production of weapons to prepare for the attack.

As I head out of Central Tower and towards the Silver Guild, I realize that Central Tower is being fortified, and the town is buzzing with speculation and theories. Some have already figure out the truth and are helping, others prefer to remain in blissful denial and others are starting to panic. A crowd has began to gather around Central Tower, I don't like this. I guess reality didn't fully sink in until people started to panic.

I push through the crowd clutching the torpedo plans so hard that the paper wrinkles horribly. I shove, and push, and make it through the crowd. Finally I reach the Silver Guild, lucky to have avoided being knocked into the water by the people who keep coming and going up and down the busy streets. I'm not sure what happened, but whatever piece of information escaped, it certainly traveled fast. Or maybe it was the sight of the beloved Central Tower, landmark of the City of Swords, being turned into a battle fort that caused this reaction.

Sadly there's a crowd in front of the Silver Guild and they won't let me pass. "Excuse me, please let me through." They're not listening to me at all; they're so unorganized, like animals. "I need to get inside, please let me pass!" They're ignoring me! "Let me pass!" I scream at the top of my lungs and push through the crowd clutching the torpedo plans on one hand and my drill in the other just in case.

I manage to push past the crowd and to the front, not without a few scratches and bruises, but the door to the Silver Guild is closed. "Master Bron, open the door!"

"Forget it, we've been trying to get him to open it, get back in line!" Some guy I don't know yells at me.

"You don't live here!" I yell back, "I do!" I pound on the door. "Master Bron!" I try my hardest to let my voice be carried over the screaming of the crowd and to avoid being flattened against the door. "Master Bron!" It's not working; my throat hurts from screaming so much, why can't people be civilized? "Will you all please listen?!" It had no effect, they won't listen to me.

Zantek peeks out from the second floor window and scans the area at the entrance. "Zantek!" I yell as loud as I can even if my throat feels like its burning. "Zantek!" He sees me and floats down but the crowd tries to get to him and he has to float away.

Finally Pratty emerges at the window. "Everyone calm down!" But her voice cannot be carried over the crowd. I think she's getting mad. "Step away from the door," nobody listens and she rephrases it, "everyone step away from the door!"

I start making my way out of the crowd. The torpedo plans are ripped to shreds but everyone already knows something is going on so it's not like the secret isn't already out. I hope that wasn't the only copy of the plans. "Ah!" Someone pulls my hair so hard, I feel like it's being ripped off and I can't help it but to drill away in that direction.

Violence erupts as everyone wields their weapons; I'm definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. I fear that I won't get out of this without a broken bone. The torpedo plans are lost in the chaos and my drill suffers serious damage as I try to block the incoming blows. They want to knock down the door, so I'm trying to stay away from the door. But I can't swim so I'm also trying to stay away from the water.

Inevitably I fall and splash around, refusing to let go of my drill. I manage to reach the stairs when some idiot steps on my hand. I recoil in pain and sink again, desperately splashing. It's all a blur to me, the voices all blend in as one and my thoughts are lost in the chaotic noise.

Cleru has joined his twin at the window. I think he's trying to talk her into not doing something harsh, but Pratty is pretty angry. All the girls from the Silver Guild have a reputation for being dangerous. "Zantek, give them a shock!" Oh no, water conducts electricity and I'm in the water! The shock comes so fast I don't have time to think. "Sugar, cool them off!" The one who said this wasn't Cleru, to whom Sugar is a guardian beast, but Pratty who is pissed off and thirsty for battle, while Cleru complains about the girls of the Silver Guild, his sister included, being too violent.

"Right away!" Sugar blows people away with a strong current of water and throws them out of the way while Zantek comes to rescue me and carries me up to the window.

"Are you alright?" Pratty asks; the thirst for battle still in her eyes.

I nod slowly, "I'll survive... but I can't feel one of my fingers. "I touch my hand to make sure that the finger is indeed still attached. "I think it's broken," it's odd because I don't feel pain, but my middle finger on my right hand is turning purple. "The torpedo plans were destroyed." My drill also suffered heavy damage.

"You're bleeding!" Cleru looks concerned.

I nod, I figured I must be bleeding somewhere, but Zantek's shock had made me numb and light headed. "I think I need to sit down." I press my back against the wall and allow myself to slide down before I collapse from a sudden dizziness.

"I'll heal you," Sugar has come back inside, leaving an even angrier crowd outside, I guess they didn't really cool off after all. She places her hand on my right cheek bone below the eye and focuses her healing powers. "There, that's the best I can do..." I wonder why she sounds apologetic.

"Is it bad?" I need a mirror, a reflective surface, anything. Cleru holds a broad sword in front of me, my reflection clear in its impeccable forging. That cut looks pretty nasty, as if I need to get uglier. "Those stupid, uncivilized, wild animals!" Some people are not worth saving, and it fills me with disgust knowing that I'll be making torpedoes to protect those idiots.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 23: Master Bron

I feel silly with a band-aid on my face even if my cut is closed. I guess I just want to hide it in hopes that it will be gone when I take the band-aid off. My skin is pale and scars easily so I know the chances of an instant recovery are slim to none.

The middle finger in my right hand is immobilized by two tiny pieces of wood. It is in fact broken. I'm right handed so this makes handling a screw driver more difficult than it should be as I assemble this torpedo.

The Craftlords thankfully had a copy of the plans that were destroyed in the disarray so I'm now working on the special drill-torpedoes. I don't know how many bruises I have, but the effect of Zantek's electricity has worn off by now and I'm feeling all the aches and pains.

I also realized that I did lose some hair in the battle, some of it pulled off and another portion broken. It better grow back or I'll look odd if I part my hair down the middle and have more on one side than the other. Honestly, right now those people are nothing but wild animals to me and I don't want to help them.

"How are the torpedoes coming along?" Master Bron comes to inspect my work.

"I just need to remind myself that these torpedoes will defend my friends. Ill just have to stop thinking that they'll also defend the uncivilized, panicking idiots that injured me when I was trying to save their worthless lives." I bitterly growled.

"That's no way to talk!" Master Bron scolds me.

"No Master, I don't want to help them. I'm doing this for my friends and myself, no one else. If it were only for them, the idiots, I would refuse to help!" I need to get this anger out of my system. I had been repaid for my kindness with injuries and I can't accept that.

"Listen to me, they were scared," Bron tries to reason with me.

"I don't do that when I'm scared!" I yell.

"Shut up and listen to me!" Bron's voice echoes all through the Silver Guild and a few clangs echo in the silence that follows. No doubt about it, several people were startled to the point of dropping what they were working on.

I glare, my eyes narrowed even further, I challenge Bron. "Fine, I will hear what you have to say but won't accept it without question, I'll be open, but not submissive."

I think he's surprised that I'm unfazed by his imposing voice and expression, but Bron continues to speak anyway. "We are here to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Your friends are stronger than you and although you can help them by making these torpedoes, they are not the ones that need you the most."

"Understood, what else?" I encourage him to go on, it's obvious that I am only listening to his point and trying to understand it, but I'm not accepting it.

"This is what the Protectors of Wystern do, they help those people. A hero isn't a hero for the sake of the fame. It's different. You need to learn that people make mistakes, and your kindness will sometimes be received with a slap in the face. I should know." I think I know what he means, Master Bron can appear to be intimidating at first and people can be quick to judge. They can slap the bad guy seal on him without even getting to know him, when he's actually quite kind, tough but kind. "All lives are precious and must be protected, do you understand what I'm saying."

"Yes, I accept your point of view and respect it Master Bron, but I have my own point of view." I think Bron is open enough to agree to disagree, and that will be the case here. "I am not willing to make sacrifices for those whom I don't care for. I think heroes are very noble, but a true hero is willing, anyone who is forced to make a sacrifice is more of a victim than a hero. I cannot find the will to give up anything for those whom I don't care for; I'm doing this for my friends and my friends only. All lives are precious, and I know I'm no one to judge, but not all lives have the same value to me."

The tension in the atmosphere begins to melt instead of increasing. "I see... Master Ureksa said something similar."

I remember hearing about that. He exchanged Wystern and his friends to avenge Rumari's illness and hopefully cure it with Parista's destruction. Rumari was more precious to him than all of Wystern. "Master Bron, I don't believe that people should be hurt for the sake of protecting other people. I do believe there's a difference between hurting and refusing to help, so that all efforts would be used for a purpose that's more important to me."

"Yes, there is in fact a big difference between hurting and simply not helping. But if you can help, then why not? I know you're angry at the panicking crowds but not everyone can remain level headed when they're scared. It's fine to do it for your friends, but if your friends want to help the fools too, would you save those fools then?" I am amused that Master Bron actually called them fools.

I can't help it but to smile knowing that Bron does understand. "I'll be honest, brutally honest even. Let the Craftlords make up the pretty speeches, I openly admit I have no interest in saving fools and I'm only doing it for my friends. Because the will of my dear friends is more precious to me than the very lives of the fools, and it is Ironically that very will that saves the fools."

"You really do remind me of Ureksa," Master Bron laughs.

I'm not sure if it's meant to be a compliment or not, but I'll take it as a compliment, "thanks."

"Well then, let's look at those torpedoes." Master Bron inspects the torpedoes. "Good job, these are ready to be loaded into the ships, we gotta be ready any time. But you don't need to worry so much about the finish, not everything needs to be neatly soldered as long as it works and it doesn't come apart, so try to hurry as much as you can. You're still doing a pretty good job, broken finger and all. Keep at it."

"I'll try my best Master Bron," and I really mean it. I'm not doing this for the herd of wild animals disguised as humans. I'm doing this for my friends, for Master Bron who has helped me so much, for Rumari, for the Craftlords and for my home.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 24: United we Stand

The sea serpents have declared the attack. The vessel sent to watch the front lines has sent a messenger boat telling everyone to prepare for battle. I knew we would need to move to Central Tower soon, so I stuffed my savings in my pocket, and clothes into a backpack. Bron has told me not to carry a heavy load because Central Tower will be crowded. I put my things in boxes and stuffed them under the bed in hopes of keeping them as safe as possible if the building is damaged.

Some men came over to move my tools and materials to Central Tower in my designated work space. I took my limited luggage and followed them. I set down my things in my work area, which is quite small.

We have divided the different artillery building steps among ourselves instead of having each person do the entire process. I'm in the assembly area putting the torpedoes together and passing them out to be inspected and sent off for battle.

It's amazing how fast the Craftlords got everything to work out. I think Pratty got into trouble for her earlier stunt, for which she shared the blame with Cleru even if it really wasn't his fault. But they made up for it with an inspirational speech to get everyone working as a team.

Truth be told, I'm not too proud of the torpedoes, I feel I have nothing to be proud of because I didn't make them myself from scratch, I only worked on part of the process. I'm not really too much of a team player, but I guess this isn't the right time to complain about feeling out of place.

Central Tower has been fortified and everyone is inside now. I don't know for how long I'll go without sleep but we need to keep the torpedo production line going. A part of me is very bored and wants to do a different task, but I guess all the tasks available will become boring after a while.

I'm slowing down even if I'm trying to hurry. Master Bron's words echo in my head, that my friends can take care of themselves. The extra effort feels pointless; the idiotic strangers around me are not worth sore wrists. I wish someone would come see me. I want to see Master Sakuro and Master Ureksa but they're probably at the front lines fighting right now. This is such a drag...

After several hours my stomach starts to grumble. "Am I the only one who's starving?" I ask the person working next to me, someone I don't know, someone more diligent than I am.

"Don't be childish, keep working," I huff hearing that.

"We won't be of any use if we collapse," it's logical, pure and simple logic.

"Would you not lay your life down for Wystern?" I feel like laughing at this idiot's face.

"Of course not, what good is Wystern if I'm not there to enjoy it?" A few mutters are heard and people give me disapproving looks. "I'm not afraid to be honest."

"You're not honorable," someone behind me mutters.

"Honor is to respect others; I respect those who think differently than me. Lying is a disrespect; I don't do that," more grumbles come and I laugh. "Either way, does it matter if our motivations are different? We're all working towards the same goal."

"Yes it matters," someone in the row in front of me speaks.

"Why?" I challenge.

"You're not proud of Wystern." I roll my eyes.

The reason I'm not patriotic or proud of my country, is because it's honestly not my country, I don't run it. I live in it but I don't pick who gets to live here. Besides, I cannot be proud of someone else's accomplishment, I can be happy for my friends but the pride and credit belongs to them. I don't defend those who are from the same city as I am, simply because they are from the same city. I don't defend a certain culture just because I live in it. I take what I like from each culture and make it a part of my life, Wystern isn't perfect, nor is Rugista a horrible place, and I can admit that. "No, but I'm proud of the part of Wystern that my friends and I represent." I'm not into groups, I'm picky with people. I don't give credit where it wasn't earned and don't expect to receive the credit a neighbor earned just because we live near each other.

A girl comes by with food. "Do you want to stop and eat?" She asks, and most people just say no, thinking that starving themselves is noble. That's just stupid.

"I'm hungry; I'll eat and work at the same time, okay?" The girl nods and sets down some food in front of me. My poor metabolism must be messed up by this schedule. I don't care of I'm thinking vainly but it better not slow down. Because the truth is, I have high hopes that we'll win, and I'm don't want to give it all up because I'll regret it when this ends and I have nothing left.

"Same here, she's right, we're not going to be any good if we collapse," Kenon has finally spoken; he's forging the outer shells of the torpedoes.

"But what if we need to ration food while we wait for reinforcements?" I twitch while listening to people who are completely missing the point.

Luckily Kenon did not miss the point. "That won't be necessary, because we're going to win this. We need to be strong now!"

I am for some unknown reason reminded of Rugista and an argument there was about making a local dialect the official language. People whined and complained that if the dialect wasn't included in the official paper work, at the very least as a second language, it was an offense to their culture. My thoughts were that those very people who claimed to defend the culture of Rugista must have a very low opinion of it thinking that Rugista's culture is so weak that it must be protected by an official document. Even if it is written, if people stop speaking the dialect it will disappear, and even if it is not written in those official papers, if people continue to speak it, it will survive through generations.

I hate it when people get caught up in foolish patriotic pride and fail to realize that in the end it's all up to free will and what the next generation likes and dislikes, it cannot be forced upon them by the previous one, and I happen to like evolution towards a more open minded society. To live in a place that allows choices, that is what's truly patriotic.

On a random note, Kenon looks pretty amusing banging away with his hammer with a sandwich in his mouth.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 25: From a Side Character's Point of View

I didn't go to the front lines, I didn't expect to go. I'm tired, hungry, cranky, sweaty and stinky. This isn't the glory of a hero, nor is it the gallant rescuing of a princess. I'm just a girl being transported to safety.

The battle is a blur, mostly because I heard more than I saw. The Craftlords and strongest Craftknights fought well. Ships from Vance and Rugista arrived to assist Wystern. It must have been epic, I know, but I'm not the main character of this war tale. I'm nothing but a girl who is simply standing by, an extra in the story with a role so small that she's not even a supporting character. I'm nothing but a bench warmer in the game of life.

The sea serpents broke through the defenses and attacked Wystern. The fortified Central Tower stood proudly and another wave of powerful Craftknights joined the attack force. They were led by Kenon, and now I know why he was asked to stay behind in the first place. It was for this, an ambush from the battle tower when the enemy thought that the tower only held civilians.

Now that it's all over, the feeling of being adventurous has faded and I'm left with disappointment. When a disaster happens, most people worry during it, and after the action ends, so do their worries. Most people are filled with relief to have survived as the process of recovery and reconstructions starts. For me it's not like that.

For me, the hardest time starts after the storm is calm. During the storm I can at least feel adventurous, even if it may be foolish to appreciate the danger in such a way. Even if I'm not in the front lines, even if my job is so small and not hard to replace, even then I feel as part of the adventure. But when the battle ends and lives and homes need to be rebuilt, a feeling of desperation sinks in. The adventure is over and now the hard part starts.

I'm not as relived as I should be that I'm alive and that Wystern still stands, damaged but proud. I'm frustrated that I can't go from adventurous to normal without skipping the stage of being temporarily homeless.

The Craftlords now have the task of assessing the damage done to Wystern. According to the guardian beasts who were able to understand the enemy's growls during their retreat, they had recognized that Parista did not give us power, we had power over Parista. That's not exactly how it went, but close enough; and it turned out to be a beneficial interpretation. Their legends have changed and they no longer fear Parista the superior being, they fear Wystern, the land of supreme warriors, the holy City of Swords, because to them it has become that.

Cannels need to be fixed, structures need to be reinforced and roofs and walls need to be patched up. Everyone is to take refuge in Vance and Rugista until the repairs are done, to assure the safety of the people of Wystern. After all, the city is a tower in the middle of the ocean, an architectonic miracle.

I wanted to go to Vance, but I was shoved into a ship and told he destination was a safe place, nothing more. I wished and hoped that the ship was taking me to Vance, and I was terribly disappointed when I arrived at Rugista, the place were I used to live before I earned my freedom. My heart sank, my knees felt weak and I didn't want to get off the ship.

I was pushed along anyway, I was pushed along with everyone else as if I was just as much as a panicking, cry baby idiot as them. I wanted to cry for the lack of respect, for being grouped with the people who couldn't keep their sanity during the disaster, and for being forced to go to Rugista.

We were ushered into a designated area; we were to take turns using the facilities borrowed from volunteers. I decided that personal hygiene would have to wait, and that I would find a place to shower after the lines have become smaller. If we were victorious, why is it that it doesn't look like we were?

I'm nothing but a side character in this tale of war. I'm definitely not the hero, nor am I the villain. I'm not the sidekick or the apprentice, and definitely not the lady love. I'm just another extra, so I will not be mentioned when the story is retold, and thus I should not be recognized while the story is taking place.

She found me, the being I can't help it but to feel anger towards, the one who has no right to call herself a mother. These have been stressful times for me after reality hit me in the face. I did not want to be found by her and refused the offer of a shower and food. I don't want to give her the satisfaction of playing the good mother who shelters the terrible daughter who abandoned her, when in fact she was the one who pushed me into running away to start my life over far from her. I refuse to give her the chance to continue tarnishing my reputation while she gains sympathy because somehow, in the eyes of the people of Rugista, I'm always the villain.

I will not let that woman trample all over my life, the freedom I worked so hard to obtain, and the identity that she wouldn't let me have and I have finally gained. I'm not an eternal bad actress anymore, I am myself and I will act no more. "What part of 'I hate you' do you not understand?" Desperate tears start to fall but my glare is solid. "You have not earned my love and you won't get it by being a hypocrite. I'm not going to live for you; you're not turning me into your little pet again. I live for myself now." I walked away.

It was the mayor himself who stopped me and lectured me, then I told him to "kick me out of Rugista if you don't like my attitude. I don't wish to be here anyway." He freaked out and tried to imprison me to make me cool my head.

In the eyes of those who are more emotional than reasonable, those who jump to conclusions without thinking of the past they know nothing of, that day I was the villain. I truthfully claimed I did nothing wrong, that I merely refused an offer from someone with whom I had a bad past and that I truthfully expressed my dislike for being at Rugista.

The people of Wystern were only used to seeing my good side, the girl I became after starting a new life. They claimed I changed for the worse, that I was an ingrate. But I guess it really is hard to stay focused when you're scared; and I was terrified of becoming that pathetic girl who was trapped at Rugista and forced into a role she hates.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 26: The Hero With Sapphire Eyes

"Master Sakuro!" I scream desperately at the top of my lungs, tears streaming down my face, an audience gathering around us.

Master Sakuro and the other Craftlords have scattered around Rugista and Vance. They are seeing everything through before returning to Wystern to check on the status of the city and work on repairs. "What's going on?" I know he disapproves of my lack of composure, Master Bron would shake his head as well after all the things I said about people who panic. Maybe I should have just kept my big mouth shut.

"Master Sakuro, I can't be here!" Crying like a baby I run to my hero, Sakuro, the Craftlord of Sapphire, someone whom I feel I can trust with my very life.

"What happened?" His glasses are missing, his hair is messy, his cape is ripped, his clothes are wet and dirty, he smells of sea water and sea serpent mixed with sweat and salt, but to me, he's the most handsome man in the entire world.

"She's an ingrate!" The mayor accuses me. He only likes cute girls and now more than ever, I am not cute.

"That's not true. I didn't do anything wrong," I speak quickly defending myself. "I just refused help from someone who hurt me in the past, someone whom I don't trust at all. It's my business, there's no need for the entire village to meddle."

From there things go spiraling out of control as I get into an argument with the mayor, until Sakuro speaks up. "Enough! Mayor I apologize, I will speak to her, please excuse us." Certain that I'll get a good scolding from Sakuro, the mayor does not object, but just as I expected, Sakuro does hear me out. "I thought you were calmer than this. What happened?"

"I used to live here; I don't get along with mother. Everyone thinks she's great but it's all one big act I was forced to play along with when I was little. After father passed away I couldn't tolerate her any longer and begged Master Bron to get me out of here. At Wystern I found happiness, freedom and friendship for the first time and I never want to get stuck with her again. The mayor wants to force me into living with her again, into supporting my least favorite person in the world. I guess I just got scared... this land wasn't my home, it was my prison in many ways, and everyone thought I was spoiled." I know I must look terrible crying so much, but I have no time to think about such things right now.

"Can you try to fix things? Leave the past behind?" Master Sakuro asks with such urgency I wonder if there's something I don't know. I think there's more to it than just getting people organized and checking over the status of Wystern.

"Of all the people in the world, she's the one I truly can't stand. Can I stay in the ship instead of the shelter? I want to go to Vance in the next boat leaving, or I could go to Wystern and work, I don't mind extra work as long as I can get out of here." I'm stubborn and desperate.

Master Sakuro sighs, shaking his head. "I expect your complete silence and I expect you to set the example. Don't make me feel like I made a mistake recommending you to the Protectors of Wystern."

I knew it; there really is something serious going on, more so than most would think. "It's not over, is it?"

"For the sea serpents it is," then there's another enemy? "But for the Deigleyans it's just begun. They see this as an opportunity to take down the weakened forces of Wystern. Don't worry, the worse is over. We can handle this. But, I can't let you stay on the ships; these ships are going into battle soon. It won't b a long fight, but I don't want anyone being in unnecessary danger."

I frown, "I understand... what should I do then?" I don't want to act like a child. I don't want to cause Master Sakuro any trouble.

I think he's glad I calmed down, his smile gives me hope and his eyes are just as radiant as ever, Sakuro, the hero with sapphire eyes. "Try to fix things with your mother let the past be the past. You need to keep the peace, set the example, Wystern is its people, protect them."

I take a deep breath, "I'm sorry I can't do that, but I will try my best to stay calm and help people. If she comes I'll ignore her and eventually she'll leave me alone." But I know she's a drama queen, and I know she'll make a fuss. The mayor believes in her drama and exaggerated tears of hypocrisy, he's on her side so I know that what I said won't work out.

"I'll trust your judgment, just don't act rashly and don't let hatred consume you," when I'm with Master Sakuro I feel safe.

"The mayor is stubborn; I'll politely decline anything that comes up that I don't trust, a trick to force me to get stuck with her again. He's angry because I left Rugista; I'm a villain in their eyes. If worse comes to worse, I'll most likely be at the Marine Dungeon. If I'm missing for too long, when all of this is over, please send someone to get me out of there." I walk away, marching stubbornly. Sakuro calls my name and I look back and smile at him. "People have more than one talent Master Sakuro. Swords and curry," it's obvious I'm referring to him, and as for me, "drills and stubbornness, or in a positive light I should say determination."

It's true that I often let go of a goal mid way when it no longer interests me. I gave up on mastering the labyrinth, I gave up on becoming a professional Craftknight and I gave up on combining spears and drills, later dedicating myself to my comfort zone, drill engines. But when I truly want something, when I decide to do something and feel this strongly about it, I will not give up.

I think Master Sakuro was disappointed by my choice. "Appearances are deceiving and the past can't be changed... all the more reason to protect my future." I smile at Master Sakuro, the man I've fallen in love with even if I had tried so hard not to, the man I know I shall never have.

Sakuro nods, "just be careful." Those words though simple, hold a lot of meaning to me and give me strength. I still wish I was in Vance and wonder how things are going there, but if it's to have the freedom to see Sakuro again, I will get through this.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 27: Pratty, the Craftlord of Iron

Tensions ran deep between mother, the mayor and I. I'm sure everyone hates me but I didn't care. I made it clear I wouldn't go back to her house even if I had to live in the streets or if I was thrown into the Marine Dungeon.

"Thanks but no thanks," I said with the formality with which one would address a stranger. Not just any stranger but a stranger with whom I have no interest of building any trust. "There are other people who will appreciate your help so please help them. I can wait."

"I don't want strangers in my house," her voice is so dramatic that it's hard to understand and in an exaggerated high pitch. "I want my little girl back!"

The mayor glares at me; of course I'm the villain here. "I can't believe you're making your mother go through all this."

"Excuse me mayor but I refuse to forfeit my freedom. I do not need her and I ask for nothing. I will not be a burden to anyone." I'm burning with frustration because no one ever takes my side, they don't even bother trying to see things from my point of view, but I try to sound as calm and nonchalant as possible. "I highly disapprove of people who speak behind other's backs."

"Are you accusing me?!" I can see that the mayor is very upset.

"I was talking about her," I glance at the middle aged woman. "If you knew the terrible things she said about Clarie, you wouldn't defend her." I'm not lying, that woman did say terrible things about Clarie, though some were actually true. "I will not argue, I am not a citizen of Rugista, I am of Wystern and I will leave this foreign land as soon as possible. I'm prepared to wait for Wystern to claim me in the Marine Dungeon if I must."

I don't think the mayor believed me about Clarie. "Perhaps we should detain you."

I won't react to anything the mayor says as he expects me to. "Very well, carry out your injustice, I won't resist. But know that the Craftlords expect me back alive and anything that goes on here, they will know." I'm not exactly lying this time either, I did tell Sakuro about this.

Another argument ensues and there is much yelling until Pratty emerges from the crowds of guests and locals to see what was going on with the overly dramatic woman, the mayor and me. "What's happening?"

"They're throwing me in jail because I refused to be her slave." I point accusingly at mother, disgusted that we're related.

"What? That's ridiculous! Why would you have to be?" Pratty, the Craftlord of Iron, like her brother Cleru, also a Craftlord holding a twin title, is a true hero.

"The woman is her mother, Pratty, you wouldn't abandon your mother would you?" My anger boils at the mayor.

"Don't you dare," I speak slowly emphasizing every word. "Don't you dare insult Amariss, don't you dare compare her."

I'm sure that Pratty doesn't fully understand what's going on yet, but she's not keen on the idea of her mother being criticized. "What about my mother?" Pratty glares at the mayor.

Another argument begins and I pull Pratty aside. "Just ignore her, it's a long story, I have my reasons to dislike her. I refuse to do as the mayor says and support her. It's not like she did the same for me, my father was the only one who did anything for me, just enough so I could survive living with her."

Pratty nods, "okay, you're my friend so I'll trust you. Mayor, please don't jump to conclusions because not all tears are sincere. A dear friend is acting completely different and I know she must have a good reason. When I was younger I used to idolize all the Craftlords. Master Lubert's betrayal was unthinkable until I realized I wasn't looking at reality. Just because my mother is nice doesn't mean they all are."

I've been rescued again, this time by Pratty the Craftlord of Iron. I'm thankful for my dear friends. I want to forget my past and continue my new life.

"What did she do?" Pratty shakes her head. "No, I shouldn't ask..."

"It's okay, when no one took my side you did, so it's fine," just because I was willing to wait to be rescued at the Marine Dungeon doesn't mean I would enjoy being locked up. "Basically, she wanted me to play the role of damsel in distress all the time, wear ridiculous pink dresses, stop questioning everything and act like a brainless idiot before learning the logic of what I'm asked to do. I think that was an excuse because she herself couldn't come up with an explanation for anything. She would brag about having such a polite and well behaved daughter, and then criticize my every tiny and natural mistake."

Pratty nods and listens with attention.

"You know what, if I tripped and fell as a kid, scratched knees were not the worse part, my mother complaining as if I had committed a terrible crime was the worse part. Plus she never spoke with the example which made me lose faith in her. She wasn't reliable and expected to rely on me, but when I respectfully tried to give her advice to improve herself, she wouldn't take it saying that she's the mother and I'm the daughter. A child is in no way inferior to a parent, a child is still learning, still gaining experience, but a child is not an inferior being and can come up with good ideas from a new and unbiased point of view. I refused to grow up to be the servant she wanted, that's why I left."

"I understand now, you were not wrong, she had to let you go." It looks like Pratty got upset about it too.

It was all just in time for the mayor's little soldiers to come looking for me. I guess mother has given him such a headache he decided to throw me in the dungeon to shut her up. After all, the villagers sympathize with her, so he can't throw her in the dungeon even if she's the one causing trouble. "You'll have to come with us."

"No," Pratty speaks up. "In the name of Pratty, Craftlord of Iron, by the power of the City of Swords, Wystern, I order you to leave her alone. She is a citizen of Wystern, not Rugista, tell that to the mayor."

"Thank you, Master Pratty..." I've never been so formal with Pratty before because she doesn't like it. But this time it's different, it's not a formality but the acknowledgement that she has truly earned her title and is using it well, so she smiles.

Things became quiet after that, no one bothered me anymore. They talked behind my back but it's okay, they couldn't do anything. I thanked Pratty many times, but words can't say how thankful I truly am. Later she left to join Master Sakuro and the other Craftlords in the battle field. The Deigleyans have more than two dozen ships this time. At a later date Master Kouren would retell the story about how even with thirty ships, there was no way they could win against the Craftlords.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 28: The Road to Recovery

I was so happy that my connection with Rugista and with that woman were properly cut, that not even Clarie being Clarie could annoy me. Of course I still firmly planted myself between her and Varil as a sort of human barrier. Keeping Clarie away from Varil was the least I could do for Pratty.

It wasn't until later that I managed to shower and make myself semi-presentable. That night the ships returned to port and after asking Master Sakuro again, he allowed me to spend the night on one of the ships since the battle had ended.

The next day, all the members of PoW returned to Wystern to work on an estimate of the damage and make sure the city was stable and in no danger of collapsing before people were allowed to return.

Fortunately, Wystern still stood strong with only superficial damage. Not Parista's earthquakes and burning fury and not the grudge and anger of the sea serpents could bring down the City of Swords; it makes me proud to live there.

People have started to return little by little, but no one had moved back yet on that day, those who returned where the ones who would be working on the repairs.

It surprised me when, in a small moment when they finally let him catch a breather, Sakuro asked me, "did everything work out?"

"Yes," I'm happy about how things worked out, even if it might have not been perfect. "Pratty helped me, my official homeland is now Wystern and I have no connection with Rugista. The mayor asked me never to return and I agreed. I guess the old hag must have been really giving him a headache. Now that I think about it, it must have been hard for him having to put up with her since the village was on her side."

"Well that's not exactly a fluffy happy ending, but it's happy enough I suppose." Master Sakuro has been through a lot lately, we all have, but the Craftlords were actually in the front lines. "Oh by the way, Pouso was asking about you."

"Pouso? Master Ureksa's guardian beast?" I feel my face heating up just remembering the little tattle tell. "What did he say?"

"He didn't really say much, but he asked a lot of questions." Master Sakuro reveals.

"What kind of questions?" I wonder if I really want to know.

"What kind of men you liked, that sort of thing." I shouldn't have asked.

"Um..." I feel like I'm in the wrong place, at the wrong time again... "Why would he ask such a thing?" And sinking deeper.

"It doesn't surprise me, that's why Ureksa only calls him out to battle, but we needed the extra help so he had to stay here for longer than usual." Master Sakuro didn't really answer my question. "Now Pouso doesn't want to leave, he gave Ureksa the sad look and Ureksa just couldn't send him back."

"Then Pouso likes to be nosy with girls?" I know this will probably lead to an embarrassing and awkward moment that I will regret, but I can't help it if I'm curious.

"Yes, he does, he's dead set in finding a girl for Ureksa," I should have known Master Sakuro would say that.

"Really? I've never heard of a guardian beast doing that before." That's it, I have to act casual, as if this has nothing to do with me, because honestly it doesn't. I'm just another girl that Pouso spoke to, he must act the same way towards all the girls, it doesn't mean that I have any possibilities with Master Ureksa.

"It's not that rare," I should have known it wasn't. I think Master Sakuro noticed I started to feel awkward. "Naturally a guardian beast would want its master to be happy, it's part of what they do."

"Do you have a guardian beast, Master Sakuro?" That's it, change the subject... Oh wait, what if he thinks I want his summon creature to play matchmaker for us? Well that would be nice, but it wouldn't work anyway. The same goes for Ureksa. These men are unreachable for me, that's all there is to it and no amount of help can change it.

"Not really, maybe I will some day if I find one that can make curry with love..." I stare at him and blink, Master Sakuro is certainly unique.

"You mean that you would test all possible guardian beasts by having them make curry?" I ask and he nods to answer my question positively. "That's original," I can't help it but to be amused.

After that conversation with Master Sakuro I thought about him a lot. I also thought about Pouso and Master Ureksa. I realized that maybe I wasn't trying to replace Master Sakuro with Master Ureksa and might actually truly Ureksa too, but I don't know for sure. I think I might like Master Sakuro best, not that it matters since neither would like me back. However, if by some miracle either of them liked me back, then the one who likes me would definitely become not only the one I like best, but the only one.

Wystern was on the road to recovery and was rebuilt rather quickly. We all moved back home and Wystern was better than ever. It became not only the City of Swords, but a virtually impenetrable fortress. Some were not happy with it, claiming that it looked too militaristic and the Craftknights were more like artists, but personally, I think the shining armored city looked very majestic.

Not a lot happened for the next few months. Everyone pitched in and the economy recovered. I have improved in making drill engines and I've been training harder at the labyrinth. My friends are still my friends. Cleru and Sugar are still in love and he is no longer shy about showing it in public. Pratty and Varil are also still together, it looks like they will be together for the rest of their lives.

Amariss and Bron are slowly becoming closer, but I don't know if they'll eventually become more than friends. Kenon and Razzy are slowly progressing, slow but steady. Kouran has gained an admirer, a man who works guarding the Craftlords' private room at Central Tower where they say there's a secret entrance to the labyrinth, but I don't know if there's anything between them. Sakuro is still a great cook and occasionally we all gather at his house for lunch. Kouren visits often but I have not seen them doing anything that looked like a date so they might not be together, I hope not.

Ureksa comes and goes, visiting Wystern often and going back to Vance soon after. His visits are slowly becoming longer, as if not to intrude in his sister's time with her fiance. Pouso has been stalking all the single young girls in town trying to get Ureksa a date. Luckily they're having a hard time understanding the little guy and when someone finally starts to catch on, Ureksa arrives to take Pouso away and claims that the little summon creature likes to joke and make up stories. I guess it would be a bit embarrassing for a Craftlord if his summon creature had to get him a date.

As for me, Pouso has taken a liking to the sugary treats I give him. I'm not sure what Ureksa thinks about it, but I did offer to keep Pouso out of trouble. He's such a good little helper even if he's not my guardian beast. I'm glad Ureksa is letting him stay in this world. Honestly, who could say no to a little cutie like Pouso?

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 29: Rumari and Tyram's Wedding

Rumari, the previous Craftlord of Jade, still known as the Majestic Lancer, is getting married. Wystern, now once again an active industrial city buzzing with activity, talks of nothing more. I'm happy for Rumari and Tyram. I heard he was once again, this time permanently, forfeiting his title of Craftlord of Crystal.

Ever since Lubert died there has been no Craftlord of Amber, but there were two Craftlords of Iron so it evened out. Both Cleru and Pratty aimed for their father's title and neither wanted to let it go, so they were both allowed to carry the name of Iron. The name of Amber remained unclaimed for years, stained with the reputation of the last one to hold it, waiting to be cleaned.

Now Crystal is without a master, but Varil claims it won't remain that way for long. No date has been set for the tournament to take place, but he's confident he'll win when ever that is. A tournament for the rank of Craftlord was mentioned during the entire sea serpent ordeal but it was never finished and now it will most likely be postponed until after Rumari and Tyram's wedding since the Craftlords who organize the tournament will surely attend.

Time passes as it always has. My skill with drill engines continues to improve and the scars of clumsy encounters with stray summons in the labyrinth continue to fade as I become a better opponent. The situation in the labyrinth has normalized and the City of Swords is in a time of happiness.

A week before Rumari's wedding I went gift shopping with Pratty, Zantek, Varil, Cleru, Sugar, Razzy and Kenon. Sugar often spoke about how she looked forward to her own wedding someday, and Cleru did not deny that the event would some day take place. It was fun to see Pratty teasing Varil in a similar way. For the most part Razzy was a bit confused about the entire something new, something old, something borrowed and something blue, tradition, but no one really had an answer about where it came from and why. Razzy spoke of the flowers she liked, and how she wanted a wedding full of flowers one day; I'm not sure if she noticed that Kenon kept blushing and smiling the entire time. I can't say it was easy picking a gift, but I finally picked something and bought it.

The wedding took place in Wystern, even if everyone initially thought it would take place in Vance. Tyram the calm retained his name during the entire process not being nervous at all. Ironically, the one that was running around frantically trying to make sure everything was perfect for his sister's wedding was the best man, Ureksa.

I must say everyone looked great. Picking a formal attire for the wedding wasn't easy but it was done. I think that Razzy, Pratty and I were the ones least comfortable in dresses, since all three of us have a reputation for being a bit tomboyish, especially Razzy, but we survived it. I have Sugar to thank for fixing my hair and make-up. She's been doing more of those 'human girl activities' as she calls them, in preparation to marry a human, Cleru, and fit into his world as a human wife would.

Rumari was absolutely stunning in her wedding dress; no one took their eyes off her during the entire wedding. Rumari was wearing glass slippers, something new. It made me wonder how glass shoes could have such durability, but I guess the skill of a Craftlord is needed for that. Though he is now only a Craftknight, Tyram honored the name of the Craftlord of Crystal when he made those slippers for Rumari.

She had a necklace with a pendant that she always wears, something old; a bracelet that I heard Rumari borrowed from Amariss, something borrowed; and Sapphire earrings, something blue.

The wedding was spectacular, taking place in a nice sunny day. The sea was calm as if to honor the wedding day of Tyram the Calm and his beloved Majestic Lancer Rumari. Everyone celebrated, everyone was happy, it was all pure bliss.

After the 'I do's were said and the happy couple had their first dance, I disappeared among the crowds and considered leaving for a while. Everyone was dancing with their respective dates and I had come by myself. In a way I feel a little abandoned because I can't hang out with my friends, but I should remember that they're not here to baby-sit me. They have their dates, they deserve to spend some couple time together and enjoy dancing. I don't even know how to dance.

I think Chaves almost asked me to dance, possibly because I was one of the few girls who didn't have a dancing partner. I'm sure I heard him say my name as I made my escape among the crowds and took refuge in the girl's bathroom at Central Tower, at least I know he can't follow me in here. I will remain here for a while; it's too risky to go out right now. I'll join everyone for cake later, but I'm going to hide out until the dancing stops.

Women occasionally come in and out checking their hair and make-up in the mirror. I pretend I'm doing the same, gently brushing my hands over my hair, afraid to get it out of place while I pretend to fix it. I'm not very good with hair. When the women leave, I stop pretending and simply stand there.

I have nothing against Chaves really, but I don't like him either and I don't know how to dance so I really don't want to look ridiculous. I don't know how to decline without sounding mean, when even Amariss has agreed to dance with Bron.

I wish I knew how to dance so I could dance with Master Sakuro or Master Ureksa. I've never cared about girly things like dancing, but today even Razzy is doing it, even if she keeps tripping on her dress, but she has Kenon there to catch her.

Master Sakuro... Master Ureksa... I'll never forget how handsome they look in tuxedos. It's really too bad that I'm certain it's impossible for me to dance with them. Not only because I can't dance, but also because I'm sure there's a long line of girls waiting to dance with them.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 30: Hiding

For once I actually look pretty. Of course, everyone looks extra nice today so I'm still average in comparison and I look nowhere near as amazing as some of the other girls. But for once I can say I look pretty. That's why I can't cry and ruin it.

Furthermore it's going to be obvious I wasn't overcome by emotions or moved, because by now my friends know me well enough to realize I'm not the kind of girl to shed tears of happiness. I cry only when I'm sad, frustrated or at a dangerously high level of anger, and this is not supposed to be an occasion to be sad.

What's wrong with me? Back when I had nothing, and built an imaginary wall around myself, what I have now would have been paradise. Am I such an ingrate to want more? I appreciate what I have, but I've never longed for more as much as I do this very moment. Because in the past I was happy just having a platonic crush, but now I wish more than ever that someone would have a real crush on me, and I know that's not happening, or at least not from either of the men I like.

I take deep even breaths and wonder if anyone has noticed I'm missing. Women come and go, look in the mirror, re-apply make-up, fix their hair, and then they leave. I do not know them so they don't talk to me. They assume I had just arrived to check on my hair and make-up, and that soon I'll be gone, back to the party.

I am bored, very bored. Hiding out in the women's bathroom is one of the most boring experiences I've had. I sigh and decide that it's about time to come out. I'll walk around and see if I can catch a glimpse of Master Sakuro or Master Ureksa from afar. They're both especially handsome today and it would be a pity to miss the opportunity of indulging in the most delicious eye candy, even if it's only from afar.

Since I know it's going to be impossible to dance with them, not only because I don't know how, but I don't think they'll ask and I don't have the guts to battle an army of fan girls and ask myself; then it shouldn't matter if someone else asks me to dance. It doesn't matter if I don't want to sound mean and get pushed into it, because I can't lose the opportunity I never had.

With a fake smile on my face, obviously forced, I face the public bathroom's door and take the first step towards it. But before I can even reach for the door knob, the door is opened and suddenly between the lined, sinks and mirrors and the stalls, this place becomes very crowded.

"Rumari!" The bride is here, along with the bride's maids and important lady guests.

"I finally found you." I'm surprised she noticed I was missing but I also feel guilty for thinking that she wouldn't. "Where did you run off to, you couldn't have been here the entire time, right?"

I don't look sick at all, because I'm not, and there's no other reason why I would spend a party in the bathroom. I wanted to go home but it would be too obvious that I'm leaving. "I was just walking around Central Tower," it's only a half lie. I know it can be misinterpreted but truthfully I was walking around Central Tower, though only around the square feet that the women's bathroom occupies.

"Didn't you dance?" It becomes obvious that Rumari came here to change, as she has began taking off her golden tiara and the long, white silk veil attached to it.

"I don't know how to dance..." I admit, and I hope that Rumari won't push me into it. I know she has all the good intentions of making sure I don't miss out, but I really don't feel like looking silly. Plus the only ones I want to dance with, even if it means forfeiting my dignity to my clumsiness, I am sure they wouldn't bother dancing with me. Why must I be so insecure again?

"Neither do I," Razzy admits with a laugh.

I suppose that for a long time I played a role I hated, thus I thought little of myself. After that I was still the slightly clumsy tomboy who's only good at making drill engines and not so good at fighting. I suppose that I was, and am, realistically convinced that I'm nothing special, but I wonder if for some man out there, average is enough.

"Did you step on Kenon's feet?" Pratty asks in good humor.

Razzy laughs, as if it were something to be proud of, "I sure did, big sis!"

Pratty laughs along with her and we all join in. "I have only stepped on Varil's feet twice so far."

"Aw, you're so skilled big sis! I've stepped on Kenon's feet five times already," Razzy confesses.

"Fortunately, I haven't stepped on Tyram's feet," Rumari is undoing her elegant hair style and brushing it into something simpler. I wonder what she has in mind for the rest of the party, whatever it is, I wonder why she needs to change.

"It's the same for me!" Sugar proudly declares. "I didn't step on Cleru's feet at all!"

"That's because you're floating," Pratty points out.

All the tension is gone, I guess I was in a bad mood because I was bored, but things are better now that I have someone to talk to. After undoing her fancy hair, Rumari went into one of the stalls and changed out of her dress. Now wearing pants, she stepped out and tied her hair back in front of the mirror, while I helped the other girls deal with the sea of white fabric that Rumari handed them.

"Rumari, what are you planning to do next?" I curiously ask, though I would soon feel as if I should have guessed.

"An exhibition match," Rumari smiles. "Tyram and I already had our first dance as husband and wife, now it's time for our first spar." That's the Majestic Lancer alright.

To be Continued

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