Time passed slowly for all parties, both in the battlefield and in their castles. Higashi was getting more worried about getting back home daily, not because of leaving Mai in charge, but because Nikki’s letters had slowed down to nonexistent. Sesshomaru had also stopped receiving letters from her and had approached him a few times about word from the princess. As the final battle of the rebellion prepared and arrived, both were nervous wrecks and it took everything Nishi, Kita, and Minami had to keep Higashi from sending one of the boys home to check on them.
The final battle had been long and hard won, but through it all the troops did as their commanders expected and soon the Western guard was escorting the remaining members of the rebellion back to the palace for the dungeons. Nishi now had the job of holding the various trials and punishments for the leaders they had captured alive.
“This Sesshomaru is going with you,” he said to Higashi in a tone that obviously brooked no arguments from the older lord. Higashi looked at him curiously, but was not surprised.
“I should know of your intents with my daughter before allowing you before her,” Higashi said as Sesshomaru growled at him a little, “I will not deter you from coming with us to our kingdom, because I know you’d do it anyway.” Sesshomaru nodded as he grew impatient with the speech he was receiving from the neko lord. “Be ready within the hour, it’s already going to take us a day and a half before we arrive, we’ll be there by night fall as is.” Sesshomaru nodded and headed off to inform his father and pack up, preparing to be the first ready to go.
“I’m going to the Eastern Kingdom,” Sesshomaru informed his father as he entered the tent. His father looked up at him surprised.
“You don’t wish to return with us and celebrate the victory?” Nishi asked him as Sesshomaru shook his head.
“There is no celebrating until I find out what is going on with Nikki,” Sesshomaru replied as his father sighed and nodded. “She stopped writing with no reasons; her father has also received no word from her. She is going to be held accountable for this.”
“Alright son,” Nishi said nodding as he sighed, “go find your mate.”
“She is not my mate,” Sesshomaru growled warningly. He stalked off to finish preparations for leaving.
“Yet,” his father grumbled as a soldier walked up to him with the final reports. The soldier looked at him confused as he accepted them. “You’ll understand when you have pups your own and they are as stubborn as you, one day.” The soldier chuckled and shook his head as Nishi reviewed the notes.
In the Eastern Lands, things were not going as well as Mai told her mate in her letters to him. The guardsmen were divided among themselves between their loyalty to her and to her mate through Nikki, the beginning of the arguments brought on by the disappearance of Nikki. Especially since no one there was able to keep them under control.
Mai walked around the palace, quite pleased with herself at how smoothly she felt the kingdom was running despite the absence of her mate and sons. She didn’t understand why her mate was always under so much stress all the time with it. She headed towards the dungeons with her personal guardsmen for her daily visit with a particularly special prisoner.
“You beat her again?” Mai asked as she observed the face of the being hung in the cell.
“She started to scream again,” one of them replied gruffly, “it’s the only way to silence her.”
“Yes, beyond the fact that you enjoy torturing her,” Mai retorted sarcastically. He smirked a little as her personal guardsmen and the other one remained silent, the prisoner remaining motionless as she hung on the wall like a puppet.
“I know you’re still alive,” Mai haughtily informed her prisoner, “they’d have reported to me if you were dead.” The prisoner lifted her head slowly, her eyes glowing ruby red as she glared at the older human woman. “Glare at me all you want, you’re not getting out of here…alive…”
“When my father gets home,” she snarled angrily.
“Your father will never find you!” Mai announced triumphantly. “He never comes down here and you will never leave here!” She struggled with the chains, Mai stepping back as her guardsmen moved her before hissing noises and smoke came from some of the bars. “You’ll never get out of there.” Nikki growled furiously as she stopped moving. They all looked at her surprised as she chuckled a little.
“When I do, none of them will stop me from getting to you,” the neko hanyou laughed, “none of them will be able to save you.”
“Make sure within the week, and take your time, that she’s dead and gone from this castle,” Mai ordered as the two guardsmen in front of the cell nodded, one chuckling in amusement. Mai turned and headed off with her own guardsmen as they headed off to the throne room.
“Any word on the lord’s return yet?” one of her guardsmen asked her shakily as she sat down in the throne room.
“No, and I’m not holding my breath,” Mai answered shaking her head. “This was supposed to be quick and easy, obviously it wasn’t so. That’s fine as well, I think things are running so much more smoothly than when Higashi is home.” Some of the guardsmen in the room looked away; they were disgusted with their lady’s disloyalty to her mate and lord.
By that evening everything and one was calming within the castle. Word was sent that her prisoner was still alive, the guards wanting to take their time with her and slowly torture her some more. Mai didn’t really care and finished off her paperwork and dinner in her study before returning to her room for the night. She was startled when two guards rushed into her room to fetch her.
“My lady,” one of them informed her hurriedly, “the lord and your sons are home. They brought with them the prince of the Western Lands.” Mai got up and waved them out of her chambers so she could change to greet her husband, sons, and guest. She walked into the great hall half an hour later as they all entered, Higashi in the lead, and bowed to them as they looked around. Higashi was obviously not pleased by the fact that it was only Mai greeting them.
“Show Lord Sesshomaru to a room by Nikki’s chambers and send her down here,” he ordered a maid. The girl bowed low to him but did not move.
“My lord,” she said softly as she stood up and faced him, “Lady Nikki has been missing from the castle. None have seen her within the last two months now.” Higashi looked towards his mate furiously. “One night she went to her chambers and by morning she was gone.” Mai looked at him nervously as she wrung her hands together.
“What in the seven hells happened in this castle after I left?” Higashi demanded furiously of his mate as the maid rushed towards Sesshomaru, bowed to him, and led him out of the room. The boys were also clearing out as Higashi let his mate have it for not telling him about their daughter.
“We ran it as it would have been had you been here,” Mai answered softly as she looked at him pleadingly.
“Then why didn’t you tell me about Nikki?” he snarled.
“I thought she originally went with you, her desires to be on the battlefield and all,” Mai answered as he crossed his arms as if that were unbelievable. “But when you made no mention of her joining you, I decided it would be best not to distract you from your task. I’ve had patrols out looking for her every day and night.” Higashi stormed off to his study as he thought about what was going on. He noticed the daily agendas, all piled neatly on his desk in chronological order. Mai followed him to see what he was doing as she continued to think of excuses if they were needed. He waved a guard over to him.
“Yes, my lord?” the soldier asked as he stood at attention.
“I want every report made on the search for my daughter,” Higashi ordered him.
“My lord,” the solder informed him softly, “there are no reports.” Higashi looked even more livid if it were even possible. “We searched the forest for her for two days, but when there were no signs of her whereabouts, we gave up knowing the princess wouldn’t be found until she wanted to be.” Higashi knew this, he trained Nikki personally and his pride would brag that his daughter’s skills were some of the best. Her instincts were supreme, which made him question more why under orders she’d abandon the castle.
“Why would she leave?” Higashi asked of the soldier as Mai inched further into the room. The soldier looked at her sideways and Higashi knew the answer, he nodded for him to continue anyway.
“After you left, forbidding any more princes within the castle until your return home, Lady Mai had several over to introduce to Lady Nikki,” the soldier answered hesitantly as Mai prepared for the onslaught for her disobedience. “We presume that she ran away so she could avoid her mother’s fury at not choosing a mate.” Higashi looked at Mai as she paled and looked away.
“Mai, wait in your chambers, now,” Higashi ordered her. Mai looked to think about protesting, second guessed her idea, and left for her own chambers. “Is that truly why my daughter left?” He asked him softly. The soldier sighed and shrugged as he shook his head.
“I don’t believe, in all honesty my lord, that she ever left the castle. The princess was most loyal to you, you ordered her within the castle to keep the guard under control, and she vanished over a night.” The guardsmen answered softly as he nodded. A maid had said the same; she went to bed and then never returned. “Usually during the afternoon change, Lady Mai visits the dungeons with her personal guard. I’d start my search there.” Higashi looked at him surprised as he thought about it, nodding as he waved him along and thought.
“I want you to gather all of Mai’s guard, the ones that obeyed her orders without thought or question, in the throne room,” he ordered as they walked together. “Gather my sons and Lord Sesshomaru within my study, if she’s not in the dungeons I’ll be coordinating a search myself. And then I want you to put my personal guardsmen around Mai’s room, she is not to leave those chambers under any reason.” The guard nodded and ran off to do as ordered as Higashi approached the dungeon door.
He hated the dungeons; he had always kept out of them from the stench of blood, sweat, and tears. But now he was forced down there, and if Nikki was there he didn’t know how he’d contain his fury. He opened the door and heard the screams; they only stopped after a particularly nasty sounding thud.
“Scream all you want,” someone snarled amused, “no one can hear you scream.” He stalked up behind the two and grabbed both of their collars before they could get away.
“I can,” he snarled and threw them both into another cell. How he didn’t kill them, he’d never be able to tell. He walked up to the tiny creature, chained up, and half dead. He picked her up and almost dropped her again when he realized who it was.
“Nikki?” he growled surprised. She merely whimpered in response as he held her closer to him, though she felt like he would break her if he held her too tightly. He rushed upstairs and out of the dungeons, surprising some of the soldiers that returned with him. He entered her chambers to see a maid refreshing the room for when Nikki returned when she looked at him alarmed. “Get the healer, now!” he barked as she ran quickly out of the room. Higashi laid Nikki down and looked her over, shaking his head as he tried to understand what was happening. She had been beaten, several times over obviously, she was bloody and tear stained, swollen in areas he could feel and see. Her whole body was rigid and shaking in fear.
“What did they do to you, my kitten?” he muttered hoarsely as she whimpered and closed her eyes as she looked away. He shook his head as he backed up a little as the maid and healer entered.
“My lord, I know this is difficult,” the healer ordered him sternly as he looked at her blankly, “but I need you to leave the chamber until I have her clean and bandaged. I need you to trust me with the princess.” Higashi nodded, staring at his daughter as he vaguely listened to her. As he noticed another tear, unsure if it was from the pain, humiliation, or fear she felt, he felt his fury rising to dangerous levels and left the room. He didn’t know where to go first; the throne room to punish all of the guardsmen who failed his daughter, Mai’s chambers to let her have it for what she had obviously known was happening to their daughter, or to his study to inform his sons and visiting prince of her current state.
“My lord,” the soldier said as he walked up to Higashi, “all of your mate’s guards are within the throne room; I have patrols outside both the throne room and Lady Mai’s chambers. I also made sure your sons and Lord Sesshomaru are within your study waiting your orders.” He noticed Higashi shaking and realization dawned on him. “Did you find the princess?”
“Find three of the best guardsmen and post them outside my daughter’s room within her garden, Sesshomaru and one of the boys will be on this side,” Higashi ordered as he looked at him stunned and nodded. “No one is to leave their post without permission from me personally and Mai is not allowed within this hall.”
“Yes, my lord,” he said bowing before heading off as Higashi headed towards his study to inform his sons and Sesshomaru of their newest orders. As he moved, all he could think was how he wanted to rip something or someone into shreds.