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Onmyōdō

Japan

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a part of Onmyōdō, by Keen.

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Keen holds sovereignty over Japan, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

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Japan

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Japan is a part of Onmyōdō.

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Kaede Akiyama [0] The unwilling protector
Natsuko Hayashi [0] The Hesitant Princess

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#, as written by Keen
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What was once the bedroom of the future Empress of Japan was now a room decorated in boxes. Several men were making their way in and out as they finished packing things up and moving them out of the room to the moving truck outside. It was moving day for the young princess, Natsuko Hayashi. To her, this was both a day she had been long awaiting and long dreading. At long last, her father was presenting her with an opportunity to live on her own for a bit and go to high school like any other girl. It was something that had been a dream of hers for years. Finally, she would escape the tutors and join other students her age in an entirely different environment. She could learn with them and get to experience clubs and classrooms and social interaction. She really looked forward to it.

But as she sat on one of these boxes and watched the men carry it all away, what really clouded up her mind was the part of this day that she had been dreading. It was her replacement guardian. She had been told nothing of this new guardian really except that it was a skilled guardian that attended the same school that she would be. Regardless of who they were or how skilled they were at repelling the Yuurei, Natsuko was not looking forward to meeting this person. However childish or selfish it may have been, she wanted Ian back. She grew up with him, trusted him... admired him. But even she could understand that there were prices to be paid for everything. To get a taste of her dream, her price to pay was an exchange in guardian. She would bear with it... but not happily so.

"Princess? Your father has sent me to collect you. It is time for your farewell lunch and to meet your new guardian." Her attendant had arrived at the door, bowing before speaking. Natsuko hadn't noticed her until she even started speaking.
"Oh.. Yes, of course. I'll be there in a moment." The red-haired princess responded as she stood up. Today, rather than formal clothing like traditional yukatas or kimonos, she was dressed like an average teenage girl. Simple jeans and a white blouse. It was different to her. But it certainly felt comfortable to be doing something new, much to her pleasant surprise. Adjusting her glasses to be able to see properly, she followed her attendant down the hallways that would lead to the banquet hall.

The "banquet" was rather small in population. It was limited to the Emperor, the chief lady, Natsuko, and a scarved girl that would sit directly across from Natsuko. The only other persons were attendants, butlers, cooks, basically just people to bring whatever the diners may want. Natsuko sat down across from the scarved girl, looking to her mother then to her father. The look on his face was hesitant. Natsuko could read it rather easy, though. It was the expression he wore since he agreed to let her go. He was going to honor his word to let her go, but he really didn't want that. His daughter simply smiled happily at him, as both a thank you and a sort of reassurance. "I'll be fine, father. You know I will. Especially since you're helping me get a new guardian, right?" She began looking around the room as if searching for someone in particular. "Where is he anyway? I thought my new guardian was supposed to be eating with us today?" The only other person at the table was...

A really short, scarved girl. Was she really the same age as Natsuko, she wondered? In more ways than one, she really didn't look like it. She looked a fair amount younger. But it was plain even to Natsuko that this girl was supposed to be her new guardian. Could she even protect herself, nevermind Natsuko? "Oh! My apologies." She addressed the scarved girl and bowed as deep she could without hitting her head on the table. "My name is Natsuko Hayashi, the future Empress of Japan. I am sorry for not acknowledging you sooner. It's an honor to be guarded by you." Formalities. She was not realy honored. She wasn't looking forward to anyone but Ian guarding her, especially not some girl who looked like she still belonged in middle school. Still, Natsuko would not try and upset her. She certainly was not about to upset her father before leaving, either. Like she did with everything... She would grin and bear it.

Kaede glanced about the room uncomfortably before resting her gaze on the princess that sat across from her. Her expression had been the same as it had all day, her lips were pressed into a hard and flat line and while she did not look upset exactly, she certainly did not look pleased. With her mouth slightly obfuscated by the orange scarf she exhaled before speaking, "Kaede Akiyama." She dipped her head down for several moments in a bow before raising her head once more, "There's no need to apologize... And... It is likewise an honor to be your guardian." These words of hers seemed to lack a certain quality of sincerity and confidence and as soon as she was finished uttering them she began to glance around the room again, looking as if she was expectantly awaiting something.

It didn't seem she'd have to wait long though as the servants began to bring in the food. At the sight of these edibles Kaede visibly perked up, reaching up to pull her scarf down to fully reveal her mouth and chin. She watched each item of food closely as it was placed upon the table with wide eyes. She even began to fidget slightly in her seat as she not-so-patiently waited for permission to eat.

In not a moment, the table was covered in foods. When Natsuko raised her head, she noticed the scarved girl lower her scarf and brighten up her expression exponentially. Like something she had been long awaiting for was suddenly presented to her. It made Natsuko raise an eyebrow. Most people were humbled and just obnoxious about meeting her.. but this girl was more interested in the food? Needless to say the princess felt both a strange sense of relief and upset. It was almost insulting, but she knew it was moreso because it was what she was not used to. She wanted to be treated like anyone else. It seemed that her new guardian would do just that. "Kaede-san. It's nice to meet you." She smiled sweetly and cocked her head slightly to the side as pleasantly as she possibly could.

"Well. We all know why we are gathered here. To say farewell to my beloved daughter, and the future empress of our beautiful nation. This is something she wants and as her father I cannot deny her. But it is your duty, Kaede Akiyama, to keep her safe and happy. We trust that you are fully aware of all consequence and responsibility you now bear. But your clan is one of the most trustworthy for the position. We are thankful that you are watching over my daughter. This banquet is to both of your safety and prosperity over the school year. So please, eat! Enjoy your lunch before you two head off." Giving speeches was something that the emperor had become accustomed to over his time and this situation seemed to be no different. There was a hesitance in his voice, but he was not going to speak too much more on this subject. Instead, cooks began filling up his plate that he would begin emptying.

Natsuko helped herself to a rather modest portion. She wanted to be done quickly and get to her new home. Men were already there unpacking things, and this would be the last time she really had anyone waiting on her until she returned home for the holidays. She ate rather quickly as well, eager to just get out and find some normalcy at long last. But that would not stop her from subtly observing her new guardian's behavior from under her glasses. She was stuck with her for better or worse... But she decided then and there that Kaede could never be what Ian was. She would not be viewed as the powerful superhero that kept perfect watch over her. She was no knight in shining armor to dream about.

As the princess' voice reached Kaede's ears she glanced up at her, snapped suddenty out of her food induced reverie. She opened her mouth to reply but the Emperor's impromptu speech cut that short. As the man addressed her by name Kaede sat up straight and gave a blink. His words hit her like blows to the gut, they were of course things she already knew but hearing them from none other than the Emperor gave them a different impact, a very real and tangible one. She did her best not to show her discomfort or distress though and merely bowed her head in his direction after his speech was finished. With a moment to close her eyes and take a deep breath Kaede sprang to back to life.

With surprisingly swift motions Kaede collected a mass of all kinds of food on to her plate, apparently intent on tasting every last item offered upon the table before her. By the time she was done filling her plate with food not a single glimmer of the white china could be seen. With a quick bow and even quicker words, "Ittadakimasu!" she began to hungrily devour the food before her. The pace of her consumption was impressive and didn't show any signs of slowing even as the contents of the plate dwindled, With only a break spared to drink some tea she began to refill the empty plate with other new foods before consuming those as well. It seemed the princess might be waiting for some time until Kaede was satisfied.

Natsuko had spent some time pushing food around while she watched Kaede scarf it down as if she hadn't eaten in weeks. It was equal parts impressive and gross. She was like some strange machine built specifically for eating and never stopping until it was all gone. With how much she ate, it was honestly surprising that Kaede was not taller or bigger in some way. But Kaede had easily eaten five or six times what Natsuko did in such a short time. She was a marvel when it came to eating.. Natsuko just hoped that her ability to fight off Yuurei was a fraction of her ability to eat.

Soon enough, they were all finished eating. The table was cleared, dessert was served (which Natsuko actually partook in despite her desire to just leave), and with time the table was cleared and the banquet hall was as well.

A rather lengthy farewell came from the emperor as he let his daughter go. There were many little "call me" moments and all of that, which Natsuko was eager to get out of the way. After maybe a half hour, the princess pulled herself away from her father with a smile, once again urging him that she would be okay before heading to the vehicle that would take her and her guardian away. She got in the backseat with no hesitation. There was a black tinted window that kept the front and back private from one another. It was pretty typical to let the empirical family have their privacy, so she didn't think twice. As she was buckling in, Kaede was getting in with her. Natsuko glared in her direction for a moment. The glare was not one of malice, but more one that said "I'd really rather it not be her." That was what her eyes said. But she still smiled to Kaede and began fidgeting with her fingers to distract herself from the obviously awkward atmosphere. This was all just part of what she wanted, right?

Looking quite satisfied with the feast Kaede slid into the car behind the princess. After taking her seat and buckling up she pulled her scarf up a bit to how it had been before they ate, covering her chin and obscuring most of her mouth. The red orbs of her eyes wandered about the interior of the car for just a few moments before settling upon Natsu. It didn't look like she was all too happy with the situation for whatever reason. The silence lingered on for a few more moments before Kaede finally decided to speak in a soft tone, "Is... Something the matter? Aren't you excited to be leaving finally?" Her head inclined to the side slightly as she regarded the princess. Despite her displeasure at being assigned to guard her, Kaede was genuinely curious about whatever might have been troubling her, she always had a knack for reading people and this situation was no different.

"Hm?" She had asked before registering the questions that were brought to her. Natsuko attempted to keep her smile as she waved a hand dismissively. "Oh! Of course! You know, just weird actually being out. Saying goodbye to father and mother. It's... surreal, I suppose you could say." That was definitely not the reason she was upset. If anything, she was pretty excited about that. But to her it seemed like a good enough excuse. "Please don't worry about me, Kaede-san. I'm really quite happy to be heading out. Aren't you?" She really didn't care too much. But getting her mind away from Natsuko seemed like the better way to go about this. Kaede didn't do anything wrong. Natsuko knew she was being childish about it and shouldn't take it out on Kaede... So keeping that subject at bay seemed like a good idea.

Kaede sighed quietly as she glanced off to her left before speaking, "Sorry but... It's my job to worry about you now Princess." Her arms stretched up into the air before she leaned back in her seat and looked up at the roof of the car. "I don't really think how I feel about it is very important... This is for you afterall." Her arms fell to her side as she finished stretching, her hands finding their way to random spots along her scarf and running the cloth between her fingers. "I think you should just try and enjoy your limited time out here... I'll protect you so, try not to worry about any of that stuff." With a quick glance out the window it seemed that they were growing close to their destination. Seeing this Kaede sat up properly, eager to be free of the stuffy interior of the vehicle.

Even if she were to protect her... Why couldn't it be Ian instead? Natsuko would raise her hand to fidget with her glasses and smile. "Yes, of course. You're absolutely right, Kaede-san. Thank you." The rest of the ride was relatively silent, Natsuko spending her time staring out the window and watching the city go by her. It was exciting to finally be out and free and her expression would finally show her excitement.

Especially so when the car finally came to a halt in front of a small apartment complex. Moving men had stopped to bow for her when she stepped out of the car. She bowed in return, of course, and made her way through the complex to where the moving men had already nearly finished setting up the place. Her father really went out of his way to find a decent place. It seemed clean, in tact, and seemed more like a mini house than an apartment. It had a kitchen/dining area, a living room, a bathroom, two bedrooms, even a fireplace in the living room. It was pretty impressive. Much better than she had anticipated. She knew that it would be at least a bit more comfortable than a tiny one-two room apartment. "Home sweet home." She rang out happily and began exploring the place. She found her room easy. It was the one whose bed took up about eighty percent of the entire room. "Do you like it, Kaede-san? I mean, this is where we'll be staying... Is it acceptable? Good enough? I can get this arranged if it isn't. Um.. Yes? No?" She wasn't too sure what to say now that the two were here. Soon enough the movers would be done and they'd be alone... That might be even worse. Would they just leave each other to their own devices?

Kaede watched the movers work, rushing about here and there to move and unpack boxes. She wasn't quite sure how the princess had so many things that she wanted to bring with her. Disregarding this with a shrug she walked over to her own belongings, a single black suitcase and a rather long and well-secured case that was leaning against the wall. She carried her items inside on her own and quickly found her room, setting the items on her bed before walking back out to explore the apartment. It was rather impressive really, though it hardly screamed 'normal' to her. "Please, just call me Kaede... There's no need for honorifics." She cracked a small smile, though it might have been hard to tell behind her scarf. "And well, it looks fine to me... A bit more extravagent than I was imagining even, I'm sure your friends will enjoy coming over here quite a bit." She give Natsu a nod before glancing around the room and scratching lightly at her cheek with an index finger. "Say... I don't mind handling the cleaning but... I'm really not a cook..." Kaede trailed off and let the implication hang in the air. Being out of the car and inside now she was feeling a bit more comfortable, but she couldn't shake the feeling that there was something on Natsu's mind.

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#, as written by Senpai
Friends? That was right. She would be going to school soon enough. It would be kind of counter-productive if she didn't make friends. Normal high schoolers had friends. "Yeah. I'm sure that they will. I wasn't expecting anything quite so spacious, but it certainly is cozy, isn't it?" It seemed kind of big for two teenage girls, but it wasn't a problem to Natsuko at all. She was accustomed to having room to move about and do whatever in. The only thing she was uncomfortable with was how low the ceilings were. She was used to palace-level ceilings. Way high and above her, maybe even enough space to fit more rooms. But she supposed everything couldn't be perfect. It was an apartment, not a palace.

A gleam took to her eye when Kaede mentioned cooking. With a rather confident smile, she puffed out her chest and spoke, "That is just fine, Kaede-sa--" She cut herself off remembering the request to not use honorifics. "I'll have you know that I spent a lot of time with the palace chefs. I love cooking. And I can bake some really tasty desserts, too. Just help me with the shopping and I could probably make you just about anything you could want to eat! And if I can't, I'll give it a try. I find it to be fun. Relaxing, even." It was something she would go and do when she longed to have a sense of normalcy in her life. Rather than request food, she would go and make it herself. Now that she was here it seemed to be paying off. The cabinets and fridge were already stocked with some small essentials. Milk, eggs, spices, cheese, simple things like that. "Well... We should go grocery shopping at some point this week. But we have enough to get through a couple days with simple meals. I've done some research into easy western meals. We can totally give some of those a try. Oh! This is so exciting!" At long last her excitement was finally showing itself. She could forget about pining over her former guardian for a bit at the thought of cooking for someone else. Though with the appetite that Kaede had exhibited earlier, she might have to get a job on top of the allowance her father would be giving her every month.

"It's settled, then. You will handle cleaning and I will handle food. Sounds like a fair trade-off to me!"

Kaede couldn't help but raise a brow at Natsu's rather sudden shift in disposition. It seemed her intuition was correct. Regardless of the reasoning however Kaede was glad to see the princess soften and give a smile that seemed much more natural. Kaede was of course also glad to hear that she was an accomplished cook, she wasn't quite sure how accurate that statement was yet but she had managed to stomach even her older sister's cooking in the past, surely nothing the princess could whip up would be worse. With her small smile growing she adjusted her chin slightly which caused the scarf to dip down slightly to reveal more of her face.

"Well, I'm relieved to hear that... No matter what you decide to cook I'll be happy to eat it and well... Don't worry about matching the proportions I had earlier..." A slight look of embarrassment washed over her features as she recalled how much she had actually eaten earlier, "I uh... Snack a lot usually, but today I really didn't a chance to... Father had me moving around all day getting ready so I didn't get a chance to eat much."

It was about this time that the movers seemed to finish up their work, the last one leaving with a bow before closing the door behind him. "Guess that's everything then... Is there anything else that needs to be unpacked? I can help out if so... I didn't really bring much myself." She dipped a hand casually into the pocket of her vest as she looked over to Natsu before blinking as if in sudden realization. "Do... We have a T.V.? And if we do do we have cable or anything?" Kaede actually seemed a bit worried by this quandary as she began to scan about the room.

She was okay with eating her food... That made her want to get to the kitchen right away and start making something. It had only been about an hour since lunch and there were no real snack foods about. "Why don't we go out to supper tonight, though? I'd like to sample a local restaurant or two as often as possible. There might be something to be learned there. And while we're out we can pick up some snacks and treats and stuff. Sound good to you?" Her smile was sweet and sincere now. Excited and full of life.

With that said, though, she was already in the kitchen and taking a few things out of the fridge. Eggs, butter, some bread. The thought that Kaede was willing to eat her food left her dying to make something. It didn't take her long to already know her own kitchen. Metal clinked together as her cupboards were invaded. She took out a frying pan and turned on the stove top, greasing the pan up with a little square of butter. Once she had begun taking care of the meal, Kaede began asking about television. "Well... There's one in my room from the palace. It's kind of big. We could move it into the living room if you'd prefer. Father said that the cable man should be showing up mid-afternoon. So no, we don't have cable yet. But we will~" Taking a cup, she would press it into the center of the bread and twist it, creating a perfect circle-shaped hole in the bread that would make its way into the pan. She began audibly humming as she seemed to really be enjoying herself. This wouldn't be a very filling treat when it was done, so she didn't really care that she was nearly full from lunch.

Once the bread began to turn golden, she cracked an egg and dropped the contents right into the center of the bread. It quickly filled up the hole with white, the yellow yolk making itself present in the little snack. After about a minute and a half, she took a spatula and flipped it over with care, making sure not to pop the yolk. It proved to be a success when it wasn't leaking, causing her to give herself a triumphant pump of the arm. With the little snack being about done, she got out two small plates and put the finished product on one, the circle she had taken from the center of the bread slice making its way into the pan. This was finished and golden much quicker than the bigger piece and would end up over the egg center of the first piece. Turning around to set it on the counter behind her, she motioned for Kaede to come partake of it while she prepped another piece. "Tell me what you think. It's a simple little thing... An American friend of mine calls it a 'hole in one.' I think that's pretty cute myself." She also made a mental note to grab an apron when they went shopping. This was something she actually didn't own.

In truth, Kaede wasn't sold on the idea of eating out. It didn't really make sense to her. Why go out to some strange place full of loud strangers so you could sit around at some small table in uncomfortable seats and wait forever food, and then pay way more for it than it was really worth. However, the smile that followed that statement compelled some part of her to reconsider her initial reaction, plus the offer of snacks certainly served to sweeten the deal. It seemed that Natsu had taken her silence as a yes as she promptly turned to head over to the kitchen.

Kaede followed behind her but stayed out of the kitchen not wishing to get in the determined looking girl's way. She certainly looked like she knew her way around a kitchen which was reassuring to say the least for her potential cooking skills. In the midst of her preperations she replied to Kaede's question about the T.V. "Well, I'm not sure about that, I was mostly curious... My father's a pretty old-fashioned man, didn't want one of them in our house. Said it would turn me into a vegetable."

With her curious gaze continuing to track Natsu's movements she leaned against the wall her anticipation for what the princess could possibly be preparing grew. From the smell though, it seemed quite promising. Kaede was more than happy to come when Natsu called her over, stepping quickly across the kitchen and towards the bit of food that rested neatly upon its plate. "A 'hole in one' huh?..." She tilted her head as she inspected the strange item, "Do I... Just eat it with my hands?" With a blink she looked over to Natsu with a serious and curious expression.

Natsuko turned and returned Kaede's blink with one of her own. "Um... You know... That's a really good question." Her mouth curled upward as she gave an anxious laugh. "To be honest, I've never made this before. I just kind of went off of what my friend told me. But it looks good! Just... Um... Try it with your hands. It'll be fine, I'm sure." She continued working on hers. With the way she made it, the egg should stay stationary inside of the bread... But... She snapped her fingers and pointed at Kaede. "Try using the little circle to keep the egg in place while you eat it! It should work just like that, okay?"

She continued humming as she finished hers up and put it on the plate. Turning the stove off, she took the pan off of the hot circle on the stovetop and put it on the back burner. She stood on the opposite side of the counter of Kaede and leaned up against it as she picked up the rather hot bread and bit into it. The egg was pretty thoroughly cooked, the yolk just in tact enough to be the slightest bit liquidy. "Oh, perfect! Just how he told me... What do you think, Kaede?" Her eyes sparkled in anticipation, awaiting the feedback of her guardian. She felt it was just fine, but she really made it for Kaede.

Kaede gave a slow nod as she peered at the bread and egg combination that sat before her. Carefully, she reached out to pick it up and take a bite. "Hm..." Her next few bites were quicker, nodding as she chewed and leaned back against the counter. It almost seemed that she didn't hear Natsu question as she focused solely on consuming the food she held carefully in her hands. With only a few more bites the thing was totally gone. With a brief moment spent to brush some crumbs from her hands she gave another nod and smiled across the way at Natsu. "It's very good really... Simple but delicious." She smiled at the genuine enthusiasm the princess seemed to have for cooking, "I'm quite looking forward to your future meals Princess."

It was only after Kaede had called her "Princess" that Natsuko realized how informal her guardian had been up to that point. While she'd only referred to her as "Princess" up to this point, she seemed unusually calm and relaxed in her presence. In itself, that was kind of comforting. "Natsuko." She said after finishing her little snack. "Call me Natsuko, okay? I'm out here to get away from the royalty thing for a bit, you know?" But Kaede's acceptance of her meal and excitement for the future food made Natsuko excited in turn. With a large and sweet smile, she took to cleaning up her dishes without too much more said on the matter.
--
A few hours had passed since their little post-moving snack. The cable man had come and set things up in her room, she had finished the majority of her unpacking and she had a bit of time to just relax on her massive bed for a while. But soon enough her stomach would give an alert grumble that made her look at the clock on her night stand. It was quickly approaching 18:00, which screamed suppertime to the young princess. Rolling off of her bed and meandering to the living room, she called for Kaede. "Kaede, I'm getting hungry. If we're going out for supper, I think we should go now before it gets too late, don't you think?" She was certain Kaede would come running at the sound of food with the way she had proved to be eating. "Is there anything you want? I was looking at some maps and they have... preetty much everything around here. It's such a neat city..."

Leaving the dishes to Natsu Kaede turned to head back to her room. Her suitcase really didn't carry much, mostly clothes in fact. Aside from that the only other items were a small sewing kit and an old looking flute. With a quick glance around her sparsely decorated room she began to move the bed and dresser about to maximize her floor space. Finally, she set the other case she had brought with her upon the bed and undid the several clasps that held it shut. She ran her fingers over the bumpy texture of the plastic that covered the case before flipping it open to reveal an elegant looking spear.

The spear's shaft was a dark wood, just under the head was a bit of red cloth wrapped and tied tightly. The head itself was a shiny steel that looked like it had never seen the face of an actual battle. Kaede removed the weapon from its case and inhaled and exhaled deeply before stepping into the middle of the room and beginning a series of practiced movements and motions that slowly picked up in pace as she continued. It was a bit surprising that as her scarf flitted about through the air that it remained undamaged.

The sound of her name being called out from the other room prompted her to suddenly stop. She cleared her throat before heading to open her door and step out into the living room, her spear resting on her shoulder as she looked about for Natsu. "Yeah... That's fine." Her head tilted to the side slightly as she considered Natsuko's question but all she came up with was a shrug. "I don't really mind where we go, I'm hardly picky. Plus, going out to eat isn't something I ever did much of before so I think you'd have a better idea than me."

"Well, it isn't like I have much experience out of the palace at all. I can't recall the last time I've ever been to a restaurant." Her tone was more humored than anything else. "Let's see... I heard about a neat kind of restaurant around here where the tables have little grills in the center of them. We order what we want and make it ourselves how we'd like it. Isn't that cute? It'd be fun, too, I think... Not like we have too much for meats here right now." That would decide it since Kaede had left it up to her. She hadn't expected her to be particularly picky, but it never hurt to ask.

So she left the apartment and locked up once Kaede had made her way out as well and the two girls began walking to the restaurant. Natsuko enjoyed walking. Getting up and moving felt good and refreshing, and in this new environment it gave her time to take in her surroundings and begin memorizing the area. There wasn't too much to discuss on the way there, save for Natsuko pointing out buildings and people that she found interesting. Other than that, their journey to the restaurant was rather uneventful.

Once they arrived, there were only a few tables open. It was relatively packed and reasonably so with the hour. The woman who would be serving them gave Natsuko a strange look, as if she recognized her but couldn't remember where. Natsuko pretended not to notice as she began ordering for the two. It was mostly pieces of beef and pork that she ordered with a couple pieces of fish. The waitress nodded and took off to the back with their order noted. "This place is really interesting, isn't it, Kaede?" She would ask, more rhetorically than anything, as she began fiddling with the grill controls in the center of the table. This place really was something else to her. A place to get out and still cook for herself. It was interesting. Seemed lazy on the restaurant's fault, but she wasn't about to complain. "Hey, I hear the city has vending machines for just about everything. Is that true?" The city seemed to be captivating the girl's interest. Of course to her this was another world. She had always lived at the center of the city, but she had never been in it.

As soon as they stepped foot outside Kaede pulled her scarf up over her mouth and simply followed silently behind Natsuko. Much like the princess she spent their time walking scanning the enviornment, she figured it was unlikely that any Yuurei had tracked the princess down already but it couldn't hurt to be safe. It was nearing her favorite time of day as the sun lingered near the horizon, it was really rather comforting, a sense of normalcy in a day that had been nothing but surreal and unusual.

Kaede's generally stoic expression shifted into a slight frown as they stepped into the loud and crowded restaurant. She continued to follow quietly to their table, her excitement for the food growing as she heard Natsu list of their order to the waitress. Despite the food she was looking forward to she still felt a bit uncomfortable in this setting. She seemed a bit distracted as she blinked at Natsuko's words, "Oh, yeah... I've never heard of a place like this, I suppose cooking your own food like this makes it a bit more fun." With a nod she glanced around the restaurant, she still really wasn't sold on the whole idea but Natsuko seemed excited.

"Vending machines..." She honestly wasn't entirely sure either. "I've heard they have one for drinks of course... Both hot and cold. And I saw a few that sold cigarettes while we were walking, seems strange to me." Kaede shrugged and tried to redirect her focus on Natsuko and the table in front of them rather than all the people and sounds around them hoping it would help calm her a bit at least.

"Really? This city's really neat. I hear that in America they really only have vending machines for snacks and cold drinks and stuff." Natsuko couldn't find too much more to talk about with this near-stranger until the food arrived. With a smile and a thank you to the woman who left them their food, Natsuko got to grilling some of the beef right away. As she did before, she hummed while she cooked and seemed rather into it, poking and prodding the meat with a pair of chopsticks now and again as if testing tenderness. Occasional flipping to make sure it was cooked thoroughly and putting a few fresh pieces of raw meat on once some were near done took up some time. But she really did seem to be enjoying herself. Looking up though, she noticed that Kaede had a frown. She looked rather uncomfortable and maybe even upset.

"Is something wrong, Kaede? Aren't you excited to be eating?" While she didn't really know the girl, she at least knew that Kaede loved eating. Shouldn't a restaurant basically be her favorite place in the entire world? Natsuko's look was one of concern. She had a natural inclination to try and make people happy. Even if it was someone she'd rather not have around... Again, that was nothing personal against Kaede. She just wasn't who Natsuko wanted around. She seemed kind enough, quiet even... But she just wasn't Ian. That still wouldn't keep her from trying to put a smile on Kaede's face, though.

Once the meat had arrived Kaede simply began to follow Natsu's example, she honestly wasn't too sure of how long to cook any of this stuff or any of the proper procedures to take. It was clear however from her uncertain movements that this was indeed something she was not used to doing. Regardless, the meat she prepared turned out well enough and the fact that she had cooked made it just a slight bit more satisfying. Kaede seemed to favor the beef over the other meats as that was the one that ran out first. She was stating to feel more comfortable with her focus and attention devoted to the food before her, in fact it seemed to be the only thing she was focusing on as she was eating, she didn't even look up once. That is until Natsuko spoke up.

"Hm?" She blinked as she raised to her gaze to meet Natsuko's eyes, a piece of pork still hanging out of her mouth before it was promptly consumed. Kaede glanced around the restaurant for a moment before giving a small shrug, "I'm... Not really used to eating out like this I guess... It's not a big deal though, I'm just kind of a hermit, heh." With a moment spent to brush aside a few locks of brown hair from her face she reached over to place another piece of pork onto the grill. "Say... Do you know when we're going to be starting school?" Her curious gaze moved up from the pork and to Natsuko once more before she reached for her tea to take a sip.

"If you say so." She did not carry on the subject any further. She had been a hermit all of her life, technically, though that was of her own volition. Now that she could go out and do things freely, she intended to. If Kaede was a hermit of her own choosing, there wasn't too much that could be done about that. Natsuko made a mental note of it, though, to try and avoid dragging Kaede out longer than she had to. She really didn't want to make her too unhappy.

She was originally grilling the meat for the both of them, but Kaede seemed to be going about making her own. Natsuko smiled softly at it, watching as the other girl scarfed it all down. She truly seemed happy when she was eating at the very least. Taking one of the finished pieces of pork off the grill and onto her plate, she began cutting it into little pieces as she replied to Kaede's question. "Monday. So... two days from now?" She shrugged slightly and got to eating. As expected, the meat was cooked to perfection. She smiled in accomplishment at her own cooking prowess. Kaede was definitely going to enjoy staying with her if not for that reason alone. "If you don't watch television you'll probably be bored tomorrow... I'll bake you a treat or something, okay?" She gave Kaede that sweet smile again, the kind one that was sincere and just optimistic. She was looking out for her in a regard now, just as Kaede was looking out for her. It was an interesting give and take to say the least...

The plate of food was nearly gone now, though Kaede's pace had also started to slow and began to slightly resemble something almost normal. "Two days huh?..." She leaned back in her seat and spent a moment stretching her arms up into the air before she continued eating, still consuming whole slices at once instead of cutting them up. Kaede finally seemed to crack a small smile as she nodded at Natsuko, "I'l look forward to that then Natsuko." There was a hint of reluctance in her voice at calling the future empress of Japan so casually by her first name, but she had managed to push through it easily enough. "Well, when we do start school, I'll try and stay out your way as best I can... But rest assured I will be keeping an eye on you." With that said she resumed on to consume her last bit of food and finish off her tea, looking rather satisfied with the meal.

That last statement from Kaede was rather off-putting to Natsuko. What exactly did she mean by that? Perhaps Kaede was just looking to keep things professional; focus on her duties as a bodyguard and nothing much else. With the threat of the Yuurei, it was understandable. Perhaps somewhere in the back of Natsuko's mind she just assumed that living with someone her age and going to school with them might create some kind of friendship. Kaede did not seem too concerned with that. And while Natsuko was bothered by that a bit, she said nothing.

Soon enough, supper was finished and paid for. It was about to be dark by the time that they were done, but Natsuko was not bothered at all. The city seemed to be a completely different place at night. It was as if the landscapes she had spent time memorizing on the way here were something completely new and different. She made it a point to look at some of the buildings from before and express her interest into how different they looked to Kaede to fill the otherwise silent air between them. As the night went on, they made a stop to pick up some groceries. Whatever snack foods that Kaede wanted and a few things that Natsuko wanted for her own personal snacking and for tomorrow's treat were picked up as well. The princess also made sure to pick up some meats and other loose ends, as well as a basket, from the store to carry it in. It was enough to make some pretty decent meals for a few days. It was heavy getting it home and Natsuko did coerce Kaede into helping carry it all.

Before much longer they were home now. Once they were both in, Natsuko locked up and got to putting things in their proper place in the kitchen. As she was stocking the fridge, she called to Kaede, "Oh. Kaede... Unless it's a Yuurei emergency or you're dying or something... Do not go in my room without my permission. Just a privacy thing, you know?" Her voice was sweet as always despite the command. "Of course, the same principle applies to your room as well. I won't invade without cause and all of that..." With that said, she finished stocking and leaned up against the counter top to look at her new guardian. "So. With that all taken care of and our bellies all full do you need anything before I go rest for the night, Kaede?"

In truth Kaede wished the walk home could've lasted a bit longer. The cool night air and the twilight that settled in around the city was pleasing, it seemed her usual sunset walks were a thing she'd want to continue even here in the city. As if out of habit, once they were back inside Kaede's scarf was once more lowered away from her face as she wandered across the living room and plopped haphazardly onto the couch. She began to hum quietly to herself until Natsuko called out for her attention.

With a quiet grunt Kaede forced herself up and leaned over the back of the couch to address the princess. Kaede gave a thumbs up in Natsuko's general direction, "Got it... Though, my room will always be open so... I don't think you should worry so much about that." Her gaze wandered over to her door which was, as advertised, still open. "Well... I suppose all I need to know for now is, when's breakfast? Oh and, feel free to take a bath first, I don't mind going second." The smile she wore was small but friendly and sincere as she hung lazily over the couch still, it was a position that looked quite natural for her.

"Well, how sweet of you." Natsuko smiled and nodded to Kaede. That compliment was directed both at her willingness to bathe after her and the open door invitation. "I think I'll take advantage of that bath, then." With a nod she excused herself to her room where she gathered towels and undressed, wrapping a soft and poofy white towel around her figure with another draped over her arm. Rather shamelessly, she walked through the living room on her way to the bathroom. Stopping, she turned and looked to Kaede. "Breakfast is... Probably going to be closer to noon. Because reasons." Those reasons being because she was going to be up far later than she should be playing video games.

And without really waiting for a response, she headed to the bathroom and got the water running. She took up a pretty large chunk of time with the shower. The majority of it consisted of sitting and enjoying the hot water. A good couple of minutes was spent when she began fumbling around after she got out and couldn't remember where she'd put her glasses. Blind as a bat without them. For whatever reason she had left them on her towels rather than on the sink like she normally did. New house, new confusions.

Covering herself in a towel and wrapping her hair up in another to dry, she left the bathroom and made her way back to her room. As she did so, she called, "Kaede! Go ahead! The water's still warm!" Then her door closed to seal her away inside her room for the night. She'd end up being awake for the majority of it, though.

Kaede nodded and waved to Natsuko as she went off to her room to get ready, "Enjoy." With her gone Kaede somehow managed to mush into an even more relaxed position over the edge of the couch, her eyes closed and her arms hanging loosely about. When Natsuko returned a few moments later in only a towel to announce the timing of breakfast Kaede only regarded her with a single open eye and a nod. With her eyes closed once more she mumbled to herself, "Got a nice figure... And eleven's pretty late... Guess I'll be having some snacks in the morning."

With a rather sudden motion Kaede finally popped up from her position of being slung over the back of the couch and fell back onto it proper. She crossed her arms over her face as she hummed to herself to pass the time. Thoughts of the imminent coming of school crossed her mind and honestly, it made her uncomfortable. As if a restaurant wasn't bad enough she'd be surrounded by strange kids and worse yet, would have to interact with them. A deep sigh passed through her lips, "Am I gonna be alright?..." In the end, that didn't much matter. School wasn't something she needed to worry about, all she really needed to concern herself with was the Princess.

Before she could think much further on it Natsu called out from the hall to let her know the bathroom was free now. Kaede shouted back, "'Kay!" and deftly hopped up off the couch before heading to her room to get undressed (except for her scarf) and collect a towel. Once inside the bathroom she finally removed and set her scarf aside. Baths were something Kaede loved and so as usual, she spent as little time under the shower as possible before dipping into the tub and staying there until the hot water was all but gone. With a few brief moments spent to dry off she stepped out into the hallway and glanced at Natsu's door, "Good night Natsuko." She didn't yell but she hoped that she was loud to be heard, regardless Kaede returned to her room, put on a fresh set of underwear, scooped up her flute, and plopped down on to her bed. She'd spend a couple of hours playing some mellow tunes before finally drifting off to sleep.

Natsuko had just about finished drying off and had gotten into her night clothes, which literally consisted of underwear and a t-shirt, when she heard a voice at her door. "Good night Natsuko." The sound of Kaede wishing her a good night was rather surprising. She had just assumed before that with Kaede's distance from her that she wasn't interested in pleasantries and friendship all that much. Natsuko could not fight back the smile that came of that even if she had tried to.
"Oh! Goodnight, Kaede! Pleasant dreams!" To her, that moment there felt like a good sign. She wasn't quite sure what that sign was supposed to be of exactly, but it was a pleasant feeling to her nonetheless. The rest of the night was spent playing video games on her bedroom television for the majority of the night. She lost her last match because she quite literally passed out from exhaustion after all was said and done.

She was woken up by the sun assaulting her eyes through the window the next morning. She groaned, not really wanting to get up. But for Kaede's sake she would anyway. She sat up and turned her head to look at the alarm clock beside her. "Ten in the morning already..." She grumbled before yawning, stretching and rising up. Not bothering to change out of her bedwear, she just left her room and went straight to the kitchen to get cooking. The meal itself was honestly pretty simple and traditional. Closer to twelve than eleven, she had two plates full of food and ready to be eaten. Kaede, of course, had the more bountiful portions of rice, fish, rolled omelette, and a small side bowl of miso soup. It was their first breakfast in their new home and she wanted it to take some time to prepare. It felt more welcoming, from the heart and monumental than a couple of scrambled eggs. "Kaede! Breakfast is ready!" By this point, the grogginess had left her voice and left her wide awake.

Pouring two glasses of milk, she brought the plates and drinks over to the small table at the corner of the kitchen and sat down. She had a smile across her face this morning. Kaede's kindness last night left Natsuko wondering if Kaede really might have an interest in being friends. Natsuko certainly wasn't opposed to the idea. And she would be attempting to get closer to her at breakfast. When Kaede would sit down across from her Natsuko used her hands to brush her bangs off to the side and direct her smile at Kaede. "Good morning, Kaede. Did you sleep alright?"

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It was about 8 A.M. that Kaede stirred from her sleep. It was restful enough but an alien feeling of strangeness and unfamiliarity washed over her as she sat up in the unfamiliar bed in her unfamiliar room. She had slept with her scarf still on and gripped it tightly in her hands as she sighed, she knew she would get used to it eventually but for now, it was unpleasant. Kaede filled the remaining coule of hours until Natsuko woke with lounging about, snacking, and some minor cleaning, they had only been there a day after all so there wasn't much to be done.

When she finally heard Natsuko leave her room she peaked out from her doorway and watched as the girl made her way straight to the kitchen. Honestly, she looked like she hadn't rested well but Kaede dismissed this as a temporary worry. With breakfast now being prepared however Kaede was feeling a bit more lively and finally changed out of her 'sleepwear' and into a set of workout clothes that consisted of a black tanktop and grey sweatpants. Usually she'd go for a run in the mornings but the thought of leaving Natsu alone at home asleep for that long didn't sit well with her, perhaps she'd have to look into a treadmill or something of that nature. Regardless however she decided to simply go with what she -could- do at that moment, namely push-ups, curls, and squats. She kept this up for some time until Natsuko called out to announce breakfast, though at this point it was more like lunch.

Kaede quickly grabbed a towel to wipe away her sweat before walking out to the kitchen and taking a seat aross from Natsuko. She may have been small but it was clear that this young lady was not weak. As Kaede scanned over the contents of the table she gave a bright smile and began to dig in without hesitation. After several bites she finally paused long enough to respond to Natsuko's question, "Well... It's always kinda tough to sleep in an unfamiliar place but... I got a decent rest." She glanced up at Natsuko, uncertain of how exactly to word her question without offending her, "Did you... Get enough sleep? You... Seemed a bit tired when you got up."

As Natsuko was now accustomed to seeing, Kaede seemed to be enjoying her cooking. It only made the young princess smile even more. "I understand what you mean. Sleeping in a room with so little space was very weird when I woke up." At the sound of Kaede's question, she simply began stuffing her face with rice before answering. That little rice binge helped her think of something before replying. "Don't worry about me there, Kaede. I got plenty of sleep. Just a new house. And I'm a little bit of a grump when I wake up, you know how it is." Her hand waved dismissively to clear the subject from the air. How bad would it look to have people see that the future Empress of the country was a video game junkie that stayed up playing until she passed out? It looked rather irresponsible. She decided not to put Kaede through that thought.

Besides, she was here to try and learn more about Kaede right now. She wasn't going to try and make this about her. "So... Um. Kaede?" She pushed the fish around on her plate with her chopsticks a brief second before looking at the guardian in the eyes. "What, um... What do you do for fun, anyway? If I remember, you didn't have anyone to guard before me." Was she upset by that, maybe? Is that why she seemed so distant? Kaede was certainly kind enough at the very least. "You know... With your free time and all that?"

Kaede continued to eat as she listened to Natsuko speak, she wasn't quite sold on her line but, for now she'd just let it go. It didn't take long for her plate to be totally clean and with that she gave a contented sigh and set her chopsticks aside before looking up to meet the princess' gaze. "Well... Before this I didn't really do much of anything. My older siblings handled most of the excorcism work, this... Is actually sort of my first real job." She rubbed the back of her neck as her gaze shifted upward to the ceiling, she hoped that Natsuko wouldn't lose respect for her because she was newbie, but it would be understandable if she did.

She gave a shrug before looking back down across the table, "Heh, I'm a pretty boring person really... I just sorta lazed around between doing minor jobs, so in my free time... Mostly just things like reading or eating or listening to music... I played the flute a lot too and went on walks... Nothing interesting really." Kaede could only smile awkwardly as she explained her rather lackluster life, "It was always like that at home... Very insular. The only time it was very lively is when my siblings came home."

"This is your first real job? For real?" Natsuko looked as surprised as she sounded. "Your first real job is protecting a princess from evil spirits, huh? You must be on an entirely different level then, huh?" Natsuko was the only one left eating rather quickly. There truly was a pretty decent gap in their eating times. Still, she took her time and ate as she listened to Kaede. "You play music? That's neat. I never took to instruments well, unfortunately. But I used to like walking around the palace grounds all the time. I like being up and about, you know? It's nice." They had at least a little bit in common. "I don't think you're boring at all. If you're anything like I--" She cut herself off before saying her name. Something in her heart pulsed and told her not to. "..Anything like my old guardian, you must be something really impressive when Yuurei show up! He was like some kind of... like some kind of superhero, you know? It was crazy. I've never seen anyone do the kind of stuff he did."

At this point, she was kind of unsure where to take the conversation. So instead she took the dishes to the sink and got to work on washing them. "Oh, shoot... I meant to buy an apron while we were out last night. You, um... wouldn't want to take a walk with me to the store again today, would you? I'd be doing it before making your little treat, of course." How in hell did people make friends? This felt like a struggle. Hardly anything she was used to. What kinds of things did friends talk about or do together? She cursed her sheltered life interally as she kept going on the dishes.

Kaede sat by patiently at the table, conversing with the princess was turning out to be pleasant enough, she just hoped Natsu wasn't put off by being the one still left eating. Kaede leaned forward to rest her elbow atop the table and her chin in turn would come to rest in her palm. She quietly listening to Natsu's words, nodding every so often. As Natsu tripped over her words however Kaede's brow arched up slightly. Her old guardian... Whoever he or she was Kaede was sure she wouldn't measure up. Her skills were certainly nothing to sneeze at, but she had zero experience so despite Natsu's words, she really didn't feel anything like a super hero... More like a sidekick who was simply thrust into a real hero's clothes just because they needed to fill the role with -someone-.

She gave a small shake of her head as she attempted to banish that self-depricating line of thought for the time being and returned her attention to Natsu as she rose from her seat to wash the dishes. Kaede simply shrugged and nodded, "Of course I'll come along... Even if I didn't want to, it would be irresponsible of me to let you go off on your own. But, I do need to change first." With that said she rose up to her feet and began heading towards her room but stopped in the doorway of the kitchen to glance over her shoulder and call back to Natsu, "And you know, you don't need to wash the dishes all the time. Like I said, I can handle the cleaning." A small smile played across her lips as she turned to resume on her path to her room to change into a similar outfit as the one from the day before, it was to be their school uniform afterall so Kaede figured there wasn't much point on bringing many other clothes with her.

"I consider dishes part of cooking, Kaede. Don't worry about it too much, okay? If you're taking care of the rest of the house, just leave me the kitchen." She didn't want to force any more on Kaede than she had to at this point. And to be perfectly honest, when it came to kitchens she wanted it to be a certain way. There was still a little work he had to do when it came to organizing this one. Though at the thought of Kaede going to change, Natsuko realized that she should probably do the same. Going out in public wearing only a t-shirt and panties might be a pretty bad idea. Quickly finishing up the cleaning, she left the kitchen to her own bedroom. Once there, she removed the shirt and replaced it with a peach-colored sun dress. Taking a minute to straighten everything out and get her hair in order, which took a little bit longer than just a minute, she adjusted her glasses on her face and stepped outside of her room. With a hum and a bit of a skip in her step, she made her way to the front door and picked up the basket they had purchased the day before just in case they saw anything else that caught their eyes. "I'm ready to go when you are, Kaede!" She called out in a sing-song voice, very excited to be leaving to the city once more.

Kaede walked out from her room with a small bit of white cloth in her mouth, the ribbon she usually used to tie her hair up into its usual ponytail. As Natsuko came into view Kaede blinked and paused for a moment as she looked the princess over. After this temporary distraction she resumed the work of tying her hair up and gave the girl a nod. "Hm, that dress really suits you... I like the color. But yes, I'm ready to go." She gave Natsu a smile before she reached up to pull her scarf up into its typical position over the bottom of her face. She was excited to be getting out of the house again, she didn't much care for people but exploring this new place was fun, it certainly beat the hell out of reading about it cooped at home at the very least.

"You really think so?" Natsuko smiled at the compliment, giving a twirl quickly to show it off full circle. "I liked it. I'm glad it looks good." She watched as Kaede pulled her scarf up over part of her face and found herself curious about why exactly she did that. And why she even wore a scarf around this time of year anyway. It hardly felt like scarf weather to Natsuko. Right now felt like neither the time nor place to ask about it though as they locked up and headed out.

They were going out to buy Natsuko's apron, yes, but Natsuko had neglected to mention that they would be doing so at a mall. Natsuko really liked the idea of a mall. One big building with a ton of different stores and things like that seemed really convenient and fun to her. She wanted to check it out for herself while she had a reason to be going out. She hoped that Kaede wouldn't mind being here too much with her but didn't bother asking. Rather, she took Kaede gently by the wrist and led her inside.

The building was air conditioned and absolutely bustling with people. Natsuko's eyes lit up in fascination. There were tons of tiny stores right next to each other, just as she read about in books and had seen on movies. There was a sports goods store right next to a rather dark and off-putting music store, which was right next to a video game store. There was so much variety that Natsuko had no idea where to start. The placement of each store seemed sporadic and each store seemed unrelated to the next. It was an incredible thought. Not knowing where to start, she just began walking and let her feet guide her.

With basket in arm, her feet eventually ended up leading her to a cooking goods store. It sold just that, cooking goods. Things like cutlery, cookingware, plates, spices, recipe books... and eventually she found an apron rack. Most of them were plain and simple, solid colors or just plan white. Some of them had decals and silly designs on them or cute little patterns. After a bit of searching and holding the silly ones up to her for Kaede in mock interest, she settled on a simple white-colored apron adorned in strawberries. She also picked up one with a black and white color scheme but didn't show this one to Kaede.

Paying for them, she was thanked for her patronage by the cashier and left with a smile. With the bag of aprons (and a few herbs and spices she had picked up for cooking) in her basket she looked around the mall area again, not really wanting to leave just yet.. "So, um, Kaede... While we're here, is there anything that you want? Or want to do maybe? I don't mind spending some time doing what you want, you know." Yes, this was one way to get better acquainted with Kaede. Friends went out and did things together. Maybe she would be able to learn a bit about Kaede this way.

This was bad. All it took was a cursory glance around this massive construct of shops to know it was simply -teeming- with people. Kaede could feel her face growing warm as the glances and stares of those around her turned her way, to see this strange girl being lead by the hand wearing some oddly oversized scarf. She closed her eyes tightly for a moment in an effort to calm herself before reopening them and decided it better to simply focus on the back of the princess' head for the time being, resigning herself to just follow along quietly.

It wasn't so bad once they were inside a store and with Natsuko's efforts to play and joke around with the sillier aprons, Kaede began to feel a bit more comfortable. She would attempt to push her discomfort aside for the moment in hopes of not ruining the princess' time and to offer her genuine feedback on her selection of apron. But with that done they were once again outside the store and as Natsuko inquired to Kaede about their next destination, she really wasn't sure what to say. The number of stores and people all around her was dizzying to say the least, the chaotic concoction of noise from people chatting and each store playing their own music made it a bit hard for her to think.

Looking a bit helpless she turned her attention to Natsu and shrugged. "I... Don't know. I don't think there's anything I need to buy..." She once again began to scan around the mall before spotting a place that wasn't too far off, it looked dimly lit and there seemed to be few people entering or leaving it. The neon sign the stood above the entrance read 'arcade' but Kaede didn't pay much mind to that, to her it simply looked like a place to hide for a little while. "Maybe... Over there?" As Kaede spoke she pointed over towards the arcade and looked questioningly back to Natsu.

This mall had an arcade? Natsuko had never been to a real arcade before. But she really loved video games. Was Kaede a gamer too, she wondered? Perhaps they had more in common than she originally thought. With a rather excited smile, she took her guardian by the wrist and hurried her across the way to the arcade.

As Kaede had anticipated, it was not all that crowded. A few people here and there, just about all male. However, it was not the people that held Natsuko's attention. Her eyes were alight in fascination at all of the video games in one place. Classing arcade games, more modernized machines... They even had a Dance Dance Revolution machine! She had always wanted to try one of those before. She wasn't quite so sure about trying it in public where people could watch her topple over, but she kept her eyes on the machine as she walked around.

As she would expect of an arcade, it was rather dimly lit. They may as well have just left it completely dark and let the games be the source of light. The dim lights on the ceilings barely seemed to make a difference. With a rather bright smile from the princess, however, she ignored all of that and found her way to a change machine. Bill after bill turned into coin after coin that seemed to cover the surface of her basket's contents before she realized just how many she had. "Hehehe... Oops.." A nervous laugh escaped the girl before she turned to Kaede. "Take as many coins as you want. We have enough to waste... a lot of time here. Hahaha..." With the offer open, she took a couple of her own coins and took to a classic Ms. Pac-Man machine.

Confused would be putting it simply. Kaede had of course her of these places and these things called video games but had never touched them before. Regardless of this though, Natsu seemed to be excited by being here and it was certainly more comfortable for Kaede than being out in the open. For the time being, despite the proffered coins, Kaede decided she would observe Natsu and the others around the arcade first. The variety of games was impressive, some looked rather impressive and flashy while others, like the one Natsu was playing, seemed much less so.

One of the games caught her eye, 'House of the Dead'. From what she could tell it was rather simple, the player used fake guns to shoot the zombies that popped up on screen. There were no complex buttons or sticks to be worried about, just pointing and shooting. Kaede quickly retrieved a few coins from Natsu's basket before heading over to the machine of her choice and dropped the coins in after observing some others doing it. It seemed her training as an exorcist would be pay off in this particular game of reactions and precision and after a short period of adjusting she was speeding through the game without taking a hit. So focused was she upon the game before her she hardly noticed the few people who stopped behind her to watch.

Natsuko offered a smile to Kaede as she finally came and got some coins. It seemed like she found something interesting to her at least. She finished up a couple levels of Ms. Pac-Man before losing interest and looking about for another machine to eat at her time. Before long she noticed a small group of the already small number of people in the arcade gathering around one machine. She usually only saw circles forming around DDR players and the DDR machine was still left unoccupied. Curiosity led Natsuko to join the group only to find that Kaede was tearing through the video game. She hadn't taken a single hit up to this point and didn't show signs of doing so. She was a natural.

Part of Natsuko wanted to join in and shoot up the uglies with Kaede, but she refrained. It was fun seeing Kaede in the zone. A couple of the guys near her were commenting about a "cute girl who was actually good at video games." It was, of course, in reference to Kaede and that made Natsuko smile. It seemed she was attracting attention of all sorts. One of the boys made a comment about how she made it further than he ever did. Another one called it luck. Another spoke up in her defense to say that she was really just good and he needed to get over himself. Gamer culture, how interesting it was to Natsuko to see and hear it live rather than over a microphone. At least these guys weren't spouting obscenities about each other's mothers.

The murmurs of the crowd didn't seem to reach Kaede's ears as she focused solely on blowing holes into zombies. Once she had reached the final stage even her reactions couldn't make up for a lack of experience and she took a few blows but was able to nonetheless carry through to destroy the final boss. As the credits began to roll Kaede exhaled deeply and lowered the plastic weapon, a few of onlookers gave some claps or shouted some sort of praise which caused Kaede to jump in surprise. Quickly she whipped around and blinked at the handful of people who were standing there watching her. Her cheeks visibly reddened as she shrunk back into her scarf and against the arcade machine, her grip on the weapon released causing it to drop into freefall and dangle safely by its cord attached to the machine. "Uh." Was the only sound she could muster as she slid away from the the crowd with her back to the machines still.

Quickly she made her way over to Natsu, moving to place the princess between herself and the small gathering. They looked a bit confused but shrugged and scattered back to whatever they were doing before, a few mutters of "What a weird-o" could be heard but little more than that. Uncertain of what exactly to say she stammered out "Uh... Did... Did you have fun with your game Natsuko? Is there um, any others you wanted to play?" She crossed a single arm over her chest and gripped the bicep of her other lightly as she hoped to change the topic of conversation to avoid talking about what had just occurred.

There were few words that Natsuko could use to describe Kaede's behavior that weren't just synonyms of "cute." She couldn't help but smile softly at the guardian and position herself better between the crowds and the girl. Was her hesitance to go places because of people? Did she feel uncomfortable around them? Or was it their praise that was foreign to her? Regardless, Natsuko nodded. "Yeah, it was a lot of fun. I ended up losing a few levels in, though. Silly me, haha." She threw that level to make the game end, but it was what it was. "As much as I'd like to keep playing, I promised you a little treat. I should get home to bake it so that I can get to dinner at a reasonable hour, hm?" While that was the truth, she moreso just wanted to get Kaede away from the people for now. "We can come back some other time. Fine by me." That said, she extended a friendly hand towards Kaede. "Let's go home, alright?"

Kaede tilted her head at Natsu, it didn't seem to her that they'd been there that long. Then again, she wasn't going to complain if the princess wanted to leave, being out of this mall sounded wonderful right about now. And so Kaede gave her a nod, "Well, if you're sure." She gave a glance down at the girl's hand but after only a moment of hesitation reached out to gently take it in her own. "Let's go." Kaede didn't feel so bad when they stepped out of the arcade despite all the people that were still wandering around, they weren't going to be here much longer.

Once they were out the front doors Kaede took a deep breath and looked up towards the sky. "That game was pretty fun... I was afraid to try the others because they all looked complicated. Have you ever played that one? House of the Dead I think it was called." She gave Natsu a natural smile. Kaede hoped the princess would enjoy talking about games since, as far as she could tell, Natsu seemed quite excited by them, almost as much so as she was with cooking.

"I played a game similar to it when I was younger. I wasn't much good at it back then, but it was fun. I remember the zombies used to scare the living daylights out of me though!" Natsuko decided not to let go of Kaede's hand when they had left the mall. She enjoyed the contact, however gingerly one's hold was on the other. In some things she had watched, friends held hands or fingers like it was nothing. And she didn't quite feel like holding hands with Kaede in the way she did with Ian... It was innocent to her. "I'm used to games with controllers or joysticks, though. For some reason, I can't point the gun at the screen in the right spots. It's kind of why I didn't join in with you. I didn't want to ruin your perfect game. It was really impressive, you know!" The compliment was both honest and to answer her earlier question about Kaede's discomfort coming from praise or the people's presence.

Natsuko looked into her basket to see that it was still loaded with coins. Looking up, Natsuko began taking in her surroundings. With what was around her, she got an idea. Tightening her hold on Kaede's hand, she led her to a playground just across the street and led her to the swings. "Sit right there. I'll be back in a minute." She ran off the playground and out of sight for no more than a minute, as promised, before returning with two cans of some orange carbonated drink. "I saw some of those vending machines and thought maybe we could try something from them, you know? And the swings looked like fun to sit on..." Hopefully emulating what she saw in the media was actually helping her to get closer to Kaede. Being out and about seemed to bother Kaede, but she also didn't appear to mind being around just Natsuko. So maybe she could find ways to still get out and about without surrounding themselves with people.

Sitting down beside Kaede on the swing, she held out one of the two cans with a smile. "Come on. Just relax a little, okay?" With her other hand, she cracked the can open and took a sip from the can. Her face wrinkled up a bit as the carbonation hit her nose, causing her to laugh a little bit before taking another small sip. "It's all bubbly. Try it."

It had hardly been more than a day that the two had been together, but already Kaede's initial discomfort had faded some. Despite her title as princess she seemed quite normal, which wasn't exactly a surprise but, with all the stories you hear about princesses or even just rich or noble people it was nice to see that in this case at least, they weren't always true.

Kaede couldn't help but smile at Natsu's words, "Well, I don't know that it's really that impressive... It's a very simple game really, just point and shoot. If there had been any sort of complicated buttons or the like I'm sure I would've been awful at it... And after all it was basically a simulation of combat, something I've been trained to do for several years now. Though I've never used a gun, they're usually not very effective against Yuurei." It seemed while Kaede was going on they had arrived at a sort of park or playground. Kaede blinked but did as she was told and took a seat on the plastic seat of the swing causing the metal chains to jingle quietly. She had half a mind to get up and follow Natsu but she figured she'd be ok on her own if just for a little bit.

Lazily she began to swing back and forth on the swing as a gust of wind blew across the park sending her scarf and hair into a light flutter. The wind and sun felt nice as Kaede stretched her limbs out in the air before moving up to her feet to stand on the swing. It really didn't take long for the princess to return with bright orange cans. With a nod she reached down and took a can for herself and popped it open. She gave the contents a sniff before she took a sip, blinking at the powerful flavor that folowed. "It's... Really sweet. The bubbles are nice though." The sound of the princess' laugh brough her gaze down to the girl, Kaede in turn couldn't help but giggle a little at that before she took another sip of her own.

Kaede's giggle brought a softer and more sincere smile to Natsuko's face. It was no longer one of effort or trying to make Kaede smile. She had gotten her to do so now. And Kaede was honestly a lot more cute when she was just relaxing like this. Natsuko began rocking back and forth slightly in the swing, going forward until her toes were the only part of her foot on the ground and going back only to stop the motion with her heels. "I like the sweetness of it, though. I really like sweets and stuff like that. Maybe it's because I was spoiled a bit too much as a kid and got candies and pastries whenever I wanted. I really can't get enough of them, though." It was her turn to giggle a bit before sipping at the can's contents again.

She sat in silence for a moment to let her back-and-forth on the swing grow a little bit. She didn't want to go too far in fear that she might drop her beverage or spill it all over herself, but she wanted that swaying motion to be there since she was on the swing. "So. Um... You implied that you've never really watched TV before, right? Your grandfather didn't like it or something?" She didn't really know where she was going with that, if anywhere. Conversation was proving to be kind of difficult to the princess. What should she be discussing with Kaede now that she had gotten her to relax and just chill out in her presence? She really didn't think this far ahead.

Kaede took a larger swig of her drink, smiling at the sensation that travelled down her throat, the flavor wasn't too bad either. Still standing, Kaede began to pump her legs to get the swing moving in a steady back and forth motion, one hand gripping the can tightly while the other held on to the chain. She wore a small smile as she found her gaze upon the princess, red hair like hers wasn't too common so seeing it flow as she moved through the air was something couldn't help but want to watch. Kaede was a bit surprised at the girl's professed love for sweets, from what she could tell she certainly didn't -look- like someone who ate too many sweets.

"Ah, uh, yes, my father wouldn't allow them at home. Perhaps that was a good thing though, considering I'm sure I'd have just spent my time in front of it all the time... I did get to go out and see a few movies though... That was a lot of fun." She nodded and continued to swing and sip at her quickly diminishing beverage. "Most of what I learned about the world was through books or stories from my siblings... Needless to say, being out here finally... Things are very different than I imagined." She shrugged and hopped effortlessy off of the swing and landed safely on her feet before turning on her heel to face to the still seated princess with her arms now held behind her back with the empty can between them. "Why do you ask?" She inclined her head slightly to the side as she directed her question at Natsu.

"Well, I, um..." There was a hesitance in her voice as she tried to find a good reason. "I really don't know myself... Talking casually to people is strange, you know? I'm used to people fawning over my status as princess and praising me... But actual conversation is kind of hard. And I like it, but I don't know what to talk about. It makes me wonder if I'll be able to fit in well at school. I mean, I'm out here to be normal and go to school like a regular kid, but now that I'm out here and thinking about it... I'm not entirely sure if I can." Despite talking about this issue of hers, she kept a smile on her face, however weak it was. It didn't do any justice to hide her conflictions or anything along those lines, but she was used to smiling even when upset.

"I'm trying to talk to you for practice. And because we're going to be living together. I want to get along with you, you know?" Her swinging had slowed down a bit as she continued speaking. "I've never really had friends since I've been stuck in the palace my whole life. The closest thing I ever had was my old guardian. Not that it was a bad thing because he was really kind and always there for me. But making friends my own age and being able to talk to them like anyone else... I'm not too sure if I can do it." With a soft sigh, she took a tiny sip from her now half-full can and pushed her feet off the ground to give the swing a boost. "Sorry for, um... dumping all of that. I just kind of started complaining and didn't realize I had said so much. I don't mean to burden you with such things. I apologize." Ever humble was the princess, even in the presence of one she was supposed to seek protection from. Someone who, technically, was socially below her. She didn't see people that way. That whole status and ranking had little importance to her.

Kaede simply closed her eyes and nodded quietly as she listened to the princess attentively. Once it seemed she was done speaking Kaede turned and walked over to a waste bin and tossed her empty can inside before returning. She stood a few feet in front of the princess and opened her eyes as she addressed her. "Well, firstly let me apologize for not being much help... As you surely noticed I'm not exactly a social butterfly." She offered a slightly awkward smile at that before she leaned over on one of the metal poles that acted as support for the swingset.

"But, in my honest opinion... I think you're worrying too much. You're going to be a new student, and as if that weren't enough, you're the princess. Not everyone might know that but some people will, and word will spread quickly... With all that I'm quite certain you'll have no shortage of people who wish to speak with you and befriend you... Even if you don't know how to hold a normal conversation there will be many others around you to guide you. Once they realize you're a normal girl like anyone else, I'm sure you'll make many friends, you're that kind of person... That's what I think." She closed her eyes once more and gave a nod. "I'll keep my eye on you and your friends and I'll do my best to make sure no harm comes to you or them. And really... You don't need to be sorry. I suppose it isn't exactly in my job description but... I'd still feel like I failed if you didn't manage to get at least some enjoyment out of your time away from the palace."

With that said she pushed off from the pole and turned away from Natsuko before dipping her hands into her vest pockets. Her gaze lingered upward at the sky, they really should be getting back soon but Kaede thought it best not to rush the princess given the current circumstances.

Kaede's words had helped turn Natsuko's forced smile into a more relaxed one. A smile that didn't take effort at all to wear. "You are probably right, Kaede. Thank you so much for your words. Really, you are too kind." Her voice was softer and more sweet. The whole while she had been looking at the wood chips that covered the playground's surface and only now did she look to the sky. It was already starting to become a shade of orange. Surprise hit her as she jumped off of the swing's seat quickly. "Oh gosh! I spent so much time keeping you out that I forgot about your treat! I hope you don't mind if I change that to dessert tonight, instead?" She actually seemed rather upset with herself that she had forgotten it until now. "Come on. Let's go home, Kaede."

However, home would have to wait. Natsuko had not been able to take but a step before an ominous presence presented itself. Appearing seemingly out of nowhere between Kaede and Natsuko, a colossal figure stood tall and looked down straight at Natsuko. It said nothing and its eyes were blank white. Its body was nothing more than a torso that stuck out of the ground, though it did not appear to be a completely solid being to begin with. It was humanoid in shape and despite being just a torso in the ground, it was large enough to stack three of Natsuko and still be a bit taller. Its body had no noteable features in terms of being able to tell back from front. There was no chest and no spine. In fact, it appeared to be... completely flat. It appeared to be looking at Kaede from the back as well, a similar set of blank whites staring into her. What was most noteable about this creature, however, was the decal all along its body. Reds, oranges, and white seemed to constantly be swirling around this mass. It was like storm clouds painted the colors of a sunset swirling around its visage with traces of white being thrown into the mix. Hunching forward ever so slightly, it seemed to focus its attentions on Natsuko.

The princess would pierce the air's quiet with a shriek, her can dropping from her hands in fear and spilling all of its contents. Immediately she attempted to book it to hide under the slide. Not that it would help much, but instinct told her to take cover. The being seemed to watch where she was going and drop a flat hand to divide her from the path that led to the slides. Another shriek escaped her lips as she turned to run another direction, which was only blocked off by the monster's other arm. The two arms connected and formed a circular wall around Natsuko as it slowly inched its way forward. On the head shape, a particular swirl where a mouth should be began speeding up and remaining in its spot. The white all around the body suddenly turned black as it let loose a sound akin to a vacuum cleaner. That wasn't quite accurate, but it was the only sound close enough that Natsuko could use to describe it. All she knew was that it spelled disaster for her if this thing were to touch her. Some primal instinct made her aware of this. Her legs locked up in fear and her body flinched away from it with nowhere to run. "IAN!!!" She shrieked again in hopes that her guardian would spring into action. To save the day. She needed her superhero...

Kaede blinked as a chill ran down her spine, it was an unfamiliar feeling but it urged her to turn around. When she did she saw what she could only assume to be a Yuurei, a massive being that had appeared between herself and Natsuko. For a moment she didn't believe it, yet there this monster was before her as it made its intention clear as it moved in to trap Natsuko. Of course Kaede knew she would have to fight but, it wasn't something she had really prepared for mentally, it was a reality she knew she would have to face but it always seemed so distant and intangible. With her eyes wide shock to control of her body, she stood unmoving and unsure of what to do.

She began to quickly scan around the area but, there was nothing nearby that would really serve as a weapon, at least not on such short notice. Time seemed to slow down as her mind raced in consideration of what she could do and as she stood in thought the creature only drew nearer to the princess. Kaede's eyes widened as Natsu cry pierced the air in the park, she wasn't sure who or what she had called but the desperation and panic in her voice snapped something inside of her. It was too late to think now, she had to act.

Kaede held her hand out in front of her and shouted, "Amenonuhoko!" And with that, the wind around whipped to life as the lighting of the scene shifted from the orange of sundown to a strange green. Appearing from no where and into her outstretched hand was a long shaft of pulsing and vibrant green energy which came to a sharp point on one end. Whipping the spear of energy around she dashed forward towards the Yuurei, priority one was to get the princess away from this thing, after that she would worry about destroying it. She around its flank and towards where Natsuko was walled in and shouted as she attacked the thing's arm in hopes of destroying the wall it had built around the princess to allow her to escape and that this would be enough to shift the monster's attention away from Natsuko and onto its new opponent, Kaede.

From the corner of her vision she could see Natsu slip away in the gap she had created by severing the Yuurei's arm. Kaede gave a firm nod and redirected her full focus on the monster. With a deep breath in and out the spear in her hands pulsed with light and energy, it seemed however that the wound she had inflicted was superficial as the creature raised up its arm and regenerated the missing length. Seeing this it finally registered in her mind what this Yuurei was, she had heard from her older siblings about this particular monster, it would regenerate any wound unless struck at a critical point. With this knowledge her resolve hardened as she charged forward and leapt the short distance towards its face, if she missed it was likely she'd be consumed rather instantly being so close to the thing's mouth but this time it seemed her training would pay off. With a swift horizontal slash across the Yuurei's neck the head slid unnaturally off from its base and not a moment later, dispersed into gas. Its body followed suit leaving behind no trace that anything had even been there in the first place.

Relief washed over her as she fell to her knees in the sand and the Amenonuhoko disappeared from her grasp just as quickly as it had come. Her whole body began to shake as the adrenaline within her system finally began to subside. In truth she wished she could simply sit there in silence until she could properly comprehend and process what had just occured, but there was a more pressing matter in that moment. With a hint of panic she quickly looked back over her shoulder and stumbled up to her feet, eyes wide as they scanned for sign of the princess. "Natsuko?!"

In that split second she had to go to safety, Natsuko's body acted on impulse. She dove under the slide, leaving her basket where she once stood and hid. Somewhere inbetween the slide and the basket, her glasses had fallen off and left her barely able to see. Her eyes were closed tight in fear as she curled up underneath the slide, hoping that Ian would come and rescue her. He always did. He was always there to slay the monsters...

Within a minute's time, that vacuum noise had subsided without a trace. Not even a roar followed the monster's demise. That silence was hopeful for Natsuko. Ian had to have come and save her! He was here, she knew it. There was a glowing weapon and everything. But soon after she heard a voice. "Natsuko?!"

That voice was not Ian's. It was not even the same gender. It was Kaede's. A wave of disappointment crashed over the princess at the realization. She had convinced herself that her former guardian had come to save her. And while she couldn't see at all, she knew that he was not here now. No matter how much she wished he was, he was no longer her guardian. He had no more obligation to her.

"I-I'm here, Kaede! I'm okay!" She called out before crawling out from under her slide and carefully maneuvering around in search of her glasses. "Where are my glasses, Kaede? I can't see a thing without my glasses!" A bit of fumbling here and tripping over a small decline there, she eventually found them and cleaned them off with the bottom of her dress. With a soft sigh, she placed them upon her face and let her vision restore once again. Looking around, there was no trace of the Yuurei at all. Something that large definitely couldn't have gotten far without it being seen with its gargantuan size. It seemed that Kaede really did defeat it. 'Someone so small defeated something so large... She must have been very skilled. And how swift she was...' She thought to herself before standing and brushing herself off.

She collected her basket and approached Kaede. "Thank you so much for saving me, Kaede. You were swift and effective in your victory..." She stood awkwardly for a moment before trying to smile. "Normally I would reward my former guardian with a hug, but I do not see you as the type... So..." She held her hand out gingerly once again, hoping that Kaede would take it. "So I will find some other way to reward you. I'm not too sure what I can do beyond feeding you, which I intend to do anyway.. but I will find something. I promise. Shall we go home now? For real this time?" A soft giggle followed her talking as she smiled heartily at her savior. Her eyes seemed to sparkle from behind her glasses as if smiling themselves.