The moment Kyoko returned she tackled her lessons with a vengeance. If Setsuko noticed a change in Kyoko's effort, her only indication was to increase the amount of work. This suited Kyoko fine and her days were soon filled with nonstop lessons on dancing, political structure, playing instruments, and everything in between. It felt more like bride training to Kyoko. There were so many lessons on manners and decorum. Which was probably the point. These women were all hoping to become the queen one day by marrying Kuon.

Thinking of the girls, Kyoko had been surprised at the response her presence had produced. After Setsuko's warning on the first day, she had expected an onslaught of bullying. What she received was very different.

The girls completely ignored her presence.

It was weird. Kyoko was used to bullies who tripped her, ruined her clothes while making snide comments, and dumped waste on her head. All this was new, yet somehow worse. Who knew there could be a higher level of snobbish bullying? She had tried to talk to some of them and been met with nothing but looks of disgust usually reserved for filth. If they did answer, they replied in a way that made her feel like an idiot. If she approached them in a group, they would disperse, only to reform in another place.

There was no physical evidence of bullying, but instead, there was an underlying tension that stretched Kyoko's nerves to the breaking point. She could take physical abuse all day, she was used to it, but this physiological war was something else. By the end of the second week, the combination of Setsuko's harsh words and their indifferent attitude was starting to take its toll on Kyoko. She was surrounded by people but was alone.

What kept her going was the image of Sho laughing at her. Every time she felt like crumbling, his annoying face would enter her head. Occasionally it was accompanied by the prince's obnoxious expression as well. When this happened, she'd grit her teeth and keep pressing, her anger and frustration rejuvenating her.

Well, it wasn't the only thing keeping her going. The flowers beside her bed kept her sane more than anything else. Their presence when she woke up and went to bed each day made her feel like she was home, even if the truth was far from it.

So the days wore on in this manner; Lessons with Setsuko where she was demeaned at every moment, being ignored by her fellow harem members, and imagining Sho's stupid face. Yup, she was in paradise living in a palace.

"I don't understand," said Kyoko one morning at breakfast. Setsuko sat nearby, occasionally taking jabs at Kyoko's manners. "Why haven't they done anything to me? Don't they have any interest in driving me out?"

They sat at a long table, gleaming silverware and plates of food filling the table. The rest of the concubines either sat with two seats away or weren't there for breakfast. It was like there was a bubble around her and Setsuko, sectioning them off from the rest of the group.

Setsuko looked at Kyoko as if she were crazy.

"Did you want to be bullied?" said Setsuko.

"No, that's not it," said Kyoko. "I just, well, expected to at least be tripped, or pushed around or something. Not this blatant ignoring of my presence."

Setsuko drummed her fingernails on the table, thinking. "It's probably because of the rule. I guess I forgot to tell you. We're not allowed to do any physical harm to another harem member. No exceptions. If you do, then the rest of us will punish you accordingly, no matter how small the injury."

Kyoko raised a brow. Why in the world would there be a rule like that in the harem? Seemed like common sense, but also just as likely a rule to be ignored. Why even have it in place?

Setsuko pursed her lips. "Your thoughts are showing on your face again. If you have questions, speak. Don't make weird faces. Things happened that made this rule necessary. We are concubines of the Prince and should be held to a higher standard than a bunch of commoner women who bicker at each other like a flock of chickens."

"I think I'd prefer the chickens," muttered Kyoko.

"As I said," said Setsuko. "A bunch of commoner women."

Kyoko tried to mask the string her comment made, her fork absently playing with the food on her plate. It was one of the few things she had heard the other women mutter about her constantly. She knew she shouldn't feel ashamed, but after wearing all the pretty clothes and living in such a luxurious place, she felt like an imposter. Their comments didn't help her self-esteem. She already knew her own worth and didn't need to be reminded constantly.

"What's the plan for today?" said Kyoko, trying to shift her train of thought. It had been increasingly harder to be positive lately.

Setsuko wiped her hands on a napkin.

"You're done with private lessons," said Setsuko. "You can now go anywhere in the palace. You know enough to prevent yourself from embarrassing us."

It took a second for the comment to sink in. When it did, she dropped her fork. Setsuko immediately scolded her for being a klutz.

"You mean I'm done?" said Kyoko. "I've mastered the lessons?"

Setsuko's eyes ran over Kyoko, looking her up and down. Her study included the dropped fork and crumbs on Kyoko's face. Setsuko smirked.

"Hardly," said Setsuko, and Kyoko couldn't help a blush of shame, feeling small. "But it's enough to get started. You will still need to attend lessons and keep improving yourself in your spare time. Here." Setsuko handed Kyoko a piece of paper. On it were some names and information. "These are some other tutors and schedules for group lessons. I have given you a baseline on which to build yourself. The rest is up to you." Setsuko stood up, towering over Kyoko and looking down on her. "My work is done. I don't plan on associating with you any further. Goodbye, Kyoko."

Setsuko walked away, leaving Kyoko alone at the table. The barrier between her and the other concubines became even stronger. Now she had nothing to tie herself to the harem except the necklace.

Kyoko buried her head into her hands, letting the new information sink in. Setsuko was gone, her lessons were done. She was left on her own without anyone to lean on. Kyoko was unaware of the triumphant looks on the other women's faces, whispering behind their hands.

"Looks like the gnat finally realized her place"

"Maybe she'll leave."

"Who did she think she was in the first place? Thinking she could seduce our Kuon."

Kyoko stayed there, oblivious to the hurtful comments being thrown at her. The room eventually emptied, leaving her alone. A maid came over to Kyoko, placing a concerned hand on her shoulder.

"Miss? Are you alright?" said the maid.


The maid jumped back as Kyoko shot to her feet, fists raised in triumph. She felt like a dark cover had been taken off the sun, illuminating her world in a warm glow.

She was free! No more stupid lessons. No more taking Setsuko's taunting. Perhaps she hadn't mastered being a concubine, but she now had the freedom to pursue whatever she wanted. It was time to visit Duke Takarada and finally start working on her revenge.

Kyoko hugged the startled maid, laughing to herself. She spun them around a few times, before setting the maid down and happily skipping out of the dining room.

Kuon let out a long exasperated sign. He sat at a long table, several different political officers in the middle of gathering their papers and saying their goodbyes. That had been an unnecessarily long meeting. It wouldn't have taken half as long to discuss regulations on trading clay if the representatives of the merchants hadn't insisted on squabbling over each and every detail. He had finally shut down the meeting by putting his foot down several times near the end.

He stood up, meaning to leave when he was approached by a squat man with a round face. He had a large mustache, and a bald head covered in a head wrap. Hoshi Sanda was the kingdom's treasurer and a man Kuon respected well, even if he did like to talk a lot.

"Thank you for your time your highness," said Hoshi, shaking Kuon's hand. "It helps to have some royalty here to smooth things out. The vendors always get a little more antsy and forget to pull out their tricks"

"It was my pleasure," said Kuon automatically. "Though I would have enjoyed the meeting far more if they hadn't needed to include separate taxes on different colored clay. Well that and many other things"

Hoshi chuckled. "Yes well, I'm glad you stopped that one from going too far out of control. Like father like son eh? Kuu had a way of getting the meeting done quickly."

Kuon inwardly flinched at the compliment. It was kindly meant, but all it did was another weight in Kuon's stomach.

"I remember the first time your father went to one of these meetings," continued Hoshi. "He listened quietly for the first couple of hours, never saying a word or directing the topic. Then he suddenly declared the meeting over, right in the middle of it. Nothing had been figured out, and he put the whole thing on hold until the following week. When we asked why, he said that it was lunchtime." Hoshi smiled fondly at the memory, stroking his mustache with a finger. "The poor vendors were stuck. Unable to progress in their business until the new standards were set. They soon learned to treat Kuu's time with respect and finish quickly rather than draw out the issue to break him down."

"I'll have to remember that one," said Kuon, eying some of the men leaving the room. The two of them talked a bit more about the issues, letting the rest of the group trickle out. They made their farewells and Kuon left, followed closely by Yukihito.

"What do we have next on the agenda?" asked Kuon.

Yukihito pulled out a planner. "You have a two-hour break," said Yukihito. "Then a meeting with the magistrate regarding some new laws related to local water irrigation."

"Tokutomi will be attending that meeting correct?" said Kuon.

"Yes. He said he would be."

Good. It was just like Yukihito to have everything planned out for him. Discovering the organized man had been a godsend three years ago. Kuon's work had run more smoothly after hiring him as his personal counselor and assistant. Well, as long as you could get past his unusual interest in his personal life.

"So, we're going to Duke Takadora's office to find out if he has more information regarding Kyoko?" said Yukihito, trying and failing to sound casual. He had noticed the direction Kuon had been taking them down the halls of the castle. Lory's office was in the left wing of the building and they were currently headed there.

"I assume that's why you left two hours in my usually tight schedule," said Kuon.

"Have you seen Kyoko since she yelled at you?" said Yukihito.


"Are you going to see her soon?"

"Why would you care about it?"

"Well," said Yukihito rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "I just thought it was odd. You're usually polite to women, but you were prey harsh with her. I was wondering if she did something to upset you. Well, besides being accused of mutiny"

"I'm not sure what you mean," said Kuon. They had arrived at the palace clinic, Takadora's office was inside one of the rooms, a long hall linking the rooms. "I was merely making observations. She should be aware of her position as one of my concubines and conduct herself accordingly. There should be nothing wrong with me correcting someone in my employ."

Yukihito frowned as if he wanted to say something, but the conversation was brought to a close as Kuon knocked on the office door and entered.

The room was a complete mess, at least that was the initial impression. Along with his bizarre animals, Lory also liked to test random plants and concoctions. There were shelves of scrolls and papers lining the walls. Bottles of oozing substances and plant parts acted as bookends while several potted plants dotted the room. Despite the Duke's insistence that everything was organized, Kuon seriously doubted the statement.

The Duke sat behind his desk, looking up from behind a mess of papers and ink. His new companion, a small pygmy owl, was nestled in the hollowed-out section of a large cactus behind his chair.

"Ah, perfect. I was just to send someone to look for you," said Lory. He gestured towards the chairs opposite his desk where they sat, Yukihito moving a potted plant first to do so.

"What did you find out?" said Kuon.

Lory lifted the papers on his desk, looking through them as he talked. "Just about everything. It seems like most of Kyoko's story checks out. She's from Nembu and has lived there her whole life. She worked at a well-respected physician's clinic for most of her life, which means she's known by several of the residents. Getting her whole life's story wasn't hard."

He grabbed a sheet of paper and held it up. Kuon went to grab it, but Lory pulled it away, holding the paper just out of reach.

"I'm honestly not comfortable giving out her personal history Kuon," said Lory, locking eyes with Kuon. "Even to you. It seems obvious to me that she isn't the type of person to be deceitful. Nor does she appear to have any connection to you or the royal family. There's no clear motivation behind her involvement."

"Let me be the judge of that," said Kuon. His voice was even, but there was a weight of authority in it. They stared at each other, neither willing to break eye contact. The tension in the room was palpable, making Yukihito sweat. Finally, Lory sighed, lowering the papers into Kuon's outstretched hand.

Kuon took it, scanning the report. He suspected Sebastian had written it, as it appeared to be directed to the Duke personally.

Duke Takarada,

I have done as requested and accumulated all the information regarding Kyoko Mogami. Here is a brief summary of what I have found and my opinion on the matter:

Kyoko Mogami,

17 years old, born on December 25, 1473 in Nembu.

Parents: Sanea Mogami and Vince Mogami

Siblings: None

Personal information:

Her father died when she was 7 and then her mother left her two years later in the care of Tetsuya and Masae Fuwa. The Fuwa's owned a clinic and her father had been a well-respected and exceptionally talented physician there so the Fuwa's felt obliged to take her. Many of the workers speculate that the Fuwa's meant for Kyoko to eventually marry their only son, Sho. They raised her to be familiar with the clinic, and she eventually became a part of their staff.

Several employees report that she flourished in the clinic. She was a patient favorite, especially with the elderly and children. They also reported that she was enamored with Sho, constantly striving the please him and make him happy, but also that he didn't appear to return her feelings, though they were together often.

In regards to her claim of discovering the medical use of sandgrass, after several interviews, I find myself believing her. Detailed conversations are included within, but here is a brief summary of what I found.

All the local residents agreed that it was more likely that she, not Sho, would be the type of person to discover a new medicine, as she spent most of her free time in the clinic. Sho was known to be lazy and spent as little time as possible in the clinic.

But an especially vocal group of women claimed that Kyoko tried to steal Sho's work. The group had no problem disparaging Kyoko when interviewed. Kyoko was labeled a liar by the local authorities who were supported by the testimonies of said group of women. Due to this and the general stigma against women in the medical field, especially in more rural cities, no one was willing to stand behind her and Sho was ruled as the original creator.

She disappeared two days afterward and no one knew where she went. Not even her surrogate parents.

I will stay another week to make sure nothing has escaped my notice, but if Kyoko Mogami is even half of the person these residents claim her to be, I doubt she has the disposition to be involved in anything nefarious

-S. Bastian

Kuon finished the report, his expression darkening.

"Kuon, You look like you're going to murder someone," said Lory

He didn't reply.

"It's curious," said Yukihito. He was now standing, rummaging through some of the other reports having quickly read the summary over Kuon's shoulder. "Why hasn't this reached the palace until now? About the discovery I mean. This should have been brought to us immediately."

"That is a whole other problem," said Lory scowling at another stack of papers. "They sent two couriers, but both groups and their entourage were intercepted, the groups slaughtered. Nembu didn't realize it at first and only recently made contact with a relaywell through a nearby town that had one. We have no idea if it was bandits or monsters. It's a wonder how Kyoko managed to get here. She probably had a target on her back the whole way here. I currently have more people looking into it, but we have a few ideas of who is behind it all. The trick is getting proper evidence."

Kuon stopped listening to the rest of their conversation, thinking about what he had just read.

The letter had confirmed his earlier suspicions. Kyoko Mogami, was the Kyoko he had met ten years ago when his family had visited Nembu. Everything checked out. Her father's death, the distant mother, and the crystal aster she had been talking about in the garden. It had been so long, yet he could remember almost everything about that short time they had together.

The memory came, coated with some dust that got swept aside the father he got pulled into it.

"Are you a fairy?"

A small girl stood beside a pool of water. Twin pigtails swung through the air as the girl happily hopped in anticipation, her black hair matching her dress. The only color on her person was her bright golden eyes, currently red from previously shed tears. But their puffy constancy was outshined by the gleam in her expression.

"What makes you say that?" said Kuon, more than a little amused by the girl's question. Did she not know who he was?

"Because you have the most beautiful aura!" said the girl, clapping her hands with glee. "You must be a fairy, you must. Because my dad used to tell me stories about beautiful fairies and their wings. Hey Mr. Fairy, what's your name?"

"It's K-Ren," said Kuon, not sure why he had given her that name.

The girl smiled, and Kuon felt like the sun had descended upon him. There was so much pure happiness in the smile of this child. He found himself smiling as well.

"It's nice to meet you Ren," said the girl, curtsying with a giggle. "I'm Kyoko. Would you like to be my friend?"

Kuon shook himself mentally, bringing his consciousness to the present. Lory was talking about the man who had collapsed. Kuon had missed most of it and would have to ask for the notes from Yashiro later.

"—he's lived a quiet life with his wife." Lory was saying. "Absolutely no reason to act against the monarchy. The same goes for Kyoko. No connection to the royal family whatsoever."

That wasn't entirely true, but Kuon couldn't correct Lory without recounting the story from his childhood. He was beginning to doubt that even Kyoko knew that they had met before. He had only realized the fact when he had seen her with the crystal aster.

"We can't rule her out yet," said Kuon, handing back the papers. "All we have proven is that she has good reason to be angry. It's possible she became misguided and transferred her anger from Sho to the monarchy, blaming them for her position."

"I'm not sure if I follow," said Lory, taking back the papers.

"Look. What made it hard for her to defend her claim?" explained Kuon "It was her gender. Other than that, she might have been able to convince the local magistrate of Sho's deceit. I'm sure there would have been several people willing to back her up, but she couldn't win. Her revenge on Sho could include getting back at those who had oppressed her, as well as the laws and prejudice against women, and that problem goes all the way up to the history of the monarchy. Even the Queen doesn't have much power compared to the King."

"That's quite a jump, and an illogical one at that," said Lory, face scrunched in thought. "Though, angry people aren't usually logical."

Kuon ignored the Duke's last comment. It was obviously meant for him.

"And besides," said Lory. "The thing with Sho was recent. We have a history with the specter spanning back for years."

Lory had a point, but Kuon refused to believe that the same day the specter showed up, a strange girl full of anger and revenge appeared as well. Maybe it was a more recent ruse to settle old scores.

"I just feel like we can't rule her out just yet," said Kuon. "You may be right, and she could just be here for revenge on Sho, but I'm not ready to take that chance."

"It's not like she's going anywhere anytime soon," said Lory, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms. "I'll keep a close eye on her and see what I can find out. She'll probably start coming to the clinic to learn more about medicine. I'm honestly surprised she hasn't already come by."

Kuon silently agreed to do the same thing. Lory was a good test of character most of the time, but he wanted to see for himself just how much Kyoko had changed from when they were kids.

I'm sure she hasn't changed as much as I have. He thought bitterly. Those had been much better days. Before he realized the world wasn't black and white. A part of him hoped she was still that sweet innocent child he had met at the oasis, but he already knew that time was gone. They had both changed. The main question was how much.

Thanks for reading!

Do we know the names of Sho's parents? Cause I just made some up.

K, now to answer a few questions people have asked:

1- Regarding Setsuko.

Setsuko is not Setsu. A lot of her character is based on her though, which is why I made her name Setsuko, to make you think of Setsu when reading the story. So if you want to think of Setsuko as Setsuka, you can. But for reasons, I decided to not put any characters from the original Skip Beat in the harem. Mostly because I can't stomach the thought of any of the original Skip Beat characters having that kind of relationship with Ren/Kuon.

That being said, Setsuko is definitely a fun character to write, and I'm happy with all the comments regarding her character.

2- Yes, Ren is Kuon. Kuon is Ren. I have no desire to make a love triangle using opposing sides of a character we all love as a whole.

I'm so super happy with all the comments and questions! You guys are kind enough to give feedback and point out inconsistencies in my work. Thank you for making me a better writer!