A/N: Hello again! I can't believe it's MayBlade time already - this year has flown by! I'm super excited to be tackling this Tumblr event again and I have some ideas I can't wait to bring to life. :) My only goal is to finish earlier than I did last year, which I think is completely doable, even with a busy month ahead of me.

And, just like last time, I'm not following any pattern when it comes to prompt fills. I'll be writing about multiple characters and ships and ratings may vary. I'll post each chapter's info in the author's notes at the beginning to keep things straight. I'll update the story's summary as I go, also.

So, without further ado, here's chapter one:

Day 1 | Saint Shields | Rated: K

The Past

"Thinkin' about Blondie?"

Mariam groaned, inwardly cursing her luck, and whipped around to glare at Dunga.

Something about him rubbed her the wrong way, and it wasn't the smug tone in his voice when he'd asked about Max Tate just now. No, she'd pegged him for a pain in the neck from the first time the Saint Shields team had gathered. It had been almost a year now, and he'd yet to prove her wrong.

"For your information, I was enjoying some peace and quiet. Then I heard a something big and bumbling tromping through the forest," she explained, narrowing her eyes and looking him up and down. "I guess there's something to those Sasquatch rumors."

Dunga's bushy eyebrows knit together. "Don't get testy because I interrupted your daydream," he teased, coming agonizingly further into her clearing. He sat down on a toppled tree trunk and stared at her with a cocky gaze. "I heard you gasp when they gave you your target. See something you liked?"

A close-lipped smile spread across Dunga's face as he chuckled.

Mariam doubled down on her glare. When his smile grew wider in response, she changed tactics and forced the scowl off her face.

"Oh, that," she said with a nonchalant flick of her wrist. "That was just your stench getting to me. Friendly piece of advice: buy a stronger deodorant or make sure you stand downwind from Kai if you want to have any chance of taking him by surprise."

She rolled to her feet as Dunga sputtered and gaped at her. She needed to find a new hiding spot now that he knew where this one was, and there was no time like the present. The other option was going home and her father had been in a mood ever since she was given her target.

Mariam knew from experience that the more time she gave him, the less likely they were to argue about it. Especially since his sour mood and the excitement she hadn't been able to hide earlier – the same excitement that had Dunga crying crush – had the same cause: Max Tate's current location was on the other side of the world in New York City.

To Mariam, who'd been dreaming of adventures outside the borders of the village for as long as she could remember, it was a dream come true.

To her father, it was another reason to wish Sharkrash had chosen somebody else.

"Well," Mariam said, tossing her ponytail over her shoulder and willing thoughts of her father's doubts from her mind, "see you at training tomorrow."

Dunga grabbed her arm as she passed. "Ozuma called for a team meeting," he growled with a lingering sour look from her earlier comment on his face.

She yanked her arm out of his grasp and fought back a smirk. "You should have started with that."

Together, they traipsed back through the web of trees and underbrush. When they breached the forest, they made the unanimous decision to take the long way to their team meeting spot and skirted around the treeline until they couldn't anymore.

Mariam was silently thankful; she didn't plan on being anywhere near her father until he was asleep for the night. And, for as boastful as he could be, Dunga didn't actively seek attention either. It was one of his more tolerable attributes.

Luckily for them both, they reached the training grounds without fanfare.

Mariam started toward the hut that served as their base of operations automatically. She crossed the threshold and threw the door shut behind her, just to hear Dunga swear when it nearly hit him in the face. She snorted and Dunga was about to chew her out when Ozuma spoke.

"There you two are." He was standing with his arms crossed, leaning against the rickety table they used for meetings and meals alike. "Took you long enough."

Joseph was perched on a stool, elbows on his knees and a smirk on his face. "Where was she?" he asked as Dunga shut the door behind himself.

"Right where you said." Dunga shot Mariam a smug look. "Unfortunately."

"Yeah, for both of us," she quipped. "What's the big idea, Ozuma? What's so important it can't wait until training tomorrow?"

The fact that all three of the boys made eye contact before anybody answered her did not bode well. Mariam put her hands on her hips and stared at each of them in turn. Dunga wouldn't say anything until Ozuma said he could. Ozuma still seemed to be putting the words in order in his head. Her best bet was her brother.

"Joseph. Tell me."

Joseph sat up straighter and glanced Ozuma's way before answering. "All I know is that Dad went to meet with the Elders tonight."


"I was there when he arrived," Ozuma said, before Mariam could go on a proper tirade. "He's concerned for your safety in New York. He wants you assigned to one of the more local bitbeasts."

"Or off the team altogether!"

"He didn't say that."

Mariam's heart was pounding, pumping what might have been lava through her veins. Her father, who spent his days not caring where she was unless it meant he had the chance to scold her for not being where he thought she should be, decided to care about her well-being now? She balled her hands into fists.

"I told you she'd be mad." Joseph's voice sounded strangely far away through her rage.

Ozuma ignored him and said, "They asked me my thoughts before I left. I told them you were chosen like the rest of us and I didn't see any reason to change our plans."

"You think they'll buy that, Ozuma?" Dunga kicked a chair out and sat at the table. "The whole village is talking about whether Mariam should even be on the team."

Mariam fought the urge to punch him. Her nails were digging into the meat of her palm.

"It's not their Mission," Joseph argued. His eyebrows were drawn close and his eyes were steely. His was always a quieter rage. "And it's not our dad's decision who goes where. It's luck of the draw that we aren't all heading to America."

"I don't care what anyone says," Mariam said, voice wavering with feeling. "I'm going whether they like it or not." She'd been training, physically and tactically, with the rest of them for months. She didn't put up with Dunga's jabs, the villagers' unequal expectations, the aches, and the exhaustion just to be sidelined at the last minute.

"What if they kick you off the team?"

She lunged for Dunga, but Ozuma caught her before she could get within punching distance.

"They won't do that," he said, arms tightening around Mariam's middle as she struggled against his hold. "When Sharkrash chose her, she became a member of the Saint Shields team and will be a member until Sharkrash decides otherwise. It doesn't matter what Tobias wants," he finished with a grunt as Mariam's heel stamped on his toes.

"Let me go!"

"Sit down, then," Ozuma countered, loosening his grip.

Mariam shrugged him off, shot a glare at Dunga, and perched on top of a supply crate. She didn't want to sit around the table with the boys, talking about whether or not she was going to be allowed to battle. She didn't want to talk about whether or not her one chance at freedom in the coming years could be slipping through her fingers.

Ozuma looked around at them all in the sudden silence.

Mariam crossed her arms with a huff. She could feel when his gaze fell on her and met it defiantly.

"The Elders won't jeopardize the Mission to keep Mariam closer to home, no matter what her dad says," Ozuma began, centering himself so he was equidistant from all three of his teammates. "Traditionally, Sharkrash is always sent after Draciel. Vanishing Moot and Vortex Ape don't have the finesse to take on its defenses and, as Dragoon is the most powerful, the duty of taking it down falls to me, as your leader."

"Our plan is to lure Draciel back to Japan with the others anyway, right?" Joseph asked, glancing at Mariam before fixing his attention back on Ozuma.

Ozuma nodded. "Mariam will be in New York long enough to set the plan in motion. You'll be in White Tiger Hills doing the same. Then you'll meet Dunga and I in Japan."

They'd been over the plan half a dozen times since that morning. That was before Mariam had learned of her father's disapproval and before a certain realization came crashing down on her: she had a long way to go before his opinions, and how they differed from her own, no longer held sway over her life.

"We should all go home and get some sleep," Ozuma said, when none of them seemed to have anything else to say on the matter. "Training starts early tomorrow. We only have a few weeks left before we leave." He looked pointedly at Mariam as he spoke, then dismissed them officially.

Mariam reluctantly trudged home with Joseph. They beat their father back and she crawled into bed before he could arrive. Part of her would welcome a good argument, but the rest of her didn't want to know if Ozuma had been wrong yet.

Despite that, she lay awake listening for her father's return and whatever news he brought with him. Eventually, the front door slammed. The agitated sound of his complaints drifted through the house, confirming that he hadn't gotten his way.

Mariam let out a sigh of relief and pulled the covers up over her shoulders.

As she finally drifted off to sleep, her last conscious thought was that Max Tate would have no idea what hit him when she landed in New York.

A/N: Yes, I will take any opportunity to dump a bunch of Saint Shields headcanons that nobody asked for into a story. All I really knew going into this was that I wanted it to take place before canon (for prompt purposes, obvi) and start with Dunga teasing Mariam about Max. It kind of wrote itself after that and I like the finished product a lot more than I originally thought I did.

Thank you to anyone reading! And good luck to anybody else participating in MayBlade this year! :)