It was another boring day in the Azure City. Natsuko was lying on the bed in her room in the castle, reading a book. It was so boring that every few minutes she had to make a will save throw against falling asleep. The title was "Politics And Law of Azure City in The Context of History". "Why do we have to read this thing?" -she thought. "I wanted to be a warrior, not a politician when I assigned for a paladin training. Off course there are diplomatic missions, but why do they want me to know all this? Like how much the previous ruler Whatshisname had raised taxes for shopkeepers and what was impact of this on used boats prices? Fortunately this is the last theoretical exam, then only a few fighting tests and I'll be a paladin, a member of Sapphire Guard and Lord Shojo's vassal. So far however this is really boring. I wish something would happen. Anything".
As soon as she thought it, her roommate Miko Miyazaki busted into the room. "Anything except her" Natsuko thought. "This girl only prays to the Twelve Gods and practices fighting all day. She is more boring than this book, if that is even physically possible. Or even worse, she can be very annoying when she is in her "Gods gave me wisdom to tell you that you are all stupid" mood".
But this time it was different. Miko was unusually excited, and little… scared?
-"Natsuko, I need your help" she said. Natsuko's jaw dropped -Miko saying "I need help" was something she had heard for the first, and probably for the last time in her life.
-"um.. I suppose this is something serious?" asked Natsuko
-"It's all the fault of this nobleman Kubota! I think he's evil ,and as soon as I become a paladin I'll prove it and smite…"
-"Calm down Miko, and start from the beginning".
-"I was practicing fighting in the training room as I do every day, when suddenly Kubota and his bodyguards walked in. He was watching our training, and after I won fights with all the other present students he asked me for a private meeting". Whatever Natsuko thoughts about Miko, she had to admit that Miko was a perfect fighter. She had no problem beating every student in paladin training, and even a few paladins. Some even made jokes that she must be the Terminator, the half iron golem sent from the future to protect Lord Shojo. "Then, when we went to the meditation room…
Miko, Lord Kubota and his two bodyguards walked into the small room. Two soldiers took their places near the door, as if they were claiming this room as Kubota's territory.
-"I have an interesting offer for you, young paladin," said Kubota with a soft voice. "I can appreciate real talent when I see it. Wouldn't you like to be a member of the strongest force in the city?"
-"I'm not a paladin yet" said Miko. "And after two more years of training I'll join the Sapphire Guard"
-"I wasn't thinking about that bunch of paladins, but the real force. The ones who really rule this city are nobility, and I have the strongest army of them all. Seeing your combat abilities now, imagine yourself in five or ten years time, as the … new city ruler's … right hand"
-"I know you haven't finished your training, but I have great fighting teachers at my service. You'll learn much more than in this… school. There will also be no legal problems; as a nobleman I can be lord of anyone from paladin training who wants to be my vassal".
Two soldiers began to look more aggressive, as if they were there not to prevent anyone from getting into the room, but from leaving it.
-" I appreciate your offer, but I must reject it" -said Miko, and began to think fast: "What level are those soldiers? Will they attack me? I have no weapon, but they may not know about my monk levels". But loudly she said: "I want to serve only my city and its ruler, Lord Shojo"
-"Lord Shojo is getting old, and he may die very soon… Sooner than anyone may expect. And then there will be a new ruler, who gives prizes to those who are helping him, and punishes those who oppose his power".
Miko was thinking about the answer, when suddenly the doors opened and Shojo walked into the room, pretending he didn't notice the soldiers guarding it. Miko could hear muttered curses from Kubota, but he and his soldiers bowed to the lord of the city.
-"I've heard you were watching the young paladins' training. As you can see, the future of Sapphire Guard looks bright and safe" -Shojo said. He was trying to hide it, but Miko saw that he was worried about something.
-"Yes, very talented fighters indeed" said Kubota. "I'm looking for new recruits to my army. As you surely know, because I am donating large sums of money to this paladin school, according to law I can select one of them for my personal service. And miss Miyazaki has proven herself to b ande ideal candidate for my army".
-"Yes, You can choose any student, but Miko is no longer one of them. In recognition of her superior skills, she was promoted to paladin yesterday, and tomorrow is her final test to become my vassal. Isn't it true, Miko?"
Miko was shocked, because she had just heard it for the first time. She saw that Shojo was very nervous waiting for her response.
-"Off course" said Miko.
-"But.. lord!" screamed Kubota -"I saw all the documents yesterday, and you haven't promoted any paladins!"
-"You probably overlooked it. You can check again, it's in the archive with yesterday's date. Now please go search for your new soldier, I have to talk with Miss Miyazaki about the details of tomorrow ceremony."
-"As you wish my lord" said Kubota leaving the room with his escort.
As soon as Kubota disappeared, Shojo started to breathe easily.
-"Sorry I was so late, but Kubota had a nearly perfect plan of preventing me from coming here" he said. "Also I apologize for making you lie -I know how much you value the truth, but there was no other way. Kubota indeed had a right to make you his vassal without your agreement, and knowing your respect to law you wouldn't oppose him."
Miko was still shocked.
-"Master, can we speak safely here? Kubota may be eavesdropping".
-"Don't worry Miko. This room is completely soundproof. You can imagine what I used to do here with my wife when I was younger"
Miko stared at him a with puzzled look.
-"Or maybe anyone but you could imagine it" said Shojo. "Anyway, I have to promote you to be my vassal tomorrow. You don't have to be afraid of the test, with your stats and abilities you should pass it without any problem. You'll miss two years of training, but your fighting abilities are better than some students leaving the academy, and your devotion to law and the Gods is indubitable. Other thing you'll miss are ethics and politics lectures, but I think it's boring and you don't need it."
-"But why haven't you allowed Kubota to take me to his army? I don't like him, but if my duty demands …"
-"Miko, I haven't taken you from the monastery to waste your talent in service of some nobleman who thinks only of his own benefits, and doesn't value the life of his servants. The city, and the Sapphire Guard needs you."
-"My lord, Kubota was speaking as if he wanted to kill you and take your place. Is he really as powerful as he says? Shouldn't you have some bodyguards with you?"
-"Never trust a politician, Miko. People like Kubota will tell you anything if it helps their cause. He is really dangerous, but how dangerous exactly, even he may not know."
-"But you are a politician, and you are different, master!"
-"How do you know that?"
-"I'm just joking. Maybe there are some who really care about people, but it's not likely you'll meet many of them. As for my bodyguard, he waits outside the room. Come and see him ,you'll probably like him"
Shojo opened the door, and a small white kitten walked in. Miko looked outside, but there was no one else.
-"Master, is this your bodyguard?" asked Miko.
-"Indeed. Meet Mr. Scruffy."
-"Is this some kind of magical cat? Or maybe mighty warrior who can change his form?"
-"No, as far as I know Mr. Scruffy is just a housecat , aren’t you?"
-"But master, how can a housecat protect you?"
-"Honestly saying, half of the castle is already making bets about what's the deal with the cat. But because I trust you, I can tell you the truth. Do you know our new diviner, Sangwaan?"
-"Is this that nice blind girl? I've meet her a few times."
-"Yes. She made a divination for me, and said that as long as I have a cat with me, no one from the nobility will be able to kill me. So right after I heard it I visited the nearest pet shop and bought Mr. Scruffy. Look at him, Miko. Isn't he the cutest critter under the sun? How can you not love him from the first sight? Look, Mr. Scruffy, this is Miko, our new and prettiest vassal. Say hello to her."
Miko clearly understood how you cannot love a cat from the first sight, but loudly she said: "Are You sure it is enough for your safety, master?"
-"I trust Sangwaan's predictions. She's made very accurate divinations for people before. I think her blindness increases her magical talent. Unfortunately, I have to return to my throne room now. I left some important ambassadors there, they can't wait for me too long. Your final test is tomorrow at 10 o'clock, in the throne room. sleep well tonight, and don't be afraid, Miko"
As they walked outside, Shojo closed the door and said to himself:
-"Meditation soundproof room near the paladin's training facility -this brings back memories. If Sangwaan is wrong, at least I’ll see my wife again. I hope they have soundproof rooms in the afterlife."
-"Goodbye, master" said Miko
-"see you tomorrow"
-"He did WHAT?" screamed Natsuko
-"he tried to make me his minion" answered Miko.
-"not Kubota, Shojo. He promoted you to be a paladin just like that? You haven't even completed half of your training!"
-"well, he thinks I'm ready, and I believe in his judgment. Maybe it's a gift from twelve gods, so I could serve them better…"
"It's just unfair" thought Natsuko. "I have to learn all this ridiculous stuff, train hard for four years, and she despite being so annoying is promoted for paladin after one and half years of studying. I thought we had the rule of law in our city".
-"As I said earlier, I need Your help, Natsuko"
-"as if I wanted to help you" thought Natsuko, but said nothing. Miko took her silence as if waiting for a question, and said:
-"What is this vassal title everyone speak of? I wanted to ask Shojo, but if he knew I don't know such things he might have changed his mind"
-"You live in a feudal country, and claim to be devoted to law, and you don't know what a vassal is?" asked Natsuko with astonishment.
-"So far I haven't finished studying ther Gods' law, and there was nothing about it. I was planning to learn human laws next year, when the lessons of this subject would have begun. As you know, I've devoted my life for fighting and prayers to serve the Twelve Gods the best I can. Unfortunately it doesn't leave time for other things."
"well, maybe I'll have some fun from this situation" thought Natsuko. "I hav ae pretty good bluff check, so it may work" . She said:
-"You know Miko, Vassal comes from word vessel, which as you probably know can mean warship or container. In this case it's about the second meaning, precisely container for a child."
-"I… I don't understand…"
-"You know where children come from, Miko?"
-"Of course, but what it has to do with… With lord Shojo!? But he had a wife! And he still loves her, I've heard him saying it when we left the room."
-"Miko, Shojo is the monarch of a powerful state, which means his children are automatically heirs to the throne. It's different in royal families -it's not the matter of love but politics. Imagine Shojo's only child -Hinjo dies. Shojo isn't so old he'll die of old age, but in 10 years time? With no heir, noblemen will start fighting for the throne, which can grow into civil war."
-"It sounds logical" -answered Miko. "If it is for the good of the city, I'll fulfill my duty. Now as you are far more experienced in that matter than me, tell me how to prepare for tomorrow's test".
"This bluff check went much better than I was hoping for" thought Natsuko. "I hope she doesn't remember that all the paladins of both genders are Shojo's vassals, or she may start to suspect something"
-"Well, not that experience, but I can give You a few tips for tomorrow" said Natsuko, hardly stopping herself from and evil grin.
-"First of all, the first impression is most important, so you should prepare something special for this …test. Maybe some sort of fancy dress? I still have this French maid costume that I bought for that costume party last year. The one where You tried to smite Niu dressed as a succubus."
-"French maid? I don't… think Lord Shojo would find it attractive" said Miko with a blush.
-"You might be right. You probably will not fit into this black leather costume Niu was wearing, besides walking on high heels requires some time to learn. We have to find something different. I could borrow a school uniform from my brother's daughter, but You probably won't fit into it too."
-"I have an idea!" said Miko
"This bluff check went a lot better than I expected" thought Natsuko
-"when we were in that room, Lord Shojo said his cat is lovely. Maybe I'll dress as some cat-human hybrid I’ve seen in that comic you were reading while pretending it was a book about law during lessons yesterday!"
-"You mean catgirl?" said Natsuko lightly ashamed that Miko saw what she was reading. "I once knew a wizard, his name was Larry …Gardener? He told me about some multijuice potion that changed his friend into half-cat. But no, I don't want to see this jerk again. He wanted me to drink this thing when we were making out. We'll have to rely on more traditional methods like headband with cat's ears. And of course a black swimsuit. You can't be a catgirl without a black swimsuit. I'll borrow one for you, and make ears for headband." Stopping herself from bursting out in laughter was getting harder and harder for Natsuko.
-"Is it really necessary?" said Miko blushing.
-"I think Lord Shojo will love it".
Stopping herself from laughing was so hard that Natsuko said:
-"I'll go and prepare all the clothes for you" and left the room, before Miko had time to ask about anything.
Natsuko was talking to her friend Lei, who was giving her a black swimsuit
-"I don't know how you managed to persuade Miko to wear it in public, but I want to see it." said Lei.
-"Better think of some way to save this picture for future generations."
-"That's not a problem. I have a scroll of Canon's Panel Capture spell, and I know magic student who can use it"
-"No, we have to find something different. The throne room is protected from this kind of magic, unless this student is really high level"
-"The throne room?! You want to make her walk into the throne room in a swimsuit?!"
-"Shhh, not so loud. Yes, that's my plan."
-"So better find someone who took the Craft Disturbing Mental Image feat"
Suddenly, someone bumped into Natsuko
-"Sorry" -said Sangwaan. "I've heard something about Miko walking into the throne room dressed only a in swimsuit"
-"No, I was just joking how funny it would be" said Lei, confused.
-"Don't worry, I won't tell anyone" said Sangwaan
-"Do you see it in the future?"
-"What, no. You know, I don't work 24 hours a day. I've been making divinations all the day, now I think I deserve some relaxation."
-"Ok then. If you want to see it .. oh, I'm sorry." said Natsuko ashamed
-"it's ok. I'll be there tomorrow" said Sangwaan. They didn't know it, but she already has seen it in her vision. And she had prepared her true seeing spell for tomorrow.
-"Ok, so good luck Miko. And remember all the things I've told you. Especially purring like a cat -men love it!" said Natsuko as Miko in her costume was leaving their room. Again she had problem with stopping her laughing. She was about to go after Miko to watch the carefully prepared joke, when suddenly a thought struck her: "What if they find out it was my fault? All the castle will see it, and Miko will surely tell them whose idea it was. What if Lord Shojo will take it as an insult? They're gonna expel me! Why haven't I thought about it earlier? I’m supposed to be Lawful Good! I know, this must be that "no fear" thing with paladins. I wasn't afraid of consequences, I didn't think about it. And all the years on those stupid ethics lessons they were teaching us how to stay responsible when we don't feel fear". And because she wasn't fully a paladin yet, she began to feel very frightened.
At this very moment, Miko opened the door, and walked into throne room.
"I didn't know there will be so many people" thought Miko. "But I should do it, for my city"