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The Tower's Princess

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Kaoru follows a strict morning schedule set by herself. Every morning she wakes up, brushes her hair and teeth, practices her father’s swordsmanship until she’s ready to drop, and eats breakfast. In the evening she reads, sews, eats, practices her meditation and eats again. But today she stares outside the tower’s window.

She has been in this tower for one hundred and forty-six thousand days not including those that she forgot to mark the wall. Somewhere around fifty thousand days, she had watched the lands that once flew her father’s flag become decimated. The lands grew lush and green after being burned by the invading army, but the people never returned. Kaoru vaguely recalls when she first came here.

She came to live in this tower since she was a young girl, and is guarded by a dragon. A typical princess in the tower type of deal. When she was first placed into the tower, it was because of the witch's curse. A witch, offended by the king for some inane reason that Kaoru cared nothing about, had placed a curse so strong that even the palace sorcerers could not break it.

The country would be destroyed unless he imprisoned his only child in a tower high on a mountain. It was with great sorrow that she was imprisoned. "One day, someone will come for you Kaoru. One day." He said this to her as though the witch has attached conditions such as trapped until a prince comes for you. Or true love's first kiss.

However, the witch made no such promises to give her freedom. Kaoru was too young to understand that her father wasn't going to come back for her. The witch took her hand and led her up the stairs, past the dragon's keep, and into her living quarters. For the next few years, the witch showed her how to take care of herself with the magic of the tower. Not that there was much else for her to do other than be provided for by the tower. At least there was a dojo with many bokkens available for her to train herself. Well, she called it a dojo. In reality it was a room that she had cleared furniture from.

She had only been able to practice the discipline because of a book packed with the things her father was able to give to her. One day, she hoped to be a master, but there are only so many things that you can learn from the books. Kaoru tried her best. Whatever felt off balance, she shifted until it felt right. She also dragged mirrors to see if anything looked off in her posture.

After some years, Kaoru stopped aging. The witch, however, continued to age until she just… stopped showing up. She doesn’t know how many days that was. The tower's magic gradually began to weaken and Kaoru found herself at a realization. She would need to leave the tower before the magic became incapable of providing food, and to do that, she would have to defeat the dragon herself.

She slowly exhales, and drops her head against the window. Starve or face a dragon. Both are extremely poor decisions. Although starving would be her giving up. Facing the dragon would at least be better than giving up. The only thing that stands between her and the dragon’s keep is the locked door at the top of the stairs, and she knows exactly which hairpins to use.

Kaoru moves purposefully to the wardrobe of clothing and accessories the witch had once provided her so long ago. It was an old and plain thing with extra drawers. Really she preferred that it had such practicality over decor. If only the clothing inside were as practical. Instead they’re embroidered silks in bright colors. Even the hairpins are decadent and useless.

Which isn’t to say she doesn’t appreciate having beautiful and decadent things to wear. She does wear them once in a while, but they make her remember things best forgotten. Once she remembered wearing pretty things in front of her father. Kaoru remembers his chuckles, but not his face. Not even the colors of his hair or eyes. The days have taken it all from her. Each one fading her earliest memories the tiniest bit more.

Kaoru rummages around in the box of hairpins until she finds the two needed for the door. They’re so sharp, they could be weapons. Weapons enough to defeat a dragon? No. She eyes them again before snorting. Definitely not. Now, the question is what would she use against a dragon when she has bokken?

Well, maybe something in the kitchen. Now why on earth this place has a kitchen is beyond her. After all, the tower provides food with magic. Why would it need a kitchen? After turning the rooms upside down, she places all the things that could be weapons on the table.

Right away, she knows knives and the poker are probably the best things. So she’s going to fight a dragon with kitchen knives and a fireplace poker. Giving up would probably be the smart thing to do, but if she’s going to die, then it may as well be in a blaze of glory. Such as being eaten while trying to stab the dragon with a kitchen knife.

This is a terrible idea. Kaoru decides the best way to cope with the knowledge of just how terrible of an idea it is, is to completely and totally ignore the facts. Instead, she’s going to be optimistic. A small part of her whispers. Yeah sure. Absolutely, completely, and totally optimistic about the fact I’m probably going to get eaten.

Ignoring that infinitesimally small part of her, that in no way speaks for her own thoughts, she settles in front of the door of the stairs. Carefully, she inserts the hairpins and begins to move them around. It wouldn’t do to accidentally break one off in the lock and ruin her plans of dying in a blaze of glory. It’s hours later that she feels her attempts might be getting closer to actually working.

A little more to the right… No, more to the left. Kaoru is grinning with satisfaction when the lock emits a soft click. She ignores how her hands tremble as she opens the door because she is very excited to go risk her life to see the dragon. Today is only reconnaissance so that she knows what she's walking into. As of right now, she has no idea how large the dragon is. Kaoru quietly moves down the stairs to the dragon's keep. The magic is still working here and it shows. There's not a trace of cobwebs or dust.

The light grows dimmer as she continues to walk, so she grabs a candlestick from the wall. Cobwebs begin to become frequent. A sign the magic has faded here or simply how the dragon’s keep is supposed to look? She almost wishes for a broom so she can at least try to brush the cobwebs away. Kaoru has never held a broom in her life, but how hard could it be? Surely it was just a moving back and forth motion.

This entire place is creepy. Dark cobwebs, shapes of people surrounded by blackened wall, and a curious noise. It’s wind, she decides as she looks around. Wind makes all sorts of strange noise when it comes through the cracks of the walls. Eventually she comes to a wide open space where the dragon should be sleeping, and it's empty. Of course, empty does not include the heaps of skeletons. Amongst the bones are ragged and burnt flags. They have a symbol on them that she half remembers.

She traces her fingers along the symbol's lines as she remembers her father's crest. Kaoru is momentarily surprised when she sees the flags of the invaders from so long ago as well. It had been so long, that she had forgotten they had tried to attack the tower as well. She tries to peer into the darkness and can see that there are hundreds of these flags. No wonder people never came back to live in the lands surrounding here. Who would want to live with a dragon that killed a battalion's worth of men who easily burned the country to the ground?

There’s a glint of metal on the wall in the corner of the room, and she’s momentarily drawn towards it before she hears strange sounds. The soft sounds of clanking chains draw her attention up just in time to see a snarling dragon's maw as a clawed hand shoves her to the floor. Well, she found the dragon. The question is… The dragon roars in her face. Its breath's hot and the sound makes her feel as though her bones will melt and her eardrums will rupture or run away screaming. Whichever happens first. She stares up at it with wide eyes. Now what?

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Kenshin stares at the human under his clawed fingers. It stares back with wide eyes. Why isn’t it shrieking in terror like the others before it? Maybe it was in shock. Or it came prepared to die? It did bring a weapon. At least, he thinks it’s a weapon. He squints at the weapon. The usual weapons are swords, but this thing… It looks strange. A pointy metal stick? He huffs in confusion.

What a bizarre human. He watches it stare up at him without making any sound. There is only one reaction that comes from humans under his claws, and it’s screaming and crying gibberish. Maybe it wasn’t a human. Kenshin sniffs at it trying to learn through scent. Female? The same female that’s lived in the tower above him if he’s placing the scent correctly. Not the one who imprisoned him here. Not that that should matter. He tried to keep to a moral code that included not killing females or children.

Wham. Kenshin recoils from the female with a surprised shriek. A shriek that his dignity insisted in no way sounded like a hatchling. She had taken advantage of his distraction and smacked him across the nose. What a violent female. A common trait in draconic females, but human females? He’s never even been seen one come near him willingly, much less without the terrified shrieking.

This one came after him with a pointy stick. Maybe he had made a mistake classifying it as a female human. Ignoring the throbbing of his nose, he scents again just to be sure . It’s definitely female and definitely human. Wham. This time, the victim is the soft flesh of his toes.

Kenshin flails backwards, and forces himself not to lose himself to the instincts that demand the attacking creature’s blood to be spilled across the stones like all the others. He carefully lifts her and sets her in front of the stairs that lead to the upper floor that she’s been living on. She brandishes the stick at him, and he ignores it in favor of curling into his favorite corner. Far away from the violent female, and most definitely not because he’s sulking.

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Kaoru is confused. At first she thought the dragon was going to eat her. Especially when it almost inhaled her. She had observed until she was very sure of each sensitive area. She even attacked every vulnerable place she could find without mercy, and yet, it dumped her in front of the stairs. Then it curled into a corner facing away from her.

Kaoru snarled in rage. There’s no way that thing would be just letting her go like this. It’s probably planning a game of cat and mouse. Just waiting for her to let her guard down. Like hell she’s taking that! She brandishes her poker in a way that had looked especially threatening in the mirror and gives her war cry. Not that she’s been practicing. Kaoru almost trips over her own feet when it glances at her before settling itself in the corner more firmly.

This is weird. Now that she thinks about it, even the skeletons littering the area don’t look as though they were eaten. Merely killed and left to turn to bone. The exit is next to the dragon’s corner and, well, she did come here with the eventuality of being able to go outside. It takes her a long time, but eventually she manages to make it to the exit without dropping her guard a single moment.

She freezes when the dragon peeks at her. It’s body remains relaxed as it watches her in curiosity. Kaoru stands with her back to the door and an eye on the dragon. She slides her fingers over the wood until she finds the handle. With a twist and a shove, she’s so close to being free that she can taste it. The dragon makes no move to stop her.

There are far fewer stairs than what she remembered seeing as a child. She giddily skips down the stairs and comes to the final door that bars her from the outside world. A solid wooden door that shows not a single hint of age is the only thing in her way. Kaoru’s hands tremble as she pushes it open. There’s so much green and it’s so close.

She giggles as she lays in the grass. Was grass always this soft? With a sigh she settles into the softest patch of grass and stares at the clouds. Eventually she’ll have to return to the tower for no other reason than it being her home. She needs to learn how to hunt and cook what she hunts. The dragon needs to be dealt with as well.

Just in a different way than she originally planned. The tower provides for both of them now, but when the magic finally runs out, she can’t live with herself knowing she left it to starve. She presses her face into the grass and groans. How did this become so complicated? Kaoru lays in the grass for hours basking in the softness of it’s blades and the warmth of the sun.

Unmoving until the first drops of rain fell on her. Giggling, she ran back into the tower. Closing the door gave a sense of finality. Almost like closing the lid of a coffin. This tower would not become her coffin. The dragon jerks back from it’s corner in surprise, and she sees a small hole in the wall.

Well, it was small for the dragon, but large enough for her to walk through. The dragon had been staring outside, and- Oh Kaoru could understand this. She smiled at the dragon hesitantly and quietly laid the poker on the floor. “Hi, I’m Kaoru.” It stared at her with huge violet eyes.

After a few moments felt like hours, she started fidgeting. “Can you even understand me?” It unfroze long enough to uncurl itself and made a soft huffing noise. “Is that a yes?” Another soft huff greeted her. “What do I call you?”

The dragon makes a series of low chirps and rumbles. Well, that was not something that she could ever say, but she decides to try anyway much to the dragon’s horror. It’s eyes were wide and it made a choking noise. “I guess that wasn’t your name.” Kaoru grinned at it’s disbelieving snort.

“Maybe I’ll just pick a name for you.” She stared at it speculatively for a while. “Well you’re a pretty red girl so maybe something incorporating that?” It shrieked loudly and slapped at the floor. She dropped to the ground and waited for the shrieking to stop.

It flopped down to the floor and balefully glared at her. “So… not a girl?” He huffed loudly. Kaoru started rattling off male names and tried not to be irritated with every hiss. Tried being the key word. “You’re making this too hard.”

It’s with a dramatic sigh that she utters the last name. “What about Kenshin?” Not a single hiss. She took that moment to look for his reaction. His tail slowly swishes side to side and his head is tilted to the side. Eventually he bobs his head sharply looking pleased.

“Ok, Kenshin it is.” She cut herself off with yawning. An amused snort and he reaches over to nose her towards her rooms. Kaoru pet at his face absentmindedly before walking back to her rooms. She could deal with the rest tomorrow.

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Kenshin does not understand the Kaoru-female. She had threatened him with a pointy stick and now she’s skipping down the stairs calling for him with a grin. Warily, he lays his toes out of reach. Not that he’s scared of the pointy stick. He can clearly see it’s not with her… Just for the sake of safety.

 

During his search for the pointy stick, he’s failed to notice that she’s gotten close enough to touch him until she holds both hands in front of his nose. “Kenshin?” Kaoru’s voice is so soft that he pricks his ears forward to hear her better. “Do you mind if I look at it? The chain I mean.” Kenshin wrestles down the surge of doubt and tries to focus on her face instead. Humans often have their emotions written across their faces.

 

Kaoru’s face is determined and she looks sincere… Slowly, deliberately, he turns his head to the side in silent invitation and tries to avoid making comparisons. Draconian culture is heavily matriarchal and this feels suspiciously similar to courtship. It definitely isn’t though. Kaoru is human. Although he thinks this female would make a fine female dragon judging by her temper.

 

For a moment, he can see it. She would probably have sleek black scales and bewitching blue eyes- “Oh!” Kenshin’s chest is puffed out, his teeth are bared, and his wings are flared as he looks for the danger that would cause Kaoru to scream and run up the steps. The room is still silent and empty save for bones. That settles it. This female is weird.

 

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Kaoru digs frantically through the books in the library. She’s seen a book with those runes somewhere… Ah! There it is. She tugs a crimson book free from the shelf and studies the gold symbols on the front. They’re the same elegantly curved lines etched into Kenshin’s chains.

 

She starts to curl up in a chair in the corner, but stops herself. What if Kenshin is lonely down there? Kaoru runs to the door and almost flies down the stairs. Perhaps too fast if she’s judging by the way Kenshin is staring at her in a half-alarmed position. She watches him eye her warily before settling down.

 

Kaoru giddily presents the book with a grin. He looks between her face and the book several times. Finally, he seems to settle on looking confused. “I found the book-” She cuts herself off. What if she can’t break the spells, and gets his hopes up for nothing? “I found the book I needed.”

 

After a long stare, he huffs softly in amusement and curls up so he can look outside. A moment of hesitation follows, and Kaoru sits next to him to take advantage of the sunlight. The warmth radiating from the dragon entices her closer until she’s leaning on him. It doesn’t take long for her to be lulled to sleep from the blissful warmth.

 

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Kenshin carefully shifts Kaoru-female to a better position. She’s been falling asleep on him for several moons now. The first time, she had woken up seemingly embarrassed and stayed away for the entire day. Now she reads books every day and falls asleep on him every time without fail. It’s endearing.

 

He freezes mid-shift when she starts murmuring sleepily. A startled squeak escapes as she presses closer sleepily nuzzling into him and his face feels hot under his scales. The half-remembered daydream of sleek black scales and bewitching blue eyes comes to mind, but he forces it away. She’s perfect the way she is, sleep-addled eyes and all.

 

Wait… Kaoru-female is blinking sleepily at him. “Sorry. I fell asleep again.” She’s reading a book before he can process her reaching for it. Every day she’s reading those books, and she becomes more distressed each day. Dark circles have been growing under her eyes and she even looks a little thinner. Gently he tugs the book away from her and gathers her closer.

 

“Kenshin?” He stares into her eyes as she searches his for answers. “You’re… worried? About me?” Kenshin sighs and gently strokes the very tip of his finger across her head making sure to turn the tip of his claw away. “I’m ok. I have to read that one. It was too advanced for me. I couldn’t understand it without the others, but now I can. I just need more time.” Blue eyes search his for understanding.

 

He wants her to sleep and eat. He wants her to leave the books alone. Instead, he reluctantly gives her the book. Just like if she were a female dragon, he’ll defer to her wishes. Even if it makes him feel sick. She strokes her hand across his face and gives him a small smile. “I just need more time Kenshin. Just a little more time…”

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More time turned out to be a few minutes. Kenshin had nearly dozed off before being startled by excited squeals. Kaoru-female is excitedly jabbering gibberish at him and waving around the book. Awkwardly he stares at her trying to decipher the words. Finally, she slows down and favors him with a smile. “Just- just trust me Kenshin.”

Kenshin very carefully stares at her trying to figure out why she’s acting so strangely. “Stay still.” He doesn’t move as she starts moving the chain around his neck. Feeling her presence so close to his throat makes him shudder. It doesn’t mean the same thing to her kind as it does his, he reminds himself. In his culture, courtship starts off with a display of trust that the intended partner would never harm them. It’s usually displayed by baring a vulnerable part of themselves as irrefutable proof of their trust.

However, Kenshin is merely a runt of a dragon chained inside of a tower without the ability to shift forms. Instead, he resigns himself to knowing that she’ll forever be outside of his reach. So he ignores his instincts telling him to court Kaoru. The part of himself that quietly insists their courtship has already begun is wrapped in chains of its own and shoved into a dark mental corner. Thinking of Kaoru… She’s started murmuring words, and just like that, the chains fall off. It takes Kenshin a painfully long moment to realize it’s real. Then, Kaoru collapses.

Kenshin would like to think that he handled it without the slightest hint of panic. In reality, he shrieked, slammed his head into the ceiling, and smacked his toes into the wall. When he regained his senses, he gathered the random cushions she had left in his keep before plopping her on them. Kaoru is breathing. This… This is a good sign, he thinks. She’s breathing and she’s sleeping.

Two things are in his favor here. Now he just has to wait for her to wake up. It’ll be hours from now, but he’ll get to leave the tower with her when she wakes up. Until then, he’s content to wait for her. That is, right until he realized something very important. All of the doors are Kaoru size.

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Kaoru shivers slightly as she starts to wake up. There’s a cold breeze coming from somewhere, she thinks groggily. Of course, she then makes the mistake of opening her eyes and sees one giant hovering eye in front of her face. At this point, her natural instincts kick in and she grabs the nearest weapon to clobber the giant eye monster. Fiercely, she attacks with the first item in reach.

No giant eye monster will be getting the best of her today. Today, it will learn to fear Kaoru of the Kamiya Kasshin Style. An indignant squeak is her first clue that something isn’t quite right, but she refuses to stop attacking until her weapon shatters. Her first reaction is to stare at the white fluff flying around Kenshin’s face. Slowly, she looks down at her weapon.

A cushion. She had been beating Kenshin with a cushion. At least he seems unharmed, she thinks. “Well, it’s your fault for staring at me like that!” Sunlight glints off ruby scales as he draws himself up and gives her the most unimpressed look in his arsenal. She didn’t even know dragons could look unimpressed. Another breeze brings a scowl to Kaoru’s face, and she starts to get irritated by the amount of wind coming in through the small hole she had always thought of as Kenshin’s window.

Except, it’s not a small hole anymore. The normally dark and foreboding keep is now a brightly lit and foreboding keep. The little window has been transformed into a large hole in the wall, and for a moment her heart sinks. Kenshin’s going to leave now. She could tell that he craved freedom just as much as she does the moment she saw him looking out that window.

It’s hard to focus on looking him in the eye when one is almost the same size as she is, but she manages to at least look like she’s trying. Truthfully, she’s getting lost in the violet colors and their intensity. “Thanks for waiting to say goodbye Kenshin. I’ll never forget you.” Kaoru can feel her heart bleeding with those words. Oh, how she wants to propose that they leave together and explore the world. Maybe make a new home… Instead, she merely hugs as much of his face as she can.

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Kenshin struggles with his magical core when she acts like he’s leaving without her. His people are able to change into a human form, but his core is so damaged that he’s unable to do so. He can’t even speak to her in order to tell her how much he wants her to come with him. Trust, travel, and tame. The three stages of courtship.

Those partnered must trust each other with their lives, travel to prove their commitment, and make a home together to show that they tame each other’s fire. It’s an unbreakable bond for life. Kenshin knows that he is unworthy of the fiery creature before him, but he can’t help yearning to stay with her. The tower is bearable as long as he gets to stay with her, he decides.

Kenshin brushes a claw over her head and curls up in front of his little window. Well, it’s a giant hole now. He watches the sun dance across Kaoru’s features as a puzzled look settles on her face. Kaoru’s eyebrows are drawn together, and her lips are pursed in a way that draws his attention. Silently, he tries to make her understand that he wants to stay in the tower because he’ll go wherever she goes. “Kenshin… Are you asking me to come with you?”

Chapter Text

“Yes, of course I’ll go!” Kaoru had agreed without thinking when she saw how Kenshin looked at the sky. Now, she finds herself wandering her tower. There are so many unanswered questions here. Why did the witch take her? Why was she given silks and luxuries? Why did the witch stop coming? Then, there was the largest question of all. Could she truly leave the place she had known as her home all this time?

 

Slowly, she takes in the details of her room. The elegantly carved decor, the heavy silks draped from the ceiling, the carefully painted walls, and the secrets were all things that she could live without. It all boils down into one question for her. Would she prefer to stay here to try unlocking the tower’s secrets or would she prefer Kenshin above all else?

 

Kenshin, her heart whispers. After that decision, she starts frantically packing whatever would be good for travel. Blankets made of heavy wool instead of silk, the few items for cooking from the kitchen, her bokken, the sword given to her by the witch, and items for her basic needs. With a careful eye, she surveys her collection. Something is missing… Books!

 

Kaoru searches through the library for practical books to take with her. Those that speak of healing and edible plants go into her bags first. Hesitantly, she adds a few spellbooks and a cookbook. She starts to close the bags before she sees it. The wood grain doesn’t match up on one of the panels where the cookbook had been, and Kaoru reaches out to touch the panel. Instead, her fingers go through the wood and she gasped at the unexpected texture.

 

In shock, she doesn’t move until wiggling her fingers proves that they’re still attached. Slowly, she draws it through the panel. It’s a crimson leatherbound book. Flipping through the pages yields glimpses of the witch’s handwriting. What is this book? So, she turns to the first page and almost drops the book in shock of the words scrawled there.

 

Instead of reading further, she shoves it into the bottom of a random bag with shaking hands. She cannot read it. Not now. Not yet. Instead, she carries her bags down the steps and smiles at Kenshin’s soft chirp. It had taken her the entire night to pack her things, she noted with surprise. “Are you ready to leave now?”

 

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Carefully, Kenshin scoops up Kaoru and her bags. Then, he launches into the air and takes note that his core is repairing itself as he flies further away from the tower. The first few hours are quiet, and he readjusts his grip on Kaoru as she squirms around. “Kenshin! Kenshin, look at that!” He softly huffs at her in acknowledgment. She’s adorable, but this is the third time she’s pointed out a waterfall. At this point, he’s equally amused and resigned that she’ll be doing this the entire flight.

 

After a while longer, she yells again. “Can we land there?” Kenshin looks at the small clearing she’s pointing at. There’s a pond on the edge of it that looks like a good water source, but it’s such a small clearing… Well, he’s landed in smaller spaces before, so he turns towards the clearing. Dropping into the clearing proves to be a more difficult task than he realized.

 

The moment he realizes what’s about to happen, he drops Kaoru into the pond. Then, he promptly slams into a tree and flips upside down in a final landing. As he lies there dazed, he can hear her waterlogged steps. “Kenshin?” He has a hard time focussing on both her faces, but chirps in response. “I think you need to work on your landings.” Really Kaoru?

 

He drops his head back to the ground and allows himself an overly dramatic groan. Now the truth comes out. His adorably sweet Kaoru is amused by his suffering, he thinks as she starts laughing at him. “Come on Kenshin, stop being dramatic and let me get a look at you.” Sometime between her poking and prodding, he consoles himself that at least she has one face again.

 

She just doesn’t look right with two faces. “Well, you look ok…” Kaoru trails off as she notices her bags dangling in his claws. “Oh! Thanks for not dropping my bags in the pond. I can’t believe I forgot about them like that.” Kenshin raises his wings and his chest puffs a little bit when he realized what that meant. Kaoru cared more about him than all she had in the world, even though she laughed at him.

 

Instead of responding to his impressive display or making her own, she’s digging through her bags. “Are you hungry Kenshin?” She gnaws on some dried meats after he refuses, and curls into him with one of her blankets. As he curls around her, he thinks that this is far better than any display she could have made. While drifting off to sleep, he has a few passing thoughts. Maybe his core will be repaired enough that he’ll be able to shift forms when he wakes up. Then, he could court her properly. Kaoru’s last thought is of the witch’s written words. ‘Dear Kaoru, my sweet daughter, please forgive me.’