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20 The Ice-Blocks

 Ai sat still as her frustrations continued to build up slowly. As much as she did not want to offend the prince, this little joke of Hayama was getting out of hand. Even though clearly nothing had happened between them, Hayama seemed to be hell-bent on sticking to that story.

Ai silently watched in dismay as Hayama "sorrowfully" recounted how he met Ai.

With an expression as if he was suffering from a great injustice, Hayama sobbed, "Wifey was very drunk that night and took advantage of this prince. But afterwards, she ran away. Father-in-law, please seek justice for me!"

Watching the scene, Ai was stupefied. She had undoubtedly understood that Hayama was a playful character that liked to prank on people. But this... this kind of dedication to his joke... Wasn't it going too far?!... If she wasn't sure of herself that nothing had in fact happened, she would have believed him.

Ai suddenly wanted to cry as some discreet doubtful looks from her father and brother cast in her direction. ...I didn't do it!... she solemnly cried in her heart.

Unbeknownst to them, Hayama was the true definition of the word White Lotus*. Even though he gave off the impression of being innocent and playful, he was in fact, a wolf in sheep's clothing. Yet all these skills, was in fact, necessary for his survival.

Being the crown prince and the sole heir to the imperial throne, Hayama was no stranger to schemes and even life-threatening situations. Even though he maintained the appearance of a perfect prince and be "delicately charming" according to the standards of his matriarch country, he was never truly as innocent as he appeared to be.

From the women who schemed to lay with him to political competitors with hidden motives, Hayama had come across many different types of people who wanted to benefit from him. But he had always seen through them and no matter how pretentious a person was, it never escaped his eyes.

Yet when he met Ai Shizuka, it all changed. From the very beginning, the young woman strived to stay away from him and even ran away from him despite him possessing a godly appearance. No, he was not being conceited, it was, in fact, true that he was very good-looking and no females had ever able to resist his looks. He even had a record to prove it!

Secondly, Ai Shizuka basically looked like she rather eats a mouthful of dirt than getting involved with him. That didn't even change when she eventually found out he was the Kukio's crown prince. Being the crown prince and a good-looking one at that, Hayama never lacked people who wanted to associate with him for the sake of their own selfish desires. Yet, it was the first time Hayama ever met a woman... no... a family that didn't want to do anything with him...

... In fact, all three of them looked like they rather eat a mouthful of dirt ...

This kind of treatment, Hayama wanted to humph but at the same time, found it funny. He is the famous crown prince of Kukio, who in the right mind didn't want to get involved with him?!

Hayama perked up from his little dramatic acting when he saw Ai stood up quietly. Without saying anything, the lady stood up, turned around and... left?!

What the fuck?!!... he suddenly wanted to yell. Has she paid no heed to the little opera he orchestrated?!...

His acting was so good, it was truly out of this world, he even shed a few tears. Yet she said nothing, no reaction, just casually turned around and left as if all these had nothing to do with her and as if she was just there to buy soy sauce*.

Hayama suddenly felt a sour taste in his mouth, this kind of maverick character, she just came and went as she wished, heeding no one and listening to nothing, he really wanted to make a chain and shackle her to him!

By the time Hayama had broken out of his stupor, Ai had already left to God knows where. Now without their precious little girl, the two Shizuka men also stood up immediately and left.

Hayama wanted to curse. He now finally understood how Kit Koyozoki had felt. Without even offering a word of sympathy, they just turned around and left! Are they humans or ice-blocks?!... He seriously questioned in his mind.

With almost a depressed look, Hayama turned around and looked at comatose Kit in contemplation before he also eventually left to find Ai.

The moment they left, Kit's grey eyes snapped open immediately. His grey eyes looked crazed with emotions and contained not even the slightest glimmer of sanity.

"Ai...", Kit uttered, taking out a phoenix hairpin from his chest that he didn't get a chance to give to her, and gingerly placed it on her vanity. (For those who forgot, check Chapter 04)

Without saying anything more, Kit Koyozoki turned and left.

... I will be back, Ai. And when I'm back, I swear... I swear that I will not ever give you a chance to reject me again...

Ai sighed out loud as she walked the streets of Shinto. Crown prince Hayama Mizuko, a completely new entity that appeared out of nowhere... he was truly a handful ah... She had initially thought Jin Omaru in this life was bothersome, but it was obviously nothing compared to Hayama.

With Hayama's top-notch acting, she didn't see any points in arguing with him further. Anything she said would be held against her. She was pretty much used to people twisting her words anyway. Her past life was the epitome of that. Anyhow she just wished that Hayama would stop this little joke and let her get back to her life.

With that thought, Ai steadily made her ways towards the Hozaka.

When Ai had finally reached Hozaka weaponry, the whole place seemed empty. Thinking that the staffs might be busy at the other sections of the Hozaka, she carelessly walked towards the blacksmith workshop.

But to her surprise, there was someone who was already there. Hearing her footsteps, the person turned around and looked in her direction, before happily shouting her name.

Ai lifted one of her finely curved eyebrows. It was actually no surprise. The person was only the-great-lord-of-nothing-to-do-all- day-and-idly-wondering-around-Tamaki Yunes.

Ai forced a smile on her face as she politely greeted back, "Young master Yunes."

Tamaki slightly pouted before pushing out one of his arms, which was in an arm cast, right in her face. "I'm injured you know..."

Ai wasn't sure how to take it. Ah, so what he was injured? She is not a doctor, what does he want her to do?...

Seeing Ai's clueless face and a dumb expression, Tamaki stomped, before saying, "I was injured by that guard of yours!"

Ai widened her eyes in apprehension. So he was injured by Kit so was he asking for compensation? Or was he declaring animosity towards her house? Ai immediately stiffened. Sure she might be a bit paranoid in thinking of the worst but with what she had gone through, she could never be too careful.

With an expression as if having bitten a sour plum, Ai replied, "I'm deeply sorry for your injury, how may the house Shizuka compensate for your loss?"

Tamaki wanted to huff, the whole morning he had been patiently waiting for her here, hoping to see the woman that put so many emotions in his heart. After that stupid guard dog kicked him and the other loser out of Shizuka house, he went home, wrapped his perfectly functioning arm in a bandage, pretending to be injured, all for the sake of being cared for by Ai Shizuka.

Yet in actuality, the woman didn't even call him by his first name much less being cared. She only gave him a mechanical reply as if like they were such strangers. Tamaki pushed down the huge feeling of being wronged. "Fine, if that's how you want to play, I will entertain, let's not be strangers and come work for my place", Tamaki thought sardonically.

"How about you come work for me, Ai? Recently, I received this new supplies called "Gunpowder", in the west, they were often used to make explosives, I could use your expertise with the weapons to develop those further...", Tamaki said, putting his thoughts into action immediately.

It was actually a good plan. For one, he would get to see Ai every day and two, her skills could be really useful in building his empire, killing two birds with one stone.

Ai was slightly shocked. "Gunpowder?", she had briefly heard of it but it was actually very rare and expensive, they only came in small quantities and the western continent has full control over gunpowder manufacturing. But if they could develop their own here, it was not actually a bad idea. But dealing with new substance, she would first need some substantial quantity to research on it.

Ai was about to agree, when suddenly she remembered, the contract with Shion. When the young master Hozaka made this business proposal, he had one specific term that he asked for: Ai was not allowed to use her crafting skills in collaboration with any other houses, other than Hozaka. In other words, Shion was basically trademarking and monopolising her skills to his house alone, effectively wiping out the possible competitions. How smart that young master is... she wondered.

At that time, Ai didn't think too much, she was just overjoyed that someone took an interest in her favourite hobby and decided to promote it. Now that she thought about it, the very few words that Shion said, had always been sly and careful. But it was understandable since Shion was the very centre of Shinto's business hub itself and the man always needed to be vigilant and calculating.

Speak of the Devil, a baritone voice suddenly called out her name. "Miss Shizuka, you are here, I was just about to look for you..."

"Young master Hozaka, my apology for disappearing a few days, I wasn't quite well.", Ai replied, thinking of the past few days that she went MIA*.

"It's fine, your first batch of weapons are ready and I had set up the booth to test the public's interest. Do you want to come?" Shion said as he stretched out his hand towards Ai.

Ai was very happy, her babies were hatched! She couldn't wait to see! She was about to rush forwards and take Shion's outstretched hand when she was suddenly held back. It wasn't visible to people in front of her but Tamaki had grabbed the back of her robe, and stubbornly refused to let go. She glared sideways at him, asking him silently what the hell was wrong with him.

As their eyes connected, for a second, Ai thought she saw a flash of pain flitted through his peach blossom eyes. Tamaki immediately turned away, directing his gaze back to Shion.

"She can't go", Tamaki told Shion resolutely.

Shion's thin lips curled upwards, "Who are you to tell her what she can and can't do, Tamaki?"

Ai suddenly felt like she was caught in the middle of the crossfire and she didn't even know what was wrong. Initially, she had thought Shion and Tamaki were good friends but it seemed that things were not as simple as they appeared on the outside.

"Young master Yunes, I have to go", Ai told him softly, turning around to open his balled fist slightly. Tamaki looked torn before he huffed and released his hold on her.

"Don't forget what I asked of you, Ai", Tamaki said before he walked out of Hozaka.

Afterwards, Ai immediately took Shion's outstretched hands and they walked towards her very first "weapon fair".

______

A little extra on Hayama at the moment:

Hayama on the streets asked a passerby: Have you seen my wife?

Passerby: Who the hell is your wife?

Hayama: Silver hair, this height (point to his shoulder), ice-block face and looks very hard to get along with.

Passerby: Ahhh, Miss Shizuka? She went that way. (point to random direction)

Hayama looking grateful: Thank you, peasant! (Happily walked off)