[4th of September, 2740 AD; Market of the Flowers, Mikahana, Kikuisha]
It was a clear, warm day as the sun shined on the plaza square below. Sorin Wilk and Gale Kunigunde walked through the crowd as they settled for a nearby restaurant. Taking a table by the window, the two looked out to the clear, blue river that was flowing near the building.
“It really is spectacular, isn’t it Sorin?” Gale asked.
“You were right,” Sorin replied, “It is quite beautiful.”
He had grown out his hair since the battle of Bel, his locks just barely touching his shoulders. Sorin looked at the various trees and flora as a light breeze moved the branches.
“Traveling with you has been so nice,” she said. “It’s only been a couple of months, but when I’m with you the time just seems to stop.”
Gale turned to Sorin. Her hair was done up in a ponytail, as was usual for her, but she decided that she would let her hair flow as well. She removed the band and let her hair down.
“This is the first time you’ve let your hair down in public,” Sorin said. “I mean, normally you have it when we’re about to sleep…”
“It’s not important,” Gale said. “I’m just happy I get to spend this time with you.”
“As am I,” he said.
Gale placed a hand through Sorin’s hair. “I guess that the resemblance is similar,” she said. “I am starting to get a little worried, though.”
“Why are you worried?” Sorin asked.
“Well, it’s just that I feel like I’m just trying to catch up,” she replied. “I watch you and you’ve become so much better with a sword. Meanwhile, I’m just trying to figure out how to get myself started with what I really want to do.”
“I mean, I’m still not as good as everyone wants me to be,” Sorin said, “And besides, I believe in you.”
“It’s appreciated,” she said. “I’m just… not sure if I believe in myself. Even if I try to break into development, I’m worried that people will only just see me as Isaac Kunigunde’s daughter.”
“Forget about him,” Sorin said. “You’re more than that. I mean, I know that to some I’m just the son of Kirk Wilk, but to me, this whole trip is more than just getting better at using a sword. It’s about proving myself.”
Gale smiled. “Thank you,” she said. “You’re right… I shouldn’t be thinking about that man right now. What I need to do is think about my plans.”
The two stared into each other’s eyes for what felt like minutes. All time felt still as Sorin looked into Gale’s eyes. Not even the commotion of the other patrons in the restaurant could interrupt them. That is, until one voice spoke up.
“Excuse me! Did you say you were the son of Kirk Wilk?”
Sorin and Gale broke from their stares and turned to see a young woman standing at the end of their table. She had black hair done in a bob cut and wore a long, black dress with frills.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “That was quite rude of me.”
“Uh, hello,” Sorin said. “Can we help you?”
The woman reached out her hand to the couple. “Allow me to introduce myself,” she said, “My name is Kiku Izumi. I’m a resident of this country.”
“That’s an interesting way of introducing yourself,” Gale said. “Oh, my name is Gale, by the way.”
Sorin shook Kiku’s hand. “Sorin,” he said. “Do you want to take a seat, Miss Izumi?”
“I would love to,” Kiku replied.
She took a seat to the opposite of Sorin and Gale. As she did, a server walked up to the table.
“Are you ready to take your order?” The server then took a look over at Kiku and gasped. “And for you… M-madame?”
“I just want a cup of tea,” Kiku answered. “How about you two?”
Sorin took a breath. “I’ll take tea, also.”
“Same here,” Gale said.
The server hesitated for a moment, but nodded. “I’ll be right back with your orders.”
He ran off in the direction of the back as Kiku shifted her focus back to Sorin.
“So, you might want to know how I know about your father,” Kiku said. “Well, as it turns out, my mother used to be a good friend of his.”
“Really?” Sorin asked. “He’s never mentioned to me about it.”
“I guess that’s not surprising,” Kiku said. “Wait, were you the son that your father was looking for?”
Sorin shook his head.
“Listen, Kiku, it’s nice to meet you,” Gale said, “But why take your time to talk with us?”
“You two just looked interesting,” Kiku replied. “Oh, I wasn’t eavesdropping on something… intimate, was I?”
She blushed as Gale said no.
“I know it’s unbecoming of me, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous of you two,” Kiku said. “Two foreigners in a new land… discovering new things as well as each other… Oops, I mean, forget I said that last part.”
“We never told you that we were together, Miss Izumi,” Sorin said. “How did you know?”
“Please, just call me Kiku,” she said. “And I just assumed that you two were… you know… together? I’m so sorry!”
“Don’t be,” Sorin said. “I guess it does look a little obvious to some people, though.”
“That must be nice,” Kiku said. “Is this your first day here?”
“Actually, it’s our second,” Gale replied. “Maybe you could show us around, Kiku? We’d love to see some of the sights in this country.”
The server arrived with their drinks, dropping them off as he hurried back to the kitchen. Kiku picked up her cup and took a light sip.
“Of course,” she said. “After we’re done here, I can take you to one of my favorite spots in this city. The flowers there will take you on a journey!”
“This country really likes flowers, doesn’t it?” Sorin asked.
“It’s all because of the founder,” Kiku replied, “She had a fondness for flowers. As a matter of fact, I was named for this country’s Kiku Flower.”
She reached to the nearby vase and pulled out the white chrysanthemum. Gale and Sorin looked as Kiku smiled. With a single twirl, Kiku then replaced the flower back in its vase and took another sip of tea.
“There is a legend of this land,” Kiku said, “It states that the founder of Kikuisha honored those that died for this country with flowers, and that is why the country has so many flowers.”
Neither Sorin nor Gale responded. They just continued to drink their tea as Kiku continued.
“If only I could have been alive at that time,” she said. “To meet the founder… It would be quite an honor!”
“I am sure it would,” Sorin said. “Well, looks like I’m finished with my tea!”
“Me too,” Gale added. “Do you think we can go see that place you were talking about, Kiku?”
“Of course,” Kiku replied. “There’s no way anyone would want to miss this!”
Vibrant colors could be seen all around as Sorin and Gale gazed upon the growing flowers inside the large garden. Kiku smiled as she approached a small, flowing stream and got onto her knees.
“Every time I come here, it’s a new experience,” Kiku said. “Some may call me weird, but I don’t care. Nothing is more beautiful than what we’re witnessing right now.”
“I can think of a few things,” Sorin said under his breath.
“Did you say something, Sorin?” Kiku asked.
Gale sat next to Kiku. “So you come here every day?”
“I wish that I could,” she said, “But alas I cannot. My mother is quite strict when it comes to my outdoor activities.”
“Really?” Gale asked.
“Well, she probably has a reason to be concerned about myself,” Kiku said, “But I am a grown woman and I do desire some adventure.”
“So you’ve never left this country?” Gale asked.
“I read all the time about the Thekohnian Region and how remarkable it is,” she replied. “Especially Iiayikohn; I’ve heard that they have some of the most beautiful flowers there.”
Kiku sat down on the ground and took off her sandals. She placed her feet in the water as Sorin decided to sit next to Gale.
“And there’s the Royal Kingdom of Thekohn as well,” Kiku continued. “I would love to meet with the Thedam family and sample their famed tulip tea.”
“Tulip tea?” Sorin asked. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“They say that a sip of it can increase your intelligence,” Kiku said. “If that’s the case, then perhaps the Thedam family are the most intelligent in the land. Of course, I’m just making that up; it’s just tea, after all.”
Kiku turned her head to the entrance. At the gate were two soldiers in black uniforms, one male and one female. The man had light brown hair while the woman’s long, dark hair was nearly down to her waist.
“Oh poppies, you guys can’t just let me enjoy nature the way the founder intended?” Kiku asked. “I assume that this was your doing, Iggy?”
The woman reached down to her pistol. “Who are these strangers?”
“Oh, these are just some friends I’ve made today, Aya,” Kiku replied. “Sorin and Gale, I’d like you to meet my two closest friends Iggy and Aya.”
“It’s Igor, actually,” he said. “Igor Kuznetsov.”
“Whatever, Iggy!” Kiku said. “Besides, even Aya calls you that from time to time, does she not?”
“Not all the time, Madame Izumi,” the woman said. “Anyway, it seems like you two aren’t a threat. My name’s Ayame Hayashi.”
“It’s nice to meet you two,” Gale said as she shook their hands.
“Same here,” Sorin said. “Are you two really friends, though?”
“Oh, they’ll say they’re my bodyguards,” Kiku said, “But really, they’re just concerned friends.”
“We’re only concerned with your safety, madame,” Igor said. “God knows what would happen should anything happen to you.”
“And we were concerned only because of that man’s sword,” Ayame said. “I am interested in knowing why you carry such a thing, to be honest.”
“It’s kind of a long story,” Sorin replied.
“We’re just here on a vacation,” Gale said. “I heard good things about Kikuisha during this season, so we decided to make a trip.”
“Ah, so it’s one of those moons filled with honey,” Igor said. “I have no idea why they call it that, but it sounds delicious.”
“I think you mean honeymoon,” Gale replied, “And no, we’re not married…”
“Well, usually civilians don’t carry weapons,” Ayame said. “But as long as your sword is sheathed, you’ll be okay.”
“I wasn’t really planning on doing that, anyway,” Sorin said. “So what’s the deal with you guys, anyway?”
“By what do you mean?” Ayame asked.
“From what I’ve gathered, Kiku is pretty important to you,” Sorin replied. “Honestly, maybe important to this country.”
“You’ve come to Kikuisha and don’t know about the empress’ daughter?” Igor asked. “That’s quite a thing to overlook!”
“Wait, what!?” Sorin asked.
“You never told us that, Kiku,” Gale said. “I… I had no idea we were spending time with such a noble person.”
Kiku smiled. “Iggy always has to ruin everything, doesn’t he?”
“Madame Yamazaki’s probably worried sick right now,” Igor said. “Come now, we should get going Madame Izumi.”
“I told you guys to call me Kiku,” she said. “And can they come too? It’d be nice for them to see the castle.”
“You know we don’t usually let strangers inside Kiku Castle,” Ayame said. “It’s a sacred place reserved only for the most important of people.”
“But this man is the son of Kirk Wilk,” Kiku replied.
“What!?” Igor asked. “Who… who is Kirk Wilk?”
“Oh Iggy, you don’t know about the Swords of Eight?” Ayame asked. “I had thought that there was nobody who knew about those heroic people.”
“Of… of course I’ve heard of them, Ayame!” Igor exclaimed. “I’m just terrible with remembering most names.”
“Anyway, Kirk Wilk was looking for his son,” Ayame said. “I don’t suppose that you could be-”
“No,” Sorin replied. “I’m the other one.”
“Well, be that as it may, we can’t let you into the castle,” Ayame replied. “Even if you are the son of a former Swords of Eight, I cannot trust you enough.”
“Aya, you can trust these two,” Kiku said.
“Madame Izumi, it was a nice time to hang out with them, I’m sure,” Ayame said, “But you do have to come home sometime.”
“Aya, as the daughter of the empress of Kikuisha, I am in high position,” Kiku replied, “And I command you to grant Sorin and Gale access to Kiku Castle! Please?”
Ayame sighed. “It is your request, madame,” she said. “After all, we’re here to serve Madame Izumi and watch out for her.”
“Hehe, I knew you would agree!” Kiku said as she clapped her hands.
“Know this, though,” Igor said, “If you two are lying, we won’t hesitate to use force on you.”
“You don’t have to worry about that, Mr. Kuznetsov,” Gale said. “We only plan to be here for today, then we leave tomorrow.”
“I don’t think you should tell them that, Gale,” Sorin said. “That makes us sound more suspicious!”
“Please don’t take what Iggy says so seriously,” Kiku said. “He may act tough, but he’s just a soft boy on the inside.”
“Hey! I’m anything but ‘soft,’ Madame Izumi!” Igor said.
“So since we’re headed to the castle, maybe I should tell you about my mother,” Kiku said. “It’ll be a nice piece of information you can tell your families back home…”
To be continued…