[5th of September, 2740 AD; Plaza in the Starlight, Kun, Jiaikohn]
The trip back to Jiaikohn was an easy one as Sorin and Gale got off the ship with their new friend Kiku. Her bodyguards were the first to go ahead, making sure that the empress’ daughter would be able to make it to the hotel that they would be staying at for the night. A green bus was waiting for them by the curb as the five stepped on.
“Wasn’t that ride just amazing, Gigi?” Kiku asked as she took a seat next to Ayame. “Ah, I can’t wait to get to the tournament hall and meet everyone!”
Gale sat next to Sorin as she turned to Kiku. “You’ve been such a great host to us,” she said. “Really, we can’t thank you enough.”
“I told you,” Kiku said, “You’re my friends. I guess it’s going to be pretty sad once this tournament is over, though.”
“Why is that?” Sorin asked.
“You two are planning to head back to Iiayikohn, aren’t you?” Kiku asked. “It’s not going to be an easy departure for me, but you have your reasons. Just promise that you two won’t forget about me!”
“Don’t worry, we won’t,” Sorin said. “After all, how could we forget someone like you?”
Kiku smiled. “It really warms my heart to hear that,” she said. “I thought that only Aya’s cuddles could do that, but you two really are so generous with your words.”
“Madame, I thought we talked about keeping private matters, you know, ‘private’ and not for public ears,” Ayame said.
“Aya, you’re making them get the wrong idea!” Kiku replied. “Now Gigi and Wilkie are probably thinking thoughts they wouldn’t have thought before!”
“Well, you do tend to say things that encourage an active use of the imagination,” Igor said. “Although I will say that it was especially cold for me last night…”
“Okay then,” Gale said. “By the way, how close are we to the hotel?”
“Hmm, I don’t know,” Kiku replied. “Iggy, what do you think?”
“If you’re asking me Madame, then let me help you,” he said. “We just left the port and should be there within another couple of minutes.”
“I’ll hold you to that, Iggy,” Kiku said. “Anyway, Gigi, did you know that I like to buy my favorite clothes from here?”
“Oh, really,” Gale said. “That’s nice, but I don’t really pay too much attention to fashion.”
“Seriously?” Kiku asked. “You should go with me later; I’ll find you something you would really like.”
“Thanks, but that’s not necessary.”
“Come on, I think you’d look cute in a nice dress,” Kiku replied. “You’re already pretty cute on your own, I mean, but you’d look super cute in a dress!”
Gale blushed. “Oh, well, that’s really flattering…”
“Hehe, from the way you look, I just want to shower you with all of my affection,” Kiku said. “I wonder, though, if Wilkie would get a little jealous if I do that with you.”
“Please, Kiku, I understand,” Gale said.
“So what would you suggest for someone like me?” Sorin asked.
“Oh Wilkie, always so quick to change the subject,” Kiku said. “My affection can be shared with more than one person at once, you know?”
The bus stopped in front of the large, green hotel as Sorin could breathe a sigh of relief. They were finally there and could make their arrangements. He turned back over to Kiku and uttered out a nervous laugh.
“Well, you see, we’re already here,” he said. “We can just head off now, right?”
“I suppose so,” Kiku replied. “If you don’t mind… Iggy, can you attend with me to the tournament hall while Aya sets out to the hotel?”
“Of course, Madame!” Igor said.
As Igor escorted Kiku off of the bus, Ayame was left with Sorin and Gale. The three started to walk off the bus and into the hotel as Ayame turned to Sorin.
“I know what you two are thinking,” Ayame said. “I can explain: Madame Izumi’s father left at a young age, which hit her pretty hard.”
“I had no idea,” Sorin said.
“Yes, well, I’ve been friends with her ever since she was a child,” Ayame replied. “Ever since that day, Kiku has been afraid to sleep alone at night. That, and another reason, is why she is so quick to exhibit her affection towards her friends.”
“So does Kiku always ask you each night to sleep alongside her?” Gale asked.
“Not always,” Ayame said. “Sometimes it’s Igor and other times it’s me, but she always sleeps every night with somebody. Please don’t get the wrong idea.”
“No, no, I think I get it,” Sorin said. “So, have you ever been here before?”
“We’ve been here many times, actually,” Ayame replied, “But this time of the season is when Kiku usually attends, mainly for the tournament, but also for the sights themselves.”
“We passed through here before,” Gale said. “Unfortunately we really wanted to make a trip to Kikuisha, so we didn’t have the chance to check anything out. Perhaps you could show us around?”
Ayame turned to the desk. “I must decline,” she said. “My job is to protect Madame Izumi, not to be a tour guide.”
She spoke with the desk clerk as Sorin looked over at Gale. There was little that they could do to change Miss Hayashi’s mind. And even then, they knew they wanted to head back to Iiayikohn soon in order to reunite with their friends.
“There,” Ayame said as she handed a key to Gale. “There’s your room key, so I suggest you get your stuff and set things up.”
“Thank you,” Gale said. “Are there any plans for later?”
“We’ll probably be heading off for dinner soon,” she answered. “It was a bit of a trip, so I assume that Madame Izumi is quite peckish right now.”
“That sounds like a good plan to me,” Sorin replied.
He and Gale took their bags and headed to their room as they prepared for later. Sorin guessed that they would have to dress decently for the tournament tomorrow, so he decided that he would wear a casual shirt and pants for dinner. Gale, meanwhile, put on a short-sleeve shirt and shorts. The two of them were ready as they walked back downstairs to the lobby where the others waited.
Kiku clapped her hands together. “Oh, you two look so nice!”
“Yes they do,” Ayame said. “Now then, shall we?”
Off only a couple of miles from the hotel, Sorin and his group decided to dine on the patio of a high-end restaurant. There was a good view of the beach nearby and the smell of the ocean was hard to ignore. Nobody seemed to mind, however, as a table set exclusively for Kiku placed the group by the railing.
“This is a nice place, isn’t it?” Kiku asked. “It’s right by the beach and everything. Too bad it’s not summer, though, because I think you’d look really sexy in a swimsuit, Gigi!”
“I… don’t really like swimming,” Gale replied. “It’s a long story.”
“We wouldn’t need to go out into the water, silly,” Kiku said. “All you’d have to do is put on your swimsuit and I’ll help you put on the sunscreen!”
“Wait a minute!” Sorin interrupted.
“I haven’t forgotten about you, Wilkie,” Kiku said, “Of course I’d love to see you without a shirt, too. Oh, that would be quite a sight…”
“Madame, perhaps we should discuss what we’d like to eat for dinner,” Igor said. “Can’t exactly do any sharpshooting tomorrow on an empty belly, can we?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Kiku replied. “Now let’s see… Ah yes, it looks like they still have that.”
“So you’ve made your decision, then?” Ayame asked.
“Yes, Aya, you don’t have to ask me everything,” Kiku answered. “Just kidding. I know you’re only curious.”
“Very well, then I guess I’ve made my decision too,” Ayame said. “Say, Sorin, is something on your mind?”
Sorin snapped out of his daze. “It’s nothing, Ayame,” he said. “I’m just remembering something that happened when I was young.”
“Oh, what was it?” Kiku asked. “Were you attacked by a shark or something?”
“No, of course not!” Sorin replied.
“And I thought you’d have a tale about how you beat up a shark,” Kiku said. “You look like the type that could do it.”
“That’s extremely preposterous,” Sorin said. “Anyway, it was just a memory I had about a friend of mine.”
Kiku leaned towards Sorin. “A friend of yours?”
“Like I said, it’s nothing,” he replied. “We just used to go to the beaches by Welsblaek back when we were kids.”
“You never brought any of this up before,” Gale said. “Did you two just stop talking to each other?”
“No, it’s just that he’s in the military now,” Sorin replied. “I haven’t heard from him in over a year.”
“Maybe you should write to him,” Igor said. “A seasonal cheer from his friend would be pretty nice to receive, if I do say so for myself.”
“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt,” Sorin said. “Would be nice to hear what Johan’s been doing recently.”
That was when the group heard a loud yell coming from the other end of the patio. Sorin and the rest turned and saw who it was that screamed: Gavin Power, with Law there trying his hardest not to burst out laughing.
“You!” Gavin exclaimed. “We’ve finally found you!”
“Damn, Gavin, you didn’t need to make a scene,” Sorin said.
“Hey, you know my bro,” Law said, “He always wants the spotlight on him and no one else.”
“Are you sure you’re not talking about yourself?” Gavin asked.
“Who, me? Obviously not,” Law replied. “Anyway, I see you’re with some companions. It’d be quite rude of you not to introduce us to them.”
“You’re right,” Gale said. “You guys don’t mind, do you?”
Kiku stood up. “Of course not,” she said as she shook Law’s hand. “I’m Kiku Izumi, daughter of the empress of Kikuisha.”
Ayame introduced herself as well. “Nice to meet you,” she said.
Igor followed up and made his introduction. “It is a pleasure to be meeting with you,” he said. “The name’s Igor Kuznetsov.”
“You mean as in the son of Ivan Kuznetsov?” Gavin replied.
“Yes, indeed!” Igor said. “You know him?”
“I know that he is a skilled gunman,” Gavin said. “Anyway, I guess we should tell you our names. Gavin Power, bounty hunter.”
“And I’m the dashing Power himself, Law,” he said. “It’s always nice to meet beautiful ladies such as you two, Kiku and Ayame.”
“Oh, you’re too kind, Lala,” Kiku replied.
“I’m only stating the obvious, you know,” Law said. “It’s a rule of mine to always compliment women like yourself.”
“If only you’d follow other rules as well as you did yours,” Gavin said.
“You know there’s only so many rules I can remember,” Law replied. “Mother always told us three things, remember? Look out for each other, keep our heads up…”
“And never forget to laugh,” Gavin completed. “Yeah, I’m fully aware of what mother told us.”
“Your mother sounds like a lovely person, Gavvy,” Kiku said.
Gavin looked off to the ocean. “I’m sure she would’ve loved to hear that,” he muttered. “A-Anyway! Enough about that!”
“So what brings you two here?” Gale asked.
“We’ve got a job to do,” Gavin answered. “We’ve received a report of a member of the True Thekohnians being here. I would suggest to you all to be on high alert.”
“Don’t worry,” Igor said. “We put our lives on the line to protect Madame Izumi, so if there is a dangerous criminal roaming about, we are well equipped to handle them.”
“Given your uniforms, I would expect nothing less from a couple of members of the Kikuishan army,” Gavin said.
“How about you sit with us?” Kiku asked. “I’m sure that you’ll want to catch up with your friends, so it’s perfect!”
“I’m going to have to decline,” Gavin replied. “There’s our little job we have to attend to, so we obviously should be off.”
“Bro, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Law said. “I don’t think we should pass up a chance to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.”
He took a seat at the table as Gavin clenched his fist. There was an urge for Gavin to smack Law upside the head, but he quickly decline and lowered his hand. Little could be done to convince his brother, so Gavin reluctantly sat down at the table as well. It was close to evening, anyway, so Gavin though that it was perhaps for the best that they take a break for now.
“So tell me, Lala, have you ever been down here before?” Kiku asked.
“Can’t say I have,” he replied. “I do know that my mother’s parents were from here, though.”
After dinner, the group continued to walk down the street towards the boardwalk. Nightfall was approaching ever closer as they walked onto the sand. As Kiku ran up to the calm, incoming tide with Ayame and Igor following after her, Gavin and Law turned to Sorin and Gale.
“She’s quite talkative,” Gavin said. “I only wish that she didn’t give me that nickname, though…”
“When a lady gives you a nickname, that’s when you know she likes you, bro,” Law said. “Though I suppose with you, it’s not a surprise that the hint would fly right over your head.”
“Whatever,” Gavin said. “Anyhow, it has been a while.”
“It has,” Sorin said.
“Well, come on, don’t just leave us hanging,” Law said, “How have your travels been? Gale, have you been missing me?”
Gale smiled. “We did miss you guys very much,” she said. “How are Mina and Ayanna doing?”
“Mina’s been about the same,” Gavin replied. “Always training, getting stronger… If it were a fist fight, you’d probably stand no chance at all.”
“Good thing I don’t plan to engage her,” Sorin said.
Gavin chuckled. “It’s like I said to Lawrence,” he said, “With the proper training, Mina will make an exceptional fighter.”
“As for Ayanna, we’ve been holding up,” Law said. “Just the other day we went to this amazing piano concert. You should have it: she was so happy.”
Kiku ran up by Law’s side, her hands cupped together. “Look at all these shells,” she said. “Look! Look!”
“Wow, you’ve certainly collected a lot of shells,” he said. “Bro, how about Kiku makes you a necklace?”
“That’s not my style,” Gavin replied.
Law shrugged. “Guess it didn’t hurt to ask.”
“Madame, if you want, I can hold those shells,” Igor said. “You do need your hands in top shape for the tournament tomorrow.”
“So that’s why you’re here,” Law said. “You know, my bro here’s interested in taking part of the whole thing. They wouldn’t happen to accept any late entries, would they?”
“Normally, they don’t,” Kiku said, “But I never would have guessed you were into archery, Gavvy!”
“Archery?” Gavin asked. “You really don’t give me enough credit, Miss Izumi. What else is a bow and arrow but a gun with a little more effort put into it?”
“Wow, you really know how to bullshit,” Law said.
Gavin grumbled. “Be quiet.”
“Looks like we’ll have to make a change of plans, right?” Law asked. “Sorry guys, Gavin probably wants to get back to the job right now and who am I to deny his wishes?”
“You don’t listen, do you?” Gavin said as he looked over at Kiku. “So what exactly do I have to do to enter, exactly?”
“Usually, if there’s an absence, then they can take walk-ons,” she replied. “If you get there in the morning, perhaps you’ll get lucky.”
“You’re not going to have to worry about that,” Law said. “With me, the lady of luck is on our side.”
“How romantic!” Kiku said. “I would say the same thing, but Aya already watches over me.”
“As do I,” Igor added.
“I could never forget you, Iggy,” she said. “Ah, having both of you as my friends is such a blessing. Since tomorrow’s such a special day, perhaps the two of you can cuddle with me tonight?”
Igor agreed. “Anything for you.”
“Very well, Madame,” Ayame said. “Though last time Igor kicked me in my sleep, I suppose it’s fine given the occasion.”
“What’s all this now?” Law asked. “Is this some sort of three-way bedroom romp you’re not telling us about, Kiku?”
Kiku chortled. “I guess you wouldn’t understand,” she said. “How you manage to be so grounded and yet have your head in the clouds bewilders me.”
“It’s clearly none of your concern,” Ayame said. “Our relationship with the madame is strictly one between bodyguard and the person being guarded.”
“Damn, shot down before I get a chance to fly,” Law said.
“I would hope you wouldn’t,” Gavin said. “What would Ayanna think?”
“Hey, you know how I feel about her,” Law replied. “Right now I’m thinking about how she would love this place.”
“So where are you guys going to stay tonight?” Gale asked.
“There was a place down back,” Law replied. “I figure we’ll just crash for the night, take part in the tournament tomorrow, catch our wanted man, and take a ride back home. All in a day’s… day, I suppose.”
“Don’t make me laugh, dumbass,” Gavin said. “We all know I’m the one who actually puts in any effort.”
Sorin eyed the holster at Gavin’s side. “Easy to say when you have a gun, I guess.”
“Coming from you, of all people, that’s a fucking joke,” Gavin replied.
“I thought you turned in your gun,” Sorin said.
Gavin explained to Sorin how Ayanna helped supply him with a gun, complete with a promise to keep it a secret and everything. “Yeah, that’s about it,” he said. “It feels like I’ve filled a hole that I left open ever since that day.”
He took out the pistol and showed it off to Sorin. Kiku grabbed Ayame’s arm as Gavin twirled the gun in his hand.
“You don’t need to worry,” he assured. “Safety’s on.”
“So careless,” Ayame said. “Travellers don’t exactly go around carrying guns, especially not as blatantly as you do.”
“If this goes well, I might not even need to use this,” Gavin said as he placed the gun back in the holster. “Despite how he looks, Lawrence is competent.”
“What can I say?” Law asked. “Be it a game of poker or a fistfight, I’ve got enough skill and plenty of luck for me to stand a chance in this world.”
“Right, then,” Sorin said. “Maybe we should get going.”
“Ooh, I know where we all could go,” Kiku said. “There’s a lovely little tea house where they serve some great chamomile.”
The others agreed, even Gavin, and decided to step back onto the boardwalk and down to the place where Kiku had suggested.
To be continued…