[10th of September, 2740 AD; Glora Grand Hall – The Wings of the Albatross, Glora, Ahnlikohn]
Johan arrived at the top of the stairs. He looked around through the sunlit hallway as he saw a pair of open doors at his left. That had to be it, Johan thought to himself, as he walked between the parted doors into the conference room and saw the man he had to speak with: one Sir Lauren Ahga, who was speaking with Brook Rio Thedam. Both men turned as Johan walked towards them.
“I hope I’m not interrupting something important,” Johan said as he waved his hand. “Lauren Ahga, would you mind if speaking with me?”
Ahga turned to Brook. “It looks like I’m needed, Your Highness.”
“So this is the man you were talking about,” Brook said. “That’s fine. I’ve got some business of my own, after all.”
“Can’t keep Her Majesty waiting, can we?” Ahga asked.
“When she demands your presence, it is hard to decline,” Brook replied. “Then I shall leave you two to yourselves.”
Brook walked by Johan and left the room. With just the two of them inside, Ahga reached out his hand and shook hands with Johan.
“I’ve taken quite a bit of time out of my schedule for you,” Ahga said. “For a simple soldier in Ameci military, you’ve got a good reason for requesting my audience, do you not?”
Johan chuckled. “I think you know why I’m here, Sir Lauren,” he replied. “After that lovely conversation I had with your friend yesterday, I began to wonder to myself who exactly she was working for. That’s why I decided to pay you a visit.”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on, is this the same Sir Lauren I spoke to a week prior?” Johan asked. “I remember you saying to me that there was going to be a storm brewing in the future. Who knew that you would have a connection to the catalyst?”
“I advise that you be careful with your next words,” Ahga said. “If you don’t, then I cannot say what will happen to you but it will be most unfortunate.”
Johan’s eyes widened. “Are you trying to unnerve me?”
“Take it as you will,” Ahga replied. “If you are trying to elicit an answer out of me regarding the Neu Thekohnian Order, then you will be disappointed.”
“Funny, I made no mention of them at all,” Johan said. “Guess I got the answer I wanted, after all.”
Ahga clenched his fist. “No, I’m not going to do that,” he said as his hand loosened. “I’m sorry, I almost lost myself for a minute there.”
“Good for both of us that you didn’t,” Johan replied. “It wouldn’t be a good look if the royal advisor to the Thedam family were to be found with blood his hands, would it? Especially not here.”
“You really think I’d resort to such savagery?” Ahga asked.
“Not at all,” Johan said. “In fact, I applaud you for not taking the easiest route and resorting to violence.”
“I would rather have someone else do my dirty work,” he said. “And besides, you’ve got no place to call me out about violence considering the sins committed by the Ameci fifteen years ago.”
“Believe me, Sir Lauren, when I say that I’m aware of the atrocities that war brings,” Johan replied. “How many families were torn apart? How many children were left without a home?”
“Too many, that much I know,” Ahga said. “It’s disgusting that we continue to pay respect to all of those that were responsible for the despair caused by the War of the Lands.”
“Let’s get back on topic,” Ahga replied. “You called me out on the Neu Thekohnian Order, so I might as well share with you what I know.”
“That won’t be necessary, Sir Lauren,” Johan said, brushing aside his hair with his hand. “I’ve already made a few connections based on what’s already happened. For example: the assassination of prime minister Alan Berry.”
Ahga gritted his teeth as his eyebrows furrowed.
“Your reaction tells me all that I need to know,” Johan said. “He was a close friend of yours, was he not? I’m very sorry about what happened to him.”
“Oh, that,” Ahga replied as his face eased up. “Yes, when I received the news, it left me devastated. Whoever did this is beyond redemption.”
“A bit extreme, but I do share your sentiment that it is devastating,” Johan replied. “After all that had went down, I was certain that we would have been on the road to peace. Looks like our work isn’t done, after all.”
“And yet no one seems to bat an eye around here,” Ahga said. “I’ve had my suspicions, but perhaps the Ahnlikohnian government has something to do with Alan’s assassination.”
Johan raised his eyebrows as he put his hands behind his back. “A bold claim,” he said. “Of course, I’ve heard that Harring and Berry were not exactly on the best of terms after the battle of Bel, but then again that’s not exactly something that you can base a claim off of.”
“Your ignorance is showing, soldier,” Ahga replied. “The chancellor has only his own interests in mind. As for the royal family of Ahnlikohn, that’s a different story.”
“The crown prince, despite all appearances, is said to be a major pushover,” Ahga said. “Queen Amelia herself has only him to succeed the throne, despite the other prince.”
“Why not the other prince?”
“Again, it’s all due to appearances,” Ahga answered. “But even he cannot save this country by himself. If the Neu Thekohnian Order continues to gain power, then it will only get worse for the chancellor and the royal family.”
“Sounds like a real problem,” Johan said. “I can only imagine what would happen if something were to happen to one of the princes.”
“You mean the crown prince,” Ahga corrected. “That younger one would not last one second as the next in line. It all falls squarely on Prince Amile to succeed the queen here.”
“And what of your country?” Johan asked. “Who’s the next in line to rule the Royal Kingdom of Thekohn?”
“That’s something I’m not at liberty to tell,” Ahga answered. “Fortunately, they’ve got a secure plan in place should we come to desperate times. That’s the one of the main differences between the two royal families.”
Johan sighed. “I get it,” he said. “Well, I think you’re enjoying yourself here, if I’m being honest. If only I could stay for a little longer, but you’ve got much more important things to do than to talk to me.”
“That much is true,” Ahga said, “Though I’ll admit that you managed to keep me interested. Not bad for an Ameci.”
“Well, should we meet again, I hope it will be under more flexible terms,” Johan replied. “For now, though, I’ve got a date with a cute girl at the Sparrow Hotel and I wouldn’t be much of a gentleman if I were to be late.”
“Head off, then,” Ahga said. “I can understand when it concerns gaining the affection of a woman.”
“You think too much, Sir Lauren,” Johan said. “I will see you later, however, that I can assure you.”
Johan said his goodbyes to Lauren Ahga and left the conference room. He had gained enough information from his conversation, but still was not sure of how Ahga played into all of it. That would be something to think about later, that much Johan knew.
[10th of September, 2740 AD; Sparrow Hotel – Outdoor Lounge, Glora, Ahnlikohn]
The now moonlit lounge was illuminated by the lamps outside as Kiku entered by herself. Both Ayame and Igor were already asleep by the time she had snuck out as she wanted to meet Johan again. Within the lounge were some tables and chairs, but where Kiku wanted to sit was on the bench by the large, grey fountain. She took a seat and waited for him to show up; after a few minutes passed by, Johan entered the outdoor lounge and spotted her.
“So you are here, after all,” Johan said.
“Oh, Cookie!” Kiku said as she placed her hand on the open space next to her. “Come sit over here, next to me!”
Johan walked up to the bench. “You make an offer that’s pretty hard to refuse,” he said. “Do you engage other men like this?”
“Not just men,” she replied. “It doesn’t matter who, if they catch my interest, I want to know more about them.”
“I see,” Johan said, taking a seat next to Kiku. “I was lucky enough to find the hotel after standing around in the Wings of the Albatross for long. You know, it’s quite a venture on foot.”
“You walked all the way here?”
“Well, I was able to catch a ride from a passing driver,” he replied.
“If only I could arrange a ride for you,” Kiku said. “I could have had one of my friends come and pick you up. Oh, but you told me not to tell anyone about you, didn’t you?”
“That I did,” Johan said. “I am on a mission and having people know about my presence only hinders my progress.”
“I think I’ve figured out who you are, Cookie,” she said.
“But I’m not going to say it,” Kiku said. “I wouldn’t want to put your ‘mission’ in jeopardy, would I?”
She scooted up to Johan and grabbed his arm. Johan had a look of surprise on his face, but instantly responded by putting his arm across her shoulders.
“I really don’t know what you’re trying to do here,” he said.
“Yet you do so anyway,” she replied. “It’s usually much easier for me to tease guys compared to girls. Maybe that’s why I’ve taken such an interest in you.”
“We’ve not even known each other for a day,” Johan said. “Does that not cross your mind?”
“It does indeed, but that’s exactly why I want to know more about you,” Kiku answered. “Especially since you’re Wilkie’s friend and all.”
“Wilkie?” Johan asked. “Oh, I think you’re talking about him. He did say he and his girlfriend were visiting Kikuisha the other day, so I suppose that’s how you would have seen him.”
“You’re very good at figuring things out,” she said. “Say, Cookie, do you mind telling me what your mission is? At least… a little bit?”
“I can only give you the basic details,” he replied, “And only on one condition: you answer one of my questions.”
“That’s all?” Kiku asked. “Hehe, you could’ve have asked me to do anything beyond your wildest dreams and that’s the condition you set. Okay, I’ll do it.”
“I’m a simple man, Kiku,” he said. “My dream is to see a world where people don’t have to fight. A world where no war exists.”
“That is a nice dream.”
“My mission is to help make that dream come true,” Johan said. “What about you? What’s your dream?”
“A good question,” Kiku replied. “I guess you could say that one of my dreams is meet with as many cute guys and girls as possible. Another would be to have the greatest garden in the world. Although I guess they’re not as interesting as yours, are they?”
“Not at all,” he replied. “It’s always good to have dreams. The only question is what will you do those dreams possible.”
“I’ve never thought about it,” she said. “This is my first time leaving my home country, so I don’t have as much experience as I would like to have.”
“Everyone’s gotta start somewhere,” Johan said. “It doesn’t matter if you start as a child or as an adult, as long as you can begin work towards that dream, you can get ever closer to it.”
“You really know what to say, don’t you?”
“It’s part of what I know,” he said. “Do whatever it takes to achieve those goals of yours, Kiku, because I believe that you can do it.”
“If it were only that easy,” Kiku replied. “I dread the inevitability that I’ll succeed my mother as the Empress and thus lose my freedom.”
“I don’t think it has to be like that,” he said. “Your mother cares for you, right?”
“She does, indeed,” Kiku said. “I only wish that she would be more lenient.”
“Well, she must have her reasons,” Johan replied. “I do think that you have that potential to gain the freedom you desire while still serving your role as the next in line.”
“The way you say that makes you sound so wise, yet I know it’s not true,” she said. “If only it were so easy, Cookie, then maybe I’d go with you.”
“Sorry, but I wouldn’t allow that,” he said. “There’s always the chance I’m throwing myself into the face of danger, and I wouldn’t want you to be subject to that danger because of me.”
“You really care about me, don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” he answered. “Any friend of Sorin’s is a friend that I can trust and care about.”
“Your friendship is really close with him,” Kiku said. “Are you sure you just think of him as just a friend?”
“He’s been my friend since childhood,” Johan said. “Of course I consider his opinion of things above all else.”
“But you didn’t answer my question,” she replied. “Oh well, I suppose you wouldn’t answer that no matter how much I asked.”
She rested her head on Johan’s shoulder and grabbed his hand. He responded by looking up into the sky where an almost-full moon stared him in the face.
“If only I could have more time with you,” she said, “Maybe we’d have the chance to get even closer.”
“I… That sounds interesting, but I don’t want to rush anything,” he replied. “Not that it would be a bad thing to do any of that stuff with you.”
Kiku lifted her head and looked at Johan with a smile on her face. “Wow, what a naughty line of thinking you have,” she said. “I guess it can’t be helped when you’ve got someone as cute as me this close to you, though.”
“It’s not that,” he said. “I run the line with fantasy from time to time, but I do my best to keep myself grounded in reality.”
“And I guess you won’t tell me what these fantasies of yours are,” Kiku replied. “I can probably guess what they would be, anyway.”
“You seem certain of that.”
“Only because I’ve had similar thoughts about my closest friends,” she said. “Obviously I wouldn’t do things of that nature with them unless they were completely okay with it, but the thought does cross my mind.”
“Maybe you should think about what that future of yours holds,” Johan said. “In my opinion, a bond that’s meant to be shared between two people is something that you should be completely sure of and I’m not sure if that would involve the two of us.”
“Are you saying you don’t want to do it?” Kiku asked. “Or are you trying to convince yourself of that?”
Johan took a deep breath and exhaled. “That I can’t answer.”
“I knew it! You really do wish to fulfill your desires with me,” she replied. “Unfortunately for you, I do think it’d be too early for us to have that moment. Better luck next time!”
Kiku laughed as she rested her head on Johan’s chest once again. He could tell that she was getting tired, her subsequently yawning only confirming that notion.
“You really like to tease, don’t you?”
“Only because I can see how nervous it makes you,” she said. “If you want, you can tell how nervous I am if you put your hand to my chest.”
“I think I’m going to have to pass on that,” he said.
“You really are one of the good ones, aren’t you?” Kiku asked. She yawned again and closed her eyes. “Getting this close with me… if I could, I would give you a medal…”
“Maybe you can come up with that award later, Kiku,” Johan said. “Don’t you think you should get some rest, though?”
Kiku smiled as she attempted to wrap her arms around Johan’s torso. “I think I could just sleep here, honestly…”
“I really have somewhere to be,” he replied. “If you want, I could help you to your room.”
There wasn’t a response from Kiku as Johan looked at her. She had already went to sleep as he thought about what to do next.
“If there’s one thing to admire about you, it’s that you don’t let go,” he said as he tried to remove Kiku from himself. He moved her arms off of him and lifted his arm from her as he laid her sleeping body on the bench. As Johan finished his task, he heard the door to the lounge open and turned around to see Igor enter.
“Madame Izumi, are you here?” Igor asked. That was when he saw Johan standing by her. “You! What are you doing–”
Johan walked up to Igor and placed his hand on Igor’s mouth. “She’s sleeping,” he said quietly. “It would be good for you and I if you respected that.”
“But… fine,” Igor said as Johan removed his hand. “Who are you?”
“Just a friend of a friend,” Johan replied. “You are the bodyguard for Miss Izumi, correct?”
“I am, but how do you know that?” Igor asked.
“That doesn’t matter,” Johan said. “Just make sure that Miss Izumi gets her rest and make sure that you tell no one about this encounter.”
“What makes you think I’m going to do that?”
“Do you really want to go through this with me?” Johan asked. “Just do what I say, please. It’s in her best interests, after all.”
Igor sighed. “Okay,” he said. “Only because Madame Izumi would be irate if she were to sleep on her own.”
“Glad we can agree,” Johan said.
Igor walked over to the sleeping Kiku and picked her up. “You do look rather peaceful like this, Madame Izumi,” he said. “Okay, now what about him?”
He turned around but Johan had already left the lounge. There was no reason to pursue him at this point, Igor thought to himself, as he decided to carry Kiku back to her hotel room. Still, though, he had to wonder what exactly happen between the two of them. At the entrance to the hotel, though, Johan was already on his way to his next destination as he caught the next cab to the city of Helm.
To be continued…