Chapter 4: True Friends
Kyouko explained to them once again about the prophecy, and told them of her original plan to go to Central Continent. But since there are already three warriors on the island, there might still be more. She then asked them if they’ve heard of rumors about the other five warriors. Haru and Fuyuno shook their heads, and Fuyuno suggested that they go to the nearest town first to spend the night and find some info. Haru and Kyouko agreed, and they walked towards the nearest town.
The group arrived at Hayaji Town two days later, and they unanimously agreed that the first thing they should find was food, so they got directions to an inn with a huge restaurant next to it.
“The best place to hear about rumors are in big restaurants during lunch and dinner hours,” Fuyuno said cheerfully.
“We should keep our ears open for any rumors, or better, I’ll go ask some ladies…” Haru said gleefully.
Kyouko rolled her eyes; no matter how annoyed she was at Haru’s carefree and slightly perverted attitude, or how much she wished she could transfer Haru’s power to someone more decent, she just had to deal with it. She turned to Fuyuno, “I’m going to the post office to send my letter to mother. I promised to let her know when I’ve found any of the warriors. Wanna come with? It’s a bit dangerous to stay alone with this pervert.”
“Don’t call me a pervert just because I’m a ladies’ man, Kyon-chan,” Haru said airily.
“Only a pervert boasts like that. Let’s go, Fuyu!”
Fuyuno laughed and turned to Haru, “We’ll meet at this restaurant at dinner time, try not to cause any trouble, Haru.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? It’s not like I’m going to randomly beat up someone.”
“What she means is don’t do stupid things like seducing someone’s wife, or flirting with the mayor’s daughter and getting us locked up or kicked out of here before we get anything useful,” Kyouko retorted flatly.
Haru was dumbfounded and Fuyuno laughed her head off. Kyouko was surprised herself for what she just said and wondered if she said too much, but she was somewhat satisfied at Haru’s speechlessness. In the end, she felt really tickled by Fuyuno’s laughter, so she started laughing too.
“I’m sorry Haru,” Kyouko said while holding her stomach, “Your expression is just priceless, and Fuyu’s laughing tickled me!!”
Still laughing, the two girls and Toru walked away, asking for directions to the post office. Haru simply stood there watching them go and then he turned and mumbled to himself, “So she can laugh.” Kyouko turned back in surprise, having just realized that she had never laughed in Haru’s presence before, due to her annoyance at him, but Haru had walked further. Kyouko just barely caught some words he said, like “cheeky,” “amusing,” and “princess.” The first two words were probably about her, but the last one, she couldn’t make sense of, so she shook her head and continued walking with Fuyuno.
That evening, they met at the restaurant and had dinner together. While eating, they listened to the conversations around them. However, all they heard were irrelevant topics, such as local family affairs, flourishing or failing business, the war between Daikoku Kingdom and Montgomery Kingdom, and a group of girls discussing about “the cute boy with the lance at that table,” to which Haru smirked proudly and Kyouko rolled her eyes disgustedly. They could hear the girls wondering if Fuyuno was Haru’s girlfriend, and if the cat-eared girl was their pet or servant. Fuyuno noticed Kyouko’s ears twitching at those words, glanced worriedly at Kyouko, who ate more vigorously and pretended that she didn’t hear a thing. The girls kept gossiping as Kyouko, who had her back to those girls, avoided Fuyuno’s eyes and gulped down a whole cup of tea, choking in the process. At once the girls snickered at her and chatted more animatedly.
“Does she think putting on fake kitty ears like that will help her grab guys’ attention?”
“Why does she bother grabbing their attention? She’ll lost them in three seconds with that shapeless figure anyway?”
The other girls squealed with sickeningly-too-girlish laughter.
“Maybe she lost a game and got dared to do that. Why else would she wear something that hideous?”
“Ooh, she must’ve lived in the jungle somewhere all these times. I mean, look at her outfit! Who wears those nowadays besides old people? And she must’ve not realized that fake animal ears are not in trend since… forever!”
“Oh my gosh, I just saw when she flipped her hair; she has no human ears!”
“No way, so those things are real??”
“Oh, did you see? They twitched just now! They actually twitched!!”
“Pipe it down, she’ll hear you! Cat’s hearings are real good, you know?”
“So? What’s she going to do? Meow at us?”
Not only the other girls giggled, but some people around them who had heard their conversation also sniggered. Kyouko’s face turned scarlet as a mixture of anger, sadness, and embarrassment boiled inside her. She grabbed her hakama and squeezed hard, all the while silently telling herself not to cry nor retaliate. She had to distract herself before a typhoon “accidentally” strikes the restaurant. She closed her eyes and tried to think of happy things: dancing around the sakura tree near the temple, practicing magic with her mother, martial arts training with her father…
Fuyuno squeezed Kyouko’s hand and smiled kindly at her, then she looked at Haru, signaling that they should leave. But Haru didn’t notice her, he was busy glaring at the girls, who were still whispering and giggling among themselves. If glares could burn, those girls would probably be ash by now.
“Haru!” called Fuyuno nervously.
Haru turned to her and was just about to respond to Fuyuno’s signal to leave when a sarcastic meowing came from the table of gossiping girls. Haru immediately snapped and stomped his lance hard onto the floor as he stood up. Everybody in the restaurant jumped in his or her seat and looked at him in surprise.
“What are you doing?” Kyouko whispered in panic while tugging his sleeve.
Haru threw a sharp fierce glare at the table of gossiping girls, and the tea in their cups suddenly splashed onto their faces. While the girls were screaming and wiping their ruined make ups, Haru looked down on Kyouko and Fuyuno, “You girls have finished dinner, right? Let’s check into the inn. Perhaps there we’ll find ladies that are not rude, superficial, nor judgmental.” He then left some money on the table, took Kyouko’s hand and dragged her out, followed by Fuyuno. Halfway to the door, Fuyuno took Kyouko’s other hand, and Haru put his arm around Kyouko’s shoulder. At once, Kyouko’s cheeks turned a fresh shade of pink that had nothing to do with her previous emotional turmoil. She struggled to break free from Haru’s arm, but Haru wouldn’t let go till they were out of the restaurant.
“Haru, let go!” Kyouko said in panic.
“Last time we eat at that restaurant…” Haru sneered as he let go of Kyouko’s shoulder.
They proceeded to check in at the inn next door. It was a nice and cozy little place. After they paid the fee for the night, a friendly host led them upstairs and showed them to two rooms that stood side by side. Haru walked to the second room while Kyouko, Fuyuno, and Toru entered the first room and looked around. It was a small square room with one window in the middle of the wall straight ahead from the door. The door itself stood at the front left corner of the room. The window was framed nicely with light brown drapes. A light brown wooden table and a matching chair stood under the window, and on the table were a small vase filled with a fresh sakura tree branch, a bright oil lamp, some papers, and a pen. Kyouko turned her eyes to the right; there was the wall that stood between the girls’ room and Haru’s. In front of that wall stood a twin bed with fresh white sheets and blankets. Clearly this room was just cleaned earlier.
Kyouko then proceeded to a tall brown wardrobe standing at the far left corner of the room. When she opened it to put in her stuffs, she immediately saw herself reflected on the mirror hanging at the back of the wardrobe door. Her face looked stony and her eyes almost lifeless, but she didn’t bother to do anything about them. As she closed the wardrobe, she caught the reflection of Fuyuno’s concerned eyes. She wanted to tell her not to worry and that she was fine, but she knew that she probably wouldn’t sound very convincing, so she said nothing as she sat down on the bed and stared randomly out of the window. The sky was dark outside, but the moon was shining brightly. The town itself was quite bright, so Kyouko couldn’t see the stars like back in the temple. For a moment, there was no sound other than Toru purring at Kyouko’s feet.
A moment later, someone knocked at the door.
“It’s me, can I come in?” Haru’s voice came from behind the door. Kyouko stayed where she was, but she could hear the sound of Fuyuno opening the door without a word, continued by both their footsteps nearing the bed. She could feel Haru sitting on the other side of the bed and Fuyuno sitting next to her, but still she said nothing.
“Kyouko, you ok?” Haru said softly as he sat on the other side of the bed.
“Of course I’m ok. Why wouldn’t I be?” Kyouko replied, more loudly than she intended to.
“You don’t have to hide it Kyon-chan,” Fuyuno said and sat on Kyouko’s side. Kyouko looked down and fiddled with her fans. Seeing that she purposefully avoided her gaze, Fuyuno hugged Kyouko and gently told her, “It’s ok to be mad, it’s ok if you want to cry. You have friends that are here for you, so just let it all out, and when you’re done, we can laugh together again.”
Kyouko didn’t realize since when her tears were welling up in her eyes, but Fuyuno’s words seemed to break the invisible dam in her eyes. The next thing she knew, she was crying in Fuyuno’s embrace, partly due to her frustration on what she heard at the restaurant, partly because she was touched by Fuyuno’s words, but mostly due to her joy for having true friends that are there for her, something she had longed for all along. Haru didn’t say anything; he just gently patted her head. Kyouko couldn’t express how grateful she was that they were there with her, that they were there for her, and she sobbed so hard that she couldn’t even mouth the word “Thanks.” So instead, she squeezed Haru’s hand with one hand squeezed Fuyuno’s shoulder with the other. Haru and Fuyuno didn’t say anything. They didn’t have to. Kyouko knew that they understood.
* * *
After Kyouko finished crying, they discussed all that they had heard that day, and concluded that there was no useful information in that town, so they should just leave tomorrow for the port. Kyouko then pointed out that they should get a weapon for Fuyuno.
“Why? I don’t know how to fight,” Fuyuno said nervously.
“That’s not it, Fuyuno-chan. What Kyon-chan meant was an enchanted object that you use to control your power, just like Kyouko’s fans and my lance,”
“He’s right. My Wind-Slicer Fans here are imbued with enchantments. They help me control my powers, so I can utilize it more precisely. If I don’t use it, I can create a tornado when all I want is a medium-sized wind blade.”
“But where can I get it? If what you said is true, then we need to find not just any weapon, but an enchanted weapon. Before I met you guys, I didn’t even know if magic exists. And one more thing, do I really need to fight with my powers? I thought we would be helping people and trying to get the king to stop his evil ways. It’s not like the king has magic powers too, right? I thought any form of magic related activities are banned in Daikoku Kingdom.”
They all were silent for a while, and then Kyouko said, “My mother told me that in every human, there lies dormant magical power, which is a combination of different elements. Most of the times, it will remain dormant, but in some people, like my mother, it awakens; that’s why she’s capable of strengthening the enchantments on my Wind-Slicer Fans. Magical power can be awakened from the ‘inside’ by very strong emotions, or from the ‘outside’ by long, constant meditations to slowly calm our spirit and ‘break’ the barrier blocking the magical energy. Either way, the crack in the barrier will only let the user draw little power. In very rare cases, like us, the magical power consists of only one pure element, which is so strong that at some point, it will break its own barrier, so we can use it freely.”
Haru looked really confused, but Fuyuno looked thoughtful.
“I get it so far, but what does this have to do with the king?” Fuyuno said uncertainly.
“The king is a very ambitious person, and he wants to conquer the world just to satisfy his own greed, that’s why he’s been waging war all over the world. But even if he wages wars, it doesn’t mean he’ll always win, so he has the army do research on powerful weapons, even human weapons. The main goal of the research is to create an object or a method that allows the army to break the magic barrier within them. With an army of magic users, surely he can conquer the world. However, there is a reason why people are born with their magic power sealed. It’s because the human body is not strong enough to handle it, so the army also wants to find a way to make it possible at all costs,” Kyouko answered with a bitter tone.
“Kyon-chan, how did you know all this?” Haru asked in amazement.
“That… Now that we’re all friends, I guess I can tell you. My dad was one of the guinea pig for those immoral researches, which include infusing animal genes into humans to make the body strong enough to handle magic. My dad was part of this. The army forcefully infused cat genes into him. The army wouldn’t spend too much money on proper anesthetics, so through the whole process, every victim is conscious. Many died from the torturous pain. My dad was one of the very few successful outcomes, but they didn’t manage to break his barrier. Still, he became really nimble, and he grew cat ears and tails. Somehow he managed to run away from the laboratory and got washed ashore on Sakura Island. My mother found him, and well, you can guess the rest,” Kyouko said solemnly.
“That king is despicable! He charges unreasonable taxes from his people for his own wealth and funding immoral researches like that??” Fuyuno screamed in disgust.
“Well, those are not the only ones, there are researches that involve absorbing someone’s magic power and modifying it into something more destructive to be used as weapons. Or it could be put into another person’s body to be used by that person. But my dad hasn’t heard of any success in this. Anyway, aside from war, the king is also afraid of the prophecy, so he wants to be prepared for people trying to take him down with magical powers. He might have his guards use magical powers from the researches, or he might even use it himself, for all we know.”
Everybody was silent after Kyouko said this. Fuyuno was trying to absorb the huge amount of information she just heard. Suddenly, Haru broke the silence, “Kyon-chan, was there a research involving condensing corrosive magic into stones?”
Kyouko was surprised at this question.
“I think so, but how did you know?”
“Never mind…” Haru said quietly, squeezing his collar with thoughtful eyes, “Anyway, back to our original topic, we need to get Fuyuno-chan a weapon, which means, we need to find someone that has awakened his magical powers and is knowledgeable about enchantments. Kyon-chan, how about your mother?”
“No, she can strengthen enchantments, but she can’t create one. These fans have been in the temple forever, and the priest there entrusted them to my mom before he died, because he was aware that my mom had awakened her magical power. He told her to keep strengthening the enchantment until she can pass them to the warrior of the wind.”
“So what you’re saying is, there must be a weapon somewhere that has been around for ages and has already got enchantments imbued into it a long time ago, specifically made for the warrior of the earth,” Fuyuno concluded.
“Yeah, that’s how it is. It’ll be hard to find it, since we don’t even know what it looks like. Either that or we get you a new weapon, and find someone that is actually capable of creating enchantments, which is no easier to find,” Kyouko said regretfully.
“That’s ok, Fuyuno-chan. For now we just have to concentrate on finding the other five warriors. On our journey, we might hear rumors about ancient artifacts. For now, if you have to fight, you can use just a little bit of your power, which shouldn’t be too hard to control. Kyon-chan and I will cover for you. Then when we find the weapon, you can unleash your full power,” Haru said cheerfully, “I’ll go to bed now. You girls better sleep now too. Tomorrow we’ll have breakfast and go to the port. Good night, girls.”
“Night, Haru,” both girls said in chorus.
As Kyouko watched Haru leave the room, it suddenly dawned on her that she knew absolutely nothing about Haru. Who is he really? Where is he from? What is he doing on Sakura Island? How come he possessed an enchanted item? Why did he simply go with them willingly? Why did he ask about magic experiments? Is he looking for the magic stone he was asking about earlier? Why did he suddenly change the topic when Kyouko asked about his interest in it? And the most important thing, can they trust him? What if he’s just some imposter that got his water elemental power by means of those experiments? All these questions were jumbled in Kyouko’s mind, but somehow she had the feeling that she shouldn’t ask.
* * *