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Ikaru Mitsuyo

"Am I surrounded by imbeciles?"

0 · 146 views · located in Rillia

a character in “What's love got to do with it?”, as played by slcam

Description

|Ikaru Mitsuyo|


Image

Description:

Ikaru is a tall, young nobleman, just barely 17 and already 6'1. His black hair comes down almost to his shoulders, and is always precisely groomed. His eyes are a dark brown that is just short of black, and there is always a haughty, confident light in them. It always seems that he is judging the world and finding it more of a hassle than he expected. Ikaru wears wire-rimmed glasses that he constantly adjusts, and they seem to fit his character very well. When he smiles, it is always more of a smirk than anything, and there is usually a rather mocking, overly-patient look on his face. It is very rare to see this soften into any sort of kindness, or even pure happiness. Since Ikaru is very fond of traditions and rules as a necessary structure in the world, he is normally found wearing traditional outfits fitting for his rank.


Personality:
As is usual for a nobleman, Ikaru is often arrogant and demanding. He always seems to overestimate how intelligent he is compared to others, and often makes insulting comments that he sees as compliments. He uses sarcasm in many situations, and is sometimes more harsh than he needs, or means, to be. It is easy for him to show off without thinking, and still see himself as humble besides.

However, he does have some redeeming qualities. Ikaru is very honorable and concerned with what is just. He is bound to tradition, and will often choose the older way of things instead of adapting to new things. He prides himself on being unwaveringly honest to the point of being completely tactless, which has gotten him in trouble more than once. He is very protective of those he perceives as weaker than himself, and will put himself in dangerous situations without a thought in order to defend them.


Skills:
Growing up in a rich and prestigious family, Ikaru received the best training and education. He is a proficient swordsman and horse rider. He has some experience hunting, but more as sport than for sustenance or defense. Though he thinks he can do anything, he really has no sense of direction, and is bad at following the instructions of those he does not respect as authority. He has almost no survival skills, but he has never really needed them. He can be charming and respectful when he desires to be, which can be an advantage at times, though at other times he refuses to cooperate with anyone.


Likes:
~Rules and traditions
~Respect
~Honor
~Total honesty
~Spicy food
~The ocean
~Those who know their place
~Swordplay
Dislikes:
~Unforeseen changes
~Those who exploit others
~Rebellious people
~Silliness
~Leeks
~His arranged marriage
~Stupidity
~When females act helpless

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History:
Ikaru is the youngest in a highly ranking noble family of Rillia. As such, he grew up constantly being groomed to improve his families standing, through either military service or marriage to another high-ranking noble. This always unsettled him, and, though he got out of military service by proving himself in other, more diplomatic ways, he could not avoid an arranged marriage. He logically was happy for the good match that was found, but could not totally repress his dislike for the situation. Though he did not understand his feelings as a respecter of both tradition and his father's authority, he could not escape his hesitancy. Now, the wedding is not far away, and he will soon meet his bride...

So begins...

Ikaru Mitsuyo's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ikaru Mitsuyo

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#, as written by slcam
Ikaru sat in one corner or the carriage, brooding silently. His mother was beside him and his father sat facing them both. It was deathly silent, the silence that only comes after an intense argument. His mother looked fretfully between him and his father, wondering if they would get over it this time. They were on their way to the Mineko mansion for crying aloud. The wedding itself was only mere weeks away. They could not arrive sullen and irritated. Appearances must be kept up, after all. Usually Ikaru did not get this worked up, and was always quite obedient when it came down to it. This time was different, however.

Ikaru, himself, had merely ignored his parents entirely for the moment, allowing his rising anger to fall to a more manageable level as he avoided eye contact. Though his thoughts kept trying to return to the argument, he firmly forced them away and began to calm. Instead, he began to get irritated again at having to come all the way to the Mineko household, deep in the forests and far from his beloved ocean. This irritation is what sparked the argument in the first place, but it was better than outright anger. That was not appropriate for a first meeting. ‘Especially for meeting my so called soon-to-be-bride,’ he thought rather sarcastically, almost smirking before he caught himself. He could still feel his father fuming not three feet from where he sat. No, a smirk would not be appreciated at this time.

‘How much farther is this place, anyways?’ he thought pensively. He had to get out of this carriage soon. If not, he was not sure he would survive the ride. He eyed his father, now with a more cold and logical mindset, more like he normally maintained. He began to see him calm slowly, as they clattered and bumped down the dusty road. Suddenly, the broad shouldered man spoke, making both Ikaru and his mother jump.

“Argue or not, your fate will be the same. We will be arriving soon,” he said, his baritone voice seeming to reverberate in the small space as it had thundered before. As if in response to his prediction, Ikaru heard a shout from one of the servants further up announcing that they had finally arrived. Ikaru immediately pulled back the curtain, revealing the expected, monotonous trees that had surrounded them for what seemed like an eternity. However, they quickly began to thin, soon revealing the expansive grounds of the Mineko mansion.

They and their other carriages pulled up, and Ikaru allowed his mother and father to exit before he followed, squinting at the sunlight and adjusting his glasses distractedly as he looked around. It was nice, but rather rustic to his eye. They were immediately greeted by a butler of some sort as their servants bustled around the carriages, taking care of the Mitsuyo’s belongings. They were escorted to their respective rooms and given time to refresh themselves before being escorted again to a room on the second floor of the mansion.

As Ikaru entered, he took in the large, wide windows that covered one side of the room, letting in the warm sunlight of the early evening. The furniture was passable, and there was a warm couch, which his parents soon occupied, but Ikaru was more interested by the ornate fireplace that stood on one side of the room. He walked to it and took in the details. A stifling silence soon filled the room, but Ikaru ignored it, pretending to be completely absorbed in his observing.

Suddenly, the large, double doors open once more, and Ikaru turned to face those who entered, a polite, though properly emotionless look on his face.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akari Mineko Character Portrait: Ikaru Mitsuyo

0.00 INK

#, as written by Skwidge
Akari


”Akari… Akari! AKARI!” A rather loud and flustered voice called out, positively steaming. Akari’s mother stomped along the grounds outside in search of her daughter. How dare she be late for the meeting of her own husband for crying out loud! ”Aka-“ She was cut short by her daughter suddenly appearing upside-down on a tree branch, looking at her mother with a grin, Hikari tweeting on a small twig nearby. Her mother let out a shriek, almost fainting because of her behavior. “Get down from there immediately! You’re late for your meeting!!” Akari rolled her eyes, dropping nimbly from the tree and sticking the landing too. Hikari fluttered down and alighted on the girl's index finger, to which her mother made a face at.

“You will not have that bird at your meeting, do you understand me?” With a small groan, Akari rolled her eyes just a bit before nodding ever so slightly. “Yes mother.” The two continued along the paths to the main house, her mother complaining all the way. “Just look at you! I’ve been trying to find you for the past hour and a half! You aren’t presentable at all! If you screw this up, it won’t just be on your head, it’ll be on the whole house of Mineko!” Akari had zoned out quite awhile back, gazing at her beloved forests and gardens before she was ushered inside. They didn’t have much time to make her look presentable, so they scaled the stairs in a hurry.

They paused at the double doors, where her mother took a deep breath before placing her hands on the doorknobs. However, she took a moment to glance at her daughter to see just how bad she was, and almost shrieked again, but held it back since they were indoors and so close to the Mitsuyo family anyway. She quickly removed her hands and skillfully began plucking leaves and twigs out of her hair, fixing it up in the process. “You foolish girl!” She whispered harshly, putting on her pleasant mask once more as she opened the doors. Light flooded through it, blocking Akari’s view for a few moments as her mother stepped in. She was soon to follow, adjusting to the new lighting.

She glanced around the room subtly, her eyes soon landing on the boy she was supposed to marry. And she almost lost everything at that moment. ”You’ve got to be kidding me! If there were a better person for the exact personification of 'rule', I’d LOVE to see him.” She walked slowly over to one of the chairs, lounging politely in it for the only reason that the adults of the other family were there. ”They want me to do [i]what with this guy?”[/i] An internal sigh nearly escaped to external, but she just barely kept it civil.

“Welcome, Matsuyo family, it is only a pleasure to have you grace our humble household. I am pleased to present you with my lovely daughter, Akari Mineko. So tell me, how have things been, and please excuse my husband's absence, he was called away for a very pressing matter."



Ikaru


"It is entirely our pleasure, Mineko-san," Hiritou Matsuyo intoned politely. "It is my honor to introduce our third son, Ikaru Mitsuyo, and my wife, Makuri." Ikaru gave a small bow when his father introduced him, but stayed standing, which elicited a scowl from his father. "I am looking forward to reacquainting myself with Ichiro-san. It has been nearly a year since we last conversed at the king's court." He took a small breath before continuing with the small talk. "Things are going very well indeed. We recently acquired new land, just east of the Ritzal, and it seems to be very promising. In fact...."

Ikaru began to zone out as his father ranted on without a pause for breath. It did not take much to get him started. He took the time instead to observe this ‘Akari.’ She looked like a country bumpkin stuffed into a fancy dress, and a rather rumpled one at that. As his eyes moved from person to person, he noticed his parents taking in these details as well. ‘I wonder if she has any sort of intelligence or manners, coming to such a meeting in this state. They must not get much in the form of a proper education all the way out here,’ he scoffed inwardly, a shadow of a smirk appearing on his face before instantly disappearing again. So this was the girl he was betrothed to marry.

He felt irritation building again, and let it out with a deep exhale. He did not have much hope that she would be anything close well-mannered. This whole affair was ridiculous, and he hoped that his father would realize this soon and break off the foolish engagement. His father kept glancing at him, probably wanting him to sit down. Ikaru decided he did not want his father to have more cause to scold him later and took a seat next to his mother. It was consequently also the seat closest to this Akari girl, but he would rather face her than be next to his father at the moment. From the closer position, Ikaru could really appreciate just how filthy she was.

As her mother introduced her after apologizing for her father’s absence, she couldn’t help but remember exactly what he had said. ”An urgent business call has come up, and I must leave immediately. I’m terribly sorry I can’t make the meeting, but I must be off.” ’More like he ran off so he wouldn’t have to suffer through the meeting.’ An honest smile flickered across her features, aimed towards the family, but only because the thought made her laugh inwardly, and a small smirk peaked the left corner of her lips before disappearing.




Akari

She could feel them judging her, and she simply tilted her head to the side with a sweet smile, which honestly was believable. As soon as this ‘Ikaru’ boy sat down close to her, she tilted her attention to him, and as soon as she was sure none of the adults were looking, she rolled her eyes subtly, letting out a small breath of air. ’He looks like he’s been dumped into a washing basin and then pinned up to dry before being ironed straight down. And those glasses look absolutely ridiculous!’

However, there was soon a loud banging on one of the windows, and a small squawk could then be heard. There was a fluttering of wings and another bang, Hikari banging against the window in attempt to get in. Akari’s pupils widened just slightly. Despite the urge to ignore it and allow it to continue, her mother would kill her, even though Akari had pretty much no control over the bird’s decisions. She lowered one arm just slightly, flicking her index finger just a bit, but it would only look like a slight good natured tapping if anyone looked at her. She had to laugh inwardly though, and wondered how well that guy to her left would do with animals. Horribly, she hoped.

The bird fluttered off, and Akari resumed her previous position.



Ikaru


Not long after Ikaru sat down, he noticed Akari roll her eyes at him. ‘How mature,’ he thought, adjusting his glasses distractedly. ‘It seems my guess that she lacks manners was correct.’

Suddenly, a loud tapping caused him to jump, nearly jabbing his eye in his surprise. His parents were startled as well, and his father stopped speaking entirely as he looked to see what was causing the incessant noise. Akari, on the other hand, only seemed slightly guilty. Her mother looked as if she could faint from embarrassment. The whole scene was really quite comical, actually. Ikaru figured the ‘country bumpkin probably had something to do with this disturbance.

She made a small motion Ikaru could not quite see, and the bird quickly fluttered away. “Well, that was peculiar,” his mother said with a small chuckle. Her laugh was somewhat nervous, and she looked anxiously at Mineko-san to see how she would react.

Instead, Ikaru decided to speak up. “Do things like that happen often around here?” He gave knowing look to Akari. “I wonder if the creature was intelligent enough to understand it couldn’t get through the window, or if something scared it away. Animals tend to be so… simple, wouldn’t you agree?” His tone was innocent, and he kept a blank look on his face. If his guess was right, it would probably fluster them. Now that, at least, would be enjoyable.



Akari

Akari’s eyes looked over Ikaru, analyzing his reactions and what she thought was going through his mind. Her mother was definitely flustered a bit, knowing exactly what that disturbance was. “I wonder if the creature was intelligent enough to understand it couldn’t get through the window, or if something scared it away. Animals tend to be so… simple, wouldn’t you agree?” Her mother almost lost her cool, and Akari knew that she wouldn’t have a great answer for that. So instead she spoke up before her mother could.

“Not particularly, and the creatures around here may certainly surprise you. I suppose he was just upset that he wasn’t able to go through rather than having to go over, as through is the shorter distance to go. We usually keep our windows open, so it was probably simply surprised, sorry for the disruption. So no, I would have to disagree with you on that one.” Her tone flowed easily, like nothing was wrong at all and it was the simplest thing in the world to explain.

Her mother then spoke up gently. “Ah, yes. Well, with that incident, I think we should conclude for now. Please, return to your rooms in order to freshen up for dinner, which will be shortly. A servant shall come to fetch you at that time.” She dipped her head, rising from her spot and heading to the door. Akari made the same gesture with a nice smile, following her mother out of the room and out of earshot of the Matsuyo family.

“Akari, how dare you let that bird make a scene like that!” Her mother flushed slightly, berating her daughter. “I don’t have control of any wild animal’s decisions, mother.” She let out a short little gasp as her mother grabbed her arm and dragged her away to one of the larger bedrooms. “It doesn’t matter, let’s just make you actually presentable for dinner.” And then began the horrible task of going through all the preening and cleaning and dressing.



Ikaru

As expected, Mineko-san was unsure how to respond. He knew his father probably wanted to hit him and tell him to keep quiet, but it was too late now. Akari, on the other hand, responded immediately.
“Not particularly, and the creatures around here may certainly surprise you. I suppose he was just upset that he wasn’t able to go through rather than having to go over, as through is the shorter distance to go. We usually keep our windows open, so it was probably simply surprised, sorry for the disruption. So no, I would have to disagree with you on that one.”

Her excuse was somewhat rambling, and Ikaru had the impulse to yawn dramatically. It was laughable that she thought that telling him birds normally flew freely through her house was an appropriate excuse for that racket. Ikaru wondered what exactly she had to do with the little creature and why she was defending it. Perhaps she just felt disagreeable. That seemed a reasonable assumption for such an unmannered country bumpkin as herself.

As soon as her daughter had finished, Mineko-san quickly said, “Ah, yes. Well, with that incident, I think we should conclude for now. Please, return to your rooms in order to freshen up for dinner, which will be shortly. A servant shall come to fetch you at that time.” She then beat a hasty retreat, along with her horrible daughter. Ikaru hoped that had put his parents off this little arrangement, but they promptly stood and waited to be escorted to their rooms without another word.

As they arrived and Ikaru was about to go into his own room, his father’s voice ominously thundered behind him. “Ikaru, come. Now.” Ikaru turned to face his father, who had already entered the door of his parent’s rooms expecting immediate obedience. Ikaru followed calmly, steeling himself for what his father would say.

They entered a cozy sitting room with its own elegant fireplace. The now setting sun illuminated their faces harshly with bright orange light that proceeded through sheer curtains. Ikaru’s father whirled on him, backhanding his cheek harshly, knocking off his glasses. His scowling face looked almost monstrous in the light of the sunset. His father had apparently seen through his innocent act, as usual. He spoke, quietly at first but gradually increasing in volume, “How dare you speak out like that with the intention to insult our hosts. It is bad enough that you constantly argue with your mother and me, but I will not have you disgrace the Matsuyo reputation with your complete lack of tact. Your attitude was unacceptable and I will not tolerate this nonsense from you. This young woman will become your wife and Mineko-san will be your mother-in-law, so I suggest you start showing them the proper respect. Do you understand me?” His final words came out more like a command than a question.

Ikaru had stood quietly during the whole speech, pondering whether it was worth it to say anything at all in his defense. One look at his father’s face answered that for him. “Yes, sir,” he said respectfully.
His father took a breath and composed himself once more. “Then get out,” he replied as calmly as if they had been talking about what they would have for dinner. Ikaru inclined his head respectfully and stooped to pick up his glasses. He calmly returned them to their proper place, pushing them back up his nose as he turned and left. He immediately heard his mother speak, and found himself pausing to listen after he shut the door softly.

“Hiritou, was that not a bit too severe. He said nothing to insult them, and I don’t---“

“It was not his words, but his manner that offended. His cocky attitude and uncalled for question caused Mineko-san unnecessary agitation. He must learn to speak with more tact,” Hiritou said, ending with a sigh. “We cannot allow this wedding arrangement to fail, you know that. Though the daughter seems to be rather… lacking in certain etiquettes, the Mineko family is wealthy. If this does not go through, we could lose everything. For that reason, Ikaru must be at his best, and I will stand for no less from him.” His voice softened considerably, “I understand your concern, but this is what is best for our family. It will turn out for Ikaru’s benefit, in the end, and we will be able to get back on the right track.”

If they said any more, Ikaru did not hear it. He strode away as fast as he could, his mind whirring. ‘Lose everything?’ he thought with confusion. ‘We have always been well off, how could we…’ His train of thought abruptly broke off as he recalled all the servants they had let go, supposedly for poor service. Those they had with them now were almost the entirety of their wait staff, which was almost unheard of for a family of their prestige. Ikaru remembered how he had been constantly hearing from his father various things about a new investment he was making around that same time. He had not talked about it again since they began letting servants go. Ikaruch felt a new gravity to the situation, but at the same time, he hated it even more. He was nothing but a way for his father to get money and make up for some mistake.

He suddenly stopped, realizing he was completely lost. He looked around, anger building all at once before he slammed his tightened fist into the wall. The pain of his now throbbing fist brought him back in control of his emotions, and he stood there a moment until the anger was calmly below the surface once more. A servant girl came around the corner and spotted him, hastily asking if he needed anything. He waved her off and continued meandering without a thought to where he was going, his mind agitated.



Akari

Akari sat complacently at the end of the bed while her mother fixed her hair into a beautiful array of locks and slight curls, which had been rather painful when put in. She could deal with branches and twigs grabbing and lodging a bit into them, but this was just cruelty. “Mother, you can’t honestly expect me to marry that thing!” Her mother shot her an angry glance which she missed, continuing on before her mother interrupted. “Besides, how can you know they aren’t just marrying in for the benefit of money and aren’t going to run off right after?” Her mother let out an exasperated sigh. “You just don’t understand the situation.”

Akari rolled her eyes, crossing her arms across the dress she was forced to wear. It was actually fairly stunning on her, rather in simple beauty than extravagance. “I think I understand this situation just fine, thank you! You’re just trying to ship me off so you don’t have to deal with me anymore.” She grunted softly, looking down at her knees. Her mother scoffed lightly, and just shook her head. “You’re being ridiculous. And no birds at the dinner table.” Her tone was stern, but Akari still weakly tried to protest, “Mother-“ but was quickly cut off. “No, Akari. I don’t care how much you’re fond of that animal, but it won’t do to have it flying around causing havoc.”

Akari sighed loudly, crossing her arms with a determined look. “It doesn’t matter how hard you try to screw this up, we’re going through with the wedding whether you like it or not. And come on, try to act a little civil, it might impress Ikaru.” Akari practically laughed at that. “You honestly think I want to impress that guy!? I’d rather-“ She had turned back to look incredulously at her mother, but cut herself off by the look she received.

“He already seems to think rather poorly of you, and for somewhat good reason to. But I won’t have anyone think my daughter is some fool. Besides, wouldn’t it be far more entertaining if you were to surprise him?” She nudged her daughter lightly with a controlled smile.

“That’s not acting fair at all mother, and I highly doubt anything can surprise that- actually, a lot of things could surprise him.” A wicked smirk flashed across her face and her mother quickly placed her hands on Akari’s shoulders. “No, absolutely not! Don’t you even dare think about it, Akari Mineko!” Her mother then sighed. “Just for tonight, act civilly for the parents at least, then you can be free to do whatever you please outside or whatever, as long as you make no trouble, none, you hear me!?” And with that, her mother rose from her place and left the room to leave Akari to fume.

She would scream into a cushion if that actually worked, but alas, they had guests, besides it wasn’t something she was allowed to do anymore, after almost giving one of the servants a heart attack when she was twelve, appearing to be suffocating and the poor man thought she was being murdered by someone. She grinned softly at the memory, placing two fingers on her lower lip and leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees.

Soon, a serving boy came to retrieve her for dinner, accompanying her there to make sure she didn’t just ditch the whole thing. They arrived at the large dining hall, fairly ornate with a large dining table and comfortable seating arrangements. Her mother was already there, seated at the right hand of the head of the table as her husband was not there. Akari took her place three seats down the left, sitting patiently and bracing herself for this dull and annoying experience.



Ikaru

It was not long before another servant approached him. Before Ikaru could shoo him away as well, he announced that dinner was ready to be served. Ikaru commanded him to lead the way and followed him through the maze of halls. He usually had a good sense of direction, but this place was ridiculous.

After several more turns, they arrived and the servant opened the door, allowing Ikaru to enter. Akari and her mother were already there, and as he moved toward the table, his parents arrived as well. Soon, everyone was seated at the table. Ikaru’s mother took the seat next to Mineko-san, with her husband beside her. Ikaru sat across from his mother, an empty seat between Akari and him. An awkward silence quickly fell over the room, one that Ikaru had no intention of breaking.



Akari

As the Matsuyo family appeared and took their seats, Akari kept her eyes on the adults rather than Ikaru. However, once he approached her immediate proximity, about one chair away from her, she turned to look at him and give him a slightly respectful nod. However, she never got to as she froze, her mouth opening just fractionally in surprise.

He hadn’t changed at all since their initial meeting, which was definitely not something Akari was used to, as she assumed, from the lessons she’d stuck to and the area they lived in, it was appropriate to change before meals. ”Wow, this guy must not have many wits about him.” She simply turned back around afterward, clasping her hands in her lap.

Her mother ignored the exchange between the two young people, and instead raised a spoon to tap at a glass, signifying that dinner was to be served. “I hope you enjoy the meal we’ve prepared for you tonight.” She said with a warm smile. Servants then filled the room with platters of food, serving each course as it should be, and everything went fairly smooth. They then served a small plate of quail, to which Akari had to stifle a laugh. ’No birds at the dinner table, she says!’ The adults made polite chatter, although Akari made no attempts at speaking with her groom to be, especially since he had decided he was too high and mighty to even bother sitting next to her.



Ikaru

Ikaru listened politely as Mineko-san announced the dinner. He wondered what kind of repulsive local food they would serve, but kept any comments to himself while his dad was present. The courses soon arrived and the parents talked about small matters, carefully avoiding anything to do with the coming wedding. Ikaru had no real interest in joining the shallow conversation and ate quietly. He was almost surprised to find that there were no seafood dishes. He had never really gone through a dinner without some sort of fish themed dish, and it was odd to not have anything of the sort. Though he knew there was no way they could really ship seafood here, he still could not help but look down on them for not having anything of the sort. He was quickly beginning to feel the effects of traveling most of the day, and soon tooned out the conversation entirely. He was surprised when the dinner was over, and realized he had in fact eaten dessert, but could not remember what it was. It had been a long day. In this state, ignoring Akari was easier than he thought it would be. However, his mind continued going to what he had overheard. It did not especially change anything physically, but it changed how he thought about the matter.



Akari

Once dinner had concluded, and her mother made it clear everyone was free to go, Akari quickly rose from her seat with an unabashed grin, bowing before the adults of the Matsuyo family before quickly darting out of the room with the smallest of laughs, finally free from this awful day to go and see Hikari and the trees and pond and the fireflies at night, and get away from that guy.

With a loud sigh of relief as soon as she was a few feet away from the doors, she slipped around the corner, nearly running into one of the servants and receiving a loud, “Hey, watch where you’re going! Where are you even going, anyway!?” Akari made an apologetic gesture towards him before heading towards one of the doors that led to the outside and quickly exiting through it into the night. The paths were lit by paper lanterns, fireflies, and the moon, and Akari inhaled the fresh air deeply, overjoyed to be out of that stuffy house and back out among where she felt she actually fit in, where she might actually be wanted.

With another loud sigh, this time of joy, she traveled down the paths, quickly abandoning her shoes and grabbing a pair of boots she left hidden in a tree. Lacing them up and tying them securely, Hikari suddenly flittered down onto her shoulder, rubbing his head against her neck with a tensed chirp. She scratched his head feathers very gently, with a look of content. “I’m all good now.” She whispered lightly to the air around her, heading down to the pond. After a little while of walking, Akari stood at the very edge of the still water, crickets chirping in the background and fireflies lazily flickering about.



Ikaru

As others around the table began to stand, Ikaru followed, inclining his head respectfully to Mineko-san and thanking her for the meal. He saw Akari dart out the door, and instantly became curious. What would the country bumpkin be up to? He walked outside the dining room and glimpsed her rounding a corner with astonishing speed, especially considering the dress she was wearing. On an impulse, he began following her, keeping out of sight as much as he could in case she turned to look. She never did, her mind apparently focused on whatever it was she was seeking out. She ungracefully nearly crashed into a servant as she rounded a corner, and he yelled after her. Once his back was turned again, Ikaru continued his pursuit. Soon, they were outside. 'Perhaps she is going to roll around in the mud. That's seems to be what she did right before we met,' Ikaru thought mockingly, a smirk on his features.

She flicked her shoes off, and pulled something out of a tree. As she pulled them on her feet, he realized it was boots of all things. When she stopped to lace up the boots, Ikaru hid himself behind a tree, watching curiously. She did not seem to be concerned with being proper at all. Suddenly, a small bird fluttered down to sit on her shoulder. She treated the creature like some sort of pet. So he was right, she did have something weird with birds. Or perhaps just this particular one? This girl got stranger the more he was around her. They continued on to the pond, and she stood there as if captivated. By a little pool of water. With a tiny bird on her shoulder. It was one of the weirdest things he had seen anyone do, much less a girl from a noble family.

“So, is this the part where you roll around in the dirt?” he asked sarcastically, breaking into the silence.

Abruptly, Ikaru heard a loud rustling of leaves behind him. He turned to see what was behind him when he felt something hard contact his temple. He fell limply to the hard ground, a piercing pain making his vision blurry. His eyes stared uncomprehendingly for another few seconds, and he saw dark figures approaching Akari before everything faded to darkness.



Akari

Akari stretched really fast, about to take a step in a different direction when someone called out to her. “So, is this the part where you roll around in the dirt?” She whirled around, a look of surprise quickly replaced with that of a furious one. “What’s your-“ She abruptly cut herself off as she heard the rustling as well, and she gasped, her eyes widening. “Ikaru-“ She tried to warn him, but highly too late. Akari made a motion towards him, but something tripped her and pulled her back.

’Oh no.’ That was the last thought she had before a loud crack sounded right above her, and her vision swam before darkness converged and she knew nothing. The next thing she knew, her head was throbbing with immense pain, and occasionally there was a loud and strong bump beneath her, however it was mostly cushioned by something underneath her.

Akari blinked groggily, wincing and trying to bring a hand up to her head only to find that she couldn’t. Her eyes widened and she snapped out of her stupor, looking around wildly. There were stacks of boxes and crates all around her and the place wasn’t very cleanly at all. Another bump jarred her a bit, and she looked towards the back of the wagon they were in, to see the doors. She tried to get up, only then realizing she was on top of something.

She turned her head with a bit of trouble, only to find the devil himself underneath her. “Oh brilliant!” She growled softly, attempting to get off of him. However, she quickly found she couldn’t, every time she tried, another bump would push her back into him. She’d have to wait for the lump to wake up. “Ugh.” She glared down at him with a look of irritation.



Ikaru

Gradually, a throbbing pain broke through the darkness. Ikaru slowly regained consciousness and found himself lying on his side. The first thing he saw was a box right in front of his face. A sudden jolt caused him to smash his face directly into it. He let out a groan, trying to bring his hand up to his sore nose, but found that his hands were tied, and there was something on top of him. He felt the weight on top of him shift roughly, causing him gasp as it jabbed him in the ribs. He turned his head until, suddenly, he could see a face.

“Akari?” he mumbled confusedly, still a bit scattered from the blow to his head. “Wha-“ Another large jolt sent him sliding to the side with Akari still on top of him. His head made contact with the side of the wagon with a solid thud and he groaned again. He looked around for a moment and found that the space they were in was small, not even big enough for him to stretch out in, if his arms were not already tied to his legs by a length of rope. Their little space was about half as wide as it was long, boxes almost completely blocking off one side, which made for rather cramped quarters.

Within seconds, they hit another bump, sending both he and Akari into the air a couple inches before he landed again on the hard bottom of the wagon bed, letting out another “Oooff” as Akari landed on him. They must be going quite fast for these kind of jolts, though the roads were not the greatest here, no more than semi-flattened dirt. Suddenly, last night’s happenings came back to him. He had followed Akari outside, said something he could no longer remember, and then woke up here. What was going on? Were they being kidnapped?

Another large dip in the road cause Ikaru even more pain, worsened by Akari’s weight directly on top of him “Would you kindly get off?” Ikaru yelled over the loud rumbling of the cart. He squirmed slightly, unable to make any progress and getting only splinters and scrapes for his efforts.


Akari


Akari gritted her teeth as they slid about and landed every so often, a look of frustrated irritation growing on her face. She waited with exaggerated patience as Ikaru finally decided to wake up and figure out what was going on. After another bump, Akari smirked a bit as he complained. “Would you kindly get off?” He yelled quite unnecessarily as she was pretty much right above him, and she shifted just a bit, purposely jabbing him again. “Nooo, I think I’d rather just sit up here all day, I didn’t even think of trying to do that already at all! Gods you’re such a genius.” She rolled her eyes, before suddenly realizing that Hikari was gone. He had been with her last night, she knew that for certain, but what happened to him afterward?

She paused and looked up and around, searching for the small bird. Perhaps he had stayed with her, or was following them, or something. A small chirp coming from outside the wagon reassured her she was not alone on this one, and she relaxed for just a moment before another jerk caused her to tense up.

“In any case, I doubt I’m going to be able to get off of you any time soon, so just suck it up and act like a man you ninny. Besides, it’d cause the area to be more cramped, and I’d rather not get a head injury from smacking into you and then a wall, and then back into you.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akari Mineko Character Portrait: Ikaru Mitsuyo

0.00 INK

#, as written by slcam
Ikaru

Ikaru gritted his teeth in frustation at Akari's snarky comments. He noticed a concerned look on her face for a moment as she scanned around, before her face relaxed a bit. The wagon lurched again and Ikaru grumbled under his breath. Akari spoke again, and Ikaru fumed with frustration. The road smoothed out a bit, and Ikaru listened for any sound that could indicate where they were. There was nothing at all that he could hear over the rumbling of the wheels.

He wondered why they were going so fast over these horrible roads. Hopefully, it was because they were being pursued. He figured his parents would have soon found he was gone, and would have sent the guards after these kidnappers. However, it did not seem like help was especially close yet, otherwise there would be more of a commotion. He was confident that these criminals would soon be caught, but that confidence was steadily growing weaker.

Unexpectedly, there was another hard bump, and Ikaru, not braced for it, hit his head hard on the floor. He irritatedly strained to look to the space near his feet. "There is some space over there, just move to the right." Ikaru commanded her, attempting to pull himself to the left and sit up.




Akari


Akari simply glared at him staying right where she was. “Sorry, I don’t do commands. If you asked nicely, though….” She flashed him a small little smirk, glancing down at him and narrowing her eyes a bit. Akari yawned lightly, completely ignoring the uncomfortable surroundings for a moment to make known she was quite comfortable right where she was on top of him. Of course she’d rather be on her own two feet, or off of him at least, seeing as the first wouldn’t be an option. However, she’d rather make a point and humiliate him.

She huffed, turning her vision towards the back of the carriage, a glare quickly forming. ’Who the heck would want to kidnap me in the first place!? Gods, they should know already I’m not worth much to either one of my parents, other than how it might look if their daughter was kidnapped, but even then. Ugh, it’s ridiculously uncomfortable back here; come on people, have a little tact.’




Ikaru

Ikaru stopped squirming as she refused, tilting his head up to look at her with slight anger in his eyes. 'Why does she have to be such an ill-mannered brat!' he thought with a scowl. He knew this positioning had to be uncomfortable for her too, yet she was acting like it was a formal party with 'Oh, please if you woulds' and 'Thank you kindly, Madam.' His pride began to flare up, and he wondered if he could outlast her. She was the one being rude and calling names, he had every right to ignore her request.

He remained silent for several long moments, intending to wait her out. However, another jolt, along with a sharp dip to the left, sent him flying to hit his head on the unforgiving wall. He was slightly dazed for a moment as he gritted his teeth against the pain. Finally he gasped out, though not without a bit of anger in his voice, "Just move!" There was a brief pause before he added in a rather sullen, "Please."




Akari


His unwillingness was almost palpable, which received only a subtle smirk from Akari, once he cracked it’d only be better. And after a rather harsh beating from the wagon, he did begin to crack. "Just move!" She looked down at him mercilessly, her eyes boring into his form. She had every upper hand in this dispute. He then gave in with his, ”Please.”

“See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Sheesh, didn’t they teach you any manners, especially when around a female?” Akari rolled her eyes, waiting for him to shift his weight to the left while she shifted hers to the right. She managed to rock backwards off of him and scoot herself back against the wall, keeping her head forward so it wouldn’t hit the wood every two seconds. However, she was still uncomfortably close to him for her taste, and she huffed lightly, listening for Hikari again to get her mind off of that face of his.



Ikaru


Finally, she relented and moved over, and Ikaru was able to pull himself out from under her. He managed to pull himself into a sitting position, rather awkwardly facing Akari with nothing to really look at. At least he was not constantly hitting his head anymore. He looked at the boxes next to him, eventually finding a small crack that he could barely see through. She seemed to be avoiding his gaze as well. He could only hope they would be found soon. This was a rather ridiculous situation, and Ikaru began to wonder how it would turn out.

From his new position, Ikaru could see that the wagon they were in had high sides with a canvas tightly pulled over the top. The canvas was lit up with bright sunlight, and Ikaru supposed it was about noon. They had already been traveling for many hours. They could be anywhere by now, or at least anywhere he could think of.

As the day wore on in awkward silence and hard bumps, Ikaru slowly realized that their pace was slowing. He knew that could only mean that they were getting away from their pursuers, but he was unwilling to give up hope that these kidnappers would soon be caught. Eventually, the wagon seemed to be moving rather slow, more at the pace of a horse's walk that a fast trot. It seemed that help would not be there right away. As the evening slowly wore on, Ikuro began to feel drowsy. He saw that Akari had already fallen asleep, and soon he was doing the same, his head on his knees.

Abruptly, Ikaru receive a rude awakening as the boxes were pushed aside by a man with his face mostly concealed, who then roughly dragged him out of the wagon and dropped him to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Seconds later, Akari was dropped beside him and they were both forcefully pulled into a kneeling postion. Ikaru was irritated by the rough treatment. He immediately spoke in an arrogant, commanding voice to the men around them, most of whom had their faces covered. "How dare you treat us with such disrespect! Don't you know who I am?"

Before he could react, one of the men drew his sword, jerked Ikaru's head back by his hair, and put the blade to his neck.



Akari


Akari had pretty much ignored Ikaru the whole entire time, closing her eyes and focusing on keeping herself balanced and not smacking into the wall, and listening to the birds chirp. Eventually, she felt the wagon slow down into a more comfortable speed, and it slowly began to lull her to sleep until she finally just fell asleep.

Suddenly Akari’s eyelids flickered open as she heard shifting boxes and crates and the loud noises of men speaking somewhere outside. She turned to watch as a man grabbed Ikaru and dragged him out, a guarded look soon springing into action along her features as he looked at her. “Don’t-“ She began before he grabbed her by the legs and dragged her forward to get a better grip on her. He soon deposited her on the ground next to Ikaru without any carefulness to the action.

"How dare you treat us with such disrespect! Don't you know who I am?" Akari simply looked over towards him with one eyebrow arched and a flat look of disbelief on her features. “That’s probably why they abducted you in the first place. And me too, obviously.”

She shut up as soon as she saw the blade to Ikaru’s neck, pulling her legs as close to her body as the ropes would allow to get away from those men.



Ikaru


"Oh?" The man said, shifting his eye over to Akari with a mocking chuckle as she attempted to move away. "Seems like your lil’ lady friend 'as the idea." He let go of Ikaru's hair for a moment, taking a threatening step toward the squirming girl. Ikaru immediately forgot his anger at the rough treatment. Instead, he felt alarmed at the threat to Akari and frustrated at his inability to help her in his position. Unless--

"Hey, what do you think you're doing, you half-wit?" he called out in his haughtiest tone. Ikaru immediately got the result he expected and more.

The man immediately turned back, replacing the bared blade at Ikaru's throat with a sneer, "You got a big mouth for one in your position, brat." The masked men around them chuckled at the scene. "Two ransoms be nice, but even with one, we'd be livin' like kings for a good while." As he spoke, he added more pressure to the blade until Ikaru could feel a bit of blood dripping down his neck. He gritted his teeth, but refused to look away from the man's eyes, which only angered the man more. Before either one of them could do any more, Ikaru heard a different voice from behind.

"Now, now, shouldn't we treat our guest with a bit more... hospitality?" A broad shouldered man soon came into view, the only one without anything covering his face. The man threatening Ikaru immediately stepped back, sheathing his weapon after a hand motion from the unmasked man. "Time to set up camp," the man said, throwing up one hand in a shooing motion. He stood in front of Ikaru and Akari, watching them a moment as the rest of the men burst into motion taking things out of the wagon, gathering firewood, setting up a couple tents. His gaze was unnerving, and Ikaru soon found himself looking away in near shame.

As soon as Ikaru averted his eyes, the man turned away and joined the activity, calling out orders. Apparently, he was the leader of these bandits. Ikaru wondered what exactly was in store for them here. ‘Whatever it is, it probably is not good, he thought, wishing he could wipe away the small, irritating drop of blood still trailing down his throat. Every few moments, Ikaru looked over at Akari to make sure she was alright, looking away whenever she glanced over at him.

After a few moments, Ikaru could smell the aroma of food cooking, and realized he was ravenous. He hadn’t eaten since… it must have been about this time the night before. He wondered if, and how, they would be fed. Suddenly, the Leader motioned a couple of men over to them while saying distractedly, ”Bind ‘em to the wheels, you know the way. Then give...” He paused to look at them again with a terrible smile before continuing, “our guests something to eat.”

They were hastily pulled to the two wheels on the side of the wagon nearest the fire and bound to them. Their hands were roughly untied, and bowls filled with some sort of soup from the pot over the fire were shoved at them, along with roughly carved wooden spoons. Though Ikaru struggled slightly and tried to strain his neck to look behind him, the knots securely binding him to the wheel, as well as those holding Akari, were too far to reach. A couple of the men saw him struggling and laughed, making him redden slightly. The youngest of the bandits looked on in sympathy, but the look was quickly gone, unnoticed by the embarrassed Ikaru. He set the bowl beside him and rubbed his sore wrists as the blood slowly returned to his hands, making them tingle annoyingly. He adjusted his glasses, which had stayed fairly well on his face during the whole ordeal.

He soon picked the bowl up again, looking at its contents skeptically, but its alluring scent and his overwhelming hunger quickly had him gulping it down. He slowed when he realized how fast he was eating, but it was still gone sooner than he would have liked. One of the men noticed Ikaru was done, and roughly pushed the young man toward him with a grunt. He walked over and took the bowl, warning Ikaru not to resist as he bound Ikaru’s hands behind him once more, quite gently compared to the others. When Akari was done, the young man did the same to her, taking her bowl and gently binding her hands to the wheel behind her.



Akari

”Oh?” Akari practically froze as she saw him look over at her, trying to control her facials but finding she couldn’t do so very well, a look of fear and panic subtly underlying the otherwise blank face, but her eyes gave her away and the tremble of her lips as he advanced towards her. She did not like the look on his face, and she feared for herself and had only the worst ideas as to what he had planned for her.

"Hey, what do you think you're doing, you half-wit?" Ikaru suddenly diverted the thug’s attention from her, and a look of relief flooded past her facial defenses before quickly disappearing as the man once more pressed the blade to Ikaru’s throat. "You got a big mouth for one in your position, brat." She winced, turning away at the sight of a bit of blood beginning to start underneath the blade while the others just laughed.

"Now, now, shouldn't we treat our guest with a bit more... hospitality?" A new voice entirely entered the scene, and everyone seemed to take a step back from their previous inhibitions, suddenly straightening up at the sight of who seemed to be the ‘boss’. His face wasn’t covered, and Akari scanned his features subtly and quickly. "Time to set up camp," The man dismissed the others who quickly began working around the area they had stopped in, bringing out materials and such. He soon joined the others, leaving Ikaru and Akari to watch them bustle around. Except that both of them stole glances at the other, Akari was definitely shaken up by the ordeal that had just happened, not to mention that obvious fact they had been abducted, but she was a bit more worried about the blood at Ikaru’s neck. She caught him looking towards her at least twice, and she blinked a few times, taking the information a bit confusedly. He wasn’t usually polite or considerate towards her, so she ruled out him acting gentlemanly.

’Could it be possible he’s actually worried about me?’ She turned away from him, not daring any other looks at him. Soon the smell of food cooking flooded the area, and Akari’s head tilted towards the direction of the cooking pot, staring at it hungrily. The boss waved some men over towards them, another feeling of relief running through her as he announced his intentions to feed them. She didn’t even really care they would be tied up to the wheels of the wagon, as long as she got food.

As the food was presented to her, and her hands untied, she took a moment to first rub at her wrists which were rubbed raw from the rope, before picking up the spoon carefully and beginning to spoon steaming mouthfuls of the food to her lips. She wanted desperately to just shovel it all in, but she harshly disciplined herself mentally, reminding herself of the time she got stuck up in the mountains. Once she had finished, she looked up at the trees, her eyes subtly gazing for Hikari.

The slightest of smirks flickered across her lips before disappearing as she found her companion hiding among the leaves, and staying quiet otherwise. The youngest member of the group came and retied their hands, a look of pain on Akari’s features at having the rough material against her wrists once more.



Ikaru

Ikaru, now with nothing to distract him other than the noisy conversation of the bandits, began to feel strange for not saying anything to Akari yet. He knew that the more time that passed now, the worse it would be to try to talk to her. They may be able to figure out an escape plan later when they could not be overheard, but even that would be difficult if they could not talk to each other for more than a few seconds before insults started flying. He decided he might as well try to be civil for a few moments, but his words just came out awkwardly.

“That was not so bad, I suppose. The food, I mean,” he said, knowing she would probably think him foolish.



Akari

Akari looked up as she heard Ikaru speak out towards her. “That was not so bad, I suppose. The food, I mean,” She tilted her head, looking at him curiously and with a slight suspicion. He hadn’t tried to do so before. She waited a few moments for the insult, but it never came. She coughed lightly, “Yeah, when’s the shower?” She grinned ever so slightly, though her face was tired and showed a small bit of strain.

She tilted her head back up for a moment to locate Hikari again. Doing so gave her a sense of comfort, and it helped her to relax ever so slightly. It was good to have a familiar face, and an understanding friend for once. She set her head back down towards Ikaru, not quite sure if he wanted to continue talking or how it would turn out if he did. He seemed to only want to pick a bone with her, so Akari was understandably a bit on edge, ready to make a snarky comment back at him if he decided to go down that path.



Ikaru

A strained moment passed, and Ikaru almost thought that Akari would not even deign to respond. He felt silly for even brining up such a shallow topic. Finally, she made a joking response, and Ikaru tried to bite back a sarcastic comment about cleanliness. Why did she set herself up? It was almost as if she wanted him to insult her again, but he had a different goal in mind than spiting her. Bickering, though easy to get into with Akari, would not help them to escape.

He returned her smile with a half hearted smirk of his own. “Yes, I do not doubt that we will be found and rescued soon. Then we can get back and….” He paused, not wanting to finish the thought. “But if we aren’t, it will be up to us, I suppose.” He stopped short as one of the men passed by, heading out into the darkness.



Akari

“Yes, I do not doubt that we will be found and rescued soon. Then we can get back and….” Akari let out a sigh, turning her head away from him at that comment. “Yeah, well, I do.” She mumbled just loudly enough for him to catch if he were listening. “But if we aren’t, it will be up to us, I suppose.” She simply shrugged and nodded her head, turning away from him as a man got up to go relieve himself, probably. She blanched slightly, realizing she’d eventually have to do so herself, and was rather glad she was turned away from Ikaru in that moment.

With another small sigh, she looked down at the grass, shifting around as to get a better position, and doing her best not to look miserable. She was better than that, and she didn’t need anyone thinking she was weak, considering she had to take care of herself anyway. The ropes weren’t as bad, thanks to that man, but they were still digging into her skin.



Ikaru

Though Ikaru was trying to start up a conversation, Akari merely shrugged and turned away. She began to shift around, and he wondered if she had decided he was too much of a bother to talk with already. He was becoming frustrated with Akari again, since he had gone out of his way to be polite, and she was already turning her back to him. It is not as if this was easy to do in the first place.

However, when he turned to look at her again, he saw that she did not seem to be simply ignoring him. There was something else there. Is she hurt? he thought, alarmed. He waited a moment, trying unsuccessfully to discern her well-being, but soon decided to take a more direct approach.

“Are you alright?” he said, trying so hard not to sound overly concerned that he almost sounded cold and uncaring. Though this was belied by the expression on his face, that was difficult to make out in the low light.



Akari

Akari almost jumped as she heard him ask if she was alright, turning away from him lightly. “Fine….” She supplied lightly, trying her best not to break down or relax in front of him. It was enough that he was forever picking on her like she was a child, she didn’t need him thinking she was weak as well, besides, she figured it was just a formality, considering his tone of voice. She turned her head forward and looked at him out of the corner of her eye, trying to discern whether or not he was actually that big of a jerk by his facial expressions, though the dim lighting made it impossible to do so.

She laid her head back against the wagon, letting a deep breath out before locating Hikari once more, who was peering over a branch looking at her with flustered feathers and an obviously worried demeanor. She flashed the bird a brave smile for a split second before closing her eyes, waiting for sleep.



Ikaru

Ikaru frowned and turned away as she brushed him off once more with an annoyingly brief response. He was done with trying to force conversation, especially if she would not cooperate anyway. He was tempted to say something else, but decided it was not worth the bother.

The bandits seemed to be settling in for the night, a couple of them prowling around to keep watch over the camp, and over them. After all, strange things wandered in the unconquered forests. Now that he thought about it, Ikaru had never slept out in the open before. There had always been some in or some nobleman’s house to stay the night when traveling, but now…. He started at a noise somewhere out in the forest, but scolded himself for his cowardice. If there was something out there, their kidnappers would handle it. He smiled scornfully as he realized their greatest threat was also their best protection against the unknown dangers of the night.

His thoughts soon began to wander, and he shifted into a more comfortable position. He stared at the fire as it began to burn out, mesmerized by the shifting flames. Before he knew it, he was asleep.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akari Mineko Character Portrait: Ikaru Mitsuyo

0.00 INK

#, as written by slcam


Akari

Akari quickly drifted off to sleep with the lulling of the crackling fire and the soft din of voices around her, despite the pain in her wrists. She should have decided to wear gloves or something yesterday so she’d have them today to protect against the rough sinews of the rope.

She was rudely awakened by a man shoving her in the side with his boot, soon moving off to do the same to Ikaru. Akari groaned quietly, shifting more to her side to attempt to stretch. Voices stirred loudly in the background, and everyone seemed to be packing up to move on, which meant…. Akari felt hands at her ropes once more, removing her from the wagon wheel before retying her tightly. She let out a hiss of breath, wincing down at the ground. The man just smirked down at her with a cruel grin, something in his eyes told her to shut up before she got herself into more trouble.

They soon replaced Ikaru and Akari back into the wagon, not gently at all, and they were soon off again.



Ikaru

Abruptly, one of the men rudely kicked Ikaru awake. These bandits had no manners. They were worse than Akari. Ikaru glanced at her for a moment, seeing if she was alright. Soon, the bandits had the camp packed up. The men then turned their attention to their prisoners, unbound them from the wheels and bound their hands to their feet with a bit of rope again. Ikaru’s attention immediately turned to Akari as she hissed in pain, and he glared at the men. Before he could say anything and get himself in trouble again, they picked him up and tossed him in the back with Akari soon following. The boxes were replaced and the wagon commenced its rumbling down the dirt road.

After a bit of squirming, Ikaru was able to pull himself back into a sitting position, adjusting himself so the rope was not directly under him. The rough ropes were digging in to his skin, cutting off circulation to his tingling hands, but he ignored the sensation. There was nothing he could do about it, so there was no point worrying. Though Ikaru was listening for it, the wagon never began to pick up speed, and there was no sign of any pursuit. He began to feel discouraged, wondering if they would be found at all. The bandits had avoided talking about anything important or useful in front of them so far, but Ikaru resolved to listen closely anyway.

Despite the silence of the day before, Akari and Ikaru did have a few shallow, strained conversations to pass the time, but more often than not, they simply lapsed into silence. The day passed slowly in the hot back of the wagon. It was already fall, but the days were still hot, which was even worse in such a small, unventilated space.

Finally, they stopped once more, and a masked man again rudely dragged Ikaru and Akari out and threw them to the ground on their knees. The men again hustled to set up camp, and food was soon cooking. They were bound to the wheels by the same young man, but Ikaru paid no attention to him, instead listening closely for anything he could pick out of the bandits conversation.


Akari

Akari remained rather quiet on the roads, except for when Ikaru struck up conversation, and even then it was awkward and no better than when they had been silent. She continued to listen every once in awhile for Hikari, who was pretty much her only solace on the road other than when it was time to eat.

As the lighting darkened within the wagon, Akari looked up from her thoughts, which were quite miserable to be honest, and braced herself for the rough treatment that was to follow. As Ikaru and Akari thumped to the ground, the bustle that was normal after they stopped yesterday began up again. Soon the aroma of food cooking flashed through the area, it smelled just a bit different, but as they were served and their hands untied, it was still very good. That was pretty much the only thing that was going for them.

Akari ate with extreme sluggishness, enjoying the amount of time she had to get the blood back into her hands and keep the rough texture off. However, it was short lived for as soon as she finished her bowl, the young man returned to tie them up again. After he tied Ikaru back up again and moved back over to her, she looked at him with a troubled face, though it still had humility; of course it did, her circumstances demanded it. She leaned up and spoke quietly. “Please, could you not tie them so tight… I know it’s stupid to ask, but… still, is there any possibility. Just a little bit looser, not much.” He looked at her for a few seconds, before dipping his head slightly and relaxing the ropes ever so slightly more, and even so it was a huge relief on her wrists. “Thank you.” She mumbled lightly, resting her head back on the wagon wheel, closing her eyes lightly, playing a small tune in her head to herself. It was something to calm her down so she wouldn’t lose it. She needed to be strong, or else she’d find herself in worse conditions.



Ikaru

Ikaru was glad when they were again given food. They had not had anything since the night before and Ikaru was getting irritated at the bandits’ complete lack of regard. At least their cooking was edible. While he was this hungry, he could even say it was delicious, though there were a thousand things he would rather eat.

Though he listened closely to what he could hear of the men’s conversations, whenever they began to encroach on something that could be useful to him, the Leader glared and they fell silent again. All too soon, he was finished with his food. The young man took the bowl and tied his hands again. Ikaru gave a sigh at the treatment, already missing the slight freedom.

He was about to resume his spying on the bandits’ conversation, when he heard Akari plead with the young man to loosen her ropes slightly. The exchange immediately got Ikaru’s attention, and he turned his head to watch them discreetly out of the corner of his eye. He smiled, quickly returning his features to an emotionless expression to hide his thoughts. ‘Perhaps Akari is smarter than she acts. Now she might be able to…’

Finally, the young man walked away, and Ikaru whispered to Akari in a tone that the men could not overhear, “Great idea. Can you slip out? Wait until everyone is asleep to move, of course. But can you?” There was a certain eager hope in his eyes, along with a desire to get away from these crazy men.


Akari


Akari let out a small sigh before her eyes flickered open at Ikaru’s hushed voice, “Great idea. Can you slip out? Wait until everyone is asleep to move, of course. But can you?” She glared at him subtly, her nostrils flaring ever so slightly. “No, I can’t.” She said simply, saying nothing more. Akari looked the other way before sighting up at the trees. She whistled every so softly, almost as quiet as a gentle breeze, more of an exhale than a note at any rate. She received a small chirp back from somewhere within the forest.

She smiled inwardly, now she’d have something to entertain herself with tomorrow, plus a bit of extra distractions.



Ikaru

Ikaru let out a frustrated sigh as she said she could not get out of the loosened restraints. She really was impossible sometimes, and Ikaru wondered why she had to act so immature. He kept hearing a small bird chirping, and the noise grated on his nerves. The men began laughing loudly, and one of them passed by, moving to the front of the wagon.

Ikaru waited until he returned to the campfire before speaking to Akari again, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice. “Did you even try?” He ended up sounding rather scolding, but he did not especially care. They had to get away somehow, but nothing was coming to him yet. The bandits were far to careful.


Akari

Akari clamped her own mouth shut as one of the bandits passed by before returning to his previous place by the warmth of the fire. A very irritated voice followed the disappearance of the guy, Ikaru practically scolding her. “Did you even try?” She rolled her eyes before snapping back a harsh comment. “No, and I’m not going to. My wrists are already raw-“ She cut herself off as another man grew nearer before disappearing into the forest before she continued. “And he was nice enough to do so, so I’m not just about to stab him in the back and get him killed by his buddies for that attempt. I don’t know what they saw or heard between us, so just deal with it. Yes, of course I want to get away as well, but now isn’t the right time.” After supplying her reasons she set her shoulders back a bit.



Ikaru

“No, and I’m not going to. My wrists are already raw-“ Ikaru let out an exasperated sigh when she answered him with rather whiny excuses. Her wrists hurt? Is that why she had been looking so in pain for the past couple days? He was forced to wait before saying anything as yet another of the men passed by them. Akari beat him to speaking just as the man was far enough away. “And he was nice enough to do so, so I’m not just about to stab him in the back and get him killed by his buddies for that attempt. I don’t know what they saw or heard between us, so just deal with it. Yes, of course I want to get away as well, but now isn’t the right time.”
Ikaru felt his irritation growing, and just managed to get it back under control. He spoke in an icy tone, “You are concerned about him? He is one of the ones who kidnapped us, for crying out loud!” He gave a sigh and lowered his voice slightly. “And why would this not be the ‘right time’ if we get the opportunity to escape?” he said mockingly before continuing. “Or are you just too concerned about your new little friend?” ‘He probably just wanted to keep you from whining about it,’ Ikaru thought, just barely keeping himself from saying it as he turned his face away toward the fire.


Akari

Akari frowned at him deeply with irritation, “You are concerned about him? He is one of the ones who kidnapped us, for crying out loud!” She rolled her eyes, “You’re such a noob, you have absolutely no idea-“ She was quickly cut off by the boss of the bandits sauntering over with his own irritated look. “Both of you shut up before I decide to gag the lot of you!” He huffed with a coarse tone. He seemed a bit drunk, by the way his speech sounded and how held himself.

Akari smirked, holding back the smallest of laughs, knowing that if she had laughed, the boss would take it the wrong way. ’At least it’ll get this idiot to shut up and I wouldn’t have to deal with his stupid questions.’ Her face remained a slightly troubled blank mask, suddenly uneasy at the man’s proximity.



Ikaru

The Leader suddenly came over to them, and Ikaru realized just how loudly they had been arguing. He wondered how much the man had heard, but knew only a fool would actually ask about something like that. Ikaru could smell the alcohol on the man’s breath, even as he towered over them, and the scent made him want to gag. ‘These commoners certainly are not picky about what they drink,’ he thought.

The Leader seemed to take Ikaru's repulsion as submission, and he gave a sneer before walking away and shouting at the rowdy men surrounding the campfire, who were most likely also drunk. “Trathe, Laturo, take first watch. The rest of you get some shut eye.” At their hesitation he bellowed, “Go!” His voice was loud enough to make a small flock of birds scatter out of the forest, disappearing into the night.

The camp became deathly silent as each man went to his place, and the night became unnaturallly still. It was in this unnatural stillness that Ikaru finally fell into an unsettled sleep.

As one week slowly passed into the second, Ikaru began to adjust to the daily routine. Waking up every morning, being thrown into the back of the wagon, attempting conversation with Akari, getting dragged out of the cart at the end of the day, eating, perhaps some more conversation or arguing after dinner before falling asleep and starting it over again. There were a couple times when there was a commotion of men yelling outside the wagon, followed by an increase of speed, but it was only a short time before they slowed again and resumed the normal pace. Overall, there was not much variation to their day, though Ikaru felt that it was getting easier to talk with Akari, or he was at least getting used to her.

They seemed to be heading north, and the weather began to turn cold. Gradually, the deciduous trees, bright with autumn colors, were replaced by evergreens. Ikaru had no idea where they were going, or why they were even going so far, especially if the bandits just wanted a ransom. When he asked, he was only told to mind his business. Though that technically was his business, he did not push it further.

As they continued to get further from civilization, and all hope of rescue had faded, the bandits slowly began to give them more freedom, simply tying their hands in front of them instead of binding them behind and tying their feet. Eventually, they did not even tie their hands while they slept, just their waist and upper arms. However, by then, Ikaru knew it would be difficult to get away from the men for long, and even worse to get home safely, but he never stopped looking for opportunities.

He and Akari had only been allowed to bathe once, but only under close guard with the Leader threatening to kill Akari if he tried anything. Their clothing, once fine, was now filthy and ragged, and it was quickly obvious they were not dressed properly for the coming winter weather, especially this far up north. He began to be concerned, especially for Akari, when they were not even given blankets over night. He would have to do something about it soon….



Akari

As the days wore on, Akari quickly picked up the schedule of everyday camp life and the transitions in between. She paid little mind to most everything around her, her attention mainly centered on Hikari, or the better memories she’d had of outdoors, comparing past and present situations and a few tricks as well.

They continued along at the same pace, although once or twice she heard a ruckus outside and they sped up for a little while. Akari had given up hope of any rescue quite awhile ago, having already been aware of the implications between her relationship to her family, as well as her actions and personality. She figured the only reason they’d be getting rescued was because of Ikaru, and even then he wasn’t all that great of an asset either.

She could tell one thing though, they were certainly headed up north, although the reasoning behind such an action was unknown to her. Ikaru had questioned it one night, but was quickly shot down. One of the perks of heading further away from her home was that, one, more freedom and less raw wrists, two, the possibility of being dragged back to where she didn’t want to go was dwindling, and three, being around the bandits every night allowed her to get to know them more, especially the young man.

Of course it was little details that she picked up from conversations, but with the young man, whose name she discovered was Hayato, the relations were better and she got perks for it as well. A little extra food here, a bit more leash length, etc.

Akari and Ikaru were even allowed to bathe once, which was a huge relief. Getting the grime off and getting rid of the scent around them was certainly a pleasurable experience, although dampened by the fact they had had to return to their dirty tattered clothing. The nights also grew chillier, and Akari found herself shivering on at least two occasions, worrying over if she got sick they wouldn’t try to help her. Sure, circumstances weren’t ideal, but she’d rather not die. She made small hints and at once an inquiry to Hayato, but at first he didn’t catch on or pretended not to, and at her blatant question he just kind of shrugged and left.



Ikaru

Ikaru soon became frustrated with the Leader’s apathy toward Akari’s lack of appropriate clothing for the cold. She had already asked her little friend, Hayato or something similar, for something to keep warm. He merely shrugged and walked away, as if it was not his problem. The whole situation irritated Ikaru. He felt there was no excusing their behavior, especially when they themselves began donning cloaks and heavier clothing.

Finally, he cracked, standing to his feet as the bandits were setting up camp once more. The night was cold, and he could already see Akari shivering. Though his hands were still bound, and they had been prisoners for nearly three weeks at that point, Ikaru had not lost any of his haughtiness.

“How can you sit around making a fire and keeping warm in your blasted cloaks when she sits there shivering? Do you not have enough decency to give her proper clothing? Or are you merely lacking any form of respect?” he demanded in his most condescending tone.

The Leader strode over, irritation plain on his face as he pointed to the spot Ikaru had just vacated. “Sit, boy, or believe me, you will lose whatever misplaced dignity you have left,” he said, his voice low and threatening.

Instead of heeding the threat, Ikaru took a step closer, confidently glaring up into the man’s face though he was almost a head taller than Ikaru. “Misplaced dignity?” Ikaru asked, sounding outraged. “You are the one with misplaced dignity, leaving a woman to weather the cold while you sit, warm and jolly, around a fire. What kind of honorless worm would do something so pathetic?” he spat out, not caring that he was already deep in dangerous waters.

“Oh? You want to debate honor now, do you?” There was an odd amusement in his voice, as if he was about to have some long awaited fun. All the men paused in their activities, watching the argument with intrigued smirks as if they knew where this was going. Ikaru thought he knew as well. They would have a duel. The Leader nodded to one of the men, who drew his sword and approached Ikaru. Ikaru watched unflinchingly as the man sliced through his bonds and handed him the weapon, a hand and a half double edged sword. He gave the weapon a few swings, testing its balance. One of the others, Laturo if Ikaru remembered correctly, gave a questioning, “Sir?” that was quickly silenced by the Leader’s glare. Ikaru’s only response was to adjust hi glasses, making sure they would not fall off his nose during the fight.

Ikaru took his stance as the Leader drew his own sword, a two handed blade that was quite a bit longer than Ikaru’s. They circled for a moment, the flickering light of the fire giving the scene a rather ghastly quality, as if it were happening in a dream.

Finally, the large man struck, and Ikaru just barely brought his sword up in time to block. The blow was crushing, and Ikaru was forced to his knees before he could slide out from under the large sword and dance away. He was rusty from weeks without practice, and having been ill-fed, bound, and tossed around in those weeks had not help his situation either. The Leader began taunting him. “You can back out at any time, boy. Just go sit and mind your place.” However, Ikaru gritted his teeth and continued, attacking a slight opening only to be quickly repulsed.

Every one of the Leaders strokes felt like the blow of a hammer, and Ikaru began to feel jarred, but at the same time, he was finally loosening up. He launched another attack, just barely dodging the man’s sword as he charged. Their blades met with a slight trail of sparks before Ikaru jumped back once more. He would have to make use of his agility to have any chance in this fight.

Ikaru feinted to the right, seeing the large man respond just as he predicted, before he rolled to the left, coming up behind the man in a kneeling position as he struck upward. His blade glanced off the Leader’s last moment attempt to parry, slicing into a muscled shoulder.

Not allowing himself time to celebrate this little victory, Ikaru again sprang away and turned to face his opponent. The Leader had already begun a charge, raining down blows until Ikaru stumbled back into one of the men surrounding them. Immediately, he was pushed back into the fight, circling the broad-shouldered man to the right. He attacked what he thought was an opening once more, only to find himself stumbling back again with a fresh, shallow cut across his cheek.

Ikaru knew time was not on his side. Each moment, the Leader’s blows began raining down harder, weakening his defense. Ikaru swung at the man’s feet, intending to trip him up in order to land another blow, when the man unexpectedly blocked and jerked upward, causing Ikaru to lose his grip. The sword went flying through the air until it hit a tree and flopped into the darkness. The Leader placed the tip of his blade at Ikaru’s throat, glaring at him for a moment as Ikaru glared back fearlessly.

“You’ve got spirit, I’ll give you that,” the large man said with a sigh. Suddenly, he sheathed his weapon. “Give the woman some spare clothes, and give this one a cloak. No use having him whining.” He turned and walked off, leaving the firelight as the rest of the men watched.

Before Ikaru could respond, a cloak was shoved his way. As soon as he put it on, though, he was again tied to the wagon wheel. After a moment, Akari returned in an outfit much more fitting for the cold, though not as fitting for a woman of her rank. Ikaru said nothing, waiting to see if she would comment on what had happened.


Akari

Akari settled down at her usual place by the wagon, the night’s air already growing chilly. Akari sort of curled up in a seated position to keep her body heat. ’Stupid mother, forcing me to wear a dress. Baka, not even caring about me being gone. Heartless old hag.’ She thought dully to herself, gazing into the darkness of the forest. Somehow, even Hikari couldn’t lighten her mood, and she rested her chin on her knees with a small sigh, looking at her breath in the evening air.

She began shivering a bit, looking over to the fire with an overall miserable facial expression. Whenever she was sure no one was looking, she’d lower her defenses. However, this time Hayato suddenly looked over, and Akari quickly turned away, replacing her fallen mask.

However, she was suddenly jolted out of her thoughts by Ikaru suddenly standing up, shooting his mouth off at the boss. Wait… what? His words finally hit her, he was actually trying to defend her for once. ’Baka, you’re going to get yourself killed.’ She thought warily as the boss trudged up to him and verbal abuses started flying between them.

And then the swords were pulled. She shifted backwards quickly in surprise, her eyes wide and a small flash of fear dancing through them for a moment. If she weren’t so cold and in the position she was in, she would actually enjoy watching the spar, but as it was, she couldn’t. So she watched with amazement as Ikaru managed to land a blow on the Leader’s arm. However, the match was soon over as the boss flung his sword out of the boy’s grip, sending it flying into the forest. However, he had conceded towards the warm clothing dilemma, and Akari brightened up with the slight glimmer of hope.

Soon some clothes were tossed at her, and she glanced over towards the wagon, getting up and walking over to it slowly before stopping right before it. “Well, what are you waiting for, a formal invitation?!” One of the men called out to her, and she only turned towards him, dropping the clothing on the floor of the back of the wagon, lifting up her hands with a look of blatant, ”You’re kidding right?”. “Sorry, my hands are a little tied up.” She joked lightly with a flat tone. The man from before stepped towards her with a small grin on his face before Hayato got up and beat him to her.

He only loosened them after shooting a glance at his boss, and she took them off herself. She mumbled a soft thank you before disappearing inside of the wagon, slipping out of the bonds with practiced ease. She quickly changed into the larger clothing, putting it over her dress. She had also gained a coat with rabbit fur around the hood, as well as tanned leather gloves with rabbit fur on the inside, immensely enjoying the warmth now surroundings her hands.

Once she exited the wagon, Hayato rebound her, and she returned to the wagon with a somewhat cheery look to her facials, although she wore no real smile; just the slightest of subtle perks at the corner of her mouth.

She was retied to the wagon, which was the normal routine, before being served food, which she held in her gloved hands for awhile before actually beginning to eat it. Once she had finished she glanced over at him. “Bureiba baka. Shinkashi arigato gozaimasu.” Brave Fool. But thank you. She spoke lightly at him, a ghost of a smile on her lips before it disappeared.



Ikaru

The food was finally served, and the men were soon boisterous again. Ikaru noticed that the Leader had returned sometime during the middle of the meal, but paid him no more attention than that. However, he could feel the man’s gaze on him throughout the rest of the night. He soon finished his meal, and was almost startled at Akari’s words. He had thought she would not comment, but her tone did sound happier, or at least not as chilled.

He turned to look at her, catching a faint smile on her face, barely illuminated by the fire light, before he turned away again. He answered her comment with a smirk of his own. He awkwardly shifted in order to wipe a bit of blood from his cheek and adjust his glasses once more.

The next morning, they were again thrown into the back of the wagon, but Ikaru soon began to notice there was something off. It was as if the whole forest had stilled, only a solitary chirp following them. Even that chirp seemed to be quickly swallowed up in the dead quiet surrounding them. Ikaru waited tensely all day, straining to hear any noise, or to make out any hint of what was causing this dark feeling, but he sensed nothing. Even the bandits were uncharacteristically silent as they rumbled through the trees.

“It feels like something is coming,” Ikaru said to Akari, sounding half-dazed.

Suddenly, Ikaru heard the Leader call a halt. Instead of someone coming to drag them out of the wagon, however, there was only a strained silence. Ikaru wondered if, perhaps, he was not just imagining things. He began to feel a deep, steady rumbling through the floor of the wagon, like far away footsteps. Finally, a loud crashing met his ears.

“It’s a Treelegs!” one of the men shouted, panic plain in his voice. Suddenly, the wagon broke into motion down the road at the fastest pace it had gone in over a week. Ikaru desperately wished it would go faster as the giant footsteps seemed to gain on them.

Ikaru began to hear some of the men scream in terror, and one scream was suddenly cut off. Abruptly, the wagon seemed to rear up toward the back before crashing to its side, flinging Ikaru hard on his back. A moment later, Akari landed directly on top of him, knocking the wind out of his lungs. A couple boxes pinned him from the side, but luckily, none had fallen on top of them. However, this positioning was still annoyingly familiar.

Ikaru could hear the noises of battle coming from outside, along with those terrifying, earthshaking steps. Fortunately, they seemed to be out of the way for now. After several minutes laying there listening intently, he jumped when he heard boxes being pushed out of the way. A familiar face soon appeared, much to Ikaru’s relief. It was Hayato, and he seemed worried about more than the giant monster roaming about.

'What is he-' Ikaru thought confusedly before the young man jerked Akari up and led her out of the wreckage, quickly coming back for Ikaru. When Ikaru emerged out into the fading light of dusk, he caught a glimpse of a creature as tall as the trees, stomping around on two giant trunk-like appendages. Large, branch like antlers protruded from its head over glowing green eyes.

He was jolted out of his reverie by Hayato shouting, “Run!” and he realized his bonds had been cut. He grabbed Akari’s wrist and pulled her after him into the forest until he was sure she was following. They ran as fast as they could until the sounds of battle began to fade behind them.

Unexpectedly, a steep ravine appeared before them. He could now hear the rumbling of a river far below at the bottom of the sheer incline. There was no way they could cross anywhere close. He soon heard a loud boom, like a tall tree hitting the ground after being chopped down.

“We don’t have much time, this way,” he said hurriedly, again leading Akari by the wrist until he was sure she was following. If she said anything, he was too distracted to notice. They had not been able to get far through the thick undergrowth that snagged pulled on their clothes before Ikaru began to hear the men’s voices in the distance, growing closer by the minute.

He stopped in his tracks before looking around and quickly spotting a suitable tree. “Up, into the pine!” he said, as quietly as he was able, giving her a small push in his hurry as they scrambled off the tree. Finally, they stopped at one of the higher branches, covered in sticky sap, but hopefully concealed.


Akari

The next day, everything was deathly silent, and Akari could immediately tell something was wrong. Hikari chirped once to notify her he was still there, but after that, there were no noises other than the turning of the wagon’s wheels along the dirt road. “It feels like something is coming.” Akari turned her head towards him and simply nodded before returning her attention to the silence around them.

Abruptly the wagon lurched to a stop after the Leader’s voice shattered the silence, soon a scream bellowed forth from one of the men, ”It’s a Treelegs!” and the wagon then pulled immediately forward at the fastest pace they had experienced in weeks.

“Wh-“ Akari started before her mouth closed on its own by the pace and swerving of the wagon. Soon the entire thing flipped, causing them to slide out, Akari falling right on top of him again and boxes scattering about their forms. “Sorry.” She breathed out, even though she couldn’t have done anything to prevent it and thus it wasn’t her fault at all.

The sound of boxes moving hit Akari’s ears, and Hayato’s face appeared, causing a small smile to flicker across her lips as he offered her his hand, which she quickly grabbed and lifted herself up with, and led her away. He then left and returned moments later with Ikaru. She gazed up at Hayato for a moment before he confirmed her hopes, cutting the ropes binding their hands. ”Run!” He whispered urgently the two, and Akari took three seconds to lean upwards, grab his arm, and whisper something in his ear before being led away by Ikaru and bolting after taking a look at the monster ravaging the wagon behind them.

’It must be territorial.’ She thought suddenly, and with a strange calmness about her as they ran along. Soon the din began to fade, and a ravine came out of nowhere, and the sound of a large tree crashing to the ground splintered through the forest. ’Poor creature.’ “We don’t have much time, this way,” She quickly dashed after him after he grabbed her wrist again, looking around her for a way out.

He suddenly came to a stop, “Up, into the pine!” she ran after him, getting an easy footing with her boots and launching herself up after nearly losing her balance after he had pushed her. After reaching a tall branch and stopping, Akari pressed herself against the trunk of the tree as she heard voices below them.

”Where did the little brats go?” One called to the other as the paused under the tree Akari and Ikaru were in, leaning against the bark. ”Idunno, but if we don’t find them soon, we’re in for it with the boss.” One of them looked up into the leaves, and Akari grabbed Ikaru, pulling him close to the trunk as well, and consequently, closer to herself, her eyes wide while staring down at them, not even paying any attention to Ikaru.

After several moments of agonizing silence, finally one of them spoke out, “Hmph, well they’re not here, and every second we waste, the further they get away from us.” Akari let out a deep sigh which she had been holding as they departed.



Ikaru

Ikaru crouched on the branch, holding on to an adjacent one to keep his balance. He listened intently to the voices that continually came closer. The men stopped right under the tree Akari and Ikaru had perched in, and Ikaru held his breath as the men debated where they went.

Abruptly, Akari pulled him closer to the trunk, startling him and almost making him lose his balance. He began losing his grip but did not dare to move. One of the men was looking up into the tree, almost directly at them, and any movement would easily catch his eye. Moments passed, and Ikaru was almost sure that he would slip off the branch before they decided to move away. Finally, they began to walk off, and Ikaru quickly shifted out of the awkward position, not realizing how close he was to Akari. He was too focused on the retreating figures of the men who had come so close to finding them.

They soon disappeared from sight, and, after a few moments, Ikaru could no longer hear them. He peered into the quickly darkening forest for a few more moments to be sure they would not return. Eventually, he gave a sigh, and said, “Alright, I think they are gone for now.” He listened to a small, animalistic rustling nearby before continuing, “Perhaps we should stay here until morning? No telling what else is out there.”

Adjusting his glasses, he turned to glance at Akari, quickly realizing how close they were sitting. He tried to shift away, but lost his balance. He began falling backwards with a small yelp. He grunted as a slightly lower branch caught him. His legs were still resting on the branch Akari was perched on, making his position rather… uncomfortable. As was obvious, he had not had much experience climbing trees.

He gave an embarrassed chuckle, reddening slightly as he awkwardly pulled himself onto the narrow, lower branch, slowly scooting toward the trunk and grasping the rough wood tightly. “That wasn’t so bad,” he said, trying to sound confident.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akari Mineko Character Portrait: Ikaru Mitsuyo

0.00 INK

#, as written by slcam

Akari

Akari’s eyes bored into the men’s backs as they began to depart, staying in her crouched position against the trunk of the tree. Akari was fairly skilled when it came to tree climbing, as she did, or used to do it, every day, but even so, she was extra careful as falling off now would suck pretty badly. Once they departed from their line of sight, and a few seconds more, Ikaru spoke quietly, ” “Alright, I think they are gone for now.” Akari nodded, her eyes scanning along the ground where the men had been previously.

“Perhaps we should stay here until morning? No telling what else is out there.” With a shrug, she finally turned to look at him, suddenly leaning back in one swift motion as her form straightened out, surprise clearly written on her face. He had turned to her as well, and it seemed they both realized how close they were to each other, and both tried their best to get away. However, it didn’t work very well, as Akari’s head thumped into the bark of the tree, and Ikaru pretty much fell off of their branch.

She grunted slightly, wincing and holding her head before suddenly forgetting about the pain and moving forward to peer over the branch with worry. However, he was perfectly fine as a lower branch had caught him. She let out a loud laugh, quickly covering her mouth with her wrist. “Very smooth~” She smiled brightly at him before wincing once again and rubbing the back of her head.

Ikaru seemed to be fine, but she asked anyway, “You alright?” Her unease was quickly settled as he let out a shaky chuckle before pulling himself back up into a sitting position. “That wasn’t so bad,” Akari watched him for a few seconds before quickly turning away with a lopsided grin, looking out into the forest. “Are you sure it’s a good idea to sleep in this tree? You might just fall again to your doom.” She teased lightly, backing up against the trunk once more, making sure her feet were steadily pressed against the wood of the tree limb for more support.



Ikaru

"Ha ha, very funny," Ikaru said, still adjusting himself so he would be less likely to fall off. There was a branch to his left, across from the branch Akari sat on, that was low enough for him to lean on to keep himself from slipping off again. Though he tried to relax, every few seconds he would feel like he was falling and tense up again. It was somewhat ridiculous; he did not have a fear of heights, and had been up much higher before this. However, he could not keep himself from tensing up. 'It's going to be a long night,' he thought irritably. Instead of trying to settle in to sleep, he turned his attention out to the surrounding forest.

Perhaps, if he could not sleep, he might be able to keep watch. Though that was probably unnecessary, it was better than doing nothing other than losing his balance. Soon after, Ikaru could again hear men’s voices in the distance, but they soon faded away without returning. The night grew nearly pitch black, the moon just a small crescent. Though it was cold without a fire, Ikaru was glad they had better clothing than before.

Suddenly, Ikaru felt the sensation of falling again and jerked awake, clinging to the branch. He did not remember falling asleep, but at least he had stayed on the branch all night. He looked around at the now bright forest, trying to get his bearings.


Akari

Akari’s eyelids fluttered open, and she pressed back against the trunk of the tree in surprise, having a sudden moment of amnesia as to where she was. But the information was quickly resupplied to her mind, and she let out a content sigh. They were away from her home, and away from the bandits. ’Freedom at last.’ She thought leniently, however she soon dropped it, wondering how well they’d actually make it. And if they didn’t find a civilization soon, they’d be screwed for the winter.

Her thoughts were quickly interrupted by a loud chirp, her feathery friend alighting down on her branch. Her whole face brightened, she had been worried about him the previous night, but knew she couldn’t do anything about it. Akari fingered Hikari’s head feathers as he alighted onto her index finger, which she then moved up and down, causing the little bird to balance a bit.

She suddenly looked down, remembering Ikaru and wondering if he had fallen off during the night. She found him looking down, clutching the branch beside him. She grinned brightly, “Nice.” She commended his ability to stay in a tree for a night. “Well, I suppose we should get going. We need to find a town.” She looked around a bit before her eyes fixed on the little bird perched on her finger, a smooth grin playing on her lips.

She whispered something to the little bird, and made her index finger move upward in a swift motion, the bird taking flight while Akari made her way down the tree, soon following Hikari.



Ikaru

Ikaru finally figured out where he was and why, his eyes slowly adjusting to the light. Suddenly, he heard a loud chirp. Akari’s voice soon followed, seeming heavy with sarcasm to Ikaru’s ears. “I have better things to do than to practice climbing trees,” he mumbled, face reddening in response to the insult. He looked up at her, pushing his glasses up his nose with a finger. He was surprised tosee a small bird again on her shoulder. Was this girl some sort of animal magnet?
He merely nodded slightly to her next statement, looking around and attempting to stretch out his sore muscles. Suddenly, the bird fluttered off directly over his head, causing him to almost fall out of the tree once again. Irritation colored his words as he yelled after Akari’s retreating form, “Hey! Can’t you keep your little pet under control?” He soon realized she was not listening, and proceeded to climb out of the tree as quickly as his stiff muscles would allow.

Soon, he was safely on the ground once more, covered in sap and terribly sore, but otherwise in good shape. He took a moment to stretch before trying to figure out which direction they should go. He realized that Akari had already randomly started walking away, and he called after her, “Where are you going?” He hurried to catch up, waiting for an explanation.


Akari

Akari’s eyes narrowed as Ikaru yelled after her, ”Hey! Can’t you keep your little pet under control?” She just tilted her chin up a bit more, quickening her pace as he began to descend. If she was lucky she might just be able to lose him. But no such luck as he followed after her. She rolled her eyes, “Hikari is not a pet.”

”Where are you going?” A soft little smirk played on her lips. “Following the bird.” She said nonchalantly, as if it were the most obvious thing to do in the world. Despite Ikaru’s complaints, she remained unfazed and continued her course. “Hey, if you don’t like it, you can take another way.” She grinned brightly at him, her eyes flashing with mischief as she turned around to look at him.

After walking for what seemed to be an eternity, the two finally saw a bit of smoke, which had to mean civilization in the cold temperatures surrounding them, and they then discovered a little town. She turned to look at Ikaru with a very defined triumphant smirk, quickly heading to where the largest amount of smoke was billowing from. The two soon entered the inn, to which Akari took a moment to look around. A stout woman stood at the back of the front room, walls lined the entrance door to sort of minimize the view when you first stepped in, but once advancing, they could see medium sized wooden tables dotted around the room, obviously meant for the meals and ale to be served at throughout the days. Following the line of tables, Akari's eyes settled on a stone fireplace set against the wall. Wooden stairs led up to where she assumed where the rooms would be located, and there were a few doorways at the sides of the buildings as well as one behind the lady at the desk. One of them, she assumed, led to the kitchen and storage and such. Wood was the main furnishing in the building, asides from the stone fireplace, of course.



Ikaru

Akari’s response was absolutely ridiculous. How did she expect some animal to lead them anywhere? "What?" Ikaru said in a disbelieving tone, "You expect your little pet to lead us around? What will it show us, its favorite tree?" Her response was hard to argue with, and Ikaru pushed his glasses up his nose before trudging along beside her with an exasperated look on his face.

The forest seemed to stay the same around them, and they passed pine tree after pine tree. It began to feel as if only the sun had made any progress that day. He began to despair of ever even finding the road again when this whole ‘follow the stupid animal’ bit did not work. They were already so far away from where they had started, but Ikaru never really considered leaving Akari. He would not leave her alone to get lost out here.

Eventually, Ikaru began to notice smoke in the distance. He gritted his teeth to keep his irritation from growing. He would not admit that a bird had led them to civilization, that was ludicrous. Ikaru ignored Akari’s smirk, striding past her as they neared the small village. Ikaru strode purposefully toward the biggest structure, which he assumed was an inn of some sort, ignoring the stares of the simple village people. ‘They have probably never had such high-ranking nobles in this desolate place,’ Ikaru thought with a mocking smirk.

The inn was not the worst he had ever seen, but it would be the worst he had ever had to stay in for the night. He confidently strode up to the grubby, old innkeeper woman, and began speaking haughtily. “Give us a couple rooms and the best food you can manage here. We will need some form of transport in the morning as well. Can you handle that?”

“Money first, demands second,” she said gruffly, obviously angry at Ikaru’s rudeness. She looked them over and seemed rather unimpressed by their scruffy attire.

Ikaru reflexively straightened as she looked at him, feeling irritated that she would dare to show them such a lack of respect. “Do you not know who you are speaking to? I am Mitsuyo Ikaru, and this is Mineko Akari. You should treat us with respect, especially after what we have been put through,” he said incredulously, speaking slowly as if to a child. He could not believe that she would act this way toward nobles such as themselves.

She responded immediately. “All I see is a nitwit boy who thinks he can disrespect his elders whenever he pleases. You don’t deserve respect, stranger, and you’re not doing much to earn it either. Why should I kowtow to you anyway?” She crossed her arms over her large form, eying him again with a scowl.

Ikaru heard one of the men behind them comment, “This should be interesting.” Ikaru turned to scowl at him, and he stared back with curiosity, raising his glass in a sort of salute before he chugged it down. The innkeeper scowled at him as well, and he almost cowered. It would have been funny if Ikaru were not so irritated.

He spoke even slower, not understanding how the woman could be so oblivious. “We are nobles of Rillia. How do you not know us? My family is very well respected in every reputable town in the country!”

The woman glared at him, speaking in a low voice taut with anger, “If you don’t have any money, then get out. You might as well leave this village too. We’ve no need for lying thieves who waltz in and think they can trick us. Stop gaping like a dimwit and leave, loud-mouth brat!”


Akari

Akari suddenly looked up as Ikaru strode forward to the little lady at the desk, and desperately tried to grab him before he’d do anything stupid, but she was too late. She looked after him with a disconsolate look, quickly trailing after him. Her mouth almost fell open at what he said next.

“Give us a couple rooms and the best food you can manage here. We will need some form of transport in the morning as well. Can you handle that?” She just looked at him with an incredulous flash to her eyes. ”How much of a baka can you become!?!?”

“Money first, demands second,” Akari rolled her eyes at Ikaru, crossing her arms and flashing him a very irritated, disgruntled look at how he ruined everything in one simple sentence. However, he missed it as he straightened and spoke harshly to the lady, ”Do you not know who you are speaking to? I am Mitsuyo Ikaru, and this is Mineko Akari. You should treat us with respect, especially after what we have been put through.” To make matters worse, he dragged her into the problem, and said it so slowly as if she had no brain whatsoever.

The woman retorted to him, making a good point. Someone seated at one of the tables spoke out, “This should be interesting.” Akari turned to him and grinned, stifling a small laugh at his nonchalant response to Ikaru’s glare. She returned her glance back to the innkeeper, and Ikaru put the final piece to his little rant. “We are nobles of Rillia. How do you not know us? My family is very well respected in every reputable town in the country!” Akari groaned softly, ”You. Are so brainless.” The woman suddenly snapped at him with a strained voice, calling the two of them thieves.

Akari had had enough; before Ikaru could make the worst mistake possible, she smacked him over the side of the head with an audible growl. “I’m sorry for my idiot friend here, mam. He has absolutely no concept of manners.” She shot a glare at him, daring for him to condescend her as well. She bowed her head politely to the lady, to which she ’harrumphed’ at. “I was wondering if it were to be possible for me to work as one of your table maids, so as to pay for our stay.”

The woman glanced her up and down with a wary, scrutinizing look, before letting out a cough, “Alright, fair enough. At least one of the lot o’ you has some idea of what’s going on around here. How did you know we were short of workers, girl? Ah, no matter. But there is something else you two are going to have to do first, and that’s go talk to the mayor of our town, he needs some help with something, and if you two can complete the task, I’ll allow you to stay here, so long as one of you does the work around here.” With another bow of her head, Akari smirked at Ikaru lazily, turning around promptly and shooting a bright grin to the man at the table, to which he let out a drunken laugh and lifted his empty glass to her.

She exited, looking around for a moment to locate where the town mayor would be located, and quickly set off.



Ikaru

Suddenly, Ikaru felt a solid impact on the side of his head. Akari had just smacked him! He fell silent quickly, caught off guard from her sudden motion. She apologized for him, and he reddened, but still thought he was right. Why would she smack him? Her glare kept him from saying anything as he pondered what he had done to deserve it. Akari was probably siding with this peasant woman instead of him. Women were strange like that. Perhaps he was coming on a bit strongly to the woman, though, which would not have been a problem if she had known who he was.

Akari then offered to help serve, and Ikaru only reddened more. A woman of her station working in a place like this? Staying here when they had no other choice was one thing, but working here was entirely a different matter. He took a deep breath, adjusting his glasses with a finger and calming himself down. He had not expected this from her. Why were women always so frustrating and hard to figure out?
To his surprise, the woman agreed, being more cooperative than she had been with him. He sighed again. Would all the people of this town expect him to treat them as equals? That would be interesting to get used to indeed. These commoners were quite interesting indeed. Perhaps it would be refreshing not to have people jumping to fulfill his commands for a while, or it may just leave him terribly frustrated. Only time would tell.

She sent them off to see the mayor, speaking of some job, and Ikaru wondered if the innkeeper woman did realize they were more than simple commoners. A talk with a mayor would be more in Ikaru’s comfort zone; he was not used to speaking with peasants. Akari’s smirk told him that she had bested him and knew it. He only gave her a glance in return as they walked out, hearing the belching laughter of the man at the table once more.

Once they were outside, however, he patted her on the head with a sarcastic, “Well, aren’t you just brilliant at communicating with these ‘country bumpkins.’ Perhaps it is from your mutual frolicking in the muck for fun. Might have to keep you around.” He smirked at her and increased his stride to avoid any blow or snarky reply.

It was not difficult to find the mayor’s house. It was the only one with a proper roof and well painted exterior. Ikaru knocked at the door, and a short moment passed before a scruffy young servant girl opened it. She looked barely twelve, and stared at them wide-eyed for a moment before blurting out a hurried, “Yes, may I ‘elp you?” She had a rather broad country accent.

“We request to see the mayor. The innkeeper sent us,” Ikaru replied, waiting expectantly for her to scurry off. She stood watching them a moment longer before bobbing a slight curtsy and scrambling away. She returned a moment later with a breathless, “This way, take off your shoes, please.”

Ikaru removed his shoes at the entrance, almost embarrassed at how ragged they had come, before following the young girl into a large room, well decorated when compared to the rest of the town. There were several varied pelts displayed on the wall, as well as a peculiar skull accompanying the few books on a small bookshelf. A short man with graying hair stood facing them on a slightly raised platform at the front of the room.


Akari

As soon as they were outside, Akari felt Ikaru’s hands on her head, a wary look suddenly flashing across her face to swerve around and kick him in the gut or something, when she realized he was simply patting her. And undermining her thus, as well. “Well, aren’t you just brilliant at communicating with these ‘country bumpkins.’ Perhaps it is from your mutual frolicking in the muck for fun. Might have to keep you around.” An angry glare flashed onto her face like lightning, and she almost did kick him, but he had already moved away from her, wisely as well. However, she simply smirked up at him as Hikari flew from her shoulder up high into the air before dive-bombing the boy, and sending a good, vicious peck to his neck before disappearing. “Well, aren’t you just a piece of work.” She spat after him, crossing her arms and making sure her eyes didn’t catch any glimpse of him again.

As they knocked on the door of the mayor’s house, a young serving girl appeared to them, Akari simply smiled brightly down at her as Ikaru explained the situation. She seemed to know what he meant by the ‘innkeeper sent us’, and she quickly disappeared before reappearing moments later, ” This way, take off your shoes, please.” Akari’s eyes widened as she let out a soft laugh. She hadn’t taken off her shoes to feel the ground in so long, so she more than willingly shed them as they entered. After walking for a short while, they appeared in a well furnished room, with a graying man sitting at a desk.

“Ah, you must be the ones Ulna sent. Yes, yes. Right down to business then. A Lenmer has been terrorizing the outskirts of our village for days now. We’ve tried sending some of our men out to dispatch it, but no such luck,” He opened a book to his left, flipping to the page to show a picture of the beast. “So, I have a task for you. Kill the Nargacuga, and you’ll have free reign of our town, and acceptance as well. You are not expected to go out today, as you are most certainly tired from your journey here. Tell Ulna I have given you permission to stay for one night before you have to provide for yourselves, travelers.” He nodded to them, quickly shooing them away. "Tomorrow, you are to meet in the local library, Sal should be able to help you with the information."



Ikaru

Ikaru’s eyes widened as the man made his request. He did not even ask if either of them had any experience with this sort of thing, and Ikaru did not have a sword with him. He wondered if this was something these odd people did with all their visitors. At least they would be getting more information the next day, but it was still a stretch. Who knew what kind of creature this Lunmer would be?

At the very least, the mayor was allowing them to stay the night there, but Ikaru wondered if it would not be better for them to just leave in the morning. The only problem would be that they were without any sort of supplies. His stomach growled quietly as if reminding him of that fact. They also had no idea where to go, unless Akari got her little pet to do another trick.

The mayor soon shooed them out, telling them someone called Sal would give them more information the next morning. They would just have to find the library. Ikaru was impressed that this little town even had a library. He did not realize these country folk had an interest in reading. This mayor did not seem especially wealthy, or scholarly for that matter. Perhaps there was some sort of noble living nearby, or even just someone well off? However, if that were true, he would take care of the Nargacuga himself, would he not?

They soon exited the house, pulling their shoes on again as the young servant girl half pushed them out the door. There was something rather strange about this place…. Well, there was nothing to do about it now.


Akari

Akari blinked with an uneasy look on her face as the mayor explained the task he set before them. She definitely wasn’t comfortable killing anything, especially if it’s a task the mayor’s offering to everyone. That just screams trouble. With a little sigh, Akari simply accepted it, they had nowhere to go anyway, and no money to get there. She suddenly looked up as she heard the soft rumbling of Ikaru’s stomach, and an irritated expression filled her face.

’Seriously?’ She tapped her fingers on the arm of the chair for a second. After the brief introduction, the mayor shooed them off, which wasn’t surprising, being a mayor is certainly expected to be a busy job. So they’d be looking for Sal, which honestly, Akari had no idea what gender the person was. With a stretch, Akari sprang up from her chair, not wanting to cause anymore delay for the mayor, and walked out, the serving girl quickly shooing them out.

As they walked along a street, Akari put a finger to her chin, looking up at the darkened sky, a thoughtful look to her face. ’Lunmer, huh? Why does that name sound familiar….’ She completely ignored Ikaru as she walked, suddenly finding herself wandering towards the aroma emanating from the local inn, Hikari suddenly alighting on her shoulder. As she entered through the doors, she stopped at the front desk once more, “The mayor says we’ll have one night on him, then we have to go hunt down that thing, or whatever.” Ulna simply nodded while wiping at her desk with a cloth. Hikari chirped on her shoulder and the woman looked up at it somewhat severely. “Sorry, we don’t allow pets here.”

Akari’s eyebrow twitched, and she looked at the woman calmly. “Hikari is not a pet. He is simply a wild animal, who somehow likes me. I have no control over him.” Her voice did not waver or hint at much anger, though by looking in her face, one could see the strained patience there. The lady simply ‘hmphed’ before returning to her cleaning. She looked at Ikaru with a sidelong glance, squinting one eye just a bit at him. She then leaned forward and quietly whispered to the lady.

“Sorry, the deal is you get one night to sleep here for no return, dinner’s not included in that bargain.” She responded curtly, before the man from before, who seemed to be settled next to the fireplace laughing with some other men, suddenly called out, “Aw, come on Ulna! They look like half frozen rats off the street, have a little pity for once!” The tavern lady simply crossed her arms, a resolute look to her face. Akari, leaned forward just a bit, “Alright, how’s about we play a game instead? If I win, we get dinner, if you win, we’ll go straight to bed with no dinner, like a disciplined little child. How does that sound, hm? I’ll be working for you tomorrow anyway, so it’s not like you’re losing anything.” She tapped her cheek with a grin, a smirk hiding underneath it. Ulna looked her up and down, crossing her arms before agreeing, although reluctantly. “All we need is a piece of parchment, and something to write with.”

After the items were provided, Akari looked at the lady with an innocent smile. “Now pick an object, something small, and a bit more common. Also, don't say what color it is.”



Ikaru

Ikaru started for the inn, eager to eat something. Hunger had been gnawing at his belly far too long. It was not that he could not handle being hungry, but it had been almost two days since they had eaten, and the prospect of a meal was not something he would pass up right now.

Akari moved her hand to her chin, and the movement caught Ikaru’s attention. He noticed the thoughtful look on her face before looking away again. Perhaps she was going over what little information they had just been given by the mayor. ’What a peculiar man, and a peculiar town,’ Ikaru thought, adjusting his glasses as he glanced around. In any case, that matter could wait until after dinner. They finally entered the inn, and Ikaru noticed Akari’s little pet sitting on her shoulder. He unconsciously found himself reaching for the sore spot where the bird had pecked him. ‘What a little pest,’ Ikaru thought as they approached the woman who ran the inn.

Before he could speak, Akari told the woman, “The mayor says we’ll have one night on him, then we have to go hunt down that thing, or whatever.” Suddenly, the innkeeper noticed Akari’s pet, and told her it was not allowed. Akari insisted it was not a pet, and Ikaru rolled his eyes. She always had some argument for everything. The lady gave up the argument without responding, and Ikaru raised an eyebrow at her, though she was completely ignoring him. She was probably still sore about their earlier conversation. It was her fault for refusing to help them after all. He looked around, wondering what the smell from the kitchen was. Dinner would be done soon, if it was not already, and it smelled wonderful.

Ikaru noticed Akari’s look, and he looked at her quizzically, trying to figure out what was going through the girl’s mind. She leaned forward, whispering something to the inkeepeer that Ikaru could not hear. The lady loudly gave a response that, of course, irritated him. “Sorry, the deal is you get one night to sleep here for no return, dinner’s not included in that bargain.” Why were women always so stubborn and unreasonable?

His stomach loudly growled again, as if in protest of the woman’s statement, and the man from before told the woman to have some compassion. Ikaru scowled at his comment about them looking like rats though. Akari then proposed that they play a game to get dinner, and Ikaru raised his eyebrows at her. What kind of game was this? Hopefully it was easy for her to win, or his stomach might not be able to take it…

The woman agreed to play Akari’s game, and Ikaru watched with an eager curiosity as the items were set on the table. ‘What is Akari up to?’ he thought, watching her face from the corner of his eye. The innkeeper seemed perplexed as well.

“Well, you got your stuff, what's this game of yours?”[b] she said in a no-nonsense tone. Akari responded, [b]“Now pick an object, something small, and a bit more common. Also, don't say what color it is.” The lady huffed at Akari and paused in her cleaning with a thoughtful look on her face. It was only seconds before she decided, giving a small laugh, “Ha, what about a coin? Now, what is the point? How do I win and how do you win?”


Akari

Akari grinned brightly, watching the lady’s face carefully as she responded with a coin. “Alright, great! So, the rules are, if my little friend here,” She looked over at Hikari sitting on her shoulder before she continued, “can find your coin, then I win. If he can’t, then you win. Simple.” She picked up the pen, and began to brush lines onto the paper, forming the coin on the paper while imagining it in her mind. It had a 3D effect, but it was a coin from back where Akari had come from. In the corner of the paper she wrote a simple little G, setting down the pen and letting Hikari tilt his head back and forth before chirping and flittering away. The old lady crossed her arms once more, smirking ever so slightly with her otherwise plastered frown, thinking that she had this in the bag, considering the coin looked nothing like what she had seen from around here.

Akari immediately crumpled up the paper, putting it into her pocket. “And now we wait.” She walked over to one of the nearby benches, crossing one leg over the other and lounging back on the wood. By this time, the event had caused some commotion from around the inn, and murmurs could be heard, such as, “There’s no way the bird can do it,” and, “Who does this girl think she is, is she crazy?” and then the man from before saying, “Have a little faith, at least she looks like she knows what she’s doing.”

After a few minutes, a chirp could be heard, and Akari immediately rose from her seat, returning to the desk. She watched as Hikari flew in, and opened her palm, pointing her index finger up for Hikari to have a perch. The bird dropped the coin before alighting onto her finger, and the girl picked up the coin with her other hand, flashing it before the woman. “Was your coin’s metal gold?” The woman looked rather shocked that the bird had actually done it. “Yes.” She responded bluntly, and Akari grinned triumphantly, as cheers erupted behind her. “Haha, the bird actually did it! How’d he do that?!” The woman made a grab for the coin, but Akari withdrew it sharply, looking at her with a vacant expression. “Sorry, the game was to see if I could get your coin, you having it wasn’t included in the bargain.” She said simply, recalling the lady’s refusal to admit them dinner in the first place. It was a subtle way of undermining her and getting a bit of revenge, but Akari had a content look to her face.

She had pretty much known that the woman would have thought of a gold coin, seeing as she was the greedy type, and by watching her eyes and expressions. The woman relented, “If I ain’t keepin’ to my word, I ain’t nothin’ around here.” She motioned for them to have a seat, and called for dinner to be served to them.

Akari smiled brightly, rubbing Hikari on the head with a small little coo, completely ignoring Ikaru once more. She settled back down on the benches, wondering if Hikari had found it, or grabbed it. But those thoughts were lost as steaming food arrived, and it definitely smelled delicious. With a sweet grin, she quickly tore off a little piece of bread, working at it between her fingers before setting it down on the table for her little bird to dig into. She then started on her own meal.



Ikaru

Ikaru groaned when he realized Akari was relying on her little pet again. Why did she think the thing was so smart? It was just a bird, not anything especially intelligent. He sighed, still trying to convince himself again that the bird leading them to this strange little town was just blind luck, nothing more. He took a seat next to Akari as they waited, hungrily eyeing a plate of food that one of them men had. ‘That bird had better be lucky again,’ he thought with a frown. If it did not, at least he could laugh at Akari’s foolishness, though that would be a small consolation for an empty stomach.

Ikaru heard the mumbles of disbelief from the other patrons, but he mostly ignored them, wondering whether the bird could do it or not. He did not have much faith in the creature, but he also did not like the idea of going hungry, even if it meant he was wrong.

Finally, he heard the bird return. He stood, faster and more eagerly than he would have liked. He caught himself and leisurely strolled over to where the bird was perched on Akari’s finger. He peered down at what he had brought. A coin! He quickly began adjusting his glasses to conceal his shock. So it had done it. “Lucky bird,” he said, mumbling under his breath. He looked at the innkeeper expectantly, and the woman confirmed that it was even the color she had thought of. She grabbed for the coin, but Akari held it away and told the woman it was not hers in no uncertain terms. Ikaru barely kept himself from laughing aloud at the innocent look on Akari’s face.

The woman finally agreed to serve them dinner, and Ikaru was soon dinning into a plate of delicious food. After a moment, he spoke to Akari, “Seems your little pet got lucky again.” He lowered his voice, glancing at the innkeeper before continuing, “Or is there some trick to it?” He raised an eyebrow at her, adjusting his glasses again.


Akari

Akari simply rolled her eyes with a smirk shot at the boy, “Hikari is not a pet. And it’s simply cooperation, work, and deduction.” She spoke after swallowing another mouthful of food while the bird pecked at the bread crumbs happily. It looked up at Akari, tilting its head with a chirp, and she glanced down at him, giving a gentle smile before relinquishing another morsel of food to the little creature. She returned to watch Ikaru, stifling a small laugh. She poked him in the side gently, a smirk dancing across her lips. “Looks like someone owes a thank-you for dinner, hm?” She stuck her tongue out just slightly past her lips, grinning at him with a hint of mischief in her eyes.

Suddenly, one of the men from earlier slid across their table on the other side, a look of slight greed in his eyes, but otherwise drunk and happy. “Your little bird friend, he’s certainly special. Now… how much would you be willing to agree upon for me to take him off your hands?” Akari’s eyes narrowed, her nostrils flaring ever so softly.

“Sorry, he’s not mine to give. He goes where he pleases, and sticks around only when he so desires to. Not for sale.” She put simply, turning away from him. He suddenly lurched across the table, trying to make a grab for the bird, and Akari fell backwards with a gasp, her feet kicking the underside of the table as her legs were still trapped on the bench.

Ulna suddenly slammed her fist against her desk, yelling at the man. “That is quite enough out of you Benj! It’s time you went back on your way, you’ve overstayed your welcome.” She spoke angrily, shooing the man outside while crossing her arms fiercely. “Fat oaf, said he’d only be staying in town for a few days, it’s been a bit longer than that.” She mumbled crossly as she returned to her place.



Ikaru

Ikaru rolled his eyes as Akari insisted the little bird that clung to her was not a pet. Why would it not be considered a pet? Her refusal to accept that reality intrigued him. She was also vague about how the trick even worked. Ikaru merely dropped it for the moment, more interested in finishing the food on his plate. He watched out of the corner of his eye as she fed the little creature. If that did not indicate it was a pet, nothing did. She poked him and he scowled at her. He glared for a moment longer as she stuck her tongue out at him. Again, so mature. He opened his mouth to speak, but one of the drunken patrons of the tavern interrupted, sliding over and asking Akari about buying the bird. She again insisted that it did not belong to her, and she would not sell the animal.

The man suddenly lunged for the poor bird and Ikaru stood, an angry glare on his face. Though the man was wider than he was, Ikaru was quite a bit taller, and he did not look pleasant when angry. The innkeeper suddenly slapped a hand down on the table between Ikaru and the drunk man, telling the man to leave. Ikaru glared at him until he finally walked away, rejoining the loud group of men for a moment, before they began laughing at him. He soon stormed off into the night, and Ikaru turned his attention to Akari.

Her bird had fled up into the rafters, and was still squawking loudly. Akari, on the other hand, was half way on the floor. He gave a small chuckle, offering her a hand to help her get back up into the seat. "Are you alright?" he said, with the slightest sympathy in his amused tone.


Akari

Pain conquered her vision for a few moments, before reality returned once more. She winced, blinking a few times before looking up in a slight daze to see Hikari complaining up on the beams of the inn. Akari blinked once more, before suddenly looking over to see Ikaru smiling at her, his tone amused and mocking, he offered his hand to her, "Are you alright?" Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly, and she pushed his hand away, pulling her legs in closer to her body and off the bench as she got up on her own, swiftly turning away from Ikaru with utter silence completely submerging her.

She barely made a noise as she departed from the table and past the front desk, her head tilted down and her hair hiding her eyes. As she went one way, Hikari went the other, flicking out of the building and out into the night. “Room 14.” Ulna responded as the girl passed her, her eyes quickly darting away from the girl’s form. Akari clutched the wooden railing, swiftly ascending the stairs and out of view.

She let out a hard sigh, tilting her head down and looking at the floor, her footsteps barely made a noise as she stepped down, walking to the room. As she entered, she lifted her head to look around. There was a large double bed at the center against the wall with a bedside table beside it with a small lantern flickering, a small dresser, a side room, a large rug in the center, a small parlor chair, and thick curtains against the windows. She closed the door behind her, eyeing the fresh linens at the end of the bed, and quickly picked hers up without a word. At least it’d be nice to get out of what she had been wearing for so long. She entered the side room, quietly undressing and slipping the linen undercloth over her head and shoulders.

She hardly cared if it was fitting or not, it wasn’t like she would feel any different were she back home. She folded her clothing and set it in the first drawer, quietly walking over to the windowsill and slipping her boots off. Without a word, she slid the pane open, and climbed up onto the wood, settling her back against the frame and looking out with her elbow on her raised knee, while she allowed her other leg to slip off of the sill to hang and swish back and forth slowly and softly for a few moments before resting it back on ground. The moon shone brightly, and the stars twinkled with brilliance. It was like nothing she had ever seen before. ’I wish I could just take wing and fly away… far away from it all.’ She hummed softly to herself for a few moments before silencing herself, getting the feeling that she’d only be disciplined and then mocked by Ikaru further should he hear it.

Akari let out a whisper of a breath pass her lips as she closed her eyes and breathed the night air through her nostrils. ’Why is it all so hard… so difficult. I feel ever so unwanted all the time, of course I have a guard up. I have to be sufficient on my own.’ Her mind fell dull, her eyes lazily focused on the night sky while memories decided to play like an old record in her mind. After awhile, she suddenly rested a hand on her cheek, pulling her hand away gently to see the slightest bit of a shimmer as she tilted it in the moonlight, and felt dampness against her fingertips, ’Idiot….’ Akari thought at herself, shifting her gaze around and trying to pick out constellations.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akari Mineko Character Portrait: Ikaru Mitsuyo

0.00 INK

#, as written by Skwidge


Ikaru

Ikaru let his hand fall as Akari pushed it away, awkwardly getting up on her own and leaving without another word. He frowned slightly as he watched her retreating form for a moment. He did not understand why she seemed so upset. Had she hurt herself when she fell? If so, why would she be mad at him? Was it something else?

He slowly sat, finishing the last few bites of his meal without really tasting it. He gathered his plate and Akari’s and took them back to the innkeeper with a respectful, if distracted, nod of thanks. She grunted and took the dishes to the kitchen, leaving him standing there for a moment. When she returned, she hastily said, “Gave you Room 14.” and Ikaru nodded to her again. After a short moment of indecision, he headed up. He was concerned for Akari, especially if she was hurt and had not told him. If that man had hurt her, he would see justice first hand, and Ikaru would see to that. Drunkenness was no excuse for mistreating a woman or causing her harm.

He soon came to a simple wooden door marked with the number 14. He knocked softly, waiting for a response, before he entered. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting as he took everything in for a moment. There was a chair and small bedside table next to the bed which seemed to fill the room. However, the realization that there was only one bed quickly crossed Ikaru’s mind, and he reluctantly decided he would still be sleeping on the ground that night. At least he was fairly used to it by now, and the rug would provide a bit of cushion. He noticed that he would need to ask for some more blankets, because there did not seem to be any extras in the room.

Finally, his eye found Akari’s form sitting in the window. He took a deep breath, and considered what to say. ‘The simpler, the better, I suppose,’ he thought, adjusting his glasses. “What is wrong, Akari? Are you hurt?” his voice held none of the amusement from before, only a tense concern.


Akari

Akari’s hand tensed a bit as she heard the door open behind her, but she refused to turn to look at him, especially since she had let herself cry without even realizing it. “What is wrong, Akari? Are you hurt?” His voice called softly, though with his ever present practical tone, even if some concern threaded through it. ’It’s a lie, it’s a trap.’ her mind immediately sprang, and Akari simply murmured, “Fine.” She hoped she sounded tired, not grudged or burdened. She returned to let her eyes wander along the heavens, having answered his question. “You can take the bed, it doesn’t really matter, I don’t care.” She spoke up, steeling her voice to make it sound normal; she even plastered a fake smile onto her lips, just for him, even though he couldn’t see it, what with her head turned away from him.

She let one fingernail scratch at the wood of the windowsill, blinking away the tears that threatened to spill out again. ’Ugh, stop. I’m done with that, I’m stronger than that.’ She shook her head lightly before moving her legs back, and turning around, the shadow cast by the moon’s brightness hiding her features. ’Because if you’re not strong, what’s keeping you from the abyss?’ She smiled at him lightly, getting off of the windowsill and closing the window tightly shut.



Ikaru

Akari gave Ikaru a somewhat strained answer, but he decided not to push her any further. If she said she was fine, he would take her at her word unless he knew otherwise. In this instance, he did not know at all. Women were complicated, and he was not sure what was going on with her, so it seemed better to leave her be. There was no use pushing it further and having her assume he thought she was not telling the truth. He rubbed the back of his head with a sigh as she commented on the bed situation. As tempting as the thought of a soft, warm bed was, he would not take it from a woman no matter the circumstance.
“If you don’t mind, I will take the floor,” he said stubbornly. “I will be back.”

He turned and left, closing the door again behind him before heading back down the stairs. He soon spotted Ulna at the front desk again, and quickly approached her. He opened his mouth to demand some blankets before he spotted that typical, irritated look on her face. Perhaps some politeness would suit his purpose better, especially considering how much opposition he got from her last time. He gave a small sigh and started again. “May I have some extra blankets? Ulna, was it?” She gave a short nod, looking at him expectantly with a deep frown on her face, before he continued, “Please.”

[b[“Fine. Nights get cold here, especially now when it's nearing winter.”[/b] She bustled off, soon handing him a small stack of thick, coarse blankets. He thanked her and went back up the stairs, grumbling to himself in irritation over having to be at the woman’s mercy like that. He did not enjoy the feeling. At least treating her as if she was important got the desired results. ‘Women are strange in general though,’ he thought, reminded of Akari’s strange mood. He resolved again not to bother her about it, and knocked before entering and closing the door behind him. He set them on the ground near the door, looking at the large linen nightgown at the foot of the bed. It would be good to get out of the filthy clothes, but would it be proper?

He picked it up, quickly glancing at Akari before deciding he would just go with it. He stepped into the side room, closing the curtain behind him, before taking off his shirt and cloak and washing himself with water and a small cloth from the washbowl. It was chilly, but still refreshing, and he felt better when he put on the nightshirt. He slipped off his ragged shoes and quickly washed his feet as well before folding his shirt and cloak and walking out.

He opened the first drawer of the nightstand, seeing Akari’s belongings, before he shut it and placed his shirt and cloak inside the second drawer and his shoes beside the nightstand. He arranged the blankets on the floor and lay down, using one of the blankets as a pillow, and facing the wall with his back to the bed. Akari could decide when, or if, she wanted to extinguish the light. It did not bother him. It was not long before he was soundly asleep, more comfortable than he had been for weeks.


Akari

Akari looked up as he refused, almost as if he wanted the floor, like really badly. She shook her head softly before sitting down on the soft mattress. How long had it been since the last time she had slept on something proper? Ikaru left the room in quest of blankets, and Akari felt bad, but she had made her offer…. With a small sigh, she let herself fall back against the softness, the pillow cradling her head gently. She quickly shifted her arm over her eyes, wiping at the stains there.

She rolled over onto her side, hugging the pillow close to her and gazing at the wall across from her, replaying the turns of the day. Ikaru returned a little while later, and with the creak of the door, her eyes shifted to his form. He quickly disappeared out of her vision, and she listened to his footsteps as he made his way into the side room. She averted her attention from the sounds coming from there, heat threatening to rise under her cheeks, and she closed her eyes tightly until they stopped.

He returned to the main room, setting up his sleeping area with all of the extra blankets. She watched him while he worked, and as he settled down, using another blanket as a pillow, Akari let a tired grin come across her face. She grabbed the second pillow on the bed, and flung it straight onto his head. “Night.” She offered, an unconfident smile slightly trembling at her lips. She turned from him, leaned forward to the lamp, and blew. The room was suddenly bathed with darkness, other than the moonlight bathing the room in its warm, soft glow.

Akari closed her eyes, relishing the comfort and warmth around her, and soon fell asleep.



Ikaru

Ikaru woke early, opening his eyes just as the sun was rising. He put his glasses on, quickly adjusting them on his nose and blinking at the unfamiliar room around him. He soon figured out where he was and gave a small sigh. They were supposed to learn about the monster he would hunt today.

He noticed Akari still sleeping soundly in the bed and he quietly went about getting dressed and folding up his blankets again, noticing he had acquired a pillow. He faintly remembered it being thrown at him, but he was already mostly asleep by then. It had always been easy for him to sleep, but staying asleep was often a problem, thus the waking up early in the morning. He had always been that way, often watching the sun rise over the ocean near his home. There was no ocean here. Ikaru was beginning to wonder when he would even see it again.

He checked that all was in order and left the room, closing the door softly as he went down the stairs. Ulna, of course, was already up and bustling about in what seemed to be her usual manner. She looked at him with a scowl on her face, but said nothing. Ikaru gave her a short nod and walked out into the broad dirt road.

He walked to the edge of town, noting how many seemed to be out of bed at that hour. That was fairly typical for these farming types though. He watched as the sun began rising over the surrounding fields and forest, bathing the town in a beautiful glow. He soon turned, trying to find the library so he could get Akari soon. It would not do to be late. Finally, he asked a woman who was nearby, and she directed him to a squat building not far from the mayor’s residence. He thanked her and hurried back to the inn, expecting Akari to be up and waiting to go.


Akari

Akari’s eyes blinked open as sun filtered through the window into the small room. She let a small yawn form at her mouth before hugging her pillow a bit tightly before pulling herself up into a sitting position. She glanced around the room, remembering the other soul that was forced to share it with her. But he seemed to be nowhere in sight, and Akari rubbed at her eyes before stepping onto the cold wooden floor. She stepped around Ikaru’s sleeping area, making her way into the second room.

She kneeled down quietly, cupping her hands and bringing the water up to her face, washing the long gone tear stains from her form. She quickly returned to the main room, opening the drawer and taking her clothing out. She figured that no one would be bothering to enter her room at all, so she simply changed right there. She slipped her boots on once more, making her way leisurely to the door. She turned the handle and left the room, closing the door behind her with a stretch.

She walked down the hallway and descended the steps to the main room, greeting Ulna as the woman was barking out orders to her staff. Soon Akari would be running about under her guidance. She smiled softly, taking a seat at one of the benches. She’d have to start after today, as they’d be going out to hunt the problem that was plaguing the town. Soon a stranger slid across her seat, holding a plate of food. He was a young guy, and not that bad looking either, he had dirty blonde hair, green eyes, he looked to be maybe 5' 9'', and had a fair amount of muscle. He looked over at her with a small grin as a simple greeting, “Heya!” He offered, and Akari grinned back at him, “Hey.” She said, watching for a moment as he began to eat, but then politely turned away. “So, are you the news in town? Gonna be huntin’ down the Lenmer?” She nodded with a small laugh. “The bloke, it’s been ravaging a few farms around here, and hacking about reserves.” She blinked with a soft grin, “Are you from around here?” She asked lightly, and he answered her quickly. “Nope, made a trading stop here, gonna be continuing on north to trade a few more furs and then return home.”

“Ha, just gets colder, huh?” The male nodded at her, grinning a bit slyly, “So, what’s a pretty girl like you doing all the way up north alone?” She looked slightly taken aback, “How’d you know I’m out of my element? And, I'm not travelling alone.” She smirked, and he laughed, “You reek of a greenie, and it's no surprise there.” The man said good naturedly, teasing her already with another chuckle. “So what’s your name?” He asked, and Akari provided it. They were soon immersed in conversation, joking and teasing as if they had been close friends for quite some time. Akari had completely forgotten about the past night’s feelings and happenings, instead choosing to move forward. She didn’t even notice when Ikaru came in, she was too occupied with the guy before her.



Ikaru

When Ikaru entered the inn, he saw that the main room was already more crowded than when he had left. Ulna was loudly ordering her servants about preparing food. Adjusting his glasses with one hand, he scanned the room, half-expecting Akari to be fast asleep in the room still. She did seem soundly asleep when he left almost a half an hour ago.

However, he quickly located her, and she was speaking to a strange man. He was surprised after how her last conversation with a strange man had been. Nevertheless, where that man had been middle-aged, balding, drunk, and ill mannered, this one was young, and ruddy, and Akari seemed to be laughing and enjoying the conversation. Ikaru felt odd as he stared a moment in disbelief. It was almost as if he felt protective, but there was no real danger. At least perhaps there was not. Unless he was picking something up from this stranger that Akari was not. That had to be it.

He strode over, intent on getting Akari away from the strange man who had possibly evil intentions. The man had his back to Ikaru and the door with Akari facing him, and Ikaru approached with an unintentional silence as he regarded the man with suspicion. Finally, he stood at the table, standing between them and facing Akari. He glanced at the man, but otherwise ignored him.

“Akari, it is time. We should not keep this Sal waiting,” he said, rudely interrupting the man mid-sentence.


Akari

Akari was grinning, her chin resting in her hand as she listened to the guy talk about some of the recent happenings, and a few of his own adventures. However, mid sentence, he was suddenly interrupted by none other than Ikaru himself. He closed his mouth good naturedly, looking the guy up and down. “Akari, it is time. We should not keep this Sal waiting,” She looked up at him with a normal look to her face, before turning and grinning lazily to her friend, Jenk, who coughed once he was done and then spoke up. “And who are you, my good sir?” He offered with a smile and a twinkle to his eye. Since he knew his lovely companion-for-the-time-being’s name, he assumed he was her travelling partner, possibly, or someone she had met when she came into the town.

Akari watched quietly, suddenly looking over to one of the windows and watching a wind blow through the leaves of the trees nearby, and momentarily wondered where Hikari had flown off to. She had no idea if she’d be seeing him anytime soon. The animal might have departed altogether. She returned her attention to the two boys before her.



Ikaru

Ikaru turned and looked at the young man with a perfectly emotionless face. His eyes betrayed a slight annoyance, however, as if irritated to have to speak to a common boy who, like everyone else in this town, wanted to be treated like an equal.

“I am Akari’s betrothed,” he said flatly. He turned his attention back to Akari with an impatient, “Sal is waiting for us. We should hurry.”


Akari

It seemed as though Akari and Jenk both took a double take at the same time at Ikaru’s comment. “Well, that’s the first time I’ve heard you admit it.” While Jenk just raised his hands back and up above his shoulders in a defensive way, a somewhat sheepish grin on his face. “Well then, rather to the point, isn’t he?” Akari just blinked in disbelief. Both of them had hated that fact, but now he just seemed to throw it in Jenk’s face, like he might have cared. She quickly shot that thought down with a somewhat rough look, leaning against the table. ’Who am I kidding, he’s just pissed that we’re keeping this ‘Sal’ person waiting, and figured that’d silence Jenk.’

“Sal is waiting for us. We should hurry.” He spoke impatiently, and Akari looked up at him with an innocent face, “Sorry, I didn’t know we were holding up the queen of Rellia here.” She got up from the table and took a few steps away from it before turning right back around with a grin. “Hey, Jenk, why don’t you join us? You said you didn’t have anything to do.” He looked up at her with an open smirk, “I would certainly love to accompany you, madam!” He jumped from his place on the bench and offered his arm to her. She just looked at him, and he laughed, quickly dropping it. She waited for Ikaru, and allowed him to lead the way to the library. “Although, I won’t be able to assist in the monster slaying, I left someone watching my things, and kinda promised him I wouldn’t be gone all day. I shouldn’t even really be heading out with you. Leave it to me to go back on my word when a beautiful girl gets involved.” He chuckled, keeping pace with Akari easily. “But hey, I’m sure he won’t mind, won’t take that much longer anyway.”




Ikaru

Ikaru's irritation built as Akari invited this 'Jenk' to accompany him. 'Of course, I should have expected this kind of foolishness,' he thought, pure annoyance written all over his face but quickly concealed. Jenk got up to join them. "We do not especially need a third wheel," Ikaru said in the same monotone voice, turning on his heel and striding out the door without looking back.

Ikaru fumed silently as he stalked down the street, irritated by Jenk’s heavy step behind him. What kind of proper name was Jenk anyway? Sounded like a dimwitted country lout’s name. At least that seemed to fit the young man. Ikaru had made it clear that Jenk was unwanted, yet here he was, still hanging on Akari. It was disgraceful and inappropriate. Ikaru tried to think of a good way to get rid of him. However, there was no real cause to shoo him, he had yet to do anything that would suggest evil intentions. Ikaru still could not shake his suspicions, but he could not say why. He could hear them speaking behind him, but he ignored what they said in his irritation. He did not understand his annoyance, but he did not much care at that time either. Ikaru came to the door of the Library, but instead of entering, he abruptly turned with a slight scowl. “Hush, this is a library, you know?”

He whirled and opened the door, taking a few steps inside. His eyes adjusted to the dim interior, and he pushed his glasses up his nose with a finger, taking in the rather dusty building. All of the aisles were cramped and small, with hundreds of books filling the shelves and piled here and there. After a moment, Ikaru heard a small, high-pitched sneeze followed by a solid thud. A groan came from one of the rows, and a head popped up, not even tall enough for him to see the person’s face.

“Hello?” he called out. “We are looking for someone called Sal. Can you help us?” He suddenly looked at Jenks, a look of annoyance crossing his features when he realized the man would be included in that ‘we.’ The person hidden behind the shelves suddenly moved to the end of the row and peeked out. It was a young woman with short, dark brown hair that was cut short in a straight line around her face and ears with a long ponytail in the back. Her wide, dark eyes regarded them for a moment before she fully revealed herself, hesitantly walking over to Ikaru. She was barely tall as his shoulder, and her paleness suggested she had not been outside much.

“Uh.... Well, I am she,” she said with an awkward chuckle. Her voice was hesitant, but she met his eyes with confidence, rubbing the back of her head where she had bumped into the shelf. “How… can I help you?” she continued, pausing as she took Akari and Jenk in as well.

I was told you had information on this Lenmer,” Ikaru said, adjusting his glasses once more as he looked down into her wide eyes.

Before he could say anymore, she exclaimed, “Oh, yes!” She scurried off through the stacks, all hesitancy in her voice gone. “We have plenty on local youkai, monsters, demons, even spirits. Lenmers are quite the popular topic recently. Now where is that, I know I have it here somewhere. There! This will be good too, and, oh there it is. What about..? Oh, I suppose that will do as well!” Ikaru watched with an amused smirk as he followed the bobbing head with his eyes, and listened to the chatter.

Suddenly, she popped back out in front of him, straining with a giant stack of books almost half as tall as she was. She immediately stopped her chatter when she came back into view, racing over to a table Ikaru had not noticed before and setting the books down with a solid plop before he could offer assistance. Her hesitant attitude immediately returned as she haltingly said, “Well…. There you are. Feel free to, uh… ask for help or, um, move books from the chairs… if you need to, of course.”

She opened her mouth as if to say more, but instead suddenly closed it, snatching a heap of books from a chair and depositing it unceremoniously on the floor before hurrying off again. Ikaru watched her leave with a bemused look on his face, quite intrigued by the librarian’s quirks. He turned his attention to the stack of books they had to go through with a sigh, emptying one of the other chairs and picking a book off the top to begin perusing.


Akari

Akari and Jenk chatted quite a bit on their way to the library, making sure to look up constantly to watch where Ikaru was going. As they neared the building, Ikaru whirled on them, telling them both to silence themselves. Akari grinned sheepishly, following after him into the building. She immediately took in the sites, there was so much logic in one, cramped little building! Soon, they made their encounter with the librarian, Sal, who turned out to be female, and timid at that. She was definitely willing to help them out though, and she practically zoomed off once they mentioned the Lenmer.

It was as if Sal had turned into a whole new person entirely at the mention of books, and quickly returned with a tower of them. Akari looked up at her with surprise. It was a wonder she could hold them. Jenk made a move to assist her with them, but she quickly chatted him off. Akari flashed him a wry grin, and he simply rolled his eyes with a little smile. She took the chair on the opposite side of where Ikaru was sitting, and Jenk sort of wandered just a bit down one of the rows for a moment. Akari leaned forward and picked up the second book, flipping it open, and leafing through it for a bit. Jenk chuckled softly, returning to the table to watch her with interest.

Suddenly, he was leaning right over her smaller form, his hand resting on the table and the mass of his body close to the back of her chair as he turned large chunks of pages towards the back of the book, revealing a list of the monsters within it. Akari tilted her head slightly to the side, a small smile beginning to work its way onto her lips. She wasn’t opposed at all to how close he was, and actually found it comfortable and somewhat safe, not to mention... enjoyable in a strange little way. “How’d you know about that?” She inclined her head up fractionally. “I have been in here a few times, and picked out a couple of these books. Psh, don’t give me that look, yes I read!” He tsked, before leaning away from her with a laugh. She shook her head, rolling her eyes.

“Well, as much as I really hate to admit it, I really do have to get going. Winter waits for no one, as they say. I’ve got things to trade, and items awaitin’. I’ll sorely miss that face of yours though.” He winked at her before getting up and walking past Ikaru. He leaned over just slightly towards the guy’s form, “Fortunate.” That was all he said to him, and he soon took a few more steps, quickly whirling around and giving them a bow, “Faretheewell, may our paths cross again!” Akari had by then turned back in her book to the pages on the Lenmer and missed their exchange, but suddenly looked up at the display of his bow, and grinned, rolling her eyes. “Bye, Jenk.” She offered, and watched him go. Once he was out of sight, she turned back to her book.



Ikaru

Ikaru noticed Jenk wander off among the rows, and hoped he would keep wandering and leave them be. ‘Good riddance, he thought, smirking as he read. However, his hopes were in vain, as the man came back. Ikaru glanced up as he heard some rustling, his eyes widening in shock at what he saw. Jenk was leaning over Akari, his arms around her as he leafed through the book before her. He expected Akari to seem uncomfortable with this near-stranger’s close proximity. Instead, she seemed rather pleased at his closeness.

Ikaru reddened slightly, unnoticeable in the dim library. He adjusted his glasses awkwardly, turning his attention back down to the page without seeing any of the information contained there. He could not sort the feelings whirling inside him. All he could feel was a general sinking feeling in his stomach, almost like dread. He scolded himself for being foolish. Akari could do what she wanted. It was not as if they had ever wanted to be betrothed, so there was nothing for him to lose.

Finally, Jenk said he was going to leave. Ikaru gave a sigh, looking up and pushing his glasses back up his face, regarding the man coolly. All redness had left his face, and he kept his face emotionless and blank as the man flirted more with Akari. Jenk came closer, leaning over as if to impart a secret, and Ikaru inwardly braced himself. This man really seemed to have no real boundaries, and he totally disregarded the cool, unwelcoming look on Ikaru’s face.

“Fortunate.” Ikaru’s eyes widened in surprise. Though he had braced himself, he had not expected that. What did the man even mean? Fortunate…to be betrothed to Akari? Ikaru just barely kept himself from blushing again. However, anger suddenly returned. If this Jenks acknowledged that Akari was betrothed to Ikaru, why did he still flirt with her? He truly had no boundaries. Ikaru shook his head and returned his attention to the book. He gave a halfhearted wave as Jenk bowed and turned to leave, quickly focusing again on the page. He could not work up the nerve to look at Akari yet, so he submersed himself in the information.


Akari

Akari let a silent little sigh pass her lips, it was… unusual to have someone interested in her, and give her compliments. It was pleasant, of course, but she was still unused to it. She definitely hoped that they’d run into him again, he seemed similar to her, though he definitely had a better grasp on everything around him. She blinked a few times, realizing she had been looking over the words without reading them. She scolded herself lightly before grinning softly and starting back at the beginning.

The Lenmer is a large monster, equipped with a big nose, massive ears, and fangs. It is fairly rotund, and gains its large stature from eating constantly. It is often found around farms, and causes the most problems during harvest and storage seasons, as it destroys crops, eats everything, and is rather vicious, despite its appearance. It has good scent during colder times, though when it snows, it does have trouble. Its large ears are used for picking up danger, as well as used in its mating ritual. It has powerful hind legs, which is uses to propel itself forward when in a tight spot. All limbs are equipped with claws or some sort of defensive attribute. When in a fight, it acts much like a bear would, standing on two legs and making itself appear larger, though predominantly it walks on four. The Lenmer has a large belly, equipped with very thick skin, and is like an internal sort of pouch. The yellow markings along its chest are almost solely found on the males, and they flash the colors when fighting and mating.

Akari blinked, ’Well, that’s all well and good, but how do we kill it?’ She rested her cheek and chin on her palm, flipping through a few more pages but not finding what she sought. She soon leaned forward once more, grabbing the next book and setting the one she had already gone through aside.



Ikaru

The book Ikaru read detailed some of the histories of encounters with various monsters and demons who lived in the forests. It was in an old dialect, but Ikaru had little trouble deciphering it. He skimmed through a few accounts, not finding anything about the Lenmer at first. Finally, he found a short account. It read much like a journal entry, written in the common language, and Ikaru read with interest.

“Malian came to town, seeking the advice of the council. He is not the first to have done so, nor would he be the last if we did not address the issue. It seems one of the bakemono that so plague the north has taken up residence in our town. It is said to be as taller than a full-grown ox at the shoulder, nearly two man-heights when it rears on its back legs. The thick, armor like skin protecting its belly defies any weapon, blunt or edged, with long, sharp talons to protect everything else. This beast is a docile, voracious plant-eater unless attacked. Even when approaching from downwind, the creature, commonly known as a Round Bear, or Lenmer in the old tongue, can scent a human from far away. We sent Yolmark, but he came back empty handed but for another report of a field ruined, all the crops eaten or destroyed. The council devised a plan to catch the Round Bear, using a diversion, and the crops were saved for the time being. However, these are not safe times, and another bakemono appearance is not far away.”

Ikaru sighed, looking up and taking a moment to process the little information the entry gave him. It was not much; perhaps another book would have more. Or perhaps Akari had found something…. He glanced at her, but decided to look at another book before asking. He pulled one off the top and began searching for information.


Akari

Akari looked up as Ikaru picked up another book, watching him for a few moments before speaking, “Find anything good? I’ve only gotten about its size and habits.” She flipped through a few more pages in her current book, scanning over them for different information about the Lenmer. A few pictures were offered of different sketches and such, but other than that, she couldn’t find anything. She looked back up at Ikaru, crossing one leg over the other in her chair.



Ikaru

Ikaru was about to give up on the dusty manuscript detailing migration habits of the Lenmer, among other things. It had an illustration of the beast, showing it reared up on two legs, its large ears erect and its right paw extended. Long, curved claws extended outward, and its mouth opened wide in a soundless snarl.

Despite its size, it was not the worst monster he had seen, and, if he was able to get a weapon, it should not be difficult to kill the creature, despite its defensive capabilities. The only thing to consider would be its sense of smell. He wondered if it was very intelligent. So far, it did not seem that was so. Perhaps, with the right diversion, as said in the entry, he could dispose of the Lenmer.

Suddenly, Akari spoke, and Ikaru looked up at her after a moment, closing the book he was holding. “I found a journal entry of some sort. Said they used some sort of diversion to kill their pest, but it is frustratingly unspecific. "Have you found anything of use in its habits?” he spoke calmly, as if they were talking about a mouse instead of a twelve-foot tall bear-creature. He picked up the next book, opening it, but still focusing his attention on Akari.


Akari

“Hangs around farms, usually on four legs, eats a lot, that’s pretty much it. Also that it likes to use its hind legs when cornered.” She added as an afterthought, looking up and meeting his gaze lightly. “And a bunch of stuff about its mating rituals….” She chuckled uneasily, tapping her fingers along the top of the table.

“I get the feeling we aren’t gonna be getting much else out of these books. So let’s go tell Sal we’re finished with them, and then ask her where we should be headed next to get prepped for killing the thing.” She nodded, standing up and taking a good amount of books with her as she walked back up to the front where Sal was seated, working on something.



Ikaru

Ikaru listened as Akari stated things he had already found out. Leafing through the pages, he noted this one seemed to have the same general facts in different words. It seemed they had gotten what they came for already. She mentioned mating rituals, laughing somewhat nervously, and Ikaru cleared his throat, adjusting his glasses and setting the book on the table. Akari echoed his thoughts that they would get nothing else here. It seemed that they would need to figure the rest out for themselves. He stood as well, gathering the rest of the books and following Akari over to where Sal sat.

The librarian looked up at them curiously as she heard them approach. “I can take those… just set them down, I guess. Ah, anything else you need? Uh… I have a couple encyclopedias, I think,” she said, smoothing her hair and standing, accidentally dropping the book she had been repairing from her lap. She let out a short “oh!” as she stooped to retrieve the battered tome from the ground.

“No, I think that is all. By the way, where could I borrow a weapon? Our trip here was somewhat… involuntary, so we have nothing with us,” Ikaru said distractedly. He set the books down near her, wiping a bit of dust from his hands.

The woman hesitated a moment, thinking someone who could help them. “Well… I suppose you could try Rem. He is the um, blacksmith for the village. It is possible he could give you… something at least. His shop is at the north end of town, I think,” she said, nodding and looking back up at them.

Ikaru inclined his head with a short “Thank you,” before turning to leave, making sure Akari was following. He opened the door, and was surprised at how far into the morning it already was. They would need to hurry if they were going to kill this pest today.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akari Mineko Character Portrait: Ikaru Mitsuyo

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#, as written by Skwidge

Akari

Akari stood steadily beside Ikaru as he conversed with Sal, who told them they should head over to Rem’s blacksmith shop. Soon, the two left the library and set out on the dirt paths towards the northern end of town. It was a fairly quiet journey there, Akari more focused on where she was going, and the slimmest possibility of also thinking about Jenk, rather than talking.

She suddenly looked up as the building they sought came into view. Taking a moment to look up at the sun’s position in the sky, Akari quickened her pace, soon stopping a few feet from the door. Warmth radiated from the place, and the grass surrounding the place was fresh and green, and damp. She smiled, and then walked in, quickly locating Rem. She knocked on the wall to let him know that they were there, and grinned at him as he turned around, a black apron tied around his neck, and sweat dripping from his forehead. “Why hello there! Need a weapon? Then you’ve come to the right place!”

Akari liked this guy, he seemed peppy. “So, what are you two looking for, a sword, battleaxe, hammer?” She laughed lightly at his questions, “Uh, we’re the ones that are supposed to be hunting down the Lenmer, so if we could simply borrow-“ She began, but was soon cut off. “Say no more! Take a look around, find your balance, and then let me know when you’ve found your choice.”



Ikaru

The walk was relaxing, and the morning sun made the morning warm, though the wind still brought a definite reminder that winter was soon. Ikaru began debating how he would bring the Lenmer down with the information he had. Getting a weapon would help quite a bit, but he would still need some sort of distraction.

The books he had read all said that the Lenmer ate everything in sight, usually devastating harvests and ransacking people’s stores for the winter with an insatiable appetite. Perhaps a food source could act as both a lure and a distraction. However, it would likely have to be a massive amount of food to last for any amount of time with that large of a creature. At this point, that idea was not very practical. Perhaps one of the men of the village would be willing to help, but who to ask? He turned his glance to Akari. It was possible she would be better suited for the task of finding a man to help. She seemed to have no trouble talking to these people, and a man might be more inclined to do a woman a favor than him.

They soon arrived at the blacksmiths, as evidenced by the great heat coming from the open shack. A man wearing a black apron and a generous amount of sweat quickly greeted them, immediately offering help when Akari requested to borrow a weapon. “That is very kind of you,” Ikaru said, acting as if he had expected this immediate acceptance.He looked at the various weapons lining the wall, his eye quickly resting on a double-edged long sword. It seemed to be the better out of the swords there, and Ikaru began examining it closely. He turned to the blacksmith and asked, “May I?” He indicated the sword, obviously wanting to test out its balance.


Akari

At Ikaru’s question, Rem simply looked at him with a hearty chuckle, “I said you could, boy.” He nodded, then returned to working. Akari wandered around the small shop as well, looking at all of the different kinds of weapons with wonder. She almost bumped into Ikaru, but quickly corrected her path, shifting around him to the other side.

After she was done ogling at all of the blades and blunts, Akari turned to the more pressing matter, making a distraction for the Lenmer. She had pretty much already decided she’d do it. She had the agility, and was quick when it came to making decisions. The only problem with the idea would be Ikaru, who simply demanded she do nothing fun or important, just because he found it improper. She sort of figured he had already learned she was pretty much never cared.



Ikaru

Ikaru gave Rem a slightly annoyed look. ‘I thought they preferred it when I was polite,’ Ikaru thought. He quickly shrugged it off and picked the weapon off the wall, moving slightly when Akari almost bumped him in her apparent fascination with all the various weapons. Ikaru smiled at her, the smile fading almost as soon as it alighted on his features.

He slid the blade from its sheath, hefting it and feeling its reassuring weight in his hand. It was not a fancy blade, but it was sturdy and seemed serviceable. He gave a firm nod and slid it back in the sheath. This would work for now. “This will do. My thanks,” he said. After a moment’s thought, he continued, “Do you know where the Lenmer was last spotted?”


Akari

Rem looked up as Ikaru announced his decision, and nodded at his choice. “Very well, and a blade for the lady?” He turned to Akari, and she grinned lightly shaking her head. “Nope, I’m planning on playing a different role.” His face lit up as a rich laugh rumbled through him, “Ah, bait are we? Better be quick on your wits, the beast may look dumb, but when threatened, every animal reverts to a sort of primordial state.” She listened to him seriously, and nodded afterwards.

“Do you know where the Lenmer was last spotted?” Rem looked up, wiping his hands off with a blackened rag, and nodded. “West from here, one of the nearby farms. You’ll have to walk for a bit, though. Once you get there, I’d suggest asking where they saw the beast lumber off to, and checking out the damage might help as well. Well, off you two go, I have work to do.” He nodded with a little grin, and returned to his work.

Akari complied to his wishes and left the building, shoving a hand in her pocket as she moved off towards the direction he had indicated.



Ikaru

They were shooed so Rem could finish his work, and Ikaru gave a short nod before going back out. At least he now had a weapon. It was easier than he had expected, especially with how many people seemed to act unhelpful in this town. He caught up to Akari, matching his pace to hers.

He had overheard her talk with the blacksmith, but he had not thought it appropriate to bring it up in front of Rem, especially since he seemed to approve of the idea. “Akari, I don’t think it would be wise for you to act as a diversion. In fact, I would rather you stay at the farm. This will be dangerous, even as the blacksmith… as Rem said,” he said, trying somewhat unsuccessfully not to sound demanding. He did not look at her, instead watching the dirt road ahead.


Akari

Akari frowned lightly when Ikaru challenged her idea. “I’m perfectly capable of doing the job myself, thank you. I don’t want anyone else having to risk their lives to get rid of this thing. Besides, we’ve been stuck together this long, I’m not just gonna let you wander off now.” She glared at him ever so slightly, even though his back was turned to her, and crossed her arms as they continued walking.

Eventually she dropped them, and a couple minutes later, they entered the scene of devastation. Fences were completely obliterated, the otherwise neat fields were absolutely torn up, shrapnel of every sort was lying about, and most everything was trampled. The farm house itself, however, was untouched. There was a lone farmer in his late 40s working at the soil once more, a worn look to his face as they approached him. “Can you tell us what happened?”



Ikaru

As expected, Akari stubbornly refused to stay away. He tried to be reasonable, but apparently, that would not work now. He adjusted his glasses with a sigh, still firmly holding the sword in his left hand. Who knew what they would find at the farm. It probably would not be pretty. Perhaps that would be enough to keep Akari from coming along. He looked at her for a moment before quickly shaking his head. He would be surprised if anything stopped her at this point.

They soon reached the farm, and Ikaru’s eyes widened for a moment. He pushed his glasses up his nose, examining the extent of the damage. It looked like a cyclone had gone through, uprooting everything in the fields and leaving it carelessly scattered all over. Everything edible was gone, and it was obvious a large creature had destroyed everything else in the fields. It had to be their Lenmer.

An older man, about as old as Ikaru’s father, was hoeing one of the ruined fields again. He looked devastated as his fields. His brown hair was streaked with grey at the temples, and his skin was tanned and leathery from laboring in the sun. As they approached, Akari asked, “ Can you tell us what happened?” It was an obvious question, and Ikaru smirked at her before adding, “Was anyone hurt?”

The farmer looked up slowly, unsurprised by their presence. His voice was rough, but there was a confidence in the way he held himself, a sort of pride in his work, though it was gone now. “Lenmer. ‘Twas a hungry one too. A farmer’s worst nightmare. No major injuries at least. Thank you for askin’,” he said, leaning on his hoe and looking at them expectantly.

“Which way did it go? Did you see?” Ikaru asked, scanning the horizon for a moment.

“You aiming to kill it? Hope you’re up to the task,” he said, examining them closely. “Biggest one I’ve ever seen. He et what he wanted and meandered back into the woods,” he finished, pointing to the west. A thick wooded valley stretched for miles in either direction. The man looked at them expectantly, obviously wanting to get back to work. Ikaru quickly thanked him and walked on, hoping Akari would show some hesitancy in following so he could ask the farmer to let her stay there.


Akari

The farmer offered up a simple explanation as to the Lenmer, even telling them which way it disappeared off to. Akari hesitated for a few moments before stooping down and picking up a few good sized rocks. Ikaru would need to have someone distract it, so he could take it from the back rather than aimlessly attack at its stomach while trying to fend it off. She steeled herself, and quickly followed after him into the forest, waving at the farmer as they departed.

“Hopefully it didn’t make too much progress.” She spoke out in the otherwise quiet surroundings, hers eyes constantly scanning the area. After awhile, they began to approach a small clearing, and the devil himself was there, snuffling along the ground and snapping at small ferns and bushes and such. Akari had already circled away from Ikaru, coming towards its front.

She leaned down and scooped up a bit of mud from the shaded ground, and the beast suddenly reared, its ears erect and its nose working madly at the air. It let out a loud snarl, turning towards the direction Akari was crouched. Without a second to waste, she suddenly popped up from the underbrush, flinging the mud right at its face. Fortunately, the stuff attached itself to the beast’s nose, where Akari was aiming, successfully dispatching its sense of smell.

Unfortunately, the beast reared once more, letting out a vicious roar and lumbering towards her. To egg it on, she threw one of the stones at it, and then bolted, keeping to a straight path as much as she could.



Ikaru

Ikaru immediately heard Akari’s step behind him and he grimaced. She truly was determined to be the distraction. As much as he hated it, he needed her. She was right that they should not put the villagers in danger, but he did not want her in danger either. ‘If only Jenk were still here. I would not mind him in danger,’ he thought with a smirk. He glanced at Akari, reddening slightly as he thought about Jenk’s word to him. “Fortunate.” No, he was glad Jenk was not still here complicating things.

He knew that nothing he said could change Akari’s mind about coming along, so he did not try. The only thing he could do was to make sure no harm came to her, and try to kill the beast quickly. He would not, and could not fail in this. If it came to it, he would let the beast go and try later, alone. He quickly attached the sword sheath to his belt on his left thigh, checking to make sure he could easily draw the weapon.

They had barely entered the forest when they spotted the Lenmer in a small clearing. It was, of course, eating everything in sight. Before Ikaru could say anything, Akari had already begun circling around to get in front of the beast. Ikaru scowled, but decided to trust her and got into position himself. Ruining the plan would only hurt them at this point. Suddenly, it spotted her, shooting up on its hind legs. Ikaru silently drew his sword, approaching stealthily and slowly. It felt odd to be hunting from the ground rather than from horseback, but it was also somewhat thrilling. However, the thought that Akari could get hurt if he made a mistake kept him levelheaded.

Akari suddenly popped up, hurling a glob of mud at the Lenmer’s face. It hit the beast squarely on the nose, and Ikaru smirked. Nevertheless, this meant Akari now had its full attention. It reared and began charging, and Akari threw another rock before dashing away. Ikaru was surprised at the Lenmer’s speed. It was quite fast for its monstrous size, and Ikaru was forced to charge after it as quietly as he could.
Its large ears twitched toward him a couple times, but the monster was far too focused on the fleeing girl to take notice of its own pursuer. Ikaru came within a few feet of the beast, and began sprinting, drawing his sword back to attack.

He slashed at its haunches just as it began spinning to meet him. He dealt a large blow, but it was not quite enough to stop the Lenmer completely. It reared and Ikaru jumped back, barely dodging a swipe to his head. The creature took a step toward him, but suddenly fell to all fours as its injured leg wobbled, unable to take its massive weight. Enraged, it lunged and swiped again at Ikaru. He dodged again, using the sword to parry the massive claws, but the beast fiercely backhanded his chest before he could jump back, sending him flying into a tree with an impressive force.

He sat dazed for a moment, his sword still limply grasped in his hands. His glasses had slid down his nose, and after a couple seconds, he shakily reached up to push them back up. He looked up to see the Lenmer charging him.


Akari

As the creature shifted its path back around as Ikaru made his attack, Akari turned back around to watch him, her muscles tensed and ready to assist if she needed to. Ikaru was suddenly hit, being shot backwards into a tree, and man, did he make a large thump. Akari was sprinting back towards the Lenmer, as Ikaru didn’t seem to be getting back up. ’Baka! I should’ve grabbed a sword anyway. Ugh, I didn’t think this through all the way. I forgot it’d turn on Ikaru as well. Ah well, I have to make do with what I’ve got.’ “HEY, OVER HERE YOU OVERSIZED RABBIT!!!” She yelled, gaining its attention and throwing another stone at its head, hitting it on the cheek and enraging it further.

It tried to charge at her once more, but the blow Ikaru had done made it wobble, and it couldn’t put much weight on its damaged leg. It let out another roar, and once more, Akari threw a rock at it, making sure it didn’t lose interest in her. Despite its leg injury, it practically dragged itself forward after her.



Ikaru

Akari's yell immediately caught Ikaru's attention like a bucket of water dumped on his head. His grip on the handle of his sword tightened and he attempted to move. He felt a pain in his ribs, but it was not agonizing so far. He groaned, using his sword as a support as he pulled himself up. The Lenmer was after Akari again, and he had to stop it quickly. He stumbled onto his feet and into a shambling jog, still somewhat off balance. His steps grew steadier, and he lifted his sword once more as he drew closer.

The creature was slowed by its injury, but not much. Blood leaked from its wound, soaking the ground with every step as it chased Akari. Ikaru increased his pace, quickly gaining back his breath. The beast was growling fiercely, intent on its target once again. It lifted its massive arm to swing at Akari, but in that moment, Ikaru caught up, coming alongside the creature. He jabbed his sword up through the creature's ribs, and it squealed in pain, dropping its arm.

Suddenly, the Lenmer reared again, wrenching the blade from Ikaru's grasp. He stumbled back, falling in his hurry, as the large creature bellowed, causing birds to scatter from the trees around them. Blood flowed freely from its wounds, and it soon collapsed onto the forest floor. Ikaru watched for a moment as the Lenmer's breathing slowed, then stopped altogether. He adjusted his glasses, slowly getting up again. He brushed the leaves from the front of his clothing and slowly approached the giant form. He examined the handle of his weapon that was still protruding from the Lenmer's side. At that angle, it must have hit its heart. It did not suffer long, at least.

He slowly, carefully pulled his blade from the carcass, making sure the creature was truly dead. Finally, after some finagling, the blade was completely out, and covered in a sticky, blue black blood. He carefully cleaned the blade, wiping it first on the Lenmer's fur, and then getting the rest off by rubbing it with a couple handfuls of grass. With the blade now clean, Ikaru sheathed it and turned to look at Akari. He smirked and spoke in a playful tone, “Bureiba baka. Shinkashi arigato gozaimasu.” Brave Fool. But thank you.


Akari

Akari watched as Ikaru finally ended the beast’s life, a strange color of blood pooling around the beast, running down from the slash in his side. She let out a sigh of relief, almost putting a hand to her face before she remembered the mud she had picked up earlier, and quickly voted against it. She walked back over to Ikaru as he was cleaning his blade, and her eyes suddenly widened as he spoke to her.

“Bureiba baka. Shinkashi arigato gozaimasu.” She rolled her eyes sticking her tongue out at him. “Whatever, let’s just get back before we’re stuck out in the forest at night. Again.” She grinned, suddenly darting away back the way they came from, with a playful, “Race you!” As she disappeared.

As Akari ran past the farmer, she shot him a grin and waved with a quick, “done!” as she passed him as well. She hadn’t been able to run for so long for no reason, it felt really great, although, she wasn’t pleased at having to run with shoes on, but she wasn’t complaining.

She looked back to see how Ikaru was fairing, if he even took up her challenge at all.



Ikaru

Ikaru sighed and rolled his eyes when Akari stuck out her tongue at him again. She always acted like a child. Her lack of maturity always surprised him, especially when they had just killed a monster. At least they had come out alive and uninjured.

Suddenly, Akari got a strange grin on her face. “Race you!” she called out, suddenly turning and fleeing back toward the farm. Ikaru sighed again at her foolishness, but he found himself wanting to beat her there. It was just to keep her from whining about it later, of course. He gripped the handle of his sword to keep it from tangling in his long limbs and started after her. He felt a slight pain in his ribs but ignored it for the moment. It was probably just a bruise.

His long stride ate up the ground they had cautiously crossed not too long ago in a quarter of the time it took them earlier. He was catching up to Akari just as they reached the farm, and was on her heels as she shouted to the farmer that they were finished killing the Lenmer. Suddenly, a sharp pain started in his side, making him gasp and slow to a stop, holding his ribs.

It was only a moment before he was able to stand again, but the adrenaline from the fight had officially worn off, and he was now feeling the full effects of the Lenmer’s blow. He panted for a moment, one hand on his knees and the other supporting his sore ribs. He still did not think they were broken, but they were definitely bruised worse than he had previously thought. Running was probably a bad idea for now. Why had he even wanted to run in the first place?

The old farmer had seen him stop and quickly came over. “You alright?” he said, examining Ikaru for a moment.

Ikaru nodded, slowing his breath. “I will be fine,” he said abruptly. He made a sudden realization as he scanned the decimated farm. This man had lost all he had for the winter. It would be difficult for him, but if they could.… “We left the Lenmer in the forest. You are welcome to it, if you would like,” he said, still breathing somewhat heavily.

“Are ya sure, son? That critter is worth a lot,” the farmer said doubtfully, obviously not wanting to take advantage of him, or to accept charity.

Ikaru, being stubborn and prideful himself, immediately understood. He smiled slightly, and reassured the man. “We have no way of transporting it, and it would be difficult to sell the meat and hide in a short time. In any case, you seem to be the one who suffered the most damage from the creature’s rampage,” he reasoned, gesturing to the debris lying around the fields. The man hesitated again, and Ikaru assured him, “If it would be easier for you, I will come back and help you skin it and sell it, and we can split the profit. That way we both benefit.”

Ikaru stuck his hand out to the man, and the farmer gave a genuine smile. “Deal.” Suddenly, a woman popped out of the house and shouted, “Gered, it’s time for dinner.” She waved when she saw Ikaru, and he gave a small nod, saying, “If you will excuse me,” before slowly heading back down the road after Akari. He held his ribs tightly, but successfully managed to keep the pain from showing on his face. As soon As he got closer, he dropped his hand. He did not want her fussing about it. Not that she would, she might not even care, but he did not want to seem like he was complaining either.


Akari

It took Ikaru awhile to catch up with her, and she had even paused for him to do so. The sun was beginning to grow low on the horizon, and she flashed him a half smile, leaning against a lamp post. “Ah, there’s our conquering hero!” She exclaimed, gushing at him with a small laugh afterwards, rolling her eyes.

Dropping the race, as it seemed pointless with Ikaru’s long pause to catch up with her, she walked alongside him as they returned into the boundaries of the town. Light fled through many houses, as the evening fire was being lit in preparation for dinner, and Akari looked up, remembering she’d have to be working for Ulna soon, to gain a little extra cash and pay for their keep.

She put a finger to her chin before letting out a long, loud sigh, stretching a bit as well. “Wonder where we can find a bathhouse. Wouldn’t mind bathing after a few weeks without it, plus my muscles are sore from running without practice in so long.” She spoke as more of a side note, her eyes scanning the grounds. “Oh yeah, we should probably head off towards the mayor and inform him the deed is done.”

Akari began to alter her course, heading off in the direction of the mayor’s building. After a few minutes, they were knocking on the door to the mayor’s house, the serving girl returning and offering the same explanation, disappearing to inform the mayor of their appearance and then reappeared once more, welcoming them inside and asking them to take their shoes off.

“Ah, good thing the mud is dried a bit.” She said simply, before following the girl into the mayor’s office, and she stood there. “We’ve dispatched of the Lenmer, so the job is done. Uh, since you being the mayor and all…” She began, tapped her index fingers together a little sheepishly, “Do you know where we can find a bathhouse or something?”



Ikaru

Ikaru followed Akari distractedly, concentrating on concealing his injury. The idea of a bath was nice, but he did agree they would need to report to the mayor first, or they may not even be allowed the use of a bathhouse. He followed Akari to the mayor’s house and they were again greeted by the young servant who ran off to tell the mayor of their arrival.

Ikaru looked out on the street that was still illuminated by the evening sun. It would be setting soon, so Ikaru would rather get this done and perhaps get a bath quickly before the night got especially cold. Finally, the young girl returned, asking them again to take off their shoes and follow. The mayor was waiting expectantly as they entered, and Akari briefly informed him that they had killed the Lenmer. A look of slight surprise and respect crossed the mayor’s features, and Ikaru smirked inwardly. Akari then asked after a bathhouse, and the mayor nodded slowly.

“So, you dispatched of the Lenmer, have you? Several have failed before you, or left without trying. I must say, I am impressed,” he said, sounding intrigued. He looked at the mud and small spots of black blood on them. “Oh! A bathhouse, of course. It is ways south of the inn near the edge of the town. You may tell them you have my permission to bathe there, of course. However, before you receive payment for your service, I will need solid proof you truly have killed the Lenmer.”

Ikaru spoke then, “Yes, the farmer, Gered, can confirm. I will be working with him to butcher and sell it.”

The mayor nodded and replied, “If you bring me the pelt, I will count that as proof and pay you for it, as well as for your service. I suppose you have made arrangements with Ulna? If not, I give permission for one more night, but you will have to pay after that. That is all.” He shooed them once again, and the young servant escorted them out.

Ikaru slipped on his muddy shoes, and took a deep breath without thinking. He winced slightly, but covered it by adjusting his glasses. Once outside again, he turned to Akari with a short, “Shall we?” He proceeded toward the bathhouse, following the mayor’s directions.


Akari

Akari wasn’t particularly interested in the look the mayor gave them when they mentioned that they had killed the Lenmer, she was more interested in getting out and sinking into hot water. She looked longingly towards the door for a split second before returning her attention. ”Several have failed before you, or left without trying. I must say, I am impressed,” She simply looked at him, and shrugged. “Weak.” That was all she said, and she waited expectantly for his answer. ”It is ways south of the inn near the edge of the town. You may tell them you have my permission to bathe there, of course.” Akari smiled in relief, her shoulders sagging ever so slightly. She hadn’t even realized how tense they had been.

”However, before you receive payment for your service, I will need solid proof you truly have killed the Lenmer.” She dropped her head before nodding quickly. “Of course.” Ikaru then explained that he would be helping the man to skin it and such. ”So that’s why he took so long.” She shot him a sideways glance from the corner of her eye before blinking. The mayor then explained that they would have another free night, and then shooed them away.

Akari stood from her chair, bowing ever so slightly before turning on her heel and exiting the room and then the building. The evening air was beginning to turn cool, and Akari grinned lightly, though she suddenly turned to Ikaru as he seemed to shift and then fix his glasses. A wry smirk flickered onto her face, and she was suddenly in his face for a second, the next with his glasses, and the last darting away with them in hand and letting out a laugh.

”I wonder how well he does without them.” She mused inwardly, racing down towards the bathhouses. As soon as she reached the door, she slipped in with a quick explanation and a ‘go ahead’ by the lady at the desk, and waited by the doors to the female’s side. As soon as Ikaru burst through the doors, she stuck her tongue out at him and flashed him a wink before disappearing behind the safety of the wood.

Steam rose from the large pool in the center, and Akari immediately threw off her shoes. The stone was warm and soft, and she let out a happy sigh. Setting down Ikaru’s glasses, she quickly began to undress and make her way to the water. She dipped a foot in before slipping through the surface of the water, a content murr of approval rushing past her lips as she groaned happily with a small stretch. The water definitely felt amazing, and she reveled in the relaxing feeling for a few moments before starting on the task of washing herself.



Ikaru

Suddenly, Akari snatched the glasses from Ikaru’s face. He looked on in irritation, the world around him blurry. A look of irritation crossed his features. He crossed his arms, shouting out to Akari’s retreating form, “Bring those back! There is a reason I wear them, and it is not so silly girls can steal them!” She ignored him, and he heard the chuckle of a few women nearby. “Well, go get her,” one called out helpfully, to the laughter of her friends. He glared at them for a moment, but his squinting face was not exactly intimidating.

Ikaru whirled and stomped down the street in the direction Akari went, tripping slightly over unseen dips and ruts in the rough dirt road. The sun would soon set entirely, and he would really need his glasses in the reduced lighting. Finally, he arrived at what had to be the bathhouse, though he could not read the sign without his glasses. He entered, seeing Akari again. He held out his hand, but she seemed to stick her tongue out at him before she whirled away, still clutching the glasses.

He sighed, and the woman motioned him toward the right door with a smile. He soon undressed and entered the men’s bath, thoroughly relaxing. At least he would have needed to take off his glasses anyway. He cleaned himself, then took a short time to relax in the warm water. He used a damp washcloth from beside the bath to rub the major dirt and stains from his clothing as best as he could, and waited for it to dry in the warm, steamy room.

Soon, he dressed again and went back to the entrance to wait for Akari, thanking the woman, but not trying to converse beyond that. It had been a long day. When Akari finally emerged, Ikaru stood, blocking the way out, and said in an impatient voice, "I believe you have my glasses." He held out his hand to her, fully expecting her to hand them over.


Akari

With a stretch, Akari reluctantly left the warmth of the water to retrieve her clothes from the stone tiles. She donned them quickly, almost sad that she had to wrap herself up in the cloth once more. With a gentle duck, she picked up Ikaru’s glasses from their place, and put them on herself. She grinned opening up the doors and walking out, running her fingers through her slightly damp hair, and inhaling deeply. It was wonderful to smell nice again.

"I believe you have my glasses." Akari flashed Ikaru a cheeky grin, leaning forward and tapping her cheek innocently. “What glasses?” She giggled smoothly, the ends of her hair had curled from the steam in the room, and they tapped gently against her chest. An innocent yet wry look came upon her features, and she made no move to remove the glasses herself. He’d have to deliberately grab them from her face. She simply grinned, rolling her eyes ever so slightly before walking past the desk and saying thank you to the lady there.

Afterwards, Akari opened the front doors and stepped outside. The cold chill immediately buffeted her form, and she shivered. She wrapped her coat around her a bit tighter before quickly walking off towards the inn. Once they entered, Akari threw a greeting towards Ulna. “Mayor says we’ll have another night on him.” Ulna simply frowned but nodded nonetheless, “Dinner’s ready.” She spoke in a gruff tone, and Akari thanked her lightly before taking a seat at the bench.

As she ate, she used the time to reflect on what had happened earlier that day when they had to go after the Lenmer, and then realized Ikaru had been acting just a bit strange the whole day. She looked at him out of the corner of her eye before quickly finishing. She stretched, walking upstairs and opening the door to their room. It definitely looked different than how they had left it. The bed was made, and the sheets that had been on the floor were now neatly stacked on the edge of the bed. She grinned, “Lucky us, seems we came here right before cleaning day.” She spoke more to herself, relishing the thought of a clean body and clean sheets.

Quickly striding over to the side room, she changed into the under linens once more before reappearing and sitting on the bed, rubbing her eyes tiredly.



Ikaru

As if intending to irritate Ikaru, Akari made no move to remove the glasses herself. Ikaru scowled, but he had no energy to wait her out or argue with her, as she seemed to want to do. Soon, Ikaru gave a huff and reached out to take back his glasses, almost expecting her to jump away.

Replacing his glasses on his face, he was able to see her roll her eyes before thanking the woman. She was the one being annoying, and yet she rolled her eyes at him. It would have irritated him any other time, but for now, he let it go.

They hurried through the twilight back to the inn. A cold breeze swept over them, and Ikaru was glad for his cloak. People were having dinner and going inside for the night, and he was eager to do the same. The night would be a cold one, judging by this breeze. When they arrived back at the inn, Ulna did not seem pleased they were having another night with the mayor’s permission. Nevertheless, she gave them dinner this time without any hassle.

Ikaru sat somewhat stiffly, sore from the day and not wanting to jostle his ribs besides. He ate as eagerly as he had the night before; though this time, he kept an eye out for both the bird and for any who would bother them again. No one seemed interested in them at the moment, and everyone seemed to be in a generally good mood. Ikaru soon relaxed, and he was done eating quickly. When they had money, they would be able to have breakfast as well, and that would keep him from being so ravenous by the end of the day.

He quickly finished, and waited for Akari to do the same, before they headed up to the room for the night. He changed into a clean linen nightshirt after Akari did, agreeing that the freshly cleaned room was nice. He arranged his blankets again, thankfully this time there were enough, and lay down stiffly with a tired goodnight. He shifted around a bit until he found a somewhat comfortable position. Despite the light and his achy body, he fell asleep almost instantly.


Akari

Akari tilted her head as Ikaru prepared his sleeping arrangements once more. She felt a small pang of guilt, since he had done the most work in killing the Lenmer. She turned to face him, crossing her legs as she sat on the bed, “Hey, Ikaru-“ She blinked, suddenly realizing he had already fallen asleep. A tiny little smile pressed softly against her lips and she tilted her head down with a small shake before turning and slipping under the blankets and sheets herself, and soon fell asleep with a sigh.

As the morning awoke, so did Akari as she stretched, up and early, and placed her feet on the floor. Even through her socks she could feel the distant cold. She quickly got up and shifted over to the window slipping a finger through the slit of the curtain to glance outside. A light frost covered everything, and the morning sun was hidden behind a multitude of clouds. Akari grinned somewhat smugly to herself, since she’d be in the inn all day working by the warmth of the fires.

She peered down at Ikaru’s sleeping form for a moment and scoffed quietly, he seemed so innocent and nice while he slept. ’Riiight.’ She thought to herself, sneaking around him into the other room and dressing in something a bit lighter before slipping past him once more and out the door.

She waved to Ulna, who was grinning at her maliciously and with cruel, dictator-like eyes. “You’re working for me today, so I suggest you stop dilly dallying and let’s get down to business.” Akari blinked before nodding quickly, “Right, right.” ’Sure is quick to crack the whip, that’s for certain.’ “You can start by wiping down the tables, afterwards you’ll move on to folding clean linens, and we’ll have you serving by lunch.” Akari rubbed the back of her neck with a sheepish grin and nodded towards all of the directions Ulna was leaving her with. ’Wait, by lunch? How long does she expect all of that to take? Surely not till then.’ Ulna gave her a look before waving her off with her hands. “Off you go.” And off Akari did, quickly moving towards the back where she almost ran into one of the other workers. She made a quick apology before remarking quietly to herself, ’Not a very good vantage point from right here between the two doorways.’



Ikaru

Ikaru’s mind suddenly sprung awake in the night, and he instantly became aware of the throbbing ache in his ribs. No amount of shifting seemed to ease the pain. He soon gave up with a silent sigh. He stopped moving, not wanting to awake Akari, and stared at the ceiling in irritation. He thought about getting up and seeing if he could get a drink from the kitchen, but felt no motivation to get up. So, there he stayed, trying unsuccessfully to fall back asleep.

The night wore on, but Ikaru barely managed a shallow doze, constantly jerking awake again with a new twinge or wave of pain. The day slowly began to dawn and Ikaru fell into a light sleep once more. This time, it was interrupted as Akari woke up and began moving around. Ikaru kept his eyes closed, not ready to wake up with so little sleep. After Akari left the room, he lay there for several more moments. However, the drowsiness never came back, and he lost all chance of sleeping again.

Grumbling to himself, he slowly, stiffly rose from his makeshift bed, groaning liberally. He looked to the door, listening for any sign of Akari. Hearing nothing, he sat on the edge of the bed and lifted his shirt. His ribs were blotted with wide, colorful bruises. It would take a while to heal, and there was not much he could do about it. He lowered the shirt and began the process of getting ready for the day. As he moved, it gradually became easier, though still uncomfortable. Finally, he was in his clothing again and ready to go assist the farmer with the Lenmer.

He went down the stairs, looking around for Akari before remembering that she would start working today as well. He decided he would at least tell her he was going, instead of disappearing without a word. Ikaru quickly approached the Innkeeper, asking, “Where is Akari?”

The woman, gruff as ever, replied, “Just went in the back. Don’t keep her, she has work to do.”

Ikaru walked back quickly, wanting to get an early start himself. He went through the door glancing back at Ulna. She was glaring at him as if he was the source of all her problems. He returned his attention to where he was going, and found himself inches from Akari. Unable to stop himself in time, he crashed into her, falling directly on top of her.

Ikaru caught himself on his hands and knees, wincing in pain, but quickly concealed it as he gritted his teeth. He opened his eyes, and realized he was inches from Akari’s face. His own face reddened in a fierce blush, and he awkwardly pushed his glasses back onto his nose.


Akari

Akari had just grabbed the small cloth used to wipe the tables off and a bucket of soapy water when she left one of the back rooms to come back into the main room. Someone called out to her to make sure she knew what to do, and she turned to assure them that table cleaning didn’t take a genius to accomplish. However, she didn’t get far as something suddenly pushed into her with enough force to send her to the ground. As she fell she inhaled a sharp breath of air before feeling her body slam into the floorboards. The bucket had easily fallen out of her grasp by now, and water came sploshing over the rim to flood the floor.

Her eyes flickered open from the wince that scribbled itself onto her features, a feeling of anger first flaring up in her being. However, she came face to face with none other than Ikaru, and by face to face, she almost literally meant face on face. A blush quickly flourished beneath her cheeks and scrambled across the ridge of her nose, her eyes locked onto his in a gaze that seemed to last an hour, but in reality was only a few short moments. His eyes were…. Akari blinked before a look of embarrassed though firm defiance arose onto her face, only dampened in effect by the blush portrayed across her cheeks. Ulna roared in the background, but to Akari it seemed to only be a lazy din somewhere off in the distance. “B-baka, w-watch where you’re going…!” She stuttered, her hand suddenly finding itself on his pec and pushing against him to try to upset his balance and get him off of her, resisting the urge to bite her lower lip.

“Idiot! That boy is the bane of my entire existence, I want him out; Now!! Look at what he did to my floooor!” Ulna complained loudly, stamping her foot down on the floor and a look of complete rage roaring across her features and screaming from her eyes.



Ikaru

Ikaru felt the blush warming his features. It took him a minute to realize what she was saying, he was so distracted and embarrassed. As she pushed him off, he could not help but wince. He got to his feet as quickly as he could, trying to disguise his discomfort. Ikaru held out a hand to help Akari up, though he did not expect her to take it.

She did not, and by that time, Ulna had made it over and was ranting about the mess he caused and how he had repaid her hospitality. Ikaru responded with a hasty, “Sorry, good day.” It was mostly directed toward Akari, Ulna only seemed more riled by it. “A sorry’s all you give me? You think sorry will fix this? I could kick you out for this, you uncoordinated lout!” she shouted after his retreating form.
Ikaru quickly made his way out of the inn. He would have stayed to help, but he did not think even that would have pleased the insufferable woman. He hurriedly strode down the street, almost expecting the innkeeper to follow him outside and continue her rant. She seemed to have had enough, however.

He made it to the farm without incident about midmorning, and Gered ,the farmer greeted him. They immediately began working on the beast, which Gered had dragged over the day before. It was hot, messy work, but Ikaru was glad to be doing something, and having a bit of money would be great as well. It was a bit after noon by the time they had finished skinning and butchering the large beast.

The farmer invited Ikaru to share in their noon meal, and he readily accepted. After the lunch, they began the task of taking the pelt to the mayor, negotiating pay, and selling the meat. Finally, they had sold most of it, and the farmer agreed to take the rest for himself. Ikaru fondly shook the old farmer’s hand and thanked him before heading back to the inn. He was wary of how the innkeeper would receive him, but the coin purse at his side lightened his moods.


Akari

With Akari so close and so focused on his face, she easily spotted the contortion of his features as he winced. Immediately and obviously it registered pain to her, and her eyes narrowed just a bit as he got up. He offered her a hand, and her cheeks almost flushed again and a small frown fixed itself to her lips as she looked away from him, getting up on her own. Ulna had stomped over and seemed to be giving Ikaru an earful. “It’s fine, I’ll just mop the floors down real quick and then wipe down the tables.” She offered to Ulna as Ikaru made a hasty retreat. She watched him go, suspicious of his actions, and moreso not trying to relive what had just happened.

“Fine, whatever, just get it done quickly!” Ulna snapped at her, her grudged feelings passing over to Akari, who scrambled to get the necessary equipment to do the job. It was rather grueling work, being pushed and prodded and yelled at and almost wacked upside the head once. She ended up washing the floor, serving, doing the linens, serving tables, being flirted at by a few creepy men before they staggered out of the inn drunk, refilling tankards, filling in for another worker, prepping, cleaning, washing dishes, etc. She was absolutely exhausted, and had had all day to feel starved and also think about Ikaru’s strange actions. He certainly seemed to be hiding something from her.

Akari sat at the table, her head leaning against her palm, her eyes closed and resting. She had never been worked like that in her life. She was not looking forward to doing it again. Maybe she’d find a different job to do tomorrow. However, something suddenly was placed before her, and her eyes flickered open to see a plate of steaming food and Ulna behind it with crossed arms. “You did well today, early meal and then you can do whatever.” She spoke grudgingly before she departed and left Akari to the food. Ulna definitely seemed calmed down from earlier, but Akari didn’t dwell on the fact for long as she started hungrily shoveling food into her mouth.

Rubbing her forehead lightly, Akari picked up the plate and was about to head into the back to wipe it down before Ulna coughed and told her to leave it for someone else to get. Akari dipped her head in thanks and slowly ascended the stairs to her room. The sun was low on the horizon, and Ikaru should be coming back at any moment now. She blinked a few times, mustering up a bit more strength, waiting for him to come enter the room.



Ikaru

Ikaru soon entered the inn, bracing himself for whatever Ulna might throw at him. As he entered, Ulna quickly noticed him. “Oh, look, the clumsy lout has returned!” she said with mock enthusiasm. Ikaru reddened as several of the room’s occupants chuckle. Ikaru felt irritation rising again as the woman broke out into her own mocking laugh. She really was impossible to get along with, and Ikaru huffed and sat down. He was still slow and stiff, but it was not as easy to jar his ribs as it had been.

Ikaru was almost surprised when Ulna made no more comments. She almost seemed in a good mood as she carelessly slammed a plate of food to the table before him. He muttered a thank you that was completely ignored by the sullen woman. He quickly dug in, soon finishing.

Ikaru reluctantly asked Ulna where Akari was. She replied tartly, “Why? So you can make a mess of things again?” His eyes narrowed in irritation, and the woman tut-tutted at him. Finally, she gave in. “She went up to the room. Now get out of the way, and let me get back to work, foolish boy.” He rolled his eyes after she scurried off and made his way up the narrow wooden stairs and through the hall until he came to the room. He knocked, then entered.


Akari

By the time Ikaru made it to the room, Akari had lit a small lantern that stood on the bedside table while the sun sank below and night came to prowl. She had changed into her under linen slip, and she was sitting on the end of the bed supporting herself with her arms behind her and one leg crossed over the other, lazily kicking the air as she waited with closed eyes, resting. As soon as she heard the knock on the door, her eyes flicked open and she watched as the doorknob turned. Ikaru entered and closed the door behind him, and Akari hopped off of the bed, striding straight over to him without a word and an otherwise unreadable expression. She didn’t stop a few feet away from him either, oh no, she kept going until she was invading his personal space, inches away from him. Her right hand rested on the wood of the door by his head.

Her other hand came up and worked at the hem of his shirt before her cool fingers brushed his skin lightly. She looked straight at him as she pulled the cloth up and away from his body. Her eyes trailed down his stomach, and blotches of discolored skin greeted her, there was silence for another moment before she leaned in close to his ear and whispered softly, “Mmm, that’s what I thought.” She pulled away from him without any warning, and sat back on the bed, chin in her palm as she looked over him. “Idiot, why didn’t you tell me earlier? You could have taken the bed, especially if you’re injured, and you’re certainly taking it tonight.”

She rolled her eyes, sitting up straight and crossing her arms. “I’m not going to fight about it either, I’m incredibly exhausted, especially since you added more work for me to do this morning~” She teased lightly, though her tired demeanor showed through her tone. “Whether or not you take the bed, I’m still going to sleep on the floor, so you might as well do so.” She tilted her chin up fractionally, looking at him and demanding if he would challenge her or not.



Ikaru

Ikaru had just closed the door and took a step into the room as Akari slid off the bed. Akari approached him, and he adjusted his glasses with a sigh. However, she came closer than he expected, and he took a step back, watching her with widened eyes. He felt the wood of the door against his back as he came closer and closer, until he wondered if she planned to walk through him. Her face was mostly emotionless, but he thought he saw something in her eyes, though he could not say what it was.

‘I never realized how blue her eyes are.’ The thought flickered across his mind, making him blush deeply. Finally, Akari stopped, just inches away, her hand on the wood of the door above his shoulder. In the cool air, he could feel the heat radiating from her slim form. Finally, he cleared his throat, managing to squeak out, “Akari, what are you-“

His words cut off as he felt her fingers at the edge of his shirt, and he reddened even more. He stammered out, “I, uh, A… Akari!” ‘What has gotten into her?’ he thought, unsure of what was proper for him to do in this situation. Her cool fingers brushed his skin lightly as she pulled up his shirt. Her eyes drifted slowly down to look at his exposed skin. She leaned closer and whispered, [b] “Mmm, that’s what I thought.”
Ikaru was confused for a moment, before he realized what she was after. She had now officially found out about his injuries. He could not say what had tipped her off.

Suddenly, he remembered their collision earlier. He must have given it away then. His confusion turned to exasperation as she let his shirt fall and returned to the bed. He almost felt shamed, though his pride would not let him admit to such an emotion.

“Idiot, why didn’t you tell me earlier? You could have taken the bed, especially if you’re injured, and you’re certainly taking it tonight.”

His blush slowly faded, replaced by slight irritation and anger that she had found out. “Why, you ask? This is why! I knew you would make a fuss, and this,” he motioned to his ribs with one hand, “is not worth worrying about.”

She rolled her eyes at him, “I’m not going to fight about it either, I’m incredibly exhausted, especially since you added more work for me to do this morning. Whether or not you take the bed, I’m still going to sleep on the floor, so you might as well do so.”

Ikaru could tell she was tired, and he almost felt guilty for it, but at the same time, he was too annoyed and tired himself to do anything about it. “Fine, sleep on the floor if you want. The bed will be empty in that case, because I am fine with my current sleeping arrangements. You will not win this one, so just stay on the bed.” Exasperation was clear on his face, but so was his stubborn pride. Injured or not, he would not sleep in a bed while a woman slept on the floor. It just was not done.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Akari Mineko Character Portrait: Ikaru Mitsuyo

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#, as written by slcam

Akari

His reactions to what she did to him were expected, but it still gave her a few jolts. She coughed lightly, watching his facial features twist into resentment. “Why, you ask? This is why! I knew you would make a fuss, and this is not worth worrying about.” Akari let out an exasperated sigh, followed by a tired eye rub. “Fine, sleep on the floor if you want. The bed will be empty in that case, because I am fine with my current sleeping arrangements. You will not win this one, so just stay on the bed.” So much for not fighting over it. Akari crossed her arms, staring him down for a few moments and sizing him up.

Suddenly, a devious idea popped into her head, which she honestly considered acting upon, but soon decided against it. With a roll of her eyes, she leaned further a bit more before speaking. “I would happily sleep in a tree for all I care, especially since there’s more than one of them, but honestly, you underestimate my prowess. And what exhaustion does to me.” She gracefully turned away from him and crawled to the head of the bed. “Fine, sleep on the floor for all I care.” And with that, she put the matter to rest. As soon as he thought he was good and was beginning to settle down, Akari picked up one of the pillows and chucked it right at his head. Now, she of course took into consideration his reflexes, so as soon as that one came sailing, the other was tailing right after it. One of them was bound to hit, and she simply laid down with an uninterested smirk.

She quickly gave into the screaming of her aching muscles, relaxing and closing her eyes. Sleep came quickly for her.



Ikaru

To Ikaru’s relief, Akari did not continue arguing, but instead gave in and crawled into bed. She really did seem tired. An odd sense of indignation welled up in him. He could not believe that none of the people he had spoken to over the course of the past couple days knew anything about them or about Rillia. It was frustrating to be treated like a commoner, but he could get by. Nevertheless, if he could help it, he wanted to spare Akari from having to work herself this hard. This was purely because it was not proper for a woman of her station, of course. He denied that it could be anything else because his feelings embarrassed him. Why they embarrassed him, he could not say.

Realizing he was still standing awkwardly with his back against the wall, Ikaru quickly cleared his throat and adjusted his shirt, sweeping his eyes across the opposite side of the room in order to compose himself. He proceeded to get ready for bed, and soon adjusted his blankets and began to settle down. Somewhat uncomfortable with the silence that usually came after an argument, he opened his mouth to say a quick ‘goodnight.’

As he turned to look toward Akari, however, a tossed pillow interrupted his words. He clumsily batted it away from his face, but before he had a chance to say anything more, Akari threw another. This time, he was unable to dodge, and the pillow hit him flat on the face with a dull thump. It rested there for a moment, molded to the contours of his face, before falling to the ground.
Words bubbled up in Ikaru’s mind, arguments, scoldings and the like, but he realized Akari was no longer paying attention. Instead, he removed his glasses and settled down, murmuring only one word. “Childish.”

He rolled over and made himself mostly comfortable, though comfortable was not quite the right word for what he felt. However, his stubbornness made it impossible for him to admit he even wanted to sleep on the bed. He would not complain. He soon drifted into a fitful sleep, often shifting in a futile attempt to find a better position.


Akari

As Akari awoke, her muscles whined out at her, begging her to go back to sleep and rebuke the need to work for food. She shivered even under her blankets; did someone leave the window open last night? She cracked one eye open, and then the other and focused up at the window. A bit of frost lined the panes, and she pulled the blankets closer to her body. But she knew it was futile. She had to get up and get to work. It wasn’t that she thought work was below her, far be it, but working under Ulna was positively madness. With a soft inhale, she shifted on the bed, propping herself up into a sitting position, and the cold invaded the now revealed flank of her body. She took a few moments to think, and she suddenly had an idea.

Akari peered over the side of the bed to look down at Ikaru, and found him to still be more or less asleep. “Ikaru,” She spoke out, waiting a few moments before trying again. “Ikaru!” A bit more forcefully this time, and she watched as he stirred. “We should move on to the next town.”



Ikaru

Within what seemed only a few moments, Ikaru found himself slowly waking. The night had hardly been restful, but it was at least somewhat better than the last night had been. He lay on the floor, half awake but not ready to open his eyes yet. Thoughts of what they would do filled his mind. What should their next step be? He felt as though they were no closer to getting back home than they were when still the bandit’s captives.

Of course, that was a foolish thought. They were free and able to go where they wanted. They were no longer being dragged around, bound, gagged, and helpless. They even had some money now because of the Lenmer. However, they still had no idea where home was, or even if they were still in Rillia, and no one seemed willing or able to help. They would have to do it completely on their own. The thought was discouraging, but Ikaru quickly diverted his mind with thoughts of home, of his family. He wondered what his parent thought of Akari’s and his disappearance. Would they be anxious about what had happened, or would they just be disappointed that they missed an easy opportunity to pay off their debts?

He shied away from this thought as well, instead thinking about his brothers. They would probably laugh at him if they knew where he was now. Not in any real danger, but lost with Akari in tow. Out of all of them, he had the worst sense of direction, and it was a constant source of amusement for his siblings. What were they thinking now?

He had not realized he had fallen back asleep until he heard a woman’s voice calling his name. He awoke slowly, thoroughly confused and not quite sure where he was. He reluctantly opened his eyes and tried to find the source of the disruption to his sleep. Finally, he found Akari’s face, and his half awake mind suddenly understood where he was. Where they both were. They were hundreds of miles from home, or maybe even more.

“What is it?” He mumbled in response to Akari calling his name. “We should move on to the next town.” He was puzzled for a moment, not quite absorbing what Akari said. A moment later, his tired brain grasped the implications. He sat up suddenly, wincing and gasping softly as his ribs gave a sharp ache. He ignored the throbbing of his ribs and turned to look at her. “Why?” he said, pausing a moment before realizing how juvenile his question sounded. “I mean, what is the hurry? Why now?” He shifted to a more comfortable position as he waited for her response.


Akari


She gazed down at him patiently, though her fingers spoke otherwise as they tapped along the end of the mattress. With his sudden display of discomfort, her fingers paused and her gaze was focused on him completely for a few moments before her thoughts shifted gears to other things.

“I mean, what is the hurry? Why now?” She gave him a dry look before answering his question, “Well, for one, I think I’ve had enough of these ‘worldly experiences’ and ‘close blows with the devil’ downstairs. Ulna’s working me down to the bones and having been dragged around and running for so long, I don’t know how well my body’s going to take that after a long period of time. Besides, she’d be glad to have us out of her hair. Plus the fact that you’re just wandering around while I’m pulling all the weight over here~” She leaned down on the mattress, holding her head up with her fists as her elbows rested on the bed, all the while flashing him a somewhat annoyed look though her last sentence had been more teasing than irritation. “There’s not much left this town can offer us in all honesty, and we have no idea where we are anyway, and no one here seems willing to help us with our little problem.”

Akari was soon up off of her sleeping space and padding over to the side room to get dressed. She spoke as she changed, “It’s boring here, we’ve seen pretty much everything, and the lodgings here aren’t all that great, and the people don’t seem too friendly at all. We should just keep moving.”



Ikaru

Akari gave Ikaru a scathing look, as if he had asked a stupid question. He returned her look with a short, irritated glance of his own before turning his attention to folding his blankets and starting to get ready for the day as she talked. He chuckled silently as she described her “close blows with the devil.” He still felt guilty that she had needed to work, but now, if he managed the money he had earned, this would be the only time she would need too. So far, she was successfully making him guilty though.

When Akari insinuated that, while she had been working, he had done nothing at all. He put his glasses on and turned to scowl at her, pushing his glasses up his nose. She responded to his irritated glance with one of her own, though he was pretty sure she wasn't serious. He realized he had not informed her of his doings yesterday, but her implication was insulting none the less, she padded off to the side room to change, and he debate how best to reveal just how profitable his “aimless wandering” had been the previous day.

With a smirk, only half listening as Akari continued her explanation, Ikaru retrieved the money pouch from the drawer that held his clothes. As soon as Akari walked out of the side room, Ikaru spoke. “Well, if you want to run from your boredom that badly, at least this will assist us on our way.” He held the bulging purse out so she could see and tossed the bag of coins, the contents jingling in a highly satisfying way as the sack flew through the air.


Akari

Akari yawned just slightly, enjoying the slight stretch of her muscles as she did so. She was just waiting for his blow up after her very well pointed, if she did say so herself, reasoning. She was just slipping her arm into her sleeve when one of her fingers got caught in a loose thread. So distracted was she that she didn't even realize that Ikaru was talking to her. Still trying to get her arm through, Akari walked out of the room when suddenly something slammed right into her face. Her vision sparked and blacked as she stumbled backwards against the wall and the offending item fell heavily down to the floor with a loud clatter and jingle.

Akari’s face was hidden by her bangs and her hand for a moment as she hissed out a loud breath of air. She remained where she was for quite a little while, pressing into the flesh around her eye and trying to fight back natural tears at the invasion of a fragile area.

Gods did it sting like a ravenous bee. Her immediate reaction was to remain quiet and try to escape the area, but instead she remained where she was, though broken pride did linger in her mind. There really was no option, humility was the choice in any outcome.



Ikaru

As soon as his fingers let go of the bag, Ikaru regretted deciding to toss it in the first place. His hand shot out uselessly, already far too late to make a difference. Akari had not even been paying attention, of course. He hoped by some chance she would notice and catch the coin purse, but it never happened. Ikaru gave a wince as the bag hit her directly in the face. He felt a strange desire to rush over and make sure she was all right, but he quickly repressed it. Instead, he covered his face with his hand, unsure of what reaction Akari would give. She almost looked ready to run at first, but seemed to steel herself to stay where she was.

Though initially, Ikaru only felt concern, he very quickly became irritated, though more at himself than anything else. Nevertheless, he did not handle his irritation very well. “Are you hurt?” he said, scanning her face for a moment. He soon continued, “I should have expected you wouldn’t be able to catch it.Of course not.” His irritation showed plainly in his voice. He pushed his glasses up his nose, half covering his mouth as he muttered, “Uncoordinated country bumpkin.” He sat back on the bed, turning his face away from her and internally calling himself stupid.


Akari

“Are you hurt?” Akari remained completely silent, still trying to get the ache down before answering him. However, she didn’t get the chance before he opened that bloody mouth of his again. ”I should have expected you wouldn’t be able to catch it. Of course not.” Anger flared up within her, and the hand that rested against the wall clenched threateningly into a fist. But his final comment was the last straw.

Gritting her teeth, Akari rose up from her position and dropped her hand from her eye to reveal that the skin had already bruised around it. She was done dealing with this buffoon, she probably should have ditched him every chance she had gotten, left him in the dust. He wasn’t very good for anything anyway. Heck, forget the money that they had made, she would work every day for the rest of her life if it meant not having to deal with him all day. Her nostrils flared slightly in her anger, and she then made a very forced response. “I’m fine.” Getting up from her spot she then forced a grin. “Guess that’s how nobles make their money. Doing nothing all day and coming up with a bag of cash.” A sour smirk splayed onto her lips for a wisp of a moment before she grabbed her cloak and practically wrenched the doorknob from its place in the door as she opened it and left the room without another word.



Ikaru

Ikaru gave an exasperated sigh at Akari’s tone. He could not understand why she was so overly dramatic. However, as she lifted her hand, revealing the already blackening bruise underneath, Ikaru’s scowl only grew. ‘I’m a complete imbecile,’ he thought, but he could not force himself to apologize. It was her fault for not listening in the first place. Her tone was full of venom, which only made Ikaru angrier. It was a mere accident; she did not have to act so worked up. Ikaru stood, facing her once more.

“I most certainly worked for—“ Ikaru started, but Akari was already at the door and she flung it open violently. It hit the wall so hard that Ikaru wondered how it did not break. Then, she was gone. Ikaru sat back on the bed, fairly seething with anger. His only compulsion was to throw something, or everything, to blow off steam. Nevertheless, with great effort, he was able to keep himself still. He held the anger for one, all-consuming moment, then turned his mind firmly from the argument to the grain of the wood at his feet. As he let out a long breath, the anger slowly melted away. He continued to breathe until he could convincingly reassume his mask of cocky indifference.

Ikaru had always had a bit of a temper, but he quickly learned at a young age that destroying things made the situation worse. His father had a temper of his own, and had far worse punishments than just slapping Ikaru, and his point always came across. Thus, Ikaru had learned to smother his anger and act in a way that would please his father, but he always looked for a way to express his true feelings. However, that often backfired as well, as with this situation.

Finally fully calm, both on the outside and the inside, Ikaru gave a heavy sigh and smoothed his hair back, half-heartedly adjusting his glasses. He slowly slipped off the bed and plucked the coin purse from where it had fallen on the floor, bouncing it in his palm and feeling its true weigh. He had not thought it so heavy before, but now he realized what a fool he had been. He set it on the dresser and retrieved his clothes, hastily dressing for the day. He attached the purse to his belt before grabbing his cloak and heading out of the room, gently closing the door behind him. He did not want to leave the money in the room. Though he trusted Ulna, to a point, there was no telling who else may be able to go into the room.

With that, he descended, intending to find Akari and perhaps make amends, maybe even get an apology from her, though he doubted it. Before he took two steps across the dining area, Ulna was upon him. Though the woman could barely reach his chest, her pure fury still made him feel small. “You no good, heartless, lack witted ingrate! If I had my way, you would be seeing the sheriff, you lousy son of a jackal! I should skin you and whip you out of town meself, and don’t you think I wouldn’t! I knew som’thin’ was wrong with ya the first time I laid eyes on ya, and now I was proven right!”

The screeching innkeeper punctuated every statement with a sharp jab to Ikaru’s sore ribs, which made him wince and nearly brought tears to his eyes. He felt his anger rising but quickly quelled it, already tired of arguing that morning. Though he waited for her to run out of steam, she continued hurling insults, telling him what he should do with his worthless self and how he should get there in a profoundly colorful way. He almost worked up an admiration for the creativity of her insults. It only took him a few moments to realize what it was she was so upset about. Realizing she was not going to slow down any time soon, he decided he had better try diplomacy or risk having the whole town in the inn to watch him be berated by the insufferable woman. He held up his hands, a look of surprise still on his face. “Whoa, whoa, let me explain. Please, goodwoman, just a moment. If you do not like what I have to say, then you can kick me out.” About midway through his speaking, she finally began to quiet, her face still dark as a thundercloud as she crossed her arms.

“Well, speak then,” she said, still sounding entirely furious.

Ikaru’s eyes quickly glanced over the generous crowd that had already gathered before he quickly started, “I was trying to show Akari what I earned from the Lenmer, and tossed my coin purse to her, but she wasn’t paying attention. I called her uncoordinated, and she left angry. That was all.” Before he had completed his first sentence, he thought Ulna would interrupt and call him a liar. However, her eyes finally softened, just slightly, and she seemed grudgingly to accept his explanation, at least for the moment. However, the next moment, her eyes lit up with greed. Ikaru wanted to kick himself for mentioning the coin purse at all, but he did not know how he could have explained otherwise.

She began, “Earnings, eh? I suppose that means you’ll be payin’ for—“

He cut her off, “We will be leaving today, if possible, so there should be nothing unpaid for since Akari worked for you, as agreed. Is that not correct?” His tone, for once, did not seem insulting as he played the role of a reasonable diplomat. Ulna glared for a moment, before one of the ever-helpful customers called out, “Ach, give ‘im a break. Ya did agree, after all.”

Finaly, Ulna gave a curt nod, dismissing Ikaru with an irritated shake of her hand. Ikaru let out a short breath and pushed through the already diminishing crowd. He ducked though the doorway and into the already bright morning sun, eyeing the small layer of snow and a rim of threatening, dark clouds to the north. He set his shoulders and determinedly went to find Akari.


Akari


As Akari had passed by the front desk on her way out, she had been stopped by Ulna, who began to question the markings around her eye. She didn’t really give the woman much of an answer, really just wanting to get out on her own to do some thinking. Akari simply said Ikaru’s name before quickly walking out of the inn. She really hadn’t thought about the consequences of her actions in telling Ulna so little, but then again she hardly cared.

Stepping out into the chilly morning sent thick shivers down her spine, and she pulled her cloak closer around herself. A layer of snow blanketed the ground with footprints littered everywhere. The sky did not bode well either, as dark grey crept closer and closer into the cloud cover. She brought her hands to her lips and blew on them lightly for warmth, and then Akari stepped out into the cold, quickly settling her stride into that of another’s footprints.

She walked for quite some time, passing by many questioning looks. If she had a hat or mask or something, she would have covered her face up immediately, but she did not have such pleasures. She glanced down at her feet, pursing her lips together until they were just a thin line. She’d probably overreacted just a bit. But it was just so hard dealing with Ikaru. He was an insolent jerk, and everything that came out of his mouth was offensive and it just pissed her off. But she honestly couldn’t have made it this far and so well off without him, though she probably could have fended for herself in any case. She grumbled to herself, frowning lightly and continuing to trudge through the light layer of snow. She mostly kept her head down, finally getting tired of all the stares she received from onlookers.

She just had to find a sign or something to determine where she’d head off to next. And if Ikaru showed up as he so often did- he was like a parasite or an annoying insect- she’d deal with his company for awhile longer.



Ikaru

Ikaru glanced nervously up and down the crude street. An icy breeze ruffled his cloak and made him shiver slightly. The clouds did not seem to be moving fast, but they would probably be there by nightfall. Ikaru asked a woman nearby if she had seen Akari, but she merely made a disapproving noise at him and walked away. Ikaru looked around and spotted a young boy and girl selling dinner rolls from a wicker basket. He approached and asked them if they had seen a young woman with brown hair pass by. The little boy looked at him wide eyed for a moment while his sister hid behind him. Soon, the boy gave a hesitant nod. “Which way did she go?” Ikaru asked with what he hoped was a reassuring smile, and the boy pointed down the street. Ikaru gave him a coin and the boy reflexively handed him a couple rolls before Ikaru hurried off after Akari.

Ikaru scanned the crude buildings on either side of the street, wondering if she might have entered one of them. He entered a couple of the shops, checking for any sign of Akari and asking the shopkeepers if they had seen her. Most merely shook their heads while others did not have the time to speak before he left. Ikaru soon became rather frustrated. Why were women so touchy anyways? Finally, he came to the end of the main street of the town, if it could be called a street at all. Though there were several tracks and cart ruts on the road into town, Ikaru noticed a solitary set of foot prints branching off through the snow and toward a small copse of trees to the west. He set off at a jog, unsure if Akari would stop or not. She had a considerable head start, and he knew he needed to close that distance or risk having to stay in the town another night.

He continued following the footsteps across the field, suddenly panicking as he imagined what could happen to her out in this crazy wilderness all alone. He had to find her. He increased his pace, his breath coming harder now as he breathed in the quickly cooling air. Ikaru thought he saw a shape in the distance and called out a questioning, “Akari?” . Suddenly, there was a large dip in the ground and Ikaru fell face first into the shallow snow. He winced as his ribs were jarred, but that was not as bad as the injury to his pride. As he lay there a second, he could already feel his cheeks flaming with embarrassment. Hoping Akari had not seen, he jumped up, hastily brushed himself off, and continued at a more reasonable pace, paying closer attention to his footing. He thought he had seen Akari go into the forest, but he could no longer make her out, he increased his pace. He soon reached the trees and stumbled into the sudden darkness, calling out again, "Akari?" Suddenly, coming around aa tree, he realize she was right there. He realized he could not stop on the slick ground and crashed into her with a solid thud.


Akari


Akari had succeeded in her search for directions, though not in the way she had planned. Instead of finding a map or a sign, she had asked for the route to the next town. It was a couple of miles to the northwest, and if she wanted to get there before things got bad, she’d have to move at a quick pace. So she had set out immediately with pretty much nothing to her name. Just the clothes on her back and the cloak and gloves on her person. She had split off the main roads in the town and started off in the suggested direction, taking a shortcut through the trees to get to a better patch of travelled ground.

Within the shade of the trees, the air grew sharper in chill and the darker atmosphere didn’t do much to help either. She made her way silently through the snow, the only sound being the crunching beneath her feet and the sound of the light wind that wrapped through the firs and other trees scattered in the forest.

As she walked, she made a sudden pause as she thought she heard something in the distance. She turned her head questioningly, but she couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. She blinked a few times before turning back around and dismissing the noise as the wind or something of the likes. Akari glanced up at the sky through the tree cover, her breath fogging before her to suggest the dropping temperature. It wasn’t too bad, and if the sun could actually manage to peak out through the dense cloud, it might even warm up around noon. Akari slowed her pace once more though, and she pulled her cloak close to herself once more. Maybe this was a bad idea. As much as Ikaru was annoying, it was better than travelling all alone. Besides, he probably wouldn’t be able to survive without her. She smirked at that thought, but blinked a few times. She had come this far, maybe she should just turn back.

Akari came rather quickly to the conclusion that she would just continue on her way to see where the path led, and then come back and get Ikaru if she could convince herself to.

She made a subtle turn in her direction, heading once more on the imaginary trail she had set up before herself. ’I wonder if Jenk came this way.’ At the thought of the boy, her cheeks reddened slightly more than they already were from the cold, and she tapped her gloved fingers against her thigh. Perhaps it would have been a better idea to have gone with him on his trade route up north. He said he had been exchanging furs, and with the thought of the warmth and softness hides provided, a wistful look came upon her features.

However, her musings were suddenly shattered as she heard her name called from right behind her. She didn’t even have a chance to register what was happening or turn around to see where it came from when she was suddenly forced to the ground by something. She had tried to put out her hands to catch her fall, but she didn’t have the time and instead face planted right into the cold snow. The freeze immediately jumped on the chance to invade her warmth, and little ice fragments stuck to her face. She even inhaled a few snowflakes. With a small groan from above her, she immediately knew who had pursued her.

It was none other than the buffoon Ikaru, having crashed into her again. Now she knew how he felt when they had been in the carriage ride the first time. But it was so much worse because it was freezing cold and all his weight lay on top of her. “Augh, for such a wispy individual, you’re bloody heavy.” She wheezed out from underneath him, desperately trying to shift him off and get out from under him.



Ikaru

Ikaru gave a small groan, trying to figure out what he had hit. Suddenly, he felt wriggling under him and realized it was Akari. As quickly as he could, he rolled off of her and onto the snow, taking a few deep breaths before sitting up. He glanced over at Akari momentarily before standing and, as usual, offering a hand to help her up though he didn’t expect she would take it.

“I apologize, it seems like I always do that. Are you alright?” he said, meaning both about the current situation and about what had happened earlier. Though he had said this without looking at her, Ikaru self-consciously glanced over after a moment, sure Akari would be furious. ‘I really am an imbecile…’ he thought with irritation.


Akari

She rolled onto her side and looked up at him, squinting and trying to ignore the cold on her face. At his comment, she simply spoke aloud, “Seems we’re cursed to forever crash into each other.” The smallest of smirks played onto her lips, though hardly noticeable. At his outstretched hand, she actually took hold of it for once, too cold to get up on her own.



Ikaru

Ikaru turned away again as Akari spoke, sure he could hear the annoyance in her voice. Why could she never just accept his apology? Suddenly, he felt Akari’s hand in his. It seemed so small and delicate, already cold in the frigid morning. He was so surprised at the touch that he did not even have time to brace himself when she started to pull herself up. He stumbled, sending Akari tumbling back to the ground, though she hadn’t gotten very far up. He tried to catch his balance with a couple small steps but his foot caught on a snow-covered root. The only thought in his mind as he fell was, ‘Is this always going to happen?’

As Ikaru fell forward, he tried to avoid falling on Akari entirely, but could not manage to dislodge his foot from the root. Nevertheless, he did manage to avoid directly plowing into her. His face ground into the snow as his long legs fell over Akari's, his right foot still caught on the root while his left knee rested heavily on her leg. He was unable to move his arms in time to catch himself and landed face first in the snow. He winced as he felt something on his face pop, but felt too embarrassed to check what he already knew. "Augh, you're kind of hurting me." Ikaru managed to shift the weight from his offending knee when he realized it was digging into Akari's leg. He drew his han up, covering his face as he managed to pull himself to his knees beside Akari. “I assure you, I am not usually this graceless.” He gave a short laugh that was partially muted by the hand still covering his face.


Akari

Akari had just grabbed onto his hand and pulled back when the unexpected happened. Ikaru came down with her. Had he simply gave the gesture as a friendly appearance rather than actually having meant to pull her up? She had gotten up maybe an inch or two from the ground when he came crashing down. His knee came down and made contact just above her own in a harsh manner- he seemed to be placing all of his weight on that one- and his shoulder also caught hers and sent her right back down into the snow. As soon as she had started going backwards she had closed her eyes to brace for the impact. Once her form pushed into the blanket beneath her, the snow once more clung to the back of her cloak, melting a bit from her body heat and dampening the material. She groaned out softly from the high amount of pressure on her own leg. "Augh, you're kind of hurting me."

However, with the sound of snow crunching beside her, Akari felt a little better. At least she wouldn’t be the only one with a freezing form. It was when she had just opened her eyes to get a better look of Ikaru’s face in the snow when she realized just how awkward the fall had been. He was practically on his hands and knees, though instead of hands it was really his entire arm. That had to be cold. Akari snickered quietly at his odd predicament, though when he propped himself up, a little flash of embarrassment ran through her. As she heard the pop, her eyes sought out their point of occurrence.

It was practically impossible to see as he was angled away from her, though she soon heard his comment. “I assure you, I am not usually this graceless.” She snorted loudly, leaning on her own elbow just slightly to throw a disbelieving glance at him. “Please, I’ve known you for a while now, and name one occurrence when you’ve not screwed everything up.” The challenge was clear in her voice, taunting in that subtle way of hers.



Ikaru

As Akari laughed at him, Ikaru removed his hand and gave her an irritated glare, exposing the now bent frame of his glasses and a slight crack running down the left lens. He groaned at the silliness of her question. Ikaru rarely messed things up, this snow was just making everything slippery. That was hardly his fault, was it? Though, he was going pretty fast running after her on said slick snow, which is why he fell. He pushed the thought to the back of his mind. Maybe that was a mistake, but that was still only a small one. He had also hurt Akari when he threw the coins, but he rationalized that was only one major mess up. He then thought of most of his encounters with Ulna. He always seemed to say the wrong thing and make her angry, but that was hardly his fault, was it? Except for perhaps the first time they had met when she had not known who they were. He could have shown a bit more decorum, but it still worked out in the end. Or the time when he had, yet again, knocked over Akari trying to tell her where he was going the day before. That did not work out very well…. Or perhaps the very fact that Akari had needed to work in the first place. With each thought his face grew darker and his irritation grew.

In his irritation, he turned to Akari and said, “At least I didn't make you sleep on the floor, and kept the Lenmer from killing you when you insisted on coming, and dueled the detching leader of the bandits to get you a coat.” To his surprise, Akari had no snarky comeback. Almost immediately, Ikaru realized how close he was to... her.


Akari

When she saw that his glasses had broken slightly, she felt a twinge of guilt, especially with how he needed them and all. However, the feeling passed rather quickly as she suddenly noticed he was right in her face. He was defending himself and giving a retort to her comment. However, after the first one, she wasn’t really paying attention to a single syllable that passed his lips, suddenly stricken with his features and simply looking at him and the way his jaw moved and how the corners of his mouth shifted. The only reason she realized he stopped talking was when his lips ceased their motion as well, but even then she was still caught off guard.

LIPPSSS! Who wants to color Quasimodo's LIIIPPPSSSSSSS!


Ikaru

As Ikaru paused, unprepared for Akari’s silence, his irritation began to fade to the back of his mind. What they had been arguing about no longer seemed so important anymore. It no longer mattered to him that Akari had been over exaggerating his faults, nor did he feel the need to defend his good decisions. Instead, her deep, dusty blue eyes seemed to draw him in, and he suddenly realized why they attracted his attention so easily. They reminded him of the ocean that he so loved, and feared he would never see again. The pulsing, ever-changing beauty of the ocean. He studied her face for a moment, wondering what she was thinking and he felt himself leaning in, suddenly wanting to kiss her to express his own thoughts.

Suddenly, his attention was distracted by loud, angry chirps. He looked up just in time to see a loud, angry bird dive bombing him. Ikaru threw out his hands to defend himself from the homicidal bird, trying to keep it from pecking him. He was only partially successful before the disgruntled finch flew off, watchful and probably ready to go after him again. Ikaru scrambled to his feet, shouting all the while, “What was that for, you idiotic bird?” He stomped closer to the tree the bird had perched in, and had just ducked down to gather snow to shoo the bird away when it dived at him again. Ikaru let out a startled yelp, stumbling back and flailing his arms around his head to get the bird away from it. Finally, it flew away, getting a bit farther before stopping in a tree.


Akari

Time seemed not to matter as the two stared at one another, and Akari blinked as he seemed to be leaning closer. Though in her sluggish mind, she didn’t even notice what was happening. Her daze, however, was quickly shattered as she heard the furious chirps of a very familiar bird and her mind caught up to real time. As Ikaru got up from the ground, Akari snickered behind him, watching the poor guy get attacked by her bird friend. The entire actions and thoughts from the previous few moments had been shattered when the daze was, and she almost immediately moved on from them.

She rose to her feet, brushing the cold snow off of her form, and then stuffed her hands under her arms for extra warmth. Hikari had fluffed his feathers out and was chirping from his very core at Ikaru, obviously upset about his closeness to Akari. He hopped along the branch, throwing insults at the boy beneath him. Akari simply grinned and watched Ikaru attempted to hit the little bird with a chunk of snow. However, she could already see that he wouldn’t get to it in time as the little bird, as soon as Ikaru’s head was turned, shot straight downwards at him. The flurry of the boy’s limbs only looked ridiculous to her as he attempted to swat the bird away, who simply flew off to another tree to glare at him.

Rolling her eyes, Akari simply walked up behind him and tsked. “Baka,” She smirked at him cheerfully, “We should get going if we want to get to the next town over before nightfall.” She then passed him and continued walking through the snow. Soon Hikari fluttered down to alight on her shoulder and chirp affectionately. She simply chuckled and stroked him on the head as she walked.



Ikaru

Ikaru scowled as Akari showed no sympathy for his plight with the imbecilic bird. She called him a baka, and he inwardly groaned. At least she wasn't mad at him anymore. He glared at the finch up in the tree, who finally seemed to be calming down. His eyes narrowed as he began to wonder if it was the same bird as before, or if it was a different one this time. Akari mentioned getting to the next town, and Ikaru agreed without really paying attention, his mind still focused on the bird. As Akari passed him, the infuriating creature swooped down and settled on her shoulder. So it was the same bird, maybe. Ikaru still was not sure if it was always the same bire hovering around Akari, or if she just attracted little birds wherever she went.

After a moment, he remembered what Akari said about getting to the next town. "Wait, What town?" Ikaru asked, still eyeing the bird warily. "Did you find where a town is, and how long it will take? We are not exactly equiped correctly if the trip lasts more than just today, you know?"


Akari

Akari merely snorted derisively to his obvious lack of attention. “The next town over. I told you already we’d be heading out. I got some directions from a few of the townsfolk, but they didn’t really elaborate much on it. They mostly looked pleased to have us out of their town.”

”We are not exactly equiped correctly if the trip lasts more than just today, you know?" Akari didn’t pause in her step but merely sighed with exaggerated patience, as if she were dealing with some child. “We should get there before nightfall. That is, if there are no more collisions of our schedule.” Hikari chirped loudly, almost as if it shared the girl’s humor, but merely he was picking up on her feelings.



Ikaru

Ikaru ignored Akari’s little jibe about his recent, inexplicable clumsiness, instead giving a groan. “Great,” he said sarcastically, “another puny town so small, it has no proper name. It sounds perfect. Maybe they will want us to catch a troll before we can stay.” The thought of going to another tiny village put him in a rather gloomy mood.

As they walked, Ikaru’s fingers were inexplicably drawn to the coin purse tied to his belt and concealed under his cloak. The coins inside would jingle slightly every few steps as he strode over the uneven ground. Though they were alone at that point, the sound made him nervous. He did not like that it was obvious he had money on him. Of course, he reasoned that the possibility of a cutpurse was not as likely there in the wilderness or in a podunk town in the middle of nowhere as it was in his home city. Nevertheless, he wanted a cloth or something to muffle the clinking.

As he worried about this, he realized he still had the rolls from earlier still stuck in his pocket. He fished them out and found that, though crumpled, they had escaped getting wet. They were no longer warm, but they would still make a better breakfast than nothing. “Here,” he said abruptly, holding one out to Akari, “not much, but….” He left it off, suddenly feeling almost silly. He covered his nervousness by taking a large bite out of his roll. He was surprised that, though badly abused by his earlier clumsiness, they were still soft and savory. They had a bit of sweetness in them, as though baked with honey. Though it was not much, a bit of breakfast always made him feel less irritable. Perhaps this town would not be so bad.
----------------------------------

‘No, it is still horrid…’ Ikaru though grimly as they finally walked into town late in the evening. He stopped on the edge of town, adjusting his glasses out of disbelief. It was even smaller and grungier than the last town. He did not see a single proper roof. Everything was thatched with hay, and the street looked like a giant mud puddle. There was a single, two-story building that seemed busier than all the rest. Despite the dark exterior, light and noise already streamed from the windows. It seemed crowded and noisy, with people bustling in and out almost constantly.

Finally, the clouds that had been hovering over them since noon sat idle no longer. Large, wet flakes began dropping with an alarming intensity, and another gust of icy wind howled around them again. “We might as well head to the inn. I have a feeling we won’t have much time to do anything productive before this storm gets worse.” He strode toward the inn, uncertain of what sort of people would greet them.



Akari

”Here, not much, but….” At the sound of Ikaru’s voice, Akari turned her head back to raise an eyebrow suspiciously. However, what met her eyes made her stomach growl softly. She gently took the slightly crushed roll from his palm, soon bringing it up to her lips and biting into it. She turned back to the unseen path that they were following, savoring the subtly sweet taste that filled her mouth from the bread. Hikari chirped quietly, pecking at the bun right next to her lips, but he avoided her skin by a few centimeters, happily picking crumbs and morsels off of the food.


The sun was lowering down on the horizon when the pair finally made it to the next town. As their feet hit the earth of the old road, Akari lifted her hands to her lips and blew lightly on them. Her breath fogged in the rapidly cooling air, and she shivered slightly. She looked around, surveying the small town they had found themselves in. One particular building caught her gaze, as steam rolled from the door and windows, and laughter and loud talk could be heard, even from this far away.

However, while she was looking, she suddenly felt something land very softly on her head, and she quickly reached up to see what it was. Her fingers returned slightly wet, and she frowned subtle. However, it seemed the heavens had open up all at once and completely dumped all of its contents onto the unsuspecting earth. The snowflakes were large, and melted quickly, but with the rate of cold temperature seeming to drop with every passing moment, they probably wouldn’t stay melty for long.

A cold wind raced past, snaking under her coat collar and digging into her skin. With the impact, she shut her eyes tightly, and tried to pull her coat closer around herself. Hibiki ducked down into one of her pockets, trilling nervously as the storm continued to pick up. At Ikaru’s suggestion of the inn, Akari only nodded, quickly jogging to the warm building.

As they pushed through the entrance, warm air rushed straight into their faces, and the smell of fresh bread and meat met their nostrils. The voices around them were very loud, and many men and women were sharing a drink together, and merriment was being had all around.

Akari scanned the establishment for the front desk, and, soon locating it, walked over to the large man who stood behind it. He had a rather round nose and rosy red cheeks, and was obviously well fed. His belly strained against his shirt, but the man didn’t seem to mind. He seemed to have permanent dimples upon his cheeks as he smiled brightly and laughed often. Quite the jolly individual. He was balding slightly at his forehead, and he had a scratchy looking white beard.

“Hello....” Akari tried to speak over the noise that bounded behind them, and the inn keeper looked them over with a huge smile, leaning over and yelling quite loudly, “Speak up, love!” At the sound of the man’s voice, the ruckus behind them seemed to recede enough for a normal conversation to be stricken up. She tried again, “Hi, we’re looking to rent a room for the night, if you have any available?” The man looked down at her with the reddest cheeks she’d ever seen. He seemed to be positively bursting with pleasure and cheer. “Why, of course, darlin’! We just happen to have one room left vacant! But with this storm, you’re probably looking for more than one night. The key should be around here somewhere….” His fat fingers prodded around behind his desk before he finally managed to pick up the key to their room. “Here you are-“



Ikaru

As they entered the unassuming building, they were met by a sudden surge in temperature. Ikaru’s mouth watered at the smell of savory foods, and suddenly, the small roll he had eaten for breakfast no longer seemed sufficient. He was not sure where all these people came from, since the town was so miniscule and seemed rather out of the way to his eyes. However, Ikaru was most surprised by the appearance of the innkeeper. He seemed not to fit the usual description of those who lived in this aggravating place. He was quite rotund and seemed rather cheery. Ikaru remembered his father always saying that you can trust a fat, happy innkeeper to have two things: good food and a safe place to sleep.

Ikaru approached the man, who was uproariously laughing and adding to the general noise of the establishment. When Akari spoke, even Ikaru had a difficult time hearing her. However, the obnoxious noise finally lessened, and Akari asked after a room before Ikaru could say anything. “Yes, I assure—“Ikaru was cut off as one of the many occupants of the room jostled into him trying to get past. Ikaru glanced toward the offending person, his features turning into a glare until he realize the man was somewhat drunk and paying Ikaru no attention anyway. He sighed and shook his head, returning his attention to the innkeeper, who mentioned having a room vacant. The man groped around his desk, looking for a key and began to hand it over without any question of payment. Ikaru gave a questioning, but uncomplaining look at the red-cheeked man as he reached out for the key. 'No wonder this inn was so popular.

Before Ikaru could lay so much as a finger on the proffered key, a short woman with dark hair and hard bright eyes bustled over and slapped the grinning man’s outstretched hand. “Keil!” she exclaimed in an overly patient voice. “Aren’t you forgettin’ sometin’?” she said, a hint of some accent in her speech, seemingly foreign even to this strange land. “Some days I don’t think you’ve anythin’ goin on in that silly head of yourn!” she scolded, though there was a subtle hint of stern affection in her tone. She turned to address Ikaru and Akari, raising her unwavering voice a bit to be heard over the again rising noise level. “Pardon the nonsense. As Keil so, ah, grundly offered, we do have ah room available, never’less, there is the matter o’ payment. Fifteen coppers per night, if you please,” she said resolutely, clasping her hands and raising one brow expectantly.

As subtly as he could, ever suspicious of the rabble around him, Ikaru reached into the coinpurse hanging at his side near his elbow. He dug out enough coins for the room that night and delivered them to her hand. After an awkward moment, the woman roughly nudged her husband with an elbow to remind him to hand over the key.



Akari

With the jolliness that oozed out of the inn keeper, Akari couldn’t help but let a little grin touch her lips, and her eyes crinkled a bit, enjoying the antics of the man, and catching his happiness. She chuckled quietly as he offered the key to them without any questions of payment, which she would have mentioned anyway- not wanting to take advantage of the man’s good nature- when a short woman suddenly came out of nowhere and slapped his hand, though not in a hateful manner.

She let her eyes wander as the group spoke business, looking at all of the tables and the large hearth fire set against the wall. Candles were glowing cheerfully, spilling wax all over the tabletops, but no one really seemed to mind. Joyous laughter and ruckus teasing filled the air, and she could see all the merry faces- drunk and not- that filled the space of the building. The warmth that surrounded her nostrils drove the chill away like nothing else could, and she eased her stance a bit, closing her eyes and taking in her senses.

However, soon the deal was made between the innkeepers and the two wanderers, and as Ikaru handed over the money, Keil offered them the key with no shame in his face whatsoever towards his mistake. Blinking, Akari leaned into the desk, peering up at the two older people. “Does food come with the room?” Even as she said it, her stomach growled quietly, but not quietly enough to miss Keil’s hearing- which was a feat in itself considering he dealt with the inn’s noises every day.

Keil was about to open his mouth to answer, when his wife broke in. “Ah, no, sorry. Both are separate.” The innkeeper looked to his wife with sad eyes, “Awh, but Erida, look at the poor things. They hardly have any meat on their bones as it is! Come on, please?” His wife, Erida, tried to look sternly at him, but then a smile broke on her face and she relented, and both grabbed each other’s hands and touched noses happily. “Now there’s that beautiful smile O’ yourn.” Akari tried to hide a smile, and moved towards the tables to let the two have their peace.



Ikaru

Ikaru would have thought that the man would be at least somewhat abashed at getting scolded by his wife, but he seemed as chipper as ever. When he handed the key to Ikaru, it was almost like the interruption had not happened at all. Akari, without hesitation, asked about food, and a slight smile played on Ikaru’s lips. He had the same thought, but Akari saved him the trouble of asking. Ikaru was sure that the man, Keil apparently, would readily say yes. His wife on the other hand cut in, immediately exclaiming that the meal and room were separate expenses.

However, after seeing Keil’s puppy-dog-eyed plead, her stern façade turned to a slight smile and she gave in to her generous husband. Ikaru’s own stomach gave a not so subtle rumble, as if in appreciation of the edict. The innkeepers began nuzzling in a way Ikaru thought was awkwardly intimate for the crowded room, and he turned away a bit more quickly than normal while adjusting his glasses.

He let Akari take the lead slightly in picking the table, using the time to observe the loud mass of people around them. Most were men, as would be expected, and many seemed sturdy and strong in the way of farmers and herders. However, there was such a jovial mood that even the more grisly customers at the bar seemed to be in a pleasant mood. With an innkeeper like Keil, Ikaru supposed that was to be expected.

There were no empty tables, of course, but Ikaru and Akari managed to slip into a couple open spots at the end of one of the longer tables. The surface of the table was pitted and slightly messy, but Ikaru reasoned an inn in a town like this could hardly afford fancy furniture, or enough staff to handle such a large crowd without some mess involved. Nevertheless, it was still appropriately bright and cozy, especially when compared to the ever-darkening, cold night outside. Ikaru was surprised at how intense it already looked compared to when they first came inside. The wind had started blowing in earnest and was beginning to howl around the corners of the inn, though the sound was mostly drowned out.

Finally, a young looking waitress with a round face and blushing cheeks came to see what they would like for supper. She seemed slightly breathless, like she had been bustling about all night. After hearing the options, Ikaru settled on the stew and Akari asked for the same. It was not long before two wooden bowls filled with piping hot stew and a large hunk of bread were brought out and set before them, along with spoons and a couple drinks. Ikaru gave the waitress a polite nod before eagerly turning his attention to the food. It smelled delicious, and the roll he had for breakfast suddenly felt far too long ago.

He hurriedly scooped up a spoonful and impatiently blew on it to cool it. That would never have gone without some reprimand at home, but now he hardly gave it a second thought. Despite his precaution, he still burned his tongue slightly in his impatience, but it was good enough that it hardly mattered. Ikaru took a drink, then dipped his bread into the broth. After taking a bite and swallowing, Ikaru turned to Akari. “Not bad, I suppose. What do you think?” he asked, speaking hopefully loud enough to be heard.


Akari

As Ikaru found them a table to squeeze into, Akari began plucking off her gloves and stuffing them into her pockets in order to truly enjoy the warmth that the inn provided. Once they were settled, a young girl made surprising time in coming to greet them and soon after provide a good meal for them. The bread that was presented smelled fresh, and the stew made her stomach growl and gurgle hungrily.

Unlike Ikaru, Akari blew patiently on her meal despite her gnawing hunger. However, once she deemed it acceptable- or just couldn’t wait any longer- she quickly dipped her spoon into the broth and brought it to her lips to practically inhale it. The stew was savory and at just the right temperature, and it made her smile despite herself. Once she dipped the bread into the bowl and brought it to her mouth, it seemed to accent the flavors very nicely.

“Not bad, I suppose. What do you think?” She was only half paying attention to where the question came from, more inclined in her quiet moment of food induced bliss, “It’s really, really good.” She smiled happily, exhaling the words from her lips with a gentle smile and cheery eyes. In all honesty, she had forgotten just who it was she was talking to, and the genuine tone of her kind personality showed through.



Ikaru

Ikaru glanced over at Akari in mild surprise upon hearing the happiness in her tone. His spoon paused halfway between the bowl and his mouth. This was the most open she had ever seemed around him. Though they were not exactly talking about a deep subject, it was still an improvement over the usual awkward tension between them. Ikaru was not sure how to respond, though his first reaction was to, of course, bluntly comment on her tone. That is what he would usually do without another thought. However, as he opened his mouth, he reconsidered. After all, this was Akari. She was likely to just get upset and clam up again, and Ikaru wanted to avoid that. Why was she so sensitive anyway?

Ikaru took another bite, considering what to say as he swallowed. He really did not know that much about her, all things considering, other than that she was stubborn, mischievous, and easily offended. He decided to just ask something easy. “It is good that you like it, I guess,” he said awkwardly. “But, if you could eat anything at all, right now, what would you have?”

He tried to look nonchalant, but he was interested to see if her happy mood would disintegrate, as usual, or stay. His eyes flickered to her face as he took a bite of bread.


Akari

After she had swallowed the previous morsel of bread, she blinked as Ikaru’s voice filtered into her ears. “It is good that you like it, I guess,” The tone of voice he said it in had snapped her back into reality, shattering her small moment of bliss. An awkward little cough parted her lips and she blinked a few times, a small bit of irritation flaring up inside her as she realized what had happened. But for once, the idiot sitting next to her didn’t say something completely offensive, which was pretty well a first for him. Nonetheless, she knew, she just knew that he was belittling her again in his mind, and that only worsened her agitation.

“But, if you could eat anything at all, right now, what would you have?” Akari turned her head to look at Ikaru with a raised eyebrow, squinting her eyes ever so subtly as she tried to determine just why he would ask her such a thing. Her immediate assumption was so that he could laugh at her answer and downgrade her once again. She looked at him as if he were acting like a crazy fool before she stilled her facials and actually thought about it. With a nonchalant shrug she answered, “This.”



Ikaru

With her answer, Ikaru’s attention returned to his bowl with something like a scowl. He should have known she would just brush his question aside. It annoyed him that she always pushed him away, but why should he care. His only concern was to get them back home safely, and it would matter little after that. Why should he try to make an effort if she was not going to reciprocate anyways.

After a short moment, he impatiently replied, “Figures. Back home, this is but peasant food, but if that makes you happy...” He wolfed down the rest of his stew, no longer actually tasting it, and pointedly avoiding looking at Akari. Mere moments later, he finished his last bite and shoved the bowl away. He rose from the table, still not looking at Akari as he said, “I am going to bed.”

He soon figured out where the room was, and closed the door behind him, irked when he realized how loud it was even there. If he could, he would have walked outside to work off some steam, but the temperature was dropping fast. Ikaru crossed the tiny room to a small window, rubbing warmth into his arms and dodging around the bed that dominated most of the floor space. He stared out to a monotonous blend of swirling white from the blizzard. It was already in full force, the impressive chill seeping into the room through every miniscule crack. He glared into the whiteness, the heat of his irritation slowly seeping out of him as his thoughts raced without reaching any conclusion about what he felt.


Akari

Akari’s face soured as he did exactly as she expected him to. She merely huffed out a breath of air, watching him out of the corner of her eye as he stormed out. Once he had disappeared, she let out a loud sigh and stabbed her spoon into the spoon angrily. He could be such a child sometimes. Akari rolled her eyes and let out yet another sigh before muffling it with another spoonful of stew. The worst part of it was that she’d have to go up there soon after and then further deal with his insults.

She mulled over the situation for a while as she finished eating. She let out a sigh, it was probably her own fault anyway. She grumbled quietly to herself as she dabbed her lips with a napkin and set it down in her now empty bowl. With a light sigh she too got up and walked the stairs to their room. She rapped lightly on the door before entering the room, immediately regretting it as the chill set in. It was warm with the laughter, heat, and bodies downstairs, but now that they were in a small, lonely room, it was obvious as to just what the degree of the weather was.

Shivering, she rubbed her hands along her arms. “Geeze, it’s bloody cold in here.”



Ikaru


It was not long before Ikaru calmed down a bit. He didn’t know why it had seemed so important for Akari to open up to him. She never had before. In fact, Ikaru wondered if the stubborn girl saw him as anything more than an obstacle to get over, or a nuisance to tolerate. That in itself was enough to make him irritable until he realized he had no real reason to care. All that mattered was to leave this godsforsaken place and get home. He glared at the whirling snow once more, but for a different reason now. Until this storm abated, they could not really continue their journey. But in any case, there was no point just standing there brooding.

Before he could decide what it was he could be doing, there was a knock at the door. He turned toward the door with a rather emotionless look, knowing it was Akari. She looked cold almost instantly after entering the room and Ikaru finally realized just how chilly it was. Now, at least, he had something to do. He turned from the window and strode toward the door, untying his cloak from his shoulders. Ikaru pulled it from around his frame and swung it over Akari before she could react, striding past her to the door.

“I’ll go get some extra blankets then,” he said without inflection, his hand already on the door handle. As soon as he opened the door, however, he realized that the innkeeper’s wife was right outside the door, arm raised as if she was just about to knock. Balanced her other arm was a stack of blankets that she seemed to have been distributing to guests. Ikaru almost tripped right into her, just barely catching himself on the doorframe.

“My, if it isn’t the young couple!” she exclaimed. Her accent seemed stronger in her surprise. She forcefully shoved a few sturdy blankets into Ikaru’s arms. “Well, I’ll let ya two get back to your canoodling then,” she continued, giving them both a knowing look before shutting the door herself, forcing Ikaru to step back.

Ikaru could already feel the blush rising in his cheeks. Instead of turning around and facing Akari after that awkwardness, he simply stood there, stubbornly facing the door and gripping the small stack of rough woolen blankets.