Part One: Hiroshi and Satoshi
"Mikagami! Mikagami Hiroshi! Get back here! Do you hear me? Get back here!"
Rindou's high voice echoes down the stone hallway as I make as much distance between myself and the dining hall as I can, in the least amount of time.
No, she's not going to be happy having to work alone, but I can't help her with the dinner plans. I'm going to be late for my assignment as is...
It was all that I could do to get away from her with the least amount of trouble. Anyway, I'm sure that Iwakaze will only be too happy to help her, any way that he can.
The stone pounds beneath my feet as I turn the corner, keeping my balance only for the fact that I've run this way a million times a day. If I was to ask, I'm sure that the time could be set by my tardy behavior.
It's the fact that if I don't make it to Wataru's office in time, that I'm going to be reprimanded, that keeps me going. His office is on the next floor up, and all that separates me from my goal is a wide set of stairs, a near eternal length of hallway, and that brown haired boy...
Wait, that's not good!
I skid to a halt just before I would have collided with him. And to think that I'm one of the best riders that they have in all of Sekiei Kougen. When at times it looks like I can't even stand on my own two feet...
"I'm sorry about that, I'm in a hurry." I smile with my apology, and then I continue on my way after his head bobs up and down in acceptance.
And then the race is on again.
You'd never think that this fort is as grand as it is. Not truly a fort, actually. The palace of the old family that once ruled, turning with the times. A defense against the western lands was needed. And that's why the Sekiei Kougen has turned from one to another.
And I'm one of the best defenders against the lands of Johto. Truly though, you wouldn't expect me to be a dragonrider, not by my appearance, and especially not with my tardiness... But Wataru's office is in sight and my worries get pushed aside.
No one is around, and I swear that the gods must be on my side, for as soon as I arrive, the door is pushed open. "Oh, I was just going to summon you in," Wataru says, a smile creasing his weathered features. "Come in, Hiroshi, I think you'll like your next assignment."
Do I detect a hint of sarcasm? I'm sure that I did...
"Of course, sir." I say, following after him. He's all business, and I can detect that the smile was just for the sake of anyone else who happened to be passing by. To think that all of our troubles are because of Lord of Johto wanting to conquer the rest of the world...
This must be a continuation of my prior assignment. Border guard. Not exactly the most stimulating thing in the world, but it's needed for the safety of Kanto.
"What am I to be doing, sir?"
He seems a bit distracted. I wonder what could be on his mind... whatever it is, this must be big. It's actually quite anti-climatic... "You're to escort Lady Erika to the Orange Islands, as our ambassador to the royal court there."
I nod slowly. I hate being stifled like that, but hopefully it won't be for long.
This makes sense, then, why I was summoned here in the first place... "Here are all the details, Hiroshi. Make sure you read up on everything..." He hands me a stack of parchment, and I hold onto it tight.
"You know how important this is, don't you?" He asks, and I nod. The Orange Islands are neutral in the war, and if we were to get their aide, then the tide could finally turn in our favor...
"Of course I do, sir."
"Good, you'll be leaving in the morning. You have until then to do as you wish, so make the best of your time..."
I bow. "Of course, sir."
"You are dismissed..."
I leave his office behind, and the doors are heavy as the shut. I flip through my new assignment, brow furrowed. This is going to be complicated simplicity. Of course I can handle it.
Well then, I think that after I return to my room, I *will* make the best of my remaining off time. And that means all I have to do is find Satoshi.
And knowing him... well, hopefully... I forcefully run into *something* and I nearly fall back but somehow I catch myself. I blink and look up.
Oh, well, this was rather simple. Satoshi's standing there, grinning at me from behind black bangs and dark brown eyes. "I wasn't looking where I..." We start in the same breath.
I shake my head and make sure I have all of the papers. Wataru'd have my head, even if I *am* an essential part of the greater good. "Going. Neither was I." I look around, then back to him. We've been friends practically since we took our first breath, and it seems that it only makes sense that we're both in the positions that we are. If I'm one of the best... well then, so is he. Just as good, if not better, as I... Of course, he'd deny it vehemently.
"Now, why are you standing in the middle of the hall?" I ask. I at least want to know why I nearly knocked myself to the ground. This somehow feels like déjà vu...
"Well, I wasn't really standing..." I know I look sheepish now. It's not the first time we've crashed into each other when we were in a hurry, though. "Actually, I can't stay to chat -- I've got to get to Wataru's office for my next assignment. Maybe I'll get something different this time, you never know."
He grins, and it lights up the sky-blue of his eyes. "Well, I sure did. Just look at this..."
I shake my head. "Can't. I'm in a hurry. But wait for me here, OK? I won't be long."
"You're not late, are you, 'Toshi?" he teases.
"No... And don't play innocent with me -- Kenji told me he spotted you running down the halls like your hat was on fire." He makes a face, and I laugh. "Well, I don't need to run this time, and I'd like to keep it that way. Be back in a second, Hiro!"
"Better make it less than that, or you'll miss me!" he calls after me. "I don't have all day, Satoshi!" But, I can hear the laughter in his voice, so I just grin and move on.
Assignment time... I grimace. Hiroshi and I are traditionally border guards, since our dragons are among the fastest... But the job is just getting monotonous, if you ask me. It just means flying around, watching nothing happen, camping out at night, then flying around some more. I wonder what new assigment Hiroshi got. Lucky him, though, to have broken out of the vicious cycle. I can only hope I'll be able to do the same.
I have to pass by a window on my way to Wataru's office, and I catch a glimpse of silver, which makes me smile. People have often asked if I'm jealous of Hiroshi for getting a gold dragon, but I just have to take one look at my silver, Shiika, and the answer is most definitely a negative. She's the most beautiful thing I can imagine, and together, we are the greatest, most unstoppable team ever!
Well, maybe the second greatest -- it's hard to tell if Hiroshi has me bested or not. Like it matters, though.
I smile, then shake my head to clear it of daydreams and hurry on to Wataru's office. I'm horrible when I get distracted, and it happens so easily...
"Ah, Toraeru." Wataru smiles as I walk up to his office. "Right on time, for once. This is a first."
"Yes, sir." That is all too true, sad to say. I follow him into his office. Come on, you want to give me a different assignment this time... I know that border duty will likely be boring, as usual. The Johto Lord won't try anything so obvious as to march across our borders... We'd be on him before he knew what was happening -- and their dragons are no match for Shiika and I if they planned to stop me from reporting their presense. He'll have blues at the front -- great for power, but definitely not built for speed.
"Satoshi!" I blink, startled, and realize that Wataru is holding out my assignment. "Pay attention," he scolds, and I smile sheepishly by way of apology. I glance down at the assignment -- only one sheet of paper. Oh no...
"Border duty," he says, a faint smile tugging at his lips. "I'm sure it comes as a shock, doesn't it? This is the area you'll be covering, Toraeru."
I take the paper from his hands, resisting the urge to sigh. Border duty again! It figures. "Yes sir," I say out loud. Great. I'll have to go tell this to Hiroshi now -- and I know he'll probably be bragging about the great job he has. No matter what, his job is better than mine; absolutely nothing is more boring than border duty these days.
"Be ready tomorrow, Satoshi." He must've seen through my attempts to hide my distaste; he never would've reminded me of that otherwise. "You're leaving early. You have your assignment; it'll tell you how long you're out there. You'll be relieving Imite at precisely noon tomorrow -- I trust you will be on time?"
"I will, sir." I could be sure of that, at least. Shiika hadn't let me down for speed yet.
"Good. Get yourself prepared. I don't want to see you rushing around at the last minute tomorrow morning, Toraeru." His gaze was level. "As I remember from last time."
Oh. I was kind of hoping he'd forgotten about that. "I won't, sir."
"I trust not. Dismissed." He waves a hand.
I don't even bother to glance at my assignment once I'm out of Wataru's office. Plenty of time to sort out where I'm going tomorrow morning. I'm not new at the border business, at least, so I know where everything is -- all I'll need is a name, and then I'm off. I'll just have to take a look at it when I'm packing so I know what how much I'll need by way of supplies.
Wonder what kind of assignment Hiroshi's got... He'd said he wasn't on border duty this time, which was unusual. There has to be something interesting happening -- if only I'd gotten there first! Darn it! Well, whatever it is, I'm willing to bet it'll be a show-offish assignment. Hiroshi's gold is a show-offish kind of dragon, after all. And it has to involve speed. Almost all of both Hiroshi's and my assignments involve speed somehow.
I stop by the window on my way back. Of course, just because I saw a silver doesn't mean it had to be Shiika. There are more dragons around here than I could conveniently count, and a good portion of them are silver. I have to smile, though, as I look out the window. There's a bit of training going on in the fields beyond.
Silver, gold, copper, and bronze -- those are our dragon colors. They look splendid, too, especially when you happen to be watching them fly. I have to admitt, watching dragons fly is one of my favorite things to do -- second, of course, to actually being on one while it flies. Or when I can watch them while flying... I sigh, and half lean out the window. If I didn't have such a short amount of time before my assignment, I'd probably take Shiika out tonight. But, as it is, I'll be riding her tomorrow morning anyway, so there's no real point. Tonight, I'd best relax.
I tear my eyes away from the scene and start back towards where I left Hiroshi. They really are brilliant, those dragons. I'm glad they're on our side, though I wouldn't mind having some of the other colors in there as well. It seems funny, but... we have all the metallic colors, while Johto holds the basics -- red, blue, black, and green. And then the whites, of course, are loyal only to the Orange Islanders -- so, essentially, they are neutral. I wonder if it's a coincidence, that the metallics all side with us, and none of the rest do. It could be coincidence... or, it might have something to do with the different temperments of various shades of dragons... It makes my head hurt to try and figure it out. I think I will never understand them, much as I try.
Well, being able to fly is the one blessing involved in border duty. I adore flying. But, even with that, it'll be boring, as usual, I'm sure.
Lucky Hiroshi and his different assignment. I half-smile to myself. Ah, well, border duty it is. No sense complaining; it won't change my assignment. And, you never know, maybe something interesting will happen while I'm out there. Anything is possible...
Anything is possible. Just take a look at this assignment... But the phrase 'Anything is possible' is more than just an understatement on this occasion. This assignment looks more important that it did at the first glance.
Yes, I'll be escorting Lady Erika -- she's one of the refugee's from Tamamushi, before they rebelled and made themselves a free republic -- as our ambassador to the Orange Islands, but the fact that they actually want me there on guard duty...
I'm going to have to meet her before noon, and then we're going to be on our way. Dragons do make travel between the extremities of Kanto easier, especially since we're as spread out as we are. And this is another attempt to ask for an alliance from the Orange Islands, I assume. I don't know what's going to make it different this time.
The thing that makes it so... strange, is that they want *me* there on guard duty. I guess having a record like mines make it safe to assume why I was chosen. But the fact that they're putting this much into this move... As silly as that sounds, that makes me feel like they're actually expecting trouble. That, or they just want to use my Koori and I as a flashy display to stun the Orange Islanders. They're not simple backwaters, but there's little that's as impressive as a dragon in flight...
At least I've gotten away from border duty. Poor Satoshi, I muse, as I flip through the papers once again. This is important. I've actually gotten an *important* job. And to think I thought that I'd be on border duty the rest of my life...
"Hiro, HIRO!" I snap out of my thoughts, Satoshi's hand waving in front of my face. He's grinning like a mad man, and I grin right back at him. Where *have* I been today? It's like another planet, and I'm the only one here.
"Well," He sighs. "you must save me from this boredom. What's your new assignment? He tries to peek at the papers and I chuckle and move them away. He mock pouts and swats my shoulder. "Meanie."
We must look so very mature... "Come on, let's go get something to ea..." I pause in the middle of the word. Rindou's probably not going to be happy with me, so that actually cuts out anything to eat for the rest of the day. She may look sweet but she has a temper that will stalk you until the end of time.
"Um, actually, let's go downstairs and get some fresh air..." Anything to save myself. I don't even want to start up on her... 'Just because you're a rider, that doesn't mean you're able to get out of work when we need help!' I was going to be late. I *had* to go...
He's grinning now, and he pokes my shoulder. "Oh come on, what did you do to Rindou *now*?" He emphasizes *now* with another poke, and I sigh and try and hide behind my bangs. It's not working.
"She wanted my help, and she kept me so busy that I was going to be late for Wataru..." His eyes widen and he gasps, feigning shock. It's going to get him in trouble if he's not careful...
"Hiroshi, *late*? The world must be coming to an end!"
"Why you!" I roll my eyes. "At least *I* don't have border duty this time around..." Sometime in the midst of that all, we started walking. His face falls at the mention of *border duty*.
"You don't have to rub it in." He sighs, and whines like a petulant child. "Wataru likes you more than he likes me." Well... I'm not normally late, I suppose that must have some effect on it... "Oh don't give me that look, Mr Perfect."
"I'm not perfect." I blink a couple of times, and we head down the lower stairs. Just a little bit and then we'll be outside, and I can see Koori and share the news of our new assignment. I think he'll be interested, in the least.
"I know, I was just joking... so come on, what's your new assignment?" He leans outside the door, against the low wall that shields the walkway and heads towards the training field. I pause opposite him, and gaze at the papers and then him.
"I've got ambassadorial guard duty." I say, with the barest hint of a smile. This is going to be the most excitement I've seen in a long time.
"No fair!" He exclaims. "And here I am with border duty. Again." He really *is* pouting this time. Did I mention something about us being mature, earlier? I'm glad I didn't, he and I can be anything but mature when we're around one another. Yet it's not yet effected our performance.
"Oh come on, let's go, I want to let Koori know." He sighs and then grins sheepishly and nods, and follows after me. "Anyway, I'm sure I'm just going to get caught up in a lot of bureaucratic nonsense... You know how it is with the ambassadors."
"I know, I know..." He sighs.
"Come on, 'Toshi, smile or you're going to regret it..." He lifts an eyebrow in question, as if daring me to try something. "Like I'd try anything. Hurry, I think I see Koori. Don't you want to let Shiika know of the new assignment..."
He swats me with the rolled up paper. "You're trying to rub it in, I know you are!" I laugh and take a few steps away from him.
"Oh come on now, you're acting like a baby. Border duty's not bad and you know it."
"It's just more boring than having to listen to one of Munou's tales about the old days and how it was before the war started... I know it was a wonderful time but that man can drag on a story for *days*..."
He's right about that. I pause and set my hand on his shoulder. "You know that anything is possible, Satoshi. This could be the chance you've been waiting for..."
His eyes are laughing, and he's trying not to smile too much. "That's what I told myself, Hiro. Come on, I *do* see Koori... Let's go to him before he decides to come to us." That sounds like a good idea, so I nod and we do.
I have to admitt, Hiroshi's gold is *very* impressive. I mean, for starters, he's HUGE, despite being small for a dragon, and he's sleek and fit. The gold of his scales is so polished you can almost see yourself in it. And then his head is fierce and deadly looking -- sharp, glistening teeth and a dangerous intelligence burning in those emerald orbs of eyes he has. Hiroshi matches him perfectly; with the blond hair, he makes it look like they're a matched set. If he only had green eyes, I'm sure they'd never put him on border duty.
"Hi Koori," he calls as the dragon lands near us gracefully. "Ready for our next assignment?"
Naturally, he doesn't expect an answer -- dragons don't talk, of course -- but when you've bonded that much, there's an understanding between the two of you. I should know.
That thought reminds me... I should let Shiika know we're on *sigh* border duty again. I'm sure she expects it -- it's only been our last ten or so assignments -- but it's a simple courtesy to let her know. Besides, she can get testy when she thinks I'm ignoring her.
I find her a few minutes later, not far away -- of course, my silver always seems to know when I'm coming out to see her, and I know she enjoys my company at least as much as I enjoy hers. I smiled up at her as she turns those brilliant sapphire eyes on me, once again pausing to admire her beauty.
Shiika is very much like Koori -- they're close in size, and weight. Both are built for speed, naturally -- fit and sleek with powerful wings and smooth muscle lines. I love how Shiika looks at night, like moonlight. Koori is complimented well by day, but Shiika is a night dragon, and she knows it as well as I do. On assignments like border duty, our great pleasure is to fly by night as much as possible, rather than sleeping then and flying by day. It's the one thing I look forward to, soaring through the clear night air and watching Shiika's scales sparkle in the light of the moon and stars. I would never trade her for anything.
"Hello, Shiika," I say softly, approaching her. She's regarding me steadily, but I detect a touch of a resigned look in the bottomless depths of her eyes. Oh, I think she knows what our assignment is.
"Border duty," I tell her, sighing. Not that it's ever a surprise. She gives a snort as if to say 'I knew it', and I smile again. "Hiroshi and Koori are ambassadorial guards this time. Lucky, huh?"
She tilts her head to the side, and I know what it means: why them, and not us?
"I think they expect the Orange Islands to be more impressed by a gold -- especially with someone like Hiroshi riding him." It's a basic fact; gold dragons are considered our 'show' pets, even if they *are* all fighters. There are times when it makes me relieved that I have a silver instead, but now is not one of those times. "I think they're afraid there might be trouble; there are more impressive golds, but Koori is the fastest, and they know it. Who better to take Erika to safety in case of an emergency?"
Shiika looks at me again, and I grin.
"Yes, we *might* be better, but the days are longer in the Orange Islands and golds are better highlighted by day." Just one of the many reasons, I suppose. It's not really a big deal, but I'm just itching for a chance to break free of the 'border' barrior -- anything to get a different assignment.
Shiika seems to agree with me on that, I think. Perhaps even more so.
"Well, if you're that anxious for that kind of job, maybe we should paint your scales gold, hmm?" I laugh as she makes an irritated noise. "Kidding, Shiika. Just kidding."
She leans her head toward me, and I stroke that huge muzzle gently. I love Shiika so much... Perhaps the reason I've never had any lovers is just that -- my dragon takes up too much of my time. I see no reason at all why that should change. Plus, any girl I chose would have to get Shiika's approval, or I'd have one cranky dragon on my hands.
I would truly love to go flying right this minute, but as I look back toward the doors, I see Hiroshi waiting for me. I need to relax tonight, and one look at Shiika tells me that she thinks it too. "I'll see you tomorrow morning, girl," I say, by way of farewell, then stay just long enough to watch her take off before returning to Hiroshi.
"What did she think of your assignment, 'Toshi?" he asks, grinning mischievously.
"You never let up, do you?" I make a face at him again and we both have to laugh.
"Guess not. Out tonight?" he asks. I can't resist *that* one.
"Out? Well, Hiro, you know I'm flattered and all, but I don't really think of you like tha -- " Now it's my turn to get thwapped with the assignment, and his to make a face at me. But I'm laughing, and he can't help but join in too.
"We're both idiots -- you know that, don't you?" He tries to scowl at me, but it doesn't work.
"Hey, as long as we get the job done..." I grin. "OK, Hiro, to seriously answer your question, yes, I would like to spend an evening out of my room. Just not too late; we're both up early tomorrow."
"Sure, sure." That evil grin is back on his face. "And we wouldn't want to see a repeat of what happened last time, would we?"
"That was a mistake!" I protest. "And it wasn't my fault... Well, maybe it was, but it could've happened to anybody!"
"Of course it could, 'Toshi." Now I *know* he's making fun of me. "Why don't we go outside and grab something to eat? I know a good place..."
"From when Rindou throws you out of the kitchens, you mean," I can't resist adding, then dodge that thick shief of papers he's carrying. "OK, OK, let's go then! Just show me the way, and I'm there."
"Because as long as there's food, then you don't care," he quips, then breaks into a run and I have to chase him the rest of the way back.