Kings of Fortune

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Episode Nineteen - Sushi Surprise

“Look at this baby! Just like when we first got it!” Grinning wide, Kitsune runs his hands across the hood of the old pickup truck, staining his fingertips black from the layer of dust. He casually slaps his hands clean, smile unfazed.

“Definitely needs a wash though.” Zylo cautiously climbs into the truck bed, concerned for the wellbeing of his clothes.

Iya, this is fine. Let’s go for a ride. Renzo, you drive!” Kitsune tosses the keys to his partner and hops into the passenger side. After spending so much time on his feet, finding another form of transportation brings a peculiar joy to Kitsune’s life.

“The truck’s fixed? How much did that cost?” Renzo examines the broken and hanging side-view mirror.

“Wu, from Metal Monkeys, replaced the engine and tires for a month’s cash card.”

“You gave him your cash card?” Juniper climbs into the truck bed next to Zylo. “How are you going to afford your self-indulgent, squandering lifestyle?”

“Well, not my card,” Kitsune glances at his larger, bulkier partner, “I gave him Renzo’s.”

Renzo stands silent for a moment, staring blankly at Kitsune digesting his words. After a moment, “You gave him my card?”

Kitsune sighs, “Look, you always spend less than half the money each month anyway. All you buy is milk and desserts. Now shut up and ikuzo!”

“You’re buying my crème brulees.” Renzo reluctantly climbs into the driver’s side.

The truck takes several tries before the engine finally starts. The grumbling old mechanical parts rev into life, but struggle to move the slumberous vehicle.

Renzo’s gaze slowly tilts to Kitsune, “This is a new engine?”

“Okay, maybe he used some refurbished parts. Too late to stress about that. Now let’s go already!”

Though skeptical of the truck’s ability, Renzo drives out of the parking lot and into the main street without a problem.

The buildings change colors and shapes like a rapid slide show, going from depressingly uniform skyscrapers to a collage of residential neighborhoods.

It’s been a long time since anyone in the crew has gone anywhere without extent physical action of their own. Zooming past the endless streets in a car definitely feels different from walking and climbing.

Kitsune’s main intention was to enjoy a ride and roam the city, and he succeeded. The team continues driving without any clear destination for nearly an hour. Aside from Kitsune, however, everyone else wonders how much longer this drive needs to be.

Juniper and Zylo sit on opposite sides of the truck bed, their legs lined out straight beside each other. Parallel to the side is the opened window leading to the front driver and passenger seat.

“This is nice…” Juniper’s ambiguous tone hints to something else, but Zylo isn’t quite sure.

He replies, “Yeah…the breeze feels good.”

Juniper awkwardly pauses for a moment and looks around at the passing neighborhood with arms crossed. “So…does anyone else have a ridiculous urge to get out and walk?”

I do,” says Renzo from the driver seat.

“Look, we walk everywhere like, every day,” says Kitsune. “Just try to enjoy this.” He begins whistling a cheerful tune to lighten the mood.

“I don’t like it when this truck has to stop,” Juniper argues.

Though more efficient across long distances, the truck is heavily restricted by traffic signals, crosswalks, and street directions. Spoiled by the freedom of their own two feet, the crew sighs heavily in disappointment each time the truck halts for a walking pedestrian, a stop light, or a stop sign.

Juniper leans close to Zylo and asks, “So…have you seen Rachel recently?”

‘That’s unexpected. The last time I’d seen Rachel was the day I killed Sanae Hernandez. That was over seven months ago.’

“No, I haven’t.”

“That’s surprising. Why? You’re Zylo, the one who died for love,” she teases.

‘Everyone knows my story and I know no one’s, and that sucks. Having a reputation as a hopeless romantic doesn’t exactly make me the most popular guy at the Citadel either.

I chose not to see Rachel.

Though she was silent that day, the expression on her face told me everything I needed to know. She wanted to see the man she once loved, but saw me instead. Rachel no longer believes I’m the same person that saved her from the roof all those months ago, and honestly, I’m not so sure either.’

Renzo announces to the crew, “It’s getting dark.”

The sun set about half an hour ago and twilight slowly settles in. The sky turns a darkening blue and red haze, and in another half hour, the only lights will be from the artificially bright streetlamps.

“Yeah, where should we go for dinner? I’m hungry…” Juniper whines and bangs against the window to the front.

“How about sushi?” suggests Kitsune.

The crew delightfully agrees.

“Great idea, Kitsune!” he praises himself. “I know a great place.”

The New Pirates head to a fancier side of town with fresh paved roads and upscale buildings and shops. The residents drive shiny new cars to park in their deluxe town houses, possibly to host their gaudy dinner parties.

Zylo rarely ever visited this area even before he died, partially because the cost of living is so high, and its location is exceptionally inconvenient if you don’t drive.

The truck eventually pulls up to the restaurant Kitsune introduced, ‘Nama Ya’. The parking lot is lit by peaceful lanterns that provide a helpful path to the door of the restaurant. For such a fancy spot, the crew is obligated to leave their weapons in the truck.

The host, a woman in a beautifully colored flower kimono, bows and greets the guests.

Irasshaimase!” she welcomes.

The dining floor is wide and grand, entirely covered with tatami mats. After taking off their shoes, the crew follows the host down the aisle leading to countless dining booths.

Along the walls are traditional landscape and animal paintings, some featuring a tsunami or a mountain, and others a tiger or a crane. The only source of light in the restaurant comes from thin paper lanterns hanging by the walls and doors. A tranquil strumming of a harp resonates through the restaurant to accompany each meal.

The restaurant is beautiful and calm, a complete contrast to the band of violent, raggedy Pirates that dared to enter.

“How do you know about this place? Is this where you go on your days off?” Juniper directs to Kitsune.

“…What? No, of course not,” he intently follows the host.

“So that’s why we never see you on Thursdays,” Renzo adds.

“Well, I enjoy the fancier pleasures. It’s where the upper class relaxes, and the lower class dreams.”

The woman leads them to their booth and gently slides the paper door open. After taking their seats around the four-person table, Kitsune immediately orders several sashimi dishes with a glass of hot sake. Renzo decides on several orders including cucumber rolls, egg rolls, tempura rolls, crab salad rolls, and a soup.

Zylo asks for tuna and salmon sashimi, and two caterpillar rolls, which is an eel roll layered with smooth slices of avocado, then topped off with sesame seeds and sweetened eel sauce.

Juniper, however, continues staring blankly at the menu in silence.

“Well, Junie?” asks Kitsune. “What are you gonna get?”

Erm…” she mumbles, still skimming through the menu. “Is there anything…well cooked?”

“Oh,” the woman mutters at the shameful question.

Honma ni gomenasai,” Kitsune apologizes to the hostess for Juniper’s blasphemous words, then sternly questions, “You don’t mean to tell me you don’t eat raw fish, right?”

“Sorry but…it just looks so slimy…” she puts down the menu. “I’ll just take from whatever you guys are eating.”

“Not mine,” Renzo snaps.

“Actually, yeah, I’ll just eat whatever’s on Renzo’s plate. Thank you,” Juniper says to the hostess with eyes locking spitefully on Renzo.

“So…you’re one of those people,” Zylo mutters.

Juniper leans into her seat, “Okay, I should’ve said something, yes, I’m sorry. I just didn’t want to be the party pooper. Other than the smell, and the squishy…slimy texture, I should be fine.” She smiles at Renzo, “I’ll just have some of your cucumber rolls.”

Renzo grumbles, but everyone knows he is going to let her get those cucumber rolls anyway.

“And the egg ones,” she adds.

Minutes later, every dish arrives simultaneously.

The slices of shimmering orange salmon and bright-red tuna sashimi are beautifully arranged on the plate for Zylo. He picks up a salmon piece with his chopsticks, lightly dabs in soy sauce, and places the piece whole into his mouth.

The wasabi is only a light coat providing an effective amount of spice but not overpowering, while the soy sauce adds a strong kick to his taste buds.

Anxious for more, he reaches for the caterpillar roll. His teeth bite through the soft layer of avocado on the surface and into the eel at the center. The sweet flavor of the sauce erupts in his mouth, but shortly balanced by the mild flavor of the avocado.

Despite ordering the copious amount of dishes, Renzo takes his time eating his food, and spends nearly thirty seconds between each bite. He would gently and sufficiently smother each piece with soy sauce before slowly placing the entire clump into his mouth. Only seconds later would he proceed to chew. The entire process is like watching a graceful tortoise nibble a piece of carrot, and hoping he would just finish already.

Itadakimasu!” Kitsune takes each bite of sashimi and each sip of sake with a satisfied grin, undoubtedly enjoying his meal more than anyone else at the table. He eats with precise plucks of the chopsticks, elegantly pinching each piece from the plate before feeding his voracious appetite.

Juniper constantly scours the table reaching out in every direction for anything she deemed edible. Mostly, she picked at Renzo’s cucumber and egg rolls, and even his soup.

Sadly, he finds himself powerless against her wrath.

“So how was that last contract? The dog fight guy?” Zylo takes a light sip of his green tea, cautious of the hot temperature.

Kitsune says, “Oh, what’s his face? Yeah, Juniper got him. I was busy dealing with the dogs.”

“The dogs?” Renzo begins delicately chewing another tempura roll for half an hour.

“Yeah, the guy had a bunch of angry hounds.” Juniper wolfs down more of Renzo’s egg rolls as her hands pilfer food. “I couldn’t bring myself to hit a dog, so I went and killed the guy instead.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.” Zylo gently dabs a piece of tuna onto the wasabi and soy sauce before sliding it into his welcoming mouth.

“I told Kitsune to handle the dogs,” Juniper continues, “but then he was all screaming like, ‘Ah, wah, help me, these dogs are biting my legs off’ or something, and I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever. I’m gonna go kill this guy now’.”

Kitsune nearly spits out his sake to interject, “It wasn’t like that at all!” He takes another sip to replenish the loss and says, “Those dogs were ripping my pants. I had to run around the lot three times!”

“Um, excuse me miss!” Juniper calls for the waitress, and the door quickly slides open.

“How may I help you?”

Juniper says, “Renzo here, would like some more cucumber and egg rolls please. Two orders of each, and some more soup…right?”

“Better make it four each,” Renzo suggests.

The waitress writes it down. “Anything else?”

“Um…” they mumble.

After several more orders for everyone and another hour and a half, the crew finally finishes their meal. Stacks of plates with leftover soy sauce and wasabi dishes remain along with half-filled cups of tea.

“Well, I gotta say, I really like sushi.” Juniper eagerly snatches the last cucumber roll from Renzo’s plate. He grunts and proceeds to glare at her, but she ignores it.

“I’m gonna use the bathroom. Be right back.” Kitsune slides the door open and gracefully strides into the hall.

Little remnants of rice remain stuck to the plates and Zylo carefully picks them off for a snack. He lightly pats his bloated happy stomach and smiles, “Well, I’m full.”

“I’m not,” blurts Juniper, and she calls again, “oh, waitress!”

Entering the booth, the patient waitress asks, “Yes?”

“I’d like a bowl of green tea ice cream with red beans and mochi. Mochi is like a squishy, chewy marshmallow thing, right?”

The waitress contemplates a response, “…Yes, more or less. It’s made from…actually yes, it’s like a chewy marshmallow thing. Only one?”

Before Renzo can respond, Juniper answers, “Yes, just one. Thank you.” The waitress bows and leaves.

After five minutes of trying to stave off the food coma, a bowl of green tea ice cream with red bean and mochi arrives to the table. Renzo reaches with a spoon, but Juniper snatches the bowl and begins gobbling as quickly as she can.

“What’s taking Kitsune?” Zylo wonders. “I gotta go too.”

Juniper and Renzo shrug as they wrestle over the ice cream dessert.

Holding his round stomach, Zylo decides to look for the restroom. He approaches the back end of the restaurant until an unexpected aura drifts over him. This aura is heavy and warm, pushing against his chest and alerting his instincts. He curiously looks around but isn’t sure of the source.

To his surprise, Zylo finds Kitsune lying on his back in an empty booth. As he creeps closer, Kitsune turns and gently places a finger in front of his lips, signaling to be quiet.

Zylo silently nods and closes the door to the booth behind him, then sits beside Kitsune. Gradually, he begins to hear a familiar male voice coming from the other room, and tries to make out the words.

“Great job on the past few contracts, I have been quite impressed with all of your progress. Kanpai,” says the particularly smooth voice. Seconds later, Zylo hears the sound of their cups clinking against one another.

A second male voice speaks, “Thank you, but it hasn’t been easy. Those try-hard nerds have been collecting a lot of Soul recently, and very nearly stole one of the bounties.”

Zylo instantly recognizes that snide voice and turns to Kitsune. With his lips, he silently mouths the word, ‘Jacks,’ and Kitsune gently nods in confirmation.

“Yes, I know. I have watched the New Pirates escalate on the board and I have to say, their efforts deserve applause. You’d better get your act together or they’ll soon overtake you as well. I can’t say I wouldn’t welcome it.”

There’s a moment of silence before Jacks responds, “Understood, King Kuro.”

Zylo turns to Kitsune, whose face remains indifferent and concentrated. He must’ve already known.

“I will arrange another bounty for you soon. Make sure to be ready,” says King Kuro.

Kitsune quietly gets up and signals Zylo to leave of the booth. The two quickly scuttle back to their table to find Renzo and Juniper sitting beside three empty dessert glasses.

“Well, I guess you guys had a fun time.” Kitsune rushes, “Come on, time to get the bill.”

“I assume you’re treating?” asks Renzo, still bitter and pining over his loss of a cash card.

Unexpectedly, the door to their booth slides open. Standing tall with long braided silvery hair is King Kuro, the Grandmaster of Baya.

“Well, I had no idea other hunters were here. What a fine coincidence.” His voice is clear and disarming. “I was just having dinner with the Immortal Spades. Why not come and join us?”

The crew remains quiet and uncertain, but Kitsune is the first to respond, “Oh, no we already finished. I think we’ll just be on our way.”

King Kuro sighs disappointedly, “Oh, well that’s fine too. See you all again soon, then.” Turning toward the hallway, he suddenly glances back, “And also, good job so far, New Pirates. You’ve all been doing exceptionally well.”

“Thank you, King Kuro,” the crew acknowledges.

The grandmaster smiles, but his eyes fall onto one member. “Zylo, your most recent accomplishments have impressed me. Please pay me a visit the first chance you’re free.”

Zylo is speechless and strings a few words together, “Oh… Thank you, I’ll try. I mean, I will.”

King Kuro nods and exits into the aisle toward his booth.

The New Pirates look at one another, checking each other’s facial expressions for a sign of their inner thoughts.

“So…why aren’t we eating with him and the Spades?” Zylo teases.

After paying the check, the crew leaves the restaurant and returns to their truck. Renzo and Juniper are chatting up ahead while Zylo trails behind with Kitsune.

“They have dinners to talk about bounties?” Zylo asks quietly.

“I don’t get it either, but you heard them. They’re gonna be getting a bounty soon, a special one, and I wanna steal it.”

“You think it’s going to be big?”

Kitsune stops beside the passenger door, “Yeah, I do. We’d better start paying attention to their bounties.” He gets into the truck and Zylo hops into the bed again.

Juniper fusses, “Hey, so what was up with Zylo getting all the attention? Why doesn’t King Kuro acknowledge me? I’ve been doing well and kickin’ ass, right?”

“You kick lots of ass, Junie. Don’t worry about it,” Kitsune assures. “Renzo, let’s go.”

The truck revs into life and they head back into the city. Sitting in the truck bed, Zylo stares off into the mass of colorfully lit skyscrapers in the distance.

The mild night breeze sweeps past his face, and just then, Juniper unexpectedly slides over beside him. “So, you haven’t seen your girlfriend at all? Didn’t even try to stalk her? You don’t have to be ashamed about it.”

Exhaling a heavy breath, he speaks, “No, I told you…I haven’t seen her in a while. Why do you keep bringing this up?”

“Just curious.”

“Well, the answer’s no. I wouldn’t know what to tell her to be honest.”

“Yeah, we all get that, don’t we? Well, do you still love her?” Juniper goes on.

“Of course,” Zylo quickly answers. “She’s my life.”

“That’s nice.”

They’re silent for a moment, and Juniper persists to ask, “A lot of time has passed already. What if she’s moved on?” She takes out a smooth cloth from her pocket and begins wiping down her guitar.

“I guess I trust her. Either way, I’m getting my life back for her.” Zylo changes the subject, “All this talk about me, but you never told me how you died.”

Zylo has asked her this question before but she always avoided answering. He understands it’s a sensitive subject so he never pried. This time, however, she lets out a sigh and decides to share her grief.

“Our family was in debt. I had a ton of student loans I never bothered to pay, and my parents were on their third mortgage. So, my mom turned to gambling. She incurred even more debts that no one in the family knew about, until one day, these men came to collect…” she pauses for a moment.

“My dad was at work, and my mom didn’t have the money to pay them. Things happened kind of fast, but I remember myself reaching for a knife and cutting one of the men. Last thing I remember, I turn around, and there’s a gun pointed at my face.”

Juniper leans back and turns to Zylo, “That was a long time ago though. Those men took my life as payment, and the rest of my family was fine.”

“Oh…”

“I haven’t seen them since I died, either. Wouldn’t know what to say. I learned to move on, and I’m sure they have, too.”

There’s a brief silence between them, both of them stuck in thought. Juniper speaks again, “Truth is, I only brought up your girlfriend because I saw her last week.”

“Rachel? I see…” Zylo feigns disinterest, and to the best of his ability, tries to sound casual, “Well…what happened?”

“I thought I should tell you, she was having dinner with someone around Gold Town.”

“Are you sure it was her?” Though Zylo doesn’t doubt Juniper one bit.

“Yeah, pretty sure. Kind of cute looking, black hair, right?” she assures.

‘That definitely sounds like her…or Elza.’

Juniper continues, “If you want, we can find the guy and beat him up. Wouldn’t kill him or anything, just knock him unconscious. Could be fun.” She starts swinging her guitar, simulating hitting someone over the head.

‘That’d be a great idea actually. I’d like that very much.’

Zylo smiles, “No, it’s fine. Thanks though.”

‘There’s nothing to say to her. I have to keep hunting and collecting Soul. It’s the only thing I can do.’

Zylo is suddenly tired and drowsy. Maybe it was all the food he ate, or the sudden stress over Rachel. Probably the latter. He gently rests on Juniper’s shoulder and she rests her head on top of his. Together, they gaze far into the night sky, searching the beautiful stars for something to relieve their stresses.

The highway continues on, but good. More than long enough for Zylo and Juniper to daydream into a nap.
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