Episode Twenty - Worthy of a King
“So, an audience with King Kuro. You must be pretty happy with yourself.” Kitsune walks alongside Zylo through the Citadel halls.
“I’m not even sure what to say. Should I be casual with the guy? Formal? I hate when bosses try to be cool with everyone.”
“It’ll be fine.” Kitsune gives Zylo a reassuring pat on the shoulder, “He’ll love ya!”
The two walk down the widest yet least traversed hallway deep in the Citadel. This hall is just as tastefully decorated as every other except for the significantly bright red carpet lining the path. Following to the end of the long hall is a silver elevator.
These wide, rounded doors slide smoothly and silently to the sides at the press of a switch. Zylo steps in, and immediately feels an embellished sense of self-worth.
The panel only has two buttons for two floors—the one they are on, and the next floor up. Kitsune hits the top button.
Never before has Zylo taken an elevator so luxurious. The floor is carpeted and the bannister intricately patterned with needlessly wavy designs. There is even room to do a full body stretch without touching any of the sides.
“Why do you think he wants to see me? I don’t remember doing any better than you guys.” Zylo is on edge, his fingers constantly tapping his jeans and eyes incessantly pacing. “Well, maybe you, Kitsune. Definitely better than you. But still.”
“Maybe he’s got a gift for you or something, I don’t know.” Kitsune doesn’t share Zylo’s concern. “Just be yourself and he’ll like you.”
“You think he knows about…my Shield? Is that what he wants to talk about?”
“Possibly. Actually, probably. There’s nothing that goes on with the hunters that he wouldn’t know. Just don’t bring any attention to it,” Kitsune suggests.
“Okay…” Zylo leans against the wall with arms crossed. “How high does this thing go? We’ve been here for more than a minute.”
The elevator finally comes to a stop.
“Wait…why? Why shouldn’t I mention my Shield?” Zylo asks, following Kitsune out of the elevator. “Isn’t King Kuro like…cool about things?”
The red carpet continues out of the elevator and up a long flight of steps leading to a set of regal, wooden double doors.
Inscribed at the center of these doors is a detailed phoenix soaring upward with its wings majestically stretched out to the sides. One half of the phoenix is lightly colored blue while the other is lightly colored red.
Halfway up the carpeted steps, Kitsune stops and says, “I’ll be here. Scream if you need anything.”
“You’re not coming with me? Why?” Zylo enjoys the company of Kitsune, but more so, he doesn’t want to be left alone with King Kuro.
“No, of course I’m not going in there. You’ll be fine. Just be… delicate, with what you say.” Kitsune waves Zylo away, signaling him to go on.
“Delicate?” Zylo mumbles, facing the doors. He takes a deep breath, exhales, and steps closer to the doors.
As though sensing his presence, the two halves of the phoenix separate from one another, sliding into the walls and revealing an enormous room within.
The ceiling is high with a massive mural covering the entire surface. Following the edges are beautifully painted red clouds and blue waves while at the center, is a meticulously detailed metropolis.
Along the walls of this enormous room are tall columns that stretch all the way up, carrying the weight of the grand ceiling. Placed at the center of these columns are long vertical lights that initially glow a magnificent turquoise, until gradually adjusting to a brighter golden hue. Between the columns are glossed black panels that reflect this vibrant light.
The red carpet leads the way to a set of short rounded steps at the center of the room, and converging at the top is King Kuro’s majestic throne. He stands from the seat and greets Zylo with a smile, hands motioning toward him.
‘This is pretty impressive. Wonder if he gets a lot of girls in here? King Kuro, the ladies’ man and his throne room bachelor pad.’
Standing beside him are two bodyguards, a male and a female standing tall of equal height. Both wear a black suit except the man has a dark-red tie and the woman a sparkling ruby necklace.
The sides of the man’s head are shaved while the top is tied into a short folded topknot. The woman’s hair is French braided along the sides that wrap into a delicate bun at the back.
Their stern, straight faces become more apparent as Zylo walks closer, and not once do they stop glaring at him.
“Zylo!” King Kuro’s articulate voice echoes through the enormous room. “I’m glad you made it. I hope my throne isn’t too ostentatious for your liking.”
‘It is. It’s definitely ostentatious. I can barely breathe from all the ostentatiousness.’
Zylo replies, “No, I think it looks…modestly grand.”
“Well, don’t just stand there. Come.” King Kuro walks down the steps and heads toward the wall.
Zylo catches up to him, quickly but calmly pacing to his side. “Why did you want to see me?”
“I have heard about your recent contributions to your crew, the New Pirates. Ever since you’ve joined them, the team has been climbing the ranks at an extraordinary pace. Many of the other hunters even speak highly about you,” King Kuro says. “They’ve been quite…astounded, by your abilities.”
‘He’s referring to my Shield, isn’t he? Gah, why did Kitsune have to stay outside?’
Awkwardly staring around King Kuro but never at his eyes, Zylo unnaturally replies, “…Really?”
“It’s true. I thought I’d have a word with the notorious Zylo myself. I want you to know that you shouldn’t feel intimidated by me. I wouldn’t want to be set too far apart from my Baya family.”
“I understand.” Zylo abruptly clears his throat, and finds it difficult to stand still.
King Kuro’s eyes are unrelenting, however, leering at Zylo and judging his clothes, his posture, his every movement.
He says, “If there’s anything you’d like to talk about, anything at all, feel free. I wouldn’t want any…secrets, between us.” King Kuro’s stare persists for a moment, then abruptly turns away.
‘Why did Kitsune have to stay outside?’
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Zylo anxiously scratches his forehead.
King Kuro grins, approaching one of the black panels between the columns. “Here, let me show you something. I think you’d like it.” He clicks a switch on one of the columns and every panel around the room begins to rise simultaneously.
Blinding light seeps in from under the panels, flooding pure white light into Zylo’s eyes. He is forced to squint until the panels rise high enough for the light to thin. When his eyes readjust, Zylo finally sees it.
Each panel in the room reveals a large glass pane window and through those windows, is the entirety of Fortune City. Every neighborhood, district, and park is visible from here, though the farther mass of the city appears tiny in a blend of shapes and colors. Several skyscrapers stand in the distance, but only barely obscuring the wide view.
“Oh my god,” Zylo gasps, placing his fingers on the glass. The buildings and houses are thousands of feet below, and just a moment of staring down renders him weak at the knees. Fear from the incredible height creeps into his mind and the powerful sense of vertigo overtakes him.
Zylo quickly takes a step back.
One end of the city touches the massive ocean while the other end wraps around Pearl Sky Mountain. For the first time, he can see both far horizons of the majestic city from one place.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” King Kuro walks around the entire room and Zylo trails behind him, glancing through each window.
“This is crazy, you can see all of it…” Zylo mutters. “And so many people have pools!” Looking down, the cars and buildings appear tiny, miniscule, and so insignificant. The feeling is almost, powerful, invigorating.
“This is the Citadel of the Baya, located at the exact center of Fortune City.” King Kuro stands majestically tall by the window. “We have been the watchers and guardians of the people since the beginning, guiding and influencing the life within this great metropolis.”
Zylo’s eyes grow wide with realization. All this time, the Baya have been the most long lasting and significant facet within the city. They’ve been playing a crucial part in the lives of this great metropolis and no one has even heard of its name, Baya.
King Kuro continues walking, “The Baya is the true power within the City of Fortune. We are the immortal hunters, and we must be strong to lead its people. That is the mission, and I hope you’ll remain loyal to it.”
“Of course…” Zylo’s voice trails into his thoughts, amazed by this sudden wealth of information.
Taking his silence as appreciation, King Kuro smiles, “I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I can see we share similar tastes.”
Zylo finally acknowledges, “This is incredible. Thank you for this.”
“So, we’ve barely talked,” King Kuro turns his glance to Zylo, “how is the life of a hunter?”
Circling the room and walking side by side, Zylo looks up at King Kuro standing about six inches taller. “I adjusted pretty well. It took some time but I’ve gotten used to the...engaging, lifestyle.”
The two guards stand like statues, frozen in the same positions staring into empty space.
‘How much do they get paid?’
“Engaging. That’s one way to call it. Everyone starts off a little slow, hesitant. But I don’t think you struggled with that problem for very long. That’s good,” King Kuro compliments with a smile.
He continues, “I spoke to Xin of the Red Wreckers several months ago. He said you fared quite well against him. He described his first fight with you to be quite…surprising.”
‘He’s hinting at my Shield. Should I lie?’
“If I remember correctly…he and Elza ganged up on me, but then…” Zylo slides a hand in his pocket trying to look natural. “I managed to fend them off long enough for Kitsune and Juniper to arrive. I was pretty lucky,” he chuckles anxiously.
“That’s quite impressive, but you’re too modest. You beat them back with skill, and that is most commendable,” says King Kuro. “This is why I’d like to offer you a most rare opportunity. There is an open slot on the Immortal Spades crew, the number one ranked and most honored team. I would like to extend an invitation on their part, to you, Zylo.”
‘Well, this is unexpected.’
King Kuro elaborates, “Of course, that would mean you’d have to leave the New Pirates. But I must remind you, as part of the number one crew, you’d get first choice at the highest rewarding contracts, and would most definitely achieve your Soul requirement at a much faster pace. Therefore, I highly recommend you seize this opportunity.”
“I see,” Zylo nods.
King Kuro eyes him intently, perhaps expecting a more thorough response.
Zylo clears his throat and gazes out of the window while his mind pieces together a reasonable excuse.
King Kuro adds, “Your loyalty is most valuable to me. Think on it. You don’t have to decide now.”
Zylo quietly exhales with relief. “That’d be great. Thank you for this,” glancing just for a moment at King Kuro before turning away again. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t seem to endure the King’s leer.
“You’re welcome, Zylo. You’re a very special hunter, and an invaluable member of Baya,” he ends with a smile. “Well, if there’s anything else you need help with, feel free to come find me, okay?”
Nearly jumping at the chance to leave, Zylo lightly bows his head, “Of course, and thank you again.”
Watched by everyone in the room, he strides toward the entrance without a single glance back. The doors slide open for Zylo and he hastily steps out like a hungry monster is just about to snatch him.
Kitsune nods to Zylo from the bottom of the steps. “Well?”
“Nothing much. He didn’t ask anything about us in particular. It was mainly about me,” Zylo tells. “He didn’t directly say anything about my Shield either, but he was definitely suggesting something.”
“Did he show you Fortune City?” Kitsune presses the bottom button on the elevator.
“Yeah, that was pretty amazing. He really knows how to show a guy a good time.”
“You’re just easy.”
“I think King Kuro’s one of those guys that you don’t really like until you get to know him.”An eyebrow raises on Kitsune’s face, and he snickers, “Sasuga. I’m sure he is.”