The Runaway Empress

Chapter 4

Momoi Satsuki sat in front of the computer, totally absorbed in her work that she didn't notice her childhood friend approach and tugged her hair lightly. She swiveled in the office chair that she'd been sitting on, and found one Aomine Daiki looking like he hadn't done a thing.

"Dai-chan! What are you doing here?"

The tanned boy growled in annoyance. "I told you not to call me that! We're not kids anymore! And I sent you a message that I'll be coming over, but it seems that you've been ignoring your phone. What's keeping you busy anyway? We don't have homeworks, do we?" He squinted at the words on the monitor of his friend's computer. His eyes brightened in realization as he read the name on the search box. Pulling another chair, he sat beside Momoi, whose fingers were flying fast over the keyboard as she tried to hack in a network's database. After a moment's silence, he asked, "Found anything about her?"

The pinkhead shook her head, eyes not leaving the screen. "Akumi-chan left no trace. The only thing I've confirmed so far is that she hasn't changed her email address and number, but she won't reply to any of my messages and she blocked all our numbers. I tried calling using a different number but it seems like she disabled the 'Receive Incoming Calls' function on her phone. I can't track her either."

Aomine didn't understand half of what Momoi had just told him — it was too geeky for him. But what he did understand is that she was still nowhere to be found.

"She's that mad at us, huh?" he said in a low voice. His gaze landed on a frame on top of Sachiro's dresser. It was a picture taken during the summer festival in Kyoto, where they all stayed at their captain's manor during the vacation. They had a summer camp at Mount Atago, and the summer festival was just an added bonus. Dressed in yukatas, six boys and two girls posed for the camera, all showing varying degrees of happiness on their faces.

"...I don't think so," Momoi replied slowly. "Akumi-chan might be downright cruel at training, but she's not one to forget. Maybe she's just waiting for us to realize our mistakes in the past. You know her, she'd rather have us wounded to know if a knife was sharp or not instead of just telling us." She giggled. "Reminds me of something though..."

"Sh-shut up!" Aomine snapped, cursing the girl for bringing 'that' up again. "How was I to know that that was a trap for a wild boar?"

By now, Momoi was laughing so hard, tears were forming in her eyes. She pointed at Aomine, who, had his skin been lighter in color, would have been blushing beet red in embarassment. "It was fun watching you up there, though... And what's with that girlish scream?"

"You would scream too if you were in my position!"

"I doubt that..."

"Argh! Just quit it already!"

Deciding that she had teased her childhood friend enough, she stopped herself from mentioning more of Aomine's most embarassing moments in life, aside from that time when he panicked completely when they joked that a bee was chasing him, and put her computer to sleep. Enough of trying to find their elusive friend for the time being. Right now, she had to accompany somewhere.

"To the bookstore then?" she asked, tying her hair up in a ponytail.

Aomine's foul mood vanished. "Thought you'd never ask. Let's go!"

Down in the storage room of the Midorima's two-story house, Midorima Shintaro was hard at work arranging his collection of lucky items in an orderly fashion on the shelves that his parents had provided for him. They had piled up over the years that they can't fit in his room anymore. After much discussion, he finally agreed to move them here at his mother's suggestion.

He was arranging them in chronological order, based on the dates that was taped at the back of each item. Some were missing though, as there are times when his lucky items are either organic like food and plants, or when they are human beings themselves, or just that he can't find his lucky item for the day. Good thing that Oha Asa always has a back-up plan when that happens. Like that time when he didn't have the time to find his lucky item for the day because they have a match that day, and Oha Asa had told him to stick to a Leo or a Pisces to counter his bad luck.

"Shintaro! Get up from your seat this instant!" The girl tugged on his arm, but he didn't budge. "I said, get up!"

"I can't. I refuse to play today — Cancers are ranked third from the bottom and —"

The girl huffed and quit tugging on his arm, then sighed in frustration. "Why are you so obsessed with horoscopes anyway?" Midorima was about to launch into his explanation about Fate and all that, but she cut him off with a more pressing question. "What am I going to tell Seijuurou about this, though?"

"He'll understand." It was true. Their captain had always tolerated his superstitious beliefs, allowing him to skip practice or even go home early. However, this is the first time that it happened on a day of a match.

"But Ryouta's away on his stupid photoshoot and Tetsuya cannot play a whole game and we can't play with just four people!"

"That's why Kuroko is no good." He muttered under his breath, only to get slap on the arm.

"Don't say that about Tetsuya! Anyways, what now? What did your horoscope told you about your fate for today?"

Midorima closed his eyes. "Oha Asa says that I have to be extra careful around Gemini's as they are bound to get me in trouble with Sagittarius. My lucky item is a necklace with a dreamcatcher pendant. Being with a Leo or a Pisces helps lessen the damage if I can't have my lucky item."

Gold eyes brightened as she clapped her hands. "It's settled then! You're coming with me! Ryouta is not around, so you're safe with Seijuurou. Up, up!" She tugged on his arm again.

"I don't have my lucky item yet!" He protested as he tried to keep his balance as she tried to tip his chair over.

"Baka! I'll be your lucky item for today! Be thankful that I'm a Leo, now get up already or I'll change my birthdate to that of a Gemini and feed you to Seijuurou's wrath!"

He didn't need any more encouragement after that.

They won, 103-89.

He paused for a while, thinking. A year had passed without contact from their lime-haired manager, and though he won't admit it, Midorima was worried. He was still feeling guilty for being a coward that day, how a simple word from Akashi froze him on his feet. But then again, who won't be afraid of Akashi?

That's right. No one. No one but her.

"Muro-chin~ Do you know how to play that?" Murasakibara Atsushi pointed at a game in the arcade where he and his partner Himuro Tatsuya had visited during his hunt for his snacks. The purple giant had heard that there was a new flavor of chips that can only be won in that game, and had come to see if he can obtain it.

The dark-haired returnee craned his head above the crowd. "Which one, Atsushi?"

"That one~" Murasakibara replied.

Himuro followed his line of sight. His partner was pointing at the Guitar Hero game. Now, Himuro was no musician, and he's really not into arcades, so although he hate to disappoint, but he has to be honest about it. "Well, I don't play the guitar, Atsushi. Maybe another one?"

"Is that so?~" Murasakibara sounded sad. Well, it can't be helped. He doesn't know how to play it either. That means, he'll have to come back another day, preferably with his former redhaired captain. 'Aka-chin' will know how to play that game, or he can just go to the owner of the arcade and just ask for the chips. 'Aka-chin' is amazing like that. But he was away in Kyoto. "If only Kumi-chin was here..." he mumbled dejectedly.

"Kumi-chin?" Himuro perked up at the name. Murasakibara had mentioned it a few times before, but he had yet to get an explanation. "Who is that Kumi-chin, Atsushi?"

The two went out of the arcade and into a sweets shop when Murasakibara complained that he was too hungry to tell him all about Kumi-chin. Thus, Himuro had to bribe the purplehead with food if he wanted answers. Murasakibara could have just said "Oh, he's an acquaintance' or "He's a friend", but he didn't, and that means that whoever this 'Kumi-chin' is, he is one of the important people in Murasakibara's life. Come to think of it, 'Kumi-chin' could be a 'she' for all he knows.

Turns out he was right. As their order of cold chocolate and a variety of candies and muffins was placed in front of them, Murasakibara opened with the words "She's our manager in Teiko~"

Himuro nodded his head, encouraging him to continue. It was a slow process, as the boy was busy eating, and he tends to drawl his words out. But as they parted ways to go back to their own homes, the mirage shooter was able to glean the following information.

One, 'Kumi-chin' is a girl, and her name is Akumi (trust Murasakibara to omit a syllable in a person's name). As for her family name, Murasakibara said, "I forgot~ Kimi... Something?"

Two, she is quite a beauty, if Murasakibara's judgment was to be trusted. Murasakibara rarely compliments someone else's looks, as he only cares about food, so maybe Kumi-chin is indeed beautiful. According to him, 'Kumi-chin is a little shorter than Aka-chin, but quite as scary (okay...? and to think that Himuro thought that she is a sweet little girl...), and her eyes is colored like the shiny wrappers on those chocoballs (he can just say that her eyes were gold, right?) only more pretty and not as shiny (of course), and her hair is long and smells like oranges, and its color is like... (here, Murasakibara took his time looking for something to associate her hair color with) that! (he pointed to the icing of the cake on display, which Himuro realized was yellow green, by the way). Trust Murasakibara to use food as a basis for everything.

Three, and perhaps the most disturbing of all, is that she's somewhere the Kiseki no Sedai doesn't even know, not even the seemingly omniscient Akashi Seijuurou. Apparently, something happened during their last year in middle school that caused her disappearance (Murasakibara won't tell him the details though, just that he hated the 'other' Aka-chin for that) and that led to their current problem of having to search for her, to no avail.

So this is what Taiga has been blabbing about on the phone a few days ago, he thought. Something about a missing member of the Kiseki no Sedai who was the original version of the 'other' Akashi. Good thing she's not a player, his brother-in-all-but-blood had said, trembling slightly. I'm not looking forward to meeting another demon from Hell, thank you very much. Once is enough.

Himuro laughed. Who could forget about the fateful meeting of the two redheads during Winter Cup? He was not there but based on Kagami's and Murasakibara's narration of the events that had transpired, it was quite the memorable one.

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