The shop had a murky smell to it, Jou felt repulsed by the dirt that had accumulated everywhere. He traced his hand over a piece of metal that looked as if it was supposed to be a shield.
“I wouldn’t touch that, it’s a work in progress. Covered in a deadly acid”
Jou instinctively jumped backwards and rubbed his hand against his tunic. The man, who spoke out, laughed very hard, a hint of madness in his voice. Jou turned round to face the man and almost choked at what he saw.
“I kid, that joke works on all the new recruits!”
Jou stared at the man wearing brown overalls. He could tell he was older than he let on evident by his grey hair, coated in black soot and the wrinkles all over his face. He wore a surprisingly clean gold pin on his chest, however the pin was dented and rust was starting to form around the embossed edges. A twitch was evident in the vain above the right eye of the man, he was shaking ever so slightly and that made Jou very nervous.
It felt like the old man could snap at any moment.
“I was told to come and retrieve my armour here.”
The man didn’t even move a muscle, looking into the young soldier’s eye. The old man had very strange eyes, his silver irises seemed to shine, even through the dirt that was clouding Jou’s vision. In fact he couldn’t help looking away, the layer of dust in the air not helping the situation. A few moments passed before the old man spoke.
“Of course, young man, I just need to take a few measurements.”
Seemingly out of nowhere the man pulled out a worn length of rope and started moving around Jou’s body. In a few seconds he had already collected the information needed to start construction of Jou’s armour.
“All I need to know is the name of the squad leader you are working under.” the man looked quizzically towards Jou expecting him to have already answered the question.
“Oh right, yes, I am working with.....”
Jou’s face dropped slightly as he realized he didn’t know his Captains name, or at least his real one.
“I’m sorry I don’t know, I never found out.”
The old man, didn’t seem amused and stopped working to look at Jou in the eye.
“Now look here boy, if you think you are ever going to survive life around here, you better start sorting out your priorities and act like a grown man.”
The grey haired man turned away mumbling something under his breath.
“Oh wait! I do remember this, I'm working for the Leidou Watch,” Jou hoped that this would change the old man's opinion of him.
Jou stepped backwards as the old man dropped a hammer. He turned round and looked into Jou’s eyes trying to search for an answer to a question he hadn’t asked yet. A mixture of fear and envy was clear in the old man’s expression. Jou was about to ask what he had said that was so wrong when the old man spoke up.
“All will be done within an hour, sir”
The man briskly set off to work, all traces of the annoyance had left his face and Jou felt as if he had said something fearful.
“Did I say something wrong?” Jou asked moving towards the man.
The old man briefly looked Jou in the eye, before continuing with his work. He picked up the hammer and used it to smoothen out a dent in a sheet of metal. Sensing that the young man was going to ask again, he quickly shook his head as if he had been arguing with himself.
“Nothing wrong sir, call me Sparks, everybody calls me that.”
Sparks decided he had been in the presence of Jou for too long, he dropped his current task and started manoeuvring Jou towards the door.
“Be back within an hour, sir”
“I will Mr. Sparks, I hope I didn’t say anything to offend you though.”
Sparks seemed to lighten up, if only for a second, smiling briefly.
“I’m quite alright, and just call me Sparks, now please go the fumes aren't kind to young lads like yourself.”
Jou walked out of the shop and took in his surroundings again. Not having The Captain with him meant that he was free to explore for a while. A white fountain with what appeared to be unicorns, stood proudly as the centre piece of the square. There were four unicorns, one had a gold horn atop its head, as this was the horse that pointed north. In four different directions the roads stretched out, people walking in every direction. Jou could smell the sensation of fried dumplings coming from the north and remembered that he hadn’t eaten in quite a while. Following his nose rather than his mind, Jou walked until he could no longer determine where the smell was coming from.
Looking around, Jou noticed he was in a food court. Various shops with enticing signs, beckoned to Jou, advertising their own unique and presumably pricy sensations. Every so often, people would leave one of these establishments, a warm smile on their faces and sense of satisfaction in their eyes. One of the signs that he had noticed bore the name Kesack’s Kingdom, the sign itself being quite colourful yet not being as elegant as the others. Jou determined that this restaurant must be cheaper than the others and decided to try the place out.
Walking towards the store, he noticed that the shop seemed to be filled with people dressed in a classy manner. Jou looked at the dirty uniform he wore and instantly regretted his earlier thoughts, wishing he had been wearing that new armour already.
Instead of walking into the restaurant, Jou turned around and looked for an alternative place to eat.
“Hey soldier boy, over here!” Jou turned to see a middle aged woman beckoning him to a stall.
“Well you have my attention. What is it?” Jou asked the woman who had a smile on her face.
“Oh, you don’t want to eat at Kesack’s, instead try one of my freshly made dumplings. I’ve been making these for years and if it weren’t for that man with his connections to the council, then I would still be in my restaurant!” her tone suddenly went bitter, the last part of her comment seemingly directed at the restaurant behind Jou, rather than the soldier himself.
“Wait, you used to own that place?” he asked, intrigued by the stall keeper.
The woman sighed and sat on her stool, giving Jou a dumpling wrapped in a lotus leaf. Jou moved to sit on the stool next to her, interested in the tale she was going tell. But before sitting, Jou rummaged through one of his pockets and brought out two silver rectangular objects and laid it on the table.
The woman smiled at Jou and gave one of the silver pieces back.
“No one pays that much for my products anymore,”
Jou felt somewhat sympathetic for the woman and placed the silver piece back on the stall tabletop.
“I’m not just paying for the food but also the company and the story that comes along with it,” Jou smiled at the woman who was content with giving the money back.
She sighed and accepted the offering, putting the money away in her coat.
“It all started nine years ago when the new King came into reign. My mother had passed the Deshu Paradise Restaurant down to me as she had become too old to look after a business herself. I was taking things into my own hands and new business was coming in quicker than raindrops during the wet seasons. As you can imagine I was a very happy lady. Then one day, after my mother passed away, the man who currently resides in my shop decides to get me arrested on charges that were completely absurd. I fought those charges but the man had backing from higher ups in the government. I wasn't fighting a battle, but a one sided war.”
The woman sighed heavily and wiped a tear that was starting to form.
“He eventually gained possession of my shop and evicted me. No one would take me in as they all believed the accusations that man made, no one apart from a kindly old man by the name of Katsu Leone. He passed away two years ago and I’ve been living in his home since.”
Jou stood up, mortified by what he heard.
“That’s terrible, I will not stand for this.” Jou started moving towards the restaurant, however the woman tried to stop him”
“No, there is no need anymore, I highly doubt y-“
Before the woman could finish Jou had already made his way to restaurant. As he moved to reach the door, it opened from within and a small person was tossed out with enough force to knock him over.
“I never want to see you in my restaurant again!” the voice of a man came from behind the door and as it opened again Jou got a good look at the man who had spoken.
His face suited his voice, greedy and dirty. The man had several layers of fat around his jaw and a posture similar to that of a lazy tyrant. He eyed Jou with suspicion and gave the body on top the soldier a sly scoff.
It was only when he looked up that he realized that the woman from the stall was watching the whole situation with her mouth slightly hanging. A thought came to the man as he looked deviously towards the woman.
“So I am to assume that you sent one of your little rats from the home to ruin my business Mrs. Liao. Well I can assure you that you will be dealt with accordingly when the authorities arrive.”
The woman who was slightly shocked moments ago, changed to a repugnant attitude.
“I have no desire to even look at you Dei Kai, let alone send people to meddle with your business. As for the poor girl, I have no clue as to who she is, but when the authorities do come, I’ll be sure to let them know how nicely you’re treating this child!”
As the two continued to argue Jou picked himself up, looking at the small girl that had landed on top of him. He quickly noticed that she was not as small as he initially thought, old enough to work yet still short in stature.
The girl had been thrown with such force that for a few moments she couldn't open her eyes, but Jou watched as she forced herself to wake up, quickly coming to terms with what happened and acting instantly.
Noticing that Jou was still holding her arm, she gently pulled away and looked into the young man’s eyes.
“You need to help me,” She whispered to Jou.
“What happened?” Jou asked cautiously
The girl gave a quick but vague explanation of what happened, how she teleported into Dei’s restaurant and begged people for help. She pointed out how Dei had claimed she was crazy and threw her out of the restaurant before she could explain things.
“But you still haven’t explained why you need help, what exactly happened?”
The girl paused as if to consider things and spoke quietly.
“My name is Oliha and my village was attacked whilst I was attending school, I teleported here with the help of my teacher so that I could seek assistance and warn as many kingdoms of the advancement in the war.”
Hearing of such a threat Jou was reminded of the events that took place in the tea house. He couldn't help but feel that everything happening today wasn't a coincidence but he pushed away the idea and quickly formulated a plan, deciding to question her later.
“Fine, I need you to follow my lead and don’t say a word until we get out of here, ok?” Oliha nodded in response and dusted herself off.
“And you know what, I hope you die a horrible death at the hands of a Thikda!” the woman turned and left only to be stopped by a man in armour.
He eyed Jou and spoke to the restaurant owner.
“Brother, what seems to be the problem? You do know that you are causing a ruckus and disturbing the peace of the inner sanctuary again?”
Dei deviously shifted to a formal stance and the grimace on his face morphed into a contempt look, however before Dei Kai could say a world, Jou step forward deciding to use the situation to his advantage.
“Allow me to explain Captain, you see this here is my niece Oliha, who has just come from the outer colonies. I'm not entirely sure what happened, but she got lost and started panicking. I’m sorry for the inconvenience, I can assure you that Oliha will be kept in safe hands with my wife.”
For a few moments no one spoke, everyone taking in the words of the soldier. Dei raised an eyebrow, clearly suspicious, but relaxing his face before anyone noticed. On the other hand the Captain seemed satisfied with the answer he heard, not wanting to sort out petty matters by commoners, even if one of the participants was his brother.
The last adult at the scene, Mrs. Liao looked towards Jou with unbelieving eyes. It was clear that she had changed her attitude to Jou, looking at him with distasteful eyes.
“Is this one of your new recruits brother?”
The Captain nodded in response to the question. Dei Kai then stepped towards the soldier and the girl with a empty apologetic look on his face.
“I am deeply sorry for the way I handled you, If only you told me that your uncle was part of the Leidou Watch, then I would have offered you a meal and whatever help you desired.”
Oliha, who was suddenly thrown into a scenario she was not prepared for, lied perfectly in front of all the adults. She looked down towards the ground and shifted slightly towards Jou’s arm.
“I’m sorry, I panicked and was very scared.”
Dei looked sympathetic for once and patted the girl’s arm. He then stood up and looked Jou in the face, putting on a business smile.
“Look, no hard feelings, it was all a misunderstanding.”
Jou, not actually knowing the girl, had no attachment to her, but couldn't help feeling angry at the way she had been treated. He decided to stick with his plan putting a mischievous twist into play.
“I understand what happened and I’ll let you off this time. But if I catch you harming Oliha again, I won’t be responsible for my actions, do you understand that Mr. Kai?” Jou put on a small snarl at the end of the sentence which made Dei jump back slightly.
“Yes, I agree...won’t happen again!” Dei Kai turned towards his brother and straightened his back, a task that looked impossible.
“You know brother, you should stop by my restaurant more often!”
“And taste your horrid food, I think not. I only acquired the restaurant for you so that mother would stop nagging me about your wellbeing!”
The Captain chuckled slightly and turned his eyes to the woman.
“As for you, is it wise to still be here Mrs. Liao? You fully well know that I can easily apprehend you on loitering charges and the law isn’t kind to those who have been arrested multiple times. I suggest you get off this property as it doesn’t belong to you, at least not anymore.”
Mrs. Liao eyed the Captain with fear, backing away from him slowly. The Captain himself began walking away, towards the palace that could be seen far in the distance.
“I should be going now, my armour is most likely finished and I need to collect it.” Jou bowed to Dei Kai and left the scene, dragging Oliha behind him.
As Jou passed the woman’s stall, he glanced at the woman, who was now giving him a spiteful yet anxious look. He slowly began to suspect that the Leidou Watch meant many things to different people and decided not to openly use it again. He was now cautious of all people, especially the Captain and his brother. Jou turned his head to look at the girl behind him.
“It seems we have some things to discuss,” he spoke in a low voice, leading her through the streets.