A red and white sportscar zoomed through the streets of Haleigh, underneath the beautiful Wednesday sunset sky. Chris and Shojira clung to their seats for dear life as Bailey used her horsepower to zoom past the turns and lanes to get to the Shirazi mansion. Bailey was dressed in a new vest over a dress shirt while Chris and Shojira settled for long-sleeved dress shirts and ties. Though they probably should have worn helmets thanks to Bailey’s crazy driving. The wheels on her car spun so ferociously, they were almost on fire.
Thankfully for the guys, Bailey reached the mansion with no accidents. Unfortunately, there was swarms of paparazzi hounding the entrance gate, and they went insane with desperation when they noticed Bailey was driving. Bailey got the “ok” from the guards and entered the property while the guards dealt with the photography vultures. Once the trio was inside, a servant directed them to the dining room, where Blaze awaited them, along with the foreign fighters.
Blaze was in a long white dress and matching shoes with her hair tied in a ponytail. Chris noticed how her dress shined and he noticed little diamonds that decorated the garment. She eagerly approached Bailey and almost hugged her before halting herself and tried to regain her “nobility” with a handshake. Chris and Shojira shared sideways glances though Bailey politely smiled.
“Now! If everybody will remain standing!” Blaze announced, still trying to move on from her break of formality. All of the guests were clumped with their friends at the table, which was rather barren. “Thank you for attending tonight’s dinner. I personally made sure that no press will interrupt us this evening. Now, I know that this might not be necessary, but I’d like everyone to sit near someone they do not know personally. I would appreciate if all of you would take the time to get to know one another. If you please?”
With little resistance, the guests shuffled randomly among each other until they were at least side by side with someone new. Bailey ended up seated by a female armadillo and a male puma. Chris ended up sitting right next to Blaze and a humongous green Eastern Dragon from Shen La. Shojira was on the dragon’s other side and right next to a tan, youthful human male with faded scars on his face and a brown Mohawk fade. Chris shifted his head to peer at the towering dragon and ended up facing his elbow.
Turning his line of sight towards the dragon’s head, he could make out a pair of glasses and a red beard. Otherwise, he didn’t really have a good clue of what the dragon looked like…or if he was even in a good mood. “Excuse me. I’m Chris Hayabusa. Nice to meet you,” Chris extended his right hand, showing off his fangs in a friendly smile at the dragon. The dragon’s head lowered down to face Chris, and to Chris’ surprise, his new companion seemed rather gentle for someone of his stature.
“Hello! I am Hanzo Ichinagi from the Esaka borough of Shen-La. A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Hayabusa!” the dragon beamed, with a hint of nobility in his voice. “It is not often that I travel to foreign lands so it is delightful to be so close to not only a formidable town hero, but royalty as well.”
Blaze giggled at Hanzo. “I find it delightful to be around pleasant company.”
Chris was rather unsure of Hanzo’s claim about him. “Town hero? That’s…a new one.”
The dragon viewed down and rubbed his chin. “Wait…it was either that or town delinquent.”
The wolf hunched over and stared a hole through his plate. “I’m…not really either of those things so I don’t know who told you that,” he thought to himself. The wolf paused for a moment. “So, Hanzo…if you’re a part of the exhibitions, what’s your style?”
“Aikido. I practice it in my spare time. It helps me maintain control of my natural strength.”
“Ah, well you can never have too much spare time for something like Aikido.”
“Valid point. It helps me clear my mind for my poetry,” Hanzo remarked with a smile.
Chris raised an eyebrow. “Poetry? So wait, you make a living as a poet?”
Hanzo nodded. “I could never find much sense in making my living in combat. While it is important to be able defend myself, I do not wish to make a profit from physically harming others.”
The wolf frowned and kept a weary eye on Hanzo. He had no idea what to make of this guy.
Hanzo lowered himself to whisper in Chris’ ear. “Though you will have much more opportunities to know about me. I would take this chance to speak with your princess.” The dragon smiled in encouragement before turning his conversation to Shojira, who sat on his other side.
Chris arched his head past Blaze’s left to see who else she was inbetween. He saw a quick glimpse of a grey langur before the princess’ golden yellow eyes appeared in front of his line of vision. Blaze smiled at the wolf and said, “Hello, Christopher.”
The wolf paused and returned her smile, his fingers on his right hand opening and closing rather absentmindedly on the table. “Hello, Your Highness...how are you feeling this evening?”
Blaze nodded her head left to right in faux deep thought and replied in a cartoonish upper-class voice. “I am feeling quite lovely, prepared to eat an excellently prepared dinner while meeting such charming faces. Oh indubitably, this evening promises to be one worthy of talks and scripture into history!”
Chris scratched the back of his head. “So that’s an ‘I’m doing fine’?”
She giggled, now appearing less of a snooty stereotype and more approachable. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist. It’s a habit I’ve gotten into when meeting some of the citizens who are too worried about being themselves. A lot of people are afraid that I might send them to our dungeon or something.” She still kept her cheeky grin.
Chris chuckled. “A dungeon, huh? You still keep it clean? Having too many skeletons in there might just be a tad bit unsanitary.”
Blaze paused and folded her arms in deep thought. “…I believe we cleaned it out last Thursday. Thursday is when the trash is taken out.”
Chris raised his eyebrows and gasped in horror. “How DARE you! Those prisoners are still Terrans, dammit!”
Blaze laughed, shaken up by Chris’ delivery. Chris snickered along with her, way more comfortable with talking to the princess now than just a few moments ago. “I did not expect this to be the icebreaker between the two of us,” Chris remarked.
Blaze opened her mouth to reply but the kitchen doors opened and a line of servers entered the room with trays upon trays of food. Each server approached each individual patron at the table, laying down the trays they held in their hands, revealing the intoxicating smell of fresh ham, turkey, chicken, bread, biscuits, and potatoes. Although with less powerful aromas, the salads, fruit, ramen noodles, and seafood were all alluring in their own right. The servers then began to ask each guest what they would prefer to have on their plates. Chris ended up helping himself to some fresh salad, ham, biscuits and chicken. He turned his head to see what Hanzo was eating, which appeared to be a single bowl of ramen noodles with some meat in the bowl. On his other side, Blaze actually had much more food on her plate, though she at least had the proper silverware and knew how to use it.
Wishing he was more focused in the etiquette lessons his sister gave him, Chris picked up the smallest fork and got into his salad. It was very delicious, crisp with every ingredient tasting as if it was just picked out of the garden. After politely swallowing, he turned over at Blaze, who was enjoying herself a piece of turkey.
“Blaze, er I mean, Your Highness…”
“It’s okay, you can call me Blaze,” the princess clarified.
“Blaze, I’ve seen pictures of you walking along the streets of Aldwynne on your own. Don’t you usually have guards wherever you go to keep you safe? You’re sort of high profile.”
The princess giggled and looked back at the wolf. “I’m not exactly a teenage girl, am I?”
Chris scratched the side of his face and lowered his line of vision. “No, not really. I just thought that was mandatory with any kind of political leader to have some sort of protection wherever they go.”
“Actually, you’re not wrong. It’s just that my protection isn’t obvious. I wouldn’t be easy to walk up to if a hulking bodyguard sat down by me wherever I went, giving evil glares to everyone.”
“Heck, I think if they were here, they’d be body-slamming me through the table for being way too nice,” Chris joked before eating some more food.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Blaze spying on Bailey. The badger seemed rather uninterested with the pick-up lines the puma sitting by her was trying to use. After swallowing, Chris turned to the princess, who did not react in time to pretend she wasn’t watching Bailey.
“Bailey caught your interest, huh, Blaze?” Chris asked, doing his best not to show his amusement. Blaze had an expression of envy for the puma before she realized Chris was watching her.
“Oh! Um…yes, the thing is that Bailey…she…” The princess stammered and her hands uselessly gestured while she tried to find her words. She just could not speak while keeping herself appear as someone with authority. Ultimately, she couldn’t keep herself together anymore. She heatedly whispered, “Bailey is just amazing! I mean, I’ve never seen someone with her athletic ability before! And she’s just…!”
Blaze halted herself when she noticed Chris’ wide-eyed expression. She slowly covered her face for a few seconds before sighing and uncovering it. Blaze whispered again, “I’m the princess and yet I still get starstruck by other people…just how does that work?”
Chris could only offer a smile and a shrug before Blaze added, “Remember when I said I’m not a teenage girl? Obviously I need to work on that.” She grinned back at Chris and ended up ignoring her plate.
“So Chris, how long have you been training in martial arts?”
“Ever since I was seven. It’s sort of become second-nature at this point.” The wolf’s face twisted while he thought of what to say next. “I wouldn’t really call it a specific style, like ‘karate’ or ‘tae kwon do’. It’s more my own original style, just influenced by established martial arts.”
“You don’t call it ‘wolfkido’, do you?” The princess inquired, her white fangs grinning.
Chris sniggered, “Oh please, I’m not that full of myself. Besides, I’d call it something along the line of ‘Street Busting’ or ‘The Way of the Fang’.”
Blaze rolled her eyes and proceeded to imitate two different gruff males. “’Yo man, who did this to you?’ ‘Oh, this crazy wolf guy who says he fights using ‘Street Busting’ whooped my ass!’ ‘What the hell is ‘Street Busting’? ‘That’s what I said!’”
The wolf was covering his mouth and tried his best to keep himself from falling over from laughing. He succeeded but his cheeks hurt from just how much Blaze got to him. The princess rubbed his shoulder to help calm him down. “You all right there? Didn’t expect me to say that?” Chris could only shake his head no as he caught his breath.
Blaze fixed her hair and her face became gentle. “Tell me more about yourself, Chris. How’d you meet your friends?”
Chuckling to himself, Chris began, “Okay, so as I mentioned, I was seven years old when I started training in martial arts. My dad took me to the dojo for lessons. Things had happened at my elementary school so my parents thought it would be best for me to go take them to keep myself out of trouble. First day I was there, here’s a tiger who’s my size and then this badger girl who’s about the size of 11 year old but a year older than me. I thought Shojira was nice. He always wanted to hang out with me and we usually talked about games, books, all that. But I also thought Bailey was mean. Mainly because she was so big and grouchy.”
The princess glanced over at Bailey again. She smiled at the thought of young, much smaller Bailey folding her arms and pouting. Turning back to Chris, she said, “If you don’t mind me asking…what happened at school that made your parents sign you up for lessons? It had to have involved you, right?”
Chris’ smile faded. He played with his fingers and he sighed. “Okay. What happened was that a lot of the time at school, I would see other kids getting picked on by a group of bullies and I was getting so fed up with it. When I was born…I was more than special. I had…I guess you could call it a superpower.” Chris’ eyes darted around the table to make sure no one would notice. Suddenly, a small purple flame suddenly appeared on the tip of his right pointer finger. Blaze appeared shocked once she saw Chris’ spark light and then extinguish.
“I learned about this power when I was trying to defend myself. I enjoyed how strong I felt, the energy coming from the flames. So I thought I could be a superhero and try and stop bullying. First time I tried it, I ended up burning the bully. It wasn’t severe but it was enough for me to get in trouble and be taken out of school, but mostly for my safety. Thing was that the authorities thought I brought a lighter to school. It was coincidence that they found one at campus and so they immediately pinned it on me. My brother and sister ended up being scared of me because they thought I would hurt them the same way if I got mad, so that’s when my dad signed me up. Things…got rough after the incident though.”
Blaze shifted in her seat and continued to give Chris her full, undivided attention. “What do you mean? Were other people distrustful of you?”
The wolf nodded. “None of the parents wanted their kids around me. I wasn’t really able to go anywhere without having someone look at me and whisper behind my back. I obviously felt lonely with no kids my age to talk to. My martial arts teacher, Jirokai, helped Bailey and Shojira become convinced that I wasn’t going to hurt them so I didn’t have to worry about that. Still, even with all of the control he was able to give me over my flames, I don’t feel comfortable using them.”
The princess took a quick glance at Shojira, who had now begun to show Hanzo how to wrap a big ball of noodles around a chopstick to eat. Hoping to help Chris take his mind off of his past, she asked, “Is Shojira always eager to teach something?”
Chris chuckled. “You wouldn’t guess it by first impressions, but the guy’s pretty smart. He sort of has to be for his sister.”
“How come?” Blaze questioned.
“Shojira is pretty much the only family that his sister has left. So he’s been teaching a lot of different things. Though I doubt she needs to know how many episodes there are in ‘The Kyoto Nightcrawler’ where Tanae Kikamura does the Dragon Punch.”
Blaze giggled, appearing to appreciate Chris’ lighter mood. Faster than either of them could realize, Bailey approached them, carrying her plate and chair with her. She got in-between Blaze and the gray langur, much to Chris’ amusement and the langur’s annoyance. Bailey gave Blaze a flashy smile and asked, “So is my buddy here giving you thrilling stories?” Chris rolled his eyes and replied, “Yeah, I’m sure hearing you talk about the umpteenth time you threw someone into a table would be so much…okay, you got me there.”
Bailey chuckled and patted Chris on the shoulder. “Aww, I’m just kidding you. I wouldn’t really know of a good way to start a conversation with the princess of the country I lived in.” Bailey nodded at Blaze but was confused to find the princess so quiet. The princess appeared to be gazing at Chris, lost in thought.
“Blaze, would you like an autograph?” As fast as a bullet was Blaze’s response, “Yes please!” Bailey laughed at the sudden eagerness though Chris wondered what Blaze was staring at him for. She pulled out a pen and notepad from her vest pocket, scribbling her autograph down and handing it to Blaze. The princess smiled in gratitude. Chris spoke up, “So Blaze, do you want to hear a story about me, Bailey, and Shojira?” She nodded.
The wolf just about picked up where he left off. “So, after getting to know Shojira, I wanted to get tough and show Bailey I could defend myself. That was because Bailey just whooped my butt all the time in sparring. So I worked as hard as I could during lessons. Bailey kept to herself mostly until I actually asked for a spar with her. Of course, she just wipes the floor with me for most of it. But I kept going on and pushing her to the limit until she’s just exhausted. When she finally stops me, I am staring straight at her when she asks me, ‘Why wouldn’t you just stop?!’ I told her, ‘I want to help people! I want to be a hero!’ And the more sparring we had, the more evenly matched we were. My first win over her, I can remember it so well, because it was the first time I saw her smile at me.”
Blaze gave a small snigger and interjected with, “Sounds sort of cheesy, don’t you think?” Chris laughed. “Yeah, it is, I just made that ‘first time smiling’ thing up. Bailey was much easier to know than I thought she would after sparring so much.”
Bailey smirked and added, “Yeah, though it was hard to keep a little squirt like you still once you got going.”
Chris continued, “She sat with me during a break one day. It was around her 9th birthday and I guess her parents asked her to invite me and Shojira to her party. She wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. I told her I would show up and so did Shojira. So, I’m at the party and I’m enjoying myself. Then, the bullies Bailey were hanging out with at school show up, uninvited. Shocker there. They were there to try and get Bailey to leave her own party to do something stupid. I walk up, wondering what’s going on and they nod at me and start calling me ‘runt’…and that’s the only insult I care to repeat. Me being that young and having all these jerks insult me, of course I felt ready to start crying.”
Bailey grinned, eager to also tell part of the story. Chris smiled and gestured for her to do so. “But then, I shove one of them away from me, yelling ‘You leave my friend alone! You all suck for picking on him and you also suck for being a bunch of cowards! ’ And when I shove someone, they end up falling down about 15 feet away. Right before one of them started going crazy, I saw Shojira dash up and give another bully a shove of his own, and he’s too ticked off to say anything. Finally, Chris goes up and yells in their faces, ‘Bailey doesn’t want you here! Shojira doesn’t want you here! Nobody wants any of you here! Go away!’”
Blaze’s eyes widened. “So you two and Shojira pretty much standoff with them, thinking you’re gonna beat them up?” Surprisingly, she laughed and said, “You three must have been ready to do that.”
Chris returned her laugh and nodded. “That’s pretty much it. And I was just so done, I was burning up. By then, the adults come running and threaten to call their parents for causing trouble so of course, they hightail it. Afterwards, Bailey lets me and Shojira have first bites of the cake and ice cream they had. Even though most of the other kids invited went home, she wanted me and Shojira to spend the night. So we did, we stayed up late playing video games and watching TV, and since that day, we’ve just been inseparable.”
Blaze smiled while Bailey laid back in her chair. The badger remarked, “Yeah, I couldn’t really let a pair of knuckleheads run around and try to be badasses. They would have been on a fast path to trouble without me.”
The princess laughed quietly, noticing Bailey going back to her dinner. Blaze scooted closer to Chris to keep Bailey out of earshot. “So, how did your teacher give you control over your powers? And what happened to you and your education?”
Chris shrugged at the first question. “It was all just a part of mental discipline and concentration. As for the latter, I ended up being homeschooled because I couldn’t be trusted. So I graduated elementary school on my own and then I tried public high school. Thankfully, there were less people who were paranoid about me being a ‘pyromaniac’ and I had Bailey and Shojira there to back me up. Otherwise, nothing really special.”
The tigress studied Chris once again, the wolf eyeing his empty plate with a weak stare. Blaze decided to stand up and called for attention. After everyone was watching her, Blaze announced,
“Before I forget! There is something that I would like to present to each and every one of you!”
The princess rose from her seat and walked to a cabinet. She pulled out a stack of paper wrapped in plastic and started walking around to everyone seated at the table. Hanzo was the first one to receive a paper and was instantly surprised. Shojira shared the same reaction, showing Chris and Bailey what he was given.
It was a drawn portrait of the tiger himself, with a small signature in the corner that appeared to be Blaze’s. The guests all gave thanks to Blaze and complimented her on the quality of her art, showing each other her renditions. Chris took a good look at his portrait, which was actually a recreation of his senior year portrait, so his hair was slicked back and he was wearing a tuxedo.
Bailey snickered before displaying her portrait to Chris, the drawing also remaking Bailey’s senior year picture. She was also wearing a tuxedo but she also appeared to have been through a wrestling match, with a bandage over her right eye and her hair unkempt.
The princess could only show her delight by how happy everyone was with her gifts until the clock rang 10:00 at night. Blaze gasped, having been caught off guard. “Oh my, it’s 10:00 already? The time sure flies past you, doesn’t it? I don’t want to deprive you all of your rest!” Even though everyone was trying to convince her that they weren’t tired, Blaze insisted they headed home and got enough rest for tomorrow. As the guests thanked Blaze once again and the foreign visitors left to their limo, Chris, Bailey, and Shojira were the last to leave. Before they exited the mansion, Blaze gave Chris and Bailey individual hugs and wishes of luck. The male tiger noticed how long Blaze hugged Chris and patted his back.
When the three got into Bailey’s car and left the property, they noticed the paparazzi had disbanded. Now much more relaxed behind the wheel, much to the boys’ relief, Bailey appeared to take her time driving home. Shojira decided to speak up. “So what in the world did you two do to get a hug from our princess?”
“Mine was pretty obvious, if you remember the letter,” Bailey reminded Shojira.
The tiger diverted his attention to Chris, who was sitting in the backseat. “So what about you?”
Chris was busy playing with his fingers before realizing Shojira was talking to him. “Oh. Just told her some fun stories about the three of us. And some cute ones about me.”
A snicker slowly rose from Bailey. “Did you tell the princess about the ‘Rope of Doom?’”
Shojira made a sound that could best be described as a cat that was kicked off the bed. “Bailey, you know how much I don’t like hearing about that rope. You say it’s just a piece of rope but it is evil as hell itself!”
Bailey and Chris both cracked up as they continued to head home. They were going to need some high spirits to get through tomorrow.