Liem woke up from his slumber. Instantly, he felt pain from his lower body. His thighs ached from the consequences of pedaling from the day before. Liem's concerns about it came to fruition.
"Got a feeling this might happen. Still, it's not as bad I thought." He unzipped his shelter to let himself out. Every movement he tried to do and soreness claimed him. He paid no mind to it while he stretched. "Carrying heavy loads a bunch of times before sure helps lessen it."
He looked around his surroundings. People walking the streets with either friends or family. Runners going about their routines. "Wow, I slept like a log. I should hurry and pack up." He started packing up his items. Bobo woke up from all the rustling and saw Liem and mimicked his movements. "Oh Bobo, you're up as well. Just roll up your stuff and get the tarp folded."
An hour went by with the sunlight shining into the new day. Liem and Bobo got their things mounted and ready to go. Liem grabbed some snacks and handed it to Bobo. "Here, a breakfast bar for you."
They both chewed through it and got on their perspective places on the bicycle. "Okay, just let me adjust the gears and away we go!"
Liem leaned forward to pedal. Ignoring the soreness coming from his thighs. The wheels began to turn and they're off on their way. "Little slower than usual but that's okay. The next town is just ahead." From there, he made his way onto the streets once more and went to his next destination.
The town Liem arrived at served as only a pitstop towards the next city down further south. Not much to do with notable exceptions like slight seeing. It provides only the essentials for travelers to get to the next city. Liem parked at a nearby grocery store and locked everything in place. "Man, when I meant it's just ahead. I didn't mean another fifteen miles and it's almost noon!
Bobo sat on the bicycle seat and awaited his orders. "Watch our stuff, Bobo. I'll be right back." Bobo gave a salute and Liem made his way inside. Customers wait as cashiers check and bag their groceries into their carts. Workers shelving inventory in an orderly fashion. With other customers moving through the aisles. Near the entrance, Liem spotted something in the distance. "A request board?"
Curiously, Liem scanned for anything of value in the neatly presentable board. He spotted one toward the center. "This one here looks easy enough. Just delivered a package and the reward for it is fifty. Not too shabby."
"Need any help, sir?" A worker came by after finishing bagging groceries from the checkout station.
"I'm interested in doing this request. Do you know the person who posted this?" Liem asked.
"That would be me! The name's Jiro."
"Liem." They shook hands. "So I need to make a delivery right?"
"Yeah. Normally I shouldn't have you do this. But my package got delayed." Jiro shook his head in dismay.
"What happened?" Liem became interested as to why. No livable area isn't too difficult of a feat to deliver something in the modern-day.
The worker crossed his arms. "Some delivery guy doesn't know where my parent's house is and brought it back to the post office yesterday. Instead of trying again, I told them I'll bring it myself."
"But you can't because you're working at the moment." Liem finished the rest of Jiro's sentence.
"Exactly." Jiro scratches the back of his head. "I would like to have someone take it off my hands."
"How urgent do you need this to be delivered?" Liem began to have suspicions on the information given to him. "You seem like you're in a hurry."
Oh! My bad for going too fast." Jiro wipes the cascading sweat from his clean forehead. "My old man expects the delivery at a certain time today. But with my schedule, I won't be able to bring it to him until late at night."
"That explains it." The smell of perishable goods hadn't escaped from Liem's nose. "Which is why you want somebody to do it for you, correct?"
"Yeah, I just posted the request this morning and got no bites besides you. So, can you do it?"
"Of course, I'm in! Where's the package? Do you have it with you?"
Jiro flicked his thumb behind him. "It's in the back. I'll bring it to you when I'm on my lunch break."
Liem's entire body relaxed. He always made sure of checking the information and asked questions before coming to a decision. "I don't mind waiting. I also hope you don't mind that I ride a bicycle."
"Really? Wow." Jiro became in awe of what he just heard. "Well, it explains the getup."
"You don't mind?" Liem asked again.
"Not at all!" Jiro waved his hands in rapid motion. "I'm just happy someone even bothered to pick up my request. You're not the first biker I come across besides the odd clothes."
"That's a relief." Liem made a warm grin. "I'll wait for you outside then."
"Sweet!" Jiro gave Liem a wad of paper money. "Here's your money for the journey. I'll see you in a bit."
Jiro walked back to tend to his duties with Liem going to the food section to stock up for his next task.
Liem came out of the grocery store with some snacks on hand. Catching Bobo's attention who swung on the handlebars. "Here's a meatstick for you, little guy."
Liem leaned against a pole while Bobo indulged his snack. A few minutes came and went with Jiro heading into his direction with the package in his hands. "Wow, you weren't kidding. You're loaded with all that stuff."
Jiro got a look at Bobo as well. "You got a gremlin too? Haven't seen too many around here."
"Yep, he's one of a kind albeit a little wild." Liem straightened himself up. "So about the package?"
"Oh yeah, my folks lived southeast from here. Right in between this town and Nánfāng." Jiro handed over the package to Liem. "It's another twenty miles but if you're traveling on a bike. It might take you a bit longer."
"It's not easy, I'll give you that." Liem felt the weight of the package when Jiro handed it over to him. Wasn't too heavy but noticeably thick in size upon inspection. But Lien minds his business and placed it on the bike rack. Securing it with rope as a safety measure. He found it convenient all things considered. Liem planned on going to the city anyway and figured he can make a little bit of money on the way there. "Okay, the package is secure. Mind giving me the directions?"
"Sure. It's this address." Jiro gave Liem the coordinates which he applied to his smartphone. "I'll have my father know you're coming."
"Thank you, is there anything for me to watch out for?" From past experiences, Liem knew doing different kinds of requests always have a set of drawbacks to overcome.
Jiro put some thought into it and remembered something. "Despite an incline, there have been animal sightings near my parents' place. Nothing too bad but it's something to keep in mind."
"Alrighty then." Liem got on his bicycle with his foot already on the pedal. "I'm off."
"Best of luck to you." Jiro gave Liem a salute as he pedaled off. Leaving him to ponder for a moment. "Traveling on a bike huh? I wonder where those two are going?"
Through the midst of traffic. Lien continued to cycle along the roadway. Going slower than usual with his thighs burning with each time he pedaled. He ignored it as long as he could but it all came ahead when he reached a hilltop. Despite lowering the gear on his bicycle, he struggled to bring himself up the incline with all his equipment. He reached the very top until he got off and trudged the rest of the way.
"Man, my thighs sure are making it hard for me," He muttered. Every cycle he took and pain came as if tons of needles struck him. For Liem, this setback would come to pass soon enough. It would be a matter of when.
Bobo took the opportunity to go for a stroll. For being in a basket made him restless from time to time. He ran ahead of Liem not just to waste his energy but for reconnaissance.
"Don't go off too far!" Liem shouted. "There might be animals lurking about so be careful!"
Bobo without looking back gave a thumbs up and Liem rolled his eyes. "Little rascal. Loyalty is one thing, but always go on ahead without a care."
Both man and gremlin continue their walk on their path. Late afternoon rolled around with the tree's shimmering in the afternoon glow. Every time Liem breathed, a taste of the earthy air filled his lungs. Leaves rustling along with the soft clicking noises of Liem's bicycle, making an interesting symphony. Lien took the time to look at his phone for any progress. "Should be there soon with only a few miles left."
He scanned ahead of the path he walked on and nothing happened so far. Liem didn't sense anything at the moment but he can't relax just yet. "Bobo come on back!"
Bobo heard his friend's call and rushed over to him. Climbing onto Liem and into the basketcase. "Well, aren't you responsive."
He got on his bicycle once more and pedaled away. "Wish I could do something about the soreness." Liem hoped Jiro's parents are hospitable enough to take in weary travelers like himself to spend the night. He preferred not to get his hopes up but he could ask them about another place to rest if they happened to decline. Provided he can get the package delivered on time.
Before Liem knew it. Evening whisk on by like the wind blew into his face while he pedaled in motion. Cycling as fast the bicycle could let him, enjoying the evening air. He felt the coolness of the air surrounding him like a blanket. In comparison to the harsh blaze from the sun. Listening to beat instrumentals complement the situation with a bicycle riding along the pavement. Which also helped elevate the eternal soreness coming from Liem's thighs. Bobo, on the other hand, climbed up and down on Liem's body and his bicycle.
"Careful now Bobo, can't have you to fall off like what happened last time." Bobo in response latched on to Liem vest hooks and held on tightly with his one hand. While still having his feet planted on his back. "Just a half a mile left."
Liem rode on a path far away from bustling traffic. Taking a tiny detour to his final destination for the day. "Almost there."
He pedaled harder. Turning into a professional cyclist for a time to get to the finish line. Then, Liem spotted something in the distance. He couldn't make out what until he got closer.
"!" Liem gently applying his breaks lest he wanted to give away his location. Stopping and getting off his bicycle at some distance away he made out his target. "Damn."
Scales as Liem can see and on all fours. It's tongue flicked for a moment showing how much reach it could have. Claws made for maiming. Prowling in the middle of the road.
"Should 've known a vermagon would be here," Liem murmured. It threw a wrench into his plans of getting to Jiro's parents' home. He planned on waiting till it leaves but he'll be wasting his time. Liem looked around for anything useful but no pebbles or sticks to be found anywhere on the bare concrete road.
"So much for that option. Guess I relied on my phone this time." Liem unlocked his phone and went into an app he knew all too well. "Let's pick... This sound effect."
Liem got into position with Bobo still hanging on his shoulder. He started slow, taking his foot off the ground. Putting it on the pedal to push himself forward, gradually getting faster and gaining momentum. Liem drew closer to the vermagon and lit up his flashlight. It startled the creature and in a split-second, sirens blared out from Liem's phone at full volume. The vermagon scrambled out of the way and into the safety of the trees by the sudden noise. Giving Liem ample time to cycle past it before knowing what became of it.
"Woohoo! Still works on them!" Liem continued to pedal with all his might. Bobo turned around to see if the vermagon chased after them but showed no movement. He relayed the information to Liem through several hand gestures. "It's not following? Good, let's get this package delivered!"
With the immediate danger out of the way, Liem made his way to the final stretch of this little request.
Liem and Bobo finally reached the place of his client with sunlight to spare. To his surprise, he saw someone sitting at the entrance. An elderly man who looked like he just got back from martial arts training, appeared to be meditating. Giving off an aura of a master. Liem and Bobo approached him and he opened his eyes. His stern look stopped them from going any further.
"Are you the person my son told me about?" His tone came far off the deep end and would make one quaked in their boots. "Have you come to deliver something?"
"Uh, yes I am. I have your package with me safe and sound." Liem didn't know what to say to him. But he came this far and wasn't backing out now.
The man softened his expression upon hearing Liem's reply. "Oh! Bring it here why don't you?"
The sudden change of heart made Liem confused but did what the man told him. Parking near the front of the gate, Liem unhooked the package and handed it to Jiro's father. "Here you go, sir."
"Thank you and such in good condition too!" I didn't scare you did I?" He asked.
"It surprised me," answered Liem. "I thought I came in late for training or something."
"I still got it then." Jiro's father got up and brought his stool with him to the entrance. "Please come inside, you must be tired after coming all this way."
"Wait, as in spend the night?"
"What else? My son told me you need a place to stay and I allowed it."
"O-oh! Thank you for your kindness," Liem bowed. He didn't ask for it but kept his lips sealed and expressed his gratitude anyway. "I apologize for springing this upon you at the last minute."
"Lift your head young man, it's all right. It's the least I can do." Jiro's father went up to Liem and ensured him. "I didn't think my son would send someone like you from what he told me."
The old man looked up and down at Liem's appearance. "Certainly unusual, including your green friend here."
"I have the feeling I'm going to hear that a lot," Lien remarked.
"Well, no matter." Jiro's father went up to the entrance to his home and opened the gate. "Please come on in, people called me Mr. Suzuki around here. Yours is Liem correct?"
"Good. Welcome to my humble home."
Humble isn't what Liem describe Mr. Suzuki's home. The surrounding concrete wall with a massive gate gave him a sense of being let inside a palace. Both Liem and Bobo made their way inside and began to be mesmerized by the amount of space in it.
"Wow, these courtyard houses sure are impressive."
Bobo ran up and down the courtyard to take in all the extra space. Grabbing Mr. Suzuki's attention. "Full of energy isn't he?"
Liem couldn't help but laugh. "He can be a handful sometimes."
The aging Suzuki walked up to the entrance of his home before returning his gaze at Liem. "While he's playing around here, take your stuff to one of the guest rooms on your right."
Mr. Suzuki pressed a button, causing the gates to slam shut. "My wife and I are cooking dinner so please eat with us after cleaning yourselves up."
"Also, the sword at your hip interests me greatly," Mr. Suzuki said. "I'm a bit of a swordsman. You don't mind if I get a look at it beforehand?"
"Sure, you're welcome to take a look. It's only fair since you're letting me and my friend stay for the night." Liem didn't think a swordsman would let him stay in his home. Certainly gave him time to think about Mr. Suzuki's background.
"Alright then, see you at dinner." Mr. Suzuki left Liem to his devices. Liem counted his lucky stars for finding such friendly people.
"I should thank Jiro for telling them about me." However, he assumed not everybody would be as hospitable compared to them and took a mental note for future use. For now, He took his belongings into the guest room. When he got there, a tidy room welcomed him with everything ready to be used.
"Dang, everything's all set up already." He parked his bicycle next to a desk and unpack his bags. "Since Bobo is still out, I take a shower first."
He dreamt of what kind of food they would receive but also know this won't be an everyday occurrence. "I better savor every moment of our time here."
Lien walked into the bathroom with fresh clothes in tow. Getting ready for the eventful dinner.
Night arrived with insects cricketing throughout the Suzuki household. Inside the dining hall, Liem and Bobo feast upon the food laid out in front of them after saying their thank you's. Mr. Suzuki's wife placed a patter on the table and adjusted her kimono before sitting down.
"Eat as much as you want you two. There's plenty more to go around so enjoy yourselves," Mrs. Suzuki said.
"Thank you again for the food! Though, you didn't have to make this much for a stranger." Liem felt a little guilty for their generosity. "Just a small meal is enough."
"Oh, don't worry about it and just eat. Considered this as compensation for delivering the package for us..." She then sighed. "Does it hurt to have our son come deliver it by himself?"
"He's busy with work and school, honey. I don't blame him for relying on others." Mr. Suzuki laid his chopsticks flat and studied both Liem and Bobo as they ate. "I can't say I expected someone traveling on a bike to get here."
Liem consumed his food and wiped his mouth before speaking. "Bike touring is pretty niche. Not many people know about it."
"Bike touring? Certainly news to me but not too surprising now that I think about it." Mr. Suzuki's eyes glistened upon the information given to him. "The coast of Xīyù is pretty bike-centric so it isn't so odd."
"You're starting to get me, sir."
"A little bit, yes." Mr. Suzuki let a faint chuckle. "By the way... your sword, I have never seen such a unique flower design on a blade before. What region was that from?"
"My grandfather gave me the sword as a gift. He got it from the mainland to the southeast," Liem replied. "Got a manual on how to use it too."
"Interesting, can I see it when we're done eating?"
"If you're careful. It's kinda old after all, despite being a reprint."
"Ah, I have my wife do the handling for me." Mr. Suzuki showed his pair of hands. "These aren't known for being very delicate."
"Oh dear, what am I going to do with you..." Mrs. Suzuki patted her husband's back. "Honestly, I'm interested as well. I am considered the residential historian around here and research with the dojo my husband founded in Nánfāng."
"You folks run a dojo? Isn't Nánfāng far from here?" Liem asked.
"My oldest son is in charge of it. I have retired and worked as an advisor for the dojo." Mr. Suzuki explained.
"Oh, okay." Little by little, Liem started to learn more about the lives of his hosts. An opportunity rose from their conversion and Liem thought it would be a good idea to refine himself.
"Say...you folks don't mind if I visit the place? I would like to refresh myself on some techniques." Liem figured he could practice his skills there for his journey ahead.
"We can take you there if you want. I am curious how you fare against the students there." Mr. Suzuki rubbed his chin. "It'll be a good experience from them to go against a different kind of opponent for once."
"When you put it like that, I can't say no." Liem drank from his cup and got up. "When do we get over there?"
"Tomorrow morning so rest up when you can." he noticed Liem and Bobo organize their dishes and put his hand out. "Don't worry about the dishes since you're our guest. We'll clean up the table."
Both of them stopped what they're doing and stood up to bow again. "Thank you for the food and good night to you both."
Liem turned in for the night with Bobo. The Suzuki's were left to do the cleaning.
"I wonder…" Mrs. Suzuki got out. "Where are they going and on a bike no less?"
Mr. Suzuki couldn't help but be curious as well but put the questioning on hold. "We shouldn't be prying on them, I'm sure they have their reasons. We'll ask them tomorrow if they're willing."
"Okay dear, let's get these dishes clean up and get ready for tomorrow."
"So we can turn in the package to the dojo. I know."
Unbeknownst to them, Liem eavesdropped on them behind a wall. Now he wanted to know about the package he delivered. Following Mr. Suzuki's words, he walked away to turn in for the night. He'll get his answer in the following morning.