wearily at the small wooden table bolted to the floor, taking generous
swigs of the ale before him. He was tired...so tired. When
he came to take over his father's job as captain of this ship, he hadn't
expected it to take so much out of him. It was much more difficult
than he'd thought. After all, prior to this, Michael had only been
captain on little boats that could hardly be called ships. He never
even knew his father, never knew how very burdened he was, nor how skilled
he must've been to keep afloat such a grand ship as the Southern Maiden.
The inexperienced captain thoughtfully rubbed his chin between his thumb and forefinger. The familiar black stubble he always found there when at sea for long periods of time seemed to make him smile, as though it meant something much more than the fact that he hadn't been able to shave his face for weeks, perhaps months by now.
The ship took a sudden, violent lurch, and Michael's ale tankard flew from his hand all at once, spilling its contents on his clothes. He frowned, swore under his breath, and stood up with a ground-toothed grimace on his dark-skinned face. Frustratedly, he hurled the now-empty tankard across the chamber, and it smashed against the far wall, falling with a clank to the wooden floorboards. Michael stomped up the three steps to the deck, and hollered angrily at the men working there.
"Come on now, you ninnies! If I catch you fooling around one more time, I'll have you all tossed unceremoniously off the side of this ship, do you hear me!?" Michael's shout was a commanding roar, and for it he felt rather smug about himself. Self-confidently he smiled and turned back toward the table, starting at the sight of an all but familiar figure.
"Ki-k-Kirei, I—" he faltered with surprise. Kirei's grey-blue eyes flashed and she smiled knowingly.
"You seem awfully happy with yourself for that. So angry, so commanding!" Kirei sarcastically feigned swooning. "How very strong and masculine you are!" Michael rolled his eyes tiredly.
"I admire your firm grasp on the utterly obvious, Kirei," he said pompously. "Now would you please just cease to harass me and tell me why you came here?"
"Oh, just to visit," she replied vaguely. His look was bored.
"I'm absolutely enthralled. What do you want?"
"Just wanted to remind you that I'm here and I won't be ignored, that's all." Kirei rolled her silvery eyes, and with a swish of her long brown hair and a sweep of her ankle-length satin skirt she started collecting serving platters from the tables and floors. Kirei served as a maid on the ship more than anything, but in actuality she was nothing of the sort. Her attitude and demeanor clearly indicated she was never brought up to serve anyone, and her sarcastic and sometimes racy sense of humor and tone of voice communicated the same message. Her body seemed to flirt with Michael's eyes, even as she performed such tedious tasks as picking up after the sailors' meal from a few hours ago. He ran his eyes from her golden-crowned brown hair all the way down to her leather ankle boots, where he flinched as he caught the vague sight of a dagger's glimmer. He looked back up to see her wink suggestively and somehow cover the knife back up without even bending down. A reminder indeed.
"So where are we headed today, Michael?" she asked plaintively as she picked up all the scraps of food still left about the room. Kirei was also the only one on the ship who dared call Michael by his name. 'It's Captain Johnston to you!' was what he had first told her firmly. Her answer had been a shrug of the shoulders and a flash of the eyes, and he never brought up the subject again.
"We're going to an island commonly called Nimbus. Small, remote island—couldn't be more than a few miles wide. There's a good bounty head that I heard was keeping shop there, though." Michael replied. Kirei's look was thoughtful.
"I'm still puzzled as to why the civilians wouldn't recognize him and turn him in to authorities," she said.
"That's just the thing," Michael explained. "There are no civilians. Well, at least none that could be called 'civilians.' They're very primitive and so chances are they have no idea what's going on. Markab could be there with his people setting up a base of operations and none of the so-called civilians would be smart enough to give a damn."
"The bounty head," he answered shortly.
"So what exactly is this guy nailed for anyway? And how much is he worth?" Kirei asked, wresting a stuck ale glass from a tabletop. She grunted as she finally yanked it free.
"He's been nailed for just about every crime in the book, actually, but more recently he's been merely terrorizing people at random in every way you could think of. He doesn't even seem to be stealing anything. But hey, that's not my problem—all I want is the money for putting him away." Michael replied, shutting his eyes submissively and shrugging his shoulders.
"And I repeat: how much is he worth?" Kirei said again.
"Only five thousand gold pieces, my sharp little maid," he said in that superior jesting voice, snapping his fingers and smiling smartly.
"I'm not your little maid," Kirei corrected rather pointedly. "And five thousand gold pieces is a lot. I could go out and buy myself a few new knives." Michael shook his head.
"Not if you're smart," he said. "You don't get all five thousand, and our food supply is—shall we say—less than plentiful."
"I'll manage," she replied shortly. She brushed her hands together and clapped them onto her plain, practical hunter green dress, sighing with satisfaction as she surveyed the newly-cleaned room. "There—about as neat as it'll ever get." Michael watched Kirei's almond-shaped eyes as she turned back toward him, and in response she quickly averted them. She pivoted toward the cabins and spoke a short, impersonal goodbye to the captain. She ducked under the top of the threshold, turning for just a moment to ask one last thing. "Wait...Michael, do you know how far we are from land?" For some reason, he shivered hearing her call him by his name. His mind raced for an answer, but he realized he didn't have one.
"I honestly don't know," he replied unsurely. "I'll get back to you as soon as I consult with the navigator?" Kirei smiled slightly and subtly nodded her head, then disappeared into the shadows that led to the cabins.
Author's Notes: I promise there's a distinct reason this time for putting a Japanese title!! Really. You can't see it yet, but I'll get to it.
Okay, this is that weird pirate/bounty hunter story I was talking about. So they're not exactly pirates--but they're sailors and that's what counts. It's a whole bunch of genres combined into one, like action/adventure, fantasy, and even some romance, perhaps. Originally it was a very distinct sci-fi/fantasy combo...but the sci-fi part was sort of lousy soooooo I dropped it. ^_^ This story has been twisted and turned a million different times, it seems, before I even got around to writing parts of it. I have more if people think this is any good, but it's still under a lot of construction.
The purpose of this part is character description, for the most part, as well as to introduce you to our main people a little bit. There are other major characters, I just haven't exactly worked them out yet.
Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this first chapter; there will probably be more chapters/stories of this type to come. ^_^ Thanks for reading, I appreciate it! ^_~ Especially to my regular readers: thanks for your support!! ~MJ
Date of Composition: Night of May 12, 2002