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Just a little of what I have been working on.  Forgive the mistakes, very much a work in progress.


 

Nature or Nurture

Aomine shivered in his heavy cloak.  There was a thick layer of snow covering the trail, the branches above were weighed down with it.  Somehow, clumps seemed to find their way down his neck.  He flexed his hands in annoyance wondering if he would ever get feeling back.  It would be damn hard to hold a basketball with numb fingers.  Tucking his hands back under his arms, he trudged on.

He had been forced to leave his horse at the bottom of the mountain.  The snow was too thick and he didn’t have a way to feed and care for the animal.  Hell, soon he would be wondering how he was going to care for himself.  The mountain side was a complete mystery and he felt like he had been walking in circles for days.

Curses slipped past chapped lips, his mouth had really gotten him into it this time.  What had he been thinking promising the king he would kill a dragon?  Sure the king was dying and the only thing his doctor said could save him was dragon blood, but still.  Why had be bragged so much to the other knights that he could do a better job single-handedly, then the group of them together?  Now here he was having to prove it.

The big problem was no one had seen a dragon in years.  There was no doubt that they existed, but they resided in the high mountains after being driven from the plains by humans decades ago.  So far he had barely seen normal game much less something as rare as a dragon.

Steam puffed in front of his face as he sighed.  Turning from the trail before him he decided to try a goat path that led up the mountain, instead of following the wide path horizontal to the peak.


Hours later, Aomine glared at the setting sun.  He wasn’t looking forward to spending another night, with nothing to show for his efforts. No fresh game this day, so he would have to dig into his swiftly dwindling supplies, or go hungry.

Just as he was resigning himself to making camp in another bed of snow, a light caught his eye.  Could it be a fire?  Was there another person up here?

Deciding to take a chance, he moved toward the light.

He didn’t know how long he walked, but the light didn’t seem to be getting any closer.  “Where the fuck are you?” he asked the darkness.

Finally, he reached the flickering flame of a torch attached to the side of the mountain.  It was mounted next to a cave.  Aomine approached as quietly as possible.  Knee high snow didn’t allow for much in the way of stealth.

Looking inside he could see another torch deeper in the cave.  The snow stopped abruptly at the entrance.  He glanced around, but didn’t see anyone else.  Carefully he stepped inside, leaving snowy footprints behind.  Once he was about ten feet in the temperature was definitely warmer.  Pushing back his hood he pondered the torches.  Who lit them?  Why were they out in the middle of nowhere?

He approached the second flame only to see a third flickering in the darkness.  Where did it lead?  Should he make camp or follow the flames?

Thinking about his sparse supplies he decided to see if there were any people at the end of the torch trail.

As he moved through the cave he noticed that there weren’t any other caves leading off.  The walls and ceiling were smooth, he began to wonder if this cave was natural or built.  Suddenly he came to a halt, a wall was in front of him.  Off to the far left side there was a small opening.  He could see another torch on the other side, but the passage was about 15 feet long and very narrow.  He was forced to remove his shield and sword.  Strapping them to his pack he pulled it along behind him.  Flattening himself against the wall, he was just able to shuffle in sideways.  Luckily the walls were still smooth and allowed him to slide through without banging his head or snagging his pack.

Finally reaching the other side, he put his items back on, grumbling to himself.  It had been a long day and he was finally getting tired of walking.  If there were people here, he would find them tomorrow, he thought as he trudged on.  One more torch and he was done.

Only, he didn’t see a torch.  Sunlight shown through the exit from the cave.

“Did I walk through the whole damn mountain?”

He stared out in awe.  The setting sun shown on a large valley, ringed on three sides by soaring mountain peaks.  The west opened on the sea, allowing the sun’s rays to remain up till the last moment it was in the sky.

It was beautiful, but what amazed him the most was the color.  The valley was green.  Warm air brushed his face, bringing the smell of flowers and tilled earth.  Below lights started appearing in windows, a village nestled just beyond the trees.

He now easily had another hour of daylight.  There should be no problem reaching the village before nightfall.  No trail led from the cave, but the slope was gentle and the section of trees not wide.

Aomine’s energy was renewed at the thought of a bed and decent meal.  He shucked his thick coat and strapped it to his pack.  Not wasting any time, he hurried toward the village.


The last rays were just painting the sky when Aomine arrived in the village.  Most businesses were closed for the evening, but there was one establishment that was brightly lit and had the sound of merry making.  The sign above the door said “Seirin”.  Stepping inside he knew he had found the right place.  A knight’s life is made of training and drinking and little else.  He knew a pub when he saw one.

It was loud and boisterous, most of the tables were full.  Young men with plates of food and mugs of ale weaved in and out of the crowd.  The smell from the kitchen wafted over him and he immediately started to salivate.

Aomine let the door close behind him and a waiter with clear gray eyes glanced his way, a smile freezing on his lips.  This caused the table he was serving to turn and see what was going on.  Soon the entire room was silent and staring at him.

It wasn’t anything new to him, but Aomine still felt his temper rise.  His whole life he had been stared at, his coloring, height, and strength had always made him the odd man out.  Internally, he cursed himself for still letting this shit get to him.  Externally he glared at the room.

A small woman spoke from behind the bar.  “Hello,” she sounded loud in the silent room, “welcome to Seirin.  Won’t you have a seat?”

The crowd took this as their signal to turn back to their food and conversation slowly picked up.

Aomine took a seat at the bar.  The woman returned to pouring drinks, “Sorry about that,” she said putting a couple mugs on a tray.  She wiped her hands on a rag, turning her attention to him.  “We don’t get many strangers here.”

He silently wondered if that was her way of saying he looked strange.  The old resentment was getting ready to over flow when a plate of food appeared before him.  “I’m Riko,” the woman said placing a mug beside the plate.  “This is my place.”

Aomine decided he could be angry later and dug into the curry.  He suppressed a moan, it was hot and delicious.  The best food he had tasted in a long time.  He didn’t stop shoveling until the plate was clean.  The empty plate disappeared and was immediately replaced by a second.  He didn’t know how they were doing that, but he didn’t really care.  Eating the second with similar gusto, but taking more time to savor each bite.  “I hope the cook has big breasts, because I’m going to marry her.” Aomine said quietly to his food.

“So,” Riko asked, “Where are you from?”

“Touou,” he said, completely oblivious to the rice flying as spoke around his food.

Riko frowned, “Touou? Touou?” she said to herself.  “Hey Junpei, where is Touou?”

A man wearing glasses at the other end of the bar, paused placing clean mugs on a shelf.  “Its on the southern end of the continent.  Carved out a section of jungle about 70 years ago.  Still pretty young, but their kings have been ambitious.”

“A jungle!” Riko turned back to Aomine, “that sounds dangerous.”

“D-don’t th-they have l-lions and tigers there?” asked an obviously nervous man on the stool next to him.  The brunette was visibly shaking at the thought.

Aomine snorted, “Nah, just panthers and jaguars.”

The joke didn’t calm the man at all, but he could hear snickers from nearby patrons.  There was more than one pair of ears listening to his conversation.

“So… I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.” Riko said.

“Aomine.”

“So, what brings you here Aomine?”

He knocked back the rest of his ale, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.  Slamming the mug down with a loud thump, he grinned at the bartender.  “I’m looking for dragons.”  The room went silent again, but Aomine didn’t bother to look around.  “Have you seen any?”

The room burst into laughter.  Riko grinned right back at him.  “Why do you want dragons?”

“It’s a long story, but the short of it is the king is sick and needs dragon blood.”

“And that will cure him?”

Aomine shrugged.  “Hell if I know.  His doctor says his only hope is dragon’s blood.  So, I’m here to get some.”

“You’re going to ask a dragon for its blood?”

This time Aomine laughed.  “Hell no.  I’m not here to talk to a dragon.  I’m here to kill a dragon.”

 

Chapter 2

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