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Amagi galloped around the riding arena on Ninjin, her ponytail flapping lazily from beneath her riding helmet. Catching sight of a boy and a man standing up against the metal railings that surrounded the arena, she slowed Ninjin to a trot and then a walk, before stopping in front of them.
"Can I help you?" she asked, looking from one to the other. The man had purple hair and had a sword strapped to his back; the boy had messy brown hair and was carrying a big, gold thing that looked suspiciously sharp. She felt a little uneasy for a moment there. While the man was handsome, and the boy was cute, she had a feeling she didn't want to meet either of them in a dark alley at night.
"Anagi-san," said the man, smiling at her. "My name is Raiha. Meet my friend, Koganei."
The boy waved cheerfully. "Konnichi-waaaaa!" he said. "We were hoping that you could do us a favor. We represent--" Koganei was about to launch into the spiel which had had by now said too many times, but realized that Amagi was not listening to him. Rather, she was still focussing on Raiha.
"Raiha. What a lovely name," she said, almost to herself, and with a strange little smile. "What a lovely name."
"I was admiring your riding," said Raiha. "How very lovely."
"Well, Ninjin comes from a good bloodline," smiled Amagi, scratching him behind the ears.
"I wasn't talking about the horse," answered Raiha, looking directly into her eyes and giving her the same smile which had been so stunningly effective on Yoko and Inuko.
Amagi's eyes began to wobble. "Such a sweet thing to say," she answered softly.
"Anagi-san, you've done such marvelous things in the riding community, you've come to the attention of Mori Kouran-sama, who I'm sure you've heard of."
"Why, yes. He was at the last riding competition I did," agreed Amagi. The wobbly eyes were now gone, but she was still dealing with the aftereffects. Pulling herself together with great effort, she tried to say as normally as possible, "If you could pass him a carrot... and pass me a carrot while you're at it, please? Over in that bag in the seats...."
"Hai, hai," agreed Koganei amicably. He jumped off the railing and found the carrots. Handing one to Anagi, and feeding one to Ninjin, he added, "Yes, and Mori Kouran-sama was the one who presented you with the award. He decided then and there that he wanted you to----" His voice dropped off when he realized he was being ignored.
"Mori Kouran-sama even presented me with the award," said Amagi. "I remember it very well. Such a nice man who has done so much for society."
Raiha gave her another kind smile, instantly sparking off the wobbly eyes once more.
"He saw you and decided then and there that he would like to have your participation in an upcoming tournament. Not as a combatant-- it's a fighting tournament. But rather, as a referee. He thought you were so very lovely, you would do such a good job, and I can certainly understand his taste," Raiha said smoothly, never breaking the eye contact. "Surely you won't disappoint Mori Kouran-sama.... surely you wouldn't disappoint me.... by not taking part?"
Amagi's heart continued to flutter. "I.... I don't know. My schedule is so horribly busy all the time."
"He has told me to do anything in my power to get your consent for this project of his," Raiha said solemnly. "Is there anything you want that would reimburse you for your time? It would take a week out of your life... but to have so much of your precious time, Mori Kouran-sama is willing to reward you for your cooperation."
"What would I want?" Amagi could think of various things to say, none of which she had the bravery for. "I'd like my own riding stable," she said finally. "I'd like to actually own Ninjin. I'd like to be in business for myself, teaching riding." She looked uncomfortably at Raiha. "I know it's really out-there, but it's been my dream. Unfortunately, land is so expensive... it's not something I can make into reality too easily."
Koganei fed Ninjin another handful of carrots. They ignore me when I'm alone because I'm a kid. They ignore me when I'm with Joker. And they ignore me when I'm with Raiha! he grouched. Inoko was the only one who seemed to take much notice of him. He pulled out his Rubix cube and idly began shuffling it around as the two adults' voices droned on in the background.
Raiha was still occupied with Amagi. "Mori Kouran-sama has many resources available to him. I believe that even such a dream as yours would not be beyond his powers. So.... do we have ourselves a deal?"
Amagi smiled at him. The big, wobbly eyes had never ceased. "Hai," she said softly. "Putting in a week's work and getting such a lovely reward? You can certainly count on my participation!"
"Then I look forward to seeing you moved in with the others," finished Raiha. "And I look forward to seeing you at the tournament."
"Haiiiiii...." agreed Amagi. Her heart was fluttering, her eyes were wobbly, but her mind was a bit numb. So much! So fast!
"Until then... take care of yourself." Raiha treated her to one last smile. "Come on, Koganei... we need to go."
Koganei picked himself off the ground and brushed off the seat of his shorts. When they were safely out of earshot, he said, "What was that?"
"Learn, my young friend!" grinned Raiha. "Someday, you'll be old enough to take advantage of such techniques!"
"Whatever," yawned Koganei, swinging his Kougan Anki around carelessly. "Like I'd ever want to...." He gave Raiha the wobbly-eyed stare, and they both laughed.
Amagi absent-mindedly munched on her own carrot as she watched their departing figures. What a perfect day this was... she got to see Raiha-san.... and what'sisface, that kid who was with him.