FIRST DESTINATION

An Old Friend

An icy wind blew softly into the night as it twisted its way around the many large trees standing tall in the freezing winter temperatures. Dead leaves danced upon the air currents, swirling delicately through the frostbitten air. Nimbly, they drifted about through the thick foliage, finally setting down in a small clearing not too far from a traveler's camp site. All was silent, all was calm. Except for the low, crackling pop of longs on a fire as they sat glowing dim in the dark night. Tiny sparks flew off in every direction.

She opened her eyes.

Abruptly, the young woman sat up, knocking away the large thick quilt and sleeping bag enveloping her. Her dark brown hair was rumpled in a messy and tangled mop underneath a old brown hat and thick hood. Only staying still for a moment, she perked her ears up, listening...

She quickly rocked onto her feet and within seconds, was out of her tent and positioned with her black again the trunk of a large pine.

Her long and slender fingers danced upon the neck of the weapon that hung at her side as she slowly unhooked the clasp holding it to its holster: a classic shot gun with a single-action hammer and manually loaded cylinder: the Cannon. To her left, a silver an blue motorad stood silent.

She listened closely as the quiet sound of footsteps echoed out into the campsite. They were deep and long, the almost inaudible crunch of compacting snow making their way towards her.

Her heart raced.

Now.

With a bound, the girl spun, her quick hand drawing the Cannon from her hip in a blur of speed. Head low she dodged a lightening fast slice above her head and raised her arm, squeezing off two rounds. There was then the unmistakable sound of scraping metal as the two bullets were deflected, one whizzing by her face and nicking her cheek. She grimaced. The Cannon came into contact with something sharp, slicing the side of her glove open and throwing it from her hand. Without missing a beat, she drew her second gun, the Woodsman, which was strapped to her back. Swiftly, she flicked her wrist and cocking it, planted the end of the barrel squarely in between a set of brown eyebrows.

They froze.

The side of what seemed to be a long slim sword skimming her throat.

There was silence.

The motorrad held it's breath.

"Who are you?" she demanded, her voice icy and stiff.

Slowly, the aggressor raised a gloved hand and reached for their hood. Grabbing it, her assailant pulled it down. A handsome face was revealed.

The young woman gasped.

"Shizu?" The girl gasped dumbfounded. It's been so long...

Fumbling, she lifted the brim of her hat showing her large brown eyes. They gleamed brightly in the dim fire light.

"Is... ah, is that really you?"

The young man's sword went lax in his hand and squinting, leaned forward to get a closer look. He towered a good four and a half feet over the woman. A sudden look of surprise and delight spread across his face. Happily, he smiled back, a relieved sigh escaping his lips.

"Kino!"

Amazed to see her old friend, Kino re-holstered the Woodsman and made her way to collect the Cannon witch lay discarded on the ground.

Shizu slid his katana back into its sheath witch hung over his right shoulder. He turned and and whistled.

Kino stood up and looked in his direction. In the distance, a large while ball of fur came charging to them at an alarmingly fast speed.

"Riku!" Kino cried and bent down onto one knee. The giant dog leaped into her arms.

At that very moment, the motorrad witch had stayed silent throughout the entire ordeal seemed to come burning to life.

"Not you!" Hermes cried, the fire wavering at his loud and strong tone.

All three turned to him.

"Hermes, that wasn't very nice," Kino scolded her friend, her shoulders dropping.

Slowly, the dog climbed down from her embrace and walking over to the bike, growled. He sat scowling a good five feet away from it.

Kino did not know exactly what was going on or how to react to it. She had never once seen Hermes act with such hostility towards anyone.

Although, she then recalled, he did say that one time...

"Oh great, why if isn't it the giant hunk of scrap metal," the dog snapped.

Kino was amazed.

"Scrap metal?" Hermes howled, "Look who's talking, flea bag!"

Loudly the two bickered and fought, throwing insult after insult and mocking every word that came out of the other's mouth. It was quite the sight to see. A talking dog arguing with a taking motor bike. Day's like this made the young woman consider her sanity.

"So he can talk..." Kino mused to herself while watching the scene. A slight smile played upon her lips.

Remembering Shizu, she returned her attention to him and turned to face him fully.

She cocked her head to the left.

Kino herself was slightly stunned that she somehow managed to remember the handsome and attractive features of her long ago friend. It had been ages since she had last seen him in that horrible competition.

Four long years... she thought while looking the man over.

When she had met him for the first time all those years ago, he had been in his early twenties and was now possibly around twenty-five. He was still extremely tall and although still broad shouldered, was less lean and a tad more muscular. Besides that, he looked almost exactly the same. Her eyes swept over his slender face. Hight and sharp cheekbones like sleek planes, heavy lidded eyes, thin straight brows and a wide strong chin all framed by semi-long straight hair the color of raw lumber. Yes, this was Shizu.

Her mouth melted into a lazy smile and crossing her arms, she walked toward him.

"Long time no see." She joked flatly.

It was nice to talk Kino found, to a friend. Of course she'd spoken to many people, possibly even more than one person was able to talk to within one life time. But, there was always that feel of companionship, that sense of calm and trust; something she would usually only feel when she was with Hermes. She liked it. And she liked this. She liked it very much.

"You've grown," He said back, planting the outer side his fist on the top of her head.

He chuckled and ran a tiered hand under his toque and through his hair, looking over at her camp site. The shadow of Kino's old and beaten up tent loomed off to the far side of the shelter, it's image shifting with every flick of the fire.

His eyes fell to the long nick on her right cheek. "Sorry, did I do that?" He asked bring his hand toward it.

Kino raised a hand and gently touched her cut cheek with two fingers. When she brought her hand back for inspection, there was blood on its tips.

"Oh," She said not the slightest bit bothered, "I almost forgot about that for a second."

She removed a small handkerchief from her pocket and gingerly whipped the blood away from her face.

"It doesn't look to deep," Shizu commented as she watched her tend to it. "Sorry again," he smiled.

"No problem," Kino stuffed the cloth back into her pocket, "I am the one who attacked you first."

"So, what are you doing so far up in the north?" He asked sticking his hands in the pockets of his thick, dark green coat.

"Well, I was heading off to a town I had heard about maybe five or six days from here---off over the mountains... but looking at this," she lifted her right hand, sticking a finger out of the newly sliced hole and smiled, "and what ever rashions I have left, we might be taking the quicker route back to the south-east."

She turned and looked over to Hermes, who was still busy arguing with Riku. "You sad excuse for a-" ---"Nothing but a waste of-"

"Plus, Hermes can't take much more of this weather. Just today we cracked his muffler." She frowned.

Shizu sighed sounding defeated. "I know what you mean," The man looked over to that dune buggy that sat not to far from the clearing. Raising his hand, he motioned lazily toward it, his thumb pointing the way.

From where they stood, Kino could clearly see the space indicated on it's cage where once, a steal rod sat. "Oh my."

"I ran into some trouble myself."

Kino returned her gaze to the young man beside her. Even someone like Shizu who had been living in the north for a good part of his life was finding it difficult at times. The young woman had been warned by a traveler that she had met in her last town not to wander up into the north without good provisions or gear. Of course, being the stubborn woman she was, Kino disregard the warning, thanking the man and making her way. She had traveled in winter many times now and thought it would be no different.

Of course, she was wrong.

It seemed that everything in the north was over exaggerated. Although she didn't particularly like the description, it was the only way she could put it. The temperature alone seemed to be at least -20° lower that it was said to be. The wind seemed to blow harder and the trees, the largest and oldest Kino had ever seen. It made her ever the more curious of the many countries lurking just beyond the mountains and also, ever the more depressed that she was forced to turn back.

"So," Kino then started not knowing what else to say. It had been such a long time since the two last spoken to each other and she was almost at a loss of words. "Would you like to come and sit by the fire?"

Pulling his hood back up, he gave a stiff nod and replied, "Yeah---that would be great thanks-" then quickly added, "Do you think me and Riku could set up camp with the two of you here? If you don't mind I mean,"

Kino blinked, "Oh, sure, no problem." Company. Sounds fun.

"Great," He exclaimed. "I'll be right back."

Quickly he turned and walked back to his dune buggy and pulled out a cylinder shaped bag. He walked back towards her and together they made their way to the young woman's camp.

"Sorry about that too by the way," Shizu apologized suddenly.

"Hm?" Kino said confused, "For what?"

The man nudged over to her hand, his gloved fingers slightly brushing her bare skin. She suddenly recalled and laughed.

"Don't worry about it, its about time I got a new pair."

---

When Kino finally managed to get Hermes to settle down and stop yelling, along with Shizu who attempted to do the same with Riku, she sat with hands outstretched to the fire, her coat wrapped tightly around herself.

Thank God it's a nice night.

Off to her left, Shizu set up his sleeping bag by the fire. Kino watched in wonder.

"You're not going to sleep out here, are you?" She asked him as he worked.

"Yep." He answered simply and continued flattening out the red sleeping bag.

Kino looked around. Frost and ice hung off the surrounding tree's branches. It had to be at least twenty below. Is he crazy? She thought and gave him an odd look.

"But you'll freeze,"

"No we wont, we're used to this kind of stuff aren't we, Riku?" Shizu said and petted the giant white lump laying soundly by his side.

Riku turned his head snobbishly toward the fire mumbling, "Better than anything that recycling bin can do."

"Why you little..." Hermes growled back under his breath.

Kino, although somewhat reassured, was still not satisfied. True she knew the man had been living out in these parts ever since they had said their goodbyes long ago, but the small voice in her head kept picking at the nerves in her brain. On impulse, she said,

"Come and sleep with me in my tent."

Shizu paused and looked up to her.

"There's room enough for the both of us and Riku can come in too."

Hermes was speechless. "But...wha'...I...that..."

Kino walked over to the old green camper and lifted the cloth door, revealing the innards of the tent. "See?"

Shizu, not knowing what to do, looked down to Riku as if to ask for help. The dog only grinned playfully to the motorrad.

Slowly, he closed his hand around a good handful of the red material and taking hold of the sleeping bag, stood, bringing it up with him. He walked toward her.

On entry, the young woman's foot cough onto a upturned root and tumbled inside. Thankfully, Shizu cough her before falling and pulled her in, his arms wrapped tightly around her small waist.

Kino blushed.

Shizu quickly let her go.

Behind them, Riku stood proudly, tail shooting straight up into the air. Smirking, he glanced over to Hermes and chuckled.

"Have a nice night," his smile grew larger, "Hermes."

"Ungrateful little..."

---

With the added presence of the dog, what little space there was within tent seemed to shrink even smaller.

For a short time after Kino and Shizu entered into the camper, they struggled to find a comfortable position in witch to lay.

To the young woman's dislike, Kino was pressed tightly up against Shizu's chest, the Woodsman digging into her back while Shizu, pinned between her and Riku, was still. It was not that she minded the close contact of her friend, he was after all a very attractive man, but being like this---defenseless and trapped---she felt uneasy.

Kino always needed to feel open and ready at all times for anything that came her way, because if the situation came when fire arms and combat were needed---witch it usually did---she would be prepared.

"Thanks." Kino smiled after finally managing to get of.

Shizu looked down, his cheeks tinted with a slight blush. "No problem. Same to you---for the tent."

Kino too looked away, a blank look on her face.

She reached behind her and readjusted her gun.

Quietly while Shizu set up his bedding, she slipped into her sleeping bag and buried her face in the covers. It was going to be a long night.

---

The sound of rustling echoed through the tent while Shizu made his way under the covers. Riku moved around for a comfortable position. When he was finally finished, the man looked down in wonder to the girl at his side and reaching up, turned off the gas lamp.

There was a long silence.

"So tell me," Shizu started, "What have you been up too ever since the Coliseum?"

Hundreds of images of faces, cities, places and much more flashed in front of Kino's eyes. So many... she thought, struggling to choose only one place to tell of. This small problem she had come to many times: people asking for stories. Always the stories. What was she supposed to say?

"Traveling." She finally said flat-out.

"Huh." He replied. "You never did tell me," he began again and turned his head slightly towards her, "the reason why you travel in the first place, Kino."

Kino suddenly turned and looked straight into Shizu's eyes as if searching for something. For the answer possibly? For any small trace of the reason she travels perhaps? The young man was about to say something again but turning her head back up to the ceiling, she cut him off.

"Because," she started, "The world... it's just so beautiful."

Shizu went silent.

"I sometimes wonder if I'm really a terrible person. Sometimes I feel like I am. Sometimes it actually makes sense that I am. Because I can't change things; or worse-I tell myself I cant, so I don't. But whenever I get like that--feeling terrible I mean--everything else, the world, the people I meet--it all becomes incredibly beautiful to me. I fall in love with it. That's why I keep traveling---because I want to experience more. Because sometimes, I get to see some good. Maybe even do some good."

Under the covers, she ran her hand along the Cannon. "I can't help but feel honored---in a sick way I guess---after all, I kill people. I've killed people and will most likely continue killing people as long as I travel. But through it all, I still find myself wandering down that same path you know---going off to my next town; my next journey."

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, "And I can stop at any time."

"Then stop." Shizu said bluntly breaking her silence.

The young woman shrugged, "I've wanted too at times. Wanted to just throw it away all together and well... stop. But just the thought of knowing that I have the power to make that choice, I keep going... you see?"

Shizu said nothing and in the dark, his figure laid still in it's place. Kino wondered if he though she was stupid.

"Sorry for rambling off like that. Never mind." The young woman said and turned onto her side feeling almost regretful that she attempted to explain her reasons for traveling.

Suddenly, there was a quiet rustle and Shizu too turned over.

"Freedom." He said.

Kino's eyes shot open. The word rang out in her head, bouncing off the contents of her mind and reverberating off it's walls. Freedom.

"Good night, Kino."

She smiled to herself and pulled the covers up to her small nose, closing her eyes.

"Good night... Shizu."

"But just the thought of knowing that I have

the power to make that choice, I keep going... you see?

It's Freedom."


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Cool! So this is the first chapter to my story! I've been editing this and re-writing it for the better part of a year now. Every time I thought I was ready to publish it, I decided against it and and ended up coming back o it and changing something. It just kept getting longer and longer... but here it is! The story will be based on Kino and Shizu for sure with some in-character romance happening, because I really do love them and wished to see more of the two in the books and in the anime :P but that of course never happened... but it will also be centered a lot around many of the original themes of the novels; teaching a lesson. So yes, I'll have many fun adventures happening and it should be fun!

The few lines Kino tells Shizu about the reason why she travels were taken directly from Book One of the beautiful world in the English Kino No Tabi books. I considered quoting them, but decided again it since I did add in a few words and lines of my on in there... but in the end, they're base is sadly still not mine... sigh.

DISCLAIMER: Characters, rights and also the entire world that is Kino No Tabi isn't mine (cries).... besides this story and plot :3