Chapter 1

The spring wind blew gently, flowing in and out of the small gaps between the tall blades of grass that covered the flat plain, and causing the flowers scattered across it to sway back and forth as they released their lovely aromas. The melodic chirping of birds filled the air and up above, light cotton clouds floated effortlessly through a bright blue sky. Towards the right side of the plain, a butterfly slowly made its way down to land on a dropped leaf. It stretched out its wings and settled down to relax for a moment.

A split second later a foot came down on it as a yellow fox and his companions ran as fast as they could across the field. With heavy breaths they forced their feet onwards.

"Come back here you!" A middle-aged dog dressed in shorts and a t-shirt was chasing after them, his sandals slamming down hard every time his feet touched the ground. "Give me back my wallet!" As the small group realized that the dog was still following them, they put renewed vigor into their steps, propelling themselves forwards even faster. One of the boars turned to face the masked fox beside him as he spoke between breaths.

"Man, that guy can run!" The second boar didn't even look as he called out in response.

"So run faster!" The fox's black cape fluttered behind him as he tried to keep up his speedy pace. He turned to face one of the boars as he ran, and spoke between breaths.

"Is this guy going to follow us all the way to the next town?" The boars looked up at him, trying to keep up as best as they could with their short legs. "I don't know Zorori-sensei," the first one said, glancing back over his shoulder at the dog when he could, "but he seems pretty determined to get his wallet back."

"I said come back here!" Zorori kept running, despite his lungs starting to hurt from keeping such a fast pace. He could see the next town now, and despite the fact that he could no longer hear the dog yelling after him, he wasn't going to stop until he got there. It was just at the bottom of a gentle hill.

"Eh, Zorori-sensei?" The fox kept running, he didn't bother to look over at the boar beside him.

"Not now Ishishi." His feet were pounding against the ground as he dashed onwards. They were almost there.

"But Sensei!"

Zorori didn't answer. It was only a few more yards before they reached the haven of the town. Putting a final sprint in, Zorori reached the entrance of the town, darting inside and quickly turning around the first corner he spotted. As he slowed down to a slow stumble, Zorori glanced over towards Ishishi. He placed his palms on his knees as he tried to catch his breath.

"What is it," he wheezed out between pants. The boar pointed back towards where they had turned the corner.

"That man stopped chasing us." Zorori raised an eyebrow.

"Huh?"

"Back outside the town, he stopped at the top of the hill." Zorori stood there for a moment, then went and stuck his head out around the corner so he could see. Ishishi was right. He could just see the back of the man's head as he made his way back towards the town they had previously come from. They'd actually managed to lose him. Pulling his head back around, he laughed to himself. And that meant that they were entitled to anything that was in his wallet.

Taking a step forwards, the fox twirled about and quickly changed back into his regular clothes: a loose fitting blue shirt, a pair of forest green pants, and a striped cape tied neatly around his neck. Zorori adjusted his straw hat to make sure it was comfortably on before he started taking stock of their surroundings.

They were on a rather small street, one that looked like it was meant more for walking than anything else. There were a couple big buildings here and there, but for the most part it looked like this street was filled with small shops, a few of which had wooden signs hanging from their walls to mark what they were. Even at first glance it was rather easy to tell that this wasn't the biggest town that they had found themselves in. However, as Zorori could see some bigger buildings off a little ways in the distance, it certainly wasn't the smallest either.

For the most part, small towns were a bore to the prankster. You could only ever get away with one practical joke before half the town was out looking for you. This town, however, presented opportunities, opportunities that he just had to find.

Zorori glanced over at the twins as their stomachs growled in unison. They laughed nervously as they looked up at the fox. 'First though,' he thought, 'it might be a good idea to find some food.'

"Noshishi?" The boar looked up at Zorori as he heard his name.

"Yes Sensei?"

"Get out that wallet."

"Eh, hang on." Noshishi reached down and rummaged about in his pockets for a moment or two before pulling the requested item out. "Here it is," he said, opening it. With smiles on their face, both Ishishi and Zorori both leaned forward so they could get a better look at what was inside, but their smiles vanished when they saw the entirety of it. There was nothing but two notes inside, one five hundred yen, and the other one hundred. There wasn't even a credit card.

"Six hundred yen?" Zorori asked, taking the wallet from Ishishi. "I was expecting him to have a little more than that." He sighed, pulling out the two hundred that they already had on them and adding the extra notes to the small pile in his paw. It didn't add up to much; altogether they didn't even have a thousand yen. He folded the bills in half and started to gently slide them into his pocket.

"Sensei?" The fox paused as he looked over at the boar who had addressed him. Ishishi was pulling another slip of paper out of the wallet.

"There's a coupon in here." The coupon was a colorful array of primary colors, donning a bright red border, a yellow background with a picture of ramen drawn on it in blue. Beneath it it read "Jack's Ramen Shop: The best ramen around is only a short walk away." It was a coupon for one free meal. Zorori took it from the boar and flipped it over, looking at the backside. It listed a single address, city and all. Zorori stopped as he looked over it, then headed back towards the road they had first run in on. What town were they in anyways?

As he glanced around the corner, a small sign posted outside the town caught his attention.

"Welcome to Halden, The Town that Makes you Feel at Home."

Zorori grinned. "Ishishi, Noshishi, follow me." Adjusting his hat to keep the sun out of his eyes, he started off down the alleyway, not waiting for a response. "Looks like we've got a ticket to some free food."

The twins found their mouths watering as they heard this. Free food? It sounded too good to be true. The only time anything like this ever happened was when they stole it from someone. They looked at each other, marveling.

"What kind of food do you think it'll be?" Ishishi licked his lips as started thinking about it. His brother did the same as he responded.

"Well," Noshishi said, "I don't know, but I hope it's something good, like a nice juicy hamburger." An image of a thoroughly decked out burger made its way into the boar's mind.

"Yeah," Ishishi said, "or maybe some Onigri..." He giggled a little as he started to fantasize about different types of food. Both of them occupied with various food related thoughts, both were rather quiet for the remainder of the trip there, save for the sound of one of them giggling in delight every now and then.

Within a couple of minutes Zorori was looking left and right, trying to find the the shop, having found the street after asking around a little. The fox began to pull out the coupon to make sure that he had the name of the shop correct. "It was Jack's Ramen, right?" Raising his eyes from the logo on the coupon, his eyes fell upon a sign for the shop hanging from a post on the left side of the street. The shop was towards the center of the block. Quickly crossing the street, the three of them made their way into the shop, immediately greeted by a cheering looking sign hanging from the ceiling that read 'Welcome.' Despite the warm greeting though, the place was quiet, looking almost deserted; not even the lights were on, despite the fact that all the chairs were down.

Zorori took a couple steps forwards, looking around. "Hello?" he called out, making his way towards the front. "Is anyone here?" He stopped as he reached the counter, resting his elbow on the wooden countertop as he waited for a response. The sound of his fingers tapping was the only noise in the restaurant as they waited for the next couple of minutes. When there was still no response, the fox sighed. "Come on you two," he said, motioning for the two boars to follow him, "looks like there's no one here."

Zorori paused as he went to exit the shop. There was something in the air...a smell. The twins mouths started watering as they inhaled deeply. "Gyoza..." they said in unison. Without a second word the two of them catapulted themselves over the counter and ran into the kitchen in the back. "Hey," Zorori called after them as he climbed over the counter, "wait for me!" He heard them stumble to a halt as he stepped down on the other side and ran towards the kitchen. When he reached the doorway, he saw exactly why. There were pots filled with all sorts of cooking goodies including teryaki, onigri, and the wonderful gyoza they had first smelled in the front of the shop. It had been a while since the trio had had a decent meal, and it was immediately apparent that they had stumbled across a personal little heaven. The three of them started scrambling to eat as much as they could, tipping over empty pots and pans as they got at the food and making an overall racket.

"Hey!"

Zorori froze in the middle of shoving a dumpling in his mouth. Turning around he saw a large pig wearing an apron and holding a ladle. He was big enough that he was practically hulking, and his girth looked rather intimidating in the kitchen doorway. "What do you think you're doing?" The boar twins drew their heads out of a pot of ramen, faces covered in noodles. Zorori slowly finished off the dumpling, not taking his eyes off the pig.

"Oh, um, sorry about that," Noshishi began. "Don't worry though, we have a coupon." Zorori quickly scolded the boar with a sharp kick to the back. He gave him a glare to finish getting the point across. Clearing his throat, the fox turned to the pig and started talking.

"Sorry sir, but it's been days since we've last eaten, and we were just so hungry that when we smelled the food in the back, we just couldn't help ourselves." The pig glared at him, giving him a mistrusting look.

"Is that so?" He scratched his chin as he looked them over.

"Oh," Noshishi butted in again, "and we also had a coupon." Zorori turned to glare at the boar again, but was interrupted by a question from the pig.

"Do you have a place to stay for tonight?" The fox stopped and gave the pig an odd look. What kind of question was that in this situation?

"Why do you ask?" The pig took a step forwards, reaching for a nearby overturned stool. Standing it up, he sat down before answering.

"Because," he said, "I've come across folks like you before, and you almost never have a proper place to stay." He leaned over, hand on his knee. "So, is that the case with you guys too?" It took Zorori a moment to realize that he might be offering them room and board, but as soon as he did his paw flew to the back of his head as he smiled nervously.

"Y-yes..." he managed to stutter out, "Yes it is..." His smile widened as he let out a small bout of nervous laughter. He could almost feel his confidence shrinking in the presence of this huge man. He paused as the pig let out a hearty laugh and slapped him on the back, causing him to cough a little.

"Well then you're in luck. I may only advertise myself as a ramen shop, but I run a cozy little inn upstairs for travelers and characters like yourselves. You're free to stay here free of charge for the next couple of days if you wish." He turned around to look back towards the doorway. "So, what d'ya say?"

Zorori knelt down, making his way over to the twins. Up close it was easy to tell that he wasn't exactly comfortable around this guy. His eyes shifted over to the twins as he spoke. "Why don't we get out of here." He glanced back at the pig for a moment. "I'm sort of afraid of having my back broken."

The twins put on their puppy eyes as they looked up at the fox. "But Sensei," Noshishi said, "think of all the free food that we'd be missing out on." He stuck his hand into a nearby pot, dunking it in soup and pulling it out so he could lick it off. Ishishi quickly nodded in agreement.

At the thought of free food alongside the boarding, Zorori's face lit up. He licked his lips at the thought, getting the aftertaste of the dumpling as he did. Free food would be absolutely wonderful. If he was letting them stay for free, he'd probably let them eat as much as they wanted alongside that.

Zorori turned around, a genuine smile on his face as he approached the man. The pig held his hand out as the fox neared him. "Well," he asked, "is it a yes, or a no?" Zorori quickly grabbed his hand and shook vigorously.

"Of course it's a yes!" He couldn't help grinning as he spoke. The pig laughed again and shook Zorori's paw hard enough to shake his entire body up and down, causing his hat to fling itself off to the side of his head and his cape to fall to the ground. The pig patted Zorori's paw as he let go of it, leaving him to stagger backwards into the open arms of his followers as he tried to recover.

"Glad to hear it son. What's your name?" Zorori took a moment to gather himself before responding, fixing his hat as he did. "Uh, Zorori," he said, picking up his cape and dusting it off. "And this is Ishishi and Noshishi." He started putting his cape back on as the pig put his hand on his shoulder.

"Nice to meet you Zorori," he said, grinning. "The name's Jack, head chef and owner of Jack's Ramen Shop." He turned around, wandering back to the doorway. Stopping, he leaned against it with his arm out, and turned back to look at the group over his shoulder. "Why don't you get your stuff together and I'll show you where you'll be staying."