“I don’t want to go to Keyholder training!” The redhead stomped her foot, her brown eyes narrowed in anger under her bangs. She dodged her mother, who was trying to brush her messy, long hair into a ponytail. “Do you hear me at all?!” she hollered.
“Kaori, knock it off,” her father scolded her.
Her mother finally got a hold of her hair again. “Hold still, already!” she cried.
“I don’t want to go!” Kaori argued again.
“Kaori!” She knew at the look on her father’s face that he was done being soft – whenever he narrowed his eyes like that, he meant business. “Don’t yell at your mother.”
Kaori finally stood still and let her mother tie up her hair. She fingered the blue-green gemstone pendant hanging around her neck. “Where are you going, Dad?” she grumbled. “A mission again?”
Her father cocked an eyebrow at her. “No,” he replied. “I’m taking you to training today. Your mom’s going over to the Mikichis’ house.”
That made Kaori even angrier. “To see Kita again?” she muttered.
Her mother roughly jerked the hair tie into a knot. “Don’t you take that tone,” she said, then let Kaori go to her father, who heaved a sigh. “All right, off with you. I’ll probably still be gone when you get back.” She waved them out the door. “Oh, and Reka,” she added, “tell Takumi ‘hi’ for me.”
“I will.” He waved back and let her close the door behind them. Reka herded Kaori down the sidewalk and headed for the little wooded area outside their neighborhood, where they would have the privacy to use their Keys to teleport to the A.R.E. In the meantime, though...
“Why are we walking?” Kaori asked. “We could’ve just teleported from the house.”
Reka sighed again. “Yeah, we could’ve,” he granted her. “But I want to talk to you about something.” He put his hand on her shoulder to slow her down. “Why are you so ill-tempered whenever we talk about the Keyholders?” he asked. “Do you have something against Kita and the others? They’ve never done anything to you.”
Yes, they have. Kaori kept that thought to herself. “I just don’t like it. And Takumi is so high and mighty – not to mention boring.”
Her father chuckled a little. “He’s not as bad as he makes himself out to be,” he said. “He thinks he has to be cut and dry to be a Head Seeker. Once you’ve spent a little time with him, though, I bet you he’ll loosen up.” He patted Kaori on the head. Kaori reached out and gripped his hand. “I didn’t think that was the only thing,” her father said. “Are you jealous?”
Kaori’s face flushed in shame. “You and Mom are always busy.”
Her father smiled at her, but his eyes looked sad. “It was part of our agreement,” he told her. “The Seekers didn’t like the idea of your mom and me getting married and coming here. So in exchange, we have to take more jobs from them than the usual.”
“Is that why you’re making me do the training?” Kaori murmured. Her father tightened his grip on her hand. To her surprise, his hand was trembling. She stared questioningly up at him. “Dad?” she asked. “What’s wrong?”
Her father tried to mask the strange look on his face with a smile. “Oh. I’m sorry. I was just..thinking about something.” His hand still shook as he held hers. “Anyway...your mom’s going to see Kita today because something happened. It’s a bit of a special case.”
Kaori frowned. “What happened?” she asked.
“Don’t know. Your mom won’t tell me.”
That was a lie. His hand started trembling again. “You’re always leaving me out,” Kaori muttered under her breath. Either her father hadn’t heard or just chose not to speak up.
“What did you and Takumi go over on Monday?” her father asked.
Kaori glowered. “He had me exercising and stuff,” she muttered in reply. “I think the written lesson was on Earth Gate customs or something.”
“‘Or something’?” her father repeated. “Come on, don’t play dumb. I know you have a better memory than that.” Kaori pulled her hand away. “Listen, this stuff is important, even if you don’t think so,” he reasoned with her. “Don’t just write it off so casually.” Kaori stubbornly pulled ahead of him. Reka heaved a sigh. “I talked to you about this too. What makes the Earth Gate different from here?”
Kaori sighed in exasperation. “The Earth Gate is mostly desert. The people live in cities, but not modern ones, and they’re, like, super-formal. The Earth Gate has technology, but not as advanced as cars and computers.”
“Okay, you just said it,” her father said. “What’s the big thing you have to remember about Earth Gate customs?”
“They’re super-formal,” Kaori replied perfunctorily. “They expect respect.”
“Why do I need to know that?” Kaori snapped. “It’s not like I’m ever going to go to the Earth Gate.”
“One day, when you’re a Keyholder, you might,” her father pointed out.
“If I’m a Keyholder,” Kaori insisted.
“I don’t like your tone of voice, Kaori,” her father chided her.
Kaori grimaced. “Let’s just get this over with,” she complained.
“Kaori!” her father called. She grudgingly turned around to face him. He wasn’t quite angry yet; but he was serious. She wondered what he wasn’t telling her – he was acting strangely. “Listen to me,” her father said. “Take this seriously. Okay?”
“Okay,” Kaori said. She turned around and headed for the woods.
Reka sighed again and slowly followed. She doesn’t understand.