It was a tense car ride to Tokyo. Everyone was nervous. They finally arrived at the inn early in the morning. It was a traditional Japanese-style inn with a yard big enough for Yami to walk about freely, and the exterior was dark wood with some lanterns dangling along the outdoor walkways. Tsuda and the others got out of the van to greet their hosts, an elderly couple that ran the establishment along with their two jack-o-lanterns.
"Welcome guests," The woman greeted in a sweet, raspy voice. "Please come inside and make yourselves comfortable."
"Thank you for having us," Tsuda said bowing. The teens bowed along with him.
"Oh, such nice manners you have," she giggled. "My name is Mina Takeo. That's my husband, Ando, and our jack-o-lanterns, Jackel and Jessie. If you have any questions at all, please don't hesitate to ask us."
"Yes, yes, please ask!" Jessie exclaimed.
"We're always happy to help!" Jackel added.
From what Kaida had learned in Tsuda's class, jack-o-lanterns are from Ireland and are said to be humanoid creatures reaching about seven feet in height. But these jack-o-lanterns were just pumpkin faces bouncing up and down all over the place. Kaida had never seen a jack-o-lantern, she wasn't sure what to make of them.
Feeling her stare Jackel said, "We look a bit off don't we little missy?"
"Oh I'm sorry," Kaida said quickly. "I didn't mean to stare. It's just you don't look like what our school book described."
"Well, that's because we ain't in our true form yet."
"Jackel dear," Jessie said sweetly. "Why don't we show the nice young lady what we really look like."
"Brilliant! Ready when you are." With those words, vines grew like wildfire from the stem of their heads. The vines wrapped around the heads, forming a large body with arms and legs. Quietly, Ando walked over carrying a bundle of clothes for Jackel and Jessie. Once suited in the garments, they looked like ordinary people excluding the pumpkin head. "Tada!"
Kaida smiled. Though she was impressed by the jacks' transformation, seeing them all dressed up made Kaida think they were cute. Jackel sported a full-body tuxedo with some white gloves to cover up his hands of vines, while Jessie wore a long dress that looked to be refitted to her size. The dress covered most of her body and a shawl was wrapped around her arms. Matching the shawl was a hat that sat atop the stem on her head. To Kaida, they looked more like an old couple than they did mythical creatures.
"Wow! That was incredible!" Kei exclaimed.
"Why thank you," Jessie curtsied. "Now hurry along. We should take you to your rooms." Ando stayed outside with Chiyo, Yami, Tani, Dallas, and Oden, whom Yui brought along on the trip. Once inside, the girls, along with Asa and Matsume, followed Jessie down one hallway and the guys, plus Alba, followed Jackel down another as Mina headed to the kitchen to prepare some breakfast. As they walked along, Jessie began a tour of the inn.
"The bath is over here on the left. Towels, soap, and other amenities are included in your stay with us. All meals are prepared by Mina and Mr. Ando so I do hope you enjoy the food. Over to our right are your rooms. Each is big enough to comfortably fit two people and two small mythical creatures, or one large creature. For creatures who are too big, larger than a horse, we do have a separate area out back for them near the garden. Now then, Miss Kaida and Miss Rei will be in the room to the right, and Miss Kei and Miss Yui will be in the room to our left. I will leave you all to get settled and help Mr. Ando bring the other mythical creatures to their quarters."
The girls thanked Jessie as she dashed off back down the hallway. Yui grabbed her things and opened the door to her and Kei's room. "This is nice." She looked around the room. The items were minimal, two futons, a table with some chairs, and a dresser to put clothes in. The decorated space consisted of a scroll with calligraphy and a small bonsai tree.
Kaida opened the door to her and Rei's room. It had the same layout, only the bonsai was replaced with a flower arrangement. "This is lovely," she noted.
Rei dragged all the bags in. "Let's hurry and unpack before we eat. We need to be at the arena by noon and have a long day following. I don't want to save the unpacking for later." The girls unpacked their belongings and later met up with the guys in a communal dining space for breakfast. On the way, Kaida spotted Jackel tending to a withered azalea bush.
"May I ask what you are doing?" Kaida asked as she approached Jackel.
"Oh, hello little missy. I'm just tendin' to this new plant we got. It doesn't seem to be doin' all that great."
"Let me take a look." Kaida bent down and used one hand to feel the soil. "How much do you water it?"
"A few times a week. I make sure all my plants get plenty of water. I last watered it the other day."
"I think you're overwatering it. The soil is still damp around the plant and from the looks of it, this spot is shady most of the time." There was a piece of the roof hovering over the corner where the bush was planted.
Jackel removed the glove from his hand and felt the earth. "Well I'll be, I think your right little missy. Thank you for the help, can't believe I missed that. You a gardener?"
"My dad and his gnome help care for the plants at Ashikaga Flower Park, and my unicorn Chiyo and I often go there to help. I've been going since I was a little girl."
"Speakin' of, that unicorn of yours, how long have you had her?"
"A couple of years, just before I started high school."
"What is it?"
"Oh, nothing. Just thought the unicorn was much older than that." Kaida wanted to ask what he meant by that but Jackel had already switched topics. "That dragon of yours though, he's quite the creature. He really cares about you too. You'll do great things no doubt." Jackel strolled off, leaving Kaida to ponder what he said.
"Older huh?" Kaida muttered to herself, but shook her head, choosing to ignore it for now.
There wasn't much time left after breakfast before the group had to be at the stadium. Everyone went back to their rooms and suited up for the event. Today, all the teams had to come for an opening ceremony and to hear what the first game would be. With everyone dressed and ready to go, Tsuda directed the nervous bunch back onto the van. They were heading to nationals.