Episode Twenty Seven - Bittersweet Truths
Cherry blossoms color the roof of the cottage like winter snow. The house is simple and small, likely no bigger than two rooms and a bathroom.
Cozy, Zylo supposes.
Beside the wooden front door are flower beds with lavender, tulips, and a variety of other colorful flowers. The area looks seldom visited but the flowers have been well tended.
Zylo steps toward the rustic stained glass window of the small house but sees only the kaleidoscope of shiny colors.
“What’s up with this?” Juniper glances at her crewmates. “We have to kill the person living in here?” She crouches down beside the flower bed and sniffs one of the healthy lemon lilies.
Tranquility envelops the crew, and Zylo feels compelled to respectfully, and lightly, tap on the door. His knuckle pats modestly against the wood, but no response from within.
The pull of his senses grow more forceful now, and just before he knocks again, the door creaks open.
Standing inside the house is Kitsune.
“Huh?” The crew gasps.
“When’d you get here?” Zylo asks what everyone is thinking.
Impatient and brash, Juniper shoves her way past Kitsune into the living room, “What the hell is going on?”
The polished wooden bookshelves, chairs, and cabinets are placed efficiently along the sides of the room. Surprisingly, the small kitchen area manages to fit a small refrigerator, sink, and even a stove top currently heating a pot of water.
Sitting beside a wooden table covered by a flower-patterned table cloth is a smiling old woman. Her wrinkled hands gently clasp a small cup of hot steaming tea.
Zylo and Renzo stride into the tight living room, but the lady looks neither alarmed nor frightened, and hardly curious about the three strangers in her house.
She takes a careful sip of her tea, then turns to greet the crew with a smile, “Hello there, New Pirates.”
Kitsune steps beside her and places a light hand on the old woman’s shoulder. “Vetus Fei, is the last surviving member of the Elder Council.”
The three remain perfectly still.
“Uh, okay?” utters Juniper.
The room is silent for several awkward moments, almost convincing Kitsune to repeat himself in case no one understood the magnitude of his statement.
Before he does, Zylo asks, “What? As in, the Baya Elder Council?”
“Yes.” Fei calmly takes another sip of her tea.
Juniper stands confused by the doorway. “Um, maybe my senses are off but…I think she’s our bounty.”
“She is the bounty,” Kitsune confirms. “There’s something I haven’t told you guys yet.”
‘There’s a lot of things you haven’t told anyone yet. Out with it.’
“The contract you accepted for Fei is not a legitimate contract,” Kitsune begins.
“What do you mean?” asks Renzo.
Fei softly lowers her cup, and her tender but articulate voice explains, “Bounties are judged by the Elder Council. With the vote of every member, contracts are created for the individuals deemed unworthy of their life force. That is how it has been done for centuries.”
’Deemed unworthy? How did the Elder Council judge me?’
“So what’s up with Vetus Fei’s contract?” Juniper steps closer to the table.
“Vetus Fei is part of the Elder Council,” says Kitsune. “And no Baya can be contracted. Therefore, it was created illegitimately by breaking the laws, like Lorraine Duvelle and…Zylo.”
“What?” Zylo mutters.
Kitsune clasps his temples, cautiously pondering the best way to explain. “I didn’t tell you…but your contract, Zylo, claimed you were guilty of disturbing an old woman.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
‘Let’s see. Kitsune woke me up with a loud knocking. Okay, the day before. I had dinner with Rachel. Just before that, I had work. I was almost late to work because I’d gotten out of the door and… accidentally pushed down a woman by the staircase.’
“…Are you shitting me?”
“Sorry?” Zylo isn’t sure how to react, “You’re sorry?” Though anger seems the best place to start. His voice gradually grows louder, “You were trying to kill me for accidentally knocking over an old woman? I even helped her up!” His frustration fuels his actions, impulsively stepping toward Kitsune with a rod pointed at his face.
Kitsune is sympathetic, but not submissive. He is unflinching and remains poised as he raises his metal pipe at Zylo’s fast approach, keeping them three feet apart.
Renzo places a firm hand on Zylo’s shoulder, “Calm down.”
But Zylo snaps, “And you, Renzo! Did you know about this?”
“No, he didn’t. Not at the time,” interrupts Kitsune. “I was the only hunter who knew you had a bullshit contract, and I’m sorry, I really am.” Though Kitsune sounds sincere, the stern glare behind his sunglasses is cold and unfaltering, and so is his pipe.
The pot on the stove starts to screech from the boiling steam, and Fei calmly goes to turn off the fire.
Zylo rants, “You say you’re sorry, but that’s not going to bring my life back. I lost everything because of you! My girlfriend, my life, all of it!” He steps toward Kitsune again, pushing his chest firmly against the tip of the pipe.
He continues, “Things were just looking up and you had to knock on my damn door to tell me you had to kill me. No, Kitsune, fuck you!” The momentous anger builds. Zylo’s free hand tightly grips the length of Kitsune’s pipe, urging a fight.
Instead, Vetus Fei brings a tray of filled tea cups and teapot to the table, and her contrastingly calm voice says, “Zylo, don’t fret over the past. Kitsune had no choice. A contract is a contract, and he did not have the power to break it. He tried to help you.”
“How?!” Zylo is steaming more than the tea.
She says, “By urging you to accept your fate.”
“Accept my fate?! Do you know what it’s like to be contracted for no reason?”
Adding insult to injury, Kitsune answers, “Um, yes, she does.”
’Infuriating. None of them understand my loss!Accept my fate? I lost everything the moment he showed up at my door!
This heat. I’m so tired of THIS! No one takes advantage of me. No one decides my life, except for me!’
“Calm down, Zylo!” Juniper urges.
“Why should I be the one to accept my fate? I’ve done nothing wrong!’’ Zylo’s face is flushed red, his heart throbbing and his veins protruding. His temples pulse rapidly and his body fumes and trembles like an unstable concoction.
’THIS IS MY LIFE AND ONLY I FUCKING CONTROL IT!’
Zylo’s fast hand springs for his other rod but Kitsune takes the initiative. With a swift knee kick to Zylo’s stomach, Kitsune forces him out of the door and throws him toward the open grass field.
Kitsune confidently readies his pipe. “If you wanna settle this, we can do it right now.”
“I’m gonna wreck you!” Zylo charges and swings the rods one after the other.
The metals clang and the force pushes Kitsune back. He follows the falling momentum and drops into a tumble beside Zylo, then with a swift motion, sweep kicks him to the ground.
“You’re too reckless, Zylo,” Kitsune stands and walks a perimeter around his crewmate. “You’re too angry, too predictable. Calm down, and then maybe you can beat me.”
’So. IRRITATING. He took everything and he has the nerve to talk trash?!’
“I will kill you!” Zylo erupts back to his feet and charges again with a flurry of wild but powerful strikes.
Kitsune weaves his chest from the attacks and feels a frightening breeze rush past his face each time. He resists showing any fear in his expression, forcing himself to remain calm and confident despite his tremendous anxiety.
“Why are you so upset?” Kitsune casually blocks another swinging rod. “When I met you, your job was a dead end, your girlfriend wasn’t even sure about keeping you, and your pastime was nothing! I said this before, but I was doing you a favor!”
Kitsune pushes back one of Zylo’s attacks and butts him in the stomach with the pipe.
Stunned in a moment of disarray, Zylo catches a slamming uppercut to the jaw. Kitsune’s hard knuckles force him to stumble back further.
“That’s not the point, it was my life!” Zylo blocks a sweeping pipe. “I was going to move in with Rachel. We were going to change things, and it was not up to you. I didn’t need any favors.”
Zylo hops back and slowly connects his weapons into its longer form. “She was intelligent, beautiful.” He dashes toward Kitsune with a powerful sweep of the rod.
Kitsune swiftly blocks the attack with his pipe, but the force lifts and tosses his body across the field. He slams the ground but hastily kicks back up to his feet to block another attack coming down over his head.
Zylo furiously pushes the lengthened rod against Kitsune’s resisting pipe, and utters through his gritting teeth, “She was willing to have me then, but not anymore. What have I become? Nothing but a heartless, violent, bloodthirsty murderer!” Zylo steps back and instantly lunges forward with the rod pointed at Kitsune’s chest.
The metal tip strikes his breast and his body launches straight back with his feet sliding along the dirt. As his body skids, Kitsune cocks back his arm and hurls his weapon at Zylo.
The metal pipe spins through the air but strikes Zylo’s quick activating shield, instantly repelled and dropped with a thud a distance away.
A moment after Zylo lowers his guard and the shield loses effectiveness, Kitsune rushes full speed and throws a front kick. His hard foot slams into Zylo’s chest and forces him to stumble back a step.
Kitsune catches him with a right hook across the cheek, then leaps forward, grips Zylo’s collar, and throws him flat onto the ground.
Kitsune presses all his weight through his knee into Zylo’s chest. “I did what I could to help you, I really did,” he exhales a tired breath, “but I swear to you, Zylo. Ima yakusoku shite, I will get you your life. I will get you a new life and you’ll be glad for it. I swear to you.”
Zylo remains silent, his body loosened and relaxed, no longer resisting.
‘I’m tired. Exhausted. Worn out from everything. Everything.’
“Say what you want. I’m done,” Zylo concedes. He exhales a deep breath and loosens the grip of his rod. The air is calm and tranquil again with nothing but the sound of the wind grazing the rustling grass beside his ears.
Juniper’s footsteps tread through the dirt, and she breaks the silence, “That was kinda’ kinky.”
They’d been standing by the door, unsure whether or not to break up the fight. Even the wise Elder preferred to watch.
“If you two are done, please come back inside. There is a lot to explain.” Vetus Fei walks back into her cottage.
Kitsune lifts his knee from Zylo’s chest and extends a helping hand, but Zylo snubs the kind gesture and stands on his own.
There are enough seats for everyone by the table, and more than enough cups of hot tea.
“Zylo, I know you’re upset,” Vetus Fei starts, “but please. Let it go. Kitsune’s been aching to explain everything to you the moment he saw you alive again, isn’t that right?”
She glances at Kitsune sitting beside her, and he lightly nods. “Truth is, Zylo. You should be grateful for Kitsune.” Fei slowly takes a sip from her cup.
“And why is that?” Zylo snaps, his tone still agitated.
“Because,” she continues, “it was Kitsune’s idea to have you reborn as a hunter.”
Juniper and Renzo gasp with jaws dropped, but Zylo remains blank. Too much surprise for one day perhaps.
“What do you mean?” he asks.
Vetus refills her cup of diminished tea for the fifth time. “After Leon Zylo died, Kitsune suggested having you reborn as a hunter, so I did just that. For over a year, I gathered your Soul from the Well and rebuilt you,” Vetus Fei explains. “You wouldn’t be here entirely if not for Kitsune’s thoughtful idea.”
‘…Is that so…’
“I’m flattered, Fei. But we should move on,” says Kitsune.
“Correct, that’s not the problem right now,” she says.
Renzo’s large hand wraps the small cup and lifts to his mouth, “If the Council isn’t deciding the contracts, then who is?”
Kitsune immediately sits up in his seat, “King Kuro.”
“King Kuro?” Juniper blurts, disbelieving. The hot tea burns her tongue and she quickly drops the cup back onto the table. She can’t help but wonder how the old lady has managed to continuously drink the boiling tea, even immediately after pouring.
“He’s been issuing contracts to innocent people and taking a portion of their Soul for himself. Zylo was the very first, and Lorraine was another,” Kitsune explains.
’King Kuro contracted me? That gaudy, pretentious bastard? He was playing dumb this whole time.’
“Why’d you bring me back? Cause you felt sorry?” Zylo tries to stay calm despite his aggravation, “You should’ve just let me stay dead so I wouldn’t have to look at that stupid hair of yours.” Though personally, he believes Kitsune’s pompadour to be far less tacky and significantly more fashionable than it was before.
“Ouch.” Kitsune smirks, “I wanted you back because you were such a good sport. You deserved it, after gallantly jumping off to your death like a hero about it.”
Juniper interrupts, “Well, if you guys are done flirting with each other, how ’bout explaining this already?”
Kitsune whips his chair around, then sits and rests his arms on the spine. Taking a deep breath, he prepares to tell the very excruciatingly long story of King Kuro.