Scene I: Moving Again
Tokyo, Japan. 2013, November
Since Mad Dog’s demise, Yuugen Academy had been quiet. There had been no more Sorcerers or Familiars for the entirety of thirty-one days. It had been a whole month since the Mad Dog had been defeated. Muzai Aibori had been there when it happened. She would be lying if she said that the decapitated body did not haunt her dreams at night.
No doubt rumours would spread. There had to have been someone who knew where Mad Dog was going that day. If Yuugen was as strict as Muzai had heard, then the absence of one of their own council members was surely noticed. It would not take long to conclude what had happened.
The best bet was to assume no-one had the guts to come and face Tsumi since she was the one responsible for killing Gekido. Tsumi Kokutan. A murderer, breathing and speaking everyday in Muzai’s life. Another thing which made the nights long.
In this crazy little world of Magick and lies, it was difficult for Muzai to tell apart the bad from good. She had a small circle of friends now, which ranged from Tsumi to Hahen, and even Hikari; their newest addition to their little squad. At least with Hahen by her side every day, she managed to find closure. He was a good listener. He was a good friend.
“Muzai,” Hahen called; pulling Muzai from her thoughts and back to reality. “Where do you want this b-box?”
“Hang on!” Muzai called out. She met Hahen halfway in the living room and took the box from him. “Thanks for helping, Hahen.”
“You’re welcome,” Hahen peered up. His nose wrinkled at the smell of fresh paint and refurnished décor. “So, this is your aunt’s apartment?”
“Yeah. I can’t believe how quick those builders were able to fix it up after what happened.” Muzai sighed. Her throat bobbed at the memory, the day her aunt had been taken by one of Yuugen’s Sorcerers. She shook it off. “Totally worth the money.”
“Mm-hm,” Hahen stood across from Muzai, helping her pull things from boxes and set them up around the room. “Does she remember what h-h-happened? Your aunt, I mean...”
“Nope.” Plucking an old photograph from the box, Muzai walked away and set it on the bookcase in the corner. “The doctors said she had amnesia over it, some kind of PTSD. I guess it’s for the best after everything that’s happened.” A lie.
Hahen had already guessed Tsumi was responsible for the convenient spout of amnesia cast upon Shinrai Aibori. Yet, to save face, he nodded in the company of people not overly associated with Magick and decided to ask about it at a later date - his attention was quickly diverted to the third person walking into the apartment.
“Hahen-sama! I carried the box that you were having trouble with, where should I- agh!” Hikari Hoshi, the Mad Dog’s former partner – albeit false partner – had become a very close companion in the last month.
She was loyal to Hahen, showing a bad case of ’over-attachment disorder,’ claiming she would do anything and everything he commanded. She also had a belief, a strict faith in the Old ways of Magick. Sorcerers were slaves, Familiars were the masters.
Now she fell, tripping over the assortment of boxes scattered around the floor. The box in her hands would have shattered, sending a mess of unnecessary trinkets Shinrai had collected through the years, if not for the abrupt appearance of Tsumi Kokutan to steady her fall.
“Tsumi,” Muzai’s shoulders slumped. Trust Tsumi to show in dire times of need. “Thanks.”
“I’m so sorry, Muzai-sama!” Hikari’s pretty face turned red and she stepped back. Not from Muzai. From Tsumi. “Please, forgive me. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Don’t worry, Hikari.” A smile crossed Muzai’s face and she stepped forward to take the box. Just in case. Honestly, between Hahen and Hikari, Muzai was unsure which was clumsier. “Nothing was broken and you’ve been a big help, honestly.”
Hikari seemed relieved. She rubbed her empty hands together and strode over to Hahen, helping him with the task of setting things up around the room with Muzai’s directions, creating enough distance from Tsumi as possible.
“Hey,” Shinrai Aibori stepped over the threshold of her apartment. Her long, red hair was braided and tied into a bun atop her head. Even on moving-day, she was dressed to impress with her stiletto heels and designer jeans. “Can one of you guys help me with this box?”
Tsumi moved first, tucking her arm beneath the box and freeing Shinrai from the strain. It had not been long since her casts had come off, yet her Aibori-stubbornness countered Muzai when the girl proposed moving back to the apartment may have been too soon. Shinrai had shook her head and laughed ‘weak bones won’t stop me from being free again!’
“Thanks, kids. I think that’s everything,” Shinrai pulled a thumbs-up and began shifting her way through the living room. “Kikoeru will be up with the last boxes, then we can really start unpacking and put this rust-bucket back into shape.”
“Great.” Muzai smiled, turning from her aunt. She strode back into the kitchen, busying herself with folding empty boxes on the floor. She took a moment before looking over her shoulder, aware of Tsumi’s presence creeping at her heels. “You okay?”
“I was going to ask you the same,” Tsumi countered. She tipped her head, kneeling beside the girl. “I can see past your smile, you know.”
“No, I’m pretty sure you can just read my mind.”
“I told you, Sorcerers can’t read minds.”
Muzai smiled, genuinely this time.
“You can tell me, you know.” Tsumi’s voice was low. That monotone script remained, yet the sincerity was true. “If there’s anything bothering you, talking is a good way to relieve stress.”
Muzai looked up, watching the void of Tsumi’s colourful eyes. Even now, she could not be sure if she was afraid or astonished. A powerful Sorcerer like Tsumi Kokutan was here, kneeling beside her in her aunt’s empty kitchen, helping her move back into the apartment that had blown up not two months ago because of Magick. Then there was the case of Mad Dog Gekido and the way Tsumi had acted after decapitating him. Her eyes had been wild, she had smiled. The most emotion she had ever expressed was in the face of death. Death she had caused with her own hand. Afraid or astonished? Muzai counted herself a fool for getting the two mixed up.
“I’ll tell you later.” Muzai said. She stood, taking the empty boxes back into the living room.
“What’s this?” Hikari chirped, tugging something from one of the many boxes surrounding her by the sofa.
“It’s a c-c-corkscrew.” Hahen was knelt beside her, gloved hands deep in the contents of a box labelled ’ornaments.’ “It’s for pulling corks out of wine bottles.”
“There’s loads in here!” Hikari exclaimed, opening the lid further.
The word wine pulled Shinrai’s attention from her task and she peered over. Hahen had moved quickly, taking the corkscrew from Hikari’s hands and hid it behind his back. Hikari followed suit, pulling a big smile towards Shinrai until the woman lost interest. Hahen let a gulp of air leave his mouth. He stood, taking the box labelled ‘corkscrews’ before Hikari scattered them across the floor. He passed Muzai as he disappeared into the kitchen and Hikari turned to sorting through the ornaments; no questions asked.
Muzai could not help but smile. When she had met Hahen, he had been nothing but a small boy, terrified of his own shadow. Since he and Hikari’s Name had appeared, he had stepped up and taken accountability of having a Sorcerer who believed in law and order. Hahen was very vocal about his opinion on that type of relationship of Olde, but had been responsible so far for Hikari. In return, Hikari had been trusting and showed her affection for Hahen ever since that fateful day.
“Where do you want these, Shinrai?” Appearing from the doorway, Kikoeru Merodi strode in. A stack of three boxes maximum was piled in his arms and he smiled, barely breaking a sweat.
“Anywhere will do, honestly.” Shinrai propped a hand upon her hip. Muzai called it the ‘signature-flirting-move.’ “Thank you so much for the help, Kikoeru. I really appreciate it.”
“No worries,” Merodi shot a beaming smile and turned, clapping his hands once they were free from boxes. “If that’s everything, Hahen and I are expected to have dinner this evening with my sister. I mean, unless you need anything else?”
Shinrai winked. She laughed. “I’ll relieve you for now. Go enjoy your dinner. You’ve both been great.”
Hahen stood and bowed to Shinrai. He offered Muzai a small wave as he walked to his uncle, joining him on the balcony outside. Before departure, Hikari’s hovering was noted and Merodi forced a smile. “Would you like a lift to the dorms, Hoshi-san?”
“Yes!” Hikari practically pounced over the threshold, scooping Hahen’s arm. “Thank you so much, Merodi-sensei.”
Merodi had too small a chance to reply as Hikari dragged Hahen away and down the metal staircase attached to the building. He could do nothing but allow a breezy laugh to leave his lips before turning back, watching Shinrai leaning against the doorframe.
“I’ll call you later.” Merodi murmured, moving in for a quick kiss against Shinrai’s cheek.
Shinrai smiled, patting Merodi’s shoulder as he walked away. She sighed, forcing herself to step away and shut the door before the winter air could freeze the apartment. The noise died down and warmth came back to life.
“Will you be staying for dinner, Tsumi?” Shinrai called.
Tsumi grabbed hold of Muzai’s arm, checking the girl’s wristwatch. “No. I should be getting back home.” She said, dropping Muzai’s arm as unceremoniously as she had grabbed it. “I told my housemate I wouldn’t be long.”
Shinrai nodded and gave a goodbye before dragging a box into her old bedroom. The living room was empty, save for a heavy tension and two teenage girls with a world full of upcoming troubles. Muzai waited until Shinrai’s door shut before she spoke.
“Will they come back? Yuugen?”
“Do you want a lie or the truth?” Tsumi mumbled, buttoning her coat.
“Lying won’t make me feel better.”
“Neither will the truth.”
Muzai bit the inside of her cheek and followed Tsumi towards the door. She watched the girl pull on her knee-high stilettos and open the door. Bitter winds filled the apartment once again. Muzai’s cheeks turned pink. “So, they will come back?”
“Probably,” Tsumi deadpanned. She shoved her hands into her coat pockets, tucking her chin against the safety of her clothes from the cold. “You’ll be safe, whatever happens.”
Muzai forced herself to stare at the floor. She could easily block out the image of Tsumi leaving the building. She could not block out the words she left behind.
Tsumi shared a house with a total of four very quirky people. Rida Komando was the legal house owner and had been generous enough to allow her twin cousins - Migi and Hidari - to live with her due to ‘family complications.’ Then there was Shizuka; Rida’s class partner. The two had been playing duets for years. The Violin and Cello; their tag-name in University. As for Tsumi, her case was special. She was Rida’s girlfriend.
Parking her motorbike, Tsumi climbed off and ran up the concrete stairs to the front door. She crept in, having pulled her shoes off outside before turning the handle to lessen any noise. The floorboards betrayed her, creaking under her weight as she moved down the corridor and into the living room. There were no video games playing. No violin. Nothing.
She tiptoed over to the fish tanks fitted into the walls behind the television and quietly fed the colourful aqua-life, each one eager to swim up to the glass as their mother fed them flaky treats. Tsumi smiled.
“I didn’t hear you come in,” Rida called, flicking the light on. “You’re not sneaking off without me tonight, are you?” She snorted, making her way around the couch and into the open-plan kitchen.
“No,” Tsumi straightened, turning to examine Rida from behind her helmet. “I just thought you’d be sleeping. I didn’t wanna disturb you.”
Rida returned with a can of juice. “Really, now?” She smirked, setting the drink down on the coffee table before reaching out to pull off Tsumi’s helmet. Her eyes wandered over the girl with silver hair. She smiled, pecking Tsumi’s cheek. “A letter arrived for you today.”
Tsumi watched her helmet get tossed onto one of the couches. She inwardly sighed. “I get a letter every day.” She said, following Rida to the kitchen counter.
“Don’t be cocky,” Rida tutted, reaching up for fridge top. “Not every letter comes in a black envelope.”
Tsumi’s hand paused. Her fingers brushed across the dark paperwork, reluctant to do more than that. Swallowing dryly, she forced herself to snatch it and stuff it into her pocket; far more concerned for Rida’s sake than her own anxieties.
“Everything alright?” Rida forced a laugh. “It can’t be that serious, right? Like, you haven’t gotten into trouble or anything?”
“It’s not important, don’t worry.” Tsumi shook her head. “I’m going to bed early. I’ll see you in the morning.”
She carried herself back into the corridor and jogged up the stairs before Rida could catch her. She turned to her room, closed the door with a swift motion of her foot and sat on her bed. Her hands were shaking when she tugged the letter free. Tsumi wet her lips, staring blankly ahead as her fingers tore the envelope open. A mental preparation to count ’one, two, three,’ played until she looked down and read the letter’s contents. Her stomach turned, and she swallowed the dry knot in her throat. After tossing the letter down, she fished for her mobile from her trousers and flopped back onto the bed.
Hitting speed dial, Tsumi closed her eyes and allowed the soft vibration of the phone to ease her pacing heart until someone picked up.
“Why would they send me this?” Tsumi grunted. She dragged her spare hand across her face, irritable. “Do they really expect me to show up?”
The voice on the other end sighed against Tsumi’s ear loudly. “What do they want?”
“You mean they didn’t send one to you?” Frowning, Tsumi sat back up. “Don’t pretend they missed you out, Yujin. I know you got a letter, too.”
Toi Yujin, currently Hanaharu’s infirmary nurse. Previously a resident within Yuugen’s academy. Otherwise, the only man Tsumi dared to trust. He groaned. “Of course I got a letter, too.”
“Are you going?”
“I haven’t got a choice, Tsumi! I’m one of their most wanted! It’s bad enough they put a fucking tag on my wrist when I left, but now I actually have to show face-”
“I am their most wanted.”
Yujin muttered under his breath, incoherent words down the phone until a long groan rattled. “I have to go. If I don’t, they’ll pluck me out, take my head. Whatever the hell they want. You don’t have to show, I won’t mention you. But my fate’s already in their disgusting hands.” Without a further word, he hung up.
Tsumi exhaled. She lowered her phone and turned, staring at the letter in hopes it would singe and disappear into nothingness. Even in the dim light, she could make out the single line strewn across the top of the paper. Himitsu’s funeral.