Scene I: Carry Me Down
Kanagawa, Japan. 2014, January
Leave her alone.
Katsubo would remember this day for the weather. The constant rain which poured over him as he held Okui’s body in his arms. He willed himself to move through the hellish storm, putting one foot in front of the other. He could remember the way Okui’s body felt against his own – and no matter how many times he would check the man’s pulse, he knew he would never wake up.
Raising his heavy, sore eyes towards the looming building in front of him, Katsubo released a small whimper as his face was covered with hounding rain. He stood like that for a blissful moment of silence, holding Okui in shaky arms. By now, the man’s head had lolled back over Katsubo’s arm. It was unreal to be standing outside of Yuugen when only a few hours ago they had been home together, counting down into the new year.
When he finally entered the building, Yuugen’s students froze. Colourful eyes turned wide, full of shock at the sight of the vice-chairman dead. Katsubo ignored the screams and cries, gasps, and whispers as he walked through the corridors. He gained a crowd of students, following behind him at a respectable distance. His expression was far from distant; he even failed to notice the small tear that slid down his face and onto Okui’s chest.
“Katsubo!” Chikai shouted, making his way through the crowd to reach Katsubo. “Stop!”
Katsubo blinked, raising his head. “Chikai…” Facing reality caused a wave of exhaustion to wash over him. His legs were numb, his fingers were white. He had been walking for hours. When he looked down to Okui, his eyes were filled with fresh tears all over again.
“What happened?!” Chikai choked, stepping forward. His eyes were wide with disbelief. This couldn’t be happening!
Katsubo shook his head slowly. He tried to force his voice to work and croaked around his sorrows. “I need to see the Chairman.” The audience behind him gasped, whispering among themselves.
Chikai’s throat bobbed. “You know I can’t come with you.”
“Katsubo,” Chikai began, moving closer. His voice was distant, mourning. “Let me take Okui-”
“No!” Katsubo screamed, taking a step back. His grey eyes were wide and full of warning. His nostrils flared as he shuffled Okui closer in his arms. “No… I apologise, Chikai. But no.”
Chikai moved back, allowing Katsubo to continue down the corridor. There was no hope in reaching out now. Not until Katsubo had calmed down. Chikai knew better than to tangle himself in such affairs and he turned, facing the crowd of young Sorcerers and Familiars who shared the same mourning looks for Okui as Chikai did. Some held each other’s hands, others cried whilst their companions held back their tears. Chikai wished he could calm them all at once, yet he shook it off and straightened his back.
“Everyone, get back to your studying. There is nothing to see here.” Chikai clapped his hands, urging the students down the hallway and away from Katsubo. There was hesitation in their movements. It was hardly like there was more to see. It was obvious that Okui was dead.
Katsubo had always detested the Council chambers. To reach it, one would have to wade their way through a never-ending white abyss of long corridors with no windows and bright LED lights along the ceiling until they reach a tall, large door at the end of the hall; the cut-off from Yuugen’s Academy to Yuugen’s Council chambers where each member would hide themselves away during their individual experiments.
As if on cue, the door opened on its own accord, sensing Katsubo’s presence. It creaked loudly as it moved, granting a wave of air to flow through Katsubo’s hair and push him back a step. He braved on, slipping through the entrance and down the long, spiral staircase. It was a Magick illusion – one step down and he reached the bottom. His footsteps echoed along the dimly lit corridors. The walls were made of stone and dark, peeling wallpaper. The floor was boarded with wood and the lamps in the walls were starting to go out. If he were in his right mind, Katsubo may have volunteered to change the lightbulbs. But he could not think of idle things like that. He was only concerned on the doorway ahead to his left. The courtroom.
The twin oak doors strained to open upon his arrival. Another Magick trick. The room was dark with a singular lamp hanging from the judge’s bench which circled the whole room at twenty-feet high. Across from Katsubo was a singular pedestal where the council would ask the accused to stand during their court as they would look down upon the guilty. Alas, without anyone inside, it was nothing but eerie.
Katsubo stepped over the threshold, ignoring the groaning sounds of the doors closing behind him. He stopped just short of the pedestal when the hairs upon the back of his neck stood up. He turned, facing a knife just inches from his faces. The girl who wielded the weapon was no older than him, with long purple hair tied into ponytails and a ribbon tied around her neck with a large, jingling bell.
“Neko!” A voice called out over the bench above. “That’s enough.”
Scoffing, Neko lowered her knife. The room lit up; sending a low, yellowish hue around the courtroom as echoing footsteps appeared from above. When Katsubo forced his eyes away from Neko, he looked up to see the Chairman walking around the table. His long, indigo hair was tied into a ponytail. His attire was as old-fashioned as Katsubo remembered; robes tightly wrapped around his lean body with a pale sash. Black sleeves peaked through his sleeves, engulfing his hands save for his fingers. His eyes looked downward, a colourful mixture of purple and red swirling together. He said nothing as he sat down, centre behind the bench above the hanging lamp.
“So, Okui’s time has finally come.” The Chairman sighed. His voice was sad, yet his eyes were stern. “Why did you bring him here?”
Katsubo hiked Okui higher into his arms, fearful of losing him. “He was murdered. I have come to warn you, Chairman. They’ll be coming for you next! Just like they did with Okui-sensei and Mad Dog, before him!”
Neko shared a look with the Chairman and the latter shook his head and stood. “This is ridiculous.” He muttered.
Katsubo’s eye turned wide. “How can you walk away?! Okui-sensei would have never walked away from you! He would avenge you until it killed him! Yokubo-sama!” He shouted loud enough to have his words bounce off the walls.
“I’ll consider listening,” The Chairman, Yokubo, stopped in his tracks. His jaw was clenched when he peered over his shoulder, looking anywhere but Okui’s dead body. “If you can tell me who did it.”
Tokyo, Japan. 2014, January
Tsumi yawned loudly, rubbing the back of her neck. She hated getting up in the mornings, especially early mornings. Additionally, it was not just any morning she was forcing herself to climb out of bed and catch the bus for. Today she would be saying goodbye to Rida at the airport. Which basically made the morning ten times worse. The jerking motion of the bus made Tsumi irritable. The twins wriggling upon the seats in front of her just made her mad.
Migi and Hidari were Rida’s cousins. To see them outside at such an hour in the morning was unnatural and it was clear they detested early mornings just as much as Tsumi with the grumbles and groans they were tuning every five minutes. They turned to Rida, who stood beside Tsumi’s seat, and pulled a face of annoyance.
“Rida…” Migi whined through clenched, chattering teeth.
“We wanna go back to bed.” Hidari finished, rubbing their eyes with gloved hands.
Rida rolled her eyes. “You still have to go to school even after this. Shizuka is taking you there, so, no. You can’t go back to bed.” She reminded, shifting the weight of her suitcase between Tsumi’s chair and her leg.
Shizuka sat opposite Migi and Hidari. He silently read a book Rida had given him for Christmas and attempted to drone out the huffs and puffs the twins made as they shifted to catch some sleep before the bus stopped. There was silence for a whole of ten minutes before Migi lifted their head from Hidari’s shoulder and turned back to Rida.
“Why are you even going?”
Rida unleashed a long sigh. “Honestly, have you forgotten already? I’m going to Korea to help dad work at the University for a while. He’s not as young as he used to be. But trust me, I’m not really fond of going there anyway.”
“Then don’t go.” Tsumi deadpanned. “Stay.”
“I’ll be back before you know it.” Rida turned to Tsumi. Her ego was boosted to know she would be missed by Tsumi of all people and she moved, shifting her suitcase once again to sit beside her girlfriend. “Just don’t get into trouble while I’m gone. That applies to all of you.”
“So long, Rida~!” Hidari called, waving their arms manically.
“Get us something special!” Migi added.
Rida rolled her eyes and turned to Shizuka, giving him a hug. “Make sure those idiots stay out of trouble.” Rida mumbled against his ear, patting his back before pulling away.
Tsumi followed, idly waving her hand at Shizuka and the twins. She would not get home until the evening and the trio had plans to be elsewhere; despite Migi and Hidari’s loud protests could be heard at the entrance to the airport. She sighed once they were out of sight and stared at the back of Rida’s heels.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so gloomy.” Rida said, glancing back.
Tsumi shrugged in response. “I dunno. I’m just…”
“You’re just what?” Rida stopped walking and turned around. It was not every day that she could get Tsumi to spill her emotions. It would be a nice send-off if she could get a little closure.
Tsumi exhaled and opened her mouth. Her words were muffled by the plane that suddenly flew overhead and Rida frowned, pushing her glasses back up her nose while she waited for the plane to disappear across the horizon.
“I didn’t hear you, sorry. What?”
Tsumi shook her head and walked towards the airport building. “It’s nothing.” She called over her shoulder.
“Are you blushing?!” Rida called out, darting forward. She huffed when Tsumi picked up her pace a little. “Tsumi! What did you say?!”
“Nothing.” Tsumi replied, rushing into the building.
Rida tutted, slowing her pace before her suitcase could collide with a passer-by. She smiled to herself, stepping over the threshold into the airport and followed Tsumi towards a line of seats beside a wide window overlooking the planes below. The atmosphere was thick with tension. Even with the numerous people walking to and fro, they felt alone.
“I’ll miss you too, you know?” Rida finally spoke.
Tsumi crossed her arms over her chest. “Who said I’d miss you?”
Rida laughed. “I can read you like a book, baka. Well, like half a book. Actually, you’re more like a really big book with about seventy-five pages missing.”
“People wouldn’t really want to read a book with that many pages missing.”
Rida was ready to counter when the announcer’s voice echoed overhead. She slapped her thighs and stood, hooking her fist around her suitcase’s handle. “That’s me off.”
Tsumi stood, glaring at the floor. “I’ll see you soon.” She mumbled, knowing it was hardly the most romantic goodbye.
Rida chuckled. She hooked her index finger under Tsumi’s chin, forcing her to look up. She leant forward, pressing her lips to Tsumi’s. A gentle farewell.
“People would be foolish not to read a book with so many pages missing. ’Cos they would never know that the only pages in the book are the best parts of the story.” Rida declared, giving Tsumi a second kiss on the forehead before finally leaving.
Tsumi watched Rida go with watery eyes. She did not cry though. She would not show weakness in public; not here, anyway. When Rida disappeared for good, Tsumi turned to leave – halting when she noted the lack of people in the building. Seconds ago, it had been bustling with energy; now there was no-one in sight. Blinking once, she soon found several figures standing around her, encircling her. They wore hoods, masks over their mouths and wide, black eyes staring intently.
“Can I help you?” Tsumi muttered.
“Tsumi Kokutan, you are under arrest.” They all spoke at once, their black eyes stayed wide; unmoving.
“What for?” Tsumi questioned, slowly turning on her heel to count how many she was up against. Ten.
“Tsumi Kokutan, you are under arrest.” They repeated.
“On what charge?!”
“Tsumi Kokutan, you are under arrest.”
Tsumi raised her chin. “I declare-” Before she could summon the Void of Chaos, she received a blow to the back of her head and went down, crashing to her knees. Her vision blurred; her ears rang. She could see the figures coming closer, swarming her as she toppled forward and slapped her cheek against the floor.
“Tsumi Kokutan, you are under arrest.”
Toi Yujin groaned and rubbed his sore nose with a tissue. His red eyes were watering, and he choked a cough followed by a loud sneeze. Grunting, he took in stuffy breaths and sighed, returning to the book upon his desk. Silence was a happy companion for a matter of seconds before the door to his office was opened.
“What is it?” Yujin snipped, his voice croaking.
“I thought you were supposed to be nicer at work, Toi-chan.” Jamu hummed, closing the door behind him. “You look like shit.”
Yujin grunted in response and turned away. “It’s not very professional to be so casual at work, Jamu.” He stated, resuming his book.
“No-one’s here,” Jamu replied, hopping up onto one of the empty beds. He began patting his pockets in search of his cigarettes. “It’s not like anyone can hear me, Toi-chan.”
Yujin’s brow twitched. “Why are you even here? Shouldn’t you be teaching a class or something?” He growled, knowing Jamu was simply trying to get a reaction. Yujin fell for it every time.
“My class doesn’t start until the evening and it’s not like I can arrive any later, after all. You’re the one that drives me.” Jamu shrugged, sticking a cigarette between his lips, and cupping a hand over it to light up. “I have to find things to do all morning until my class starts.”
Yujin glared over his shoulder. “Exhale out the window. This is supposed to be a sterile room.” He demanded, ignoring Jamu’s so-called woes.
Jamu sighed, climbing off the bed. He strolled over to the window and pushed it open. He smoked in silence, enjoying the view below until he caught something in the corner of his eye. He shifted, craning his neck further. “Oi, Toi.”
Yujin grunted in response.
“Isn’t that Fumetsu?”
Yujin dropped his book for the umpteenth time that morning and stood from his chair. His motions were sluggish as he moved to the window. Jamu was taller than he was, which caused minor squinting and shifting on his toes before he replied behind clenched teeth. “Yes. It is.”
“Oh, and look,” Jamu sighed. “Here comes Aibori-san.”
Muzai rushed down the street, panting quietly as she picked up her pace. She had been an idiot for not setting an alarm last night! First day back to school and she was already behind! But sleeping in was so good and she had grown way too accustomed to rolling out of bed after eleven over the holidays. She gritted her teeth and turned the corner, grabbing the side of Hanaharu’s gate to swing on and bounded into the courtyard.
Before she could reach the foyer, she tripped on her own shoelaces and toppled forward, skidding along the ground. Muzai groaned, slowly turning to lay on her back. The sky was crystal clear, with only a few clouds drifting through the sky. If she were not in such a hurry, she may have enjoyed the view; until a certain someone hovered over, blocking the sun with his head.
“Enjoy your trip, Red?” Miryoku snickered.
Muzai got to her feet quickly, taking careful steps away. Why did her first day have to start with him?! “What do you want?” She balled her hands into fists. “You shouldn’t even be here.”
“I came for Kokutan, not you.” Miryoku rolled his head, making his neck crack a little. “You’re protected by The Glutton, remember? You’re basically untouchable.”
Muzai’s narrowed eyes and flared nostrils were hardly welcoming. “I can’t trust you.”
“Look, Red, even if I were here for you, I would have brought a Familiar with me. My Magick tends to get a little wacky if I haven’t got backup to even things out, and besides,” Miryoku paused, eyeing Muzai up and down. “You haven’t even got a Sorcerer, so there really wouldn’t be any point for me to hold back at all, would there?”
Muzai’s cheeks flared. She planned to stroll forward and shove him, hit him, something. Yet the sudden hand on her elbow erased those intentions. She glanced back, eyes wide and brows narrowed. “Yujin-sama? Jamu-sensei?”
Miryoku looked between the men, arms encircling his stomach with a laugh. His eyes turned to Jamu. “Oh, hey there, smoking buddy. What? You wanna fight?” He mused.
“I don’t do fights.” Yujin replied mildly, stifling a cough.
Jamu rolled his eyes and spoke up. “I declare a dual.”
Miryoku grinned, uncrossing his arms to show his palms were alight with energy. “I accept.”