Scene I: Circus
Tokyo, Japan. 2014, April
Muzai sighed heavily as she twirled her hair through small, dainty fingers. Her reckless night had left it tangled. For months, Yuugen had gone quiet. She no longer received notifications from The Chairman, and she had not seen anyone from opposing Covens for the past six weeks. Yet standing in front of the mirror ready to attend Muza Kawasaki’s Symphony Hall was enough to make her feel just as small as she had been inside Yuugen’s courtroom for the first time.
It was certainly a reliever to have no-one come along and try to kill her, send her on a mission or announce they were gonna destroy the world. Yet oddly enough, she couldn’t get used to the idea of this kind of freedom. It was too good to be true. It had to be!
“Muzai!” Shinrai Aibori’s voice drifted down hall. “You nearly ready?”
Muzai pouted at her own reflection before moving away and tiptoeing out of the bathroom in her pink pajamas. She hated wearing formal attire. The only thing she used to own was a black dress and tights for formal occasions, but since her aunt had gone to so much trouble in buying her an elegant dress of red and gold, Muzai could not refuse.
“I’ll be there in a second!” With that said, Muzai stepped back into her dim bedroom and, with brave intention, crept over to her bed and faced the red dress that lay upon her unmade mattress.
She tugged her pajamas off and pulled the gown over her head. She let the skirt fall to her knees and just knew her face had turned red. This was way too elegant for her! The piece was sleeveless, exposing her freckled arms and shoulders. She chewed on her lip with discomfort as she found her tights and grabbed a pair of shoes before leaving the room.
“When Kikoeru gets here, tell him how good I’ve been.” Shinrai exclaimed as Muzai walked into the living room. She tapped her swollen belly with a grin. “Six months pregnant and I haven’t touched a single bottle!”
Muzai could only snort with amusement. She walked over and turned her back, a silent plea for her dress to be zipped up. “I’m very proud of you, aunt.”
“Beautiful, kid.” Shinrai announced, tugging the zip up before twirling Muzai around. She pulled a face, arms crossing against her chest. “Well, you would be if you had done your hair.”
“Yeah, I know.” Muzai bit her lip and raised her hand to search for the matted strands once again. She had already been fighting with a brush and a bottle of conditioner in the bathroom and still couldn’t hide the shame! “I had a rough night.”
“You’ve always been like that, getting yourself worked up the day before a big event.” Shinrai smiled. “Sit down, let me brush that knot out.”
“You’re a lifesaver.” Muzai sighed, unceremoniously dropping herself on the sofa.
Shinrai snagged her brush from the coffee table and stood behind the sofa, hurriedly brushing out the nightmarish tangles atop Muzai’s head. “Is Tsumi coming see you play today?” She hummed.
Muzai swallowed harshly, eyes staring at the edge of the coffee table. Her small fingers curled against the skirt at her knees, unable to reply directly. She and Tsumi had grown distant since Namakemono. Then Yujin had been poorly and Tsumi disappeared, practically living in Kanagawa Hospital until he woke up. Muzai had been out of the loop for a while. Hahen and Hikari shared the same feeling of isolation, but had convinced Muzai it was probably for the best. To get unnecessarily involved with Tsumi Kokutan was just asking for trouble.
“Well, I-” Muzai was interrupted by the knock at the door. She thanked whatever stars and Gods above that Shinrai’s attention was diverted before she could make up a reply.
“Come in!” Shinrai called, smiling from ear-to-ear when Merodi opened the door.
“How are we this morning?” Merodi exclaimed, making a beeline straight to Shinrai and placed both hands over her swollen stomach.
“We’re all fine. I just gotta get this little lady’s hair done, then we’ll be ready.” Shinrai smiled, giving Merodi’s cheek a quick kiss before returning to her task. “I would offer tea, but y’know, occupied hands and all.”
Hahen appeared from the doorway. He tugged the hem of his shirt as he moved – much like his uncle, he was dressed for the occasion and wore a suit that looked a little too formal for him. Muzai thought it looked kinda cute.
“I-I can do Muzai’s hair,” Hahen walked up to Shinrai, politely offering his hand. “I used t-to do mama’s all the t-time.”
“Can’t say no to that. We’ll just be in the kitchen.” Shinrai laughed, handing the brush over. She grabbed Merodi’s hand, tugging him away. “Get ready to leave in about an hour!”
Muzai released a sigh, loud enough to make Hahen smile as he began to work through the mats and tangles. His face was something akin to surprise as he brushed through, clearly never having faced a dilemma as bad as this! Clearing his throat, he ran his scarred fingers through the vermillion strands and brushed with care.
“Are you okay…?”
“I’m fine. Just tired.” Muzai replied, smiling through her own lie. “How are you? Feeling nervous about today?”
“I guess. It’s supposed t-to be a big t-turnout, I’m just afraid I’ll slip up.” He whispered, pausing to clear the final tangle before tying her hair into a high ponytail and fluffed out the edges, leaving her fringe down. “Hikari won’t be coming with us t-today. She doesn’t wanna go back to Kanagawa.”
Muzai reached up, idly twirling a finger through the side of her fringe as Hahen moved to sit beside her. “I don’t blame her. I just hope she’s okay.”
“She’s fine.” Hahen smiled. He began playing with the cuffs of his sleeves, tugging, and shuffling with obvious anxieties. “Have you t-talked with Tsumi?”
Muzai moved her hand from her lap and over to Hahen’s scarred fingers, ceasing his fidgeting. She squeezed, shoving the conversation aside. “Let’s just focus on today, yeah?”
Kanagawa, Japan. 2014, April
They had months to prepare for the Hall. Merodi had been kind enough to treat them to dinner and the news last year; way before Mad Dog had even reared his ugly head. Muzai could not believe it had been so long since the announcement was made, to know they would be performing in Kanagawa in front of so many people.
Hahen held her hand while they waited for their names to be called. He could hear the sounds of everyone past the curtain; could feel their eyes before he had even stepped into the light. Once they were called out to stage, a large round of applause was given from the audience and the thunderous claps echoed, filling their ears. He would have shook if not for Muzai gently luring him towards the large ebony piano glistening beneath the stage lights.
Muzai sat first, followed by Hahen. They awaited the crowds' applaud to die down before they began their harmonisation. There were no slip-ups while they played, no room for error over excellence. Their fingers moved naturally with nothing but pure instinct and Muzai smiled at Hahen’s steady hand. Ironic, coming from the biggest ball of nerves she had ever met.
The audience seemed uninterested at first; perhaps sceptical at the youngest duo to play in the Hall. As the melody went on, the tune twisted into something that sounded almost impossible to compose with just two people alone. Faces were soon lighting up with awe and delight, sending most of the crowd into whistles and claps before the song had even come to an end. When the music did slow to an eventual stop, no-one was left displeased.
Muzai felt her cheeks turn hot and she bowed. From the corner of her eye, Hahen’s face was just as bright. She had never seen him so happy. The loud roar of cheer made Muzai laugh and she grabbed Hahen’s wrist to hold their arms above their heads as the crowd stood, clapped, whistled, and cried.
One of the Hall’s staff appeared from behind the curtain and stepped over to Muzai, handing her a large bouquet of flowers. “Courtesy of an admirer in the crowd, Miss.”
Before Muzai could thank the man, he fled the stage and she stood awkwardly with the bouquet as Hahen took another bow. She curtseyed before following her partner off stage and into the dressing rooms. The crowd could still be heard but they were out of eyeshot as they moved, sweating, and panting from adrenaline.
“Who are those flowers from?” Hahen blurted, opening the door to their assigned room.
Muzai shrugged, cradling the flowers in her arms like a new-born baby. “I don’t know. An admirer, apparently.” She replied, looking over the red, rosy petals as she walked over to her dressing table.
“That c-could be anyone.” Hahen smiled, plopping himself upon a chair. His eye wandered to the side in thought, examining the numerous costumes hung around, coupled with the crates stacked to the side. He would have added a comment if not for the figure sat in the corner, perched upon a stool by the door. He gasped aloud.
Muzai turned, feeling her heart jump into her throat when she saw the man in waiting. “…Are you playing next?” She asked slowly, taking a step closer to Hahen.
A low hum came from the stranger. In his hand he held a fan which he slowly waved through the air, causing his blond hair to sway against his cheeks. “No, I came here to speak with you, little one.”
Muzai blinked. Did he mean her? She looked down at her flowers and made a small O with her mouth. “Did you send me these?”
The man chuckled, moving off the stool and into the light. He was tall, really tall and built well. Despite his flamboyant dress code of colour, he was masculine with broad shoulders and strong calves. The fan in his hand closed the moment he tapped it against his hip, and he smiled, foxy eyes slitting with amusement. When he spoke, his voice was deep and playful.
“I did not, little one. Someone else must have admired your music other than me. I have come to give you something better than dead plants.”
Hahen swallowed harshly from behind Muzai. He kept his gaze to the floor and moved a hand to the back of Muzai’s dress; yet his tugging could not break the spell and Muzai was oblivious to his distress as she pursued the offer and cautiously spoke.
“What would that be, exactly?”
“To put it simply, I loved your piece tonight. You and your little friend.” The man cooed, pointing his closed fan towards Hahen. “I own a small entertainment building in Chiba and we are in dire need of a musician. In fact, I am willing to pay, if you have any interest?”
“What kind of entertainment, exactly?” Muzai raised a brow. She could not help but tense. The more this guy talked, the more he sounded like a pervert.
“Ah, do not get the wrong idea, little one.” Chuckling, the man pressed his free hand to his chest, idly playing with the ring hanging from his neck. “I suppose you could say I own a circus. I being the ringleader. We do tricks, perform magic, create illusions. You know, anything to keep the audience happy.”
“Circus? Magic?” Muzai repeated. Ever since she was a child, she wanted to join the circus – who hadn’t? But Magic. Real Magick? The way her eyes widened made the man laugh.
“Yes, real Magick.” As if reading her mind, he gave her a card with his name written across it; Hokori Goman. It may as well have God of Chaos written beneath it. Hokori smiled when Muzai froze. “Shall I assume you would be willing to try?”
Hesitantly, Muzai accepted the card and read over it more than once. She remembered all the names Neko had given that day in Concordia. The name of the Void’s creator. He stood right in front of her; sure, a little eccentric-looking, but hardly Godlike.
Without further delay, Hokori smiled and pivoted on his heel. “I hope to see you again soon, Miss Aibori.”
The audience was still murmuring and speaking amongst each other regarding Muzai and Hahen’s piece as Hokori made his exit. With a flick of his wrist, his fan reopened and covered his mouth, hiding the expression he wore as he left the crowded room and moved to reception. He could only sigh as the doors closed behind him, killing the voices and cheers to silence.
Hokori looked up to see Kin standing in the doorway exit. His face was full of concern, mingled with the hint of confusion present in his uncovered eye. His scruffy attire was an odd mix as he stood under décor of gold in the Hall’s foyer. Hokori merely smiled at the comparison.
“Is the car ready?”
“Aye,” Kin replied, crossing his arms. “I don’t really see the point in us bein’ ’ere.”
“You know perfectly well why we came here.” Hokori announced over his shoulder as he stepped into the street. He moved swiftly, climbing into the dingy car parked by the curb.
Kin snorted, moving to climb into the passenger’s seat. He walked with a limp and had to keep his weight on his good leg as he climbed inside. When Hokori stayed silent, Kin spoke aloud. “It’s ‘cos of that science lady, innit? It ain’t like ya to suddenly become someone’s dog, y’know? She ain’t nice. She brought ol’ Miryoku with, too. And I thought Senbo was-”
“Sorry, Boss.” Kin chewed his bottom lip and sighed, sinking against his seat as Hokori started the engine. “I weren’t thinking.”
“There is no need for apologies, I should not have snapped.” Hokori shook his head, pulling the car away from the curb and into the road. “Things shall be alright.”
“I believe ya, Boss.”
“Good,” Hokori's smile was genuine. As genuine as his reputation would allow. He flicked the radio on and allowed his favoured choice of classical music fill the dusty speakers. “Now, let us return home.”