Scene XIII: Countdown
Chiba, Japan. 2014, May
Katsubo had been reluctant to leave Hokori alone with Senbo, solely due to Kin’s attitude - he was quiet, and not just because of his snapped jaw. Katsubo had trouble holding his tongue as they walked down the corridor, following Hari and Kumo into the lounge where they proceeded to place their boxes and decorations onto the coffee table.
“How’d the shopping go?” Hari spoke up, throwing herself onto the nearest sofa.
Unlike Kin’s wary tension, Hari seemed content. Her sharp eyes looked back over her shoulder when Kin remained silent, mulling over Senbo’s appearance and the throbbing of his cheek. She turned to Katsubo and raised a brow, grunting when Kumo unceremoniously dropped herself onto her lap.
“It, um, went well.” Katsubo murmured. He glanced to Kin, taking a moment to notice he was still wearing his coat. He blushed, quickly moving to busy himself with unpacking the boxes.
“We did ’ave a bit of trouble.” Kin mumbled around his swollen cheek. He raised a hand to cup the swelling skin and shuffled, helping Katsubo unpack their boxes.
“Ah, those Black-Market Dabblers again?” Hari scoffed, shoving Kumo off her lap. “Those bastards are always snooping the streets at early hours. Fuck them. Did they touch ya?”
“Nope.” Kin grunted; ending the conversation.
Katsubo’s stomach turned; even more so when Hari wrinkled her nose in disgust at the mention of Dabblers on her lips. When she spat on the floor with a string of curse words, Katsubo could only think how he would be cleaning that mess up before day’s end. His thoughts were cut off when a gentle touch came to his hand. He blinked, finding Kin’s long fingers squeezing his palm gently.
Looking up, he saw Kin attempting to smile. All of his troubled thoughts were discarded thanks to that swollen, freckled face.
Kobi damped her sweaty forehead with a towel and rolled her shoulders. The show was drawing nearer, and she was beginning to grow obsessive with her routine. She was almost certain she was the only one practicing! Tutting loudly, she readjusted her porcelain arm and closed her eyes.
She had to impress Hokori. Without him, she would have never gotten a second chance and would still be a beggar on the streets, dancing for greedy perverts and stripping for rich men. Such a life was something she never wished to return to, and although she may dance now, she considered herself at the top of a lone mountain; glaring down on all who did her wrong.
Sighing, Kobi moved to the backstage, dragging her dance shoes from fatigue. The hem of her skirt brushed against her full thighs as she moved, thankful for the temporary waft of air against her sweaty skin. A blur in the corner of her eye occurred and she frowned, snapping her gaze up to see what – or rather who – it had been.
She stood in a fork in the hall; to her left were the dorms and to the right was the bathhouse. Her shoe brushed against something damp when she stepped forward, making an awful squish under her foot. She assumed it was water from the cleaning boy’s mop but looking down she was proved wrong. Blood.
Her high-pitched scream carried down the halls, ringing off the walls and bouncing ever further. She stumbled back against the nearest wall, clasping her hands of flesh and china across her mouth in utter horror. She was not afraid of the colour – she had seen it plenty of times during her childhood. It was the simple shock and fact it was here of all places. This was her home! It was not meant to be riddled with such things as blood.
“Kobi?” Appearing around the corner was Muchina. His eyes were wide with fear from Kobi’s blood-curdling scream and he moved, reaching out for her. “What’s wrong? What happened?”
Kobi shook her head, moving her hands from her gaping mouth to point at the ground in warning. “Look! It’s blood! What’s it doing here?!”
Muchina froze, turning to the ground. “Someone probably cut themselves during practice.” He sighed aloud, clearly having come to the rescue for no reason. He bent his knees and gingerly reached out to swipe the pad of his index finger over the splatter for inspection.
“Don’t go touching it!” Kobi shrieked, causing the man to jolt with surprise.
“Don’t yell at me like that!” Muchina slipped, losing his balance from Kobi’s continuously cries. He toppled over and landed on the floor; his cheek smacking the bloodied spot.
Kobi covered her mouth once more, halting yet another yelp from escaping. She cringed as Muchina proceeded to lift himself from the floor and turn his head to reveal his blood-caked cheek. She had never seen him angry – the way his eyes narrowed and his lips quivered nearly made her laugh.
“That was all my fault, hon. Oh, my God.” Kobi hurriedly pulled a handkerchief from her breast pocket and began to wipe away the bloody mess. “Are you alright.”
“Peachy.” Muchina grunted, afraid of opening his mouth. His heart fluttered under Kobi’s gentle touch and he brushed her hand away – hesitant to do so. “Did you see anything before you noticed the blood?”
“Couldn’t say,” Kobi folded her bloody handkerchief and handed it to Muchina, not overly keen on carrying it in her pocket for the rest of the day. “I saw a blur, couldn’t tell you who it was. They came ’round the corner and vanished!”
“Well, Katsubo cleaned this hall before he left with Kin this morning. So, the blood is definitely recent.” Muchina concluded, taking the handkerchief with the tips of his forefinger and thumb. “I guess it must have been whoever you walked by.”
“Oh, sugar!” Kobi blurted, flexing a porcelain finger. “There’s more!”
Muchina followed Kobi’s gesture and grimaced at the trail of blood running along the floor. If someone was hurt, they were in super bad shape. Which meant someone was on a killing spree or there was an intruder in the building. He knew some Dabblers were keen on exploiting them, harming them, tormenting and torture. It disgusted him and he knew it was a risk even before he joined Hokori’s Coven – though he would have never guessed to see it first-hand so soon!
“They’ve left us a trail to follow.” Kobi pressed her china hand against Muchina’s notably shaking shoulder. “Shall we follow them?”
“Follow them?” Muchina echoed. He raised his hands above his head, turning his voice into a harsh whisper. “Kobi, they could be anyone! It could be a trap made by Dabblers, and you want us to follow them?!”
“Yes, I do! Don’t be so small-minded, kid. It could be one of us, for all you know! They could be very, very hurt and if they ain’t one of us, then we can beat the ever-lasting shit out of them. Either way, it’s a threat.” Kobi stamped her foot against the floor. “A threat to our family.”
Muchina had no time to reply before Kobi was turning on her heel. He felt his throat turn tight and he moved, unable to leave her alone in this bloody mystery. Kobi was as strong as any of Hokori’s Coven members and Muchina liked her the most when she showed her strength. Her true colours and passion for the circus was admirable and Muchina could not help but smile when she charged ahead; unafraid.
The splatters of blood led all the way up to the bathhouse. The splotches had shrunk in size the further they walked and Muchina was almost thankful when he heard Kobi’s sigh of relief to find the end of their trail. Upon stopping, their ears were filled with footsteps creeping up from behind them. Muchina turned first, arms raised to shield himself for whatever was to come. He felt foolish when he saw Kin turn the corner.
“This be why ya were screamin’, Kobi?”
“You heard me?” Kobi exclaimed.
“Aye.” Kin nodded, stopping at the bathhouse door with a small click from his left leg. “I came runnin’ the moment I noticed. Everyone else came runnin’, too. They ain’t too far behind.”
“Kin?” Muchina rubbed his hands together gingerly, nodding towards the bathhouse. “What are you going to do?”
“Don’tchya worry.” Kin hummed, running his fingers through Muchina’s brown hair. “I’ll sort it.”
Soon enough, the hallway was filled with Katsubo, Hari, Kumo and Chishiki. Each had been wary of the blood soaking the floor – Katsubo being the most disheartened. Kobi frowned, stopping Kin from opening the door as her eyes wandered over her friends.
“Wait! Where’s Nara at?”
The group fell silent and Kin flared his nostrils, raising his arm to bang against the door. He was hardly surprised to find it locked; even if it had been the first time in a long time since anyone had actually locked themselves in. His hand balled into a fist as he kept pounding.
“Oi! Nara! Ya in there?!”
Katsubo moved forward with a seriousness that made everyone raise their brows. “Kin, your cheek-”
Kin ignored the attentive warning and continued hammering his fist against the door. “If you’ve gotten yerself ’urt, I ain’t gonna sit out ‘ere on me arse waitin’ for ya to bleed out! Oi! Ya better not be ignorin’ me-!”
The bathhouse door opened swiftly, and Nara stepped out. His movements were too quick for Kin to react and he was taken off his feet as the shark rampaged towards him, hoisting him up by the collar of his – Katsubo’s – coat.
“How the fuck could I ever ignore you? All you ever do is talk, talk, talk!” Nara growled, slamming Kin against the wall.
Kin grunted under the harsh treatment and raised his hands, gripping Nara’s forearms. His left hand slipped upon the sticky substance coating Nara’s sleeve and he yelped, raising his hand to find his palm covered in blood.
“What the fuck?” Kin hissed. He shoved Nara’s chest, smearing blood across his shirt. “Whose blood is that?!”
“Does it matter?”
Kobi was the first of the group to reach out, hurriedly placing her china hand upon Nara’s shoulder and cringed at the ugly red. Nara turned in response, flashing a dangerous look of wild eyes over his shoulder. His hands only tightened around Kin’s collar and everyone froze – ready for him to strike either Kin or Kobi when they were thankfully interrupted by their Conductor.
“Stop this. Now.” Hokori walked down the hall with his fan across his mouth, hiding the view of his clenched jaw. His narrowed eyes were enough for everyone to know his expression was a deadly one. He paused just a few feet away, cardigan swaying with the static of Magick. “Nara, let go of Kin before I make you regret it.”
“Whatever,” Nara shrugged. His features turned relaxed and he smirked, dropping Kin to the ground. He could only laugh to himself as he turned away, heading back into the bathroom with a wave of his bloody hand. “It’s not like this will matter by the time the show’s done, anyway.”
Once the door slammed, Hokori turned to his Coven. His voice was flat, drawn-out and his eyes were dull as he moved his fan away to expose the look of sheer disappointment covering his face.
“I want everyone to remain focused on the show. Kin and Katsubo have already bought the new decorations and necessities. Muchina has already gone ahead and posted the fliers and delivered the invitations door to door and Kobi has been practicing non-stop. Kumo, you must begin selling online tickets tomorrow. I need you to sell as many as possible. Understood?”
“Yes, Boss!” Kumo hummed before scurrying down the corridor alongside a very disheartened Kobi.
Hokori turned to Hari and Chishiki. “You two are rather precise with your act, so instead I would like you to change the curtains and check the mast and ropes on the stage. Nothing goes unchecked.”
Hari and Chishiki nodded before departing. They joined Kumo and muttered under their breath, discussing the show and Nara's meltdown. They turned to leave the corridor when Hokori gave one last command: making it clearer and stricter than any instruction he had given so far.
“No one is allowed in my chambers until further notice. Including Kin.”
Kin, among the rest of his merry men, frowned at such a command. However none were brave enough to question it and continued going their separate ways. Kin was left to stare up at Hokori and Katsubo stood close, remaining silent under The God of Chaos’ intense eyes.
“Kin, I need you to take Kogi for a while.” Hokori instructed. He snapped his fan shut before batting it against his thigh, whistling lowly.
A scruffy-looking dog appeared on command – the circus’ mascot. He fit in with the rest of the Coven; especially with his scruffy fur and prosthetic hind leg. He panted heavily, echoing a small whine as it reached Hokori’s side and tilted its head cluelessly.
“Yeah, ’course I will, Boss. Come on, Kogi.” Kin muttered, clicking his tongue to coax the mutt over. He smiled faintly and reached down, ruffling the animal’s thick fur. He kept his eyes plastered on the canine, refusing to look up. “You’ve got ’im with ya, ain’tchya, Boss?”
“Just take care of the dog, Kin.” Hokori’s voice was stern and he turned away to start down the hall. “Get Katsubo to have a proper look at your cheek and get to bed.”
Katsubo swallowed once Hokori left and turned back to Kin. He pursed his lips, noting the way Kogi’s fur shed as Kin stroked him. He had seen the mutt skulking through the halls once or twice before; but as far as he knew, Kogi was old and tended to stay in Hokori’s room almost 24/7.
“The Boss ‘as ol’ Senbo with ’im.” Kin muttered, running his fingers along Kogi’s scruffy head.
Katsubo cleared his throat, hesitance lacing his tone. “How can you tell?”
“Senbo don’ like dogs, see. Always gets scared when they’re ’round.” Kin shrugged a shoulder and rocked back on his heels, stubbornly dusting his hands free of dog hair before limping down the hall. “Boss obviously ’as ’im up in ’is bedroom.”
“Are you jealous?” Katsubo cleared his throat once more, cheeks darkening just a tad. He had hoped for a flat-out no, but Kin’s frown was a thoughtful one.
“I ain’t jealous.” Came the eventual reply. “I’m just worried. Boss already broke ’is ‘eart over Senbo in the past. It’s all just goin’ to ’appen all over again.”
“I suppose you’ve been with Hokori for a long time?”
“Aye, I’ve been at the Boss’ side for about… I don’t know, fourteen years?”
“Ah,” Katsubo felt his cheeks turn hot. He looked down to the floor, dragging his heels. “How old were you when you met him, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Seven.” Kin replied flatly.
Kin raised a brow, pausing in his steps to stare at Katsubo’s flushed face and wide eyes. He stared for what felt like ages before cracking a smile against his split cheek and laughing. “Aye, I’ll be twenty-two by August time. Why? What ’bout ya?”
“Ah, well,” Katsubo felt his heart flutter. “I’m seventeen, eighteen in July.”
Kin snickered, brushing past Katsubo. “Ya still a babe.”
“Please don’t say that.”
Kin only laughed harder and continued walking with Kogi. They strode in silence towards the dormitories and Katsubo reached out to hook his pinkie finger around Kin’s. Not a second was wasted before Kin returned the favour and squeezed gently.