Scene XV: Two Steps 'Till Doom
Tokyo, Japan. 2014, May
“So, your parents are going to the show, t-too?” Hahen whispered, stirring his coffee with an ever-steady hand.
Across from him sat Muzai, dressed in chequered dungarees and a hoodie. She had been fiddling with her phone when Hahen spoke and her eyes turned irritable at the mention of her parents. She sighed aloud, setting her phone down to look up into Hahen’s eyeliner-clad eye. She knew he was just trying to make conversation; she could hardly blame him. Everyone in Japan was talking about the upcoming show in Chiba tonight.
“Yeah, I told them about my job there.” Muzai replied, running her fingers across the table between them. They sat in a diner called Odayaka Habu, a place they had been meaning to visit over the holidays. It had an aesthetic which resembled super old diners in America with milkshakes and bright red booths by the window. Muzai enjoyed it more than she would let on. “Father seemed kinda proud, but Mother didn’t seem as interested.”
Hahen turned his gaze down, focusing on his drink. He sipped from the edge, savouring the taste before their conversation could take a bitter turn. He had hoped to cheer his friend up, already offering to pay for their meal as an early birthday present. He may not be as rich as Muzai’s family, but he had enough savings to spoil her a little.
“Uncle will be coming, and I heard that our t-teachers will be going, too.” Hahen pursed his lips together, doing all he could to force away the growing frown forming on his face. “In fact, our whole school will be coming. I think it’s going to be a really b-b-big turnout.”
Muzai could not help her blush. It was one thing to have her parents watching from the crowd, but the thought of everyone from Hanaharu was a total other kind of embarrassing. She shook it off, telling herself it was silly to think everyone would be looking at her when there was a Magick circus taking place on the stage itself. She would be out of sight and only the tune she played would be acknowledged, not what she looked like or who she was.
“So, how has your birthday b-been so far?” Hahen uttered, changing the subject. “Do your parents really celebrate seven days in a row?”
“Yup, seven days.” Muzai smirked, stirring her strawberry milkshake. “My mother said she had a difficult labour and was hospital bound the week leading up to my birthday. It’s become a tradition to celebrate seven days following up to the nineteenth for as long as I can remember.”
“I bet you got a lot of presents. I’m sorry I couldn’t think of anything else to get you-”
“No, it’s okay.” Muzai held up her hands, smiling. “I’m happy just to spend time with you, Hahen. You know that.”
“Okay.” Hahen mumbled around the lip of his cup. Once he finished the drink, he stood from the table and stretched. “I’m j-just going to the bathroom. We’ll order when I get back?”
“Alright.” Muzai smiled, turning to the menus pinned up by the window. She pulled one down and began to read, running her eyes across the italic font and alluring desserts when a shiver ran down her spine.
The feeling was familiar, like the day she met Tsumi Kokutan. Her heart hitched into her throat when she heard the bench across from her creak and she counted to three before lowering her menu to face the stranger sitting in Hahen’s chair. They were around the same age as Tsumi with piercing lilac eyes and choppy, ash-blond hair, dressed casual with a worn, cherry-coloured hoodie and smelt of flowers.
“I hadn’t expected to see you so soon, Muzai Aibori.” He spoke in a raspy voice, croaking when Muzai merely blinked. He frowned. “You’re not surprised? By me? A total stranger?”
“Not really. I mean, you’re from Yuugen, right? Being approached by strangers is nothing new.” Muzai grumbled, stamping her foot against the hard ground. “What do you want?”
“Well, I wanted to meet you before the show in Chiba. I wanted to thank you for getting rid of The King of Concordia, because of your input, myself and many others were released from his prison. The Mayor is in full power again and Concordia is thriving!” He smiled, leaning back against the bench. His left hand had never left his pocket so far and Muzai could not help but stare. If he had a weapon, she was determined to stay sat. “Plus, I understand my sister has taken a liking to you, but now it seems she doesn’t pay you any attention at all, huh?”
Muzai turned her head, slowly surveying the diner, wondering if they had gained anyone’s attention by now. She was grateful to find everyone was going their own ways, doing whatever Dabblers did best. Ignore. Swallowing, she turned back to face the boy. “You mean Tsumi-”
“Yeah, I mean Tsumi.” He was bent across the table, mere inches from Muzai’s face when she turned back to him. The flare in his eyes were all too familiar and Muzai shrank back when he smiled. “She’s my sister, didn’t you know?”
Muzai felt an almost sickening feeling fill her insides to the point she could not summon a reply. What could she say? Tsumi never mentioned having a brother!
“Who… are you?”
“I told you, I’m Tsumi’s brother.” He moved back, slumping against the bench. He raised his right hand, brushing back his messy hair. “My name’s Kokutan. Hanzai Kokutan.”
“But Tsumi was an orphan. She said she had no family.” Muzai said, glancing over Hanzai’s face. It was true his features resembled Tsumi’s, their eye shape was almost identical, and he had various moles across his neck like she did. The only thing that stood out was his lilac eyes and blond hair. “Why would she say that if she had you?”
“Family was never Tsumi’s thing.” Hanzai shrugged. “She was an orphan; we both were. We went to the orphanage together, then after the fire I was proclaimed dead, along with another kid. Tsumi doesn’t even know I’m alive and I would very much like to keep it that way.”
Muzai watched the boy rise from his chair and walk around the table, brushing past her. His bright eyes held an emotion she was unable to fathom. He had a perfect poker face and she tensed, unable to tell truth from lies.
“Wait.” She shifted, hand reaching out to grab his hoodie; finally gaining the attention of the diner. “How do I know you’re not just making this up?”
“There’s only one way to confirm it.” Hanzai chuckled, tapping his chin with a wink. “Just ask Tsumi.”
Muzai’s fingers loosened around his hoodie and she watched him slink away, unable to do anything but watch. When Hahen returned to the table, Muzai turned quiet and they ate in a silence Hahen was too scared to address. He decided she was concerned about the show and Muzai was thankful not to talk.
Chiba, Japan. 2014, May
The continuous pattering of footsteps coming from the hallway was enough to stir Katsubo. He groaned loudly, irritable with being disturbed before his mental alarm clock and turned to lay on his stomach, burying his face against the worn pillows beneath him.
“Ya ’wake yet?” Kin mused, perched on the end of the bed. He was already washed and dressed, busying himself with screwing his prosthetic leg against his thigh. “We got a busy day. Ya better get up soon, yeah?”
Katsubo watched Kin move around the room, hurriedly getting Kogi out of his bed and limped towards the door. His heart sank when the door opened and he spoke, stumped as to what he should say other than; “Kin.”
Chuckling, Kin walked back over to the bed and raised his good knee against the mattress, leaning down to kiss Katsubo’s forehead. “I ain’t forgetting ’bout last night if that’s what yer worried ‘bout. We just gotta focus on the show now. It ain’t gonna be easy for any of us.”
“I know.” Katsubo whispered, lacing his fingers through Kin’s hair. “I’ll come help set the stage in a moment. I just need to, uh, get washed.”
“Take all the time ya need.” Kin laughed, ruffling Katsubo’s hair. He pushed off the bed and returned to the open door, sending a wide smile over his shoulder before disappearing.
When he had finally washed, dressed, and composed himself, Katsubo approached the kitchen with a sense of dread hanging over him. He could hear the boisterous noises, the laughter and chatter, the usual morning routines of his fellow circus crew living their best life. Katsubo wished he could be as relaxed as them, to momentarily drop the idea that everything would end in chaos by tonight.
Biting back his fear, he pushed the kitchen door open and stepped inside. The laughter and chatter continued – only Muchina looked up to call his friend over to sit beside him.
“Come on, Katsubo! I saved a spot for you.”
“Right.” Katsubo muttered, shuffling through the room to sit down and help himself to the eggs and rice on display.
Hari was the first to notice Katsubo’s tension. Her sharp eyes narrowed, landing on his neck and her lips pulled back into a scowl. Slowly, she shoved her hand into her pocket and handed Chishiki – who sat beside her as per usual – a fistful of coins. The duo stared at Katsubo, muttering under their breath as his face grew redder and redder. He was no fool and knew there was an obvious hickey on his throat. He had been adamant last night for Kin not to get too excited – but decency only lasted a matter of seconds and Katsubo was close to combusting from shame.
“What time does the show start?” Nara spoke up around his food. He sat the furthest away, perched upon the kitchen counter as he ate his food from a small china bowl.
“When the Boss says so.” Kin’s voice filled the room and all eyes turned to see him standing in the doorway.
Nara grunted, turning back down to his bowl. “We don’t even have a specific time? How professional are we?” He mocked.
“Ya wanna be a real professional, eh? Then go start settin’ up the stage ‘n’ things will run a lot quicker. Show may even start early if ya weren’t lounging on yer arse all day.”
Nara tossed his bowl into the sink and jumped off the counter. He stormed through the room, taking extra care to bump shoulders with the redhead, causing Kin to roll his eyes at such childish behaviour. He sighed when the loud echoes of Nara’s footsteps faded.
“Finish up yer breaky ‘n’ come get ready. Boss ain’t waitin’ ’round today.” Kin announced, sending Katsubo a small glance before he turned, leaving the room with a heavy dread that no-one could dismiss.
Tokyo, Japan. 2014, May
Tsumi Kokutan sat on her bedroom balcony, legs crossed beneath her as she studied the view of Usagi-Tori street. It was her guilty pleasure to meditate out here in the morning, lapping up the colours, sounds and sights of Tokyo stretched in front of her – especially when no-one else was in the house.
Her eyes flittered, following a small bird that swooped low enough to catch her attention. She craned her neck to watch it descend, no emotion playing on her face. No comment to make against the breeze. Nothing. Her small moment of serenity came to an end when her phone began to vibrate across the wooden floorboards at her knees. Blinking slowly, Tsumi turned to watch it rattle against her leg before she reached to answer the incoming call.
“Tsumi? Hi, um, it’s Muzai.”
“Muzai.” No other reaction was made save for the red flicker in her eye and she allowed a momentary silence to fall before speaking. “How have you been?”
“Oh, I’ve been fine. Thank you. Um, I wanted to ask you something.”
Tsumi could imagine the face Muzai was making; the way her emerald eyes would be darting left and right, her cheeks turning a blossomed red and her usual manner in shifting her weight whenever she was nervous.
“I’m glad to hear you’re okay.” Tsumi's tone had dropped an octave, having never been a fan of interrogation – not matter who was questioning her. “What did you want to ask me?”
“I just…” Muzai hesitated, Tsumi could feel it. “Well, I just wanted to know if you’ll be coming to the Circus show in Chiba tonight.”
Tsumi raised a brow. She knew it was a lie, that Muzai had not phoned just to ask that of all things. “Do you want me to come?”
“Huh? Well, ah, I mean, it would be nice to see each other again and it is my birthday…”
“I’ll be there.”
“Really?” Muzai blurted. “Okay! I’ll see you later, bye.”
Tsumi ended the call without hesitation, blessing her stars when she heard voices travelling up from the curb. She shoved her phone into her pocket and stood, making her way to the edge of the balcony to find her roommates walking up the street.
“Rida.” Tsumi called out.
Turning her head, Rida smiled and stopped, placing both hands on her hips as the rest of her household continued up the footpath. “What’s up?”
“We’re going out tonight.” Tsumi deadpanned.
“Huh?” Rida cocked her head. “You mean like a date?”
“No. We’re going to the circus show in Chiba. All of us.”
“You wanna go to a freakshow? You really like stuff like that?”
Tsumi watched as Rida began chewing her lip in thought. Migi and Hidari had reappeared from the front door, eagerly awaiting their cousin’s decision. When Shizuka stepped out, rolling a shoulder, Rida sighed and turned up to the girl with silver hair leaning against the balcony.
“Fine. We’ll go to Chiba. Who knows, it could be fun.”