Scene XVI: Taking Sides
Chiba, Japan. 2014, May
Muzai inhaled, doing her best to remain calm as the taxi pulled up to the curb, signalling the end of her trip. Her elbow kept brushing against her mother’s waist with every bump the car took, which seemed to be the only highlight when the taxi finally stopped moving and she shuffled away.
“This is your stop.” The taxi driver called with a dreary tone expected from someone who drove people day-to-day, constantly having to listen to stories delivered by strangers.
Oda was the first to move, opening his door before helping Shinrai out. The woman grunted as her heels hit the cold floor; knowing her ankles would be swollen by the end of the night but had been adamant to go all out with frills and glamour despite her swollen belly.
Muzai crawled out to join while Bi paid the driver. She followed shortly after, tugging her fur coat across her neck. She wore a blue dress, hugging the shape of her figure as she navigated her way up the curb, she wrinkled her nose at the sight of Concordia’s Theatre and Muzai noticed the look of disgust. She said nothing to fuel the fire and allowed her aunt to take her arm, leading her towards the building.
“Are you excited?” Shinrai cooed, tapping her hand over Muzai’s freckled arm.
“I guess so. I think I’m nervous more than excited.” She turned with a smile, shifting her weight around the red dress hugging her body - the exact dress she wore for the Symphony Hall. “I hope you enjoy the show.”
Shinrai chuckled, flashing white teeth behind red lips. “Well, once I find Kikoeru and we’re settled, I’m sure I’ll enjoy myself.”
Muzai swallowed the lump in her throat as they fell into the crowd swarming the theatre. Once inside, she navigated her way to reception and smiled at Kumo who sat behind her desk. She was busy, taking tickets and running the till as people moved onward into the open doors ahead.
“Ah, the musician.” Kumo hummed, waving at Muzai. “You may follow the rest of the guests through until you are called for the show. Please enjoy the buffet and dancing until then.”
Muzai nodded, tugging Shinrai along and looked back to her parents’ expecting faces. “We’re in for free because I work here.”
“So, it does have some advantages…” Bi uttered under her breath.
Muzai pretended she had not heard her mother’s comment and moved down the crowded seats. Her shoes clicked upon the polished floor as she made her way into the open plan below. It looked totally different during its set-up, with dining chairs and tables spread around the floor – there was even a buffet stand to the side of the room where people crowded, serving their plates, and chatting away. Muzai could only stare, turning to the curtained staged above them. Her heart sank and she turned tense, wondering what kind of horrors, if any, were to unfold the moment those curtains opened.
She was only brought out of her thoughts as a hand tapped against her shoulder. She turned, eyes wide in suspense, to find Hahen standing in his ironed suit. His purple hair was tied back into a ponytail, showing off the black gauges in his ears. She was sure he was wearing lipstick, too.
“Oh, there you are.” Muzai smiled, noticing Shinrai being led away by Merodi to his chosen table where Heishi sat in awe. “Let’s go sit.”
“Hikari’s coming.” Hahen mentioned, following Muzai through the crowd. “She’ll b-b-be here soon.”
“Really?” Muzai looked back with bright eyes. “That’s good! It’s been a while since I’ve seen her.”
The giddiness in her chest was killed when she turned back to her aunt and parents. A small part of her wished she had never looked, and she paused a few feet away when her father chuckled, speaking to none other than Miryoku Fumetsu. Bi turned to Muzai and waved an arm.
“Muzai, come along and see who we found. It’s that lovely boy you were going to exchange schools with.”
Muzai tensed when Miryoku turned his head, golden eyes dull and face stoic. He briefly held her gaze before turning back to Oda and Bi. “Actually, I don’t really have time to stop and chat any more than I already have. I gotta get back to someone-” Before Miryoku could depart, the speakers above echoed.
“Thank you all for coming. The show will begin in the next few hours. Until the curtains open, please enjoy the refreshments and dancing. We hope you enjoy the show.”
After the announcement, a delicate tune began to play and people within the crowd took each other’s hands, dancing within the space of the ballroom. Bi’s eyes lit up and she clapped, grinning towards her daughter.
“Oh, Muzai. Dance with Fumetsu, will you?”
“Yes, he’s a good young man.” Oda cleared his throat and laughed deeply, utterly careless with his words. “Like the son we never had.”
“Son you never had?” Muzai echoed. She stormed over to the table, heels clicking and cheeks flaring. She stomped her foot for good measure. “Son you never had?! What about Hakai-?”
Miryoku moved, grabbing Muzai by the elbow and tugged her away from the table and into a secluded space upon the dancefloor. He said nothing as he took her hand and put an arm around her waist, already beginning to move in a slow dance to the music overhead.
Muzai’s face was flared with frustration, coupled with humiliation for her brother. She was so worked up over her parents that she could hardly be bothered with how close Miryoku was. In fact, she allowed herself to relax just from being so far from her family’s table.
“Hakai?” Miryoku spoke first.
“My brother.” Muzai sighed. “He’s in prison, sentenced for life. I haven’t seen him for ages and my parents act like he doesn’t exist.”
Miryoku’s features turned soft and he turned, cringing when Oda and Bi gave their awe and applaud for their dancing. “Parents can be like that sometimes.” He mumbled, more to himself than anything.
Muzai sighed, finally turning to look up. Her stomach coiled when the lights above them twinkled enough to expose Miryoku’s visibly burnt face. His devilish charm was still apparent, but the scars were as clear as day; running across his throat and cheeks.
“Did you get the flowers I sent you?” Miryoku cut in, twirling Muzai around. “I saw you play at the Kawasaki Symphony Hall.”
“You sent the flowers?” She blurted, acknowledging their closeness now that her parents were a distant grudge in the back of her head. Her cheeks turned red when Miryoku moved, sliding his hand up her back when they twirled together. “I, um, didn’t think you were the type of person to watch plays.”
“Yeah, well, my uncle used to take me to see the concert in the Hall every year since I was a kid. I’ve kinda kept up the routine best as I could since he got his job in Concordia. I always send in flowers to the best performer, nothing special.” His golden eyes had brightened for a moment before turning dull. “I’ve been here in Chiba for a while now. I heard you got the job as the musician. Are you playing tonight?”
“Um, yeah.” Muzai tightened her hand around Miryoku’s larger, burnt hand and glanced over his attire. He had no jacket, just a plain white dress-shirt tucked into his black slacks. The sleeves were rolled to his elbows and his buttons were undone around his collar. Casual. “I’ll be playing tonight and I’m kinda looking forward to it, it’s a great birthday gift.”
“It’s your birthday?”
“Oh, yeah- well, kinda. It’s a long story, but I’m officially sixteen now.” Muzai smirked, turning her gaze to the floor.
“Long story or not, happy birthday, Red.” Miryoku sighed, stepping back when their song came to an end. He offered a quick nod before disappearing into the crowd, leaving Muzai to stare with wide eyes and a sense of loss in her chest.
“Muzai.” A familiar, monotoned voice rang out behind her and she turned, facing none other than Tsumi Kokutan.
“Tsumi.” Muzai blurted, ready to make up an excuse for dancing with Miryoku. She paused and frowned to herself. Why should she have an excuse? They hadn’t seen each other in months!
Tsumi blinked, stepping through the crowd as Muzai walked her back to Shinrai. She nodded to the people sat around the table, having chosen her own table behind Merodi. It was a full house with Muzai’s family, Merodi, Hahen and Heishi, coupled with Shizuka and the twins. Rida stood from her chair, raising a glass towards Muzai as she strode over.
“Thank you.” Muzai forced a smile; especially when she noticed the ring on Rida’s left hand. “Are you… enjoying yourselves?”
“Sure,” Rida cooed. “Free food and a promised show, what’s not to like?”
Shinrai turned her head, brushing against Muzai’s arm to speak when she looked at Rida. “Oh, sorry, kid. I didn’t realise you were talking to someone.”
“No, no. It’s okay,” Rida spoke up, turning her chair to face Shinrai. “You’re welcome to butt in.”
Shinrai shuffled, craning her neck to look Rida up and down with a sharp grin. “Fair enough. I’m Shinrai Aibori, Muzai’s aunt. Please, call me Shinrai.”
Rida chuckled, setting her glass down before moving her chair to sit beside Shinrai. “Rida Komando, a friend of a friend of Muzai’s.”
“Nice to know Muzai has friends of friends.” Shinrai reached out, shaking Rida’s hand when she stopped short, noticing the engagement ring on the girl’s wedding finger. “Wow, now that’s a ring!”
“Oh, yeah,” Rida grinned from ear to ear and reached out, hooking her fingers through Tsumi’s, pulling her over. “Totally spoken for, right?”
“Yeah.” Tsumi blinked, having been busy surveying the area before Rida practically pulled her onto her lap. She laced an arm around the girl’s shoulders, nodding in Shinrai’s direction. “You’re welcome to come to the wedding.”
Muzai felt her stomach turn for the umpteenth time and she was so close to storming off when their tables became even fuller with the familiar faces of her teachers and none other than Dameji Repato. He grinned, hooking an arm around the nearest chair, and parked himself next to Bi without so much as an invitation.
“Gang’s all here,” Dameji tipped his head in greeting, turning to Bi. “Mrs Aibori. I believe you and I have yet to meet officially, name’s Dameji, Miryoku Fumetsu’s uncle.”
Muzai watched Dameji flirting with her mother and turned her nose up. The rest of the group began to take their own spots, forming the two tables into one big table. Oda began to speak with Reikishi-Sensei, Muzai’s history teacher and Bi laughed when Dameji began complimenting her work, having been a fan of her products for many years. Muzai stood at the side-lines, unsure where to put herself in the group as Heishi stood to follow Hahen and Tsumi shuffled on Rida’s lap to reach for a glass of wine. Shinrai laughed when Migi and Hidari began to tell her about their wacky tricks at hair dying. Everyone was happy.
When their table was met with yet another figure, Muzai finally relaxed and smiled. “Katsubo!”
“Happy birthday.” Katsubo smiled fondly, reaching out when Muzai ran to him for a hug. The embrace was quick before he stepped back. “You’re needed up on stage now.”
“Thank you.” Muzai smiled, tucking a strand of hair back behind her ear. “Let me just tell my parents, then I’ll follow you up.”
“Of course.” Katsubo nodded, folding his hands behind his back with the patience of a saint.
Slowly, Muzai walked back to Oda and Bi, gingerly brushing her fingertips against her father’s shoulder. “I’m needed on stage now.”
Oda turned his head, offering a genuine smile. His hand reached out to the fingers upon his shoulder, giving his daughter a reassuring squeeze. “Good luck, my dear.”
Muzai’s smile was weak when she pulled away, not even bothering to address Bi as she continued to laugh and chat with Dameji. She shook her head, turning back to Katsubo. “Ready.”
Katsubo had been staring at the back of Dameji’s hand until now. He motioned for Muzai to follow and they navigated the crowd, walking towards the stage’s staircase. “The Boss wanted to greet you himself, but he’s been too busy to catch a break.” As he spoke, he pulled back the large red curtain for her to step inside.
“I understand.” Muzai ducked under Katsubo’s arm. “It’s no trouble.”
From behind the curtain, the circus crew waited with anticipation. They were scattered around in their own groups, adorned in colourful suits and costumes. Kin was the first to notice Muzai and he made his over, showing off the grey jumpsuit he wore. His arms were covered with black spray-on paint, glittering with makeshift stars where his freckles were. His face was a mixture of gold glitter and white specks, mimicking the body of a warm, starry night.
“’appy birthday!” Kin exclaimed, tapping the toe of his bare foot against the wooden floorboards. “I ain’t got ya nothin’ asides them words.”
“I don’t need a gift.” Muzai smiled, taking a mental note of the way Kin glanced to Katsubo and the way Katsubo blushed. She laughed, rocking on the balls of her feet. “So, where do you need me?”
Kin swung an arm around Muzai’s shoulders, walking her over to the piano. He nodded to Katsubo, winking. “Go ‘n’ check the audience are in their seats. Show’s ’bout to start, aight?”
“Sure.” Katsubo nodded, turning back to the curtain. He froze when Miryoku slipped through and they shared a brief glance before moving on.
Miryoku stuck to the edge, ducking backstage to find Yoku standing at a distance. She wore a black, strapless dress which reached just above her knees and high stilettos. She was tugging on her lab coat when he arrived, stopping short when she noted his presence.
“Perfect, is it not?” Yoku hummed. “When everything falls in place as planned.”
Miryoku frowned. “Whatever’s going to happen, people are going to get hurt, aren’t they?”
“Why ask?” Yoku rolled her eyes as she adjusted her collar. “You knew what would happen from the start.”
Miryoku sighed, walking away when Yoku began laughing. He flinched at the sound, ducking back through the stage to hop into the ballroom yet again. He watched the audience move, taking their seats. Men, woman, children. All blind to the fate they had signed up for.
He was momentarily caught up in his own mind with an irritable whisper in the back of his head, telling him just how many lives were about to be taken due to his choices of fight or flight. Just like the man on the train he failed to save. Just like Neko.
Gritting his teeth, Miryoku walked over to where his uncle sat with Bi. He grabbed the man by the arm, pulling him aside as he whispered behind clenched teeth. “Help me get these people into the storage room. Now.”
“Chill out, kid.” Dameji chuckled, shoving the boy off. “I’m in the middle of something.”
“Fuck’s sake, aren’t you listening?” Miryoku barked, grabbing Dameji’s collar to pull him close; keeping his voice quiet enough to reduce any unwanted attention. “Some serious shit is about to go down here and I need your help.”
“Righto.” Dameji nodded with an uneasy smile, warily stepping back over to the table. “If you’d all just like to follow me through the back, that would be great.”
No-one seemed to pay mind to Dameji’s request. They continued talking, chatting, laughing amongst each other as they remained seated in anticipation of the show. Their lack of recognition made Miryoku snap and he stamped over to slam his hands upon the table where Rida sat.
Warily, Rida began to rise, followed by Shizuka. Miryoku urged them all to the back of the ballroom as they stood, herding them towards the storage room; well out of sight. He grabbed Katsubo by the elbow as he moved, much to Katsubo’s protesting. Miryoku rattled the door handle until it burst open, leading him down a concrete step into the dusty room filled with shelves and various supplies.
“In here!” Miryoku demanded, watching as the group moved into the confined space. He pushed Katsubo inside last and glared over his shoulder until Dameji moved through the door.
“I demand to know the meaning of this!” Oda spoke up, stepping out from the group. He raised his chin, staring up at Miryoku. “You should learn to respect your elders, boy!”
Miryoku’s eye twitched and he pulled back his arm. There was barely a second for Oda to react before Miryoku’s fist collided with his face. Oda buckled, hitting the floor upon impact and groaned loudly as his hands covered his now-bleeding nose.
“That was for Red and her brother. Learn to be the fucking father they need!” Miryoku growled, closing the door. His task was cut short when a hand from inside the room caught the handle, wrenching it open again. Miryoku’s eyes narrowed when he found Katsubo on the other side, face red with frustration.
“You can’t keep me in here! I need to be out there!”
“I’m doing this to keep you safe!” Miryoku barked. “I’m trying to save you!”
“You don’t understand! Kin’s out there! I can’t leave him!”
Miryoku felt his hand loosen against the door handle. He reached out, yanking Katsubo out of the room. “Fine, but only you.” He pulled the door shut and held the handle with both palms, conjuring a spell to lock the whole room under a strict spell.
“Hey!” From inside, Rida made her way over and slammed her fist upon the wall. “What the hell is your problem?! My fiancée is out there!”
“Listen, if Miryoku says it’s for the best, then we should believe him.” Dameji spoke up, crossing his arms over his chest. “I don’t like being stuck in here with you guys any more than you enjoy being stuck here with me.”
“But we have rights!” Bi cut in, kneeling beside her husband who was still bearing the pain of his broken nose. “We can’t stay locked up in here!”
“Oh, be quiet!” Shinrai snapped, putting a hand over her eyes. “I have a headache.”
“Like I could care less about your damn headache!” Bi scoffed loudly. “We have been shut in here against our will!”
Shinrai shook her head and reached out, gripping the nearest shelf for support. “I said shut up, you stupid cow…!” She growled lowly, closing her eyes.
“Shinrai?” Merodi moved from his side of the room to join Shirai, pressing a hand to her back in hopes to soothe her. “Are you alright?”
“No, I’m not!” Shinrai groaned. She rolled her head back and grit her teeth as beads of sweat began to run down over her cheeks. “Shit! The baby’s coming!”