Scene II: Mannerisms
Chiba, Japan. 2014, April
Katsubo sighed loudly. It was becoming a habit. When he had decided to become part of Hokori’s Coven, he had never expected so much physical labour would be involved. Working for Okui seemed like a holiday in comparison; yet he tried not to think of his previous Conductor. He had not allowed his mind to wander that far in a long time.
Carrying a large bucket and a mop, Katsubo turned on his heel. Everyday he was given a long list of chores from Hokori’s Familiar, Kin. He had already mopped the stage down after practice and washed the costumes for tomorrow. Keeping busy made life easier – he supposed he enjoyed it. Though, there were some things he did not approve of. Such as the manners of Hokori’s Coven and their dress-sense.
The ladies’ skirts were too short, and the men had no respect. The place had an odd smell, which Katsubo was still trying to find, and there was the fact Hokori was hosting his Coven in a circus as opposed to a classroom. Everyone was swearing and rarely ate food with cutlery. They would spit on the floor and never locked the bathroom when they showered! Much like now, as Katsubo walked into the bathhouse suite.
This was the other thing Katsubo was having trouble with. Miryoku Fumetsu. He sat in the bath; a traditional Japanese bath built into the floor, stretching across the majority of the tiled ground. His back was facing Katsubo, exposing toned shoulder blades and strong arms. His waist was narrow, granting his slim frame and lean build – yet Katsubo’s eyes did not linger there. He was far more concerned by the scars and burns covering Miryoku’s skin.
His curiosity got the better of him as he moved forward, causing his shoe to make an audible squeak against the damp tiles. Miryoku turned his head, crimson strands of hair sticking to his forehead and shoulders as he moved. Despite the steam, his golden eyes were sharp, and a small silence fell between them before he broke the tension.
“What are you looking at?”
Katsubo felt his cheeks flush and he looked away, doing everything he could to appear as though he had not been staring. He hurried, moving to the drain under the shower heads in the back of the room to drain his bucket and hang up his mop in the small storage closet in the corner. The walls were warped and weeping from the moisture in the air, another thing he could not stand. Sighing, he washed his hands and shuddered at the cold water hitting his palms, a sharp contrast compared to the warm air around him.
“…Move.” Miryoku uttered.
Katsubo jolted, turning to find his foe had moved from the bath and was standing behind him naked. Katsubo swallowed harshly, eyes turning upward as he moved aside. Miryoku had scoffed, stepping forward to grab a towel from underneath the sink. He pressed the soft fabric to his damp face and dried his hair before walking away. He never even spared a second glance.
“Why are you working with The Enchantress?” Katsubo piped up.
“Really?” Miryoku paused, lowering his towel to wrap around his narrowed waist before he turned, brow raised, and arms crossed. “You’re questioning me while you’re working for The God of Chaos?”
Katsubo could only stare. Again. He gripped the handle of his bucket with such force his knuckles had turned white. Those burns littering Miryoku were a great timewaster and Katsubo’s eyes wandered, following the scars from his shoulders and over his neck, brushing particularly over his left cheek. When he could not form a reply, Miryoku shrugged.
“See? You’re just being a hypocrite. Maybe you shouldn’t be asking other people questions when you can’t even give yourself answers to your own motivations.” Shaking his head, Miryoku turned towards the changing rooms, waving a hand over his shoulder before disappearing.
Katsubo had been tense. When his shoulders slumped with defeat, his head began thumping. He could not argue with Miryoku’s philosophy. He was right.
Moving quickly, Katsubo hung up his bucket in the store cupboard and walked out of the bathroom to find none other than Kin waiting outside. “Yes?” He peered up, hoping to impress.
“Dinner’s almost ready, ya comin’?” Kin hummed, shoving his hands into his pockets oh-so-casually. Whatever impression Katsubo was trying to deliver always seemed to go right over his head. Instead, Kin wrinkled his nose and nodded to the bathroom. “Ya talkin’ to Fumetsu, eh?”
“No. Not really.” Katsubo chewed the inside of his cheek. He knew Kin and the others had never been fond of Miryoku. Everyone avoided him like a plague and Katsubo could hardly blame them. He was part of The Parasite’s Coven. “We just happened to be sharing the same space for a moment.”
“Well, ’ere’s to not spending too much space together, yeah?” Kin exclaimed, throwing an arm over Katsubo’s shoulders to bring him close. A loud laugh fell from his lips as he led Katsubo down the hall.
Katsubo could only tense, obviously not as easy-going with the whole touching thing. Here everyone seemed so casual and had no sense of personal space – unlike living with Okui. He was raised in a far more elegant manner in which he was expected to ask someone if they were alright being touched in any way before he could even think about raising a finger.
“We got a musician comin’ soon.” Kin began, stepping through the large hall to the stage room. “Boss says she’s a right darlin’, you’ll probably like ’er.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Katsubo had blushed, finally ducking free of Kin’s arm. He cleared his throat and straightened his back. “But I look forward to her arrival.”
“Gotcha.” Kin made gun signs with his fingers, grinning. “Go ‘n’ set up the table. Boss’ll be down soon.”
“Yes, sir.” Katsubo offered a small bow. He cleared his throat once, as if adding a comment was absolute blasphemy to your highers. “”Who is the musician, if I may ask?”
Once again, Kin was oblivious to Katsubo’s high standards and rolled a shoulder. “I dunno. Some little red thing called Miza Aibaray, I think.”
Katsubo felt his heart skip a beat. “Do you mean Muzai Aibori?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. She’ll be arriving ’ere some time in the week. Why? D’ya know ’er?”
“No.” Katsubo shook the small smile from his face and bowed. “No. I just knew of her for a short while. Thank you.”
“Welcome.” Kin raised his brows, watching Katsubo scurry away before the mighty mystery of Muzai Aibori could be discussed.
Tochigi, Japan. 2014, April
Hahen sat in his mother’s living room; having parted ways with Muzai after the Symphony Hall to celebrate with Merodi and the rest of his family. They had a big family; with faces he had not seen for years since his move to Yuugen. He had been greeted with a warm hug when he stepped over the threshold, but even then he had felt the hesitation in his mother’s actions. As if he would break under her embrace. He could not blame her – the way he looked with one eye and numerous layers of clothes made her wary.
Merodi had been quick to intervene before tension could settle. He had taken Amia Memori into the kitchen before she could cry in front of her son and Hahen excused himself to the living room where his cousin paraded around the room, ducking behind the sofa when Hahen appeared.
“Boom!” She cried, jolting Hahen where he stood.
“What are you playing?” He moved closer, kneeling against the sofa to peer over the back and see Heishi playing with the imaginary. Her dress may have been pretty and straight when she had put it on this morning; now it was crinkled as she scurried across the carpet, raising her fists.
“I’m playing war.” Heishi replied, pausing to rearrange the folds of her skirt.
Hahen could not help his frown. His cousin was no older than eight and she was playing things like that? He moved away, turning to sit with his legs crossed as he stared at the coffee table from his childhood. When Heishi moved, struggling to pull herself up and over the back of the sofa to plop beside him, Hahen turned to her with a small smile.
“Who won the b-battle?”
“No-one won, silly.” Heishi pouted, shoving Hahen’s arm. “No-one ever wins a war!”
“Then why p-play the game?”
“Why go to war?” Heishi countered. Intelligence and wit ran thick as blood in their family; no doubt she would grow into those smarts and jump her classes just like Hahen had done. It gave her a confidence beyond her years – yet she was just as curious as any kid when she frowned, nudging her cousin. “What happened to your eye?”
Hahen pursed his lips when Heishi whispered. Reluctance was evident when he spoke. “I, ugh… lost it. In a fight.”
“Were they a bad person? The one who took your eye?”
Hahen reached out, sighing as he pulled Heishi into a small hug. The days, weeks, even months he had spent in the Mad Dog’s dungeon had been the worst experience of his life. It was a wonder how he kept his sanity in check under most circumstances. Yet even Gekido had not personally gone out of his way to rid Hahen of his eye. It had been someone else; like always. A different Coven, a different Sorcerer. Hahen liked to think they had all been just as lost and confused as he was, and their only relief was violence in order to prove themselves worthy of their power. Did that make them a bad person?
“No,” Hahen eventually spoke. His scarred, plastered fingers squeezed Heishi’s shoulder. “They were just, ugh, t-troubled. They’ve changed a lot since then. Like everyone has.”
As if on cue, Merodi and Amia stepped in; the latter carrying a tray of refreshments. Hahen was no fool; he could see the damp traces across his mother’s cheeks. No doubt she had been crying in the kitchen. No doubt Merodi had told her everything he knew – which was nothing near what really happened and Hahen could live with the fact his mother got upset over something vague than discovering the ugly truth.
Amia forced a smile as she sat on the armchair beside the coffee table. “Hahen, would you like a drink?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Merodi turned on the television before he found his favoured recliner beside the sofa. He kicked back, releasing a long sigh of contentment as the room began to fill with his family. Everyone was cheering for Hahen’s success at the Hall – most of them had been in the crowd when he played and they were making small comments on Muzai, asking ‘how long Hahen had been dating her.’ The questions were enough to set Hahen’s cheeks ablaze and Merodi laughed before changing the subject.
“Heishi’s gonna come and stay with us in Tokyo for a while. At least until School starts again.”
“It could be good for you, Hahen.” Amia spoke up. Her smile was delicate, and her behaviour was very much inherited from Hahen. She looked so small on her armchair, surrounded by her family as she picked the skin around her thumbs. “To have company, I mean.”
“Don’t worry. I already have p-plenty of company.” He paused when the gentle features of his mother’s face feigned, and he reached for Heishi’s hand. “But I would like t-to have Heishi around. It c-could be fun.”
Amia smiled, a genuine smile. To see Hahen return the favour was enough to bring normality back into their lives and the celebration continued; mainly centred around cheers for Hahen and small lectures to Heishi before she went to Tokyo. Hahen wished he could enjoy it; but the looming reminder of being invited to play in The God of Chaos’ circus was ringing in the back of his head the whole time.
Knowing Muzai, she was not going to turn this opportunity down and Hahen would follow her into hell like always.