Harmony Act V: Pride

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Scene V: Stage Fright

Tokyo, Japan. 2014, April

Muzai sighed, window gazing as she paced the street by the bus station. Shinrai and Merodi were busy looking at houses in Usagi-Tori. Apparently they were going to be out all-day shopping and eating after that. Muzai had been invited but she declined the invitation and made plans to meet Hahen instead.

Hokori’s card sat in the pocket of her coat. She kept brushing her knuckle against its glossy surface and swallowed the lump in her throat. She would never call herself stupid, maybe a little gullible sometimes – but not stupid. If Hokori was approaching her, then something must have happened to Yokubo.

The Chairman had sent only several texts and three emails since Muzai had joined his Coven. He had the foresight to give her a mobile to use solely for contact with Yuugen. His was the only name in her contacts until now. Hokori’s name was lit up in the contacts before too long and she had texted him with a date and confirmation of visiting his circus in Chiba. Today.

It was the perfect plan. School holidays, Shinrai and Merodi tied up, and Hahen agreeing to meet her. It felt too perfect and Muzai could not stop her pacing after ten minutes passed without Hahen showing up. She chewed her lip, gripped her phone, and tried to distract herself with the glittering stands in the shops around her. They needed to catch a train from Tokyo Station just to get into Chiba and the journey was well over forty minutes, coupled with the bus drive to the station.

Sighing loudly, Muzai turned on her heel and tugged the hem of her large shirt. As per usual, she wore thick leggings and the baggiest top she could find. Even if the weather was warm, she refused to let too much skin show.

“Muzai!” Hahen appeared from the end of the street, dressed in his boomer jacket and all-stars. He liked his colourful badges and patches sewn against his trousers. He was rocking the scene-look and his purple hair was fluffy and dried, styling over his eyepatch. Even his nails were painted black and his yellow eye was decorated with black eyeliner. Confidence looked good on him. “Hey.”

Muzai exhaled, waving her hand. “Hi, are you okay?”

Hahen mimicked the sigh and stopped short, just in time to move aside and introduce the little brunette who had ran along the side of the curb. Her outfit was less punk rock than his, dressed only in a pink dress and black leggings. “This is my c-cousin, Heishi. I’m, ugh, babysitting?”

Heishi gripped a small camera in her hand and shot a picture of Muzai’s unexpecting face with a wild laugh. “Are you Hahen’s girlfriend?”

“No, we’re just friends.” Muzai forced a smile. She rubbed her arm, lifting her eyes to look at Hahen with a silent plea. Did this change everything? How could they take someone like Heishi into Hokori’s den?

“Are we going to the circus now?” Heishi piped up. She reached out, tugging the hem of Hahen’s sleeve with a whine. “I wanna go!”

“Right, um…” Hahen’s eye flickered, noticeably wincing. He turned back to Muzai. “So, um, Heishi said she’s always wanted to go t-to Chiba’s circus.”

“Really? I didn’t know it was so popular.” Muzai blurted. She internally froze. Was it really a good idea? Her lips pursed; head thumped. When the bus pulled up for Tokyo Station, she could not ignore her calling and slowly nodded. “Then I guess we’re going to Chiba.”

“Yay!” Heishi bounded forward, tugging her pink purse from her pocket to pay the bus fare. “Come on slowpokes, we’re going to be late for the circus!”

The drive to Tokyo Station was spent with Heishi rambling on about her hobbies of photography and how she hated living with her dad since he was so busy working. He worked from home in his own office and Heishi still felt alone since she could not walk into his room without being told to leave. She had a personal tutor and had been home-schooled all her life so her social skills were a little rusty in a way Muzai could almost relate to – even if Heishi took a more extroverted approach.

Meeting Hahen’s relatives amused Muzai in ways she could not explain. There sat Hahen, quiet and calm, collected and shy. Merodi was a man of confidence with dashing looks and charisma for days, then there was Heishi. A witty little girl with no awareness of personal space. They were all so different and still called each other family. Muzai smiled at the idea of closeness despite difference. It would have been nice to grow up with that type of acceptance. Instead, she found her place amongst her little band of friends who seemed to slowly grow distant as time moved on.

By the time they reached Tokyo Station, Heishi had grown tired of her own voice and silently climbed onto the train to sit between Muzai and Hahen. She fell asleep after the first ten minutes, leaving Hahen to stare into Muzai’s eyes with all the concern in the world.

“Is it really safe to take her to Chiba?” Muzai whispered, swaying as the train slowed at its next stop. Thirty minutes more and they would be in Chiba. “Hokori is a God. What am I even thinking? Of course it’s not safe.”

“I don’t know why Hokori came t-to you, Muzai.” Hahen replied with tones of defeat. Maybe even fatigue? He was tired of the constant back-and-forth, the way Yuugen never stopped chasing them no matter how cut off they choose to be. “You said you were part of The Chairman’s Coven after Okui…”

“That’s what I thought, but Yokubo only sent me a handful of texts before he went AWOL.” She paused when Heishi’s head lolled against her shoulder. When the girl started snoring, Muzai continued. “Do you think something’s happened to The Chairman? If he’s…. hurt or something? Then what does that mean for Yuugen?”

“I don’t know.” Hahen shook his head. “Okui would have t-taken over the Council, but he’s dead. I guess it would go to The Enchantress? But I never knew much about her, really. She was k-kinda scary.”

“And Hokori? What would he do if The Chairman could no longer lead Yuugen?”

“Honestly?” Hahen chewed his lip, knee shaking against his seat. “He hates Yuugen. None of this makes sense.”

Whether it was curiosity or stupidity, Muzai and Hahen stepped off the train in Chiba with an unsuspecting Heishi cheering the whole time. They moved in line with the crowd and checked their phones for directions before catching another bus to the edge of town. When Muzai hopped off the bus and saw the rough-edged building standing across the street, she had to frown.

The houses and stores around them looked abandoned and boarded up. There were no cars parked against the curb, no people walking by. Not even a damn alley cat skulking in the dark. It was a ghost town.

“Is this really it?” Heishi spoke up from behind Hahen, snapping a picture of the gloomy building.

It stood two stories tall and had the width of three houses. There was a dining porch to the left with a dead neon sign above the tables and a lengthy staircase of two steps leading up to the main entrance. The overhang above the doors had a giant sign which may have flashed with the words Concordia during a show. Now it was just as dead as the neon sign with no indicator of life for what felt like forever until the front door opened and a tall, lean figure appeared.

“Yer the Musician?” He waved. His uncovered eye was bright with colours of green and yellow, inviting the trio across the street. His auburn hair did well to cover the other side of his face. “Me name’s Kin, nice to meetcha!”

Muzai was already on high alert by the time she reached him. He looked friendly enough and she would have liked to believe it was sincere if not for her past encounters with so-called friendly people.

“I’m Muzai and this is Hahen.”

Kin cocked his head. “Come on in! Boss is out right now, but ’e’ll be back soon enough.” His accent was enough to make Heishi step forward.

“Why do you talk funny?”

“Ah, I didn’t see ya there, little miss!” Kin flashed a smile, kneeling to Heishi’s height. His posture was awkward when he moved, his left leg never bending. If it bothered him, he was good at hiding it when he held out his hand, a rose peeking from his sleeve. “I talk like this, see, ’cos I ain’t from around ’ere. I got me a quick go about on ’ow to speak proper. Didn’t really work.”

Heishi’s eyes widened and she snatched the rose from Kin to inspect it thoroughly, as if its red petals held the secrets of its existence! “How did you do that?!” She squealed, turning back into the kid she really was.

“A magician never reveals ‘is secrets!” Kin pushed up from the floor with a muffled grunt and turned back to Muzai and Hahen. “Let’s go. I gotta introduce ya to the others. They’ve all been itchin’ to meetcha.”

Muzai moved first, following Kin through the double doors and into a small hallway leading to reception. To the left was a wooden door with the word staff written across it and to the right was a long desk; the receptionist’s station with a young woman sat behind it. She watched the group move with bright eyes behind a pair of oval glasses. Her hair was long, silver and curled around her chest as she leant forward, grinning from ear to ear.

“This ’ere is Kumo. She manages tickets and all that.” Kin waved towards the receptionist and received a wave in return. “She likes them creepy crawlies too! Don’t do much in the show but she’s got the smarts to manage our funds and stuff. Super good listener, so if I’m never ’round, just go to ’er, aight?”

Muzai bowed her head in greeting, as did Hahen. Heishi was beginning to turn sceptical as she followed her chaperones and paused to tug on Hahen’s sleeve before they could step further. Hahen inwardly sighed when he turned to meet his cousin’s raised brow.

“Why didn’t you tell me your girlfriend was gonna work for the circus?”

Hahen’s cheeks turned red, noting the way Kumo snickered from behind her desk. He reached out to tug Heishi along, hand over her mouth as they wandered after Kin and Muzai before they could get lost. “She’s not my girlfriend! P-Plus, if you keep this a s-secret, you can visit anytime Muzai comes here. O-Okay?”

Heishi licked the inside of Hahen’s palm and he squealed, rubbing his hand against his trouser leg as Heishi laughed and ran ahead. “No take backs!”

Muzai had missed the family drama unravelling behind her, too engulfed in observing the décor and luxury within the walls compared to how barren the building looked from outside. Two large doors stood across from them, showing off their sharp, ivory wood with golden patterns etched along the edges and two, golden doorknobs waiting to be turned. Kin shook his head, turning to the door which read staff.

“Boss is good with ‘is decoratin’.” He chuckled, unlocking the staff door. “We ain’t goin’ through them doors today, though. See, Boss doesn’t wanna open ’em ’less we have a show on. Y’all hafta follow me through the back way.”

Muzai hid the temptation to question that. Instead, she turned her focus on Kin and how he walked. He had a limp, coupled with an odd posture. It was almost as if the base of his spine was tilting from the pressure he put on his good leg. It hardly seemed to bother him when he made his way down the upcoming flight of stairs, unwavering and steady with no intention to trip up anytime soon.

“I’ll see to it the others know who ya are. They can be a rough bunch but I’m sure y’all be fine, ’ere.”

“How long have you been with the circus, Kin?” Muzai inquired. She pressed a hand against the wall as she moved, following him down into the light-guided corridor below.

“I’ve been with the boss long before the circus opened up. Been ’ere the whole time.” He glanced back, shining that single eye through the darkness. “Why’d ya ask?”

“No reason.” Muzai forced a smile, allowing Heishi to run past her and join Kin’s side. “Just curious.”

The walk through the narrow hallway was spent in silence on Muzai’s behalf. Heishi had taken up the task of questioning Kin, which he seemed more than happy with. Some of the inquiries were more than a little ridiculous, ranging from sawing people in half, to making things disappear, whether they tamed animals and so on. The way she babbled reminded Muzai of Hahen’s pattern of speech, minus the stutter. She turned her eyes to look back, reminded of Hahen’s company.

He had barely spoken a word since Kin’s appearance. She could not help but smile, a sympathetic gesture as she practically read his mind. They were going down another endless rabbit hole, allowing themselves to be sucked into Yuugen’s never-ending mysteries and secrets.

“May I present!” Kin stepped forward, extending an arm as he hopped into the large room ahead. “The stage!”

Muzai could not help the look of awe on her face as she gazed upon the large room. It was like being in a bowl, with chairs filling half the room, facing the stretched stage for all to see. The setting was plated in gold and red curtains rained either side of the set like a circus tent. Light shone down across the stage, keeping the chairs in the dark. A good third of the room was spaced in-between, leaving enough legroom for a dancefloor and dining chairs. It was impressive and Muzai could not help her feelings of excitement, despite whose Coven they were standing in.

Kin clapped his hands as they neared the stage, catching the attention of the circus crew above. “Oi! We got the musician ’ere. I want y’all to come ‘n’ meet the lil’ lady.”

The first to hop down from the stage was a tall man. He was broad and lean with cold blue eyes and ebony hair. His distinguishable features were the scars that ran along his temple and the missing half of his left ear. When he smiled, Muzai was reminded of a shark.

“Miss Muzai, this is Narazumono. My oldest mate.” Kin announced, propping his elbow upon the shark’s shoulder. “We call ’im Nara for short. Best stunt act in the show. Well good at falling from ‘igh places and survivin’.”

Muzai offered the tiniest of bows. “Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.” Nara smirked just in time for a young woman to hop down the stage and join his side, lacing an arm through his as she bowed, allowing her blond braids to tip forward in Muzai’s direction.

“This is Yokokobi – again, we just call ’er Kobi.” Kin hummed, moving to hop onto the edge of the stage. He rubbed the side of his left leg, nodding slowly. “She’s our dancer and quite often the main act.”

“Oh, Miss Muzai, it’ll be well nice to have another gal in the changing rooms. I can never do me own hair under pressure, do promise you’ll give us a hand?” Kobi cooed. Her features were flawless, skin clear and shapely legs with very little to cover them. Her only oddity was her left arm – the fact it was a prosthetic. The joints and shine were glossy and resembled a china doll’s skin. “Looking forward to it, sugar.”

Muzai looked up to Kin and he was smiling, offering a shrug as two more circus members jumped down from the stage. She could not help but raise her brow at their polar opposites.

“Finally, Chishiki and Hari,” Kin waved his hand. “They’re our duo act. Chishiki works knives ‘n’ Hari does ’er best not get stabbed by ’em.”

Hari moved first, extending a bony hand for Muzai to take. “Nice to meetcha.”

“You too,” Muzai whispered, shaking her hand. It was a familiar greeting she had been raised with – a momentary feeling of familiarity from her childhood. “It’s so nice to meet you all.” It had been no lie; even with Nara’s missing ear, Kobi’s china-doll arm, Hari’s tattoos and Chishiki’s black skin, she did not feel unwelcomed. They were all just different. A family of indifferences.

Kin raised his arm as footsteps echoed from behind him. “Ah, ’ere comes the others.” He hopped from his perch and walked across the stage with a wide smile. He grabbed the young men by the elbows as they appeared and swiftly dragged them to the edge of the stage for show and tell. “This one’s Muchina and this one’s-”

“Katsubo!” Muzai exclaimed. She moved, rushing up the small steps to the stage and wrapped her arms around him.

“Miss Aibori.” Katsubo smiled, respectfully returning the hug before stepping back to look down at her. The fondness of his eyes was bright, much brighter than last they met. “It’s so nice to see you. How have you been?”

“I’ve been fine. How about you? I haven’t heard from you since – well, since a long time!” Muzai beamed, flashing a toothy smile.

From beside them, Kin chuckled and slung an arm around Muchina’s neck playfully. “Thought ya said you didn’ know the likes of the lil’ miss.” He mused, earning a small snicker from Muchina.

“No, no. I said I just knew her for a short while.” Katsubo corrected, offering Muzai a sheepish smile.

Muzai nodded while the group around her chuckled and began to talk amongst themselves, losing the novelty of facing a newcomer. She allowed her own attention to wander, to explore the sights around her from the stage’s point of view and looked up to where a theatre box sat above the chairs; a place where VIP guests had full access to the stage view and could be safely tucked away from the rest.

Her heart jumped into her throat when she saw who was standing inside it, staring at her with those familiar golden eyes. He looked tired and Muzai felt like it had been years since they last crossed paths. Miryoku.

“Muzai,” Katsubo spoke up, stepping into Muzai’s view. “Are you really okay being here?”

“Sorry,” Muzai blinked, forcing her smile back to her face. “I was distracted. But yeah, no. I’m fine. Really. Especially after seeing you.”

Kin looked up, patting Katsubo on the shoulder. “Right, we better be off to the piano. Come on lil’ miss. Don’ worry. I ain’t gonna bite ya.” He snickered, offering his arm for her to take.

Muzai hesitantly accepted the gesture. She took a moment to look back at Hahen and Heishi before she allowed Kin to take her away. Seeing them chatting with the circus crew was a reliever; specifically, for Hahen’s sake. She guessed they must have known each other from years ago at Yuugen. The way Hahen smiled and spoke was so unlike him and Heishi could not help babble, asking so many questions and raising her camera to take mugshots of everyone.

“Okay,” Muzai turned her eyes up to the theatre box slowly. Miryoku was gone and she was convinced he had never been there to begin with. She turned to Kin, hooking her arm in his. “Let’s go.”

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