Scene VIII: Knife Game
Chiba, Japan. 2014, April
Katsubo swallowed heavily, watching the way Nara continuously hammered a knife along the coffee table between his fingers. He was swift and precise. No matter how sharp the blade or how quick his hand moved, he never cut himself. Instead, he left horrid marks on the table that Katsubo would have to clean up by tomorrow.
“Nara’s super skilled with a knife.” Kobi giggled, staring into her handheld mirror. She touched up the blush on her cheeks as she sat on the sofa behind Nara, a leg crossed over the other. She refused to flinch at the stabbing sounds and applied her make-up with precision, kissing the air when she was finished. “Shame your social skills ain’t as sharp, hon.”
The group had taken Hahen and his cousin to the lounge after Muzai split to have her interview. Heishi had been adamant to see some acts and tricks behind the scenes and Nara eventually caved when he offered to show her the ridiculous knife game.
“So cool!” Heishi awed. She sat the furthest from Nara and his knife, choosing safety first despite her admiration. “Can you teach me how to play?!”
“Nah, ’fraid not.” Nara smirked, setting the knife down against the coffee table. He laughed, turning his gaze to look at the little girl. “It’d be way too hard at your age. Plus, those chubby hands of yours ain’t gonna hold it right.”
Kobi looked up and pouted, pinching Heishi’s cheeks. “Don’t get upset, sugar. Only Nara’s got the skills to pull it off. Kinda his thing after all.”
When Muchina stood from the floor, Katsubo had to look away. He had already seen the move coming and would have done something to stop it if it meant Nara wouldn’t laugh in their faces. To put Muchina done now would be a huge blow to his ego – which was precisely what he was trying to build. Especially in front of Kobi.
“I can try.”
Nara raised a scarred brow. “You wanna try? Sure, little man. Be my guest.” He stood, towering over Muchina as he handed over the knife.
Muchina’s hand shook when he accepted the blade. He probably would have taken a rain check there and then if not for the small clap Kobi offered. The thought of her acknowledging him was enough for Muchina to place one hand on the coffee table and grip the knife in the other. He hovered the sharp edge over the side of his fingers and gingerly stabbed down. It missed his finger with ease, but the blade had wedged itself into the table. It took a lot of tugging and sweating before he pried it loose, chipping the surface when he stumbled back.
Nara snorted, slapping his hand roughly against Kobi’s knee. His cackle erupted into laughter when Muchina solemnly put the knife back down and turned away. Kobi only smiled – a weak expression. She looked sincere when she offered Muchina a small shrug and Nara kept laughing, tossing his head back.
“You shouldn’t laugh at him.” Hahen spoke up. All eyes turned on him. Up until now, he had been sitting in silence while Heishi took the reins of small talk.
“Yeah?” Nara licked his lips and gestured around the room. “What gives you the right to tell me what to do? The kid can’t even play a simple game without looking like an idiot. No way is he ever gonna gain any respect around here acting like a pussy.”
“He doesn’t have to p-p-play a game to earn respect.”
“The rules are different here in this Coven.” Nara’s lips parted in a shark grin. He grabbed the knife off the table, tossing it in the air with a skillful hand. “You try. See if you even have the balls to try and gain my respect, then maybe I’ll listen to you.”
Hahen watched Nara’s hand, afraid of looking away less he wished to get stabbed in the back. When he stood, Heishi’s jaw dropped and Katsubo audibly gasped. “Fine.”
“Hahen?” Heishi stared as her cousin accepted the blade. The way his shoulders turned to stone, the way his shaking stopped. It should have scared her, but she could only watch with awe.
Hahen walked over to the coffee table and knelt to the ground, hand outstretched against the surface. His colourful plasters had curled against his anxiety sweats from before, making the scarred creases of his skin peak from beneath the dressings. It was horrible to look at and Hahen’s lip twitched, half tempted to just slice his fingers off and be done with the disfigurement. But survival was all he knew and when he was finished counting down in his head, the knife came down – stabbing the table between his fingers.
Everyone else could only stare, watching the motion of the knife. Whether it was precision or risk, the blade was dangerously close to the web of his fingers. Heishi began to cheer once she was convinced Hahen was in the zone and no amount of screaming for his victory would distract him.
Only after the table had suffered enough abuse, Hahen stopped. He slapped the knife down with a huff and looked up to Nara, narrowing his single eye. That shake in his shoulders returned and whatever ounce of confidence he held was diminished when he returned to the same shy boy everyone knew.
“D-Do I have your respect?”
Nara’s blue eyes were wide, and his mouth hung. The image was funny enough to make Muchina snort and Katsubo followed suit. Once Heishi pointed a finger and made her own comment of bewilderment, everyone was laughing and Nara grit his teeth, pushed away from the table and towards the exit with Kobi following closely at his heels, attempting to diffuse the situation.
A surprised Kin stood on the other side of the door and he frowned, watching the stubborn-faced Nara before turning to the group sat around the coffee table; laughing to the point tears were actually forming in their eyes. It was enough to make Kin smirk as he stepped over the threshold.
“What’s all this then?”
Muchina waved a hand through the air, breathless from his spouts of laughter. He pointed to Hahen and sighed, wiping his eyes. “He… He beat Nara at the knife game.
“Really now? That must be some skill ya got there. Well done for putting’ ol’ Nara in ’is place.” Kin mused, clapping as Muzai appeared from behind him. She was not as clued up on the scene and turned around, hands clutching the hem of her shirt.
“Wait, I don’t understand. What’s the knife game?”
Kin laughed, nudging Muzai’s shoulder. “The knife game is where someone puts a fist on a table or the like and stabs a knife between their fingers over ‘n’ over.”
Muzai’s jaw tensed. “Hahen? You did that?” She watched the way her friend’s face turned smug. The look of confidence was never worn on him, but Muzai liked to think it suited him and she inwardly sighed, unable to steal his thunder with a comment of disapproval.
“Come on fellas. We gotta say goodbye to our guests ‘n’ get ready for the big show. Boss says it’s a big one, due the nineteenth and we gotta get ready.” Kin tilted his head, turning to Katsubo. He punched the boy’s shoulder playfully. “Ya wanna escort ’em out?”
Katsubo nodded, moving to join Muzai’s side before leading her out of the lounge and into the hallway. They said nothing as they passed Hari and Chishiki, nor did they receive a wave of goodbye from Kobi as she waited for Nara to come out of the bathhouse. Suddenly they were strangers in this crazy Coven and Muzai breathed a sigh of relief the moment they walked by Kumo’s reception and into the open air.
Smiling, she turned to Katsubo and gave him a hug. She pressed her lips against his ear, whispering lowly. “Something’s going to go terribly wrong at this show. Be careful.”
“I know.” Katsubo returned the hug nonchalantly. “You be careful, too.”
Hahen watched them from the curb, holding Heishi’s hand until Muzai turned away. His single eye never left Katsubo’s face and a silence would have grown if not for Heishi whining about feeling tired. When Muzai took her hand and began walking across the street, Hahen remined, glaring.
“I had hoped the incident with Miss Hoshi would have been settled by now.” Katsubo muttered, turning his eyes away from Hahen. There was no mistaking the colour in his cheeks at the remainder of his shameful act and Hahen felt his fingers twitch.
“I wasn’t going t-to mention Hikari.” Hahen replied. He licked his lips, focus remaining on Katsubo’s guilty face. “I wanted to ask you about this. Staying with Yuugen when you c-could have been free. Why stay in this life? And why did you choose Hokori?”
“Ah, well. I suppose the idea of freedom is something I never considered.” Katsubo spoke with all seriousness. His eyes turned, facing his former Coven-member. “I only wish to make things right in this world, for Sorcerers and Familiars alike. To this world, where all the regular people live – and not have to force ourselves into the land of Concordia to hide. I’m here in this life to serve a purpose. I have no family, unlike you. Plus, the reason I chose Hokori was simply because I would never choose The Enchantress or The Parasite. Who better than to stand with than God himself to make a world worth living in?”
Hahen bite his lip. It was an argument not even his wise mind could win. Someone had to be fighting for the chance to live, to survive amongst Dabblers without being forced into a corner of criminality. If Katsubo was strong enough to do it, Hahen had no right to question it and he nodded, as if all the problems in the world had been momentarily set right.
“Good luck, Katsubo.”
Tokyo, Japan. 2014, April
Muzai had received numerous texts from Kin on her way back to Tokyo. She had never received so many notifications in one sitting and had to turn her phone silent just to stop the vibration from drawing attention to her pocket.
Once she said goodbye to Hahen and walked back to Hinansho did she actually check her phone. She gripped the bannister of the apartment’s staircase as she read.
Kin’s messages made her smile. He texted in shorthand and made comments like lmao and smh. The separate text including an address and a date made Muzai’s heart flutter. She knew it was about Hokori’s contact, the woman who Kin had mentioned. She knew about Yuugen and had things to share? Was it even safe? Was it unsafe to not go?
Muzai turned her head up, finding Yujin standing just outside of his apartment with a hot drink in his hands as per usual. He would always greet her as she walked by in the morning, then again in the evening if he happened to be home earlier than she. Since the accident, however, Yujin had been absent and their passing waves had all but stopped. Until now.
“Good evening.” Muzai smiled, hopping off the iron stairway to walk over. “How are you?”
“Fine.” Yujin muttered around the lip of his drink. His eyes were distant and dull – a trait he had gained over the recent months. “Yourself?”
“I’m fine. I think.” Muzai offered a half-smile. “I just… well, things have been getting really strange lately.”
“If it’s at all related to Yuugen, please don’t mention it.” Yujin moved away from the banister, limping without the aid of his cane. “I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to help. I’m finished with Magick.”
Muzai flinched when Yujin shut the door to his apartment. She would have been offended if this had been their first encounter. She was used to the man’s tendencies and never took his statements to heart – not when he was angry. Since day one, Muzai could remember the way Yujin claimed he was done with Yuugen. Now that he was out of work and considered crippled, it was only fair that he should give up and retire his role in the story. But just as Kin said, no-one could ever leave this life of Magick after being a part of it.
“…. Yujin.” Muzai walked over to the door, gripping her phone with uncertainty. The blinking messages from Kin flashed between the gaps of her fingers as she rested her forehead against the frame. “I understand that you don’t want to help, but… I’m meeting someone tomorrow, someone who knows about Yuugen. I think she can help us before things get really bad. I don’t really wanna go on my own, but I get it. If you wanna come too, you’re welcome to join.”
She never waited for a reply. Instead, she shoved her phone back into her hoodie pocket and climbed the staircase up another floor to reach Shinrai’s apartment door. Her lips curved into a wide smile when she was greeted by the heavy scents of food and warmth from inside. She dropped her bag to the floor, kicked off her shoes and made her way down the hallway and into the living room.
“I’m home-” Muzai felt her tongue shrink back in her mouth. She stared at the couple sat on the sofa, reaching for their glasses upon the coffee table when she walked in. “Mother? Father?”
“Muzai!” Bi was the first to smile. She ignored Shinrai’s glares from where she stood in the kitchen doorway, arms folded over her chest. Standing from the sofa, Bi swung her arms around Muzai’s shoulders and squeezed. “We’ve come to visit you early for your birthday~!”