It was the future age which for someone like Kuro Ishi was just a watered down way of saying that time moves slowly. Fourteen billion years ago the universe was created or at least that is what scientist would have you believe. He didn’t witness its creation, but several million years ago he was there when men walked the Earth for the first time.
He had witnessed growth and change. Yet, within him was a deep longing for a simpler time when he was just Kuro (Pronunciation: cure-oh) of the Ishi (Pronunciation: e-she). A snake for the Emperor of Aslann (Pronunciation: as-lawn). In a way he would tell you he stopped being that man a long time ago, but any Ishi would be lying if they said that time changes you. It does not. Events, people, these things make and break you. Mold you into being. Time is just time. Slow and suffocating; never ending.
Most Ishi were just going through the motions. Devoting their lives to a particular path of value. It was all they could do to keep from losing themselves to madness. Not that it was a particularly easy path; madness goes hand in hand with the blood of the Ishi.
His truth; his reality even was that he was tired. Never had Kuro expected to live for so long. There were numerous points in his life he should have died, but here he was doing the same thing he had done every morning for the past twenty years, thirty, forty, he didn’t even know anymore. Time is just time. He wasn’t even certain what was keeping him moving.
The closer he got to the kitchen he could hear them. It was nothing new. Since the day his youngest brother Bak (Pronunciation: Bahh-ck / ck as in dock) got his driver’s license he had been finding his way to Kuro’s place. It was a gathering spot for Ishi, but three of his brothers in particular liked to congregate every morning over coffee, smokes, and the paper.
“I am just saying that if Nene’s (Pronunciation: knee-knee) tits get any bigger I just might forget she is my niece. Who the fuck even knew that an Ishi could have plastic surgery. How does that even work?”
“It is a complicated process that requires slowing down our regenerative abilities…”
“I was not really asking for details. I just thought we could talk about her tits.” Kuro had no doubts that his little brother was pouting as he spoke those words.
“Maybe you should be asking me whether or not I care that you are talking about my progeny in such a degrading way.”
“Forgive me, Kin. Do you mind if I talk about her tits?”
“Not particularly, but she might mind if she hears you. Didn’t she beat the snot out of you the last time you talked about her …. assets.”
“Assets, what are you three? Come on you can do better than that.”
“I would rather not.”
“Fuck me you are such a stick in the mud. Mikio (Pronunciation: me-key-oh) what would you call them titties?”
“Who knows.” Kuro chuckled under his breath as he continued down the corridor, not surprised by his brothers go to avoidance response.
“Not exactly what I would call them, but good effort and thank you for participating. Fuck you losers are boring. Where is Kuro when I need him?”
The worst thing anyone could do was ignore Bak, but Mikio and Kin did it every morning. “Kin, I want you to stop by the company today. I need your assistance on some matters.”
“I have a lot of work at the office can it wait?”
“Nice, I love being ignored,” Bak tried to interject and it was clear he was pouting again.
“No, it can’t.”
Kuro took in the noticeable sigh from Kin as he stepped into the entry of the kitchen, “Alright. I will have my secretary shuffle around my schedule.” They never seemed to notice or acknowledge when he arrived, “So, what do you need me for anyway?”
“Things are going to be getting busy around here.”
Kuro finally spoke, “He is cryptically referring to my guest this morning. So, the three of you need to hurry your asses up and get out of here.”
“Guest?” Bak curiously questioned.
“The Queen of the Kari,” Mikio responded.
It was there, hidden beneath layers of held breath; tension and concern. When she contacted him by messenger requesting a meeting he was taken aback by it all. She had not been among the Ishi in millions of years and now she wanted to come before the serpents. For what? There was some excitement and nervousness, but Kuro was worried. The last time she stood before the Ishi, they were pulled into a war. He could not help wondering if this moment would be any different.
His three brothers were quiet. Mikio was probably well-aware of what was to come after all he bore the eyes of the goddess Tearra (Pronunciation: tea-are-uh). A gift of sight beyond all others. Still, he had not spoken a word on why the Queen of the Kari (Pronunciation: car-re / re as in read) was journeying into the lair of the serpent clan. Certainly, it was not unexpected that Mikio would keep some details to himself. This, however, was the first time he had left his clan in the dark.
As the newly appointed Elder of the Ishi, Kuro could force his brother to speak on the matter. He even tried to, but Mikio insisted that this was something Kuro needed to see with his own eyes. They were troubling words from a man known for speaking very little. Kuro couldn’t get it out of his head. What it might be that he needed to see after all of these years. The unknown didn’t bother him. It was the nagging feeling deep in the knotted pit of his stomach that he knew what this was about.
Quicky he shook the wandering thoughts from his mind when he realized Bak was speaking, “The Queen of the fucking Kari, she has a nice rack.”
Kuro barked a laugh, “Jogging partners.”
“Rutabagas,” Bak happily countered.
When his brother Kin groaned, Kuro could not help, but laugh harder as the back and forth continued for some time, “Bouncing Buddhas.”
“Isn’t that sacrilegious or something?” Kin asked, but was completely ignored.
“Double lattes,” Bak responded quickly.
Back and forth, back and forth as Mikio and Kin sighed and groaned. It was clear that Bak was running out of steam because he began to take his time thinking of words. “Fuck….” Bak cursed loudly which forced Kuro to laugh hardily before responding, “Tannin cannons. I win.”
“I hate playing this fucking game with you. At least I have a chance against Kin. He sucks balls.”
Kuro laughed as he gestured with his hand, “Go on, get the fuck out you three.”
One might have expected his brothers to want to discuss what was transpiring. No, it was not that way. Even Bak who was a hedonist always at play, understood the gravity of what was coming. The Queen of the Kari as she was called was not visiting Mount Celiabai (Pronunciation: sah-lee-uh-buy) for a social call or a gala. This was personal.
Kuro never got the opportunity to take it all in. By the time he had his brothers chased out of the house, there she was pulling into his drive. His amused chuckle wasn’t hidden under his breath as he admired her cute little pink car and long legs.
In some ways she was exactly what he expected and in others the epitome of a mystery. His smile quickly disappeared though when he noticed the telling heroska (Pronunciation: her-o-ska) of the Kari around her wrist.
By appearances many would look upon it as a simple bracelet, but in all respects it was the pride of a Kari man. Boys go through ancient trials to become men. It is a valued and honored tradition. Once they have earned their heroska they have a voice among their people. Their pride is never relinquished even upon death.
Yet, there she was baring the honor of a Kari man upon her wrist. It was not a simple token of affection, not for men like those. Some Kari man thought her important enough to protect above his own life; above even the Kari. As long as she wore it, no Kari would dare touch her.
Kuro greeted her at the door and they exchanged pleasantries. The usual pretentious greetings exchanged between members of Aslann’s elite. Honestly he was grateful that it lingered only for a few moments. He had little care for such over the top formalities and at the end of the day he would always be a ‘snake of the Ishi’ regardless of his position.
With a seat on the sofa offered he was surprised she had chosen to sit in the corner. Her back to the wall. “Oh, expecting an attack from behind?” He chuckled, “Snakes don’t always strike from the back we can hit you from anywhere.” Not hiding his amusement he pulled a chair from a nearby table and sat across from her, “So, what is this all about? Do you think the Ishi want you dead or is this what happens when you spend so many years fucking Kari scum?”
Not a single reaction. Was it the apathy of the Tylo (Pronunciation: tie-low)? No, something else entirely. The truth, hidden behind her eyes was that she knew him as well he knew her. They had history. One that she abandoned long ago or at least that was how he saw it. She broke the silence, “Have you spoken to your brother?”
He smirked, “I have hundreds of brothers you will have to be a bit more specific.” Despite his words he was well-aware she was referring to Mikio. After all, his little brother and the woman across from him shared the same all seeing eyes.
“Stop being flippant, Kuro of the Ishi.”
“Oh,” He laughed, “You think you can command me? I am not some punk who will get down on his knees for the queen. Not now, not ever.”
Kuro honestly expected silence, but his eyes were drawn to the soft purse of her lips before she drew in a small amount of breath and spoke, “Osmium (Pronunciations: oh-see-um) is a remarkable material.” He could see it, her counting the beads one by one of the heroska around her wrist with her fingers, “Strongest metal in the world and yet the most brittle. Difficult to forge. When I was little, I asked Tadayoshi (Pronunciation: tah-dah-yo-she) why the Kari craft their pride from an ore so difficult. He just smiled and said that every aspect of a Kari man’s life even his heroska is it meant to show that Kari men need a gentle hand.” He could hear it in her voice. Bittersweet emotion, “His last act on this Earth was to protect me and he entrusted me with his pride. Now, I am here asking if you will help me shoulder this burden.”
A barking laugh, “How rich. Why would you entrust the pride of the Kari to the Ishi? Run along baby snake. Go back to your Kari king.”
“Oh, so you come here? The Kari don’t want you anymore and you run to the snake clan hoping we will do what exactly?”
“You misunderstand my motives.”
“Then enlighten me. Why the fuck have you come here before me after all of these years?”
Kuro hated himself. Deep down he knew why he was angry, but the fact that he was losing his cool was unexpected. Certainly he had seen her hundreds of times. Shared the same space at gala’s and parties, but this was different. It was the first time in millions of years that she stood before him. Him and no one else. How ugly his heart must look at that moment.
Not surprising she avoided by pulling herself from the chair and looking out the window. This was what she did. The queen of evading and half-truths. Honestly, he did not hold that against her. His brother Mikio was the same way. They did not want to affect time by telling people what future lie before them, still he found the behavior irritating especially when he wanted and needed answers. How difficult was it for her to look him in the face and tell him the truth; she never wanted him. Never loved him. Perhaps after millions of years that was what he was waiting for. Give him a reason to end it all and walk away.
Today though he had no tolerance and her silence was grating on his nerves. Quickly he pulled himself away from the chair and at first he only planned on addressing her, but his hand slammed against the wall far too forcefully. Those eyes of hers drifted toward his and he could see it, clear as day. Tationy of the Tylo, was in pain.
“I hate that look,” He practically whispered the words. “What has broken the Queen of the Kari?”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Wearing the heroska of a Kari, regardless of the reason it is difficult to not see you as their property. Does the new king know you are here?” There was silence again and she refused to speak, “Answer me or I will make you.”
The look upon her face forced a chuckle from his mouth, “Oh, I haven’t seen that look in a while. Fear; it is not me though is it? What has you rattled?” He thought about it a moment before asking, “Are you running from the King of the Kari?”
“He is out of his mind,” She finally responded.
“Kari scum are always out of their fucking minds.” Kuro pushed away from the wall and rubbed the back of his neck. Just like that his anger toward her was gone. He was like that. It took a lot to get him to burst, but just as quickly he could be over it. Though that hardly meant he had forgotten or all was forgiven. “Should I be concerned about that piece of shit that is roaming freely around my estate?”
“It is his dog of war, Gen. Kazuma…”
“Kazuma, huh? How bold of some vassal to refer to himself by that name.”
“He is not just a vassal,” She whispered. “You’ve met him before. Long ago.”
“Are we talking about that Kari?” A subtle nod of her head gave him the answer he sought, “Somè, the son of the god king and the beast of the Kari. I suppose that means the day of reckoning is upon us.” His eyes closed in a pensive moment before he moved toward the television where he grabbed a sword from the wall.
“What are you doing?” She asked with uncertainty.
“He is not with you, so I am going to go and greet our guest.”
“Kuro…” She had gone to protest, but he shut her down rather quickly.
“Stay here and don’t get involved.”
Tationy was unable to hide her trepidation from him as he stepped out of his home, the door closing securely behind him. He walked a few paces before turning and spying the Kari leaning against the wall near his hot tub, “Oh, a Saruwatari (Pronunciation: sow-ru-wah-tar-ree). I was wondering how it was you were moving through Mount Celiabai unnoticed. This is Ishi territory, Kari dog. Run along home before you become prey.”
The Kari’s lips curved into a brief smile, “Kuro of the Ishi, what an honor. I was expecting some lesser snake to notice me, but face-to-face with a son of Rin gives me a rather exited chill to my spine. However, I am not here to fight.”
“Then you should not have come,” Kuro barked. “I know that is a sword upon your back, draw it so I can make you understand dog, the error you made poking your head into a snake hole.”
“And if I refuse?”
Pulling his sword from its scabbard, Kuro tossed it aside quickly. He was the patient sort. It was not uncommon for him to spend hours gauging an enemy before a single strike of the sword is even initiated. This guy though, was different from other foes he had faced. How and why, he was uncertain. Slinging his sword over his shoulder he spoke, “Kari dogs are always quick to misunderstand. Refusing is what I want you to do.”
“I have heard stories about Kuro of the Ishi. I wonder if you are as fast to strike as they say you are.” The Kari still had a smirk upon his face. Odd considering the boys clan was considered above such emotions. This was not a trait of the Saruwatari either, something else, something sinister.
It was long ago, different time and different place, but Kuro had seen this behavior before. Thirst of blood and battle. The Commander of the Aslann military, Hiko (Pronunciation: he-ko) Kari, was like this. They called him a demon, a monster. He was exactly that. Did not matter if you were a man, woman, or child. For his nation, for his emperor, for his prince, he would strike you down without hesitation and not even flinch over what he had done. This Kari monster standing before Kuro, was the same type of beast.
Kuro began laughing, softly at first then loudly enough that the expression changed on the boy, “Oh, stories about me are just that. Rumors and whispers, speculation, and tales. People who have never stood toe to toe before talking me up as though they had been there.” His smile quickly faded, “Don’t believe shit people spew, those that have faced me have never lived to talk about it.”
Kuro did not give the boy a single second to respond as he jumped across the pool and hot tub toward him. A clean strike of his sword could come swiftly and efficiently. He had never missed, not once, not in a million plus years. At least not until that moment.
His eyes fell swiftly upon the Kari who narrowly evaded. “People say Rin’s reincarnate is the only dangerous snake in this barren wasteland. However, in the time it takes for most opponents to realize you are a threat, prepare themselves, and strike back you have already closed the distance.” There was a pause, “It seems the stories about you are true.”
“Oh, that look upon your face makes me happy. I guess you are not as cocky now, dog.”
Gen’s posture was on edge, his smile long faded, and his hand positioned to grab the cloaked weapon upon his back. “My God Kazuma told me to be cautious around you and to keep a distance of more than twenty-one feet. My mistake. Won’t happen again.” It was a sentiment that Kuro could agree with.
He underestimated the Kari boy. Thought of him like any other punk; he wasn’t. Someone trained him. Not just in combat, but in how those of the snake clan strike. More importantly, how he moved. There was little doubt it was that Kari. The past and the future were finally coming together. Kuro would not miss again, “Why did you come here?”
“The King of the Gods has ordered me to protect his queen, whether she wishes me to or not. I am here to make certain that no god or man crosses a line against her. I carry the will of the King. I am the hand of our god.”
“He is not my god.”
“Of course not; you snakes only follow the will of Rin.”
Kuro practically spat the words, “I kneel to no one. Bend to no ones will. Don’t assume you know what moves or lifts my sword.” There was a pause as Kuro readied his weapon, “I will not miss a second time. The Queen of the Kari is under the protection of the Ishi, leave our lands or be struck down. If you insist on remaining where you are, then your god be damned.”
“Lord Kazuma said you would say as much.” The Kari boy responded as he took a step back, “My orders are not to interfere with the Ishi, only to protect the Queen. I will take my leave.” Kuro noticed how a smile adorned his face, “Someday you and I will cross swords, but you are not ready yet to face someone like me. Born at the dawn of man and you are still a hundred years too young.”
“You fucking punk,” Kuro began to say, but just as quickly as the words were out of his mouth the Kari was gone.
There was plenty of aggravation at the Kari boy, the situation, and what unknown danger was lurking. Only after he was certain it was safe did he move toward his home grabbing the scabbard along the way. He sighed, relaxing his body after the door closed behind him. There she was standing anxiously. Every move he made she watched, certainly aware of millions and billions of possible outcomes for the moment.
Even as he sheathed his sword and set it aside, he offered no words. Playing it over and over again in his head. The speed; the way he saw through his attack. The Kari Elder was far more troublesome than those that came before him and his dog could bite. “He wants a war,” Her words broke the silence, but came as no surprise.
“The God Kazuma was never a benevolent deity. People have always been foolish to see him as anything other than what he is; a puppet master. Such a thing from the mind of a monster like him is only natural.”
“Against the Prince of Aslann.” Now those words did give him pause.
It was instinct; he could not help himself as his fingers moved on their own to lift her chin. Among the clans of Aslann she would be known as, osmata (Pronunciation: oz-ma-tuh). An old Shima word (Pronunciation: she-ma) meaning of many clans. It was basically a fancy way of saying that she held the blood of many and yet belonged to none.
Kuro was reminded as he looked upon her that she was unique in a way that most people were too ignorant to comprehend. It was not her beauty or power that made her attractive. It had nothing even to do with her blood.
“Oh,” He breathlessly uttered, “That expression does not suit you, baby snake.”
“I need you to be serious, Kuro of the Ishi.”
“I always am.” He paused a moment as he leaned in slightly so their eyes were able to lock upon each other, “Tell your Kari king that the Prince of Aslann is dead and the war he desires will never happen. Unless of course, you are here because you can’t say that. If so, the snake clan will not be slaves to the whims of that troublesome boy.” There was a soft little sound of annoyance that left her mouth, “For now this conversation is over.”
“Kuro,” She tried desperately to protest as he began to walk away.
His body stopped moving on its own. The truth was, no matter how old you got when the person you cared about called your name in such a pained way it moved you. Sighing he spoke in a far softer tone, “Tationy, I need to put my clan on alert about that Kari boy. I cannot allow him to move about so freely. You understand this.” He began moving, “Stay put, we will speak when I return.”
To Be Continued