Kuro had thought his morning would go far differently. After the night he spent making love to the girl that meant the world to him, he had been certain he would wake up holding her in his arms. Talk as though they had never been apart. Then, spend the entire day together. Sadly, much to his dismay, it did not happen at all the way he had hoped.
He was startled awake early in the morning, by nightmares that overtook Tationy violently. It was not unexpected. Kuro understood that her rest was hardly relaxing; fitful each and every night. Still, there was some comfort brought to him knowing that when she laid next to him that her body was at ease enough to rest even if just for a little bit.
What fallowed was him holding her tightly and her telling him what was to come. Which did nothing at all for his mood. So, it was with some reluctance that he pulled himself from her warmth, showered, dressed, and made his way toward the usual gathering spot of his clan.
There, in his kitchen, he spied his brother Bak leaning against the counter with a cup of coffee in his hand. The smell of burnt pastries lingered around him, but it was the blank stare that drew his attention.
Tationy had already given Kuro the play-by-play. Bak had quite a morning. Survived a meteor, brought some stranger to the estate of the elder, had heated words with his brothers, and now was waiting for whatever Kuro had to throw at him.
It really took very little to irritate Kuro. As the Elder of the Ishi, his responsibility was always to his clan. Sometimes, however, it was his own kin that was problematic.
“Does that cold stare mean that she told you?” Bak questioned.
“Honestly, you should be fucking grateful she did. Had I found out on the spur you would not be standing there so casually.”
His brother sighed as he placed the mug down, “I figured you of all people would understand why I could not just stand by and let her die.”
“Don’t….I might be able to see your reasoning if you had feelings for this girl. She is just another one of many you picked up someplace.”
Bak snorted in irritation, “What the fuck type of guy do you take me for?”
“A baby snake….a brat that sees things he wants and be hell with the consequences. If you want to fuck her, just sweet talk her and be done with it, but don’t you ever sacrifice your seal to do it. That is not a toy you can play with as you please; it is the property of the Ishi. It is the gift our father placed upon you. Don’t treat it and your clan with such disrespect by using it to protect some woman.”
“You’re a callous fucking monster,” Bak snapped.
Kuro was hardly moved by the name calling. He had spent millions of years keeping his brothers inline. Teaching them what it meant to be a Son of Rin only for Bak to cast it all aside for a woman. It was not as though he did not understand what it meant to have your heart moved by someone. He even knew what it was like to be reckless when it came to her, but that changed nothing.
Bak stood before him with a fading seal. Once placed upon him by their father Rin. It was fused with magic for decades. Strong enough to stop a meteor; what could it have prevented if he had not used it? “I have ordered Nao to summon Togore home; when he arrives he will fix what you have done to your seal.”
The expression upon his brothers face was not lost on him, “How dare you. Who the fuck do you think you are calling him back?”
“This is not something up for discussion.”
“The hell it isn’t. My son is not returning to Aslann….”
“Do you intend to go against your Elder’s wishes? If so, we can end this matter right now. I assure you that seal of yours will not be the only thing broken.”
He watched as his brother shook his head in obvious frustration, “Someone like you…”
“Someone like me?” Kuro repeated the words with question.
“Maybe if you fucking had kids you would understand. I don’t expect you to get it though. Togore has issues. He needs to heal and Aslann is not the place for him…”
Kuro’s head tilted. Perhaps it was his sudden change of expression, but his little brother Bak stopped speaking suddenly. “Go ahead, finish your words,” Kuro insisted. “Oh, you were so talkative a moment ago about me not understanding. Maybe if I had kids and all of that. Don’t talk to me about giving up a son. Don’t you ever fucking talk to me about that.”
“Didn’t mean it? Yeah well, you shouldn’t have opened your mouth. I get you are emotional after what happened with Togore. I understand why you sent him away. Togore is not the one with issues. He is not the one healing still, it is you.”
“You should have asked me,” Bak resigned with a defeated tone.
“I do not have to ask your permission to summon back a member of this clan even if he is your son.”
The expression upon his brothers face was one of anger and hurt, “I need to get out of here.”
“Yeah, not until we are finished though.”
“I really don’t have anything more I wish to say to you at this point.”
“That is fine. It means you can shut your mouth long enough to listen.” Bak crossed his arms, barely looked at Kuro, sometimes he hated being the head of his clan. “I will send Togore to see you when he arrives; let him do what he needs to for your seal. Once it is put back in order, start fusing it again.” Kuro paused a moment, “The Matsuo have been watching us. That means they know you saved that girl. You put a target on her head and you do not even care. I get why you saved her, but you made her a part of this war and now she is your responsibility. Make her useful or kill her.”
“Fuck,” Bak said under his breath. “I am sorry. Lately I have been so preoccupied with…never mind. I should have noticed the Matsuo were about. It is my job to track predators in our area.”
“I am not going to tell you it is alright. It seems you have made quite a few errors; I will contribute it to your inexperience in these matters, but I cannot forget they happened. Distractions of the flesh, celebrity, and your unique sense of fun need to be controlled. Get your shit together Bak.”
The moment for Bak to respond was interrupted by a soft coo trying to whisper, “We shouldn’t interrupt.”
“Seems you already have,” Kuro barked which startled the woman standing near Tationy. For a single moment his eyes settled upon the woman he loved; her cold hard stare told him she was displeased with something. Most likely the way he handled things, but he was not about to allow her to dictate what he did or did not do where his clan was concerned.
Not surprising she completely ignored him and directed her attention upon Bak, “It is good to see you again. Shame it is under these circumstances.”
Bak was polite, even though it was clear that he did not wish to be, “Been a long time. You haven’t changed a single bit.”
She laughed softly, “That almost sounds like an insult.”
“Take it how you wish,” Bak responded curtly.
Kuro noticed how the two stared at each other; it felt as though he was not privy to some super secret piece of information. It happened a lot with Tationy around. Always one step behind in these matters and that told him that he needed to pin her down and force her to tell him everything, even the stuff she did not want to say.
“I think it is about time, the two of you leave.” Kuro finally spoke as he allowed his attention to fall swiftly upon the outsider. If he had his way in it all, he would have simply killed her. It was not that he wished to be so cold-hearted, but Bak had shown that he had feelings for her – friendship or otherwise. Due to that, Kazuma would most certainly try to use her as a pawn.
If Kuro harmed her, Bak would become rebellious, more so then he already was. Sometimes you could be firm with him and other times it required a gentle nudge and understanding. At the moment, he had barely the strength to keep from knocking his little brothers head off for being so foolish and irresponsible.
“Don’t worry, we are,” Bak responded as he moved quickly toward the doorway. He took her hand without even asking and dragged her out with no further departing words.
Kuro would not speak until he was certain Bak and the outsider had left his estate. “Really, that baby snake is as difficult as ever. Bringing her here, using his seal, what was he thinking?”
“Why didn’t you tell him?”
“Bak is stubborn. Informing him would simply give him another reason to protect her. He always has to go against the grain. Tsk…” His words halted suddenly as he rubbed his neck, “It would be easier to be done with that outsider. Honestly, you should have just let me kill her. I would not have felt bad about it, she is just another piece of Kari trash and you said it yourself, there is no way of knowing if she is a spy or not.”
“Mikio would know the answer.” Her response was one part direction and one part suggestion even though she did not phrase it as such.
“Him….” Kuro grumbled, “He is another matter entirely. Sneaking away quickly so I could not speak to him. I am starting to think he is going out of his way to avoid me. Maybe Rin is barking at the door far more than he is letting on.”
Her expression changed and for the first time since he had known her she bared her teeth, “If Rin is?”
Kuro refused to answer, “Why are you showing your fangs to me baby snake?”
“Why are you avoiding my question?”
“Oh, are we playing this game?” An amused laugh left his lips, “Mikio is far too powerful to let Rin have control. So, if you must know, I am not above wiping them both out.”
With a very resigned tone she asked, “Why is your solution always to live and die by the sword?”
His lips pursed momentarily, “We cannot all be the intellectual types; I prefer being a man of action.” Kuro began to move around the kitchen, ultimately ending the conversation when he changed the course, “The amount of fucking shit we have to do today is piling up. What do you want to start with first?”
Nothing, not even a sigh. It was clear by the way she fell silent she was not happy about something. He could match her stubbornness with his own; so, he simply crossed his arms and waited for her to speak. The mutual staring contest lasted for some time, until she finally buckled and turned her back to him. It was not exactly a victory for him even if it might have seemed that way, “I am going to get ready so we can depart.”
Inwardly he groaned and fumed over her response and by the time he called out her name she was already gone.
Not surprising to Kuro, there was plenty of silence as they readied themselves for their busy day. The car ride was not lacking in it either. So, it came with some tension that neither of them had spoken a single word by the time they reached their early morning destination.
Thankfully, he was able to get lost in his own thoughts as they wandered through the temple courtyard. Unlike others that had gone there to pray, Kuro with Tationy at his side moved toward an outside garden. It was unusual for people to worship there, but in front of the large ancient casket believed to contain the remains of the Goddess Tearra that is exactly what they did.
At the festival, he had refused to stop in and pray. The lovely woman at his side seemed to understand that it was not a moment of disrespect. Instead, a simple matter of not wanting his spiritual beliefs to be put on display.
With her next to him, there was some normalcy to it all. Still, he found himself wondering if it was awkward for her; praying to Tearra when she was in fact the Goddess. People expected the crazy from Kuro, after all he was the first born son of Rin. There would be no other place for him to pray, but did they think her strange for praying to herself? Did she care?
For twelve minutes, exactly; no more and no less. Kuro and Tationy worshiped.
After, there was some uncertainty as he stared at her a moment; if she had any doubts about standing at his side she did not show it. In fact, she took his hand as though it were the most natural thing. Together, they walked away from the ancient burial casket; still, neither could find the worlds. At least not initially.
“If you do not mind me asking…” He let his words linger there, “What do you pray for? You are Tearra; isn’t it strange asking yourself for something? Does it bother you? Do you care how it looks?”
“I pray for Kazuma’s peace; for strength when there is nothing left in me. Most of all, I pray for you.”
Her words surprised him, “For me?”
“I fear, I may still your hand when your actions must be unwavering. That I will be a hindrance..”
Quickly he cut her off, “Do not speak like that again. Never were you, nor will you be in my way.”
“It doesn’t always feel that way to me,” She practically whispered. Though if she wished to speak on it further she did not, “They see me as Tearra; how strange it must look to them. I think about this often enough, but the truth is….”
His voice strained, “As long as Rin is not as your side, you may never feel like her. That is what you are telling me.”
“It is not so simple.”
“Nothing with him ever is. Is that why you are giving me the silent treatment because I said I would kill him?”
It was clear she was avoiding this topic by the way she fell silent. He had known that Rin would always be a roadblock to any path they walked together. There were so many times he had thought about stepping aside; telling Mikio to go to her. That he would not get in the way. The stubborn, selfish part of him held on tightly. The truth was, Kuro knew that she needed to be at the side of Rin. Their combined power and unwavering loyalty would be able to withstand Kazuma’s assault.
Still it troubled him more than any words could express. With his mind fixated on his thoughts, he barely heard her words, “Someone is waiting for you.”
Kuro glanced around spying a man leaning against a far wall with a face he recognized. Briefly he wondered to himself why the young man had come to the temple, but Tationy’s words would quickly draw his attention.
“Do you wish for me to make myself scarce?”
“No,” He responded, “That will not be necessary.” Kuro felt tension in his shoulders which he was certain Tationy had noticed. Still, the two made their way toward the man he recognized as Mikk (Pronuciation: mick) Saruwatari.
The two had dealings with each other in the past; Mikk was the son of the Elder of the Saruwatari. Well to be exact, there were all kinds of rumors regarding his parentage. Most of which centered around him being born from an affair. No one knew for certain and the Saruwatari elder did everything within his power to make certain that truth was forever buried.
With each step they got closer until they were finally standing face-to-face with the young man, “Your brother is slacking off on his job.” Straight to the point, Kuro should have expected it would have something to do with Bak. “Matsuo lurking all around Mount Celiabai.”
Kuro rubbed the back of his neck, “If you got something to say, come right out and say it.”
“My boys and I have been keeping an eye on them; they are lurking. It is clear they are following the movements of high ranking Ishi. We were going to do something about it, but were uncertain if there was a reason you were allowing them to loiter. Normally, your brother notices when outsiders are treading upon the land of the Ishi. I’m not judging…” Mikk’s words lingered there a moment as he pushed away from the wall, “We are ready to hunt if you just give us the order? No reason for the Ishi to dirty their hands with such a trivial matter.”
“How would your father feel about this?” Kuro noticed a hint of something in the eyes of the young man before him, “Something, you need to tell me?”
“Hasn’t she already informed you?” He dismissed the question rather quickly, “My father has recently had a visit from a Kari. Did not hear the entire conversation, but the gist of it was centered around an offer.”
“What sort of offer?”
“The kind you won’t like,” Mikk responded rather casually.
If Kuro wanted to question his response there was little opportunity when Tationy said, “Table this discussion; there are eyes upon you. Simply shake each other’s hands and give your regards.”
Kuro hated the feeling of being limited and putting on overt displays of pretense; it had never been his thing. However, considering what was transpiring around them he spoke in a voice that could be heard by those around him and offered his hand to the young Saruwatari before him, “It was good seeing you Mikk. Give my regards to your father. Tell him that it has been far too long since we have spoken. We should do that soon.”
“I will.” Mikk responded casually, “It was good seeing you.”
As the young man began to walk away, Kuro stopped him. “Mikk, if you and your boys are looking for work; I believe my brother needs an extra pair of hands at Ishi Shipping. There is a large bundle of orders that needs taken care of. It is good money for a few days of hard work.”
“Thank you, Mr. Ishi. The offer is appreciated.”
“Don’t mention it,” Kuro responded casually as he gave a curt nod, took Tationy’s hand, and quickly departed.
Kuro had purposely remained silent until they arrived at his car and began to head out to their next destination of the day. Unfortunately, in that time his mind wandered to things that he was certain were better left unsaid. It was not as though he did not want to address them, but Tationy always had a tendency of avoiding unpleasant conversations with quick maneuvering into another topic entirely. It was a quality he both loved and hated.
Due to this, the drive was far too quiet. It seemed it was going to be that sort of day for him. Kuro was never the type of guy that disliked silence. No, there was a serenity in it all, what he hated was feeling as though he was forced to walk slowly through a landmine instead of running and setting them all off. He was a man; a very old one. Certainly he could handle some shrapnel.
“There is a look upon your face, Kuro of the Ishi.”
Her voice was practically a tease and yet he was irritated. Not because she was poking the snake, but because he was not enjoying it. There was a time he loved it so much, but the dark thoughts were so heavy since her arrival and the witty back and forth that once dominated their relationship seemed a pale comparison. Due to this, Kuro could not help wondering if he was partly at fault.
There was a soft little sound from the woman he adored which pulled his attention. A disheartened expression and then the words, “Do you think of him?”
Kuro didn’t need to know whom it was she was referring. It answered why she had such a look of disapproval on her face after the words shared with Bak. He had assumed it was something he said, but now he realized it was the words of his brother that forced her soft features to contort in displeasure. She had heard far more of their conversation, then he would have liked.
Kuro slammed on the breaks suddenly as a memory flashed into his thoughts. It was a foolish question, but he understood why she asked. The truth was, he didn’t think of him as much he as he used to, but he was still never far from his thoughts.
The angry drivers behind him were cursing and yelling, but he did not start moving right away. His eyes fixed upon her and his mouth opened; still no sound was uttered. Stepping on the gas the car lurched forward and he managed to force the words out, “I do. He grew into a fine man, you would have been proud. Led the Shima and forged alliances with Aslann and Thacian. Osa the Bold, his people called him.”
“Like his father,” She whispered softly.
“No, I think he was more like his mother. He loved you dearly.”
“He loved you more,” She stated simply. The conversation was tugging at his emotions, but it would be her next question that would force him to pull the car over entirely. “Why didn’t you have any children of your own?”
“There are other Ishi willing and able. Children are a product of love; created by two people that care about each other and nurtured into adulthood…” She cut him off.
“Osa was not a product of love.”
“It is different.”
Kuro mauled over his words as his emotions tore him down, “I never expected to ever care about anyone. The only thing that mattered was being Kuro of the Ishi and I did not much give a fuck if I stepped over people that got in my way. Somehow, you managed to love me with all of this…”
“Dysfunction,” She teased.
“I was going to say forked tongue charm, but sure we can go with dysfunction.” He glanced away from her, shifted the car quickly into park, and turned off the engine. They were supposed to be heading to see Mikio, but for now he simply wanted a moment. “Let’s take a walk,” Kuro insisted as he exited the vehicle and walked around to get her door.
If she was hesitant to do so he had not noticed and the two walked around a nearby park for quite some time in relative silence. Things were not always easy to discuss especially when they spanned millions of years. “I was very sorry to hear about your son,” Kuro finally initiated. “I met him once. He had his father’s way about him. When he passed, it took everything in me to keep from coming to see you.”
When his words came to an end he expected that she would respond in some manner, but she offered him nothing. “I am sorry, perhaps I should not have brought this up,” Kuro resigned.
“No, it…” Her words halted there momentarily, “It has been a long time since his death, but some days the wound feels quite fresh. It was a tragic accident; that is always how people describe it, but I cannot help feeling that his death was a statement. Semei told me I was foolish and reading into things, but it was not long after that his grief overtook him and Kazuma was given access to his vessel.”
Kuro could hear the emotion in every word even as she dismissed it and said, “This is not what you wanted to discuss is it?”
It was difficult not to consider that perhaps she simply did not wish to speak upon her past with him. It was not as though they were a couple again. Sure, they were walking together, holding hands, they spent a night indulging each other. They were all simply moments that he was unwilling to read into. His thoughts were interrupted when she squeezed his hand and asked, “Were you disappointed?”
“Disappointed,” He repeated the word with some question. Certainly she was not referring to the conversation about her son. She herself said it was a wound that had not quite healed and dropping it would be perfectly understandable even though he admittedly felt as though she did not want to talk with him about her past. “No, I understand not wishing to discuss your son.”
“Kuro, I was not referring to him.” Suddenly he stopped walking and slowly glanced toward her with an arched brow of question. It was clear by her sigh that she expected him to know exactly what she was referring to. “Last night, you seemed …”
The switch flicked on in his mind and the sudden realization of what she was referring to hit him, “No…I mean yes, but not for the reason you are thinking. I was not disappointed in you, well….” A frustrated sigh escaped his lips as he ran his fingers through his hair. “Look,” He closed the distance. “I spent millions of years thinking about you and when we finally had that moment again. I was disappointed, but not in you.”
“Myself for having forgotten what you felt like. Stupid because you are not the same person you were back then and of course you would feel different. That did not stop my mind from going to that place. Everything about last night was perfect, but I expected you to feel one way and you … ” He cut his words off for only a moment, “That body back then belonged to the Prince of Aslann and I should have known it would not feel the same. I went in with expectations that were not realistic and that was why I was disappointed.”
“So, you do not like this body?”
“Seriously Tationy?” He asked her in a somewhat frustrated tone. “How can you even think that? Look, I admit that I was farsighted. I foolishly expected things to be the same as they were a million fucking years ago. You know I have never been a big fan of change, but to think that I would be disappointed in you and dislike your body is….” Kuro cut his words off suddenly when he noticed the rather uneasy expression upon her face. She was self-conscious. Why was the question he found himself asking internally.
Kuro became completely aware that if he did not choose his next words carefully the outcome could be quite shattering for both of them. With some ease he reached out and took her hand, tilting his head so he could easily see into her eyes as he stated, “No matter how I felt at that moment, it was because I am old and set in my ways. If time could have stopped and this age of men had been something of fantasy, I would have been a happy man. For me, in a lot of ways, perhaps it did.”
“I was disappointed because I placed undo expectations upon that moment that were not realistic, but I was never unhappy with you. When you moaned for me…” His words lingered there as he considered how he wanted to explain, “When I was in you, I admit that I kept thinking how different you felt. However, as the night progressed and you moaned for me there was excitement. I have not felt that in a long time; that want and desire to learn every little thing. So, yes in the beginning I was disappointed in myself and my old foolish memory that held on to something that wasn’t realistic. Never though, never ever was I disappointed in the woman that cried out my name and begged me not to stop. She excitedly teased my heart and my mind with a longing to experience all of her.”
If he expected her to respond after such a mess of strung together words he was severely mistaken as he released her hand and crossed his arms. Of course she would be upset. A woman expects her man to be in the moment with her and not thinking about how she does not match up to her past self. Kuro said her name with a somewhat defeated sigh, “Tationy.”
“I am not mad,” She stated firmly.
“Then what is it?”
“I am just worried I will keep disappointing you.”
He groaned loudly in frustration before insisting, “It was not you.”
“It seems like it was me. Even if you say it was your own expectations, I am over here not living up to them.” She turned and began to move away, shrugging him off completely when he tried to stop her, “We really should get going. There are things that are far more important than this conversation.”
Those words, pissed him off.
Kuro refused to allow her the opportunity to escape as he reached out and grabbed her wrist. She would not shrug him off this time. No, he would not allow it. She had no choice, but to turn and face him for fear of damage to her wrist which he had caught securely. “Is this how it is Tationy? All you care about is the war and pretense. You better be fucking listening to me, there is nothing more important than us. Nothing,” He stressed.
She bore her teeth as she tried to pull her hand away, but he made certain she understood the position she was in by tightening his grip. Their eyes were securely locked upon each other, but Kuro gave her no opportunity to protest. “I have seen a lot of wars. Been on the front-lines more times than even you have witnessed. War is war; it does not mean I stop living. Maybe before you came into my life I was just seeking out battle after battle for the thrill, but the moment I became responsible for you and our hearts twisted into a knot, living is all I have thought about. Don’t you get tired Tationy of the pretense or are you truly nothing more than the Prince of Aslann’s reincarnate?”
The body of the woman he adored relaxed rather suddenly. Her expression became what he would describe as apathetic. He saw this before, but it had been a very long time. Those emotionless eyes drilled their way to his very core and an uneasy feeling overtook him. Would she speak or simply stare at him? It was difficult to know. Tationy was not always the easiest to read even for those that knew her well.
“How foolish,” She scolded much as the Prince of Aslann had always done. In a way he felt it gave him the answer he sought, at least until she added, “I have never been one for putting on airs, but between the clans and what is deemed as polite society it is sometimes a necessary evil.”
Kuro released her wrist and watched her face as she spoke rather directly, “If I were the Prince of Aslann your clan would be bound to me by blood.”
“Oh, perhaps the prince has decided there is an easier way to bind the Ishi clan.”
“What are you insinuating?”
“Coming to my bedroom like that, was it just part of the game for you?”
Her words came with an unexpected sting, “I want to slap your fucking face off.”
His expression snarled as he grabbed her hand and forced the distance to close between them with a sudden yank. “Oh,” He mused, “Come on Tationy. Let the Prince of Aslann out to play.” Kuro’s fingers dug into her forearm. There was no way she would not understand he was completely baiting her. If she wanted to slap him, she could bring it. “Don’t you ever play this game with me again. You come to a battle with petty words of war, you sure as hell better be ready to back them up.”
“Or what? What are you going to do, Kuro of the Ishi?”
There was a moment of tension filled silence as he stared into her eyes and realized she was not only calling his bluff, she was more than ready to accept his challenge. This was not about throwing mud even though it might have seemed that way. This was about something else; something heated and tangible between them that they could not simple tap dance around even though they both wanted to.
Their faces inched closer and closer until lips brushed feverishly against the others, “I came to your room…” She whispered only after their lips parted, “Because I wanted you even if it was only for a moment to quench this need that aches within me.”
A moment of childlike hopefulness overtook his heart, despite his words, “Anyone could have done that for you.”
“You’re not anyone, Kuro. You will never be just anyone.”
The world for a moment stopped as he leaned in once more and claimed her lips to his. They had gone from talking about one thing to a whole slew of issues that they needed to address. Heated words, frustration, and aching hearts that were clearly calling out to each other.
In the end, the moment couldn’t last as much as he wanted it to. Living not only meant sharing time with her when he could, doing the things he needed to for his clan, but it also meant addressing the war. This day was not simply about them. With one final taste of her lips he forced himself to pull away, “We should get going.”
Their resumed ride was once again plagued with silence. Not entirely unexpected considering how the day had already progressed. Fifteen minutes away from Ishi Shipping, Kuro had already mauled over the hundreds of things he needed to do and say, “Call Nao.”
“Calling Nao,” His car responded.
It would be a few moments of ringing before the second in command of the Ishi answered his phone, “Does this call have something to do with that mess Bak got himself into? It is all over the news.”
With a sigh Kuro responded, “He was foolish. Depleted the magic that was fused into his seal.”
“He is lucky he didn’t kill himself,” Nao stated.
“I wish he understood that. Have you heard from Togore?”
“He was able to get a flight out and arrival time is expected to be seven in the evening tomorrow. I am sure he will be exhausted, but considering what has transpired I will bring him straight to see you.”
“I will be expecting you.” Kuro stated and paused a moment to consider his next words, “Contact Oro and have him manage Bak’s club while he is out of commission and I would like you to head over to the crash site of that meteor.”
“Are you worried that it is not just a random act of nature?”
“Until I speak with Mikio, let’s work on the assumption that it was done intentionally. Better to be safe than sorry.”
“Consider it done. I will let you know what I find out,” Nao responded and the call was ended by both men much as it always was; without the usual farewells and pleasantries.
However, the conversation left Kuro with an uneasiness. Nao’s tone had sounded exactly the same as it did the day the Prince of Aslann entrusted him with the task of transferring his essence into another body. Which made it clear that Kuro most likely would not like what Mikio had to say.
By the time they arrived to Ishi Shipping, Kuro felt he had all the details situated in his head. His brother, his father, whichever one was truly in control was not getting out of speaking truthfully. Not this time. There was far too much at stake.
Kuro and Tationy entered the building together, finding that it was empty with the exception of Mikio who was simply sitting at his desk. He had turned his head and glanced at the two; well to be truthful, Kuro thought it seemed far more like an arrogant disapproving glare. Clearly not the look his brother Mikio was known for which indicated that they were probably dealing mostly with Rin.
“We need to talk,” Kuro stated. Clearly his brother did not feel the same as he offered no initial words, simply directed his attention upon Tationy.
What silent words were shared between the two of them; Kuro could not say, but he was disheartened by the expression upon Tationy’s face. Even the apathy that often plagued the Tylo could not hide the look hidden behind her eyes.
“I see the displeasure of the Ishi is not just limited to the first son of Rin,” She stated.
The way his brother turned his head away from her told Kuro that she was not far-off in her assessment. “Foolishly you shuffle your pieces around until you are backed into a corner. Now, before me you stand hoping I can find a solution when all you have done is tied my hands, tied your own, and indiscriminately sought aide from those of questionable trust.”
His brothers words brought further questions to his mind as he asked, “What aide is he referring to, Tationy?”
“Abe Sosa disappeared during the modern age. Other than yourself, he was the last blood of the god Hisoka. Death would have been a blessing, but it is as though he simply ceased to exist. While Mikio feels he is of questionable trust, I do not. Morri Zenaku may be Shima, but he is my friend. I have known him since he was small and I trust him. He will learn what has become of Abe.”
Kuro felt the annoyance overtake his entire posture, “Tationy, what were you thinking? Allowing a Shima to dance around time could potentially change things, not to mention they are and will always be loyal to the god Kazuma. They may piss blood over the Kari, but when their god calls they will answer.”
“Morri is a good man. He would never…”
Rubbing the back of his neck he snapped, “Go wait outside. Now.” The resignation was not lost on Kuro as he watched her step outside and said under his breath, “Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with baby snakes these days?”
“She thinks she can do it all on her own. Perhaps because she has always felt she was. Regardless of the reasons she cautiously makes moves as a reaction to other things in play. Fear keeps her from playing aggressively,” Mikio stated.
“So, how bad is this?”
“As of today, none of the Shima have seemed to notice. However, the deeper he delves into time the more obvious his movements will become. Once he has gone past the point of no return, there will be nothing hidden from the eyes of the Shima.”
“Certainly, they will inform Kazuma what he is doing.” Kuro sighed, “Her intentions might have been well and good, but she put that kid in danger.”
“You are assuming that Kazuma does not already know. That this path has not already been laid out before his eyes. The powers of each of the gods, come from Kazuma. As he grows stronger so does his sight.”
“Fantastic. So, not only are you saying she fucked up. You are telling me that he probably already knows she did.”
“With Kazuma, there is nothing that can be ruled out.” Kuro expected the conversation to change focus, but what Mikio said next was not the direction he expected, “You should not have brought her here. With the Matsuo watching me if they decided to strike, she would simply get in the way.”
“You have spent years protecting her and yet your words are callous, what is this really about?”
The silence was not unexpected as Mikio stared off into the distance with a rather stern and hard gaze. “Does this have to do with your hands being tied? Consider them untied,” Kuro stated simply. “There is no need for you to continue to protect her.”
“Do you really think it is that simple?”
Kuro snorted, “Oh, nothing ever is when it comes to Rin and Tearra. So, let’s move on. No reason to piss and moan about tied hands when I have just unshackled yours. I will take care of her, you just do whatever the fuck it is you do. Now, you got things that you need to say and I am here to listen. Time to start talking.”
Leaning against the wall he waited for his brother to speak. Kuro was not foolish. He expected that unbinding tied hands was not as simple as saying he would take care of her. There had been a reason Mikio had given all of himself to ensuring her safety; clearly the cost had been high.
Not surprising was the length of time it took his little brother to finally speak, “We cannot save the Kari Foundation.” Kuro inwardly groaned, “Hiko Kari went big and bold and moved it into a new age with companies in Asia and North America, but he refused to utilize her eyes. Had he, he might not have been so foolish and farsighted.”
“Oh, Hiko Kari never knew any other way. She is going to want to know why.”
“Tationy has controlling interest, but Kazuma wields enough power to overthrow her. The only reason he has not, is because he expects her to dismantle it. If she refuses, he will force those shareholders to unite their power and vote her out.”
“Clearly, you do not know her at all if you think she is just going to let this all fall where it may. So, what do you purpose? ”
“We are starting with some controversial closures of both the Asian and North American companies. I have sent several Ishi to each location along with ships on behalf of Tationy. The Kari Foundation never outsources; they always hire from within the family. So, there is a luxury of doing this quietly; though only for a time. Eventually, the news will become public.”
Mikio continued, “Tationy can hold off Kazuma by making it seem as though she is relenting to his wishes and everything is being moved back to the main office.”
“It is not going to the main office is it?”
“No. The first strike against Kazuma starts with a hostile takeover. Page twenty-four, paragraph five is an unused clause that Hiko Kari put into place to ensure that the Kari that worked for him understood there would be reprisals for lackadaisical and negligent work habits. Paraphrasing, if any Kari leaves their position without prior authorization from human resources they will be immediately discharged from their position.”
Kuro snorts, “Oh, seems Hiko Kari didn’t change a single bit other than the fact he has substituted ritual suicide for deserters to the loss of financial stability.” With an amused pause he added, “Seems unlikely that those rushing off to their God Kazuma will take the time to fill out the appropriate paperwork. Which I am taking to mean that shareholders that have not read the fine print, will inadvertently hurt their claim.”
“So, is this where the Ishi swoop in and seize it all?”
“Something like that.”
“Why are you hiding this from her?”
Mikio’s posture adjusted as he glanced toward the door Tationy had exited, “She will not like this. There is a part of her that loves the Kari and does not wish for them to lose it all. Foolish and young she thinks saving something that Kazuma wants destroyed is as simple as the company doing well. Maybe if she was Tearra she could convince him to spare the legacy of the Kari. Unfortunately for Tationy, Kazuma sees her only as a blight that has tainted the purity of his queen.”
“She said something to me about Kazuma looking for someone that can break the Heroska of Tadayoshi Kari. Have you seen this?”
“The Nakamaru called Shiano is currently out of Kazuma’s reach, but for how long I cannot say. Among his clan he is an unknown variable. There are times when he sides with his blood and others where he stands against them. Even I cannot say what decision he will make in this.”
“So, we find him…”
Mikio cut him off, “He is of no consequence at this point. A waste of resources.”
“How can you sit there and insist that he does not matter when it puts her life in danger?”
“Don’t you think that I would have handled him already if that were the case? At the moment, there is nothing that can be done about Shiano Nakamaru. Even if I knew where he was. Besides, we have far more pressing concerns.”
“The meteor,” Kuro stated knowingly. “Why do I have the feeling you are going to tell me that Kazuma’s hand is far-reaching?”
“Kazuma created the universe, the gods, the plants, and gave life. That was not all he created. The five great gods were simply the cusp; the beginning. The first point in the universe and there would be many deities that followed. Right now Kazuma is commanding the heavens and those gods that still exist among the stars are answering his call. Only his first, stand against him.”
“So, this is all of that end of days nonsense Rin was always preparing for. I seem to recall him saying something about a group of gods called the Maia (Pronunciation: my-ah); From each god, Kazuma took a strand of hair imbuing them with the power to command the seasons, the earth, and to unleash the storms of Kazuma’s wraith.” Kuro paused momentarily, “What I don’t understand is how a simple man can command the heavens.”
“It is nothing overly complicated. The other deities simply recognize him as the creator of all.”
“If that is the case, then why have they not answered the call of Rin. Certainly, they should recognize you as the death god and for that matter, Tationy as Tearra. Why is it the two of you do not wield such power?”
In very typical Mikio fashion he stated, “Who knows.”
“Oh, is this how this conversation is going to end?” The question lingered there as his brother continued to avoid, “I hate it when you pull this shit. Whatever it is, just tell me so we can fix it.”
“There is no fixing it,” Mikio stated.
“Why the fuck not?”
“Rin was never meant to be reincarnated in me. As long as he is trapped in my body there is nothing that can be done for him to gain his full power. As for Tationy…”
“No need to finish. I get it. Rin is broken and the link between them severed.” With a deep sigh Kuro added, “So, that means she was right to ask that Zenaku to search for Hisoka. If Kazuma already has his hands upon Ryozo the last person to be able to stand against Kazuma at full strength is the God of Love. Isn’t this a big pile of steaming shit.”
The irritation in his tone was quite obvious as he added, “What the fuck is wrong with my brothers when it comes to women? Bak drains his seal to save some foreigner who is Kari might I add and you tie your hands to protect Tationy to the point that you allow this shit to pile up like this. I am done right now. Let’s table this before I say something that I cannot take back. We will continue this conversation tomorrow when Togore arrives. I expect you to be there.”
“Kuro…” Mikio said his name which halted his departure. “The girl Bak saved is not one of the things you need to worry about.”
He scoffed as he walked toward the door Tationy had exited, “Baby snakes that cannot even take care of themselves have no right to tell me what I should or should not be concerned over.”
They were harsh words spoken to his brother in a moment of heated anger. It could not be help. Nothing was ever simple when it came to his father Rin. Now, Kuro learns that Rin is trapped in Mikio and his brother will never be able to command his power. What hope was there? What did it mean for the Ishi? There were plenty of negative thoughts eating away at his heart and he and Tationy departed Ishi Shipping.