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It was a long night and equally exhausting morning for Kuro of the Ishi. Mikio was still in a meditative state trying to uncover information regarding the anomaly. Bak’s status was currently unknown. Matsuo infringing upon the territory of the Ishi. Not to mention, war barking at the back door. It took a lot to shrug it all off and go about his day as though these clan and world altering events were not going on all around him.

Still, that was exactly what he did. Early he rose and spent a few hours visiting with clan mates when Tationy had said she needed to go to the Kari Foundation. Not wanted, no she needed to go. Kuro was slightly worried what that entailed, but with Mikio currently out of commission it was probably for the best that they check in on the company they were working to take over.

The faces of the Kari workers as Kuro and Tationy walked in side by side, must have been something to behold. There were moments when some even stopped to whisper, but Kuro was careful not to let it affect him as they stepped into her office and came face-to-face with a young Kari man.

There were certain things that jumped out about him. He defied the ways of the Kari, keeping his hair on the shorter side. His skin was dark like Tationy’s indicating that he was a remnant of the Sato clan. Not to mention, the upbeat expression and relaxed posture. “Was starting to wonder if I was ever going to hear from you again,” He spoke in a light tone.

“Things have been hectic. I would offer an apology, but I know you would never take it.”

The Kari responded with a telling Yamada tick, “Ahh, it is difficult to remain upset with the Queen of the Kari.” He was something else; Yamada, Sato, Kari, and those eyes that shimmered like lavender stars.

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“Does the King of the Gods know you are what remains of the Yuya?”

“A very direct question from the Elder of the Ishi,” The Kari man stated with a casual shrug, “My few encounters with him, there has been mention of the Yuya, though that is as far as it has gone. Something you would like to share?”

“It is an old clan,” Tationy expressed. “Absorbed by the Kari the first year of Kazuma’s mortal life. Not much is known about them. There were so few by the time Kazuma descended from the heavens.”

Kuro pursed his lips. There were things he could say about the Yuya and Sato. The truth of the matter was, they were clans whose blood didn’t diminish as time passed. “I would be mindful of your Kari king and his motives regarding your blood,” Was all Kuro offered.

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The young Kari man laughed briefly, “Ahh, no worries there. Every action he makes is always suspect, which brings me to a rather important matter. It would seem that I can no longer avoid the Elder of the Kari. I had a rather unpleasant visit from a Matsuo insisting that I return to Shimragata.”

Tationy noticeably sighed, “Somè is not foolish. He understands the power you wield among your kin. One way or another, he has to gain control over you. It is the only way to ensure that all of the Kari return to his side.”

“The two of us have talked about this at great lengths. We knew it was a possibility, but with the Kari Foundation in such a perilous position…well lets just say I am worried about the timing.”

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Kuro glanced toward the woman he loved and noticed the tense expression that adorned her features, “Mikio has spoken with you, yes?”

“Ahh, we have been in constant communication. The European, Asian, and North American companies are currently being dismantled. Within a week’s time they…”

“We should contact those in charge and tell them to abandon anything that is unimportant. Focus on research, prototypes, and files. I fear we may not have a week if Kazuma is summoning you to him.”

“I will contact Nao,” Kuro stated. “With Mikio currently unavailable, I will have him act as the go between for this transition.”

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While he spoke on the phone with Nao he listened in on the conversation Tationy was having with Iashi of the Kari, “Mikio of the Ishi told me a bit about what is planned for the Kari Foundation. I guess, it is better for it to be in the hands of the Ishi then torn apart and discarded by Kazuma’s will. Still, I don’t know how I feel about it.”

“It is not the path I wished to take this,” Tationy stated. “His eyes see far beyond mine. Perhaps I am simply too close to the situation to view it objectively. I cannot say. Mikio and the Ishi will do right by the Kari that choose to stand against Kazuma and someday when the war is over, your blood will have its company back.”

“I appreciate that, really I do. Perhaps, in this regard, it is wise to not make promises you may not be able to keep.”

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Kuro ended his call abruptly and responded, “Then I will make it. The Queen of the Kari has given her word and the Elder of the Ishi stands by that. When this war is over, you will be given your company back. Provided any of us survive, of course.”

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“Ahh,” The young Kari uttered. Truth be told if the positions were reversed, Kuro was not certain he would be as composed. There was not a moment to dwell on whether or not Iashi thought him sincere in his words. “I appreciate that. I really do, but I guess I should probably be a bit clearer.”

His attention fell once again upon Tationy as she spoke, “I do not think that is a wise decision, Iashi.”

“Honestly, it probably isn’t, but I cannot continue to avoid Kazuma. The Kari that have decided to go against the will of our king are struggling. Even if I stand against him, I cannot say they will continue to have the strength to follow. When that Matsuo showed up at my house, I thought for a moment he was there to kill me. I remember thinking, it is what I would do.”

“This will fail, you know it will,” She tried to argue as Kuro worked to piece together what the young man was trying to say.

“It is a chance I am willing to take.” He paused a moment, “Really I am not worried he will kill me. It would be foolish of him to make me a martyr, but if he does…expect a lot of unhappy Kari seeking you out for guidance.”

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Quickly Tationy had moved to rush toward the young Kari man in some futile attempt to shake him from his foolishness. At least that was how Kuro had taken the action. He said her name with a great deal of force, “Tationy.” When he had to say it a second time, it was clear there was annoyance, “Tationy.”

She stopped moving and turned to face him, “Let him be.”

“What are you asking me..”

Kuro interrupted her, “No matter who you are, there is no changing the mind of a man when his resolve is set. This is a decision he has thought long and hard about. Do not diminish his sacrifice.”

“This is foolish…” She tried to argue.

This time Kuro was forced to release the restraint he had been showing, “That is enough. A warrior knows when it is time for him to pick up his sword and put his life on the line. This is his time and his choice.”

The young Kari man bowed his head as he began moving, “I am sorry Tationy to leave you with this burden.”

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It was not even a half a second later when Kuro noticed her crossing her arms, tilting her head, and baring her baby fangs at him. “This is the moment you choose to command me?” There was a surliness to her tone, “He is a good kid. His people believe in him. Someday…”

“Someday, one day, none of that matters Tationy. Your vision is clouded because of your feelings for the Kari.” He took a breath and released it all at once, “That boy made this decision long before today and it worries me that you cannot see that.”

“I have known him since he was a boy,” She responded. “This is not what I want for him.”

“It is not your place to choose his path.”

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Her mouth opened to protest and Kuro quickly closed the distance on her. Face-to-face their eyes locked, “Right now, ensuring the survival of the Kari Foundation is of the utmost importance. Let him do as he feels is necessary and pray that his blade strips away at the defenses of our enemy, but it is no longer your place to concern yourself with his path.”

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“What should I be concerning myself with then?” She asked the question though her tone hardly hid her displeasure.

She could be difficult and stubborn to a fault. It was not as though he could complain about it because he was known to be the same way. His fingers reached out and teased along her shoulder coaxing her arms to release the tension that had built, “There are many titles you hold, but you are Ishi. My blood, my kin, and …” His words lingered there a moment.

“Are you trying to tell me that the only path I should be concerned with, is the one that we are both on?”

He did not offer her a response in any form of language that was spoken with words. Kuro simply wrapped his arms around her body and kissed her.

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Kuro would find out that she had passed off her absence as a much needed vacation. Which explained why some of the Kari were surprised to see her. Quickly, she had informed those that questioned it that she was only stopping in to check messages and handle a few matters. They seemed concerned for her, telling her to take it easy. It was frightening at how good she was at the game of pretense.

As they departed the Kari Foundation at five in the evening, Kuro took the opportunity to ask, “When was the last time you had a vacation?”

She shrugged her shoulders and looked away. Offering a have a good day, good to see you to several Kari that passed by. After several moments of avoiding she finally said, “For my twenty-third birthday, Tadayoshi took me to Mexico.”

Kuro was surprised that the length of time was so great. Tationy was a hundred and seventy-eight years old and she was telling him that for the better part of her life she was all work and no play. It concerned him; the dedication she put in to something that did not even belong to her because that was the reality of it. The Kari Foundation was the heart and soul of the Kari clan.

“Maybe after this is all over with, the two of us could plan a vacation together,” Kuro stated.

She laughed which caught him off-guard, “I do not know if that is a good idea with that pasty skin of yours. I have a feeling you would start moulting the moment we hit a beach.”

Tationy was teasing him. There were a lot of rumors about the Gods; the most common being that they originally did not have human form. That when they fell from the heavens they were locked away in the bodies of men. His father Rin was said to be a great serpent. While his grandfather on his mother’s side a mighty dragon. Was it true? Perhaps only those with the Eyes of the Goddess knew. “Well you know I am part snake,” He responded with a cheeky smile and then asked, “Since when does my appearance trouble you?”

“I never said it did. I just do not want to be naked on a beach with you coiled up shucking your skin right next to me. Really, that would take away from how good I look in nothing.”

“That is a nice image,” He responded as the two flirted. “So, we can forgo the beach and take in a cruise or maybe someplace cold where you are forced to cuddle up to me.”

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It was about that point that Tationy stopped moving and Kuro realized there was a figure standing before them with a rather dark and serious expression. He had the brightest blue eyes he had ever seen; a sign that he was Shima. Kuro thought that this must be the Zenaku friend of Tationys, but there was concern over his sudden appearance.

“Morri, we were just on our way to see you,” Tationy stated, but her tone changed mid-sentence. There was a tension there, which Kuro tried to pass off, but could not. “Is something wrong?”

Her question lingered as the Zenaku simply stared and then smiled, “Just taking it all in. I am glad that you finally took my advice and went to the Elder of the Ishi.”

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Her body relaxed as she responded, “I probably should have listened to you and Imari a long time ago.”

There was a moment where she went to introduce the two of them, but the Zenaku had stopped her. “There is no time for introductions,” He stated and then continued quickly, “I do not have much time, but this is the only opportunity I was going to get this week to stop in and see you.”

“Alright,” Tationy stammered.

The Zenaku did not hesitate to move quickly through the conversation, “I did as you asked and looked through the time-steam for what happened to Hisoka’s reincarnate. There was a void, like you said where he just disappeared. It is as though something or someone was masking him. Honestly, I have never encountered anything like it before.”

Kuro tried to hide his concern. This was the third time in two days that there had been mention of a power capable of silencing. He did not let his mind dwell on it for long as Tationy asked, “So, you were not able to locate Abe?”

“I would not say that,” He responded then added quickly, “There was a moment when I could see him clearly in the time-stream, but you will not like what I saw.”

“He was killed?” She asked.

“I am sorry. There is no information on the who or what, but he was fatally wounded and fell. All I could hear was his final words, In the next life I am not going to make the same mistake.”

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He could feel the tension swirling violently around Tationy. He had not felt this kind of emotion from her in a long time. She did not even offer any words to the Zenaku when he spoke, “I am sorry I cannot bring you better news. If there is anything else you need of me…”

“Thank you,” Kuro responded. “I am sure she would tell you the same if she was not struck with such terrible news.”

“It is alright. It was not my wish to be the one to inform her of his demise. If either of you need me further, do not hesitate to call,” Morri  (pronunciation: more-re; re as in read) responded as he quickly departed.

Not until the Zenaku was long gone did Tationy say, “He is lying.”

Those words took Kuro by surprise, “Why would he lie about the death of Hisoka’s reincarnate.”

“No, not his death. He spoke to Abe.”

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Tationy had refused to speak on why she thought Morri of the Zenaku had spoken with Abe (Pronunciation: ahh-bay). So, they had departed the Kari Foundation, drove two hours to his home, and she hid in her room the rest of the night. At least until she was forced to get up, get ready, and prepare for the two hour track back to Thacian (Pronunciation: thay-she-in) City to the Emperor’s Ballroom.

They made their grand appearance side by side, though had not spoken in many hours. “Lord Kuro Ishi with Lady Tationy Tylo,” A man announced as the two stood near the entryway.

Kuro hated these events and did everything he could to get out of them. Nao always insisted that he make an appearance even if he did not stay long, but being so close to Tationy and so far away made for a less than enjoyable evening. This time, however, was different. She was on his arm and looked amazing, though he made certain to force himself to keep his eyes off of her.

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It was about twenty minutes after their arrival, while the two were standing off to the side that Kuro broke the silence. “You are so tense. Perhaps it would seem more convincing if you tried to at least put a smile on you face.”

“I hate these events and I am not really in the mood,” She acknowledged.

“Want me to put you in the mood?”

His question must have teased her slightly because her lips parted and the corners of her mouth upturned slightly. “We both know you are not the type of man to put me in the mood in such a public forum.”

“I will make an exception, just this once,” He teased as his hand slid down along her backside and rested upon her bottom. With a brief squeeze she blushed enough that she finally ventured to look at him. Even with her beauty, Kuro  could tell she was miserable. “Are you ready to talk to me?”

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“Sure, let’s find our table,” She responded and the two wandered around the ballroom for a bit looking for their assigned seating. Once they were settled in and drinks were served she spoke, “The Shima came to Abe during the modern age. Told him he was one of the Dragonlords. He wanted nothing to do with it or them, but it was not something you could say no to.”

Her face lit up at one point and she smiled as she talked about the Sosa (Pronunciation: so-suh), “Abe was difficult. He and Hiko, didn’t see eye to eye over anything and yet I can honestly say they both respected each other. Had Hiko gone to Abe and said, let’s conquer the world. I have no doubts Abe would have accepted, but he did not feel that way about many people. It was impossible to gain his respect. Very few could.”

“Never did he trust the Dragonlords. Abe served no god and they were trying to strip him of his pride. He was worried. Not the type of guy that got all worked up over things, but when he was tense it was because he was really concerned.”

“He came to me before he left and said that the Dragonlords sensed a great power in the time-stream. Rising up in the west. They were concerned what this meant for Kazuma. So, they were sending Abe to investigate. He told me that he was not certain that he would make it back to Aslann alive.”

“So, why do you think the Zenaku is lying to you?”

“Before Abe left, he gave me a note and it said that he would find a way to get a message to me if something bad happened to him. If it said, don’t cry Tat. That meant he fell in battle and there was no regrets. However, if the message said in the next life I am not going to make the same mistake. It meant to trust no one, not even the person giving me the message.”

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Kuro smiled, “Oh, just when I think this stuff cannot get anymore out of hand.” After the light words he closed his eyes and sighed, “I can understand why you might be concerned, but there is no point dwelling on it. If Abe Sosa was a Dragonlord, it is possible that they are cleaning up loose ends. If that is the case, it says more that the Zenaku is still alive then it does about him not being dead.”

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Their conversation did not remain on the dark topic long because their table was quickly filling up with other guest from the gala. It was with a great deal of reluctance that Kuro played the game of pretense and put on a show, “So, I am pretty sure they are not going to have chocolate and olives on the expected meal for this event.”

Kuro had to admit it felt good teasing her like this. He appreciated her lovely smile, but her eyes were calling him an asshole. “I will have you know, Kuro of the Ishi, it was a one time thing,” She responded.

“Oh, so I am not going to have to make a detour on the way home to get you some?”

“Of course not….well maybe,” She responded with a bit of a mischievous expression.

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They smiled, laughed, talked endlessly with people they did not care about. Spent the majority of the evening writing each other’s names on unknown auction items and then laughing when the other got something they did not want. Despite the pretense, it was not a terrible evening.

It was well into the final moments of the gala when the host and hostess, Tafari (Pronunciation: tuh-far-e) Zenaku (Pronunciation: z-nah-coo) and Wen (Pronunciation: when) Yamada (Pronunciation: yuh-ma-duh) made their speeches that Kuro felt he could relax. At least until he noticed Tationy lift a glass of wine and bring it toward her lips. They had been served drinks throughout the evening, but she had consistently avoided drinking anything except water.

Now he found himself staring at her rather intently. “I know what you are thinking, Kuro of the Ishi,” She teased him as she closed her eyes and parted her lips.

“I was thinking that you probably should not be drinking that,” He stated firmly.

“Actually, I think it was something more along the lines of, if she drinks that then I know she is not pregnant.”

He completely scowled at her, “I think you are enjoying torturing me a little too much.”

“I admit this game does rather get me going,” She responded teasingly.

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Kuro groaned as he reached out and took her glass, sitting it upon the table behind her as he spoke. “Is this really how you want to play this,” He asked though did not give her a moment to respond to his rhetorical question. His arm found its way around her waist and without any hesitation he pulled her into him.

With unbridled passion he kissed her. Certainly they would be the talk of the evening with his hands and mouth all over her. As exciting as the moment was their lips eventually had to part. Though he was careful not to break his hold and keep the sexual tension heightened. Licking his lips his breath brushed along her lips, “I can’t let you win, Tationy. After all, I am the one that taught you how to play.”

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