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Meeting of Families
After weeks of searching, Kiyohito was convinced that Haruto fled Japan. The family extended him the opportunity to find the one that was blamed for a very public blight against their family, but if Kiyohito didn’t track down his little brother in time, only his own blood would satiate the wrong.

He never imagined himself in Moscow. Yet as the car let him off at the entrance to a hotel in the downtown business district, he realized just how far from Tokyo he was. He’d never left Japan before.

The hotel had his data before he even stepped foot inside the lobby. The man who owned the building had ties to their organization, but the biometric scanners at the door weren’t lost to Kiyo’s gaze either.

Except for the odd guest in the hotel bar, Kiyohito was a guest that kept to himself. His meetings were always short, long enough to share sake and formalities. He was careful with his probing, finding that the family in which he belonged did not rule in Moscow. Finally, he arranged to meet with representatives from the Edenokōji clan whose foothold in Moscow was unrivaled. 

The bar was in a neighborhood he hadn’t seen before. It had something of a reputation, he’d been told, of trouble. Rumor said that a bloody fight once took place in the parking lot among strained Yakuza and Russian relations. Kiyohito was alone when he entered, and he certainly felt alone when more than one tight pair of eyes looked up. He tugged on the sleeves of his suit and showed himself to a table along the wall and ordered a bottle of Japanese beer if they had it.
Kōta’s gokudō connections bought them favour with this particular rest point. He had insisted Moscow would be the place they would finally set down roots, yet it was already the second of their accommodations in the short months since their arrival. Fortunately Eido had no roots waiting to set down, and she suffered no particular disappointment at the move. The rooms above the bar were small for two people (not least with the small menagerie that sometimes travelled with them), but the landlord here was prepared to turn a blind eye to the manner of Kōta’s work. So far he had, but it always changed eventually.

Legitimate employment was difficult to come by without a CID, which left Eido herself at a familiar impasse in a new city. With so little to her name, oftentimes the only available, no questions kind of work on offer required the selling of flesh or charm, neither of which she had to give. Still, she dutifully combed the city for opportunity during the day. Paused when it grew too fruitless a search, seeking little pockets of solitary peace from the frustrations of her ghostly existence instead. Amidst the bustle of ordinary life she missed home with a deep and abiding ache; pain that afflicted worse, not better, as the years had worn on. This she did not confide in her brother. Nor how sometimes her hand pressed to where the kaiken was strapped to her person.

But there was no honour in a death forestalled for so long.

In the evenings, when her brother was absent, she made herself useful where she could. She did not work the bar, and Gus did not ever ask her. In fact, though she sometimes sensed the weight of his gaze like she were a puzzle he could not begin to fathom, he did not speak to her much at all. But there was a small kitchen out back, for preparing greasy western food when the customers called for it, and there was always something that needed cleaning there. It wasn’t necessary work; they paid, perhaps extortionately, for the space upstairs. But it kept her busy. Silence settled a burden around her shoulders no one usually disturbed, perhaps under the assumption that she did not speak much English. Or perhaps because she simply never looked up.

When Gus plodded in from the bar beyond, wringing tattooed hands on a cloth and grumbling to himself about fucking Japanese beer and the lost virtues of vodka, she did not pay any heed. His tongue was habitually uncouth, his customers always considered nuisances to some degree or other. She found it a strange attitude, but such vitriol seemed both undisguised and unremarkable in this part of the world, and insults flew without meaning or recourse. Cigarette smoke wafted as he passed, only to permeate as his boots abruptly stopped. She felt his attention linger on the sparse scratches half-healed on her forearm as she scrubbed the counters. It was not the first time he had taken silent note of her injuries, seldom though they were. But Gus knew what Kōta dealt in, and he knew it was nothing so innocent as kitten claws that marked her.

“I’ll fetch it,” she said. He had not been about to ask her, but she understood in the shift of his weight that he had been about to reach out. Reflexes saw her smoothly around whatever action he had intended; kindness or curiosity, she had no use for either.

Gus grunted, and it sounded more annoyed than it did grateful, but he also retreated back the way he had come, the cloth whipped over his shoulder. Alone again, Eido closed her eyes. The thought of the avoided touch made her feel briefly sick; that no matter how crude she perceived him to be, he still did not deserve the abomination he had unknowingly welcomed under his roof.

She knew enough of where things were kept, though they had only been staying here a short while. When she emerged a short time later with the crate, she did not look about to see who was in the bar, and least of all who might be drinking the asahi; in fact her eyes remained downcast, muted expression shadowed by the straight curtains of hair either side of her cheekbones. She placed one bottle on the bar, a little to Gus’s left, and then turned to stack the rest away without prompting. He did not thank her, but she was content with the anonymity.
[Image: cherry-blosson.png]
• ChihiroKōta •
MalaikaKwan Yin • Diana
There were only four drinks the Yakuza allowed to be consumed during business. Upon finding out that the bar indeed stocked ashai Kiyohito had no need to order his second choice. Whiskey always got him drunk, and he preferred to keep his wits for a while at least.

He sat patiently for about twenty minutes before a waitress returned. A single bottle occupied her tray, which she placed before him with a clunk of glass on the table. She was short with yellow hair that curled around her ears. She wore a black dress cut so low that her bosom seemed about to fall out.
“Do you want anything to eat?” she asked.

Kiyohito shook his head. “No, but I do want you to answer a question,” he said.
She leaned closer, hand on her chin.

Kiyohito knew she was flirting with him. On another day he might have gone for it, but he was focused on business. Maybe if she was still around when the bar closed…
“Do you get many Japanese in here?”
“Japanese? Or ya-ku-za?” she smiled.

Her flippant use of the word, within earshot of the nearest tables, left him speechless.

She went on. “Yes, they come in from time to time.” Her gaze flicked to the bar where a reserved Japanese woman was putting away additional bottles of Ashai. Women could be yakuza, although historically they were rare. He doubted that was who the waitress was referencing.

Kiyohito pulled out his wallet and showed her a picture of Haruto. “Do you ever see this man with them?”

She folded her arms, which made it seem like her breasts were about to be pushed out from her dress. “That sounds like an unfriendly question,” her teasing continued.

Kiyo hated this kind of back and forth. He was never any good at it. Haruto was always the talker. Kiyo was much better at getting information the old-fashioned way. Usually just staring at people got them to talk.

The waitress left him alone. Meanwhile, Kiyo took a drink straight from the bottle and began to search the internet for the next possible bar. Between drinks, he kept tabs on the Japanese woman. 

After about an hour, Kiyohito paid the tab and left the bar proper. There was indeed a parking lot outside and he had to wonder about the story of the bloody brawl. There were a few posts casting pools of light, but the exterior was otherwise dark. A locked gate separated the service entrance from the street, but Kiyohito scaled the fence easily by way of a dumpster. He landed on the other side with a soft thud, but took the time to straighten his jacket as he prowled the back. 

A kitchen door was open. From within wafted western music and the scent of food fried in old oil. From the shadow of a trashcan, the orange light of a vape illuminated his face briefly while he waited to see who would come out first.
When she was done she returned without a word to the kitchen, where she kept herself busy until service began to pick up, and her bubble of isolation became too much of a nuisance to maintain. She was about to slip back upstairs when a quiet thud outside drew her attention instead to the open door. Amidst the general noise and music no one around her noticed, but Eido paused to listen for more. The weight had not been the delicate padfoot of an alley cat, and the area beyond was locked and secured; not somewhere a drunk or vagrant might easily settle for the night. There were a few creatures she could think of that might prey in such a prowling way, but the surrounding light and bustle made it an unlikely prospect, and there was no apparent lure – just patient silence. After a moment of scrutiny, faint spider-silk traces of vapour made it clear the trespasser outside must be human. Everything was still after that, like nothing but a figment of overwrought imagination had stirred her to attention. The kitchen continued on its routines, oblivious.

Beyond her kaiken, she had no weapon to defend herself or others, and the knife was hardly meant for that. She felt some small relief. It ought to be Gus’s problem now; it was his bar to protect, and his staff who might later lean out into the darkness for a smoke break or breath of air. Eido could forewarn him, and leave it at that. But she could suddenly feel her heart pounding in her chest, and it held her in stillness. Its rhythm was not fast with fear, but loud and heavy, each beat stolen from a death six years ago, and a flagrant reminder that she had no right to be here. She had no reason to suspect a hunter after all this time, but the heavy yoke of guilt around her neck prickled her skin with both trepidation and yearning. Because it was possible, and it was a duty that called her even from the mire of her own dishonour.

She went without hesitation, slow and deliberate. For a moment she stood in the doorway, limned by the light, the shadows beyond deepened and sooty to her nightblind eyes. If her sin was ever to be balanced, she was not sure she wanted to see the hand which took what she could not, and least of all the look in her deliverer’s eye before the act, whether it be mercy, or pity, or disgust. For a veil of last sight she would rather see the stars, but there were none above when she looked, just the stain of city lights. Home was so very far away.

“Why are you out here?” Her gaze did not seek to fathom the outline of whoever waited, or where they might hide, though it did return from the heavens down to the earth – lower, if that were possible. If they emerged, she would only see their feet. She finally stepped out, pulling the door close behind her, until the triangle of light from inside squeezed to a sliver. Her English was only dusted with accent, her tone soft and absent the demand the words might suggest. She didn’t stray far into the darkness. Her hands folded softly at her waist.
[Image: cherry-blosson.png]
• ChihiroKōta •
MalaikaKwan Yin • Diana
It was a short wait. Kiyohito was prepared to greet anyone. For all intents and purposes, he was just a man enjoying a smoke in the shadows. If it weren’t for the jacket and tie, he may have been a restaurant worker taking a hard earned break. Despite his lounging posture, Kiyo was attentive. It was with a slight flutter of anticipation when someone emerged, but he was slow to react when he realized the silhouette was feminine.

She pulled the door gently closed, voice softly probing the darkness. How did she know he was there? If they had video cameras, he assumed the big man working the stove to been the one to confront him. Instead, he pushed his weight away from the fence to greeted her with a response of his own.
“Why did you come out to ask?”

He didn’t expect an answer. Kiyohito was too embedded in the traditions of his family to recognize shame when it was so obvious. He wouldn’t comment on it, but instinct conjured the curiosity as to its origin.

“To speak with you,” he finally said in their shared language. The orange glow of the vape’s LED briefly illuminated his features as he did.
Eido was surprised to recognise the voice as one she had heard speaking inside the bar earlier. The immediate question was not expected either, and it showed in both her expression and her long silence after he spoke. She did not feel she owed an answer, yet secrecy was a shroud worn for so long that it had begun to feel like the woman underneath eroded to nothing. Most days she existed like little more than a ghost. She kept no real company and she sought no connections with strangers, this moment included. Yet the opportunity to share something true while saying nothing of real consequence did not present itself often.

“Duty and honour leave their marks upon us even when both have been forfeit. But sometimes we seek those paths still, even when we no longer deserve them. That is why I came out to ask.”

She did not think it likely he was Atharim any longer. If this were a trap it was slow to spring. To subdue her kind successfully, surprise and efficiency were essential tools – indeed perhaps the only ones in a hunter's arsenal. Eido could not differentiate between the disappointment and relief that stirred in her like ash on dry earth, and she did not pause to reflect on it. Rather she considered if he was here looking for Kōta, and what that might mean. She knew he was searching for a man; she had overheard as much in the bar. Given her brother’s predilection for trouble, it would not have surprised her to discover a grievance, but none had ever sought to go through her before.

The stranger was dressed like one of the gokudō; she assessed that much without meeting his eye in the brief illumination of his vape. Instead she watched shadows while she considered a response. Kōta rarely spoke to her in Japanese anymore, for she would not answer it in kind. Nor did she now, though she felt a brief pang of regret. “Perhaps you have mistaken me for someone else. I cannot help you.”
[Image: cherry-blosson.png]
• ChihiroKōta •
MalaikaKwan Yin • Diana
The girl must be fresh from Nihon to be so demure. Kiyohito found that the girls of his nation quickly acclimated to western customs when departing their shores. She floated above the threshold as if unsure whether she ought to interrupt the exterior Kiyo occupied. Her volume of her voice was gentle as a stream weaving a path of least disturbance through its surroundings. But Kiyo saw more than a demure girl keeping to the weight of their mighty customs. He heard what she said. Took it in and mulled upon its meaning. Shame clung to her like shadows. A weighty shroud to pull the face of the most high.

“We learn little from victory and much from defeat. Whatever you have done, it can be atoned,” he replied. His answer was one of reassurance, but it was unknown if it was aimed at her or at himself. He was chasing the opportunity for redemption as well.

“I’m looking for my brother. All I would ask is if you have seen his face,” he added while he fished out the wallet from inside his jacket. The image was pulled up shortly, but she would have to come nearer to gaze upon it. “Do you have brothers?” He asked in an attempt to ease her anxiety. Kiyo was otherwise rooted as a mountain. There was nothing to suggest he was a threat or apt to move at all. If she was the gentle stream, he was the mountain that fed her path.
Usually others did not persist when faced with her polite rejections. It made for a surprisingly efficient shield. However in this case, the stranger’s entreaty continued regardless. Though Eido had made no move to retreat from her perch, a defeated sigh filled her lungs, for she would not be rude enough to simply turn her back and walk away. She did not let the breath spill out, just buried it deep in her chest, and listened.

"It is not something I have done. It is something I have not.” It is something I am. She did not utter the last aloud, suspecting it might only ignite some unwanted curiosity as to her meaning. Eido’s tone was resigned, but gently so. Her life was a habit, and she was as caught in its loop as a yūrei bound to earthly plains. It had been foolish to say anything at all and think she could do so without consequence, because she immediately heard that awful note of recognition in his voice. It was a connection of kinship she did not want to hear, nor to feel, but it was already too late. Eido was hard-pressed to shun the injury revealed in her carelessness, and she felt a pang of guilt. Though she was sure he was a criminal, and the weight of his burden duly deserved, she did not think it usual for gokudō to be plagued by conscience for what they did. "But for the living, there is always hope,” she amended softly into the silence left by her own condemnation. Whatever he had done for him to wrongly think he spied commonality with an abomination, it could be atoned as he said.

Her protective concern relaxed when he revealed the man he sought was a brother. She did not feel the need to see the photograph, knowing it was unlikely to be Kota’s image now, and nor was she happy to close the distance between them on an errand of favour. He attempted to lull her like the animals Kota brought in his cages, or the birds they had raised in their youth. She was aware of it, but what protective instincts roused at the possibility of Kota being in danger, she did not expend so wisely for herself. Though it was not assault she was afraid of. He gave no sign of intending violence. It was herself she didn’t trust.

“If it was as simple and innocent as that, you would not be skulking in shadows,” she said plainly. It was not quite a chide. She did not answer his question about brothers, but she did obediently descend into the shadows. The muffled noise of the kitchen faded, replaced by the general city night noises. The soft pad of her footsteps did not bring her closer than necessary, and in the soft light of his wallet she first glanced up at the fence behind him. There was no other way into the small compound than over it.

The glow of the screen bathed her own face when her attention fluttered down, robbing what adjustment her eyes had made to the darkness. A good time to spring a trap, she noted, but since she had resigned to the possibility the moment she chose to investigate the disturbance, she only observed the photo as bid. She did not reach to bring the image closer. If she recognised anything of what she saw, it was not immediately evident. “A description would serve better. I hear more than I see. Will you tell me about him?”
[Image: cherry-blosson.png]
• ChihiroKōta •
MalaikaKwan Yin • Diana
He was accustomed to fearful gazes and people keeping their distance. Kiyo knew no other way to extract help and need than with tricks and intimidation.
“I might have approached you inside, but then everyone would see that I need something from you. Information is currency. Hiding is currency also,” he explained. Now, only the girl knew his agenda, and if the information spread, he could trace the breach to a single source. He had not stated a requirement of secrecy, but the respect for privacy was implied. It was a sign of respect to keep information to oneself, which was exactly why he did not desire to share too much about Haruto. He did not know this girl, and while he had no reason to mistrust her, she needed to earn extensions of his good will.

“You do this for me and I will owe you a favor in return. That is how this works. I will not go back on my word. You can trust that?” he asked, folding away the Wallet. Without the screen’s illumination, shadow fell once more. He had nothing of his own face to hide, but he liked the comfort of the shadowy cloak.

“Is anything simple and innocent?” he asked quietly in response. There was a touch of sadness in his tone, as if grieving its loss. He did not answer the question, though, moving on to the business of being there.
“He is an earthquake rumbling in a glass shop. You would know him if you’d seen him,” Kiyo finally added. He mindfully kept Haruto’s name from the description, but he was growing more confident that his brother had not entered the establishment. Not yet, anyway.
She had wanted to hear how he described his brother. To judge if this errand was for good or ill before she decided whether to present the quandary to Kota. She did not recognise the face, as she had been fairly sure she wouldn’t, but the chances were far higher that Kota might. The flood of shadows hid the small quirk of her lips for the stranger’s description, and Eido was glad for it. Another commonality she should not share. But the expression faded a moment after, when she considered the possibility that the words were not poetic at all, but literal.

“Forgive me. I suspect I know what you are. If you have not been received by the Edenokōji I can only think you should not be here at all.” She was not sure any promised favour was worth the risk of interceding in gang business, or unintentionally aiding an interloper who might have no right to be in Moscow at all. The Yukuza protected their territories with vigour and even Kota stepped lightly around their interplays. It was not his word she doubted, but the price it might exact on them beyond his control, should this help offend people she did not want to risk offending.

But perhaps more than that, Eido did not want to encourage the thin thread of connection between herself and another. It didn’t seem right that anyone should be indebted to her. And he at least sounded like he might carry it with more honour than she was due.

She considered all this quietly in the darkness. A knot of anxiety had grown in her gut, where before there had been only calm. The possibility of her death was easier to face than this. She ought to simply say she did not recognise the photo, and allow the stranger to be on his way – to absolve herself the responsibility of a hunch, and spare them the trouble that might follow. It was the truth. Yet ignorance was a veil of disguise. And he was right: nothing was simple or innocent.

“I do not recognise him,” she said. “But my brother might. He will be about on business at this hour, but you may wait in the room we rent upstairs. I will tell him to come quickly. Follow, please.” She was already moving in the shadows, apparently surefooted, towards the thin line of light that marked the kitchen door. “You may call me Eido,” she added, assuming the information would offer some willing to this cursory trust that he balanced like coin in ledgers.

No one remarked upon Eido’s re-entry with a man in tow, as she had presumed they would not. Like as not, no one even glanced so closely as to realise it was not just Kota himself, though they looked nothing alike.

Once upstairs she slipped her shoes at the entryway, and unlocked the door. It was small within, humble, and neatly presented despite a tiredness to the furnishings. A curtain veiled the bed from view, and a pillow, blanket, and rolled mat lay folded on the couch. A tiny kitchenette sat adjacent, to which Eido immediately busied herself with hospitality. She did not watch the stranger, though she made a gesture that suggested he was welcome to sit if he wished.

Little here spoke of anything but a transient life. The furnishings were western, aside from the scant things they had brought with them. But the room’s dining table had been pushed out of the way against one of the walls, the two chairs tucked flush undeath. A large cage sat atop, whatever lay within obscured by the room’s shadows. An animal smell suggested it contained something, though. At the room’s centre, cramped against the couch, a low coffee table had been repurposed with a ring of tatami mats.

While she waited for water to boil for the tea she sent Kota a message about their guest. Idle conversation was not a strength, though she was not discontent with silence. Rather, she did not wish for him to feel uncomfortable. As she prepared the tray, she added, “Is there anything else I may get for you?”
[Image: cherry-blosson.png]
• ChihiroKōta •
MalaikaKwan Yin • Diana

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