Hiko had taken the first real step toward a future of power or at least that was how Anjou saw it. For him, it was less about the power and more about the woman at his side. Tationy completed him in a way he never imagined possible and the part that scared him the most was that he could not remember what his life was like before he met her. That week, when he was not working at the Kari Foundation he was in meetings with Anjou who was going over anything and everything imaginable; trying to turn a rooster into a peacock he called it.
It was Thursday, tomorrow was the gala and their future was always just around the corner. There was so much to do and what seemed like so very little time to do it all. As they walked along the path in Hoshino, home to Aslann University, he groaned. Her voice was soft as she asked, “Does my Hiko still have a pain at his back?”
Tationy giggle, “Well, you should probably get used to it because it will not be the only time you are injured in the line of duty.”
Snorting as he responded, “Really? Should I get some injury insurance or something?”
“I am not sure they have that kind of insurance,” She teased him.
“Please tell me I do not break anything important.”
“Nothing I can’t kiss and make better.” Hiko groaned, she was teasing him with every word which just made him want to forget why they were there to begin with. Which was hardly possible as they moved closer to their destination and his cousin, Semei Kari came in to view.
When they were kids there was always a part of Hiko that was jealous of Semei. The two of them had a lot in common when it came to temperament, yet his cousin was always able to do the one thing that Hiko had never managed; embrace tradition. Not to mention most people thought of Semei as attractive. A word that was never put in the same sentence as Hiko’s name.
As they approached closer Semei had turned, his scrutinizing gaze washing over the two of them though he hardly offered even a hello. Not surprising, he was Kari after all and here his cousin was looking upon him in non-traditional clothing with a woman of the Kari on his arm, wearing a less than modest dress. It bothered him a lot lately; honestly a lot more than he cared to admit.
Since the situation with Kyo came to ahead, Hiko found himself often wondering what other Kari thought about him and Tationy. For the first time in his life he was acutely aware when Kari eyes were upon him. Normally he would just get angry and say he did not care. Lately though, a choking feeling at his chest was screaming at him that he might care more than he ever admitted to himself.
Coming to a stop before Semei, Hiko spoke, “Thanks for meeting us here.”
“It is not a problem.”
“Anjou says this place has everything we are looking for,” Hiko responded as he pulled the key from his pocket, “It is in walking distance of the campus, big enough that we will not be right on top of each other, a convenience store nearby, driveway so we do not have to use the campus parking, and not a lot of neighbors.”
Just as quickly as they were inside the house, Tationy had disappeared. Not entirely surprising as he stood in the kitchen with Semei. “Has four levels to it, two bathrooms,” He rattled off as he tried to think of anything important to say about the house. Semei’s eyes were definitely upon him and eventually Hiko could not take the judgmental gaze any longer, “Alright, what the fuck is it?”
Casually Semei said, “You seem different.”
Admittedly, Hiko did not know how to respond to his cousins words so he rubbed the annoyance from his face as he changed the topic “How is Kyo doing?”
“Struggling. He has a lot of questions that all lead back to how he feels about his place among the Kari. Eventually there comes a time for all of us that we have to decide if we are going to walk one path over another and face the consequences of that decision. Perhaps, someone like you who has always chosen modernization would not understand the plight we Kari face or maybe you more than others are burdened with the knowledge. I cannot say, but I could not help noticing you did not look upon me with disdain as I stood before you in traditional clothing which makes me wonder if you are going through your own metamorphosis.”
Sighing he responded, “This shit with Kyo put some things in perspective for me that I had never really understood. I doubt I will ever be wearing the traditional clothing of the Kari, but my understanding of all those lectures my father gave me make a lot more sense now.” Hiko shook his head resting his hand on his hip as he added, “I just don’t get how he could do something so stupid. Everyone expects that kind of shit from me, but of the three of us he is the sensible one. Even a Kari like him can be dragged down; what fucking hope is there for a guy like me? It freaks me out a little to be honest.”
The silence that followed was unwelcome and put Hiko on edge until Semei spoke, “That is the maturest thing I have ever heard you say.”
Hiko snorted, “From a guy that will probably end up being the Elder of the Kari I should probably take that as a compliment.”
Semei turned slightly though did not look at Hiko as he responded, “Regarding our conversation at Sofore. While I believe your fears are understandable, I cannot be the one to guide Tationy on how to be a woman of the Kari. I have given it considerable thought and I feel that she probably knows more about the Kari then you and I combined, perhaps even more than our fathers and the elder. With that said, her instruction should come from you. She is not my mate and while I could take it upon myself to instruct her, I would be taking away from an important part of your relationship. Courting is meant to strengthen your union and learn about each other. More importantly, it is a time for the two of you to set boundaries of what is allowed and not allowed and the expectations required of each of you. As a woman of the Kari, her role is no less important than that of yours, but if you allow another man to guide her, then you are saying it is okay for her to turn to other men when you are not capable of finding the words.”
“What would you say to her?”
“Hiko, I cannot really answer that question.”
“Semei, please I do not even know what to talk to her about this.”
There was a moment of troubled silence around Semei though Hiko did not quite understand why he seemed so bothered. He waited for any hint that he might respond and had almost given up hope until Semei said, “I would tell her that I am Kari. Some things just are and there is just no changing them. She will understand.”
Those words every Kari man knew. Thousands of years ago, the Kari Commander had stood before the newly appointed Elder of the Kari and had spoken them. No one knows how the conversation got started or even what it was about these days, but that one little saying had become the motto to explain everything a Kari man was. Hiko had said them to Tationy once early on in their relationship and she echoed them back to him just a few days ago while they were at the farmer’s market talking about Kyo.
As the two Kari men began to wander through the house, Hiko thought that Semei might actually be right. Perhaps Tationy understood the Kari better than even he did. As they stopped on the second floor Hiko asked, “How would you feel if your woman knew the Kari better? Would it be a blessing or would you find that it ate away at you?”
Leaning against the window sill he waited for Semei to respond. His cousin had never been the type of Kari that was ever at a loss for words even if sometimes those words were not appreciated and yet, there they stood quietly like Kari men sometimes do. “I imagine it would be a little of both. While the thought that my woman might understand my kin as well as I do fills me with excitement and makes me proud that I have chosen well. At the same time, it takes away from all I have to share with her. That is the part that would sting and damage my pride even if she had no control over her knowledge.”
“Sometimes, it bothers me that she sees so much. Fucking hate saying it, but there are times when I look at her I get angry because everything that I am experiencing for the first time she has already gone through. Stupid, I know I should not feel like this, but she makes me feel amazing; important even and it bruises my ego to no end knowing that every little thing in our lives is only special to me.”
“I disagree,” Semei responded rather quickly. “Just because you are experiencing these things for the first time does not mean they hold any less value to her. Certainly she has lived these moments far too many times for us simple Kari men to understand, but to her they were probably like dreams. That moment when you try to capture it, but suddenly it is gone because it was imagined or not real. In this, I think there is no need for your pride to be hurt because for her these moments are real and genuine and she probably wants to live them and enjoy them as much as you do.”
Pushing away from the window sill Hiko asked as they walked, “Do you really think so?”
“If she came off as apathetic like other Tylo’s I would normally say the opposite, but from what I have witnessed she feels too deeply for those moments not to be considered special. I have to wonder though if this is really what is bothering you.”
“There are a lot of things lately that are getting to me. These past couple of weeks have not been how I imagined them. Maybe, Kyo is right and I am too idealistic in my thinking. I just thought that once we were situated in our own place that things would be great. We would be having fun and enjoying each other. That is not how it turned out at all. Most of the time some new shit happens that just consumes our lives and we never just have moments where it feels normal and quiet.”
“Sounds like you are regretting being with her.”
“No, really it is not that.” Hiko paused, “Does it really come off like that? Fuck you are the second person that has said that in the past couple of weeks.”
Semei had not responded and the two of them walked quietly together to the third floor. It irritated Hiko that twice in two weeks he had been asked if he really wanted to be with her. Was he doing something wrong? He had never been in a relationship before. Never had a girlfriend. Truthfully, he had no idea what he was doing most of the time and was certain he was turning out to be the worst and most possessive boyfriend ever, but what vibe was he giving off that would make two people in his life question his feelings?
Finally his cousin stopped walking and noticeably sighed. Was that emotion adorning Semei’s face? “I don’t really know how to answer that question. When I think about being with the woman I love, even a bad day would be something special. Maybe it is just the type of guy you are that even when you have something truly once in a lifetime, you are still not content and always looking for what is wrong. I think if the roles were reversed I would not be complaining about shit happening all the time because I had her in my life to share it with. Honestly, I think you are setting yourself up to fail.”
“What do you mean?”
“She is out of your league, Hiko.”
Those words coming from Semei stung deeply, though they were hardly the first time he had heard them. People had told him that he was never good enough long before Tationy came into his life and after he had her, he was always being told that he could not handle a girl like her. Truth was he already knew that without guys like Semei and his father saying it aloud.
They were the type of men that could command a room and have any woman they wanted. Hiko was just some big dumb guy that had a face that not even his mother loved, “Don’t you think a guy like me knows that already? Every fucking day I wake up holding her and I think how lucky I am that this beautiful creature took pity on this pathetic Kari. Maybe I am dooming myself and failure is right around the corner, but would you let her go if she was yours?”
Suddenly Semei had started walking without another word. If he was looking for some guidance from his fellow Kari it did not seem as though he was going to get it until Semei stopped and responded, “I would never let her go. Not for a moment, not for a second, if she was mine.”
Hiko had plenty of time to consider his cousins words as they reached the top of the house in silence and there stood Tationy. At first her eyes settled on Semei, which slightly irritated him as he tried to understand why his woman would be allowing her eyes to linger on another man first, but suddenly his heart settled when she met his gaze and held it.
No longer was she looking at his cousin and at that moment he realized that her intense gaze made him feel like he was the king of the world. It was not because she was Tylo or Yamada; no those things did not matter. She accepted him with all of his flaws. Finally, she spoke, “Is my Hiko giving you difficulties, future Osoma of the Kari?”
“If he was or was not, it is really no concern of yours, woman.”
There had been a moment that Hiko had been about to say something to Semei, but he realized that Tationy’s eyes were still fixed on him. She did not seem bothered being called woman, in fact he thought for a moment he had seen her eyes light up. Did she like it? Maybe he was reading too much into it until she responded, “How I love being called woman by a strong Kari man.” Why was his heart beating so fast? Even though Semei had said the word her eyes never left his, not even for a moment. Was she telling him that this old way of addressing women was a turn on for her?
After a moment of silence she reached out her hand to him, which he gladly accepted as he moved to stand at her side. When she rested her head to his shoulder she once again spoke, “What shall I do with you Kari men? Perhaps love and a gentle hand is all that is needed, but sometimes it still feels like it is not enough to tame the wild emotions that complicate your hearts and befuddle your senses.”
An almost whimsical sigh left her lips as Hiko asked, “Are you happy today?”
“I suppose I am. What young woman would not be standing among two handsome Kari men, surrounded by the beauty of nature, with our whole futures ahead of us. I can think of no better place to be at this moment, at least none that I can discuss without making the future Osoma blush.” There was a moment of pause before she quickly changed the topic, “Did the two of you like the place?”
Hiko found it slightly amusing how she poked fun at Semei and made note of the putout expression that adorned his cousin’s features. It almost made him laugh, but she had to be the only woman that could get away with such a thing when it came to Kari men. Most of them, would quickly put their foot down. It probably only partly had to do with her Yamada blood, the rest of it was all her.
Anjou had told him that if he was not careful she would wrap him around her tiny little finger and he would never even realize it until it was too late. When Hiko had said he did not mind, Anjou had called him pussy whipped again. Was he? There were so many things going on in his head and heart lately he was not even sure what he was feeling half the time, “Do you like it?”
She laughed softly, “Hiko Kari, I believe Anjou wishes for you to make decisions and not always look to me.”
He noticeably groaned, “I want you to like it.”
“I trust you to lead,” She whispered.
Sighing he looked to his cousin who was gazing off into the distance, “What do you think?”
With a causal shrug Semei responded with, “It is adequate for our needs, but I have to ask. Is your schooling even situated yet? Certainly you should have gotten your test results back, but it still requires you to apply, not to mention be accepted. We should probably not invest in this place without making sure the two of you have all of your stuff in order first.”
Hiko scratched his temple a moment as he responded, “I guess I forgot to mention. We got our test results on Friday and sent out our paperwork Saturday morning. Tationy insisted we have it already to mail after we got our scores back.”
Tationy halted his words when she added, “Hiko did quite well. Better than he thought he would. I am very proud of him.”
With a wild beating heart from her words, he turned and placed his hands upon Tationy’s hips. Even if he could somehow find what to say he doubted he would be able to tell her how much her support and all of the studying meant to him. So for a few minutes at least he simply stared into her eyes as he talked, “In passing it was mentioned on Monday to Anjou and by Wednesday representatives from Aslann University were meeting with us. The acceptance letters are just a formality at this point. It would have taken a bit longer had Anjou not interjected himself, but the voice of the Yamada has resources that far outweigh our own.”
Tationy finished his sentence with a whispered voice, “Anjou just made a few calls and informed them that the newly appointed matriarch of the Yamada and the future head of the Kari Foundation had submitted applications to attend their reputable and esteemed university.”
“Don’t think even my father would have the clout to pull that off so quickly,” Hiko added.
“Anjou is quite good at his job,” Tationy said with a brief smile.
At this point Hiko had realized that Semei was not even talking. Certainly he was probably listening, but why the lingering silence? Hiko thought his cousin had to be happy after all he would get to attend a university and not have to deal with being the future Osoma of the Kari for a time, but perhaps that was the problem. A guy like Semei Kari had always been about tradition and perhaps he was already prepared to walk a path toward being a leader among the Kari and school was just a hindrance to that journey.
Trying not to think too deeply he asked, “So, are we all in agreement then that this is our place or are we going to tell Anjou it is not what we want and he should keep looking?” Nothing from either of them. He groaned as he snapped, “Fine, I don’t really care if you two do not like it at this point. It is decided. We are staying here.”
Semei turned just as quickly as Hiko had said the words and responded as he walked, “Have a copy of the key made and sent to me. I will see the two of you in the fall when the semester starts.” With that, he was gone just as quickly.
Hiko consider what might be wrong with Semei the long journey back to Thacian City from Hoshino. Tationy had told him several times to let it be because there was nothing either of them could do for him. Truth of the matter was, Hiko would not have even noticed before and it troubled him mostly because he was uncertain how long it had been going on. Perhaps because he was so tired due to the long day at work and extensive driving he welcomed the distraction of paperwork that he had to catch up on when he got home before he blissfully falling asleep possessively holding his girl.
By Friday he managed to survive another workday and meetings with Anjou that went far longer due to the gala they were going to attend. He was looking forward to the day being over and a new weekend, which he intended to make the best one they ever had in their apartment; which hopefully would not be too difficult considering the past few weeks had been some of the worst of his life.
As Hiko waited for Tationy to finish getting ready he was talking, though how well she could hear him he could not say, “At least we got some decorating done this week. The apartment is starting to look a little lived in. Mostly due to Anjou going around and getting us the things we need, honestly, I do not know how that guy does it.”
“Sounds like you respect him,” He heard her say.
“Well, I guess I do. He takes some getting use to and he and I still need to have a thorough talk about boundaries because he loves crossing them, but I do find it impressive the way he gets things done. Never even complains when given a task, he just does it.”
“Anjou takes his work very seriously. He is quite passionate about his position and it was quite an accomplishment for him to gain the post as the Voice of the Yamada at such a young age. The matriarch had a great deal of confidence in him.”
He considered her words, “I never got the chance to ask you how it is the two of you know each other; just through the matriarch?”
“When he became the voice I was living with my grandmother. It was during the time when you and I first met. He was pretty much always around.”
“How old was he?”
“I do not know; sixteen I think or maybe seventeen. It is a time that is a little fuzzy for me.”
“That was when you were dreaming a lot.”
“Yeah,” She responded.
He considered it a moment. If he was honest with himself Hiko wanted to ask about that time, but he did not want to make her uncomfortable by talking about something she might not wish to share. He was curious about the dreaming, how it worked, how long it transpired, when she first noticed it, and more importantly how her life became different because of it. Though, he found that he was never brave enough to ask. There were a lot of things like that, he often told himself he was better off not knowing the answer, so he quickly changed the topic, “Why is my shirt pink again?”
“Because my Hiko looks amazing in pink.”
“I have a feeling that you and Anjou conspired together and picked this color.”
“It makes you appear softer,” She responded as he heard her approach.
Pushing away from the desk he turned to look at her, but not a single word left his mouth. Did he look as ridiculous as he felt? His mouth had to be hanging open, his eyes widened, and his heart was pounding so hard he felt like it was located in his ears. “Do you not like it? I think it might be too much. Anjou said I needed to make a statement, but I feel completely naked. Not to mention my hair feels heavy. I had finally gotten use to it being short.”
He stuttered, “How, how is it long?”
She smiled, “Extensions. Anjou hates my hair and insisted we ‘fix’ it.” He was staring, “Are you disappointed? Hiko, you are kind of worrying me.”
Why was she so beautiful? Did she really not see herself that way? He wanted to tell her she was stupid that he was staring because he was in awe and that there was no way he would ever be disappointed, but it was just a sharp reminder that a guy like him was not good enough for a girl like her, “I’m not disappointed.”
“Are you sure? I know the dress is really showy and I did tell Anjou it might make you uncomfortable.” Silence again, why were there no words? He turned suddenly away. “I might have something else,” She said and he heard her move toward the stairs.
“No, what you have on is perfect.”
“Then what is wrong?”
“I just feel really inadequate right now because you’re so beautiful and I am…”
“Your my Hiko,” Her words stilled him. “Do not think of yourself as not being perfect. You chose me Hiko Kari and I accepted. Tonight, hold your head high because you will be the envy of every man in the room.”
“Because I have you?” He questioned as he turned to face her.
“No, because you have power. I am just the Yamada accessory on your arm.”
Hiko really did not know how much he believed those words and he had plenty of time to think about them as he stood by himself at the gala. Sighing, fidgeting, adjusting his bow-tie; He was about the most uncomfortable guy there as he watched Tationy work the room with Anjou. As much as he wanted to be by her side, she was the matriarch of the Yamada now and he had to ‘know his role’ as Anjou put it. As his father approached him he could not help groaning, “Why are you dressed like you are going to a funeral?”
“These things always make me feel like I am,” Tadayoshi responded and then added, “Nice shirt.”
Grumbling under his breath, “Anjou and Tationy both think it makes me look softer.”
“That is not the word I would use.” Hiko growled as his father gave him a rather hard stare and the unspoken words were the ones that irritated Hiko the most as his father asked, “Are you content with that?”
“I am not…” He snapped and then paused, “Wrapped around her little finger.” With a sigh, “It is not like anyone is going to say anything about it. Other than you apparently. None of them even know I am here.”
Tadayoshi directed his attention to the far side of the room where everyone was gathered around Tationy, “Trust me, they know. At the moment, you have not reached the power level for them to find you worthy to talk to. That does not mean they are not acutely aware of your presence. I am certain, you will not be standing by yourself the whole evening. There are people here that will want to see why she has chosen you over any other. Tonight might be her night to shine, but it is far more important for you.”
“Anything I should know?”
“Nothing worth mentioning. Just be mindful, there are very dangerous individuals here tonight.”
“I noticed the Ishi…”
Tadayoshi interrupted his son, “They are the least of your concerns. I will try and check on you throughout the evening, but my apparent position as Head of the Kari Foundation requires me to mingle.”
His father mentioning the socializing made him remember he had intended to talk to him about Chilè Yamada, “I wanted to ask you the other day, how does Tationy’s mom leaving effect your agreement? This would be one of the things you attended together I assume.”
“I cannot say. Her departure was rather sudden, though there seems to be some speculation that it has been planned for some time. It is unlike Chilè to enter into a binding contract which favors her, only to abandon it.”
They were not able to get too deeply into the conversation as Zen approached and quickly offered curt nods to both father and son, “Yuudai has arrived.”
He noticed how his father sighed, “Is this going to be difficult for you Zen?”
“It will tax me, but it should not be an issue. As long as he is the only Waichia I have to contend with. If he works in tandem with another, I will not be able to keep our private affairs from his mind.”
“Do what you can,” Tadayoshi responded. “I will be greeting him now.”
As his father wandered away Hiko glanced toward Zen, “What is this about?”
“Yuudai is the most powerful of the Waichia. His mind is capable of reading everyone in this room quite easily. Tadayoshi has found that he is not capable of withstanding the mental probes of Yuudai in the past so he has asked me to shield his mind along with yours.”
“Shield what exactly?”
“The knowledge that your father is no longer the Head of the Kari Foundation. Until we are ready to make this announcement and you officially take the position, we are doing what we can to keep the knowledge just among the three of us and Tationy.”
“Why are you not shielding her mind?”
“Tationy is Tylo. If he tried to read her she would know it. The process would be quite painful for both of them and an obvious attack upon Tationy would be a slight against the Yamada, Tylo, and the kin of the man she is going to marry, the Kari. While he is certainly brazen that would be suicide for him and his company.”
“I do not like the idea of her being in that kind of danger,” Hiko responded.
“I would worry about yourself. As you are right now, you are in a very dangerous position. If someone like Yuudai wanted to take advantage, he could and there would be very little I could do about it. Shielding you and your father is taxing enough without protecting you from manipulation. If he approaches you, stay guarded.”
“What about the blocking techniques we are taught as kids by the Osoma?”
“They do not work very well against a man like Yuudai.”
Annoyed he asked, “What the fuck is even the point of teaching the crap then?”
“A limited amount of protection is better than none,” Zen responded before adding, “I am going to move closer to your father. Remember what I said.”
Hiko sighed as he rubbed the back of his neck, catching himself as he realized that his tell was showing again. Glancing around the room, he noticed there were a lot of faces he did not recognize. The soft melody played upon a piano reminded him of the one he heard Tationy playing at his father’s house, the day he brought her home to meet the old man which instantly drew his attention to the player; though the man was no one he knew.
As he allowed his eyes to drift away from the pianist he caught sight of another gazing in his direction. He knew him by reputation as the Elder of the Tylo, Soti and only recognized him because he had seen his face in the newspaper plenty of times. What was this ominous feeling?
Quickly he pulled his attention away and caught sight of Tationy who was still standing with Anjou. The crowd around her had finally dispersed, but Hiko was certain it would not be that way for long. He realized that she had noticed his gaze and as she tucked her hair behind her ear, she offered him the briefest of smiles.
Hiko wanted to be standing at her side, but instead he was across the room doing what he was told and keeping a respectable distance. It had not been unexpected, Anjou had prepared him for what was to come. She would have to be Yamada, just for the night. Hiko was certain he would just make a fool of himself and her, so for a time he wandered around the room until he found a new spot to keep a watchful eye on her. ‘It is better this way,’ He thought as he allowed his eyes to linger upon her.
“I wonder how true a thought like that is,” A voice spoke and Hiko realized that a man had sidled up beside him without him noticing. He tensed a moment and quickly put his guard up which elicited a chuckle, “I do so love little Kari pups.”
Hiko did not want to look at the man, certain that if he did that he would come face-to-face with a Waichia. There was always a subtle amount of trepidation when you came in contact with one and all you could really do is try to keep yourself protected. Some though, were obviously dangerous and the moment you heard them speak you knew as much. The tension that filled your entire body did not lesson, not even for a moment. “I don’t appreciate you reading my thoughts.”
“Sorry, sorry,” The Waichia man said lightly though it was clearly evident he did not mean his words. “I do so love Yamada women, don’t you? The soft curves of their bodies, the way they jiggle when they walk, and how their lips say ‘fuck me’ even when not moving. She looks just like her mother; though Chilè had nothing at all for me to grab a hold of.” Hiko was trying to hide his irritation as the man laughed, “Interesting, the two of you are not having sex. Need me to show you how it is done?” He was trying to incite him to react, Hiko knew it as he quickly turned to face the man. A mistake to be certain, “The little pup has some fire. What secrets I wonder are you and your kin hiding from me.”
If he wanted to respond he was halted when he noticed that Tylo that had been eyeing him earlier standing behind the Waichia. With a large hand rested upon the man’s shoulder he spoke, “Yuudai, it would be unwise to continue this course of action.”
Yuudai chuckled as he brushed off the hand of the Tylo man while turning, “The little Kari pup and I were simply speaking. Curious though since when does the Elder of the Tylo come to the rescue of some Kari low-blood?” With a shrug he added, “This night is turning out to be quite interesting.”
Hiko watched the Waichia walk away as the Tylo man stood at his side. His father had been right, with time people did approach him though Yuudai’s intent was clear he could not understand why the Elder of the Tylo was standing at his side. Perhaps it had something to do with Tationy.
At first, he did not look at the man, but eventually he turned his gaze and regarded him a moment. It was obvious he was not just Tylo; his height and hair indicated that he was probably also Ishi. His mind considered that this man was most likely the grandfather of Kuro, “Are you related to Kuro Ishi?”
“He is my grandchild.” Hiko did not get a moment to take that information in fully before the man asked, “Would you like to know something else?”
Stumbling over the word, “Sure.”
“Your woman is my grandchild as well.” Hiko tensed as he realized that this man was Miroku Tylo’s father, but not only that. Tationy was closely related to Kuro and Mikio both. This information brought far too many questions that he wanted to ask, but hardly knew where to even begin. The man at his side spoke, “As I stand next to you, it becomes clear that there are only obvious differences between you and your father. With that being said, the two of you are far more alike than is apparent to the men and women in this room who are judging and comparing both of you.”
Hiko quietly listened as he kept his focus upon Tationy. He realized far to late that the man next to him was acutely aware, “Miso never wanted this for her and yet, Tationy was the only person she trusted to take care of the Yamada. It is saying a lot about the faith she has in your woman that the matriarch who held together the clans of Aslann, chose a botahmo, a cursed one of the Tylo clan to replace her. The consequences of this action will be long-lasting and it is difficult to say whether or not the Yamada will survive Miso’s decision.”
“What about Tationy?” He found himself asking.
“I am assuming your question is about whether or not she will survive whatever conflict befalls the Yamada as time passes.”
“Ahh,” Hiko confirmed.
There was a troubling silence that followed which Hiko assumed was because the man at his side was looking toward the future of the woman he loved. After a moment he finally responded, “I already gave my word to Miso that I would not allow anything to happen to my grandchild. While I disapprove greatly with the decisions being made by her father, the simple fact that Tationy was never to exist is mote.” What did he mean by that? Hiko had been about to ask when Soti responded with, “I hope you learned a valuable lesson from what transpired with Chilè and that unsavory contract. It is troubling that your father had to clean up your mess and hopefully that sort of mistake will not be repeated.”
It was apparent by his frown that he had completely forgotten that Soti could see the future and was well aware of some of the mistakes Hiko had made. In this moment he was not sure what to do; should he respond? “I don’t particularly like being lectured,” He finally managed to say, “Especially from a guy that has probably never made a mistake in his entire life.”
There was a momentary pause before the Elder of the Tylo caught Hiko off-guard as he stated, “I’ve made mistakes.”
His attention pulled away from Tationy long enough to settle on the considerably taller man, “I thought that the Tylo are able to see all possible futures. Doesn’t that mean you are above blunders? Don’t you guys just avoid trouble?”
Soti Tylo for a split-second chuckled under his breath, which more than anything took Hiko by surprise. Was the apathy for show? Did the Tylo feel like normal people? Miroku was a complete and utter waste of space; a robot if there ever was one and even Sadamitsu said that he could call the guy names over and over again without a reaction. So why was this guy different? “Seems there are many things that are unclear to you. Simply seeing the future is only one part of the journey. From there we Tylo have to decide if we are going to change it or let it be. Far too many Tylo have succumb to the delusion that they are above other humans. They seek out the best possible future and will do anything to obtain it. This single-minded focus is detrimental not only to the Tylo involved, but my clan as a whole. Avoiding mistakes, means we never learn from them.”
“So, what sorts of mistakes have you made?”
“It is a list far greater than someone of your years,” There was a moment that Hiko regarded him before turning away. He doubted a straight answer would come from the man so he really expected the conversation to end there. Surprisingly, Soti responded, “I cheated on my wife of many years because I saw it was necessary for a great power among the Tylo to be born. I allowed Miroku to indulge in reckless behavior to obtain a musical future bigger than the Beatles, at the expense of the people around him. More important than either of those, I stood by and did nothing as my long time friend faced-off against her daughter and the Waichia, Yuudai alone. Had I helped her, she would be alive. The truth is that mistake was yours to own and deal with and your father should never have been allowed to intervene.”
Soti was telling Hiko something he had already known. He never asked his father to take care of it. Doing what he could to keep his emotions in check he asked, “Why didn’t you help the matriarch?”
There was a heaviness that lingered around Soti before he finally responded, “She asked me not to change her future. It is easier to go through life not caring about anyone because when you have to make the decision to walk away or betray them, you do not have a hole in your heart. Some days, I long for the time when I saw all humans as cattle that needed to be herded and I freely admit that many of my kin; let me rephrase, almost all of my kin still see them as such.”
“Can’t you do anything about it? As the Elder of the Tylo, you should have that kind of power right?”
“Sadly it is not that simple. The majority of my clan no longer respect leadership and my title is really just that. As time passes, there will only be a handful of my kin that remain. Eventually, we will go the way of the Sosa. I want more for my clan, but as they are now they care only for their own selfish futures and continue to breed with those that are not pure; tainting what remains of my family line. Miroku is a perfect example; Tationy the child that was never meant to exist bares the eyes of my kin and yet he cares nothing for her. Instead, he seeks out a future with a woman not even from Aslann to secure musical infamy. None of their children will have the eyes of the Tylo; not even the eyes of the Ishi. It will be the first time in the history of my clan. Do you understand what this means?”
Hiko took a breath at the revelation. The Kari had talked often about preserving their blood and carrying on through the centuries, but Hiko could not help wondering if at some point they might also suffer the same fate. He took a moment before responding, “I think so. It would be the death of the bloodline of the goddess Tearra.” His mind swimming with many questions and he found himself asking rather directly, “What about mine and Tationy’s child? Can you….see him or her?”
There was a momentary pause before Soti stated, “Not clearly enough to see his eyes.”
“A boy,” He said and it was obvious he was slightly disappointed. Hiko never wanted to have a son for fear that he would just repeat the same patterns of bad behavior passed down generation to generation. After a moment he took a breath and said, “I hope he is nothing like me.”
“I disagree with this line of thinking,” Soti responded. “As I look out upon the floor at your father moving through the gala, I am reminded of when he was small. When my son, Miroku was a boy I saw something that captured my attention as I looked to his future. It only happened in one; a single curious moment that involved a training session of Rom Kaga with a Kari boy. I wanted to see it with my own eyes, this unusual phenomenon. At the annual Aota, I sought out the father of that Kari who was there looking for a sparring partner for his son. We reached a mutual agreement. I was disappointed as the weeks and months passed and what my eyes showed me did not happen.”
Hiko quietly listened as the Tylo man continued, “Finally, the day I had been waiting for arrived. My son goaded him, insulted the god Kazuma, until Tadayoshi Kari broke and all of that restraint in his tiny body disappeared. Never had I seen a Tylo’s face light up like that before; Miroku was shocked having been caught completely off-guard. The Kari have always been regarded as a predictable clan. Normally, we Tylo would not even consider your kin as important, but at that moment your father showed me something quite dangerous. I wanted to see more so I did not intervene, unfortunately your grandfather Azu forced your father to bite back his anger and show restraint. Shackling his might.”
“What do you mean?”
“The true power of the Kari is not in control, but in Kazuma’s anger. Then and only then, can your actions not be seen.”
Was his temperament why the Tylo could not read him? Hiko found himself staring rather blankly as he tried to understand why this man would go out of his way to share a piece of information that could be used against him and his clan, “Why did you tell me this?”
Definition: Hisoka – The God of Love in several Aslann religions including the Kari religion of Osog and the Hamara religion of Omarith.
Definition: Ryozo – The God of War in several Aslann religions including the Kari religion of Osog and the Waichia religion of Herda.
Soti responded simply, “Kazuma stood as our god and there are many that like to romance his life; turn it into some tragic story of a god who was lonely and despised himself. Regardless of what tale you believe, he tore those things he hated from his very soul and created additional gods. The God of Love, Hisoka embodied his lust and gluttony. He was the desire and passion of Kazuma. The God of War, Ryozo embodied his wrath and greed. An angry god driven by his desire for material possessions. The God of Death, Rin embodied the trait that Kazuma hated the most in himself. His envy. He kept one thing; one part of him intact and to this day, Kazuma is known to embody pride. The clans born of the gods and those created by them, embody these same traits.”
Hiko did not have a moment to consider that the man did not even mention Tearra, “I don’t need a history lesson or a religious one for that matter. What does this have to do with why you told me?”
“No, I imagine you do not. Being Kari you have probably heard this information hundreds of times before.” There was a subtle silence that followed and Hiko turned away searching the crowd for Tationy. He had decided that the Tylo man was no longer going to be forthcoming, but his moment of peace was met with tension as the Soti said, “She likes your anger. Truly, I cannot blame her for encouraging this path. Kazuma taught his kin restraint because of fear. He did not wish for his blood to fall as he had; locking away the power of the Kari by shackling their emotions. Imagine what your clan could do if your god had not been so consumed with his own failure; the ability to replicate anything you see coupled with being able to move beyond the sight of my kin. In all my years, there have been so few of your clan capable of hiding from my eyes and for the briefest moment, your father was one of them. While you might not wish for your son to be just like you; I find myself wondering why you would want to burden him with the shackles that cripple your blood.”
With no opportunity to question what was said, Hiko was left standing there alone. To say he was frustrated with the evening would be an understatement as he wandered for a bit until he found a new location to keep an eye on Tationy again. When he saw her sitting with that Waichia he frantically looked for Anjou. Why did he leave her alone with him? He was tempted to take that step forward and interrupt them because he was certain nothing good would come of that man sitting with his woman.
Noticeably he tensed as he realized that one visible eye of Yuudai Waichia was upon him. What were they talking about? Could Yuudai see into his mind? Was the panic evident? Far too many questions and the anxiety overtaking his body was putting him in a state of mental turmoil that he did not like.
“Foolishness,” He heard Anjou say, “If you are going to watch her the whole night at least be stealthy about it. Might as well tell everyone in the room you are whipped by that pussy.”
Hiko only managed to respond at first with an annoyed, “Tch.” His eyes never left his girl and for some time he refused to even speak because he was certain he would not be able to hold back his emotions. Finally, he managed to say through gritted teeth, “Why did you leave her alone with him?”
“She insisted I check on you. Honestly, this whole evening she has not needed me. The power of the Yamada coupled with the Tylo is frightening when used in unison. You on the other hand are a mess. Have you been like this the whole evening?”
“What did you expect? This is the first one I have ever gone to and you told me to keep my distance.”
“I did not say it to be hurtful, you just are in no position to assist her as you are now.” Why did he feel like he was pouting? As he watched his girl sitting dangerously close to that Waichia and talking amicably, he felt that jealous knot take hold. None of this made him happy. Apparently the fact that he had not responded troubled Anjou because he said, “Take a look at Zen Kari.”
Hiko eventually pulled his attention away from Tationy to scan the room, spying the man that was his cousin; though neither of them hardly saw each other that way. The son of the Elder of the Kari was standing next to a man who was clearly Ishi, “Who is that Ishi he is standing with?”
“Nao, he is the Elder of the Ishi.”
“I had no idea that Zen was acquainted with Ishi other than the ones he has had meetings with at the Kari Foundation. Considering his position, I suppose I should not be all that surprised.”
Anjou shook his head, “You are missing the point. What do you see?”
He stared rather intently at the two men, but nothing jumped out at him. They did not appear to be speaking, at least he never once spied their lips move in the time he was watching them. The Ishi, much like Yuudai managed to get in without a tie of some sort which instantly made Hiko wonder why he had to look ridiculous when they were walking around looking cool and comfortable. Zen was wearing his glasses, he did not do that often and the Ishi had scars upon his face that were unusual, but nothing really grabbed his attention. He turned to Anjou and asked, “What am I suppose to be seeing.”
Anjou sighed, “Take in the full picture.”
Hiko glanced toward them again as he looked upon the two men. His head tilted as he thought, ‘Something does seem off.’ They were standing away from all other party guest. In fact, as Hiko glanced around them there was hardly a person in the same vicinity. Not to mention, their posture had not change and still no words were spoken. They were standing close. Certainly, Anjou was invading Hiko’s space, but that was the type of unsavory guy he was. Zen always kept a respectable distance and yet with this Ishi he was standing as close as Hiko would to Tationy. Not to mention Zen’s posture did seem a bit more relaxed than was normal for him. It dawned on him far to late, “Wait are you saying…” There was a moment where he blinked and quickly looked to Anjou as he whispered, “Are you saying they are lovers?”
“Congratulations. I cannot say if they are now, but they definitely were at some point. Throughout the evening I have noticed that Zen has kept an appropriate amount of distance from most people he engages and yet with the Elder of the Ishi, that space closed significantly.” Anjou paused a moment before adding, “Sometimes, Hiko it is not about being the smartest or most charming guy in the room. It is going to be rough for you. Tationy can talk you up all she wants, but you better than anyone understands your position in all of this. Just as I became the Voice of the Yamada; you will someday run the Kari Foundation. In the beginning, no one is going to respect you. Many will treat you as a privileged child who got his position purely because of nepotism. Upstart and spoiled; the same things they said about me they will say about you. This is your reality and no ego stroking from your girl is going to change that.”
Hiko pulled his attention away from Zen and allowed it to settle upon Tationy again as Anjou added, “Do not get me wrong, a guy needs his girl to stroke it. Without a woman like that in our lives we would never try to be more than what we are, but eventually you have to become the vision she has of you or be left behind. Her star will always rise, the question you should be asking yourself is if you are really capable of rising with her. Honestly, I wonder if a guy like you is going to be able to dig his way out of the pile of shit he is buried under and make something of himself. Everyone in this room is wondering the same thing. Why you? A girl like her and a guy like you; it just does not make sense to them.”
Anjou’s final words to Hiko felt as though they were meant to ignite him, “There will be many gala’s that follow. A new one happens so often it gets hard to keep track of them. Use this time to challenge your perception of the reality around you. Don’t just look with your eyes, see it. Don’t just listen with your ears, hear it. Knowledge is far more powerful than any bloodline ability within this room and you above all others are in the best possible position to learn simply because they see you as some upstart riding on the coattails of your father.”
The gala had progressed on and Hiko tried to take Anjou’s words to heart, but he kept distracting himself with seeking out Tationy. Eventually he lost her entirely and did not relax for a single moment until he felt her arms wrap around him and that soft little voice say, “Is my Hiko ready to go home?”
“Been ready,” He responded. That was hardly even a possibility after all the night was not even half over. The sponsors were speaking, talking about important matters and asking for people to write big checks to the cause of the evening which had something or other to do with relief for a foreign nation.
Tationy whispered, “Aslann rallies to the cause of other countries and yet does very little to help its own. Within ten years, I would like to see our unemployment rate drop significantly. Places for those with nothing to go in search of opportunity; the Anami Seminary does what it can, but it is just one power within Aslann and we should be supporting their efforts. Instead we pretend it is not our problem. I do not understand why we are not bettering the lives of our own people, but gala after gala we will be handing our money over in support of other nations. When will we stop ignoring this nation we love?”
Hiko made a face, “Then why are we even here? Let’s just leave.”
“Is that the statement you want to make on our first big showing?”
He snorted, “I don’t give a fuck what these assholes think of me and I will tell them as much as we walk out the door.”
“Hiko,” She said his name teasingly.
“You’re making me wet.”
His body tensed as he groaned, “Tationy what the fuck are you doing to me?”
“Being honest. You did tell me no more lies or secrets. I was just sharing.”
“Fuck,” He said under his breath as he forced himself to pull away from her just long enough to take her hand, “We are leaving.”
She teased, “Is that so? Where might we be going, Hiko Kari?”
“I am taking you home and tonight, nothing is going to stop me from fucking you. Not one damn thing and tomorrow I will write the biggest check you have ever seen to the Anami Seminary.”
Tationy had placed her hand on his arm as she smiled, a soft giggle leaving her lips, “Now who is teasing?”
Unfortunately they had not gotten very far as they came face-to-face with someone that Hiko had hoped they both could avoid entirely. His scrutinizing gaze washed over the two of them, “It would be unwise to leave before the evening is finished.”
Hiko’s lips pursed wondering what agenda was behind those words and then he realized that his attention was only upon Tationy, “I suggest you look elsewhere snake.”
Definition: Dog or Dogs – In historical Aslann it was not uncommon for nobles to say they were unleashing their dog or dogs of war. Which was a subtle way of saying they were sending their assassins to kill people. This term was used for clans like the Kari, Maiba, Saitama, and Sweela and in the more modern setting became a derogatory term used primarily when speaking about the Kari and Maiba; i.e. Maiba or Kari dogs.
“If I want a dog to bark, I shall remove its muzzle,” Mikio responded simply. Tationy tightened her grip on Hiko’s arm which was the only thing that kept him from baring his teeth a fact that had not gone unnoticed by Mikio, “How are you hiding him from my sight?”
“Don’t you think there are more important things for you to be worrying about?”
Tationy’s question caused Hiko’s brows to knit, what did she mean? “Do not think because I am standing before you that my attention is only upon you. I am not single-minded or hotblooded.”
“We both know that is not of which I speak.”
Hiko could clearly see that the two of them were lost in a moment. Perhaps a memory or maybe something else entirely. His woman’s eyes locked fiercely upon Mikio Ishi, though it would be the snake that drew his attention away first, “We spent so much time together and you still play the game passively.”
“This is my life Mikio, it is not a game.”
“Even as you speak those words, I can see you repeatedly positioning yourself rather than going on attack or defending. I always respected your slow and methodical way of maneuvering through the world, but you never make moves until your comfortable with your place. This has always been your weakness; some opportunities are once in a lifetime and there will be no second chance.”
“I have always moved at my own pace Mikio and this was something you never seemed to understand. Among the Tylo, you are very good at spotting weakness and using that opportunity to your advantage, but sometimes you choose the wrong times to play aggressively.”
The tension between the two was tangible and it felt like it increased the moment Kuro stepped to the side of his brother. Hiko made note that both snakes had their eyes completely fixed on his girl, “Hate to interrupt, but they are about to serve food and drink and all eyes are watching the three of you. Whispers circulating about a heated conversation. If I recall right, you were the one that told me to play nice, brother. Shouldn’t you be taking your own advice?”
“Who knows,” Mikio responded as he turned away. There was plenty of heaviness around all of them and a split second later he would have grabbed Tationy’s hand and started walking, but he was halted when the Ishi man added, “I am struggling to understand why you are playing the game this way and how it is you can hide his movements from me. When I find the answers to those questions, I will no longer make my moves with caution. I am not above using force to get what I want and if you continue down this path, Tationy, I will ensure that your Kari dog and his kin are left with nothing. I will spare him the humiliation if you see reason and find your way to me.”
Hiko found that he had no opportunity to respond as Mikio began to walk away. Slowly his eyes drifted toward Kuro, “Got something you want to say?” That gaze; scrutinizing as always. Once upon a time, they were friends and now Hiko wanted to kill him. When Kuro did not readily respond Hiko looked to Tationy, “Let’s get out of here.”
“Alright,” She managed in a hushed voice as she pulled her attention away from the direction that Mikio had gone.
Giving her hand a squeeze they barely managed to take a step as Kuro asked, “Do your eyes really see a happy life with Hiko or is there someone else your heart longs for?”
It was difficult to keep his voice from raising, “Shut your fucking mouth. I am not going to allow the the snake clan to trample on what is mine any longer.”
“What are you going to do about it Hiko?”
“Foolishness seems a common theme with you lately,” Tationy responded and Hiko thought for a moment she was speaking to him, but realized that her eyes had settled upon Kuro. “Certainly you are quite confident, Kuro, but every action of late is halfhearted. Even you, do not know what you want. Perhaps, once you figure that out you could in fact steal me away from the man I adore, but as you are now I would find any attempt you made upon my person laughable. I have no time for men that cannot understand their own heart.”
“Oh, that sounds like a challenge, Tationy.”
There was a subtle pause before she responded to his words, “A man that wages war with uncertainty in his heart lacks the conviction to follow through. As you are right now, this is not a battle you will win so why I wonder are you foolishly throwing stones in the pond.” Hiko did not understand what she was saying, but the expression that briefly adorned Kuro’s face was clear that he did. Staring at the man he once called friend he had expected some sort of response, but instead it would be Tationy who would continue speaking. “The murky waters of your future will never be clear if you continue to cause ripples.”
When her hand squeezed his, Hiko realized it was time for them to make their exit, but as they began to move something came over him rather suddenly. Perhaps it was his irritation, Tationy’s words, or the way these pretentious assholes regarded him. Whatever it was, he stopped and turned his head to look at the man he once called friend. With an uncertain breath he said loud enough for everyone in the vicinity to hear, “Tationy and I are leaving. While I came here with the intent to share my money, this gala does not support Aslann. Tomorrow, I am going to write a check to the Anami Seminary and I suggest you do the same Kuro and if you can’t, then you and your clan really are a bunch of Ishi snakes who only think of themselves. I care about two things, this beautiful woman on my arm and my home; my money goes to Aslann.”
To Be Continued