The drive to Ishi Shipping did not give him any clarity of heart or mind. In fact, it only troubled him further. He had a lot of questions and no answers. Not to mention, Tationy had been rather ballsy asking him of all people to help her carry the burden of the Kari pride. The whole situation felt as though it was not a single complication, but many all coming together. It was part of why he had to get out of there.
Kuro had a fuse. It was not short or long, but strictly based on his tolerance of people or events and at that moment, he was not happy. His irritation was not limited to just Tationy and her sudden arrival or the Kari that had been treading upon his people’s lands. No, there was another band-aide that needed to be ripped off and it came in the form of his brother Mikio.
He sighed as he spoke, “Call Oro.”
“Calling Oro,” His car responded.
It rang for some time before a groggy voice spoke, “It is not fucking morning until I get up. What the fuck Kuro?”
“From the sounds of it, you are awake. Go to my house and keep an eye on the Queen of the Kari. Do it quickly. I don’t want her taking…”
He was interrupted, “Huh?”
“Don’t fucking huh me. I know you heard exactly what I said.”
“The big bad Ishi Elder bossing people around so early in the morning…”
“I am not taking lip from some punk who probably spent his entire night on his knees sucking someone off. Get your ass in gear.”
The lackluster “whatever” that followed added to Kuro’s irritation, but he did not get the opportunity to say as much as Oro hung up. He knew the kid to be a bit of a pain in the ass, but all in all he was not a bad choice for assisting him. He was intelligent with the ability to think on his feet and be creative. Something that was lacking with the generations of the modern and future ages, but a necessity if that Kari found his way to his house again.
There was a moment he thought about calling him back and letting him know to be on guard, but it was unnecessary. If anyone could handle someone like Gen and talk his way out of a fight it was Oro. Still, it would be callous of him to put the kid in the line of fire without some heads up.
“Call…..shit,” He slammed on his breaks.
“Cancel,” He snarled while tension settled to the core of every muscle. His eyes focused in on the cat casually licking his paw. That was the problem with creatures like those, they thought they could do whatever they wanted with impunity. People called it curiosity, he called it arrogance. They thought themselves superior. Sadly there were tons of clans in Aslann with the same sort of mentality.
Taking a deep breath he spoke aloud, “What the fuck is wrong with me? Am I on edge?” The trembling hands would certainly indicate that he was. Resting his head to his steering wheel he tried to calm his nerves though had only been given a moment to do so as a car behind his persistently honked.
There was little opportunity to take an extra second to calm himself further even though he probably needed it. Still, he was off again because the answers were not going to magically come to him. No they were the type that needed to be sought out, maybe even forced.
The drive seemed to go on forever and there was only minor relief when he finally made it to Ishi Shipping. His families company. It had practically been a staple of Mount Celiabai since men began to use ships to explore and trade.
Still there was disappointment as he made his way to the main offices only to find out that his brother Mikio had moved to one of the smaller less used buildings. It was suspicious and simply added to the enormous amount of questions that had been building since Tationy’s arrival.
Stepping inside, he only passively glanced around. Taking in the scene was hardly why he was there. “Is this how it is?” Kuro asked loudly as he came to a halt, “Keeping secrets that affect the Ishi clan. Hiding yourself away? You stated for months we had to prepare for her arrival like it was some huge event. What you were really saying was war was coming. How long have you known that she was going to bring death to our doorsteps?”
There was a moment where he paused expecting some answer from his brother Mikio, but his attention was drawn toward Kin. Clipboard in hand, “Maybe I should step outside.”
“I suppose that depends on whether or not you know what is going on and have been helping him,” Kuro barked. “Well, are you going to answer?” Kin’s mouth opened and then closed suddenly. “That is what I thought.”
With his irritation escalating he did what he could to regain some composure when his eyes fixed on the sword leaning precariously against the old windows. Kuro’s brows knitted, “Have you had a visitor?”
Mikio had a very unnerving way about him, even for an Ishi. Certainly most people found the snake clan to be intimidating, but there was not a person in all of Aslann that was not acutely aware that his little brother was the vassal of the Death God, Rin. Still, Kuro was not the type of man to backdown not even before a God.
“How is she?” His brother finally asked, breaking up the tension filled silence and completely avoiding the question.
Kuro half expected the conversation to change or end after his response, “Kin, the shipments need to leave the docks in the next two hours or they will be delayed due to the impending storms.”
Kin stumbled, “Right, sure I will take care of it.”
It would not be until Kin was out of earshot that Kuro would respond, “Sending him away after taking him into your confidence. Seems strange. Are there things that he does not know or are you sending him away for another reason?”
“Kin knows better than to ask me questions.”
“Oh, getting cocky there baby snake. Don’t think that shit will work on me,” Kuro stated as he walked up the stairs toward the makeshift office.
The air was heavy with tension and something else. It was not as though the two of them were ever close. Kuro had always been the lesser son of Rin, despite being the oldest and Mikio, the favored child. Still, this felt different from the millions of other times they had shared conversations. “Does Rin want to come out and play?” Kuro boldly asked and Mikio’s attention fell swiftly upon him, “Oh, that is it. Rin feels Kazuma nipping at his heels and he is trying to break free of your control. How long are you going to be able to keep him at bay in your condition?”
“There is no need to worry about me. Right now the only thing you should be concerning yourself with is protecting her and making the right decisions.”
“Protecting her? She can go back to the Kari for all I care. Asking me to help her carry the burden of the Kari pride. It was fucking insulting.”
“It isn’t what you think.”
“One thing I learned about the two of you in these millions of years is you are both very good at talking in circles. So, fucking explain it to me.”
A pensive expression adorned his brothers face, “The vassal of the King of the Gods has been taking steps toward war every reincarnate while Kazuma himself has been making preparations when he gains control. They were subtle, small things, done over millions of years. Nothing that would generally jump out at you, until they are all pieced together.”
“I get him. He is about the only thing that makes sense in all of this. Kazuma will do anything to rise to the heavens again. Big fucking deal…..”
Mikio interrupted him, “Kazuma cannot rise to the heavens unless he remasters himself and his power. He has to destroy what he created. The world, the clans, the people, even the other gods. This is not some vassal thinking big and acting out. He is the real deal. The final evolution if you will of the King of the Gods Kazuma. Whether he succeeds or fails, he will be the last vassal. The issue is, I have not seen him fail and neither has she. That is why she is so afraid because everything she has been striving to protect could be gone tomorrow.”
“Destroying the world, is going to take more than some Kari scum hiding away in his little village. I get him attacking clans and going to war here in Aslann, but outside of our nation what is he really capable of doing?”
“Do you remember playing Bagola (Pronunciation: bog-oh-lah) with Tationy?”
“What does this…” He paused a moment as he considered the unusual question. Bagola was similar to chess and was popular among intellectual sorts. Not really Kuro’s thing, after all he was never very good at it, but there had been times that he sat down and played against Tationy during historical days. “I have never forgotten a single thing I have done with her.”
The confirmation of his words allowed Mikio to continue, “She plays the same way she handles time. Always on the defensive. Against most opponents this strategy works out well, but against someone that is aggressive she ultimately always ends up backed into a corner.”
“Are you saying…”
“Kazuma has found her weakness and he is exploiting it. Tationy can no longer make a move.”
Kuro allowed his mind to consider his brothers words. It would explain some things, but certainly not everything. His mouth opened to respond, but he was quickly halted when he noticed Mikio pushing away from the desk. “We are not done talking yet,” He snarled.
“Actually we are. What you need to know, you can get from her.” Kuro had gone to protest as he grabbed his brother’s arm, but was quickly shrugged off. “Tationy has spent millions of years protecting what she values and I protecting her. Do not tell her no.”
Just like that, Mikio walked away. He was always difficult, but getting information of importance out of him was similar to prying teeth with a pair of pliers. As usual, Kuro was left with ninety-nine questions and no answers which meant he spent the entire drive home literally in his own head. Asking questions, looking for answers. Unsuccessfully at that.
Kuro was determined to get to the bottom of all of this one way or another, though he doubted it was going to be easy. Especially when he entered his home and caught sight of no one, “Oro?” He called out.
“Down here.” He responded. Which generally would not have been very helpful, but Kuro was able to deduce that his voice was coming from the kitchen. There he was casually leaning against the door, “How did your talk with Mikio go?”
“Did she tell you that?” Kuro asked as he came to a rather sudden stop, but allowed his eyes to search out her location. Whether or not Oro answered was unknown as he spied her form in the kitchen, “Were there any issues?”
“If by issues you mean the arrival of a particular Kari, no there were none.”
“How much did she tell you?”
“Not much really. I just read between the lines well.” The knowing look upon the boys face annoyed Kuro. He felt like every member of his clan was far more in tuned to what was going on then he was. Certainly it was probably nothing of the sort, but it still brought a heaviness to his heart, “Want me to stay? Protect your flank while you talk with her?”
“No, this is something I need to do on my own.” He responded as he stepped into the kitchen. Taking a breath he turned to tell Oro thank you, but the kid had already wandered off.
With his attention focused upon Tationy he realized she was making herself at home. If it had been any other person, it probably would have come off as being rude. Not with her; there was always an ease of transition when it came to every little thing she did. At least that was how it always appeared.
“How is the cat?” She questioned which broke up the tension that had overtaken his entire body.
“It will live to survive another day,” he responded with some composure.
“I wonder how true that is.”
“Cryptic words. Not entirely unexpected from one with the eyes of the goddess.”
“Have you not noticed an abundance of cat’s in your territory lately?”
Come to think of it, he had noticed that there seemed to be a lot more strays then usual. “Speak plainly Tationy.”
Silence there was always so much of it as she diligently prepared a meal, “The Matsuo (Pronunciation: mat-sue-oh) clan has been called to Kazuma. Their conditional immortality will be a great asset to him during the war, but it is their ability to shift ….”
“Kazuma has summoned his spies to my lands?”
“The one you crossed paths with is their leader and the most dangerous of the Matsuo. Moko (Pronunciation: mo-co / mo as in mow and co as in cold), the shadow, the hand, the annihilator. Nothing and no one survives his skill. He has lived a very long time and without hesitation answered the call of his god.”
Kuro sighed as he rubbed the back of his neck, “Fucking cats, not to be trusted.” He paused as he considered how to handle the invaders treading upon his lands. “Bak should be able to locate the Matsuo…” He said under his breath, but then realized where that cat was located. “Moko, is he watching Mikio?”
Her silence was rather telling as he turned to rush back to his families company, “He already knows.” Stopping suddenly, “He has for a long time, but he has not been able to react. Mikio has spent millions of years protecting me and because of that I have inadvertently tied his hands. If he reacts to Moko and Kazuma, he has to stop protecting me and he cannot do that unless he is certain…”
“This is why he told me not to tell you no.”
“I am sorry,” She said though never turned to face him. “My desire to protect you created this mess.”
Her desire to protect him? The words seemed foreign as he took a step toward her. She had not turned. Had not stopped what she was doing. Kuro knew that Tationy couldn’t because she would lose what composure she had. Why hadn’t he noticed that she was pieced together with weathered and fragile tape.
“I don’t need you to shield me,” He barked though it was hardly what he intended to say. It conjured up all sorts of questions and he tried desperately not to read into her words, but there he was deciphering her desire. It just made him angry. “How long? How long Tationy have you been protecting me?”
“Millions of years. After Mikio pulled me through time, I realized that Kazuma intended to kill you in the past. I couldn’t let him do that, so each new life I placated him by standing at the side of a Kari man or giving him another target. His confusion over my actions came to fruition when I was with Tadayoshi, but he would come to understand what I was really protecting when I stood at the side of Semei (Pronunciation: see-me). After that, he worked to bind my hands. Forcing me to come before you…”
“Turn around and face me,” He demanded as he interrupted her words.
“Please do not ask that of me. I would rather your eyes not look upon my sinful heart.” He was frustrated and had been about to walk away when she added so casually, “I hope dinner taste alright. There was a great deal of surprise when I noticed you really have no food in your kitchen other than the junk variety. I thought how strange it was to know someone so well and yet not know them at all. This ugliness consumed my heart and with it came regret that I kept a wall between us for so long. Please forgive me.”
Kuro felt unwanted emotion bubbling up from deep inside of him and he had to force himself to sigh deeply. Releasing it all, “I still can’t cook. Didn’t feel it was necessary seeing you always…” He felt a choking feeling even speaking the words, “I am sure it will be wonderful.”
There was a subtle breath released as though she had been holding it in, “Would you set the table?”
Disbelief, uncertainty, it was all there as he managed to nod his head. Not that she could see it. It felt strained, forced. The unexpectedness of it all as he wondered how this day would continue to play out.
Not surprising came the silence. They did not even manage to be at the table for more than a few minutes and not a word was spoken, even though there was plenty to say. One minute, two minutes, Kuro practically counted the time in his head.
Finally he simply could not take it anymore, “Do you think me so weak Tationy that I could not stand against Kazuma? I am Kuro of the Ishi, fucking gods be damned.” He sat his fork down, “How insulting it is to find out that you spent all of these years letting some Kari man between your legs to protect me as though I am some baby snake.”
The anger was right there and he knew he was going to lash out as he turned to look at her.
Those eyes; what secrets lay behind them? “Are you done, Kuro of the Ishi?” She asked him.
He snorted, “Oh, the only person that calls me that is the Prince of Aslann. Come to think of it, you have addressed me that way several times before. Is that how it is, Prince Tatsuya (Pronunciation: tat-sue-yuh)?”
“Don’t call me that.”
“That is what this is all about isn’t it? Kazuma is calling out the Prince, forcing your hand. Prince Tatsuya looked beyond the veil to protect his nation and for what? Some girl who wants to hold on to the Kari pride and talks shit about protecting me.”
She sighed as though the conversation exhausted her, which only irritated Kuro more. He had been about to say as much when she spoke, “Kazuma wants me to liquidate the Kari Foundation. Actually want is not the right word. He has insisted and ordered all Kari to return to Shimragata (Pronunciation: shim-ruh-gah-tuh). By the end of this month, the empire built by Tadayoshi and his blood will be gone and the entire world will take a massive hit. Unless…”
The look upon his face must have been priceless, but that explained a lot. Not just about why she came to him now, but how Kazuma would take down the entire world. Want to bankrupt a nation, hit them where it hurts; their money. The Kari Foundation was a mega-conglomerate that had its hands in aerospace, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, robotics, and even semiconductors. They were the go to company for everything these days.
“Unless what?” He finally asked.
“The companies in Europe, North American, and Asia are going to take hits unless there are bodies to cover positions. The corporate office, can run on minimal staff for at least a month. Iashi (Pronunciation: e-ahh-she) Kari assures me that he is staying put and there is a small number of Kari willing to go against Kazuma, but without help there will be no way to stop this from happening. It will hurt every company in Aslann, including Ishi Shipping. The world economy and numerous associates around the world will also be damaged. I hate asking you this…”
He interrupted her, “Ask me anyway.”
“The Ishi have some of the most intelligent men and women in the world; if there is anyone that can help me protect the Kari pride, it is them. If it falls, the damage will give Kazuma an advantage we will not be able to combat.”
Kuro laughed awkwardly before sighing, “Nothing is ever simple when it comes to the gods.” Lifting his fork he began digging into his food, “We have Kazuma, the Matsuo, the Kari Pride, and I am certain you are going to dump something else in my lap that I will not like. So, what is it?” She did not readily reply so he broke down and asked, “Hisoka and Ryozo, has Kazuma gone after them yet?”
“Hisoka’s (Pronunciation: heh-so-ca / ca as in cause) reincarnate was lost during the modern age. His existence has faded from my sight. I do not know if he is alive or dead. Kazuma does not seem to know the answer either.” She paused a moment, “Ryozo (Pronunciation: rye-oh-zoh) is young and foolish. He wants to experience war and Kazuma will give him that. Then, when he has no further use for him, the boy’s life will be forfeit. I have tried to speak with him, but he has no desire for peace.”
“So, is it safe to assume the Waichia (Pronunciation: wha-chi-uh) or what remains of them stand with Kazuma?”
“The Waichia will always choose the winning side. At this moment, Kazuma is offering them something they cannot refuse. Preservation of their clan.”
“Oh, that is unfortunate. The likelihood it will be limited to the Waichia with such an offer is slim. Many clans have suffered great losses since the modern age and will be looking to preserver into the next age.”
“You are still being flippant over serious matters.”
“Am I?” He questioned between bites, “It never bothered you before. So, what happens if we do nothing in all of this?”
“Oh, forgive me. I forgot you belong to the Kari. That heroska…”
“Don’t speak on that so casually again, when you know nothing.”
“Wearing a Kari man’s pride tells me and any other other man looking that you belong to Kazuma’s kin. So, if that is not the case, then explain it to me.”
The silence that followed his words was a victory in his mind until she finally broke it and said, “It is the only thing standing between me and death.” He paused, the fork not even reaching his mouth as she added, “Kazuma cannot touch me as long as I am wearing it.”
“So, you are safe then.”
“No, he is looking for a Nakamaru (Pronunciation: knock-uh-mar-ru) named Shiano (Pronunciation: she-on-no) who has the power to break it. Once he has done so, he can do with me as he wishes. Until then, the Kari will not allow him to harm me. It was Tadayoshi’s last act of defiance before Kazuma devoured his soul.”
The sorrow in her tone was not lost on him, “I am sorry for your loss.”
“All of them,” He responded.
“Thank you. I am sorry for yours.”
The loss of his best friend Taro (Pronunciation: tare-oh) Anami (Pronunciation: uh-nom-me) was still fresh in his mind and heart. It had been unexpected and still Kuro could not believe that Taro would willingly take his own life. Disheartened by the loss, “He pushed me to go and see you before his death. Tried to trick me even.”
Kuro didn’t know what he expected. Some sort of response or acknowledgement, anything that his words meant something. Instead, she stood, grabbed her plate, and began to wash it in the sink. He laughed at how ridiculous it all was and he was once again reminded of his anger. Really he had enough and was ready to tell her as much, but her words stilled him. “I wish you would have.”
“If I had? He would have just come after me right? I get him going after Mikio and my clan, but why me Tationy? I am sure to Kazuma being Ishi is enough reason, but going out of your way to protect some snake…one that did not mean enough for you to come to him millions of years ago…” There it was. Even if he tried to keep his cool eventually that ugly side was going to find its way to the surface until he understood why it was she thought him so weak.
“What do you want me to say?” She asked hesitantly.
“The truth or is that something you are not capable of speaking?”
There was little hope that she would offer some sort of response as she finished up the dishes, wiped her hands, and turned to face him. “Perhaps we should sit someplace and talk for a bit,” She suggested. Kuro simply stepped back and gestured with his hand for her to lead the way.
Seated in the living room the drama of their personal lives seemed to outweigh the impending war. Perhaps not for her, but definitely for him. Battles were nothing new and one way or another he would be dragged into it, but to learn that she purposely chose to stay away from him and her reason why, it bruised his ego. Kuro could not help thinking she thought so little of him, “Well?” He asked and the way she jumped told him she had been startled.
Kuro watched as she opened and closed her mouth, made faces, before her expression changed to one of uncertainty. His feelings were already battered, it was not as though she could say anything to make him feel worse or maybe she could and that was why there was such a dramatic pause. Deeply sighing, “This is a lot easier in my head.”
With disappointment he responded, “Just say it.”
“After Mikio pulled me back through time, he showed me what would happen to you by Kazuma’s hand. It wasn’t because I thought you weak, I simply could not bare losing you. Each life I thought this one would be different and I could go to you, but then I would see …” She halted her words suddenly as she looked away. There was something in her tone when she continued that told Kuro she was holding back more than just emotion, “I thought as long as you existed that was enough even if it was not with me. Just you being alive and under the same sky was worth whatever I had to do. Kazuma fears you and Mikio; even if he does not wipe out the Ishi he will go after the two of you. He needs Rin’s power and without Hisoka’s reincarnate, you are the last of the God of Loves blood.”
Of course, Mikio knew. He had only a moment to stew over the fact that his brother was keeping secrets that had been bringing doubt to his heart for millions of years. “About Prince Tatsuya….”
“Is this where you tell me that the Ishi swore a blood debt and that we should honor it?”
Tationy had given him a rather surprised look, “What? No, nothing like that.” She responded with knitted brows. “Kuro of the Ishi, why do you always have to be so difficult?”
Inwardly he chuckled. He did not know why that amused him so much, but there she was weathered from this entire ordeal and still nitpicking over his tendency to be flippant. “Cannot let me have a little fun at your expense can you?” The words were teasing as he added, “Even if you tried to force us to honor the blood debt I would have told you where to stick it, but you are not Prince Tatsuya. He would never have hesitated.”
“I think in this regard you may be wrong.”
“Oh, how so?”
“If the Ishi do not assist the victory will go to Kazuma. He is making me choose between you and Aslann. There is part of me that wants to force you to honor that blood debt, but the other part would rather Aslann fall then bind the Ishi. Kazuma intends to …”
Kuro cut her off, “He wants you to collect the blood debt.” Pensively he considered the action that Kazuma might take, “Binding a clan using a blood debt is dangerous. All he would have to do is kill you and the Ishi would be aimless. Even with the size of the snake clan he could do quite a bit of damage before we rallied.”
Rather abruptly she changed the topic, “What time is it?”
“I do not know, probably about four.”
“Four, I am running late. I need to check into a hotel and get ready for the festival…”
Kuro did not let her get very far, “Considering why you came here aren’t you being the flippant one? A festival hardly seems the sort of thing one does when war is coming.” Not to mention he had no intention on letting her leave so easily.
“I told the press I was coming here for the festival. I still have to keep up appearances even with everything going on. If there is even a hint of conflict, the vultures will circle. Tonight I have to play my part.”
“Under those layers of pretense what you are saying is Kazuma is watching.” The hesitation told him that his assumption was accurate, “Well then let’s give him something to talk about. I have a spare room you can stay in and we can attend together. After all, when the Queen of the Gods steps onto the lands of the snake clan, not just the press will be talking.”
“Aren’t you worried about what people will think?”
As he stood and gestured for her to follow he responded, “How I appear has never been of any importance.”
Up the narrow staircase toward the bedrooms they walked in relative silence. Kuro had things he needed to say, but one in front of the other toward the bedrooms of his estate was not really conducive to a conversation of emotion.
When they finally reached the bedroom, he opened the door, stepped back, and allowed her to enter. The surprised expression upon her face was not lost on him. “Mikio told me that you would be coming and we had to prepare for your arrival. I honestly never thought this room was going to get used.”
Kuro could not help the amusement that passed over his lips at the sight of her reaction. “It is very pink and girly,” She responded. It was clear by her tone there was surprise, but that was not the only emotion hidden beneath the layers.
“We thought you might like it…” He left his words hanging there, “Mikio seemed to think that you would be staying longer then a few nights. So, is that the case Tationy?”
“I do not wish to intrude upon the Ishi,” She composed herself as she spoke. “There is no place for me to go. I am of many clans and there is none that will welcome me.”
With a breath he responded, “That is not surprising. Preservation is very important to the clans of Aslann, they would sooner throw you to those Kari dogs than protect you. Lucky for you, the Ishi do not bow down to scum. Stay as long as you need to.”
He turned to leave, but was halted by her words. “Kuro, might I ask a question?”
Turning back he responded, “Go ahead.”
There was a moment as she glanced around before turning her head to look at him. He honestly expected the question to be about the war, “How old do you think I am exactly?”
It took him a moment to realize she was asking about the decor of the room which was lined with stuff animals, butterflies, lace, and draped in pastels of pink and blue. He chuckled as he shook his head and turned away while repeating, “We thought you would like it.” There was no opportunity for her to speak given as he quickly exited the room.
Leaning against the door outside, he waited for the telling squeal of a girl that was happy. It lit up his face as he laughed under his breath and imagined her twirling like a little girl. She might be the type to protest too much or even talk around an important topic, but deep down the real her was a young woman that loved pink and girly things.
Kuro felt an aching at his heart thinking how much time passed without her. Even though he was certain it was temporary, he wanted to hold on. The war meant nothing to him. Kazuma’s desire was irrelevant. What Kuro valued was his clan and the girl giggling to herself in the tiny makeshift bedroom he had offered her.
He and his clan would be pulled into the war regardless of her part in it. Kazuma would never allow the power of Rin to go untouched. He had to possess it and because of that there would be battle and power struggles. Despite this, the inner conflict over her and the secrets carried by his brother were foremost in his thoughts.
Still, there was little time to address it all. It was not as though wars were won and lost in a day. Battle planning and movements had to be made and until everything was put in order to strike, they had to keep up appearances. He got that, though Kuro hated the pretense of it all.
There were a lot of burning questions, though they had not talked after he showed her to the spare bedroom. He simply changed and readied himself for the festival appearance. There was plenty of nervous anticipation and lingering silence surrounding them.
The reality was his mind needed to focus on something or he would simply sit there thinking about her and why things had turned out the way they had. “Call Nao,” he spoke.
“Calling Taro…” The car responded.
“Cancel,” He groaned and was sharply reminded he needed to remove Taro’s name and number from his cars programming.
“Call Nao,” Tationy said in a soft whisper and for a moment, Kuro took his eyes off the road to look at her.
“Calling Nao,” The car acknowledged as it dialed the appropriate number and began ringing.
“I miss the old days,” He responded.
“Are you referring to the days when your car did not give you attitude?”
He chuckled under his breath, “Yeah, those days.”
Even though there was distance between them, their conversations never felt forced. Maybe that meant something. His thoughts, however, were quickly distracted, “A call from the Elder of the Ishi. Must be something important,” Nao (Pronunciation: now) spoke without even offering any formal greeting.
“Things are going to get a bit troublesome,” Kuro responded.
“I imagine this has something to do with your recent visitor. Is she there with you?”
“She is.” Kuro paused having glanced at Tationy a moment before continuing, “I need you to call Togore (Pronunciation: toe-gore-ree). He has to return to Aslann (Pronunciation: as-lawn) as soon as possible. Once he arrives, bring him to my home. I need the assistance of the two of you….and Bak.”
“Bak,” Nao repeated, “This must be serious. I will call him, though he will likely not be able to take a flight for a few days without some work.”
“Whatever he has to do, make sure he does it. No excuses.”
Kuro pulled his car into a spot on the side of the street near where the festival was taking place. Shifting in to park he added, “I am going to be out of contact for a few hours while she and I take in this festival affair. If something comes up I want you to handle it.”
“No, that will be it.” Kuro stated though neither offered the other farewells as the call was disconnected.
Kuro climbed out of his car and walked around to open the door for her. Side by side they moved, “Nao Ishi as your second…”
“Do you have a problem with that?
“It is the Queen of the Kari.”
“Hello,” Tationy said with a kind smile to the people whispering and gossiping as they moved away from the parked car. This was her life. She was the it girl of Aslann. Crossing his arms over his chest he half expected to be ignored until she finally responded, “A dangerous beast hidden behind a young Ishi face. I do not disapprove.”
“Then you understand why I am calling him and the others to me.”
“Nao, Togore, and your little brother Bak are three of the most powerful chalta’s (Pronuciation: chall-tuh) within the Ishi clan. Protecting against the Nakamaru and the Matsuo will start with them.”
Her eyes made things a lot easier. She just knew, there was no reason for him to explain his actions. Still, communication was the foundation of every relationship and he did not have the same ability to see beyond the veil. “About this situation with the Kari Foundation. How long do you believe we have before it needs to be addressed.”
“No more than a few days. People will start noticing the large number of Kari that are leaving for Shimragata.”
Her words were concerning. Kuro was uncertain if he even wanted to waste the resources on protecting something that did not belong to his clan. The risk of doing nothing was great. His families company could be damaged, not to mention what it would do to the global economy. It was a gamble. There were plenty of unwanted thoughts, “We should table this discussion. As you said, the eyes of the press will not be the only ones upon us this evening.”
“Ahh,” She practically whispered.
They had barely stepped a foot onto the grounds of the festival lot when the press began to clamor around them. It was an inconvenience to people simply trying to enjoy the festivities. This was her life that was what he kept telling himself. It was not as though he didn’t understand. The Ishi were hardly normal themselves. There was a certain amount of celebrity being a Son of Rin, not to mention the Elder of the Ishi. Nothing like what she had though.
Camera flashes, an abundance of hurried questions. Everyone was trying so hard to get her attention. Perhaps that was why he reached down and possessively took her hand. Selfishness certainly on his part and all it did was add an abundance of new questions.
“Kuro, are you and Tationy seeing each other?”
“Oh,” He mused and then laughed, “Maybe we are.” She gave his hand a hard squeeze, which he took as disapproving. “We are just here enjoying the festival. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t want the precious Queen of the Kari to get swept up in your frenzy. Go on, let her enjoy the evening.”
“You heard the Elder of the Ishi, move along you vultures,” a security officer scolded.
Kuro waited for the lecture, but as they continued walking she offered none. At least not right away. Eventually she laughed under her breath and said, “Very tactful.”
To Be Continued