In the four years he had been CEO of the Kari Foundation, Hiko had never taken a day off let alone a vacation. All he ever thought about was work and making the great nation of Aslann a better place for its people. He did not really care if he was rich or successful as long as he made a difference. Not the type of man to gauge his accomplishments by the assets he garnered. Hiko valued honesty, loyalty, and respect.
Meeting Tationy had brought many changes to his life. The most obvious was that he had been saddled with a teenage girl of seventeen years of age. By Aslann standards she was an adult; Tationy could marry, have sex, have children, live on her own. She was not a child, but Hiko quickly realized that she was also not a normal woman.
She had a quirky way about her. Asked questions that society would deem were inappropriate, knew facts that no living being on Earth should have knowledge of, and struggled with the basic norms of human behavior. Tationy was a rare and unusual oddity that came with baggage. Hiko wasn’t complaining though.
Between the two of them there was enough conflict and nonsense to write a whole series of books. Not that Hiko would read that sort of thing; he was more interested in historical novels. Loyalty, patriotism, and epic battles; live and die by the sword. Command respect and fight until your last breath; these were the types of things that moved him at least until Tationy came into his life.
She brought with her a whirlwind of temptation for the man that was never once seduced by the sex of a woman. At first, he reminded himself that she was just staying with him because she had nowhere else to go. Tationy was his responsibility, but then she would look at him with those weird eyes and the words of his father would echo so loudly in his head, “A Kari man must know restraint.”
Every time his thoughts were muddled with the rhetoric of Tadayoshi, he pulled back. Cut conversations short, walked away, or changed the topic entirely. Tationy never seemed to mind, but Hiko hated himself for it. She was the one person in the world that he wanted to share all of himself with. That was part of why this moment was so frustrating.
In those four years as CEO, he never once thought about putting work aside. He fought for respect. Each day was an uphill battle and Hiko was always ready to get down and dirty. He never knew any other way until this perfectly unusual girl came into his life.
Through her he was reminded that it was important to live and experience all the world had to offer. It was alright to slow down, take a break, or even a week off to go camping. His first vacation and up until he arrived home he thought for certain it would not be his last.
It was amazing what a dose of reality could do for a frivolous mindset. They were certainly getting plenty of it as they stood just inside the gate of their future watching it burn to the ground.
Hiko was frustrated, but not for the reasons people might think. He was upset that the house he just purchased and everything in it was being reduced to ash. Anyone would be. However, it was just stuff to him. There was nothing in his home that could not be replaced.
What troubled him was the heaviness of not knowing if this was simply some unfortunate event or a manufactured one. He wanted to ask Tationy, but just one look at her told Hiko that she had no idea this was coming.
Never in a million years could he have imagined this was how his week would end; watching firemen try to put out the blaze, policemen corralling bystanders, and paparazzi snapping an endless amount of photos. Tomorrow their pain would be the talk of all of Aslann and there was nothing Hiko could do to stop it.
“Hiko,” His name was called by Zen Kari as he weaved his way through bystanders. It was difficult to hide the emotions, but he was thankful for the distraction. Still, he had to be careful and keep not just his feelings guarded from the Kari with the blood of the Waichia. The last thing Hiko needed was Zen to read his thoughts.
“What are you doing here?” There was no obligatory apologizes for their loss. He simply stared at the inferno, “Well?”
“Your father is very concerned. He received word of the situation and asked that I come straight here.”
That was not surprising to Hiko because Zen and his father were very close. If Semei was dead, Zen most certainly would become the Shield of the Kari; the right hand of his father. A position that Hiko always felt Zen already held. “You can thank him for his concern and tell him it was not necessary,” Hiko stated as he crossed his arms.
“I don’t think you understand. Your father has asked that I deal with matters here and he requests your return to the village, immediately.”
“Of course he does,” Hiko sighed, “Tell him….”
“You are not allowed to refuse, Hiko.”
It was difficult not to suspect that his father had him exactly where he wanted him. He certainly would not put it past Tadayoshi Kari, but did Hiko really want to walk himself and Tationy into the den of a pack of wolves? If he refused, his father would send men to get him and they would be taken back to the Village of Meratoia by force. He could not risk Tationy being hurt or worse.
So, it was with a great deal of reluctance that he conceded, “Tell my father we are on our way.”
Tationy didn’t want to leave. Deep down, Hiko couldn’t blame her after all there was a part of him as well that wanted to remain there until the flames were extinguished or their home was nothing more than ash and debris. Still, standing in the same spot and dwelling on what was, would not bring either of them any closure. Not that the ride to Meratoia was any better; they were both on edge and quiet for the entire two hour trip.
No words were shared between father and son upon their arrival. They stared each other down as though they were mortal enemies. Truth was probably not all that far-off as Hiko braved the question that had been running through his mind for hours, “Was it you?”
“If I were to strike against you boy, I would not be underhanded about it.”
“Then why are you summoning me here like some pet?” The silence shared between father and son sometimes became too much for the impatient Hiko, “I am a man of the Kari and you treat me like I am thirteen. I don’t have time for your disapproval.”
Tadayoshi clasped his hands behind his back, “We can speak in the morning when you are willing to listen.”
“Excuse me? You’re the one not speaking,” Hiko responded with a snarl. His father had not hesitated to turn his back and start moving, “Don’t walk away from me after you dragged us here…” The words fell short as Tadayoshi disappeared up the stairs and out of sight. Hiko’s frustration had grown by leaps and bounds.
“Is he angry or afraid?” Tationy’s voice pulled his attention. It was unexpected coming face-to-face with the sight of the nearly naked young woman though it explained why his father rushed off so quickly. While they were sharing one of their many tumultuous moments, she had stripped out of her clothing and was staring out the window.
He had barely a moment to compose himself and sigh, “I cannot imagine him afraid of anything.”
“Yet, here we are. If his intention is not to strike against you, then it seems likely he brought you here out of fear. The loss of Hiko Kari would have grand repercussions, I think.”
Hiko began to unbutton his shirt as he considered her words a moment, “There are plenty of Kari capable of taking my place. The Foundation will not suffer any loss if something happens to me.”
“I was not speaking about the family business,” She stated as she finally turned to face him.
Shaking his head he lacked the ability to find the words to respond. Hiko could not imagine his father caring one single bit if something happened to him. Anger? Fear? Maybe that someone was going to take him out before Tadayoshi of the Kari had a chance.
He didn’t want to change the topic, but at the same time this was not a conversation he wanted to have at the moment. It made him feel things that were better left locked away, “Are you alright?”
“I…I am overwhelmed. There are so many questions and I am not used to not having the answers. All of this stuff is just building in me and I have no idea what to do with it.” She paused a moment then quickly asked, “Do you regret…”
Hiko cut her off before she could even finish her words, “Don’t ask me such a ridiculous question. Do you really think I would have kept you around if I had any? It was a fire; get over it.”
“What if it was not just…”
Again he cut her off, “We don’t know the answer to that.” Tossing his shirt to the sofa he stared at her somber expression, “For now, it is better if we just wait for the investigators to look into it. The insurance will cover the loss.” There was no easing her troubled mind as he took a step toward her, “What do you want me to say?”
“I want…I want you to tell me we will crush whoever did this.”
At first Hiko just stared at her. The conviction adorning her features was new and powerful. Never had he seen her so incensed and the fact that this moved her to action so forcefully was both frightening and fascinating. There was a chance that Tationy might truly be the more dangerous of the two of them. “Ahh,” Hiko managed to mutter and he noticed instantly how her body relaxed.
There was no hesitation getting himself out of the rest of his clothing and pulling her into his embrace. The camping trip had brought them closer. They spent plenty of time holdup in a tent being cozy, but it was not like this moment. It was disturbing for him to admit, but there was something about her anger that encouraged him.
Despite having his arms securely around her, he did not kiss her or touch her in any inappropriate way. Certainly, people could interpret the atmosphere as being intimate, but for Hiko it didn’t feel like that.
There was great difficulty putting into words moments like these for him. It was not erotic or sensual. Even when he leaned down and breathed in the scent of her neck. It was not to produce arousal. She simply smelled like home to him and it made Hiko feel secure and comfortable.
“We should get some sleep,” He finally stated, but she would be the one to coax him to the bedding. They had been like this for an entire week; snuggled together as though it was the most natural thing for them, but this time they had on a lot less clothing.
With hesitation Hiko whispered her name, “Tationy.”
“Is something wrong?”
“No, I just…I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but whatever the day brings just know that you have me. Nothing and no one is going to change that.”
“Sounds like you are telling me you will fight your way back from the grip of death.”
“Ahh, if that is what it takes to keep my word. I would sell my soul to whatever demon I had to.” She softly laughed, but it came out more like a tiny little giggle and Hiko realized that her romance infused brain had joined the conversation, “It is amazing how you can turn a soldier keeping his word into a white knight rescuing the damsel.”
“Everything has a fine line Hiko Kari,” She stated simply and then asked, “Did you want to be a soldier?”
Hiko was surprised by the question. They had talked plenty of times about the Kari Foundation and how he had been groomed since he was a young man to succeed his father as CEO, but no one had ever asked him if that was what he wanted to do. “When I was a boy, I dreamed of serving the great nation of Aslann in the Ruthlbahdo. My father would not allow it and being the only son of Tadayoshi Kari, the military would not take me without his permission.” He paused a moment, “What made you ask?”
“You are disinterested in a lot of things, but the stuff you are really passionate about is very obvious. I noticed, you did not say, it is amazing how you can turn a man keeping his word into a white knight rescuing the damsel. You said soldier. Is that how you see yourself?” There was no answer he felt he could give to her question so he tightened his hold upon her. It was moments later she added, “I think you would have made a great soldier, Hiko.”
“Thank you,” He responded.
The silence that overtook them moments later was broken up when she asked, “Did I say something wrong?”
“No, I was just imagining how different my life would have been had I gone left instead of right.”
“We would not be here like we are now,” Tationy stated.
He didn’t believe that. It was possible the circumstances would have been different, but Hiko had a feeling deep in the pit of him that the two of them would have found their way together. It felt right; normal. There was nothing forced except the changing of topics when it came to them.
Suddenly, he rolled to face her. His fingers brushing a strained of hair off her face. Did she feel it? It felt tangible to him so he could not imagine how she could not, but with Tationy there was always uncertainty. Her quieted voice distracted his thoughts, “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“No reason,” He stated casually and then kissed her forehead lightly, “Get some rest. I have a feeling we are both going to need it tomorrow.”
Hiko had not been wrong. They were awoken at four in the morning to his father asking if they were decent. Tadayoshi did not offer a lot of conversation; gave them some clothing and sent them to the bathhouse.
It was a moment to relax after the chaos of the night before, but as he enjoyed the hot bath he kept thinking that this would be a perfect opportunity for his father to strike. He was vulnerable and separated from Tationy who was in a nearby room.
The entire situation had him analyzing it for secret motivations. Zen had told Tationy that the Kari holiday was coming up. They were gone for a week which would give anyone access to their property. Not to mention, the moment they arrived home their house was ablaze. It was hard to believe in coincidences especially when Zen was right there telling Hiko that his father wanted him to return to the Kari Village.
He realized he was probably thinking about it too much. There was always the chance that it was just an unfortunate event and until he knew more about the circumstances of the fire speculating did him no good. With a cleansing sigh, Hiko pushed the negative thoughts to the side and reinforced his resolve to remain on guard. That was when he realized that he was being spied upon, “Done with your bath already?”
“Yes,” She stated as she peeked at him.
“You can come in.”
Tationy seemed somewhat apprehensive, “Is it really alright?”
“Ahh, like you I am not inhibited,” He stated and realized when she stepped into the bathing room that she was still in her towel. Knowingly he added, “I take it you had trouble with folding the fabric and tying the sashes.”
“I have seen it done in my head millions of times, but it is a completely different experience trying to do it myself,” She stated as she placed her stuff on a nearby bench. “Can you help me?”
“Ahh,” He responded as he finished cleaning up. Hiko was about half a second away from standing when he realized that this might be the first time she had seen a man naked before; outside of what she had taken in beyond the veil. “Are you going to turn around?”
“Why?” Sometimes, it was hard to tell if she was oblivious or simply unmoved, “I thought you said you were not inhibited.”
“I’m not, but…” He laughed somewhat nervously, “Alright, suit yourself.”
Hiko climbed himself from the bath and stood before her. Awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. He was not shy or uncomfortable with his nudity, though he was somewhat concerned over her opinion regarding his body.
When he was a boy he had been overweight and struggled with his own self-image. He hated the way other Kari had looked at and treated him because his body was not the epitome of fitness and perfection as the god Kazuma had intended. His father called it weak blood; his mothers to be exact. He gave up sweets and carbs, worked out every day until he had chiseled away bit by bit every ounce of flab. Still, there was a part of him that would always be that little fat Kari boy whose peers tormented him.
Her silence could break any man’s ego as she looked him over. When she did not initially say anything he asked, “Disappointed?”
“You have a twelve inch penis, Hiko Kari.” She paused a moment then quickly added, “Unless you are completely incapable of using it, I cannot imagine any scenario where a woman would be disappointed.”
“I wasn’t asking about just any woman. Are you disappointed in what you see Tationy?”
Once again there was silence. Hiko started feeling a bit self-conscious standing there in nothing waiting for her to tell him that she approved of him physically. Eventually, the quiet atmosphere was disturbed when she asked, “Am I your woman, Hiko?”
“Do you want to be?”
“That is not what I asked you.”
Hiko sighed while moving toward the bench toward his clothes. As he dressed he stated, “This is not a question that ends well for me.”
There was not a lot of surprise that she didn’t say anything. It was certainly possible that he had upset her by not answering her question, but it was difficult not to see it as a loaded one. If Hiko answered yes, then his words could be twisted to mean he saw her as a possession. Answering no was not any better in his opinion.
He had expected some sort of response from Tationy, but by the time he was finished getting dressed she had still not said anything. The best he could do was just continue on and help her with her clothing.
The moment certainly had the potential of being sensual as he assisted her into her garments, adjusted folds, and tied sashes, but the longer the silence went on the more he realized that not answering had been a terrible decision on his part. With a sigh his head rested to her shoulder and he conceded, “Ahh, you are my woman.”
Still nothing but silence. It was killing him and the damned if you do and damned if you don’t feeling nearly swept him up and took him away. Then, unexpectedly her hand rested to his head and her words sent a chill of anticipation for their future throughout his body, “That makes me happy.”
They had only known each other for a couple of months and the circumstances surrounding their meeting had been completely outside what was normal. A lot of people would consider their relationship unconventional and rushed. It was not as though they did anything in proper order. Still, it worked for them.
Breaking the silence he asked, “Am I your man?”
Tationy did not hide the tease in her tone, “Do you want to be my man?”
Briefly he laughed, “That is not what I asked you.” It was nice to be able to be playful with her and not feel as though he had to restrain his emotions or hold back his words. Hiko wrapped his arm around her as his face buried to the side of her neck. She giggle softly which he took as a sign that it tickled, “Well, am I your man, Tationy?”
“Yes,” She practically whispered.
Their moment was interrupted by Kari who were waiting to use the bathhouse. It was alright, had things continued Hiko might have lost all the restraint he had left. So, the two of them walked through the village together; holding hands and stealing glances as they headed toward his father’s home. Despite, what he was certain was awaiting them there was lightness in the moment.
“Traditional clothing suits you,” She stated.
“You are probably the only person in the Kari Village that would say that,” He responded and then squeezed her hand, “I always felt restricted; couldn’t move or breath wearing these sorts of garments. When I was a boy my father always forced them upon me.”
“This is my first time,” She acknowledged. “Tradition and value has never been important to the Yamada.”
“Is that something you want in your life?”
“I don’t know. These were never things I had to think about. I always just knew I was going to be at the side of Aoba. My own wants and desires were locked away for pretense and expectations. With you is the first time I have ever felt like I didn’t have to be anyone but me. The future and all of its possibilities feel so open right now, but part of me also does not understand entirely what that entails.”
Hiko had said it before that it was probably rough being the smartest person in the room. He meant that. Only those with superior brains would understand what it was like to be intellectually unrestricted. On that level she could take in all of the information and process it as though it was nothing. Where Tationy was limited was on an entirely different level. She had not lived; there were no life experiences. Socially and emotionally she was ill-equipped to deal with most situations.
“The familiar is easy. People do things every day that they hate simply because it is known to them. It is much harder to take that step into the unknown,” He stated and then added, “I don’t understand entirely what you are going through, but I do remember when I stepped away from tradition and value for modernization. It was scary. There were many times I thought about running to my dad and telling him I was foolish…”
“My Hiko is really stubborn though.”
“Ahh. I was not about to give him the satisfaction of being right,” Hiko responded with a short laugh before continuing, “No matter how frightening it might be all you have to do is give my hand a squeeze and I will return it to let you know it is all going to be alright.” She started squeezing his hand over and over again which elicited a snort from him, “I take it you are nervous about seeing my father again?”
“He hates me,” She stated.
Hiko offered her the only comfort he could by returning her squeeze with one of his own, “That is alright. He hates me also.”
The blossoming couple had been having a pretty good day, all things considering, but stepping inside his father’s home was the last thing he wanted to do. Tadayoshi of the Kari did not like Tationy and his feelings for his son were far worse. There was no knowing what this was about and that left little room for enthusiasm as they seated themselves around the table and waited for his father to speak.
“You will be happy to know,” He began, “That I returned the gift to the Kawazoe. They were disappointed in your decision, but understood. The Lord of the Kawazoe offers his congratulations on your impending union.”
“Did you really think the two of you would be able to live in this sinful relationship without there being assumptions made? It is not as though either of you have showed any restraint….or decency for that matter.”
“People base shit off of what they read in the tabloids and not actual facts.”
“Are you telling me there is nothing to this relationship?” Hiko offered no response so his father quickly added, “That is what I thought.”
Even though there was silence it was clear that there was more to be said. His father did not summon him all the way to Meratoia just for a bonding moment. Biting back the urge to snarl and snap he asked, “Are you going to get to the point of this?”
Tadayoshi of the Kari bowed his head momentarily. Hiko had never known his father to hold his tongue before. They were hardheaded after all and always just said what they wanted to say. So the initial pause was troubling, “I have taken council with the oldest of our blood.”
“You,” Tadayoshi stated.
Hiko inwardly groaned. This was very bad. When the Elder of the Kari took council it was because he was forced to make a decision that affected him and his family. It meant he was too close and could not be impartial. The end result of these formal gatherings was usually the decision to exile someone from the clan or terminate their life.
There was no hiding the emotion on his face as he stared down his father, “Strike against me old man and it will be the last thing you do.”
“Threatening me before I even tell you what was discussed seems reckless, Hiko. Don’t you want to know what we decided where you and this girl are concerned?”
“Leave Tationy out of this. Whatever decision you made regarding me should not be extended to her.”
“Foolish boy. You were the one that brought her into this,” Tadayoshi raised his voice.
Hiko glanced toward Tationy to gauge her reaction, but she was simply sitting there drinking from her glass as though nothing at all was going on around her. Sometimes she was so simple; it was not a bad thing because it relaxed him and at that moment he needed to remain calm, “I am quickly losing my patience, just get to the point.”
Tadayoshi offered a brief nod of his head to acknowledge that he would continue, “Zen called me this morning and informed me that the Fire Marshal has labeled the destruction of your home as pending investigation. We have received unsubstantiated rumors for weeks now that there might be a strike made against you, but without confirmation there was nothing we could do about it.”
Remaining silent he allowed his father to continue, “Even if there is some chance the Fire Marshal says it was not arson there is still the potential that someone was making a very bold statement.”
“So? I have made some enemies. I am not going to apologize for that.”
“Are you going to be so cavalier about it when they strike against your woman?” There was no opportunity to protest his father’s question, “I do not approve of your union, however, the oldest of our kin believe that this is the will of Kazuma. Our god has placed this woman in your path and made her your responsibility. Our decision is for you and this girl to remain here in the village.”
“I don’t fucking think so,” Hiko snapped.
His father’s disapproving gaze settled upon him, “You have no house, no security, and you wasted how much money in the last couple of months? Tell me boy, what do you plan on doing?” Hiko could not really respond without saying things that he did not want his father to know so it came as no surprise when Tadayoshi asserted his authority, “My words are not a request.”
There were certain things that simply would never change; the village felt smothering and his father was always trying to control him even after twenty-eight years of life. One would think he would have some sort of grasp on how to maneuver through the world, but Tadayoshi of the Kari was always right there telling Hiko he was doing it wrong. Eventually, he realized that nothing he did was ever going to be good enough.
Extracting himself from the conversation was the only way for him to keep his sanity, so he stood quickly, offered his hand to Tationy, and walked out when she accepted. His father was yelling after them; don’t walk away from me. It was as though Hiko was thirteen years old again.
He was tense and brooding as they walked around the village in silence. There was so much, too much perhaps, going on and it was difficult to quite the frustrated screaming in his head. His father had always told him that the god Kazuma did not burden ones shoulders with more weight than one could bear. It didn’t feel like that.
“Does my Hiko want to talk?” Her voice was little, but soothed the beast within him. How she could manage it he did not know. Still, he wasn’t certain what to say and she must have sensed it because she continued, “Do you like being here?”
With her? Yes. If she was not at his side the answer would be no. Tationy made this place tolerable, but even that was not enough to make him want to stay in the Kari Village. He inwardly sighed and tried to offer her a response, but again there were no words.
Hiko felt terrible that his mood was hindering his ability to speak to her. She was the one person that he did not want to lose his temper with and part of him felt that if he opened his mouth he would not be able to stop himself. Could she sense it? He did not know, but when her hand squeeze his he realized that she was probably just as afraid as he was.
It felt like a lie to say everything was going to be alright and Hiko hated dishonesty. Big lies, little lies, they were all the same. Squeezing her hand was all he could really do as they continued their walk. Thankfully, the further they got from the village the more the pressure lifted off of him. It was only then that Tationy spoke again, “I want to go home.”
“Our home doesn’t exist anymore,” He stated firmly.
“That is perhaps true, but this place does not make you happy and home…”
His head bowed as a brief tormented smile graced his lips. He didn’t need her to say anymore, “I have only bad memories here. Tortured by other Kari because of my mother’s blood. A father that was disappointed in everything I did. Nothing made him happy. I had no friends, my family hated me, and this place always felt like a prison.”
“It sounds just like the Yamada estate except we had modern facilities.” Her teasing made him laugh, but then the seriousness of her next words brought the heaviness back in force, “Why didn’t you tell your father about the visit from the Ishi and the Saza?”
“I don’t want him to know,” He said. “Are you going to ask me why?”
“No,” She stated. “At this point, I find no reason to question your decision making.”
“I hope you continue to feel that way.”
She glanced toward him, “Why do I get the impression that Hiko Kari intends to be reckless?”
“Well, I am very good at that,” He stated lightly and then sighed. “Honestly, there is a part of me that thinks we should stay here in Meratoia. It is not a perfect solution and I would hate every moment of it, but we would have the protection of the Kari. At the same time, I don’t trust one damn person in this fucking village.”
“If we leave?”
“We would be going against the order of the Elder of the Kari. It is unlikely, even with him being my father that such disrespect would go unpunished; we could be exiled or even killed.”
“As CEO of the Kari Foundation, wouldn’t forcing you to remain here be problematic?”
“I am sure my father took that into consideration when he came up with this solution.”
“So, what do you want to do?”
“If the choice was just mine I would return us to the city.”
“Are you asking me my thoughts?”
Her question was not surprising to him. In a lot of ways it probably appeared that he was used to taking charge and directing people. Early on in their meeting he dealt with her as he would an unruly child; to be more accurate, how his father chose to handle him. Certainly, his abrasiveness could know no bounds.
Hiko did not mind making decisions for both of them. It would not be an inaccurate statement to say he was dominate in all aspects of his life. Tationy probably seemed submissive in comparison. However, it was never the impression he got of her; to Hiko, Tationy was a girl who simply had her voice silenced by pretense. There was a big difference between being someone who let people walk all over them and a person who felt they had to keep their wants and desires in check.
“I will always want to hear your opinion.”
Her reaction to his words was a rather odd expression that Hiko had not seen before. Uncertain if he had said something wrong he opened his mouth to continue speaking, but was silenced by a rather thoughtful sound, “Well, I don’t think your father would have us killed. I agree that if we left under normal circumstances that we most likely would have to face punishment, but in this situation…I believe we hold all the cards.”
She had his attention, “How so?”
“Well, your father said it himself. The oldest of your people believe Kazuma placed me in your path. Killing us would put the Kari in direct conflict with the gods divine will.”
That was an astute observation. He considered it a moment before stating, “There is still the potential of being exiled.”
“Of course that seems the most logical path, but my Hiko is in the public eye every day. People are going to notice if you are suddenly banished from Aslann. The Kari will not be able to simply explain these punishments away.”
Hiko smiled, “Is this what you were thinking about when we were sitting with my father?”
Noticeably she blushed and stammered, “No.”
With a shake of his head he stated, “You and those romantic filled notions.”
“Trust me Hiko Kari, there was no romance involved in what was going on in my head.”
Wildly he laughed, “And they call me bold.”
As much as he wanted to keep walking with her until they were both far away from the Village of Meratoia, he knew that he had to face his father. So, it was with a deep sigh and a squeeze to her hand that he changed direction and returned them to the home of the Elder of the Kari.
Hiko always felt like he was thirteen years old when he was standing in the presence of his father after all Tadayoshi was a man of discipline and tradition. In the world of the Elder of the Kari, you did as you were told regardless of your wants and desires. Disrupting the status quo was frowned upon. In contrast, Hiko was reckless and bold. Most of his kin believed he valued nothing and was worth even less.
As with all things, there came a point in their very complicated relationship that Hiko told his father where he could stick it. When he was seventeen, he came face-to-face with the reality that Tadayoshi’s demand for obedience and discipline was always going to put them at odds. Thinking back on it, the reasons why really mattered little to him because he believed no matter what he did this was always the path their relationship would take.
Kari men learned their bad behaviors from their fathers. It was an unwavering and vicious cycle passed down generation to generation. Hiko never knew his grandfather, but he had heard Tadayoshi describe Azu Kari as a belligerent old man that never gave a care about how his son felt.
As Hiko looked upon his own father, the realization hit him that they had simply swapped places. Tadayoshi was now the aggressive and ruthless old man and Hiko the undisciplined and confrontational son. He couldn’t stop himself from wondering whether or not this would be the same path he walked with his own son.
“When you were a boy,” His father breaking the silence was a thankful reprieve from the ugly thoughts that had taken hold of his mind, “Everything I said was the word of our god. Not once did you question and even when there were struggles you always looked to my words for wisdom. Now, you do whatever you want. I am head of our clan and the voice of Kazuma…”
Hiko’s lips pursed momentarily. Unfortunately, he could not stop himself from speaking, “Our god does not need a man to speak for him. That is the fucking problem with the Kari. Your ways; traditions, values, are born of men. Kazuma’s words have fallen silent. Standing at the head of the Kari is just a man, pretending he speaks for our god.”
“Never have I been spoken to so disrespectfully,” Tadayoshi stated as he looked upon his son.
“Maybe that is part of the problem. I have listened to your sanctimonious bullshit my entire life. When I was a kid, I didn’t know any fucking better. Every word you speak old man is tainted by politics.”
His father could bark just as well as Hiko, “What world do you live in boy? Our survival is dependent upon alliances with other clans. We are not in a position to stand upon the wayside and remain impartial.”
“From where I am standing, I would rather be fucking dead than a leashed dog. This is your way old man; cower at the boots of the elite. It is not my way. I will not now, nor ever hide away in this village. If I am meant to see Kazuma tomorrow, I will do it facing down an entire army of fallen lords.”
The arguing back and forth was getting louder and even though he had asked Tationy to remain outside, he was certain she could hear every word, “You can’t be serious. Do you think having that girl with those eyes at your side makes you invincible?”
Hiko clasped his hands as he looked upon his father. He didn’t expect Tadayoshi to understand, “My invincibility does not come from what she sees. Even if men find a way to blind her eyes, I would still welcome her to my side. Tationy has made this broken man feel whole and I will be damned if I allow you to belittle her existence as nothing more than a pair of eyes.”
The shocked look upon his father’s face made it clear that he had a hard time taking in his sons words, “Are you … ” His voice shook, “Are you telling me you love this woman?”
“I don’t know if I am capable of that. Then again, I don’t know if she is either. If you feel the need to label it, call it…kismet. As the old men of the Kari said, Kazuma has placed her in my path.” Hiko paused a moment then added, “We will not be staying in the village. Are you going to try and stop us?”
His father had a long face and the emotional turmoil adorning it was quite obvious, but the only words he offered came when he turned his back to Hiko. “You are a man of the Kari. Do as you wish.”
Suspiciously he stared at his fathers back. For a good forty-five minutes they were like two bulls, locking horns. Generally, when it came to their arguments Hiko would end up getting pissed off and walking away. This time, it was his father that relented. Uncertain what to make of it he just stood there. “Is there something you want to say to me,” Tadayoshi asked.
There was, but foolishly Hiko turned toward the door and responded, “No,” While departing.