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The Secret Base That Belonged to the Two of Us

Chapter Text

 

She had been standing out in the pouring rain with nowhere else to go. Rena was sure the rain was crying for her because her own tears had dried up hours ago. The thunder raged as loud as her mom’s anger. It made her cringe and the fear made her still.

So she she tried to make no sudden movements. Rena bit her nails. Her ragged breathing made it hard to even think. She felt she couldn’t move.

She could not move because her mom had come home face twisted red like an oni. Acidic fire in her mouth scorching everything in its path. Rena had wanted to welcome her mom home but she was caught in the crossfire of unrestrained laughter and scraping nails digging into soft skin.

She couldn't move because her bruised throat made it hard to breathe. She couldn't move not just out of fear but because a small part of her tucked away in her heart hoped that her mother would come after her . So she stayed. Her feet were like roots entrenched in the pooling water in the street by the hill where her mother used to play guitar on sunny weekends.

But faded memories of those brief moments of warmth do not stop her fingers from freezing. If she didn’t move than the thunder would pass just like if she didn't go running back soaking wet her mother’s anger would pass too.

But the cold was overpoweringly numbing the longer she stayed. Doubt burned at her lungs and stung her eyes. Her mom would not come for her. That thought had left such a heavy feeling in her chest. So much so that it felt inescapable and all consuming.

Until bright lightning darted across the sky startling her and just as instantaneous, Rena found she was no longer under the raging sky but covered under a clear umbrella with a little cat paw prints dotted along grey clouds.

A young girl with short black hair and a cat smile holding an umbrella above both of them appeared as if created from the streak of lightning that had just passed. She's imaginary, not real Rena had thought she was hallucinating after being out in the rain for so long, but the girl spoke to her. Her accent was notable even with all the rumbling thunder beating against Rena’s ears.

“It’s not good to stand in the rain without an umbrella or sweater. You’ll get sick,” she said in an easygoing manner like she wasn’t talking to a stranger but an old friend. There was a distinct pause as she waited for Rena to answer.

It had taken Rena some effort to respond. Her voice still hoarse but she managed to speak a little after a few coughs. “Are you a ghost?”

The girl had looked surprised at her question but then laughed a little. She held out her hand and silently beckoned Rena to take it. Rena hesitated but she slowly reached out. She expected her hand to go through but instead she felt the warmth of the girl’s hand in her own.

“Not a ghost,” said Rena but she didn’t draw her hand back.

The girl nodded in affirmation. “No, not a ghost.”

She tilted her head and looked at Rena thoughtfully. “I was walking home and saw you here standing in the rain. Why are you out here? Are you okay?”

Rena brought her free hand and bit her nails. Her eyes looked everywhere but at the girl. The pitter patter of rain against the asphalt filling the silence between them. She was a stranger and Rena had no obligation to explain anything to her. But the girl’s hand was warm and her smile comforted Rena. Which in reality made her nervous, Rena had wondered exactly what the girl wanted from her. Kindness always had a price.  But as Rena looked down at their intertwined hands, and the girl’s genuine, worried expression she had found that she allowed the guarded walls around her to fall just a little bit.

So Rena bit her lip and decided to settle for a simple explanation. “I’m waiting for my mom.”

The girl looked around at the empty park before looking back at Rena with a questioning look.“Have you been waiting a long time?”

Rena nodded her head but at the time didn’t express her doubts about her mom’s arrival. The girl made a “hmm” sound as she thought quietly to herself before speaking up again.

“Let's wait together then. I’ve been told it's better to wait with someone than to wait alone.”

The girl's smile was gentle. She drew herself closer to Rena which caused her to jump back a little in surprise with the girl’s sudden presence in her personal space but Rena didn’t pull away.  Instead she anchored herself to the girl's hand like a lifeline.

“Your hands...are warm,” she had said with a raspy voice and weary eyes. Her hand slowly regaining feeling again. It had been so long since she felt warm.

The girl laughed again. “Your hands are cold”, she said in return. But she didn’t let go. In the turbulent rain pour, they stayed under the umbrella, stuck in their own world .

They waited together. But there was no sign of other people in the park but the both of them. After a while, Rena had found enough strength in her voice to speak. “Maybe...maybe my mom could not find me.”

Rena had tried to convince herself of that but in her heart she knew that her mom wouldn’t have come. It was stupid of her to wish for something that would have only inconvenienced her. She could feel the tears return to the corners of her eyes but willed them back as much as she could. But she knew she was failing. Her mom would not be happy if she had come home not only soaking wet but crying. The girl said nothing but patiently waited for Rena to continue.

“I should go home,” said Rena but she did not let go of the girls hand even as tears had begun to blur her vision. She squeezed the other girl’s hand. The girl squeezed back. The feeling comforted Rena a little.

“Then let's walk in the direction of your home together at least until the rain stops.” Rena nodded at her suggestion not even worried about the fact that the girl was a stranger and led the way. They held hands even after the rain had stopped.

When the clouds dissipated and the purple hued sky had shone through, they had parted ways at an intersection with introductions.

“I'm Yui,” she said as she gently let go of Rena’s hand and closed the umbrella. With the backdrop of the sunset behind her, the girl’s smile seemed brighter to Rena.

“Rena,” she said. They stood there in a bit of awkward silence both children unsure how to proceed.  

“Thank you for waiting with me,” had been all Rena could think to say.

Before she could continue her awkward goodbye, Yui had interrupted her. “Wait, take this.”

She handed Rena her umbrella. “For the next time you have to wait out in the rain, so you don’t get all wet.”

Rena was unsure how to react. She had been skeptical of Yui giving her this gift all of the sudden. She never received a gift so freely like this before or if she had she couldn’t remember. Rena had been ready to reject the umbrella but Yui put it in her hands. She pointedly looked at Rena’s wet clothes to emphasize her point. It was clear she wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

“Won’t you need it?,” said Rena as she clutched the umbrella to her chest. Yui shook her head.

“Don't worry.” Yui squeezed Rena’s hand one last time. “I’ll be okay.” She gave Rena a reassuring pat on her shoulder and a small wave goodbye. As fast as she had appeared, Yui disappeared just as quickly into the other direction to the left. The setting sun engulfing her figure entirely before it to descend into the horizon and was gone. But the feeling of warmth lingered with Rena even after she snuck back home.

With the umbrella tucked away under the bed, Rena initially struggled to sleep. Paranoia that her mom would find out about it scared her so she waited until she was sure her mom was asleep before letting her eyes finally close and let sleep take over.

That night, the nightmares were absent. There was no darkness, no loneliness, no monsters with screeching guitars or acidic fire, there was simply a weightless feeling of floating through an endless blue sky. Rena dreamt of paw print shaped clouds and cheshire smiles and a girl named Yui.

 

For a night, Rena dreamt that she could fly.

Chapter Text

There was something comforting about a Rubik’s cube. Maybe it was the fun challenge they presented, Yui thought as she turned the cube in her hand with practiced ease. She never tired of figuring out how to match all the sides. All the colors coalescing together and then breaking apart to become a whole again.

Her deft fingers ran through familiar motions as she twisted the cube with almost inhuman speed. She always started with the red side out of habit or so she had told her mother when she asked why she never solved any other color first. It ran much deeper than her simple explanation but she couldn’t find the proper words to explain her feelings about it. She slid the first level of the cube into place. A red line formed straight across.

Red.

Yui had read in a book given to her by her grandfather that red was the color of passion and love.  She had told her grandfather that the definition felt lacking to her. He smiled at her, as if knowing that a simple definition from a children’s book wouldn’t have satisfied her.

“What is red, Yui-chan?” he had inquired. He had sat in a nearby chair, his leg crossed one over the other, fingers intertwined as if interrogating her. It was an airy posture that intimated many but not Yui. Many of their weird and abstract conversations were often composed in this manner, like he was constantly testing her. She met his gaze head on but did not immediately satisfy him with an answer. She thought of the definitions that ran through her mind.

Red was her favorite side of the Rubik’s cube her mother had given her on her birthday before everything happened. It was the fiery dragon carved on the skin of her papa’s--no, she thought, not her father but Yoshimune-men hidden behind dark sunglasses and suits of grey. Their tailored suit bodies splayed out; a carpet of corpses laid out on their living room floor.

Red was the trampled tulips in their home gardens in Kyoto. It was her mother’s lips painted with lipstick and blood. It flowed within the tubes and beeping machines that kept her here with the living. Red was her parents stained hands. It was the stench which clung to them like a second skin. It was the color of some dark curse that was imprinted on her family name; a curse that would follow them to the grave.

But she knew better than to expose her real thoughts or vulnerabilities to him in such a full manner. So she settled for a single, disinterested response that she thought would satisfy him enough to leave her alone.

“Red”, she told him plainly, “is death.”

He had laughed at her then. “You are too young to be thinking about death, Yui-chan.”

His tone was sarcastic as if even to him his words wrung false in his ears. He paused in contemplation before continuing. “Most people I know would say that death is black not red. No, it is something much deeper than that.”

His dark beady eyes glinting with a look Yui didn’t quite trust. He leaned forward as if to tell her a secret. “Red, Yui-chan, red is the soul.”

Yui had waited for more of an explanation but he gave none. She had scoffed at him because it was another one of his vague riddles. He liked to play mind games with her. It was at that point that she had chosen to ignore him and go back to playing with her Rubik’s cube much like now. He had only smirked and patted her head.  With a tip of his straw hat, he had left her with that. The whole encounter--as most were with him--had been aggravating. She slid the final red square in place and pushed the memory out of her mind. 

The other colors easily fall into place after that and in the blink of an eye, she turned a colorful mess of squares into a perfectly color aligned cube. Rena openly gaped at the cubes sudden transformation. Her expression made Yui laugh.

She dismantled all her work on the cube as easily as she had put it together and held it out to Rena.

“Do you want to try?” she asked.

Rena startled at the question. She looked unsure but tentatively took the cube in her hand with such a careful touch as if she was afraid she would break it. She ran her hands through the small cubes multiple colors before settling on the side that had more green squares. As Yui passed it to her, she observed her new companion.

They had been meeting on and off at the park for the past two weeks now and a part of Yui was happy to have someone to hang out with here in Tokyo. But every day it seemed like Rena would arrive with a new set of bruises and cuts. Currently the new injury was on her fingers. They looked swollen and were wrapped carelessly with bandages.

Rena for the most part acted as if she didn’t feel any pain at all. It didn’t stop her from running around the nearby park's playground or climbing trees with questionable branch stability but her quiet grimaces of pain from time to time didn’t go unnoticed by Yui’s keen eye.

Her mother said her perceptive nature was a good skill to have. But, sometimes she had seen and noticed things she wasn’t sure she should have. Her parent’s line of work being one of them. She instinctively shivered and forced herself not to think about it. But even then she was left a bad taste in her mouth.

And now...now she had seen Rena’s fingers shake uncontrollably when she thought Yui wasn’t looking. She had seen the dark bruises on her neck the first day they met and the many that followed after. She had seen cuts and scrapes poorly hidden behind sweaters and long sleeves worn in the heat of summer.

Maybe her and Rena weren’t so different in that aspect. They both had things to hide. Rena’s red was just a deeper shade than her own. One that brought her pain that Yui could only speculate about. But perception about these things was one thing, the problem came with what to actually do about it. The answer for that did not come easily.

Rena huffed. The cube having bested her, she looked to Yui with sad puppy dog eyes. “I’m not very good at this.”

Her voice was mournful. She placed the cube down on the bench and inched further away from Yui, ashamed that she wasn’t able to understand the mechanics of how to beat the cube.

Rena wasn't looking at her but Yui could still the irritation in her body language. Yui noted the reaction. She picked up the Rubik’s cube and slowly drew closer to Rena.

Yui smiled at her. “Ya know, it’s okay if you don’t get it right away.”

The tension in Rena’s shoulders deflated a little. “But you did it so easily.”

“It takes some practice to solve it that fast. Here,” Yui took Rena’s hand in her own and guided their hands together. It was a little trickier with Rena’s bandages getting in the way but they managed. Yui guided Rena’s hand to manipulate the levels in the right direction. “It’ all about levels and movement patterns. Once you figure out the pattern, it becomes easier to solve.”

Yui let go of her bandaged hand. Rena hesitated trying to move the squares on her own. Yui offered her an encouraging smile and watched as Rena scrunched her face in concentration.

“A pattern…” she muttered to herself and slowly began to move the cube as Yui had shown her. As she did so, Rena’s sleeve slipped up and exposed a bit of red, angry scratch marks before being hidden again by her sweater. Yui’s eyes narrowed. She said nothing but made a mental note of that too.

Questions swirled in Yui’s mind and she battled with how to bring it up. Even if she did ask would Rena answer her questions? She seemed keen on hiding it. Though her attempts weren’t very good. Wouldn’t Rena’s mother have noticed too? It all felt more complicated the more she thought about it.

She didn’t really know what to do and that was the scary part. The not knowing. So she sat there, feeling more than a little useless. It was a feeling that was too commonplace in her life recently.

Yui was no stranger to bullying or fighting. Having yakuza ties didn’t necessarily give her a free pass on that just by association, but a part of her wasn’t sure if bullying was the only cause for Rena’s injuries. The uncertainty left her unsure how to proceed with helping Rena. They had barely known each other for two weeks and while Yui wasn’t well versed in friendship, she still felt like she should do something. She just didn’t know what that something was.

Maybe that’s why she liked puzzles, because there was always a way to a “win”.  There was always a solution. Puzzles had their own predictable sets of rules and patterns.  This situation wasn’t like a puzzle or Rubik’s cube at all. It was starting to give her a massive headache.

Without really thinking, she rested her head on Rena’s shoulder as if unconsciously attempting to convey some silent apology or comfort. Rena jumped a little at the sudden close contact. “Am I doing it wrong, again?” she asked tentatively. 

Yui felt bad for spooking her. “No, you’re doing very good. I-sorry I broke your concentration.” Rena’s whole face lit up at the small praise. She drew back and allowed Rena to continue. Seeing Rena engross herself in the puzzle, Yui allowed the questions in her mind to quiet and still.

Because even with all the apparent pain, Rena still managed to smile. If there was one thing that she was coming to understand about her new friend, is that she was resilient. Yui couldn’t help but admire that. It reminded her of flowers that grew in the harshest of places. They would spring up and grow even when no one thought they ever would.

And when Rena beamed at Yui because she managed to get the green side of the cube all aligned by herself, Yui thought that maybe Rena’s red wasn’t so much red at all. Maybe, underneath the bleeding color was a lively deep green.


There’s green, and blue, and, black bruises finger painted across her skin. It’s followed by a dull ache that is bone deep and constant. Pain hummed its tune through her slim, battered form. Rena doesn’t pay any mind to her body’s protests as she continues to get ready for the morning. She scrounged around for any semi clean clothes that still fit her and quietly headed out her room.

The eerie quiet of the late morning in the small apartment always unsettled Rena. She never knew what to expect especially after “bad” nights.

“Mom?” she tentatively called out. It was a rule-one that Rena learned the hard way-to not be so loud in the morning. She received no response. She approached the joint kitchen and living room with careful steps.

As she entered, she easily spotted the form of her mom surrounded by various empty beer bottles slumped over the low dinner table. Her guitar laid on the floor across from her as if her mom had tossed it there with drunken carelessness. Rena bit her lip and edged closer to look at it. Upon closer inspection, it looked like two of the strings broke. Rena frowned. Her mom wouldn’t be happy about it when she woke up.

Rena gently picked it up and laid it against the nearby wall. She openly admired the guitar. Her mom rarely let her touch it, except in those random times when she’s had a “good” night. Besides the broken strings and various scratches, it was beautifully made.

But as much as she admired the guitar there was something deep inside her that feared it. It's phantom screeching sounds haunted her ears.

She heard her mom shift in her sleep. A wave of panic overcame Rena backtracked as far as she could from the guitar. Unfortunately, she didn’t notice one of the beer bottles behind in her haste and fell with a yelp of surprise as she hit the floor. She clasped her hands over her mouth and glanced in her mom’s direction.

Her mom simply mumbled something out and shifted again before settling back into her deep slumber. Rena let out a quiet, nervous laugh of relief. The impact from the fall left her a little winded but she managed to pick herself up without much trouble.

As she stood up, she was able to get a look at her mom’s face. Her cheeks were stained with black tears from her makeup running. Her hair was tousled and knotted. Dark rings encircled her mom’s closed eyes. A tight, guilty feeling arose in Rena’s chest. The events of last night came rushing towards her mind.

Rena had waited up for her as usual and hoped to congratulate her on getting to play her guitar at a venue. But once again, it seemed that her presence had only served to remind her mom of her failures. Her presence had ruined her mom’s good mood. In Rena’s mind, the bruises were well deserved.

Her mom’s form shivered and Rena instinctively shuffled off into the room and came back with a blanket in hand. She placed the blanket over her mom and took a step back-this time being careful of the bottles. She silently watched over mom for a few minutes before her stomach grumbled loudly for food.

Food that they didn’t have. Rena knew for a fact there wasn’t anything in the kitchen but beer and a half empty bottle of soy sauce. Because to have food, you needed money and Rena had nothing but empty pockets to match her empty kitchen.

That meant she had to go “find” some. With little choice in the matter, Rena went back in her room, grabbed the old, oversized jacket that she kept for times like this. She took one last glance at her sleeping mom and left the house with a quiet “I’m going”.


Rena bolted past surprised pedestrians. Sweat dripped down her face as she carried her “winnings” in her pockets making sure none of the wallets she’d stolen fell out.

Hot summer days were perfect day to pickpocket unsuspecting tourists but not for running while wearing a black hooded jacket. She continued to run while constantly making sure no one followed her.

Once sure of her safety, she stepped into a familiar alleyway and hid behind the dumpster bin. She pulled the hood off and tried to wipe the sweat from her eyes. Taking out the couple of wallets and small purses she had taken, she made quick work of taking all the money out. She trashed all the wallets; the rest of its contents mattered little to her.

Counting the money she had scrounged up, she managed to have enough to possibly last her two weeks possibly a couple more days after that, if she spent it carefully. She sighed with relief. All the tension and worry from her body expelling out of her as she took comfort in that not only did she manage to not get caught, but now she also had enough money to last for a little while.

She could even buy her mom something to make up for last night.

Collecting herself, she cautiously peeked out of the alleyway and slipped once again into the stream of walking people. She mentally mapped out the location of the small grocery she would frequent from time to time when she had the means to buy anything. She preferred it to the big supermarkets, she would always end up getting lost in those. That was never fun, thought Rena.

 The small grocery wasn’t far from where she was, but after running around so much and expending a lot of energy, Rena’s exhaustion and hunger were now more prominent. It made the walk there seem even longer.

With the hot sun beating at her back, she took comfort in that as she entered the small store. She was thankful that it was at least air conditioned. She heard the nearby cashier greet her plainly. He seemed to be eyeing her with suspicion but she ignored him. She was used to people giving her dirty looks.

Rolling up her sleeves, Rena took a basket and began to browse the store. She carefully began to scan the shelves and making notice of their price.

Taking the big wad of cash out of her pocket from time to time just to make sure she budgeted everything correctly. She split it up carefully into half and put one in her shorts pockets and the other she kept hidden in a little hidden pocket of her jacket.

She grabbed the basic things but when done with that Rena naturally gravitated to looking for cheap snacks like spicy rice crackers or even better, melon pan. Rena’s mouth practically watered. She could even buy here mom one too as a way of saying sorry. She practically skipped to the bread aisle.

It was in that moment when she was browsing the bread aisle for melon pan, Rena felt as if someone was watching her. She turned and noticed four kids, that looked around her age, down the aisle. They were shooting glances in her direction and whispering to each other. Rena was instantly put on edge.

She didn’t intend to stay long in their presence. She quickly grabbed two big melon pans and decided to go another way back to the cashier than the more direct route through the four-person group.

Holding her basket close to her, she checked around the corners of the aisles to make sure she wasn’t being followed. Her cautiousness seemed to have paid off as she managed to make it back to the cashier. She saw no sign of the group that had been watching her. That didn’t put her at complete ease but for now it looked like she was home free. The cashier made quick work of scanning her items and bagging them. Once paid, she exited the grocery store with a small smile.

With both grocery bags in hand, she was about to make her way out of the grocery parking lot but turning the corner she was greeted by one of the boys from the group she was just trying to avoid. Rena briefly looked up at the sky and wondered why things could never be easy. He was maybe a year or two older than her but Rena saw no signs of his friends. She could already tell this was going to suck.

“We saw you got a big allowance there. Maybe you wouldn’t mind sharing a little of it?” The boys smile was filled with malice. Rena tightened her hold on her bags. She cursed herself for not being more careful when taking the money out. She scowled at him.

He walked towards her smiling, as if he already won. Rena tensed; she was waiting for the right moment to plow him over and book it.

“C’mon don’t be like that. Let’s be friendly about this. If you give me your money, I promise that you won't get hurt. But if you don't-” He made a punching motion with his fist as if that would scare Rena, especially when she was used to being hit by much bigger things than his kid sized hands.

Rena laughed at his sad attempt to scare her but her face quickly fell into a serious, dark demeanor.

“Fuck off.”

The boy's smile disappeared into a frown. “Guess we gotta do this the hard way.”

The moment he said that, she was immediately flanked by the other boy with a weird bowl haircut and a girl with a blue shirt. His friends had been waiting for his cue nearby. They each grabbed her by the arms and held her down. Rena didn’t move. Not yet. She just needed to strike at the right moment.

The leader searched her and found half of the money in her shorts pocket. “Too easy,” he said. He and his friends laughed like they were in on some inside joke.

“Thanks for the gift, friend.” He waved the money in Rena’s face, taunting her. A wrong move on his part.

Now, thought Rena.

Before anyone could react, she took a big chomp of the leader’s hand. He made a loud, ear piercing scream of pain. The money in his hand scatted everywhere. She could taste his blood in her mouth.

Surprised, two of his lackeys instinctively loosened their grip. Big mistake. She kneed the leader right in the crotch and head-butted bowl cut boy. Hard. They went down easy. She spits blood and saliva in the girl’s face and delivered a sharp kick to her stomach. Rena let out a laugh. It sounded more like an exhausted wheezing but she didn’t spare a single second more to enjoy her victory. She was once again running. She still had the food in her hands and wasn’t even thinking about taking the time to pick half of the money up the floor. She just needed to get out of there.

Despite all the adrenaline, Rena was still battling her previous exhaustion and hunger. The sooner she got home the better. She slipped into the familiar alleyways and tried to stay out of sight. She couldn’t tell if anyone was following her or not but something was still nagging at the back of her mind.

Running through the familiar underpass that lead right into Aoyama Park, something clicked in Rena’s thoughts. Hadn’t there been four of them in the grocery store?

Her question was answered as she was tackled from behind by the fourth member of their group. The contents of the grocery bags spilling out as she fell forward. Both of them tumbled down the small hill slope into the park itself.

Rena’s head spun. The expansive blue sky lay before her. Clouds swam across her vision. She almost lost herself to the blue ocean above. Dizzy, she managed to blink back into reality but everything felt disjointed. She could hear the other kid start to get up.

Rena could see it was another girl. Her dark hair whipped around her as the summer wind entangled itself in the dark tresses. Rena wanted to pull them hard. Make her hurt like she was hurting right now. But Rena didn’t move, every part of her body protested against movement.

The girl, having managed to rise, gave Rena a glance. Seeing her not moving, the girl called out, “Over here. I got her.” and waved to where they had just fallen.

Rena slowly moved her head in the direction she was calling out too. She could see the girl’s companions have somewhat recovered and limping their direction. As the girl waited for her friends to reach them, Rena saw the girl intentionally crush and step on the groceries Rena had bought. Her melon pan lay trampled under the girl's shoe.

Rena clenched her teeth. She just wanted to live. She just wanted to have a good day. She just wanted to have a good meal with her mom. A dark cloud passed over the sun; It’s shadow obscuring her view. She weakly outstretched her hand towards the cloudy sky. The blue ocean unattainable. It was like the shadow of her mother standing over her, far and out of reach.

Maybe, her mom was right. A screw up like her didn’t deserve good things. It was almost as if the world was mocking at her for even trying.

Really, life was funny like that. It raised her hopes up only to drop kick her into a gutter. Rena dug her nails into her palms so hard that she broke skin and bleed. She felt so tired.

So hungry. So exhausted. So much pain. So much anger.

Pain and Anger.

Pain. Anger.

Something ignited inside of her. Something unexplainable. It burned at the back of her throat and erupted into coughing fits of choked laughter.

It was funny. Really funny.

She got up. The burning got stronger. Uncontrollable laughter spilled out of her. Loud and obnoxious. Psychotic in nature. It felt unstoppable. She felt unstoppable. The other girl turned back surprised but put fists up and ready. Her friends were fast approaching.

“You better give up now. You can’t beat all of us at once,” said the stupid girl. There was a quiver in the girl's voice, as if suddenly unsure; all previous confidence gone from her face. Rena just laughed harder. She had already beat three of them while escaping. They were weak. She didn’t fear them. In that moment, she didn't fear anything.

She allowed them to surround her. It looked like their little group picked up two extra people on the way and she was outnumbered six to one. But all the numbers in the world wouldn’t help them, this Rena knew. The leader still limping tried to make an imposing figure. He just looked pathetic in her eyes. She laughed at the sight of him. She would break him first; this she also knew.

“We’re gonna kill you!”

His threat and the various threats of his friends fell onto deaf ears; she couldn’t stop laughing. She wouldn’t stop. Not until they hurt as much as she did. Through baited exhilaration, the laughter stilled only to ask them a question.

“Hey, new “friends”, are you mad?


Yui wasn’t very good at making friends and was worse at keeping them when she managed to actually make one.

It was just fact that she had come to accept. Her family life was complicated at best and friends didn’t stick around long enough when they found out about what her family was. But thinking back to the past two weeks since she had first meet Rena, she wanted this time to be different. She needed it to be different. For Rena and herself, because friends were supposed to watch out for one another. Well, that's what she gleamed off from her movies, books, and her own people watching anyway.

But her own experience was limited and could only tell her so much. So reluctantly, she went to the only person who she knew she could ask for advice that wasn’t one word answers (Yoshimine, usually with a side of smelly onion breath) or vague riddles (her grandfather, who was irritating and annoyingly smug).

She navigated through brightly lit halls, dodging and weaving her way through doctors, nurses, and patients. Most of the adults working here knew her already so no one stopped her from her destination.

Except him, thought Yui.

She glared up at the burly, older man that was blocking the door. Yui called him the Statue. His gray suit blending in with the walls and his dark glasses reflected only her image back. The only indication he acknowledged her presence was the slight twitch of his lip.

Yui squared her shoulders and tried to appear assertive. Well, as assertive as an eleven-year-old girl could to a man that was twice her size, anyway.

“I need to see my mother,” she told the unmoving man. 

She received no immediate response which wasn’t unusual for the Statue. He always took forever to respond. Yui suspected that it was to test her patience but unfortunately for him she had patience to spare for this matter.

After a few minutes of glaring silence, he relented. “I’ll let you see her if you stop running off without letting anyone know where you’re going, kid. You’re running around is giving us trouble with the boss,” he said.

He folded his arms. The sleeves of his suit hugging his biceps so tightly, it looked like they might tear.

This was probably the longest he’s ever actually spoken to her and of course it had to be about her eluding her bodyguards. Yui clenched her teeth in annoyance. Some of parent’s men have been set as her bodyguards while they stayed in Tokyo. In her opinion, it just painted a bigger target on her back if she were walking around with a big group of men surrounding her everywhere she went.

Plus, most of the men her parents sent to guard her would complain to each other about being stuck in “babysitting duty” as punishment from the boss or something. It irked her to think that her parents were using her to punish their men.

Yui squared her jaw but kept herself composed. She replied as politely as possible. “If your companions can’t keep up with me, isn’t that more of a comment on their poor skill as bodyguards? It’s not my fault. I’m just a kid after all. It just proves they aren’t very good at their jobs.” 

She knew she had struck a nerve. Yui could feel him practically glaring at her behind his dark sunglasses. He doesn’t get to respond, however, because the hospital door abruptly slides open ending their brief conversation.

The Statue shifted and pulled his attention to the sudden intrusion, giving Yui the opportunity to get a chance to see the person she was looking for. Her mother was partly obscured by the Statue but Yui peered behind him. Her mother's blue hospital gown seemed to dwarf her, making her appear smaller than she was. Cascading dark hair framed her delicate face, but Yui knew that her mother was anything but delicate.  She hadn’t noticed Yui standing in front of the door because she was yet again arguing with one of the unlucky interns stuck with treating her.

Said young intern trailed after her, looking exasperated and tried to get her mother’s full attention.

“Yokoyama Akane-san! Please, stop taking your IV out. The doctor ordered for you not to move about-”

Yui’s mother rolled her eyes. “I can move around as I please, right Ishi?” she patted the bodyguard on the back as if half looking for an affirmation, and half pushing him out of her way.

Statue man sighed very deeply but turned to the helpless intern who shrunk away from the bodyguard’s massive form.

“Is there an issue here, doctor?”

He said it more like a threat than a question. The intern instinctively took a step back and fumbled with his chart. It was clear that it was taking all his courage to even keep eye contact.  Yui felt sorry for him.

“Dr. Yamamoto’s orders were for Yokoyama-san to stay in bed,” he stuttered. He was clearly out of his depth. Akane scoffed, which caused the intern to jump a little.

“Listen, I’m starving and I’m tired of being cooped up in bed all day. I’m not going to leave the hospital this time, I’m just going to the cafeteria,” she said and pushed her way forward only to come face to face with an unamused Yui, who had been watching the conversation unfold.

“A nurse can easily bring food-” but Akane ignored the intern.

“Yuihan!” She exclaimed and pulled Yui into a tight embrace. Yui cringed at the nickname but halfheartedly returned the hug. They were causing a scene but it happened so often, she was sure the staff had given up at trying to do anything at this point. “You came right on time. I was just about to go get lunch.”

She seemed to have completely erased the poor intern’s existence from her mind. Her mother made a motion to go forward but the intern, in a surge of new found courage, stepped in front of her. “Yokoyama-san! I must order you back to bed. Dr. Yamamoto specifically instructed for a lot of rest without visitors or disruptions.  I will assign a nurse to bring you food to your room and reinsert your IV. So please get back inside. Your daughter can come back another time to visit.”

A flash of explosive anger passed over her mother’s face. Yui sighed. This would not go well for him.

“Would you deny me the right to spend time with my daughter?”

He faltered. “That’s not what I meant. I simply-”

He backed up slowly into Ishi behind him who put a hand on his shoulder. Ishi kept the man still there with a vice grip. Yui could see the man was shaking as his mother closed in on him.

“I didn’t hear ya the first time, so I’m gonna ask again. Are you interfering with my right to spend time with my daughter?” asked her mother. Her Kansai accent slipping through her barely restrained anger.

The intern just barely managed to squeak out a “N-no ma'am.”

“Then what are you still standing around here for? Get out of my sight!” The intern didn’t respond. He simply did a hasty bow and scuttled away without so much as a look back. Yui noticed a few people watching warily before going back to what they were doing. Really, this whole situation was embarrassing.

“If you want food, it would be safer for one of the nurses to bring it,” remarked Ishi as he watched the scared intern practically run from them. Akane waved away Ishi concerns.

“You worry too much Ishi,” said her mother as she patted the man’s back and moved past him with a swift sidestep that was impressive for someone who has been hospitalized for as long as her mother has.

“That’s my job, boss,” he mumbled out but his response went on deaf ears as Akane turned to Yui, as if she didn’t just threaten an intern like he was one of her yakuza lackeys merely a few seconds ago.

“Let’s go!” she said cheerfully as she guided Yui with her to the cafeteria with Ishi following a few paces behind.

Yui simply nodded. There wasn’t any point in denying her mother this after that whole display. Her mother had never been good at sitting still for long periods of time. Even now she appeared to be full of adrenaline like she could take on any who dare challenge her. Which wasn’t a good thing, given her condition but she knew if it came to it, her mother would charge head first into a fight, all health issues be damned.

If there was one thing Yoshimune was good for, it was being able to placate her mother from doing something overly rash. In their own weird way, her parents balanced each other out. But not surprisingly, Yoshimune wasn’t here and Yui knew for a fact that he rarely visited, if at all. Which was also not surprising, his continued absences in her life had been a common thing since she turned six, it’s predictable of him to be absent too in his wife’s time of need.

But a part of Yui whispered that she couldn’t really judge, she had been avoiding visiting lately as well. Another guilty strike to add to the many she already carried. 

But, Yui noted, that for all her mother’s vigor, her mother was still walking at a slower pace than she had when Yui visited her last. She had to stop from walking ahead of her. Akane looked paler too.

The reminder of her mother’s ailing status was enough to make Yui regret coming all together. But she was here now and her mother looked happy to see her, so it would be rude to simply forget what she came for and leave.

She thought about asking her mother for advice now but with Ishi hovering behind them, Yui thought to wait in silence till he let them eat in peace.

But, her mother was never one for silence. She gave Yui a good cheek pinch to get her attention.

“You know, you didn’t come by for the past two weeks now and I've been hearing you’ve been running off without telling anyone. You haven’t even been going to your sparring lessons. I was worried.” Yui shot a glare over her shoulder at Statue man as she rubbed her pinched cheek.

“Don't be mad at Ishi, he’s just trying to do his job,” said her mother as they passed the doors into the cafeteria. “And you know your dad and I are just trying to do ours.”

Yui made a face at the mention of Yoshimune and her parents line of work. She was upset with her mother too about it, but it was a quiet anger. One that she felt guilty for carrying given the state of her mother’s health, but carried all the same. After all, both her parents had roles to play within their family’s “business”.  Her mother wasn’t innocent by any means, if that display with the intern was anything to go by.

“If that's true, shouldn’t you then let the doctors do theirs instead of getting mad and threatening them?” Yui pointed out. Her voice fearless and firm in the way that only a child raised by two of the Aizu Kotetsu-kai’s prominent yakuza leaders could be.

Akane simply took it all in stride. “That’s different.” Yui didn’t see how it was but decided not to push. Arguing about this was not what she came to talk about.

Akane changed the subject as she got a tray and started to pick out food options. “You shouldn’t be running around without at least telling anyone where you're going. We just don’t want a repeat of what happened in Kyoto,” she said with a patience that was rarely shown to anyone that wasn’t her daughter.

Yui visibly tensed at the reference to their sudden move from their home. Her mother didn’t notice and continued to browse for food. Yui’s hands tightened around the hem of her shirt. She missed their home, especially their garden. But she didn’t think she could ever go back there; her eyes unfocused and every small detail of that night comes rushing forward all at once.

The memory of bodies--some dead and others not so dead yet--coated the floor. Every minute detail of their dead faces-mouths agape, dull eyes staring back at her-was engraved in her memory. Yui lost herself in the memory, and for a second, she almost forgets to breathe. 

“Oh!” her mother’s exclamation snapped Yui’s attention back to Akane. The memory stored away, back into the recesses of her mind. 

“You like red jello, right?” she asked but didn’t wait for a response and shoved the small jello container in Yui’s hands.

Yui blankly stared at the small container in her hands. She wasn't really hungry but for her mother’s sake she would eat the jello. Akane satisfied with her choices, signaled Ishi to come over and go pay for her food. When that was done, Yui numbly followed her mother as she went to sit down. She sat next to Akane instead of across just to make sure Ishi didn't try to listen in from where he was standing guard a few paces away. The guy had a tendency to be nosy.

Yui peeled the seal open but didn’t make a motion to eat any of it. Instead she sat up straight, folded her hands together, and cleared her throat to get her mother’s attention. Her mom raised an eyebrow at her.

“You look like your dad when you do that,” said Akane.

That effectively ruined Yui’s serious mood. She puffed her cheeks up in a pout but proceeded anyway. “I came to ask you for advice.”

Her mother looked amused. “Ah so that’s the only reason you came to pay your old mom a visit?”

She wasn’t wrong so Yui couldn’t exactly refute her mother’s words.  “Now don’t make that face, Yuihan. I’m just teasing.”

She pinched Yui’s cheeks again. Yui wondered if she was cursed to have adults constantly mess with her and never take her seriously.

“So what is it that you wanted to ask?” Her mother asked back as she silently offered to share her food with Yui. Yui shook her head “no” at the offer. Her mother shrugged and began to eat as she waited for Yui to get to her question.

“I made a... friend.” Yui had said it with hesitance.  While she might consider Rena to be a friend of sorts that didn’t really mean that Rena felt the same way. She was about to correct herself, but at the mention of friend, Akane eye’s shot up to meet Yui’s before her mouth settled into a smirk.

“Is that who you’ve been ditching me for?” she interrupted. There were no accusations in her mother’s voice, simply the twinkle of mischievous teasing that rarely seemed to disappear whenever she was with her daughter. While it was meant as a joke, Yui didn’t take it as such.

“I’m sorry for not visiting, mother.” Yui apologized with a kind of life and death seriousness. Her mouth pressed into a thin line and her head slightly bowed, she hoped she could properly convey how sorry she was for not visiting.

Her mother only chuckled at her. “You're too serious for your own good, Yuihan. You definitely take after your dad in that way. I hope you at least got something from me. Y’know besides my good looks.” She ruffled Yui’s hair playfully.

Being compared to Yoshimune again, made Yui want to take her apology back. There's only so much of that she can take in one day. But she simply kept her mouth shut and fixed her hair instead.

“So where did you meet this friend of yours?” asked Akane as she went back to her meal.

“At one of the parks we visited when we first got here in Tokyo. Aoyama Park,” said Yui. She took a small bite out of her jello. It was sugar free so it tasted bland which was as much as she had expected. Her mother made a sound of acknowledgement.

“Ah, right the one we got to visit before I got stuck in this hell hole.” Akane rolled her eyes in an over dramatic fashion. “So what did you want to ask me? It’s not love advice is it?” Before Yui could refute that, Akane turned suddenly to her overly wide eyed with a fake aghast expression. 

“Wait! Is it love advice? Because if that's what this is, then I gotta meet them first to see if they're worthy and you’ll definitely need a chaperone now. No going on dates without my permission first.” She had exclaimed that out loud. So loud that a few other people in the cafeteria turned to look their way. Yui also heard Statue man snort at her mother's antics.

Yui gave Akane a deadpanned expression. It wasn’t the first time she wondered if she was actually related to her mother at all with how ridiculous she was at times. At seeing the annoyed, blank expression on her daughter’s face, Akane gave a dramatic sigh in defeat. She temporarily gave up her plan to get her serious daughter to laugh, and listened to what she had to say.

“All right, fine. But if you ever need love advice you can come to me,” said her mother as she gave Yui another playful wink. Yui was sure she had said all that to simply embarrass her but she gave in briefly to her mother’s will and allowed a small smile to ghost her lips.

“So what’s wrong with your friend that you had to come ask me about it?”

Finally, glad to get down to business, Yui sat up a little straighter. She unintentionally gripped the spoon in her hand a little harder. She had been ready to have this conversation but now that her mother was actually listening, she became a little nervous. Sure, she talked to her mother about things whenever she was around but it was mostly small talk and never anything serious. So, she tried to best calm and compose herself.

“My friend is going through a rough time. She doesn’t talk about it but I know she’s hurting. And I don’t know what to do or how to help her?  So what should I do?” Her questions came out more jumbled and rushed than Yui had intended. So much for calm, she thought.

“You just try to help in the ways that you can,” said her mother. She said as if it was the most obvious answer in the world as she continued to eat. Yui nibbled on her jello. That hadn’t really the answer she was looking for especially after having to put up with all her mother’s teasing.

Seeing the troubled expression on her daughter's face, Akane put down the bowl of soup and pulled Yui into a half hug. “Yui, sometimes all you can do is to be there for her. When she’s ready to talk, she’ll talk.”

Yui tried not to squirm out of the hug. She prodded at the unappealing, red jello instead as she silently mused on her mother’s words.

“What if...what if being there for them isn’t enough?”

She couldn’t hide the doubt in her voice. She understood the importance of patience and of being tactful with one's thoughts and actions. But lately everything felt messy, illogical, and tactless more than usual.

She felt like she was scraping around in the dark trying and failing to find her footing. It was annoying. It left her uneasy and unsure, and if she was being honest with herself, even a little scared. This was something she would never admit out loud, least of all to her parents.

Akane, without missing a beat, turned to her daughter and gave her a fierce grin. It reminded Yui, that despite all appearances, her mother was still the co-leader of one of the biggest yakuza factions in Kyoto. Akane tightened her hand into a fist and held it up. Her eyes pierced Yui with their sudden intense gaze.

“Then, you fight for them.”


Yui kicked one of the boys in the face. His nose made a nice snapping sound as blood poured out of his nose followed by his whimpering cry.

She’s pretty sure this wasn’t what her mother meant by fighting for her friends or maybe she did. Either way her mother probably wouldn’t have been disappointed.

Everything was chaotic. She could barely keep track of Rena in this whole flurry of action.

In hindsight it was probably a stupid move to just jump into the fray. She should have called for help but, in the moment, everything was about reaction.

After visiting her mom, she had slipped away to try to get her thoughts together. On her walk to the station she passed by the park. It initially seemed a good a place as any to contemplate but instead of peace and quiet what she had encountered was a fight. She aimed to avoid it until she noticed the familiar form of Rena caught in the middle of the whole mess.

Every logical, tactful, self-preserving piece of her flew out the window when she saw the amount of hits Rena was taking. She was completely outnumbered. Before Yui could even really think, she had already flung herself into the fray.  The fear of facing unknown opponents with just the two of them didn’t cross her mind. Her body simply reacted.

And now she was here, right in the middle of all of it, trying her best to get this fight done as quickly as possible. Three of the kids noticed her presence immediately and were taken aback at her sudden appearance. That distraction was enough for her to land a nice kick into one of the boy’s nose. He was still whimpering on the ground when she whirled around to just barely dodge a kick to her own face.

All those self-defense lessons were evidently paying off. She kicked one of the girls in the back causing her to bump into the boy with the broken nose. Her eyes darted to and fro between opponents. Her mind moving a mile a minute.

“You should’ve minded your own business, idiot,” said a girl with long nails and fake jewelry as she rushed forward. Yui sidestepped out of her way and stuck her foot out, causing said girl to tumble face first into the ground.  There was a big smack sound as she hit the ground.

The other girl with a blue shirt tried to deliver her own punch to Yui’s face. Yui seeing the attack coming, dodged out of the way. The girl followed up with a knee but Yui parried it away. It went like that for a minute of her just trying to hit Yui and Yui evading her. Frustrated, the girl cursed.

“Stop running and fight me!”

The moment she said that Yui took the opportunity to get her when her guard was down and punched her right in the throat. The girl buckled, coughing and wheezing the whole way down.

Yui took the chance to take a quick glance at Rena.

She was flanked by two boys and a girl. They were each throwing wild punches and kicks that Rena would fire back twice as hard. It was a miracle she was even still standing. But Rena, despite being bloody and bruised, was smiling and laughing. This unnerved Yui.

Something was wrong but Yui didn't know what. She was about to call out to her when a sharp punch across her face took Yui by surprise. In paying attention to Rena, she hadn’t noticed that the girl with long nails got back up. Yui’s own fight wasn’t over just yet.

The remaining girl took another shot. It was a sloppy punch. Yui dodged. In return, she elbowed the girl right in the face. She staggered back. Yui closed in for another punch but in desperation the girl lunged at her in attempt to claw at Yui’s face. She couldn’t dodge fast enough and the girl’s nails caught the side of her cheek. Yui hissed in pain. The girl’s nails cut her deeper than nails should ever be able to. She could feel blood trickling down her face.

The girl kicked Yui on her side. Yui took the full hit but she was able to catch the girl’s foot and pushed her causing the girl to lose her balance and fall back with another hard thud. Yui was back on the defensive ready to strike if the girl got up again, when there was a sickening crack followed by a chilling scream of pain.

Both Yui and the girl turn, as they see Rena standing over a crying boy. He was clutching his hand. Yui knew for a fact that fingers were not supposed to bend that way. His sobs echoing across the now still park as he tried to helplessly inch away from Rena. His hand hung limp and pitiful. Rena just kept laughing.

His companions wide eyed back away as she starts to take slow steps towards them.  Even the ones who had gone down earlier were also inching away in fear.

“She’s fucking crazy!” One of the boys yelled. Yui heard running footsteps behind her and looked back to see that the girl that she had been fighting was running away.

Her fellow companions, who were still standing, didn’t waste a second either. “Let’s get out of here!”

They half drag their fallen friends with them as they flee. The boy’s sobs still echoing as they went.

Silence filled the park. With most of the threat gone, Yui let her shoulders relax. However, she noticed that Rena hadn’t moved at all since the group had retreated. She was hunched over, shoulders shaking from where she stood.

 She called to Rena but got no response. Yui walked to where she was standing and observed her. Her shoulders were still shaking and Yui thought maybe she was really hurt or crying. She put a hand on Rena’s shoulder. “Rena, are you-”

Rena swung around and decked her right across the face. Her laughter rung in Yui’s ears as she dropped backwards on the ground. She was left completely unprepared for the hit. Her vision swam.

Before she could react, Rena was on top of her. She punched Yui again, then again, and again. A frightening smile graced her lips. Yui, by now, was seeing spots, but gritted her teeth and shook it off.

Rena grabbed Yui’s hand and attempted to bite it, but Yui struggled hard against her grip. She used her other hand to push Rena’s face away. Rena doesn't relent and instead she tried to go for another punch. Yui doesn’t let her, however. She kept a tight hold of Rena’s fists but it was proving to be a losing battle.

Yui yelled out. “Rena, stop!”

No response. She was starting to panic. It was as if Rena couldn’t hear her at all. She lost the strength battle as Rena’s hands pull free from her grasp and wasted no time in forming another fist ready to strike down on Yui.

Yui put her hands up to protect her face and yelled out one final plea. “Rena, please stop!”

Yui closed her eyes and waited for another hit to come. A few seconds passed, but no other punch does. Slowly, she opened her eyes and saw that recognition had clicked in Rena’s eyes. Eyes wide and breathing heavy, Rena’s expression became one of shock which slowly morphed into fear. She lowered her hands.

“Yu-yui?”

“Rena,” Yui breathed sigh of relief. She was glad she was able to snap her friend out of whatever trance she was in.

“It’s okay. They’re gone,” said Yui. Her voice tired and weak.

Yui reached for Rena’s hand to reassure her. But before Rena could say or do anything, she was suddenly grabbed from the collar of her jacket and thrown off Yui. Yui could hear the heavy thud of Rena’s rough landing. A groan of pain followed.

For a brief second, she had thought the group had actually come back. But, she was wrong. For it was none other than Statue man, Ishi, his imposing figure standing in front of her. He blocked any view she had on Rena. She tried to sit up and to get him to stop what he was doing, but the world was still spinning too much.

Yui weakly turned to the direction where he was standing. She was confused as to why he was suddenly here.

But, Ishi wasn’t paying attention to her. His attention was locked solely on wherever Rena had landed. His voice cold as stone. “Beat it, brat. If I see you anywhere near this girl again, you’ll regret it.”

Yui protested against Ishi’s words but his commanding voice easily overpowered hers.

“I said get the fuck outta here,” his booming voice loud and clear. It cut through the silence of the park like a knife. He moved out of Yui’s line of sight from where she lay. Which meant he was approaching Rena, and given how scared she had looked, having someone like Ishi come at her would only make things worse. She mentally screamed at her body to get up but it wouldn’t listen.

“Get up, get up, get up,” she repeated it like a mantra.

She couldn’t let Rena get scared off, not like this, not in the way that’s happened so many times before. Every bone in her body was telling her to not move but she willed herself to at least sit up. Yet, by the time she got her vision to stop spinning, Ishi was already walking back towards her.

She looked for around for any sign of Rena.

She was nowhere in sight.

She was gone. Ishi’s threats effectively scared her off.

Yui glared up at him. Yui guessed that her mother had ordered Ishi to trail her after she left the hospital.  He held out his hand to help her up, but she ignored it and pushed herself up on her own. The world still tilted a little too much but, she managed to not lose her footing. Once standing, she examined the aftermath of the chaos that happened only moments ago. There was not much evidence left of their fight. But the discarded ruined groceries nearby, had caught her eye. Slowly walking towards the items, she picked up one of the trampled melon pan.

“You okay, kid?” asked Ishi as he watched her from where he stood. She dropped the crushed melon pan in her hand but did not look at him.

A heavy feeling pressed into Yui’s chest as the dark clouds rumbled a warning of incoming summer rain. Turning her gaze up to the dark sky, Yui’s hands clenched into a fist.

“No.”

Chapter Text

The loud slamming of a door, forcibly brought Rena back into consciousness. She gasped for air as she scrambled to get up from her unknown, dark surroundings. Stumbling around the dark, she bumped her head against something hard.

Her her whole body throbbed in pain, adding another hard hit to the head didn’t help. Rena let out a small groan of pain. She rubbed her head as she tried to get her bearings. Her hand ran across what she assumed to be a small drawer of some kind and hit something familiar and metal on top. Her fingers accidentally hit some kind of switch and light immediately hit Rena in the eyes.

She blinked a couple times. Despite her blurred vision, Rena registered that she had somehow made it back home. But her small, room gave her no comfort. She could hear her mom stomping around the kitchen in a rage. Rena quickly switched the lamp off. The darkness engulfing the room again. She curled into ball against the bed frame and stayed very still.

She didn’t dare to even breathe.

Her mom let out a loud drunken stream of curses. There were more sounds of breaking glass and rough, drunken stumbling before there was another slam of a door and the world went quiet again.  

Rena waited. The seconds ticked away in her head and she didn’t move until she felt safe enough to breathe again.

In the dark of her room, Rena sat in a dazed state. She wracked her brain for how she got back, but her memories were fuzzy.

She didn’t even know for how long she had been laying on the floor. Her small room had no window to speak of to tell her what time of day it was. The quiet stillness put her a little at ease, but her hungry stomach growled in protest at her staying in her dark room any longer.

Rena was sure that she had attempted to go grocery shopping today. Hadn’t she? Everything felt like a blur and her whole body ached. Hauling herself up slowly, she reached for the small lamp once more and the room had light again.

She allowed for her eyes to adjust properly this time. Rena rubbed her eyes, but immediately stopped.

She stared at her hands. The were bruised and stained with dried blood. She turned her hands around this way and that as if not recognizing them to be her own.

Dried blood was splattered all over her.

She sucked in a shaky breathe. With wobbly steps, she steps into the small bathroom. Her reflection greeted her in the bathroom mirror. Dirt and dried blood were smeared across her face. Dark, ugly bruises marred her pale skin.

Rena looked like a walking corpse. The sight of herself made her chest shudder. Something like this wasn’t so uncommon, but it’s never happened outside the house before. She was sure it wasn’t her mom. It couldn’t have been. She had been out. She had been out trying to get food.

Right ?

She grasped around her hazy memories for something, anything. Rena paced back and forth until her own body couldn't stand ye wave of anxiety building up inside her anymore.

She slammed her head against the wall multiple times as if smacking it would jolt the memories back into her.

This went on for a couple minutes until her vision blurred. The whole world splitting in two.

Exhaustion burned into her limbs, fear scalding her heart. She was alone in the dark.  

It was too much. This was too much. Rena couldn’t get her bearings. Why couldn’t she remember?

She collapsed onto the bathroom floor. Writhing with enormous amounts of anxiety and panic, she scratched violently at her own neck, chest, and face.

She couldn’t breathe. She thrashed about for several minutes until she bolted upright gasping for air that her lungs so desperately needed.

With all the strength she could muster, Rena pulled herself up to the toilet; her whole body was shaking uncontrollably. She heaved, but there was nothing in her stomach to throw up. Only saliva, tears, and fear. Weakly, she rose on trembling legs.

Clumsy hands turned the shower knobs on. Not even bothering to take off her clothes, she curled up on the shower floor and allowed the cold water to wash over her. Rena didn’t flinch as the sting of ice cold water hit her.

She sat in the freezing cold and did what she could to piece herself back together.


 Yui didn’t flinch under Yoshimune’s cool gaze.

She stared right back at him even as the nurse awkwardly tried to get her injuries all cleaned up. The tension in the room wasn’t lost to the poor nurse, who got unluckily stuck with the job of patching up the heir to a yakuza empire in front of the head of said empire. Statue man Ishi standing guard by the corner didn't help either.

But, Yui had no sympathy to spare for her at the moment. She was more concerned about the problem in front of her.

She examined Yoshimune’s features as the nurse cleaned and bandaged her cuts. Her eyes searched the shape of jawline. They critiqued the slant of his eyes and the shape of his nose. She squinted at the outline of his mouth and found no answer to her scrutinizing.

She did not see herself in his image.

The nurse hesitantly spoke up and broke their intense glaring contest. “She’s-she’s cleaned up now, sir. She'll have bruising and should take it easy for a day or two, but otherwise, your daughter will be okay.”

Yoshimune, in a tone as cold as ice itself, responded, “Please, allow me and my daughter to speak for a moment.”

When Yoshimune spoke in that tone, he wasn’t asking. He was commanding. The nurse simply nodded and scurried out. Yui wished she could do the same.

He tilted his head slightly to Ishi. “You as well, Akimoto-san. Please wait outside.”

Ishi made a sound of acknowledgement. He bowed, though not a deep bow, before exiting.  Yui glared daggers at his retreating form and hoped he could feel her anger burning holes into his broad back.

When he had dragged her back to the hospital, she had thought Ishi would be taking her to her mother. Instead, he shoved her into a hospital room where Yoshimune and a nurse were already waiting for her.

And now she was stuck here in this room.  Alone with the one person she had been trying to avoid since their abrupt departure from their home in Kyoto.

Awkward silence filtered between them. Yui stared straight at him and he at her. Both refused to waiver or look away first.

Another tense minute passed, before Yoshimune broke the silence.

“Yui.”

“Yoshimune”. Yui tried to keep her face stoic but knew she was failing. She dug her nails into the thin bed sheet.

His frowned deepened and his eyes narrowed at her response. “It has come to my attention that you've been running around causing trouble again.”

He tilted his head at her in silent judgment. His tone was of annoyed disappointment. The fluorescent lights reflected against his glasses and gave them a blinding sheen to them that obscured his eyes. “I know it’s been hard adjusting, since Kyoto, but that's no excuse to be avoiding your bodyguards and skipping out on lessons.”

Yui turned her head away from him.  She hoped he would hurry up his lecturing and leave her be. But Yoshimune only approached closer to her and sat down on the examination bed next to her. Yui instinctively inched away from him.

He did not make any attempts to sit closer. He simply took his glasses off. Yui could now clearly see the dark bags under his eyes and the weariness in his posture. His voice was soft. Hints of the man she used to know, peeked through his cold exterior. “When your mother gets better, because she will, we will return to Kyoto. But for now, please be cooperative.”

Yui bit her lip. The ever burning question pulled at her mind that she couldn’t help but voice it. “And if she doesn’t?”

Yoshimune put his glasses back on and stood up. His stiff posture back in place. His voice was low but there was a sharpness to it. “Yokoyama’s are resilient. You and I know that.”

Yui’s memory of that terrible night rushed forward to the forefront of her mind. The sight of the sword piercing right through her mother played on repeat. She tightened her grip on the bed.  She remembered every minuscule detail. The sword plunging through her mother’s stomach with a sickening sound of flesh being torn open. Blood spilling out as she fights back against her attacker, only to be sliced open again. Her whole being consumed by a relentless red seeping out of her. It soaked the floor. It soaked the walls. It soaked her home and drowned them in it.

She tasted the tension in the air, salty and putrid. The snapping crunch sound of bones breaking, creaked in her ears. The gunshots ringing relentlessly against the screams of dying men crying out for salvation, for honor, for the death of their enemies, for violence, for something more than themselves.

She could see, clear as day, in between the cracks of splintered wood and gunshot holes, behind a hidden wall, her mother’s broken body.

Wounded. Bleeding out. Dying.

The man without an eye looming over her, ready to deal the final blow and-she was brought back by Yoshimune putting a hand on her shoulder. She blinked a couple times and tried to get her bearings. Her home in Kyoto disappearing and being replaced with the hospital room once more. The tension in Yui’s body did not disappear with it.

“She will be fine, Yui. You have nothing to worry about,” said Yoshimune. A small smile graced his lips. It was odd to see him smiling. She couldn’t remember the last time since she had seen him smiling. His form of comfort felt awkward, but she didn’t immediately force his hand off her shoulder. She knew that, in his own way, he was trying his best to put her at ease. She didn’t see him as her father anymore and her papa even less….but maybe-

And then he did what Yui had hoped he wouldn’t do. He took out an onion from his jacket pocket.

Yui made a face of disgust when he took a bite of it. She couldn’t understand how he could even eat it like if it were an apple or why he carried onions with him like that. It was a terrible habit of his  and it was grossest thing ever. Yui put a hand over nose and mouth to keep herself from gagging. The mood of the room was ruined by this one act.

Yoshimune didn’t seem to notice or care about the irritated look Yui shot at him. He motioned for her to follow him out. Yui did so reluctantly and kept a good amount of distance from him. “Your mother is still in need of rest and seeing how it’s late already, you won’t be able to see her today.”

As they exited the door, Ishi was standing there waiting for them along with a couple of her father’s men who were crowded off to the side talking about something quietly. Yoshimune paused in his eating to address Ishi.

“Take Yui back to the compound and have someone keep an eye on her. Leave the rest of the men here to watch my wife. When you’re done, meet at the usual location. I need you to head to Watanabe’s office with me.”

Ishi raised a single eyebrow at Yoshimune’s request. “I thought Boss Akane wanted to wait a couple more weeks before we approached the CEO?”

Yoshimune’s full on glare was on Ishi now. The onion clutched tightly in his fist. “Are you questioning me?”

The whole atmosphere turned frigid. There was a slight twitch of Ishi’s mouth. Yui watched on silently. Her eyes darted between the two men. “No, sir.”

“Then simply do as I ask or is that to difficult for you to do, Akimoto-san?”

The other men who had been talking amongst themselves had no turned their attention onto the conversation before them. Ishi gave a slight bow to his head. “No, sir.”

“Then hurry up and get to it,” said Yoshimune. He took another bite of his onion and walked away. He left Yui with the Statue man without so much as a goodbye or even a glance back.  

Ishi gave another bow, but again it wasn’t very low. There other men following suit and gave their own bows to him as he passed them. There was no doubt the men respected him and respected his leadership. But , the questioning glances and the looks of doubt were easy to see if one was paying attention. And Yui made it a habit to pay attention as much as she could.

Whatever people said about how his connections to the Akechi Sougyo clan, his strategic mind, and cool under pressure attitude made him a good match for the her mother, Yoshimune could not shake off the shadow of her mother’s authority or the shadow of his own “father”.

Because despite his qualifications, there was an unquestionable, unspoken truth that all in the clan knew. Everyone respected her mother’s unshakable power and iron grip authority more than anyone else's. More than even Yoshimune could ever hope to have or gain.

After all, Yoshimune wasn’t a Yokoyama by blood, but by marriage.

And for the Yokoyama clan, blood was everything.


 The blood was gone. It washed down the drain temporarily easing the broken parts of herself, but left her with no answers as to what happened.

Rena remembered jagged edges of memory. Like sharp flashes, but too cracked to make an image whole. She remembered running and screaming and pain and anger and….

Yui.

She remembered Yui.

She remembered the clarity of her voice.

She remembered Yui’s smile of relief.

And then after that….the world spun into chaos and the dark would claim her again.

After she managed to drag herself back into some semblance of “okay”, Rena slowly got herself to change and dry herself.

Now, she found herself at a nearby Seven-Eleven convenience store buying a whole shelf worth of melon pan and spicy rice crackers with what money she had found left on her. She even had just enough to buy two half-off bento boxes.

Rena handed the cashier at the convenience store very soggy bills. After she had been able to calm her nerves down and gotten out of the shower, she had realized that the money she had stolen was still in her jacket pocket. Stolen, wet money was still money.  Rena didn't give the cashier time to say anything about the state in which the money was in, because she was already out the door with her purchases.

She walked back home at an easy pace. Even if it was late at night, the streetlights were her pathway home. She munched on a melon pan as she contemplated what to do about the blank spaces in her head.

She needed to talk to Yui. That, Rena knew for sure. After that, well, Rena figured that whatever came afterwards, she would deal with it when she wasn’t mentally and physically exhausted.

She entered the run down apartment building with quiet footsteps. Her breath hitched as she carefully opened the door. She had hoped that maybe she’d catch her mom in a good mood and maybe even be able to share a melon pan with her. But as she whispered a small “I’m back”, she heard no other noises in the apartment, which meant that her mom was out late again.

Rena trudged into the small kitchen. She couldn’t say she wasn’t disappointed. It felt like lately she was seeing less and less of her mom. She took out the bento box she bought for her mom and laid it carefully on the counter along with one melon pan.

Stepping over broken glass bottles and littered trash, she took her own bento box and went into the joint living room to eat it on the low table. The bento had karaage , rice, a small portion of noodles, and some vegetables.

It was probably the healthiest thing she’s eaten in long time. The food was good, but it was missing that twinge of spice she craved. It was too bad the sriracha sauce they had had been expired for months, possibly years. Rena knew she shouldn’t complain; it was amazing she was able to even buy this at all.

So, she ate in silence.

But even the silence grinded against her ears. It felt too empty in this apartment. As she finished her meal, she kept glancing at the door as if waiting for her mom to burst through it at any second.

But as the minutes ticked away and her mom continued to not show up, she found herself to be restless. She turned on their old T.V. and paced around the living room as some terrible late night yakuza movie played in the background. The over dramatic dialogue and subsequent gunfights did little to drown out her thoughts.

When that got boring, she decided to clean up all the empty beer bottles and all the other trash laying about. It helped take her mind off of things for a little while.

But the house felt even emptier when she was done. It didn’t help that her mind was still reeling from what happened earlier in her bathroom. A part of her body begged for sleep, but the other part left her feeling anxious and lonely. Being stuck in the dark apartment all on her own felt suffocating.

The old clock on the wall read two thirty-five in the morning, but Rena didn’t care how late it was. She just needed to get out of here.

She went into her room and packed up a small satchel filled with an old blanket and two spicy rice crackers. Her black hoodie was still soaked and ruined so she couldn’t take that. She opted to take a light green sweater that still sort of fit her. As she finished packing up her stuff, she recalled the umbrella that Yui had given her.

Rena pulled it out of it’s hiding spot. She ran a hand over the paw print patterns and smiled. Rainy summer weather tended to be unpredictable this time of year, and Yui’s gift would come in handy should it rain.

With her destination in mind, she left the house with her ritual “I’m going”, satchel and umbrella in hand.


 

There was an abandoned construction site not too far off from the apartment building. It had been an in-progress six story building that was supposed to have become the office of some local loan sharks before they had been arrested by the police for handling counterfeit money or, at least, that was what Rena had heard the construction workers say back when the had still been working on it.

It’s been years now since then, and Rena has made this a go to place to hide it. There were days when her mom would kick her out, especially when she brought strange men home, Rena would come here until her mom she was let back in again.

Rena made sure to be careful around this area. There was always weirdos hanging around this time of night. She crept up towards the broken chain link fence and easily slipped in through a small tear that Rena always used to get in.

The area of land was barren of any life other than the run down, half constructed building and the abandoned machinery. She maneuvered through the darkness and made sure to not accidentally fall or bump into anything.

Even shrouded in darkness she could see the big wrecking ball machine. A part of her always wanted to try it’s destructive power onto something, but she could never figure out a way to turn it on. She knew it was dangerous, but couldn’t help be drawn to it. She lingered a little at the massive metal boulder before moving on.

Rena trudged on towards the building. The entrance had no door, so it was easy to get in. Half of the walls were built but the other half were still just the frame of wood. Much of it already had mold growing on it from all the rain exposure. The stairs that lead up weren’t very stable and the construction workers had only built two sets of stairs leaving the other four floors only accessible through various wobbly ramps set up all the way to the top.

Rena watched her step as she ascended to the highest floor. She almost slipped up a couple times. The ramps weren’t the safest or the most secure, still, she carried on to her destination. When she reached the top floor, parts of the roof tiles had collapsed through most likely due to the summer storms.

She settled in an area that she usually kept for times like these. It was a little alcove in between the walls that contained a small cot. She dumped her satchel and umbrella but didn’t immediately get her things out or get ready to sleep.

She searched around the mostly empty floor before finding the strewn ladder. She tugged up to a nearby hole in the ceiling and once she made sure it was secure, she climbed up.

She shimmied out onto the roof, and took some cautious steps forward. The roof was sloped downwards at an angle and if she wasn’t careful she could tumble forward. Outside, she could clearly see the various city lights replace the twinkle of the night stars. The occasional car sped past below. Drunk salarymen passed by. Their drunken and disorderly singing echoing down dark streets. The streetlights flickered with their haphazard tune.

The hum of night life was still present despite the late hour. She gazed up at the moon. It was not a full moon. Half of it was covered in darkness. It was missing a part of itself, same as her. But it would soon be whole again, and that was something that Rena wasn’t sure she would ever be.

But as she breathed in the chilling night air from atop her perch, Rena found comfort where she stood. She liked being in high places. Standing there made it feel like, everything else, but herself and the sky, just disappeared.  

After a few minutes pass by, Rena heads back down. She kept the umbrella near by and wrapped herself snug in her blanket.  The hum of the city life around her lulled her into a state of relaxation. The exhaustion and fatigue finally claimed her into a deep sleep. And, in her dreams, she coasted through the city skyline under the gaze of a full moon.


Yui awoke to the sun filtering through her bedroom window. Yet, she heard the distinctive pitter patter of rain. She blinked back the sleep and staggered towards the window. She watched as the rain continued to drizzle. An odd contrast to the bright light of the sun.

It felt magical.

“They say that when it rains while the sun is shining, that foxes are having a wedding.”

Yui doesn’t have to turn around to know that it is her grandfather who spoke. Her shoulders sagged. It was too early in the morning to be dealing with his riddles. She hadn’t even heard him come in. She needed to work on her perception skills some more.

“I know the legend,” said Yui. She didn’t attempt to keep her obvious irritation out of her tone.

She heard her grandfather chuckle. “Is that so? From what I’ve heard, you’ve been skipping out on lessons and getting into some trouble as of late. I would think you’d be too busy to learn of the tale.”

Yui heard him approach from behind. She glanced back and could see his straw hat tipped to obscure half of his face. The fishing pole in his hand meant that he had come straight from his usual fishing spot.

“Is there a reason you're here so early, grandfather Akechi?”

Yui had hoped to escape the compound early and try to see if she could find Rena somehow. Yui couldn't help but be worried for her. Yesterday's events played crystal clear through her mind.

She touched the bandages on her face and flinched. The bruises and shallow cuts still stung a little. Yui couldn't imagine the kind of pain Rena was in. After all, it wasn't like she had left that fight without her own injuries.  There was also Ishi’s threat that Yui would have to apologize for.  But with her grandfather standing in the way, there was no way she was going to escape now. She turned to him and reluctantly gave him her full attention.

Akechi didn’t seemed at all bothered by Yui’s annoyance at his presence. He gingerly sat on her bed and pulled his straw hat back. His beady eyes observed her with interest and suspicious mischief. “I’ve come to do your strategy training today. It seems that your old teacher decided to quit due to your constant absence.”

Yui crossed her arms. This was not the kind of news she had wanted to hear. “Is that the reason he quit? I would have thought it was because he was getting tired at losing to me in our chess matches.”

Akechi smug grin widened a fraction at her response. “The fact that he was losing to a ten year old child makes it all the more reason for him to be replaced, don’t you think? You need a teacher that will push and challenge you to be better.”

Yui doesn’t respond, in part, because she knows he’s right, but it’s not like she would ever agree with him outloud. His face broke out into a smile, as if he knew she wouldn’t object. It irked her that he could read her like a book.

“Anyway I suggest you hurry along and get some breakfast. You have a busy day of catch up to do.”

He placed his straw hat back on his head before he stood up and left with only a tip of his hat in acknowledgement.

Yui turned her attention back to the window. The rain continued to drizzle. A beautiful reflection of the sun sprinkled through the small droplets of rain and the glimmering sheen of rainbow colors filtered through. The beautiful sight outside did little to lighten her mood.

Today, she knew, was going to be a long day.


 She felt something wet on her face. Rena shot up awake. She panicked a little at her unknown surroundings, before her brain registered where she was. She flopped back onto the hard cot and shut her eyes. It felt way too early to be up. Just as she was drifting back into sleep she felt another drop water fall on her face. She looked up to find a leak on the ceiling. She grumbled in displeasure.

She would have to move her cot somewhere else in the building. She didn’t want to risk having the ceiling collapse on her. She forced her sore body to grab her things and move it over outside of her little alcove. But when she stepped out, she saw that it was sunny despite the rain. Rena dropped the cot and grabbed the umbrella. She hurried up the wet ladder and stepped out onto the roof. The umbrella protected her from mostly getting wet as she stood in awe of the glimmering rain.  

She held out her hand and let the rain sprinkle over it. From the top of where Rena stood, there was a reflective glaze over the city. The sun’s rays bounced off the wet buildings, windows, and streets.

She took a step forward to get a better view. But in having the raincoat the roof, Rena didn’t account for how slippery the water would make the roof tiles. She lost her footing and was sent sliding dangerously forward.

In a frantic panic, Rena dug her heels in to stop herself. The umbrella fell from her hands right back through the hole in the roof as she slid down further. She slammed her hands down on the roof tiles to get some sort of grip.

There was a terrible scratching sound as Rena scrambled to find a footing before she went careening off the edge. Several of the cheap tiles cracked under the strain of her attempt to slow herself down. As she was sliding dangerously close to the edge of the sloped roof, Rena just managed to hang onto the very edge by the tip of her fingers.

Her nails dug in deep to get some sort of grip on the slippery tiles. Rena’s hands were scraped and bloody as she tried to hang on for dear life. The rain wasn’t helping as it was causing her to lose what little grip she had on the ledge. Several roof tiles dropped to the bottom and broke upon impact.

“Crap!”

Her sore muscles strained as they tried to keep her from falling to her doom. Below her the city life continued on completely unaware of her situation. Calling for help wouldn’t do much. Rena knew no one would come.

For a brief moment, as she clung to the edge with shaky hands, she entertained the thought of letting go.

If she let go….if she died, would her mom miss her? Would anyone?

The scary thing was that Rena didn’t know the answer.

Or rather, the saddest thing was that in the deepest darkest corners of her mind, she really did know the answer. And it hurt more than anything to know it.

Her fingers were slipping. Rena almost wanted to let them.

Almost.

But the rain stopped beating against her. She chanced a look up at the blue sky and saw only the radiance of the sun shining back down on her. It was a beautiful view. One that she would miss, if she let go. Clouds floated through and a flicker of a memory passed in front of her.

Hadn’t Yui and her spent a day nestled under the shade of tree and watched the clouds pass over them? The sky had been such a pretty blue. Rena had never seen the clouds so white and fluffy. Hadn’t they spent countless days talking and playing and laughing under that same sky?

As Rena’s hands quivered dangerously close to losing her grip, one question broke through.

Would Yui care if she died?

Rena didn’t know the answer. But every fiber of her being burned to know the answer.

A gust of wind threaded through her hair and swept away all her doubting thoughts. It replaced doubt with something deeper. Something unknowable, yet resilient.

Through strength she didn't know she had, Rena pulled herself up with all her might. She scrambled back up to the hole but the portion that she stood on collapsed inwards and she went falling straight inside. She’s lucky the heavy impact didn’t damage the floor or she would have been falling more than just one floor.

Rena bit back the tears of pain that threatened to fall out. The dust and small debris settled as she slowly and painfully shook herself off. She sucked in a shaky breath.

Her body pulsed with pain do deep, she wasn’t even sure how she wasn’t unconscious right about now. She dragged herself away from the now even bigger hole in the ceiling and onto the cot. She didn’t care if she got it wet. The heavy impact had taken a lot out of her already beaten and tired body.

Rena looked down at her bloody hands and another flash of a memory struck her already pounding head.

Chaotic laughter and anguished screaming echoed through her memories. Her vision swam and for a brief second she was no longer laying down in her cot but standing in the park over the crying form of a boy.

The memory faded and Rena was left clutching her head. Her breathing was shallow and her whole body was shaking. She couldn’t tell if it was from the pain from the fall or from something else.

She laid on her cot until the shaking toned down. She spotted the umbrella crushed under the weight of pieces of wood and tiles. Guilt over having already ruined the gifted umbrella, welled within her.

Rena sat up. Her bloodied hand clenched at her sides. Her body still filled with tension. She couldn’t rest anymore. Her mom had told her once that people who were bad, like Rena, don’t have the right to have rest.

No rest for the wicked, girl.

She grit past the pulsing heaviness that weighed her body down. The tears she had tried so hard to fight off dripped down her face intermingled with the rain and sweat. Rena fought through her exhaustion and picked herself up.

She needed answers.

She needed Yui.


 Yui needed to find a way out of this.

The match had started out well enough or so she had thought. She moved her bishop in position. She saw the opportunity to take her grandfather's own bishop away and she was going to take any chance she was presented.

“Hm, an interesting choice, Yui-chan,” said her grandfather. Yui’s eye twitched in irritation. He sought to comment on every little move she made during the match so far, and it was starting to get to her.

She took in a deep breath and tried to focus on the board and tried to contemplate her next move. He simply moved one his pawns down before returning it back to her turn.

His overly calm facade didn’t put Yui at ease. She reached for her bishop, but hesitated slightly in tune last second. Doubt crept in her mind. Every move she had made so far, he had countered and put her on the defensive. He raised an eyebrow at her.

She clutched her bishop and moved it to eat his own. The moment she turned it back to his turn, his knight ate her last bishop.

She narrowed her eyes. She should have a seen it coming, but now she was back on the defensive again.

Looking at the board in front of her, it was clear to Yui that her defeat was inevitable.  But she refused to go down without a fight. She still had a sliver of a chance to get her queen to snag her grandfather’s king.

“Yui-chan, do you know why we have you attend these lessons?” Yui turned her attention to Akechi’s sudden question.

“To give me a rounded education,” was Yui’s short reply. She was repeating what her instructors had often told her. Yui knew she was avoiding the real reason she had a more intensive education than the average kid her age. But she refused to say it out loud for him, as she maneuvered her remaining pawns and castle to buy her queen some cover to position it properly. It was a feint of sorts that she wasn’t sure would work, but she had to give it a try.

Akechi easily swept away on of her pawns. He was slowly Witt long down her last defenses bit by bit. “That is one way to look at it. But more than anything, these lessons are meant to guide you so that you’ll be ready for when the inevitable comes.”

“The inevitable being what exactly?” asked Yui. She knew her queen and her king were soon to meet their end. She stared back at the board. Even as she tried to find some way out all she could see were the traps that he had laid out and all the ways that she had fallen into them.

She could see all her failures play out in front of her and she had no way of making it out of this match with a win.He had constructed her defeat from the beginning. It was infuriating to know that nothing she could’ve have done could change the outcome now.

But what put Yui on edge the most was her grandfather’s smile. The smile of someone who knew they could have crushed her from the very start, with minimal effort. “No need to play dumb, my girl.”

There was a glimmer of something dark right underneath the surface. A sense of dread hit Yui to the core as his smile turned into a wide grin.

“This clan will be your empire to inherit, Yui-chan. It would do no good if you were unprepared,” he said as his queen landed a swift death blow to hers.

Checkmate.