Yuki could hardly manage a word trying to stop his tears. Jun got down from their mother’s arms allowing her to hold Yuki. It had felt like eternity since Yuki had been able to feel her warmth. The soothing tone of her voice and calming eyes weren't something he could ever forget. “How…is this possible?” In spite of it, he wanted the moment to last forever.
Chapter 49 – Never Forgotten
Jun walked back with Yuki and their mother to where Ken was with their father. From the view of their friends, they were able to watch. It felt different from any that they had seen before. They all knew Yuki to be a happy and excitable person, but there was always an intangible feeling of something underneath. It remained buried under layers until it could no longer be seen. However, that was completely different from the feeling that they were seeing. There was a genuine, near innocence, in his expression that was unlike anything they had seen before.
“…Hayashi…” Yumi said slowly, holding on to her friends’ hands.
Hiroshi stood next to Saki pulling his eyes away and caught a look that surprised him. ‘She’s crying…’ It was strange for him to see Saki acting emotional. She acted tough and rough. He turned back, allowing her the moment alone that she wanted.
“One minute remaining… One minute remaining…” the room’s voice announced to everyone. On the solemn note, the room filled with an uncomfortable sense of urgency. Tension suddenly grew from everyone knowing. Hiroshi pulled back with Kazuhiro and Tatsuya walking down the street a short distance. Katsumi soon followed, taking Yumi and Kaede with her. The last to follow was Ayumi leaving Saki behind.
“…Yuki…” Her heart pounded fiercely making it difficult for her to keep everything in control. Even for Saki it felt like she had gone back in time. She felt as though she was a child once more looking towards Yuki for strength. The weakness that she had shed and never let her touch again began to weigh her once more.
Yuki had difficulties finding a good-bye as the clock ticked away on his time. The dream was going to end and all he could think of was keeping it going. “Father…mother…” Jun and Ken stepped back instinctively knowing how important it was for their big brother. The distant beeping that alerted the remaining time pounded on Yuki’s shoulders as he looked back between them. All he could do was wrap his arms around the both of them as the world slowly faded away. ‘…mother…I’m sorry…’ The last particles to hold on to disappeared leaving Yuki’s arms collapsing in against him.
They were all returned to the room left with a long silence that no one was willing to break. It wasn't until the door to the room slid open. Ha stood in the entry glaring at everyone with the look from before. “Time to leave…” She started out strong, but fell short as she picked up the atmosphere. “What the hell did you guys do?!”
Jun looked over at Ken with the same look in their eyes and marched over to Ha. “Let’s step outside,” Ken said as he picked up Ha’s left side while Jun carried her right. They walked her out under protest as the rest of their friends followed along with them.
“What do you think you’re doing you, brats?!”
Saki and Ayumi stayed behind with Yuki, who still looked out of it. Saki rested her hand on Yuki’s shoulder searching for the words that would help him, but finding none. Tension between the three grew tight as the two girls were uncertain of Yuki. His head was turned down heavily cast in a dark shadow over his face. “…Yuki I…” Saki cut herself off, disappointed with her words.
Hovering anxiety loomed until suddenly Yuki lifted his head up. “Well that was fun! Where’d everyone go?” The bright cheerful expression that Saki was so used to on Yuki’s face had resurfaced. He looked around the room quickly trying to figure out where all of his friends had disappeared. When he saw the door he darted for it leaving behind Saki and Ayumi.
A flat calculating look made a momentary reveal under Ayumi’s innocent persona as she watched Yuki leave the room. ‘Going back that quickly… He’s definitely more complicated than appearances would lead you to believe… But how much does it affect him subconsciously?’ Ayumi stepped forward ignoring Saki.
Saki’s strained eyes turned to helpless pain. She had seen the look from Yuki so often that she was used to seeing it. It should have been a happy reunion; a comforting moment that had eased her struggle. Contrary, she only felt worse than before in her heart. “…Yuki…why can’t you just…”
“Saki?! Everyone’s starting to leave!” Yuki poked his head into the room.
The look and his voice only deepened the sadness tying against her. She reluctantly stepped forward knowing that he was just going to keep staring at her. “Alright…I’m coming…” When Saki stepped out of the room she caught Ayumi out of the corner of her eye standing next to the wall. The rest were down by the counter waiting.
Ayumi stepped forward looking at the two of them with the façade dropped, while she only faced them. “I think one of the sisters is like us.”
He looked back towards the room. “Yeah, I figured that it was a while ago.”
“So which of the sisters do you think it is?”
“The eldest sister. She’s the only one that was not present while we were in the simulations.” Ayumi turned her head just enough to glance back at the counter as the three sisters were entertaining their friends. Her mind quickly went through tactics.
“It’s actually none of them, Young Miss,” a woman’s voice said from above and in front of them. Across from where they stood was a stairwell with a landing. Drawn out footsteps on the wood boards signaled the approach of the woman.
The woman that appeared on the landing looked to be in her thirties and an ordinary businesswoman wearing formal pants and blouse with an open vest over. It was carried out in a calm scheme of tan, white and light blue. The distinct European features of her face and natural blonde hair gave her away as a foreigner.
Ayumi and Saki quickly turned to give her their full attention as well as stepping forward in front of Yuki. “My, such determined expressions. You're a pretty lucky boy.”
“I won’t let you near him!” Saki moved out in front more keeping her between them. She didn't know what to expect from an assassin since they were all so different, but she kept slowly pushing herself forward.
Taking them back some, the woman sat down on the landing with her legs resting on the lower steps. “I think you misunderstood me, dear. I’m not interested in the young man there.” She smiled pleasantly to them still holding her aura of calm.
“Then what do you want?”
“Simply to introduce myself. Welcome you to my shop! I’m Phoibe.” Her hands drew out to her sides as she talked, taking ownership of the building. “How did you enjoy my entertainment?”
“Entertainment?” Ayumi cautiously waited for the woman to change her attitude. “What’s the point of this?”
Phoibe frowned upon hearing Ayumi’s suspicious tone. “I thought that was pretty obvious. I need money.”
“Huh?” Saki stepped back confused by the reactions that they were getting from the woman. “But don’t you get support from your people?”
“Exiles have to live on their own.” The woman became serious. She pulled up her blouse exposing her stomach revealing an intricate cross shaped scar on her right side. Ayumi immediately reacted to it as her eyes widened for a moment. “Seems the Young Miss understands.” Phoibe lowered her blouse, readjusting it.
Ayumi relaxed her guard as Saki and Yuki looked to her for an answer. “How long?”
“Nearly twenty years…”
“Ayumi?” Saki started to pull herself back from the front.
There was a lengthened pause with Ayumi before she looked at the two of them. “Depending on the crime and person we’ll exile someone rather than kill or imprison them. When someone is exiled they are marked with a brand so that they are forever banned. It’s rare, but it has happened with MP users. Though they are normally executed…” Ayumi looked over at the woman with a demanding look in her eyes.
“Why would they allow someone with such powers to leave?”
The woman stood up and began down the rest of the stairs. “Well I can explain that. In my youth I was considered a…deviant. I had one too many run-ins with the royal guard and so they had enough of me. However, they weren’t strong enough to hold me for long and so I left.”
“You just left?”
“Always having to hide and look around your back gets exhausting. So it was easier to just leave. I let them brand me to save face and departed.”
“That’s rather generous of you.”
“I kind of regret it now. Makes wearing a bikini impossible.” She ended with a bit of a teasing grin. The woman walked down the hall slowly.
Yuki stepped out in front of them, but stayed behind Phoibe to keep his distance from his friends ahead. “So you aren’t after me?”
Phoibe turned around looking across at him with a grin that was bordering on a smirk. “My dear boy, I prefer men that are more experienced.” Phoibe turned letting her shoulder length blonde hair wisp around lightly in the air as she stepped out to greet the rest of their friends.
Saki caught up with Yuki as Ayumi brought up the other side. She looked over at Yuki and Ayumi continuing on in her gaze. “She’s a little strange, but you think we can trust what she says?”
“Don’t trust anyone, but for the moment she doesn’t seem aggressive. I’d suggest leaving.” Ayumi stepped forward, returning to her usual personality as she rejoined everyone in the lobby. Phoibe didn't miss a beat with her leaving Saki and Yuki behind.
‘I don’t know, but I’d like to think that there’s not just assassins out there. There have to be good people too.’ The whole conversation left him with an off balanced feeling that seemed very intentional. He wanted to trust her seeing that she had such a power and only using it to run a business. It gave him plenty of other questions. But for the sake of time, he agreed. “Let’s go, Saki!”
Kazuhiro started chatting to the shop owner. “Given the other two, what type is the eldest sister?”
“You’re quite correct in what you’ve been told. Though I’ll have to get after Ha for spoiling the trade secret. But to answer your question the more refined palette desires someone more mature both in age and intellect. That is Hanabira. I do serve many different types of clientele.”
“You’ve thought this out a lot I see.”
“I am a businesswoman. I have to keep my customers happy.”
Several of them were already going for the door as Hiroshi was politely trying to excuse himself. “Well it’s getting late and it’s a long walk through the alley.” The others were nodding to him, stepping back with him.
Hana stepped forward still with her hands quietly held in front. “If you turn left around our shop you’ll be returned to the main street. It’s much faster!”
Everyone looked over at Hiroshi, suddenly becoming angry at him. He tried to back out of the building even faster as he was trapped. Kaede was the first to speak up for everyone’s anger. “You mean all that walking through the alley we did and we could have just gotten here from the street!” She pressed on, taking Hiroshi outside as the others followed leaving the owner and her hostesses behind still smiling.
Hana closed the door and turned politely towards Phoibe. “They were very pleasant customers, Miss Phoibe.”
“Yes…yes, they were Hana. However, I’m feeling a little tired. So we’re closing early.”
“Yes, Miss Phoibe,” the three sisters said softly.
Phoibe stepped forward, locking up the door before turning around. All three of the sisters were gone leaving her alone. She ran her fingers through her hair, fluffing it up a little as she walked back. “To think there’d be another one. I wonder…”
Their friends had left at the station leaving Yuki to walk home with his brothers, Ayumi and Saki. Saki left ahead with his brothers. Yuki continued his even pace with Ayumi. However, before he could finish his walk Ayumi stepped out in front of him staring at him with serious eyes. “I hope that you enjoyed today, Yuki.”
“Huh? Ayumi? Why do you look so serious when you say that?” Yuki started to pull away, getting an unsettled aura coming off of her.
“I’m telling you that because I’m going to be working you harder in your training.”
“What’s with this all of sudden? I still can’t even control my power!”
“Exactly. You need to be able to control.”
“We still have a month right?”
“Correct, but the assassins are getting stronger. Those corrupt men aren't going to keep holding back. There are far stronger and worse individuals they can send. Ones that might be beyond me. You need to be able to protect yourself!”
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