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Dance of Dragons

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Mira stood in an awkward position of having stopped mid-step, her eyes crossed at the hand directly in front of her face.  Coming around the bar counter with a tray of drinks in one hand and a platter of food in the other, she wasn’t in a good position to slap away the man’s offending limb.  He held an empty mug, his face flushed bright red and eyes glossed over from the drunken stupor. Two other men flanked him to either side, clearly just as drunk as the leader.  They’d been no doubt kicked out from another bar, and had only just barged their way into the restaurant here to demand service, both in the form of drink and food, and the more intimate attentions of the sole waitress.

From the kitchen a man came out, dressed in baggy garments that hung off his thin, lanky frame.  Youth still tugged at the edge of his features, and tawny copper hair stuck up in odd patches.

“Oi, oi! None of that, get that shit outta here,” he called, waving a spatula at them.  “We don’t serve drunks!” While the trio laughed in reply to the scrawny man’s demands, Mira quietly reached down to set the tray of drinks and food onto the tables on either side of her.

“An what’ll ya do if’in we dun wanna leave, eh?  Eh?” the tallest of the three asked, his chest bound in cloth and an open orange shirt hanging loosely off his shoulders.  The hilt of two katana’s jutted out from beside bony hips, his hand moving to rest on it. The customer’s had gone silent, watching the group.  The regulars watched with looks of either boredom or amusement, some having already returned to their meals. Those new to the establishment watched on in horror and discomfort, a select few with sick excitement.

“W-well,” Mira stuttered, feeling her face flush as she feigned a timid step back, turning her body slightly sideways as her eyes looked up at the nearest man from under dark lashes.  Her hair was bound tightly back in a small bun, and she wore a simple dark blue shirt with white trim, and a pair of black leggings that reached mid-calf. Her feet were bare and calloused.  She mentally shuddered as the man used the hand holding the mug to press against the side of her face. Just as he stepped to move closer, he found himself thrown over a shoulder and dumped on the floor in the next instant.  The second man was next, howling in pain as he dropped like a rock, clutching his shattered knee. The look of innocent fear affected for her timid act had washed away into a silent, steely snarl of anger.

Mira’s footsteps danced over the fallen bodies, but found her speed outmatched by the third man who had gotten over the surprise fast enough to draw his sword.  The scuffle did not last long thereafter; the sword clattered to the ground as the skinny man’s orange shirt blossomed red from behind, and the tip of a blade jutted out from the center of his chest.  Mira looked from the blade hovering an inch away from her neck where her knife was ready to block its path, and back up to his face just in time to see the brown eyes glaze over, and the corpse drop down beside the two yet living hooligans.  

Kaite, the cook and shop owner, wiped his blade off on a clean rag, tsking.

“You alright, Mira-chan?” he asked nonchalantly as she sheathed her weapon back into the folds of her shirt, before Kaite crouched down to pat down the corpse for a money pouch.  Luck was with him, and from it he tossed a silver nub to a nearby regular halfway through a bottle of sake. “Help her clean this up Yuto-san, aye?”

“Sure thing,” the older man grunted, and pushed up from the bar counter.  The man with the shattered knee had fainted, and Yuto roughly grasped the collar of his and the unconscious drunk leader’s shirt to drag them both to the open doorway, passing through the white cloth hung as a door.  Mira was left with the lighter corpse, and grimaced at the bloody smear she dragged across the dusty floor.

Outside, she hauled the body over to the gutter, knowing it would be cleaned up in just a few hours by the street sweepers.  They had made a regular routine of checking here night and morning in the past few months.

“You are one feisty little lady, I’m not sure if I pity or congratulate your future husband,” her cleaning partner said in a gruff voice, grinning lopsidedly.  Yuto was tall and stout, the lines of age etched into his bronzed skin and dirty gray hair mussled. A short white mustache and beard enhanced the rugged appearance.  He offered out a somewhat clean rag to her, which she gratefully accepted to wipe off the blood from her hands. Her partner frowned. “You got cut?” he asked, pointing to the bloodstain on her waist.  Mira shrugged.

“He grazed me when I turned, it’ll be fine.  My foot hurts more from kicking the guy’s knee.”

“I bet it would, hey, hold still,” he ordered.  Mira obediently waited as he took the rag to wipe at her face.  Yuto clucked his tongue in disapproval.

“Go in back and clean up, you’ve got the bastard’s blood all over you.”  Despite the grim observation, he sounded amused, particularly at Mira’s grouchy pout.

“I just bought this!” she complained, smoothing out the wrinkled front of her blue shirt.  The black sash was the only thing that didn’t show small splatters of blood.

“Wear red, it’ll show less.  Your young enough to get away with the color.”

“I like people assuming I’m married,” she grumped, but smiled as she brushed aside the white tarp to invite him entry back into the restaurant first.  Yuto returned the expression as he entered, and ruffled her hair with one large hand.

“Keep it up and you never will be, you really wanna waste away here?”  His hidden accusation earned a steady glare and silent frown from the young woman as she watched him pass and return to his seat.

The food and drinks she’d been delivering had found their way to the proper table courtesy of Kaite, and Mira returned to work by scrubbing the floor of blood before vanishing into the back rooms to wash up.

 

~*~

 

“I think there are better prizes to be sought, Ukyo-sama,” Hyugo suggested quietly, crouched down on one knee beside the young prince who was looking out the blinds of his coach with a decidedly manic gleam.  Both the samurai and the prince had witnessed the scene of a young woman and gruff old man dragging out beaten ruffians. Hyugo couldn’t tell if it was the old man himself that had dealt with them, for it was only the woman who had blood staining her pale skin.  No doubt she had been protected by the shop’s guard.

“Tch, you have no eye for beauty, Hyugo-chan.”  Ukyo enjoyed the flinch of the older samurai’s expression at the inappropriate honorific.  “It’s your fault for being unable to bring me the true prize, sweet Kirara, my precious flower.”  A dramatic hand sweep and arching of the back accompanied the prince’s words as he feigned hurt. Disappointed at the lack of reaction from either samurai, Ukyo gave a mighty pout.  He huffed, and gestured casually to the red clad warrior in the corner who knelt with eyes quietly watching the window. “Fine, then - you go fetch her, offer them gold first, threaten the shop second.  Bring her to me, I want to see what she looks like cleaned up in silk.”

Without a word Kyuzo rose from his crouch, and slipped out the side door.

“Hmph, he’s so uncreative,” Ukyo muttered, watching the back of the red guncoat as the blond samurai entered directly through the restaurant’s front door.

 

~*~ 

 

The building inside was surprisingly well maintained, despite the obvious wear and tear the rough city customers put it through.  The atmosphere was comfortable and lively, chatter from the various diners and drinkers filling the humble space. Some paused to assess the new arrival, taking in the grounded stance and calculating gaze.  Kyuzo’s red eyes flicked to the older man he’d seen carry out the bodies, sensing his gaze.

Yuto set the cup of sake down slowly, unblinking gray eyes never wavering from the red clad stranger.  Kaite stepped out of the back, carrying a steaming plate of roasted meat and vegetables, which he set down at a booth beside Yuto.  Kyuzo noted that the two exchanged quiet words, even as he approached.

Red eyes met green, the store owner running a hand through his hair as he assessed the blond stranger.

“Food and drink?” he asked, frowning.  Kyuzo simply shook his head minutely, too disgusted with the nature of his visit to speak openly.

“The lord’s son has business,” he said in quiet monotone.

Yuto stood up immediately, face drawing into a sharp featured scowl.

“And what business is that?” he demanded.  The customers nearby stopped conversation to look over, just as Mira stepped out from the back room wiping her hands off on a bloodied rag.  Kyuzo flicked his gaze over, let it rest on her startled expression, before looking down to Kaite.

“...I see.  Let’s discuss this in the back,” the store owner said in a hushed voice.

“Kaite-san, you can’t be considering--” Yuto went silent at the held up hand of the young chef, and watched with narrowed eyes as the two men disappeared behind the counter and stepped past Mira.

“Mira-chan, your grandfather is waiting to be served.  I believe he wants the special.”

Her breath hitched and her eyes widened minutely, before she affected an easy smile and nodded, slipping on an actress’s practiced face.  Had he not caught her brief falter, Kyuzo considered it likely he’d not have noticed it was an act at all.

“Of course, I’ll see to Yuto-san’s dishware first, though.”

Kyuzo wondered what had caused them to come up with this clever routine, for he had already assessed upon entering the building that all the tables were either finishing their meals or recently served, and the eldest man in the room was Yuto himself.  With quiet subtly he let his senses span out, his eyelids drooping ever so slightly as his focus split between his body and the nearby environment. The multitude of auras mingled and interwove in the confined space, and he made no effort to untangle any but the ones which sought his interest; the old man’s, the girl’s, and the stronger aura outside that marked Hyugo’s presence.  He found it strange that the girl’s aura seemed to shimmer softly in his mind’s eye, rather than glow like the others. It was a quiet press of her presence against his senses, indistinct and difficult to focus on. Either she was a very weak spirit, or she was self-aware and keeping her presence cloaked, whether instinctually or intentionally was uncertain.

Kaite slowly led the samurai from the kitchen where a few other cooks worked to a small back room that served as both his personal dining hall and the staff lounge.  He gave a nervous smile when the samurai made no move to sit.

“Ahhh, some sake, or tea?  It sounds like this is going to be a long discussion.”

Kyuzo’s hand sought the inner pocket in his jacket, and withdrew holding a small money pouch which was casually deposited onto the low table.  Kaite’s gaze flicked from it to the samurai, Adam’s apple bobbing. The small sack had landed with a noteable thunk.

“I’m, ah, very flattered by what I’m sure is a generous offer, but Mira-chan is not for sale, nor am I the one to speak to regarding her, ah, status to begin with.”

Several phrases ran through Kyuzo’s mind as he calculated an acceptable response, until he realized that nothing he said would matter, alter the outcome, nor lessen the sting to his pride or comfort the anxious man before him.  Internally angry at the situation and frustrated at the lack of acceptable words, the time to issue a verbal response passed all too quickly. So instead, he simply turned and strode purposefully out of the room, leaving the money on the table and ignoring the man’s sudden yelp of alarm and order to wait.

As he’d expected, Yuto and the girl were no longer in the front room.  However, they were not far away.