Chapter one: The kashuya
Dad died when I was six years old.
Nowadays I barely remember the guy.
Even when he was alive he spent more time with the “other family” than back at home raising us.
Always out with the boys of the Kashuya.
I don’t know what my father did there, how much blood and grime was on his hands.
All they ever told me about was the one major feat that became his legacy.
Jumping in front of the gun during a drug deal gone wrong and saving the Qai Shao’s life in the process.
The Qai Shao is their leader, and his sacrifice gave the Go family, my family, a place among the greatest families and the territory to match it.
They said his kin will want for nothing and gave my mother lots of cash.
But my mother wanted her husband, the only thing they couldn’t give her, and she spent the years after that in a drunken haze, locked in her room where she built a fortress made of memories.
And wouldn’t let anyone in.
Hashiro rules the family now.
My eldest brother, who was sixteen years old at the time, barely an adult.
He filled the hole my father left and learned the ropes at record speed.
Twice a week he comes home to rinse his blood-stained clothes and see if we are still in line.
Then leaves us to our own devices.
Whenever one of my siblings turns eighteen they get taken in by the Kashuya. Brothers or sisters they all fulfil a niche in the sprawling network of crime that riddles the Choumurian underground.
Our father promised our allegiance long before he died, before we were even born in fact.
But I, Hui Go, want exactly none of it.
You know how in fairy tales the youngest kid is somehow always the wise one in the bunch?
I won’t say I’m wise but apparently in this tale I’m the only one born with a moral compass.
And it points far away from the Kashuya.
I’m twelve years old and dumb as a clam.
The cave is damp and cold, I really should have worn a thicker coat.
But it’s too late for that now.
I just gotta stay until nightfall, after that I can use the dark to my advantage and make it to Xjawa. It’ll be a long walk, but once there, surely they won’t be able to find me then.
The cold is seeping into my bones, surrounded by cold dead rock and no heat source.
Maybe I can make a fire?
Using what? I haven’t brought anything beyond food and a coat that’s in hindsight way too thin.
I wonder what time it is but I have no way to tell.
Migako is the one with the golden watch. A gift from a suitor she strings along for fun.
Well, whatever the time, it’s gonna take a while until I can move so I might as well use the time to rest, make sure I’m ready for the trek up north.
I lie down, the rock is hard as…well a rock and it makes me even colder than before.
I sit up.
Blanket…I should have brought a blanket.
And stuff to make fire.
I sigh, wishing I had some tea right now.
But I will have tea in Xjawa, and a whole new life with it!
I’ll have my own home, my own job. An honest job, like a toymaker or calligraphist.
Mom used to tell me my writing was very neat.
And I’ll be far away from the Kashuya.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath.
Just wait, it’s gonna be okay.
Then my heart skips a beat as a light flashes red past my closed eyelids.
“Hui!? Are you in here little brother?”
I tear my eyes open and squeeze myself against the rock, cold sweat streaming down my back. My heart pounds in my throat as I recognize Migako’s voice.
How the hell did she find me here!?
“Hui? Look it’s not funny okay?”
My mind races with a single phrase.
Please don’t find me! PLEASE DON’T FIND ME!
But the light is blinding as the beam of the flash lamp points straight at me.
“There you are little brother, come on. It’s time to go home.” She stoops down to my level and grabs my arm. “You’re freezing, you should have brought a thicker coat.”
“I know!” The shout reverberates throughout the cave filling the space with sound as I pull away my arm.
Migako looks surprised at me, then her eyes eyebrows crumple in annoyance and she sighs. The watch glints in the light of the lantern as she flicks it open “Half-past ten, look, Hui, we’ve been trying to be mindful of your rebellious phase believing that locking you up in the house would only make things worse. But they’re running out of patience up top and Hashiro’s getting sick and tired of covering for you. You have to realize we all have a destiny and running away not only tires yourself out, but all of us as well.”
“Good!” My childish blood is boiling. How dare she call this a phase, how dare she take this lightly. “You can run yourselves to death for all I care I’ll never sto-” the sentence slams dead in my throat as her hand makes contact with my cheek. The shock comes first, then the stinging pain intensified on my freezing skin.
I squeeze my eyes to force away the tears that reflexively spring into my eyes.
“You little ingrate snake, why can’t you just be like the others?” She doesn’t even shout, she just looks disappointed. Then sighs upon my silence, grabs my arms again while I’m focused on my face, and twists them behind my back.
“Let go of-”
“Walk!” her voice demands, a chill runs down my spine.
I walk, pretending not to cry.
Back home I run into my room, slam the door and with tears still streaming down my face, start planning the next scheme.
Not much later there’s a knock at the door.
“Hui?” It’s Takeyo, fourteen years old and the only sibling I have left who hasn’t signed allegiance yet.
“Go away.” My voice is hoarse from the cold and the tears.
He opens the door and looks at me with pity.
I scowl.“I said go away!
He walks up to me and wraps his arms around me, squeezing tight “When they said you were spotted heading towards the mountains I was afraid you’d not come back again.”
I struggle at his grip, trying to push him off “This has nothing to do with you.”
He lets go of me, head cocked in confusion “Am I supposed to just not care then? You could have frozen to death inside that cave. The mountain lions could have torn you up to shreds.”
“How can I be afraid of mountain lions when my own family kills for cash.” I sneer, flopping back down onto my mat.
“You know that’s an exaggeration, they just do grunt work, smuggling drugs, keeping the gambling dens alive and well.”
I cross my arms “Hashiro killed.”
“Only in self-defence.”
“And I believe him on that.” He sighs and sits down next to me on the mat. “You act as if they’re the worst that could happen to you but they do good things as well! Remember when the Cygne bastards lowered funding of the day schools forcing some of them near closing? The Kashuya didn’t just meet the original funding standards, they gave even more money and now kids get better lessons than ever before.”
“While the teachers tell them to be grateful to the Kashuya.”
“Well, shouldn’t they? They’re not the bad guys Hui. The Cygne bastards are the bay guys. They’re the ones that took our country and called it their own, they’re oppressing us. How can you be so fixated on petty crime when we’re literally occupied by a foreign nation!?”
“Because they never killed my father and turned my mom into an alcoholic mess!”
There’s annoyance in his voice as he gets up again. “There’s just no reasoning with you.” He bites the words as they come out of his mouth. His eyes downcast and hurt.
“I know that’s what happened, I know you do too.”
He opens his mouth to retort, closes it, then shakes his head and walks to the door “You know you gotta stop running one day. If you give it up now it’s gonna save a lot of pain down the line.”
“I’ll never stop running. And neither should you.”
Takeyo huffs “I’ll be grateful to join the ranks. It’s a shame you can’t feel the same way.”
“I’d sooner die.”
“You probably will if you keep acting like a child.”
He sighs, pushes the door closed behind him as he leaves.
Leaving me to my plans of escape.