Chapter twenty-one: The big brother
I wake up on top of cold bright white stone. The chill dulls the pain of the bruises on my body ever so slightly. But then I try to move and feel my own body fighting back fiercely as the pain spreads.
I let out a wounded noise.
“Aren’t you going to get up Hui? I thought you were a fighter.”
The voice sneering in my direction screams danger in my brain.
“Look at me Hui Go.” the voice continues.
With dread, I pull my gaze away from the smooth stone and up at a red lacquered throne slathered with gaudy gold-leaf decorations.
On the throne is a man wearing a long black robe with shimmering dragons embroidered all over the fabric. The lizards composed so haphazardly it seems like they’re fighting for dominance.
A war playing out in golden thread.
His face is composed, cold and calculated, but his voice betrays a delight that’s difficult to hide “Well? Won’t you greet me?”
“Hashiro,” I grunt.
“It’s been a while, little brother.” He looks unarmed but the guards on either side of his throne have swords on their sashes that are hard to miss.
I pull an aching hand to my pocket, looking for my gun.
A chill goes up my spine.
Hashiro smiles “So how was it? Playing make belief and pretending you could escape your destiny?”
I grit my teeth “I make my own destiny.”
He sighs, addressing me like you would a dull child “Destiny isn’t yours to command. You’re delirious if you think otherwise.”
“You’re delirious if you think I’ll ever join your pack of rats!” I ball my fists, gun or no gun. I’m not joining up.
“What did you call us!?” The guard on Hashiro’s left side barks at me pulling his sword and holding it out to me.
My brother sends a stern look to the man, he lowers the weapon instantly but keeps it by his side.
“You don’t have to ‘join’ the kashuya Hui, you’re already kashuya, you’ve been kashuya from the moment you were born. The Qai Shao owns you. No amount of rebellion will ever change that.”
“What if I kill the Qai Shao then!?” I sneer.
I can feel the blood boiling in my veins yet my hands are shaking, cold as ice.
“You’d die before you even tried!” it’s that same guard, his sword raised and poised to attack.
“Liang!” Hashiro barks and the man freezes “Your temper is running away with you. Allowing yourself to be tugged about by an obstinate child. I expect you to be a professional.” The man lowers his weapon and looks away “Yes sir.”
“As for you”, my brother sneers at me “Those are tough words coming from a guy who’s grovelling on the floor from a couple of goons.” He chuckles and gets up from the chair. Fighting dragons dragging behind him as he walks toward me.
I scramble myself into a half-upright state grunting and straining against the pain.
He puts his hands on the sides of my shoulders and pulls me up with strength I didn’t expect from such a lank-looking figure. As he squeezes my arms I try not to cry out in pain. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction but I’m fighting to keep tears from my eyes.
“Poor little Hui Go.” He says in a tone that’s way too saccharine to be genuine. “You tried so desperately to build a life of your own. To make friends and connections that will last. But you’re not leaving this place again Hui, not as you are at least. We’ll have to fix you first. Who knows how long that’ll take?” He puts a burning hot hand on my cheek, it stings against the bruises.
I turn my face away and spit on the floor “Fuck off.” I tell him but my voice is cracking.
“You’re such a selfish boy, forcing yourself onto these people knowing in your heart it was going to end like this. Knowing one day you’ll just vanish and your friend are just left to wonder what happened to you. Surely you knew? Or did you genuinely think you could escape if you just ‘tried hard enough?”
He’s trying to get to me, he’s trying to warp the narrative to make me feel small. To hurt me by twisting the story. I know he’s doing it, it’s plain as day!
So why is it working!?
Tears escape my eyes and I look away in shame.
“Now there, there, it’s going to be okay.” He squeezes me like a snake constricts his prey and my brain is screaming at me to get away. “It’s going to be okay, we’re going to help you, you don’t have to feel this way.”
“Let go of me!” I cry out but it only makes the bonds around me tighter. Over my shoulder I see the guards looking on unmoving, that bastard Liang grinning contently. “Let go of me.” A strangled sob escapes my throat, my face fires up in shame.
“Shhhhh. There, there.” He whispers in my ear with sick delight.
I want to beat his face into a pulp, I want to kick those guards’ smug asses.
I want to shoot everyone in this whole bloody room!
But I can’t, Hashiro is stronger than me, always has been, always will be.
Did I actually think I could fight him?
Was I really that naive?
After what seems like forever the bonds around me loosen and Hashiro’s voice cuts through my distress. “Liang, Houji, please welcome my little brother and escort him to his room. Make sure to lock the door. He’ll need some time to… acclimatise to his new situation.”
“Yes sir.” They respond in perfect synchronization.
“I’ll see you soon Hui, just rest for now.” He places a kiss on my forehead and I want to punch his smiling face in but I cannot find the strength.
As he lets go of me completely my legs are shaking and I have to catch myself to the amusement of the guards.
Behind me, the door slides shut as Hashiro leaves the room.
“You know we got express orders not to kill you, but you just threatened the Qai Shao’s life.” That Liang bastard muses.
“That’s a big deal.” The other guard plays along.
“A very big deal.”
“And you gotta be punished for that.” Liang steps towards me and before the words can get through to my brain the blade of his sword drags a long streak of red down my arm.
I scream in shock and pain as the tip of it splits my skin with pinpoint precision. I grab at the wound as I try to move away from them.
“Make sure you don’t do it again.” The other guard chuckles as he puts away the sword and produces a pair of brass knuckles.
“It’s the rules of the family.”
“And you’re part of the family.”
“Whether you like it or not.”
Battered and bruised they throw me into my old room.
It’s small, empty, devoid of personality and with only a handful of daily necessities.
Meaning it looks exactly the same as I left it.
“Happy birthday asshole.” The other guard tells me as he tosses a box at my face. It rattles as it soars through the air and I narrowly avoid getting smacked in the face.
The guards close the door laughing and find myself left alone with a gift-wrapped in birds of paradise and lotus flowers.
“What the hell?” I breathe to no one as I pick up the parcel.
I don’t want to open it.
I don’t want to play their twisted games.
I toss it on the writing desk and lay down on my mat.
Close my eyes and try not to think.
Try to sleep.
It doesn’t work.
I twist and turn in an attempt to find a position, any position that doesn’t cause pain.
Barely an hour passed before I’m sitting on my knees with the box on my lap.
I tear the paper off, there’s a folded paper box underneath, bearing the same gaudy-looking paper.
Is this a joke?
I open the box.
And find my gun inside.
Sawed into five misshapen pieces.
That’s just some sick humour there.
I bet they’re feeling very proud about it.
My stomach feels like a black sinking hole looking at my trusty gun like that.
I throw the box at the wall, metal pieces strewn across the floor.
Pull my blanket over my head.
Beyond the blanket, I hear the door open and lock again.
Soft footsteps walk towards me and sit down beside me.
“Hui?” the voice calling out to me is gentle and soft but I want to choke it out of him.
“Go away Takeyo.” I sob.
“I’m sorry things had to go this way, but it’s for the best I promise.”
“I hate you.”
He sighs “I know and that’s okay, one day you’ll understand.” He presses down on my arm in what’s probably supposed to be a calming gesture as he asks me “Did they hurt you?”
I pull my arm away. “Get out,” I repeat myself, louder this time.
“All right, take it easy.” He signs “Just rest for now. You’ll feel better in the morning. I promise.”
His weight shifts the sound of his footsteps dies away.
The lock clicks behind me.
Like hell, I will.