Chapter twenty six: The rat’s nest
Elizabeth and I walk up into the ship. The woman atop the staircase takes a step aside so we can enter the landing.
Her arms are crossed, her eyes hostile.
She looks to be somewhere in her mid-twenties, yet her stance and aura make her look far older than that.
Elizabeth chuckles painfully “Right, Hui this is Dana my flight instructor and the family’s in-house mechanic, Dana this is Hui and for your information, he did not ‘put me up to this’ all this was my own decision.”
“So it was your idea to steal an airship and flee the country.”
“It’s my ship, I didn’t steal it.”
The woman called Dana pulls up an eyebrow and crosses her arms “Is it your twentieth birthday yet?”
Elizabeth grunts “Oh come on, that’s only two weeks away.”
“And until it’s gifted on your birthday it’s still your father’s ship. And he’s beside himself with rage so I’m not sure he’s keen on giving it to you in the first place.”
Elizabeth grunts loudly “Look Dana, all I require is the time to do a rescue mission. I’ll return right after Hui and his girlfriend are settled and safe somewhere outside Jaobai.”
“No you won’t” Dana states with iron certainty.
“What!?” Elizabeth scoffs incredulously.
“I’ve known you for how long now?”
“And I know you brought your book collection, if this was ‘just a rescue mission’ you would have left those at home.”
Elizabeth hisses something in Cygnian that I can only assume is a curse before throwing up her hands in the air “Okay fine, so what if I am hypothetically planning on vanishing forever never looking back!? It’s not like I have much to lose now is there? I hate father, my stepmother doesn’t like me and my siblings only play amongst themselves. Hui and Himowa are the only friends I know and they need my help. The Kashuya kidnapped Himowa just to provoke Hui and coerce him into doing what they want him to do. And what they want him to do is live a life of crime so I’m not sure if I want to be responsible for that. And if Hui doesn’t give in, who knows what those brutes will do to poor Himowa.”
The woman sighs “Don’t I even get a place in your list of friends?”
And just like that Elizabeth’s ears flare up and I get to see my friend in a way I’ve never seen her before “Uh I mean if you want to be?” she stammers clumsily as she pushes a lock of stray hair behind her ear.
I can’t help but chuckle at this. Elizabeth’s head whips in my direction.
Neither of us needs to speak to understand that Dana is the teacher Elizabeth spoke of that one time on the roof.
But Dana herself doesn’t seem to pick up on it at all as she continues “Good, now You know where they keep this girl?”
“Well, unfortunately-” Elizabeth starts but I cut in.
“Hashiro captured her, if we wanna find out where she is we have to go through him.”
Elizabeth looks at me flabbergasted “How do you know?”
I shrug “Used my endless charm, now let’s go-”
“Not like that.” Dana cuts in harshly.
“What? But what if-”
“We’re not going to race in without a plan, that’s how you end up dead real quick little guy.”
“We?” Elizabeth asks surprised while I cross my arms over the phrase ‘little guy’.
“I mean I’m not going to let you two kids walk into the obvious trap without backup.”
I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen Elizabeth smile this widely “All right, I‘ll grab pen and paper.
It’s time to formulate a plan!”
The next morning I’m standing in front of my childhood home with a sick feeling simmering in my stomach. I know it’s gonna be okay, I know this is all part of the plan. Yet my shoulders jump at the sound of me knocking on the door.
“Hey losers! Open the door!” I shout to sell the act.
Migako’s eyes are still half shut as she slides the door open. She’s wearing a silk robe decorated with pale pink flowers. She looks at me, rolls her eyes and then says “And what are you doing here?”
“Where the hell did you hide her!?” I push her aside and enter the house then yelps as she grabs my neck and digs her long nails in.
“I didn’t tell you to come in and I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Himowa, my girlfriend.”
“You have a girlfriend!?” She lets out a mocking laugh “How on earth did you manage that?”
“Well for one I don’t need thick layers of make-up to look good.” I grin as I watch her eyebrows knit together in rage “You insolent little-”
“Migako! Leave our little brother to me.”
My blood runs cold at the sound of that voice.
She huffs “Whatever” and pushes me straight into Hashiro’s greedy claws. He grabs my wrist and drags me to his room.
The place is almost blinding with the number of mirrors, gemstones and gold leaf decorating every spare centimetre.
He pushes me in, closes the door behind him and says “I’m glad you came back.”
I cross my arms and try my best to keep my voice level as I say “I’m not, now where’s Himowa?”
“The girl is fine, I want to talk about you instead.” He says as he sits down at the table and gestures for me to do the same.
“Well I don’t, I just want to pick up my girlfriend and get out of here.”
He clicks his tongue disapprovingly “Now we both know that’s not happening.”
“Had a feeling you would say that.” I sigh wearily, then somewhere find the courage to open my mouth again “Can I ask you something?”
“I’m not telling you where she is yet unless-”
“Not that, well that too but why put so much effort into trying to recruit someone who doesn’t even want to be in your shitty organization in the first place? I mean I know dad jumped in front of the gun but if it were me standing next to the Qai Shao I’d be the one trying to blow his brains out.
It just seems so pointless.”
Hashiro looks amused as he wipes a lock of hair from his face “You don’t need to stand next to the Qai Shao, you just need to do the tasks I tell you to do. I’m thinking smuggling for now since you’re good at melting into the shadows”
“So I’m just another courier.”
“Until I think of other tasks for you yes, maybe after you’ve settled in, we could start looking into a position as a bodyguard, you like protecting people after all.”
“Not your people.”
“Not yet, perhaps with time. The work you do is not important. It’s important that the Go family members stay with the family. That there are no black sheep and the Qai Shao knows he can rely on us to get the job done.”
So I’m just a toy to be added to the collection, a box to get checked off the list “Does the Qai Shao even know me?”
“He knows you exist, you even sat on his lap as a baby. But he leaves Go business as Go business and I’m not bothering him about one unruly teenager. Who likes to throw insults and threats but not much else.” A grin creeps onto the guy’s face “Why do you ask? Did you expect him to be invested personally? Did you think you were that special?”
“If I’m just an unruly teenager then why not just leave me be? I could leave, not bother you if I just have Himowa-”
“Because I don’t fail!” His hands slam against the table and I jump back on reflex. “The Qai Shao was promised all Go children and I’ll make sure he gets them even if I have to grind you down into a bloody pulp and sculpt a whole new brother out of the slick, gooey, mess. One that knows family values and how to take orders.” His face warps sickly as he talks and I can feel my heart beating in the back of my throat.
Outside the window, I spot Elizabeth flashing the signal asking ‘do you need help?’.
No! I signal back, don’t come in yet, he hasn’t told me where she is yet.
I steel myself and try my hardest to keep my voice level “So what you’re saying is ‘sit down, shut up and you won’t get hurt?”
“You could say it like that.”
I squeeze my fists, I want to shoot him in his smug face and spit on it. But I can’t, not yet. “And you’ll let Himowa go if I do?”
“Of course, she’s just a means of getting you in here. Even I’m not heartless enough to kill a kid who didn’t do anything. If you agree to stay here my men will see to-”
“I have to see her.”
He crosses his arms “My word should be enough for you.”
“No, I have to break up with her properly. If I’m to be kashuya scum I need her to find someone better to love her.” I swallow hard, imagining that’s my pride, then lower myself down onto my knees. I flatten myself against the floor, arms folded down and head thumping against the wood “Please. That’s a small ask in exchange for giving up everything I’ve worked for.”
I keep my eyes glued to the floor and wait while my heart rages inside my throat.
“You know that if you try any funny business the girl dies right?”
My heart skips a beat, I can feel the cold sweat on my hands “I do.”
“Then I’ll allow it. Come on.”
I pull myself up from the floor and follow in silence.
This better goes right.