Chapter twenty-three : The decision
By the time I arrive at Shiwaso the door is still closed.
Yobu should be here any minute so I slink to the back of the shop and slide down the wall, looking up at the sky as I wait,
I wanna sleep, just get away from the bruises and aches that cover my body.
The running didn’t help.
Maybe I can just pass out for a bit?
No, the others would be horrified.
What the hell’s taking him so long anyway?
I close my eyes for a second, maybe two.
“Hui!? Hui!” The thud of sandals rushes my way and two firm hands hold me by the shoulders as I wanna slump away into the dark.
I open my eyes trying to focus on Yobu’s wrinkly face.
I can’t explain why but the first words that leave my lips are “I’m fine.”
“Like hell you are.” the old man growls, he then lifts me up with a grunt and carries me inside.
He keeps the closed sign on and the curtains closed as sets me down on the floor. “I’ll be right back with the mat so if you feel like fainting try to lie down on your side okay.
I nod, not quite sure how that would help but I’m feeling much more awake now that I have someone talking to me.
He hurries to the back and I can hear a clatter of boxes followed by him shouting “Bloody masala!”. When he returns I can’t help but notice a yellow hue staining the hem of his robe.
But he has the mat and he lays it out for me. He’s also carrying the first aid box that he opens up to produce a set of bandages and balms.
He opens a jar and a waft of herbs and menthol makes it into my nose and down my throat instantly making me warp my face.
“Now sadly this is going to sting. He says as he takes a corner of the bandage and wipes it through the cream. “Know I won’t hold you accountable if you start to curse.”
“Ri-hiiiiiiight! Fucking hell! What is that stuff!?” I cry out as white cold flames surge through the wound and up into my bones.
“I assure you, you wanna know after I treat your wounds.”
“Just get on with aahaaaaa!” My eyes start to tear, this is somehow worse than the beating because now I can’t even try to fight back. I can feel my muscles tense up to the point I fear they might tear in half. I grit my teeth but can’t help screaming out when the cursed salve reaches into a cut or a particularly sore bruise.
Yobu apologizes every time I cry out.
I appreciate the gesture but it gets undercut by the fact he just keeps on going.
By the time I’m all salved and wrapped up I’m pretty sure my last shred of dignity has been used up as I lay shirtless and bawling on the mat like a baby.
“I think that earned you some tea don’t you? I’ll put the kettle on.”
I don’t look at him as the sound of his sandals disappears into the kitchen.
I’m grateful for the care, but I don’t want to experience that ever again.
As fatigue takes back over again I close my eyes and sleep for a bit.
Miraculously when I wake up the aches and pains that have been torturing me seem to have dulled quite a bit, still sore, still hurts on the touch but it feels distant, like it’s not my pain anymore, something I’m just watching from afar.
Then I notice the sound of Himowa weeping and I open my eyes to look at her.
She’s sitting on the floor across from me. She’s holding a cup of tea that she doesn’t drink from and instead just cries and cries making her eyes all puffy and red and her cheeks tear-stained.
“Himowa,” I say and attempt a smile.
“Hui, oh Hui I’m so glad you’re alive you didn’t come to work yesterday and I was so worried I feared you were dead I should never have let you go home by yourself I’m so stupid I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry I don’t even dare to ask for forgiveness I-”
“Shhhhhhhhhhh.” I reach for her hand but it’s just a bit too far away.
Seeing this she carefully takes my hand and then puts her hand on top as well.
I take a laboured breath before telling her “If you came along, not only were you in danger too, but they would have had leverage against me. I can live with being hurt, I can’t live with them trying to hurt you. I’d have given in to their demands in an instant just to keep you safe.”
“But I could have fought! I could have protected you-”
“There were five of them and they all had guns, no one is that fast with a blade. This was the best possible scenario. Now I just need a new gun and a plan. I’m not letting them get away with this.”
The drops of wetness falling onto my wrist tear me from my train of thought. “Hui, please. I beg of you, just stop. This isn’t going to end well I can feel it.”
“They’re not going to stop Himowa, they’re going to come for me unless I join up.”
“But I don’t want to lose you.”
“Then do you want me to become part of the Kashuya? Become a crook like them?”
“If it saves your life then-”
“Being part of that crowd isn’t a life. I’d rather die free than live as a pawn for them.” My voice is cold and harsh, I don’t want it to be but, she must understand it’s not an option right?
“But…but.” Her weeping grows even more bitter and I gently pull my hand away so I can push myself upright.
Then I hug her.
My body doesn’t like it but I don’t really care about that right now.
I can imagine how she feels, how it hurts, but I simply cannot take back the words I said.
Because it’s the truth.
There’s a timid knock at the door, Yobu jumps up to open it.
“Is he conscious?” The girl on the other side asks.
“Yes, come in Elizabeth, would you like some tea?”
Himowa pushes me off gently, making sure not to push on any bruises and then tells Elizabeth “Please talk some sense into him, he wants to take revenge on the Kashuya.”
“The Kashuya? Is this about payments again?” Elizabeth asks and Himowa pulls an eyebrow at me “You didn’t tell her yet?”
“Tell me what exactly?” Elizabeth asks as she sits down with us.
I grunt “The kashuya and I aren’t on great terms”
Her eyebrows knit together “What do you mean? What did you do?”
I huff “I got born.”
I chuckle joylessly at her confusion “Sorry, look my dad was a crook, you knew that much but he was a high-ranking Kashuya crook. And he promised all his children to the Qai Shao before kicking the bucket. And I want none of that but my siblings have been trying to pull me back ever since in increasingly shitty ways until my eighteenth birthday when they said ‘fuck subtlety’ and just straight-up kidnapped me! They did a number on me, I got out, but I can’t just sit around and wait for them to try it again.
“Then what do you plan to do?”
“I’m going to kill the Qai Shao.”
“Whoa whoa, you want to go and murder the leader of the kashuya!?” Yobu cuts in with alarm. I barely registered he was here still.
“He’s going to kill himself like this.” Himowa wipes the tears on her sleeve.
“Well, what else am I supposed to do!?” I shout frustrated by all the pushback. It’s not like I enjoy the idea either but it’s the only way I can get them to stop!
Elizabeth crosses her arms at me “Not getting the wrath of the entire kashuya over you sounds like an adequate start? Can’t you just flee the city? The country even? Build a life somewhere else, I mean it’s not ideal but-”
“You think I haven’t tried that before? They own the border.”
Elizabeth shrugs “Well… I have an airship.”
“You got an airship!?” Himowa and I exclaim together.
“Yes, and I’ve been following lessons for a while now so flying it shouldn’t be a problem either.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that before!?” I shout incredulously.
Elizabeth crosses her arms “What? Was I expected to declare all my possessions to you? I also have my own carousel and a dog named Louis.”
“I…that’s incredible, but I don’t want to leave Himowa and Yobu behind. They’re already in enough danger as-is if I vanish who knows what they’ll do.”
“We can come along!” Himowa responds immediately, then she looks at Yobu with those big dark eyes “Can’t we?”
“We’d have to give up Shiwaso just when things were looking up.” The old man explains bitterly.
“If I may, I too think it would be best of you both to come along. If the kashuya is as obsessive as Hui claims they are, I wouldn’t put it beneath them to go after you in hopes of finding Hui that way.”
The old man sighs “You’re right.”
“Yobu I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be.” The old man smiles a wrinkly smile at me “You’re family, it’s what we do.”
“So how are we doing this?” I ask.
“I’ll have to get my ship from the locked city, is there anything you need to pack beforehand?”
I shrug “I got nothing of value.”
“Then I suggest you come along immediately, the locked city is probably the safest place for you right now anyway.”
“How long do we have to pack?” Himowa asks.
“I’ll have to secure some of my own things and then bring the ship to the docks where you can get on, doing so will probably take me two hours, but if you need more-”
“Two hours is good.”
“How will we know which ship is yours?”
“It’s a red airship with a golden griffin painted on the side, it’s quite hard to miss.”
Himowa takes a deep breath then nods “All right, we’ll be there.” She hugs me “Take care of yourself and listen to Elizabeth, she’s the smart one.”
I roll my eyes “I will, and…I’m sorry about this whole situation.”
She chuckles “I’d die to keep you safe, so travelling the world doesn’t sound half bad. You can either see this as a tragedy or an adventure. Let’s go for the latter.”
Tears roll down my face as my heart swells “I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
We kiss and hold each other tight.
I don’t want to let go.
Not now, not ever.
But time is of the essence.
I give one last peck on the cheek and pull my arms away “I’ll see you in two hours.”
I leave Shiwaso behind with pain in my heart, the place has felt like home for so long.
Elizabeth’s hand snakes it’s way around my arm “Can you walk all right?”
I nod “I don’t know what freaky paste the old man used on me, but I feel surprisingly functional.”
“Good. We should hurry. The Kashuya can’t be far behind.”