Chapter 20


Whenever Hiroki imagined the apocolypse, he pictured an argument between his brothers, but on a cosmic scale. There were few things he enjoyed more in life than witnessing a battle of wits and wills, and there were few wits sharper and few wills stronger than those of his brothers. It made the sub-room temperature air in Tokoyo's office electric. He smiled where he stood inside the doorway, back to the wall, arms across his chest; Yoko was standing in front of a giant desk that would have dwarfed a man of normal stature--Yoko, it made into a child.

"I'm still not sure what it is you expect me to do." Tokoyo was not looking at Yoko. His eyes were on the wall to the left of the desk--he'd been throwing a ball against it and catching it when it bounced back when they came in to see him, and he'd apparently felt no need to stop on their account. It made his youngest brother angry, and Tokoyo knew it. That was why he was doing it.

"I expect you to do have some idea of what to do." Yoko's voice was flat and somewhat hoarse--it was his normal speaking tone. He was not having visible or audible trouble maintaining it. Hiroki knew that even he would have been hard-pressed not to make his annoyance heard; Yoko had too much self-control for that.

For a few moments, the only sound in the room--which was beginning to feel positively Arctic--was the bang of Tokoyo's ball hitting the wall and then the softer sound of it hitting his palm again.

"All seven, you said?" The veiled curiosity in his voice was calculated. His ability to control himself was just as strong as his brother's. "Doesn't sound so bad to me."

"It wouldn't be. Except my sa'dzra-im is here, also." Yoko allowed some contempt to charge the last bit, biting out the foreign word.

"Really?" Tokoyo did not sound interested.

"He called me."

"Interesting.... I still fail to see any cause for alarm."

"Perhaps your medical situation will remind you of why there is cause for alarm."

Tokoyo barely missed a beat, but Hiroki saw it: a longer pause than normal between catching and throwing his ball, a momentary stillness of expression. It was barely discernible to him; he was not sure that Yoko saw it at all. "Regardless, what do you expect to accomplish by coming to me with this?"

"Help. Information. Something."

Now Tokoyo really was amused. Yoko made concessions such as that only rarely, and incidences of his making them to his eldest brother were even more uncommon. "Very interesting."

Yoko didn't reply. Though Hiroki couldn't see his face from where he stood, he imagined his younger brother's wide-open eyes boring into his older brother, who was still not looking at him.

"Let me...compile some data for you." Tokoyo's lips curled with the slowness of a large cat. He caught the ball and set it down firmly on the top of his desk; when he moved his hand, it did not roll, as though, like so many, it too was afraid of the man who had been handling it.

Yoko turned away before his brother's eyes even landed on him. Hiroki was always amazed the the subtleties of the games he and his siblings played with one another. Yoko did not spare his eldest brother even an ounce of emotion, and though it infuriated him that Tokoyo would not look at him when they were speaking, he took his leave without expending the energy to speak one more word to him or even to nod in acknowledgement.

"I suggest that you do what you can," Tokoyo said to his back, still smiling. "For instance, speak to the fool necromancer on the 600 block that you keep selling your...souls to."

Without looking away from Tokoyo, Hiroki pushed away from the wall to get the door and let Yoko precede him. Despite the unlikelihood, he could have sworn that the temperature in the room had dropped even further; the iciness in Tokoyo's eyes seemed like an unwelcome confirmation.