Saturday Afternoon, 12:34pm - Mori no Kawa Ryokan and Onsen, Tochigi Prefecture
It wasn’t only him that was silent. Everyone around the room was collectively holding their breath, almost as if daring to breathe would fan the flames of knife guy’s insanity. Bou-san’s ears picked up the sound of something rubbing against silk.
Probably John rubbing Masako’s back. Or maybe it’s Mai giving comfort. He bit the inside of his cheek and didn’t cheer like he wanted to at getting their compassionate medium out of this stupid situation. She might be safe for now, monk, but you’re still in trouble. Keep your eyes and ears sharp, try to escape when you can.
“Get up.” There was a slight nudge at the back of his neck and for a few seconds, he thought the knife had sliced him. Then he realized the guy had used the flat of the blade to push and was giving more directions. “Open your hand and give me the key. Pick up the painting. And start walking, slowly, to the entrance. Nothing stupid. No heroics.”
I can do that. Probably.
“How would—?” Houshou broke his question off, suddenly very sure he didn’t want to know the answer.
Try not to antagonize him. Make sure he gets away from everyone else.
“How would I kill them?” The question was whispered just for the two of them and it made the hair on the back of Houshou’s neck rise.
I don’t like how that thought was at the top of his mind.
“My partner’s used poison before. She’s also a crack shot. Between the two options, I’m sure you can imagine what would happen.”
In Japan? How the hell did they manage that? The only legal guns here are for hunting or pest control. A thought flickered across his mind as he stood up. Is there really any difference between shooting humans and shooting animals?
He felt the blood drain from his face at the answer he came up with. Not at all. Fuck.
Houshou shivered as he uncurled his fist and offered the key. It was snatched up, nails lightly scratching against his palm, and he wasn’t sure, but he might have imagined the low moan from someone nearby.
I promise I’ll be fine . Don’t worry about me.
“Yeah, yeah,” muttered Houshou under his breath, lurching in the direction of the cursed object.
“Are you getting an attitude with me?”
His stomach knotted at the question, but he cleared his throat and put all the sincerity he could into his voice.
Just pretend Naru’s annoyed, and you have to placate him. You’ve had plenty of practice doing that over the years.
“Sorry, I just meant that I was getting it.” Without waiting for an answer, he took the final two steps he needed to the painting, and glanced at the two women again.
That’s creepy. It feels as if the younger woman is looking straight at me. I thought she was staring beyond the edge earlier. Houshou picked up the painting, the canvas just wide enough that he would need both hands to carry the item. Probably why the asshole ordered me to move it. I won’t be able to do anything without dropping it and alerting him.
He began walking toward the front door, step by slow step, eyes resolutely looking in front of him to where a path had opened up. There were whispers on both sides, in addition to the prickly sensation he couldn’t ignore at his back. That damned knife.
I don’t want them to worry about me. He let out a little huff of air mid-stride. Truthfully, he didn’t want his last glimpses of everyone to be tears and anxious faces. Especially Ayako. I don’t know what this guy wants with me, but after how he reacted to me being a monk, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I’ll be hostage for a while longer.
“Houshou.” The word cut the soft chatter like a hot knife through butter. He knew exactly who said it and what the single word meant.
Naru, in the auction room, concerned since he didn’t use my family name or a title. Almost as if it had been an order, Houshou sought where his boss was, not allowing himself to focus on any of the others in the room. Over there. By the doorway.
“Keep safe,” the younger man said, raising his chin and glaring.
He looks pissed... probably not at me, though. Sure, I did volunteer myself for this, but better me than Masako. He’d agree with me on that. I know he would.
Houshou couldn’t say anything though, not with the knife at his back. He couldn’t even nod without his captor seeing it. Instead, he winked, hoped Naru got the message, and continued walking, stepping from the tatami room onto the hallway’s carpet, and after a few minutes there were two sets of feet echoing in the lobby. A conversation started up behind them, but it died down almost as quickly. Then he pushed open the front door with his shoulder and the sounds became bird calls.
I’m a little disappointed there aren’t police greeting us out here. Then again, I’m the one in front, so if they were here they’d use the sasumata* on me, not the asshole who needs it. A step into the sunlight caused him to blink and sneeze, but thankfully the knife didn’t pierce him.
There are a lot more cars here than I thought there would be .
“Our car better be out front,” muttered the man behind him, putting more pressure on the knife point. “We’re losing time.”
Should have asked Yoshi where it was parked.
A few seconds later, one of the dark vans with the ryokan’s name and logo painted on the side flashed its lights and beeped. Third one from the left, near the bushes and the front door.
“Perfect, right in the front row.”
The two of them took steps toward the van, Houshou keeping an eye open for opportunities to escape, but there were none.
A beautiful day, a group outing at an amazing onsen, and we have to run into this asshole. Ugh. When are we going to have the chance for a vacation like this again?
“I’ve unlocked it, so put the painting—gently—into the back, then open the passenger side and lean in, hands up where I can see them.”
Not like there’s anything else I can do at this point. They still have that knife, and I enjoy keeping all the blood in my body.
The car door slid open, revealing the same type of seats Houshou and SPR had sat on earlier, ones which were colored quite dull. As a bonus, this car smelled as if someone had spilled a full bottle of wine in it last week. Bit like smoke, too. Houshou coughed as set the painting on the floor, directly behind the driver’s seat so it wouldn’t fall if the brakes were suddenly applied. As he bent over to settle it in, the knife’s point briefly moved from its much lower place at his spine. Houshou readied his right leg to kick out, hopefully hitting a small and delicate spot for maximum pain, but before he could do anything, the blade was back. Higher up and resting between his shoulder blades.
“You can let me go now,” the monk pointed out instead, inwardly bemoaning the fleeting moment of opportunity. “You’ve got your painting, your car. You don’t need me.”
The knife traveled slowly up and down Houshou’s back. Zip. Zip.
I can feel a bit of drag... is he cutting my shirt?!
The monk bit his tongue and put all of his focus on how the seat texture felt under his left arm, trying not to flinch at each additional slicing noise.
Fuzzy seat. Patterns are pretty old at this point. Houshou sighed. With the look he gave me earlier, I don’t think he’s going to just give me up.
His hands were placed to rest behind his back, and when he didn’t keep them there, an itching sensation grew along the inside of his arm as a reminder of who was in charge.
I get it; I get it.
Houshou put his hands back to where they had been placed and didn’t move them again, not even when the knife’s touch fell away. Something cold and plastic wrapped around his wrists. Smooth, too.
But most importantly, not bladed! A bit of hope blossomed in his chest. Now!
He threw himself backwards at the same time something smashed against his head and rocked him forward.
Houshou squeezed his eyes shut against the pain, and, against all intent, he fell onto the plush seat before him. Worries and concerns set themselves off in his brain, but he couldn’t concentrate on those small things. All the energy he could muster was on not tumbling into unconsciousness. Then the plastic loop tightened around his wrists, cutting into the skin with a sharp bite. His body was rolled so he was on his side, facing the driver’s seat and looking at the top of the painting. Sunlight burned dark orange circles onto the back of his eyelids.
“... sto’...” mumbled Houshou, daring to crack his eyes open. His captor was mainly shadow at this point, darkness blurred around the edges.
“Can’t stop.” The man paused. “There’s little enough time left and still do much to do.”
The monk groaned. Apparently, that was the signal for his legs to be plucked from the ground and held in the air, pinned together at the ankles. It was long enough for a slight zipping sound to penetrate the puddle that was currently his brain.
what’s he doin’?
His feet were pushed, forcing his knees to bend and putting the entirety of his body on the seats. A seatbelt clicked over his midsection.
I need out! Houshou struggled, trying to bring his arms out from behind him and release the buckle. No matter how much he twisted and pulled, the only thing that happened was a growing feeling of something wet and sticky. Tacky. Then the door slammed shut and fresh ripples of pain spread out from his head. He groaned and kicked weakly at the side of the van.
Ayako’s... gonna... kill me.
“Shut up. You’re still alive.” Another door slammed, and Houshou barely heard the van’s engine start. Then there was a piercing bell sound, one that was quickly shut off, and the van lurched. Houshou opened his eyes and forced his body to pay attention.
If there’s any chance of making it back, I need to remember how to get there. He clenched his jaw and had to shut his eyes for a few seconds. Ugh. All the cigarette smoke and old wine... don’t throw up.
The guy didn’t answer. Houshou arched and kicked the back of the other seat—only once. The action wasn’t worth aggravating his injuries.
“No,” the guy eventually said, angling the car so it was ready to turn onto the main road. “And, in fact, to make sure we’re not followed.”
He leaned over the seat and reached into Houshou’s right pocket, feeling for something that wasn’t there.
What are you... Bou-san realized what the asshole was looking for. Fuck you, don’t you fucking dare!
Uttering a curse, the thief popped the van’s emergency brake on. Houshou heard a click as a door opened, followed by a repeat that was much louder and closer. A slight breeze washed over him, and then the thief was leaning into the backseat, sticking his hand into Houshou’s left pocket.
No! The monk squirmed, trying to move his body away, but there wasn’t anything he could do. He snapped at the man’s arms, but he was quick enough to move away from the barred teeth.
“Bingo.” The asshole actually chuckled as he waved the phone, then he slammed the door shut again, causing Houshou to grit his teeth and try to ride out the pain.
What the hell’d he hit me with? Didn’t he only have a knife?
Another door slam, the fourth in probably as many minutes, and this time Bou-san couldn’t hold back a cry.
“Time to go.” The car lunged forward and there was a loud crunch as they drove over something.
“You, monk, are going to help us.”
Houshou wasn’t stupid enough to say anything, but he glared at the seat he was tied up behind.
Yeah, that’s a no from me.
“We’ve been waiting for our lady to come back for a very long time, but she needs assistance. Assistance we haven’t been able to give her.” The man looked over at him, then turned back to the road. “Until now.”
Listen, Houshou. Smile and nod. Figure out how to escape.
The words weren’t sticking in his brain. He heard noises, but for the next few minutes the sounds washed in and dribbled out. Finally, the white noise died down and what the guy was saying sunk in. Something about cherishing the woman, and her needing to be in the world again so she could experience the true love that would set her free from her curse.
Oh, fuck me. They’re trying to resurrect that woman’s spirit!
“And that’s why I brought you.” The van turned onto a bumpier part of the road and bounced up and down. Then it slowed.
Come on body! Get the door. This is our chance!
“I can’t let you see where we’re going, though.” The van stopped again. “We should be far enough away by now that there’s time.”
Time for what? Houshou held his breath and slowly let it leak out. Keep steady. Don’t panic. We’re still near the ryokan, and they’ve probably called the police by this point. You’ll be fine.
When the sound of the driver's door opened, an idea popped into his head. Houshou squirmed, worming down on the seat so both feet were firmly pressed against the armrest on the other side. Let’s hope I’ll hit hard enough.
He waited, tightly wound, but didn’t react when his door clicked open. It was after a kiss of air ruffled his hair that Bou-san pushed off as hard as he could, driving his head into the man’s stomach.
Houshou had only squirmed half out of the van when his ponytail was caught and yanked, wrenching his neck and stopping all movement.
“All that listening and promising not to try escaping. That was bullshit, wasn’t it?”
Of course it fuckin’ was, how stupid are you? Houshou’s thoughts scattered as a hand wrapped around the upper part of his neck and squeezed.
“I didn’t want to have to do this,” he heard the man say. It sounded as if the words were coming from underwater. “I was only going to put a blindfold on you and gag you.”
No! I can’t breathe!
“Just remember, this is all your fault.”
Houshou tried to move away from the hand, but the iron grip was unyielding. Gradually, he could feel his body growing slower, weaker. His muscles stopped listening to his mind’s frantic commands.
Bit by bit, the darkness he’d been trying to keep at bay consumed him. And then there was nothing.
Unknown Day (probably still Saturday?) Unknown Time (afternoon?) - Unknown Place (still Tochigi?)
Houshou groaned as someone took his feet and began pulling them.
What... He blinked a few times, his back shirt riding up as his body continued moving across something slightly fuzzy. The smell of old wine and cigarettes forced him to remember the van, and from there it was only a hop, skip, and a jump to remembering the rest. Oh, fuck me.
“What the hell did you do this time?” asked a woman’s voice. She sounded close, but not near enough to have hands on him.
It’s probably that guy...
“Aki. Hito.” The woman sounded pissed.
Heh. A brief smile flicked on his face. She sounds almost like Ayako.
“Seriously, what did you do? Please, pease don’t fucking tell me you kidnapped a guy and brought him to our hideout, because that’s going to bring the cops here.”
That’s exactly what he did. Now let me go!
The hands around his feet disappeared and Houshou was left looking up at the ceiling of the van, legs just brushing the ground outside.
“I brought us a monk!”
“You were just supposed to bring the painting. I’ve been waiting here for hours, and for what?” There was a sniff. “A guy who doesn’t even look like a monk.”
Wait a sec. If she’s been here for hours, then there’s no way she was back at the hotel. It took a few minutes to click, but when it did, anger wiped away the pain. My friends weren’t in danger!
Houshou struggled to sit, kicking out to get the needed movement. Neither the woman he heard nor the man who’d kidnaped him helped, but after several efforts, he sat upright, panting more than he’d like. As soon as his eyes could focus on Akihito, he stared at the man with disdain.
“What’s your problem, monk?” Akihito rolled his eyes. “Didn’t you get what you wanted? Funny. You begged for me to take you, as long as I left your friends alone. And that’s exactly what happened.”
“You lied to me.” Houshou’s voice was cold. Hard, despite the pounding in his head. “You said your partner would kill them.”
I could have escaped. A smaller part of him asked when, exactly, that would have been, but he didn’t listen.
“No shit.” Akihito snorted. “You wouldn’t have come if I hadn’t.”
Crying out in anger, Houshou jumped at the man, toppling the two of them to the ground. With his hands still trussed behind his back, he couldn’t strike, so he settled for kneeling, shoulder-checking, and head-butting as much as possible. Akihito threw a punch and Houshou rolled off, tucking his head against his shoulder in an attempt to protect his face
“Give up,” said the woman.
Houshou was grabbed by the collar and yanked off Akihito, and a hard fist connected with his nose. His head snapped back in slow motion. All sound instantly turned to a ringing noise, and when the hand let go, he fell to the ground, stunned.
sasumata* is a pole weapon used for capturing a suspected criminal and it looks like a giant prong, with the two tines going around the person's chest, waist, arm, legs, etc. (if there is more than one person helping subdue the criminal, one will be on the left side, such as the upper arm, and the other will be on the opposite side, such as the lower right leg).