Arc VI: The Brisby League

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A/N: Hello! Thank you so much for your patience, I'm terribly sorry for the wait. I've been extremely busy, plus I scrapped the first draft of this chapter. I hope this isn't a letdown after the long wait, haha. Thank you again, and enjoy~!

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ARC VI PART II: The Brisby League

Koji's Garden, Japan
September 1806

Koji Aihara surveyed the small plant in his hands, tenderly inspecting every leaf before making a confident clip with his scissors. With a satisfied sigh, he placed the bonsai back on its proper shelf. While his grandsons preferred to frequent a Scottish tea house, Koji had always preferred to retreat to a small garden tucked away in the lush countryside of 1806 Japan. This had been his little corner of the world since he was Aoto's age, a stabilizer in his otherwise chaotic life.

Pulling his attention from the bonsai, Koji turned to reach for his shears when the faint crunch of gravel under wooden shoes caught his attention. With nonchalant glance behind him, he said, "Aoto, Shoma, no need to be shy. Come inside." Two familiar figures appeared around the wall. "How did you know it was us?" Aoto asked, drawing nearer. His brother followed close behind.

"There are only three people other than myself that know of this garden's existence," Koji said. "And the third is now dead." Shoma shifted uncomfortably, bowing his head slightly, but Aoto was unchanged, his pleasant grin permanently fixed to his face. Aoto brushed his hair back from his face, and Koji saw that beneath the sleeves of his kimono, he had wrapped strips of cloth around his arms to hide the tattoos. Good, he was finally learning to be more careful.

Koji hated those tattoos, perhaps almost as much as Aoto hated them himself. To Koji, they were yet another reminder of how he had failed his family. Had he been too distant, too collected? Was that why his grandson had chosen to run away and join that mess of bottom-feeders rather than turn to him? Had Aoto thought Koji would turn him over to his father? And why had Aoto refused his calls for ten years? Perhaps he would never know.

Koji leaned against his cane. "Are you here to chat, or for business?" he asked.

"Both and neither," Aoto replied. He glanced back at his brother before pulling a slip of paper from his belt. "Have you ever seen this symbol before? I can't help but feel as though I have, and I thought that if anyone would know, it would be you."

"We already checked the entire store," Shoma said. "Including... including Father's office."

Koji took the paper from Aoto's hands. His jaw tightened slightly; the drawing was crude and sloppy, but the symbol was still unmistakable. "Do you know what this is?" he asked, his eyes flicking upwards at Aoto.

Aoto shook his head. "I saw it on the cufflinks of one of Lills' acquaintances, a man named Ken." His eyes searched Koji's expression keenly. "You do know it, don't you?"

Koji sighed. "Why don't you boys come inside?" he said, gesturing for them to follow him instead to the small minka house he'd build on the outskirts of the garden. Exchanging a puzzled glance, Aoto and Shoma followed their grandfather.

There wasn't much to the house other than a small tearoom, an even smaller bedroom, and a well-stocked library. Upon entering the library, Koji motioned for his grandsons to sit and wait. Aoto and Shoma did as he instructed, both eyeing their grandfather curiously as he pulled a chest from the bottom of one of his shelves and placed it in front of the two boys.

"Before I continue, I want you to promise me something," Koji said. "Can you do that?"

Aoto and Shoma nodded.

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