Trauma Button A Paradox Live Fansite
Hidden Track "MEMORY" (Akan Yatsura Chapter)
Boys and Dad.

It was a beautiful day, with a scattering of clouds in a bright blue sky.

Akan Yatsura had entered the Paradox Live with the intention of using the ten billion yen prize to rebuild the Suiseki clan, but these plans were sidelined by cozmez being the winning team. Even so, the words they lived by were to pick themselves back up no matter how many times they got knocked down; though they hadn't taken the top prize in the Paradox Live, they still seized upon a new opportunity. The reconstruction of CLUB Paradox had led to an influx of artificial floating island projects in the same vein, and they took the chance that presented itself to make these into a revenue stream for the Suiseki.

In this way, they were still able to make great strides in building themselves back up even without the prize money.

Throughout the events of the Paradox Live and even for a while after, they had stayed busy; eventually, though, they finally found some free time. They took the time out to visit their old leader, to fill him in on all the things he had missed.

"... sorry it's been a while, old man," Iori said to the grave marker. "Didn't wanna show my face until I had some good news to report."

"If we keep it up, our Suiseki may be able to stand up proud again, old man," Zen said, and then got a little choked up the more he talked. "Waka's been working really hard... not just to rebuild what's left of us! He's been doing a lot! In fact, he even went around behind the scenes to look after a couple of kids, cozmez, with bright futures ahead of them... he's really... I've been so privileged to watch Kashira becoming so amazi--!"

"Ah-ah-ah, come on, that's no good. Who do you think you're talking to?" Iori chided Zen.

"Ah, I just thought it would be easier for him to understand if--"

"C'mon, what kind of excuse is that?"

While Iori and Zen had their back and forth, they were interrupted by the arrival of the boys.

"Hey! I brought the water!" Satsuki called. "... oi, Reo, why aren't you carrying one of these buckets!?"

"I don't wa~nna! That's a job for monkeys!" came the response.

And then, calm and quiet, "I wonder if these flowers will be alright."

Satsuki and Hokusai arrived, with pails of water and flowers in tow respectively. Reo brought up the rear, and he was -- of course -- empty-handed.

"Ooh, well done," Iori applauded. "Thanks to all three of you. Hm? Hokusai, you were able to buy that many flowers with the money I gave you? The old man'd be proud!"

"Reo sweet-talked the girl at the flower shop. She gave him a discount," Hokusai said. "She even threw in the decorations for free. She was very nice."

Following Hokusai's explanation, all eyes were on Reo-- especially Satsuki's, who was giving Reo a rather put-out look.

"You're going to cheap your way out of getting flowers for a grave?" he said. "Don't you ever turn it off?!"

"Wha~t?" Reo said, feigning innocence. "I don't know what you're talking about. Satsuki was too shy to talk to the pretty girl so I helped out, and I happened to get a discount for us, is that so wrong?"

"That! Right there! That's what I'm talking about!" Satsuki yelled.

"Ah," Hokusai said, looking at the flowers. "Look. She put in an arrangement of soap flowers in the shape of a teddy bear. How cute."

"What kind of weirdo puts a teddy bear flower arrangement on a grave!?" Satsuki said. "What fucking planet do you live on!"

"What? It's not my fault," Reo said. "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, free is free."

"Even at a gravesite, these boys..." Zen murmured.

As Satsuki and Reo bickered, Zen intervened like a nagging mother. And then there was Hokusai, arranging the flowers completely unperturbed and unaffected. Everything was exactly the same as it ever was. Watching over this scene, Iori couldn't help but sigh out a laugh.

"Y'all never change," he said. "C'mon. Once we get settled we'll pay our respects proper."

Akan Yatsura were as lively today as they were on any other day. Once their impromptu comedy routine was over, though, they settled down and pulled themselves together to pay proper respects. As they went to see the grave, however, Satsuki and Reo both wore strained expressions.

It wasn't a surprise; going to a grave is, in a way, having to confront death itself. Iori was particularly worried about how Reo was going to handle it, considering the fact that even having cameras pointed in his face was enough to set off a traumatic reaction.

"If any of you ain't feelin' it," Iori said, "you don't gotta push yourselves. I don't figure the old man would want to see any of us looking so out of sorts."

Reo looked relieved at Iori's words. "... I'm sorry, aniki. I thought I'd be alright, but..."

"S'alright," Iori said. "You got this far, I'm sure that's more than enough to make the old man happy. Take some space and get some fresh air if y'need it."

"... yeah," Reo said after a moment. "I'm sorry for acting spoiled. Do my part for me, alright?" With that, Reo took his leave, letting Iori and the others pay his respects at the grave on his behalf.

A warm breeze blew, brushing gently across Reo's cheeks. He felt ashamed of himself for not being able to do this for himself, for not being able to face it. Satsuki didn't follow him away; he was probably doing his best to put on a brave face and pay respects by himself; but for Reo, even admitting he was afraid to face it was hard enough. True, Reo tended to want to be spoiled a little bit, but he truly loved his family. He always had, from the day that the Suiseki picked him up, all the way up until the present day. That love was why he couldn't face their tragic fate head-on, but running away from it felt lonely and sad in its own turn.

At least he still had his memories of the days before the tragedy, of the time when the Suiseki became his family. He held those memories dear.


Before he had ever been picked up by the Suiseki, when he had nobody to ask for help or to rely on, Reo had been saved by a certain somebody in his moment of need.

He had been being chased by a gang of thugs, and he had run down a back alley to try and escape. There was nobody to help him here, and his family was already long gone. When he was at the end of his rope, out of options, he cried out for help to anyone who could hear. His words fell upon ears that he had never expected, nor intended for them to.

A man stepped in to intervene. His silhouette seemed impossibly large; his voice was gentle; his eyes were sharp as knives.

He appeared out of nowhere, like a sudden storm, and levied just about as much damage as a hurricane; but once Reo had been rescued, the man gave him a smile as bright as a sunny day. Cutting through the darkness of despair, the man was like a light, a sudden savior for a boy in need.

This was the first time that Maruyama Reo met Suiseki Iori, a man whose very presence provided shelter.


It wasn't long after Iori had saved Reo. It was a warm day towards the end of June-- the kind of bright and sunny day that feels like a premonition of the still-coming midsummer. The cicadas chirped outside of windows for those who woke up early enough to hear them.

"... excuse me. I'm done cleaning up the documents."

At the time, Reo was fourteen years old, and was doing low-level menial work for the Suiseki.

"Ah, so you are," said the man who had set him the task. "Good work, Maruyama. I'm sure the old man'll take notice if you keep on workin' hard."

Even as he was being complemented by his higher-up in the Suiseki, Reo couldn't find it within him to crack a smile. Cleaning out a file cabinet was time-consuming work, but not exactly challenging or meaningful; he knew it was basically just busywork.

"Um... is there... anything else that needs to be done?" Reo asked.

"Nothing that comes to mind off the top of my head. Seems you're free for the day, go take it easy."

"... got it," Reo said.

Though it would seem hard to believe knowing him in the present, at the time, Reo was an incredibly self-conscious boy. Before he had been picked up by the Suiseki, Reo had a mother who was kind but who was frequently absent, and a father who was amiable but somewhat self-destructive. His parents hadn't been on the best of terms to begin with, but Reo's existence threw a whole other spanner into the works. Whenever his mother was around, he was selfish and spoiled to a fault, wanting to reaffirm that she cared about him despite her absence. Eventually, she stopped coming home altogether; then, his father vanished, too, and when he did, he left behind a mountain of debt with which Reo got saddled. Reo was the only one left, and he soon spent his days being hounded by debt collectors.

Iori was the one who came to Reo's rescue.

He couldn't forget the borderline divinity with which Iori jumped in to save him, as gallant as a hero, right at the exact moment that Reo felt certain that he was done for. Isn't it kind of tacky to pick on a kid like that? he had said.

Reo had lost everything; he no longer believed in things like love. At that moment, he no longer had a family; in their place, he only had one man. Iori was the only person he could count on.

But the thing was... the Suiseki was no place for a fourteen-year-old without any relevant skills. Reo didn't belong there at all; there was nothing he could really do as part of a yakuza group. The adults would quickly grow annoyed with him if he acted too soft and spoiled, but because he had lived a wealthy life instead of a rough past as a delinquent, he didn't fit in with the other young members of the group, either. He quickly developed a complex about having to make it on his own, without anyone else's help or company; but there was nowhere else he could really go. He owed the Suiseki too much, and wanted to do something to make it up to them.

So Reo tried to figure out things he could do for them, desperate to give them a reason to keep him around. Once he'd finished organizing paperwork, he would wipe down a table that he'd already wiped down, or sweep an already-spotless floor all over again... just anything to keep himself busy. It was almost painful to behold, but at the age of fourteen, it was all Reo could really do.

"Hey, hey, looks like you're doing good work."

Right when Reo was getting bored out of his mind, Iori returned from a day he had spent out.

"Ah... Iori-san. Thanks for all of your hard work today," Reo said.

"Ah, come on. I already told you. Call me aniki. You're one of the old man's underlings, too, so that makes us brothers, you know? That's how it works if you're gonna be a yakuza."

"... right," Reo said. "Got it... aniki."

Back then, Iori hadn't started using the phony kansai-ben in imitation of the boss; but his friendly, caring attitude was much the same. He always had a smile as wide as that of Ebisu[1] on his face, and around him, Reo found that he was able to relax a little bit more.

However, Reo took note of the fact that the door behind Iori was still wide open; he hadn't closed it as he had entered. Iori followed Reo's gaze.

"Ah, I suppose I ought to introduce you. A'ight! Come on in!" Iori called out the door.

A very passionate voice came back in return. "Yo!"

A very energetic, brawny teenager that Reo had never seen before made his entrance through the open door. Iori threw an arm around the boy's shoulder, and he called for attention from everyone in the room, including Reo.

"Meet Satsuki! I've already talked about it with the old man. Going forward, he's going to be one of us," Iori said to the gathered clan members.

"My name is Ito Satsuki!" the boy announced. " I'm here because I admire Iori-aniki's spirit! I look forward to being in your care!"


So... incredibly hot-blooded. Reo immediately recoiled. He already didn't get along with the other younger members of the clan, and he had no faith that this one was going to be any different. It was just getting more and more depressing to be the odd one out. Moreover, the fact that the newcomer said that he was here because of Iori-- that put Reo on edge even more.

He was the only one who felt this way, though. The other clan members were receiving him well, saying things like:

"Ah, he's got a lot of spirit!"

"You don't see a lot of kids like that these days."

"Ah, there goes Iori, popular with the kids as ever."

"He goes around picking up kids like stray cats and dogs, but I'm not mad about bolstering our numbers."

"Cute name... doesn't match his face, though!"

"I like him! We'll make him into a fine man!"

In fairness, when Reo first showed up, they had greeted him just as warmly. As long as they seemed trustworthy, the Suiseki would accept just about anybody into their ranks.

"Alright!" Satsuki exclaimed. "I'll work hard to become a great man! I look forward to receiving your guidance!"

Satsuki was acting as though he had just signed up for a karate club. He bowed to every member of the group -- he was really overdoing it -- but then he stopped in front of Reo. He didn't bow; they locked eyes. After they stared at each other for a moment, Iori jumped in.

"Ah, Satsuki. This is Reo. He joined up with us a bit before you did," Iori said, "also thanks to me. But! That means he's got seniority over you."

"Eh?" Satsuki said, surprised. "... but aniki, isn't this guy younger than me? You said we're all brothers, right? So shouldn't I be the older brother, then?"

In truth, Satsuki wasn't trying to pick a fight. When faced with the fact that a boy younger than himself was in the group, he was trying to express that he wanted to take on the responsibility of an older brother. He was bad at expressing what he meant, and he was very blunt. However, even if he wasn't trying to be confrontational, he had still spoken out of turn to someone with seniority, even if he was older; it was only natural that it annoyed him. In fact, Reo was a little hurt.

"Haaah. So you're Satsuki-chan? I'm Maruyama Reo. Nice to meet 'ya."

"What? 'Satsuki-chan', what's with that?" Satsuki blurted.

"Ah? Oh, sorry. I just thought it was cute. It sounds kinda like a cute girl's name," Reo said.

"Hah!? What's your problem?" Satsuki said. "If you're looking for a fight then you've got one right here!"

"I got here first," Reo said. "So I'm your older brother here. And, Iori picked me up first."

"Huh? Come and try me, dude, I'll kick your ass! No way in hell I'm gonna recognize you as my older brother!" Satsuki yelled.

"Aw, how cute~!" Reo mocked.

Iori couldn't help but laugh as the two exchanged barbs. The other clan members cracked smiles as they watched the situation unfold. The only one who wasn't laughing was Zen, who was clearly troubled.

"You guys! If you've got the energy to make a racket, you've got the energy to do some muscle training! Muscle training!" he said decisively. "I suggest doing some squats! Work on your lower body! Turn that frustration into muscle mass!"

"Zen," Iori said, "good effort, but that only works for you."

"Hold on, aniki," Zen said (and make note of the fact that, at this time, Zen still referred to Iori as ‘aniki', rather than ‘waka').

"Are you sure it's alright to let those kids fight like that? They're at a really impressionable age, we should set a better example for--"

"Isn't it nice that they're so energetic?" Iori interrupted. "And besides that, isn't it nice to see another side of Reo?"

"I mean... you're right, Reo-kun does seem to be a bit less tense than usual..."

"See? It's all good!" Iori said. "But, more to the point, Zen. Remember the summer festival the old man was talking about?[2] You figured out yet who's going to be on duty for that?"

"Are we talking about that now?" Zen said, then quickly course-corrected. "Well, it seems that everybody's a bit tied up. We have to get the stalls set up for the festival, but we've already got all hands on deck at CANDY. The council chairman asked us to do something to really hype up the festival, so we'd have to find someone who could do that..."

"Alrighty! Well, that's sorted, then!" Iori said, clapping his hands together decisively. He stepped forward, and then he placed a hand each on Reo and Satsuki's shoulders, pulling them apart like they were territorial cats having a slapfight. Smiling broadly, he said: "alright! From this point on, you two are teaming up!"


Both Reo and Satsuki wheeled around and exclaimed at the same time. Iori's smile did not waver.

"The Suiseki are helping out with the upcoming summer festival. I'm putting the two of you in charge of figuring out the entertainment!"

"I have to work with this asshole?!" both Satsuki and Reo cried in unison. Truly, their harmony was heartwarming; everyone watching was overwhelmed with a sense of ah, the kids are getting along so well.

All except, of course, for Zen, who couldn't shake his concern.

Satsuki and Reo glared daggers at each other, but when Iori clapped on them on the shoulders again, they straightened up in a hurry.

"You know that shopping district where we'll be helping out? It's a wasteland nowadays, but a lot of the businesses there have supported the area for a long time," he said. "And we've had ties with them for a long time, as well. The Suiseki repaying our debts to them just proper old-fashioned courtesy. The district's on a bit of a downturn, so it's gonna be up to you to come up with something really exciting to liven things up. Use all that youthful energy of yours, alright? I'm countin' on you."

"Y-yessir!" Satsuki said. He had just been brought into the group -- by someone he admired, no less -- and had already been given his first assignment. When a man gets told that someone is counting on him, it's only natural for him to get fired up, and Satsuki was ready and raring to go.

Reo, on the other hand...

"... I'll try my best."

Contrasting with Satsuki's excitement, Reo was hit by a wave of anxiety. This was an important job, entrusted to him by aniki. He couldn't afford to fail. If he let people here start thinking that he was useless, then he'd be...

Iori took careful note of Reo's expression out of the corner of his eye.


There are a great number of revenue streams for yakuza, and a lot of those jobs require a lot of desk work. The Suiseki's major income streams was managing pachinko parlors and a cabaret club. Despite his young age, Iori's communication and management skills had led to him being entrusted with a lot of responsibilities, and led to his own personal desk in the Suiseki office.

A few days after Iori's delegation of the task to Reo and Satsuki, Zen approached Iori's desk. His chest was puffed out and his tone brisk and confident. "Aniki, are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Hm? Is something the matter?" Iori said.

"In the days since you put them together, those two kids have been fighting over everything," Zen said.

"Ah, is that what's got you all worked up, Zen?" Iori said.

"Satsuki-kun already has a hair-trigger temper, and Reo-kun is already really withdrawn! He's only been getting better a little at a time since he got here, he's only recently started opening up to me..."

"It's fine, it's fine. For such a big guy, you sure are a real mother hen, Zen..." Iori said dismissively. "Times like this, it's better to have someone your own age to talk to, you know?"

While Iori talked, his gaze drifted over to a small framed photo that sat half-buried by the documents on his desk. Zen followed his gaze, and frowned a little when he realized what Iori was looking at. It was a photo of a younger Iori, still high school aged, with a cheeky, mischievous smile. There was another boy about the same age as Iori in the picture-- a sulking, angry-looking Kanbayashi Yohei. Zen got a little frustrated at the sight of it.

Whether or not he noticed Zen's reaction, Iori turned his attention to the window. "These summer days seem to last forever... though it's probably going to rain today," he mused.

"Huh?" Zen said. "The forecast said it was going to be sunny all day, though."

"Ah, you get to recognize it without being told. That's what this job does to you," Iori said. "How about you, Zen? Don't your scars hurt when there's rain coming?"

"Ah!" Catching on, Zen patted his side. "It's been feeling fine. I've been working on my obliques lately! I've been really into doing side bends, and I've been seeing a lot of results from doing Russian twists, too. My scars are starting to fade-- probably because in addition to all the gains I've been making, my metabolism's been boosted, too."

"If it were me, I wouldn't be so okay with that," Iori remarked.

"But! Even if the scar from that wound doesn't fade, it'd still be a badge of honor!" Zen said.

"Well, then you'd get it, wouldn't you, Zen? You need an inciting incident to really become family, don't you think?"

"... that's..."

Iori's words shut Zen up in a hurry.

Zen was not a criminal by nature; he hadn't grown up as a delinquent. He had grown up as a very straight-laced kid with a strong distaste for the yakuza, and he had joined the police force. He had gotten entangled with the Suiseki because he had been sent to infiltrate them undercover in order to investigate their affairs.

The problem was that Zen could not lie to save his goddamn life. Though he was excellent on the front lines, he was poorly suited to being an undercover agent. The Suiseki took a shine to him even so, finding his personality charming, and welcomed him as a friend. Zen, in his turn, developed an admiration for the Suiseki as he interacted with them firsthand, and his exposure to their code of conduct and sense of righteousness handed down to them by their leader. In a shootout, Zen ended up taking a bullet to protect Iori.

"I mean, color me surprised back then. A police officer risking his life to protect me!" Iori said cheerfully.

"I didn't know I was so obvious about who I was..." Zen lamented.

"I'm honestly more surprised you thought you were being stealthy about it," Iori said with a grin. "Whatever the reason, though. I've been a yakuza since I was in middle school, and you used to be a police officer, but now we're partners, right? So, Reo and Satsuki--"

Zen began to cry, blubbering loudly.

"Ah, there you go again," Iori said. "Guess your being a crybaby ain't ever gonna change."

"Aniki, you think of me as a partner," Zen said. "Even after Yohei-san is gone, you've accepted me as your new--"

"Why do I feel like I'm dealing with a chick who's jealous of my ex-girlfriend..." Iori muttered.

"Gck..." Zen wiped his tears. "But... I'm still worried. I just want them to get along."

"I think they'll get along well!" Iori said. "Satsuki'll have something to protect to give an outlet for all that energy, and Reo'll have something to rely on to pull him out of his funk. They'll balance each other out nicely."

"But Reo-kun's problems run deep," Zen said. "And, if I'm not mistaken, those thugs who came after him in the past are still..."

"Ah? Well, that's a concern I've had for a while now," Iori said. "So I'll tell you what, Zen. If you're so worried about Reo, I've got a job for you."

"Huh? For me?" Zen said. "... absolutely! Anything you say, aniki!"


Though Hokusai had not yet made many appearances in this story, he was already coming and going from the Suiseki offices.

Though it was a delicate line to walk, being part of the yakuza, there were often times that he would appear on a whim, help out with the chores, vanish off somewhere to go play with cats, and then come back. When he had nothing else to do, he would come by the houses owned by the Suiseki and play with the stray cats that had taken up residence nearby. This, more or less, was how he spent his time.

Some of the younger members of the clan had pet theories that he was actually a nurarihyon[3], or perhaps some kind of fae cat spirit. On the other hand, the older members found him to be adorable, and treated him like a beloved son or grandson.

Even Suiseki Shingo, the leader of the group, loved Hokusai. Their conversations would often play out like a heartwarming exchange in a newspaper comic:

"Ah, Hokusai, you're here! Would you like some dried sweet potato?"

"Yes, please. ... ah. Leader's clothes are cute today."

"Ahaha, isn't it? It's really warm out today, so I thought I'd break out a T-shirt."


"It's a tiger!"

It was a source of great joy for the rest of the members. Because of their leader's approval, everyone welcomed Hokusai into the group despite his eccentricities.

Hokusai wandered around the office, nibbling on a piece of dried sweet potato. None of the stray cats were around at the moment, so in lieu of watching them, he watched the clan members at work. Today, most of the people who were around the office were occupied with paperwork.

Then, Hokusai was alerted to a loud noise coming from the next room over.

... cats fighting?

Thinking this, Hokusai wandered over to have a peek inside the room.

Inside, Satsuki and Reo were fighting as viciously as territorial cats in early spring. If Hokusai thought about it, he remembered hearing about them from Iori; they had something they were supposed to be working on, but they weren't getting along very well.

Hokusai slipped stealthily into the room without drawing attention to himself.

"I already told you! For a festival, you want something flashy and macho! Explain to me what's so wrong about a bungee jumping contest? That'd be a super cool way to put ourselves to the test for a midsummer celebration!"

"And it's also a terrible idea, dipshit! What if somebody got hurt? If we have to do a contest, we should do a beauty contest, that'd be way more popular with cute girls!"

"Cut the crap!" Satsuki yelled. "I'm not going to some girly-ass event like that!"

"Oh~? But all of your ideas sound like total flops to me!" Reo said.

"The fuck!? I'm not a flop! I-- I'll have you know I'm so popular that it's actually kind of a pain in the ass!"

"You ever had a real relationship, Satsuki-chan?" Reo said. "Can you tell me what you do on a typical date?"

"Shit-- I mean... relationships? Oh, yeah! I've had tons! First, uh, you gotta... uh, go to a park, when the weather's really nice, and have your girlfriend make sandwiches, and--"

"Ooooh, sooo convincing. Hey, Satsuki-chan, since you've already got the name for it, why don't you just go ahead and be your own girlfriend?"

"You son of a bitch! I'm gonna beat your punk ass!"

No sooner than Satsuki reared back to throw a punch, a massive shadow loomed over him. Hokusai was stepping in.

Satsuki recoiled and yelped in surprise. "W-whoa! Where'd this freakin' giant come from all of a sudden!?"

"Ah, Hokusai..."

From the way Reo said his name, Satsuki assumed that Hokusai was a member of the group. Back at this point in time, Reo and Hokusai didn't really know each other very well, but he knew that he was very quiet and didn't seem to be particularly bothered by Reo's reticence to interact with him.

Hokusai looked between the two of them and spoke in a low, gentle voice. "... clan members fighting with each other... is bad."

"... tch!" Satsuki wanted to talk back, but instead, he lowered his fist. Despite Hokusai's imposing and intimidating figure, he spoke in a very calm and measured way. He was like a large tree in a forest; he exuded a calming atmosphere that put a damper on Satsuki's moment of passion.

Even though his anger had been placated, Satsuki's annoyance with Reo remained, and he made his case with a surly expression. "It's because all this brat is doing is naysaying all my ideas, and not even coming up with better ones to replace them!"

"I'm just trying to be cautious so we don't inconvenience anyone in the group! All of your ideas were way too over-the-top, Satsuki-chan. I'm just trying to get you to take things seriously," Reo shot back.

"Fuck you, you bastard..." Satsuki muttered.

"Aw, what, Satsuki-chan? You getting all mad and swearing because you don't have a real argument?"

"Wanna say that again!?"

"You gonna tell me I'm wrong?"


Hokusai looked between the two as they bickered and narrowed his eyes a little. He interrupted with a soft voice.

"You two. Why did you join the group?

"Why did we...?" Reo said.

"Because for me," Hokusai said, "it was aniki... Iori-aniki picked me up." At the mention of the name, both Satsuki and Reo looked up at Hokusai in surprise. Hokusai continued, his voice gentle but firm. "I didn't have any family, so I played with stray cats... but people were still afraid of me. To get me to go away, they started harassing the cats... but aniki wasn't afraid of me. He rescued me. That's why I started coming here."

Reo's eyes widened in surprise as he listened to Hokusai's story. "... this is the first time I've heard you talk so much, Hokusai."

For his part, Satsuki nodded along as he listened. "I get that," he said. "To tell you the truth, aniki helped me out, too. My friends and I got caught up in a fight, and I ended up getting sent to juvie... I got separated from my family, and I kept getting into fights everywhere I went. I even started picking fights with yakuza... that's when Zen-nii and Iori-aniki bailed me out. I thought their manly spirit was something to be admired. That's why I came here."

As soon as Satsuki was done speaking, Hokusai turned to look at Reo. Satsuki followed his gaze and he, too, was looking expectantly at Reo. Sensing that it was his turn up at bat, he reluctantly began to speak.

"I... I got helped by aniki, too. My entire family was in shambles ever since my mom ditched us, and then my dad left me with a mountain of debt to deal with... I couldn't handle it. I tried to run away. That's when aniki rescued me. He said if I didn't have anywhere else to go, I could come here."

"Everyone was saved by aniki," Hokusai said softly, in his typical laconic way. Hokusai knew that a great many of the new faces in the clan had all been drawn in by Iori; that was why he brought it up. Satsuki was a confrontational kid with a strong attitude, and that clashed with the walls that Reo had built around himself. In many ways, they were like oil and water. But, Hokusai figured, they had Iori in common.

Satsuki scratched his head awkwardly for a moment, and then he spoke again. "Aniki gave us a job. I don't want to let him down."

"Me either..." Reo said. "I don't want to just spend the entire time sitting around here whining."

"... mm. Oi, Reo. You're more practical than I am, yeah?" Satsuki said. "So... how to put this... we gotta figure out something to really hype up the festival! We gotta really put the Suiseki brand on it!"

"I mean... yeah, I guess," Reo conceded.

"So If you really think that something like a beauty contest is what we oughta do, then say it with conviction instead of just bein' all cagey about it!" Satsuki said. "Be like, 'this is what we're gonna do'! I wanna hear some concrete ideas!"


Reo was at a loss for words. He was good at people-pleasing; he had learned how to flirt and sweet talk from his father, and while that was certainly a method of winning over young people and pretty girls, it wasn't exactly how you attracted people to a festival. But perhaps he could apply it in a different way and take a different approach. Was there anything else he had learned how to do...

"-- ight, pardon my intrusion."

A sudden voice cut through Reo's thoughts and caught his, Satsuki, and Hokusai's attention. Suiseki entered the room, coming to retrieve some documents that had been kept in here, and he was humming to himself in a unique rhythm.

Without hesitation, Satsuki stood at attention and bowed his head. "Boss! Greetings!"

"Ah, ah, just ‘old man'' is fine'," Suiseki said, speaking with a very particular cadence. "And same to you. Don't mind my interrupting. Feel free to carry on."[4]

"... am I missin' a reference or something?" Satsuki muttered.

"Missing something?" Suiseki said. "What do you mean, missing something? Shouldn't you youths be up to date on these kinds of things? It's some popular kind of music trend that all the kids are listening to. A guy who used to be one of us went off and started doing it. Listening to him, it's gotten a bit stuck in my brain and I can't help but imitate it a little bit."

Suiseki smiled cheerfully as he picked up some expense reports. "Well, I'll see y'all around," he said, and made his way back towards the office with a carefree air and a still-smiling face.

Satsuki, who had been tense and full of his preconceptions of how intimidating the clan leader was going to be, was almost a little disappointed.

"He said somethin' about a trend," he said, then looked at Reo and Hokusai. "... do you guys know anything about what's been popular? I've kinda been in juvie so I don't know what the trends are..."

Reo said nothing, but in a way such that Satsuki gave him an odd look.

"Oi, Reo. Something wrong?" Satsuki said. "You look like you're kinda lost in thought. You got an idea or somethin'?"

"Oh, uh, n–" Reo began.

"If you got something then out with it!" Satsuki exclaimed. While Reo tried to deflect, Satsuki didn't allow him to; he grabbed him by the shoulders and forced Reo to face him. His hands were strong and seemed warm, as though his being hot-blooded was more than just metaphorical. "C'mon! We already know I don't have any good ideas, so if you've got something, you gotta say it!"

"... fine," Reo said, but he still hesitated for a moment. But he reminded himself that this was for the task that aniki had entrusted to him, and so, with trepidation, he opened his mouth and forged ahead. "... what the old man was doing just now. I think it was supposed to be rapping, kind of. And... I don't know. Maybe we could use that... for the festival?"

"That was supposed to be rap?" Satsuki said.

"I mean, for instance, phantom lives are really popular right now..." Reo said.

"I get it!" Satsuki exclaimed all of a sudden, though inspiration had struck him like lightning. He slapped Reo's shoulder with all his might. It hurt like hell, but Reo couldn't do anything but give Satsuki a sullen glare. "That's a great idea, Reo! A phantom live! I really dig hip hop, like rapping and dancing and stuff like that. If we could do a phantom live at the festival, that'd be sick as hell! It'd hype everyone up!"

"Hey, cool it!" Reo protested. "I'm just proposing it, I'm not saying it's an option! Rap is one thing, that's fine, but phantom lives are something else entirely. We don't even have phantometals!"

"Ah, you're right..." Satsuki said, but then, "But you just said 'rap is fine' just now. Do you already know how to rap or something?"

"I... my dad was really into it, and he got me into it too," said Reo. "He insisted that if I could rap, it'd make me really popular with girls..."

"That makes sense that it's the music that the old man got into then," Satsuki said.

As Satsuki spoke, Reo felt a shudder of trepidation. He felt a little bit foolish. This was an important job that Iori had given to them-- a job that would reflect directly on the Suiseki -- and here Reo was. When faced with such an important job, he had just leapt to the things that his father had taught him. He was just unilaterally and selfishly choosing something that he wanted to do.

"... let's... nevermind, Satsuki-chan. It's kind of just a hobby. Let's do something else," Reo said.

"Huh? I think it's a good idea, though. I think it'd get people really hyped, and there's nothing wrong with doing something fun. I bet I could start rapping, too," Satsuki said.

"Ah, but-- how well do you think that total amateurs like us would attract people to a local festival? Phantom rappers are so popular because they put on a really flashy show, right?" Reo said.

Satsuki thought for a moment, then said, "Then why not just invite some rappers to perform?"

"How much would that cost?!" Reo argued. "Do you think they'd do it for free just out of the goodness of their hearts!?"

"I wonder if we could form a group of our own, then," Satsuki said.

"No good. Absolutely no good. If you performed in a park, Satsuki-chan, all the girls in a five-mile radius would turn and flee."

"I'm gonna beat your ass!"

(In the next room over, Suiseki overheard their argument. He had a momentary thought that he did, in fact, have somebody in mind who might be willing to do them a favor. Kanbayashi was a former member, after all. But, he wasn't sure if it would be kosher to get him involved with clan business again after he had done so much work to establish himself as a rapper. With this in mind -- and because he found Reo and Satsuki's argument to be quite interesting -- he remained silent and did not interrupt.)

"And either way, a couple of amateurs who don't even have phantoms aren't gonna attract an audience," Reo said. "It'd just be totally self-indulgent. We'd just be having fun for our own sake."

"If we're having fun, then why wouldn't everyone else have fun, too?" Satsuki argued.

This took Reo a bit by surprise. Thinking back on it, when Reo had been having fun listening to hip hop... it was because his father had been having so much fun that he had gotten interested in it in the first place.

"Anyway, even if we can't do illusions, then we could still do something really flashy instead to draw a crowd!" Satsuki said.

"Right, that'll work," Reo said sarcastically. "We can just pull something together that'll be just as good as a phantom illusion, like a really flashy mikoshi[5] or something. I'm sure that'll go over well."

"Hey, that's a good idea! Let's go with that!" Satsuki said.

"Right? Like I sa-- wait, what?"

"It'll be like a phantom mikoshi!" Satsuki said. "Even if we can't do a proper phantom live, we could do up a mikoshi that would put a phantom illusion to shame!"


It was a short while later. Satsuki had taken some time to scribble across a piece of copy paper with pens, and then he proudly unveiled the end result to Reo and Hokusai.

"So, what do you guys think?" Satsuki said. "Aren't you impressed by how cool my idea is?"

"Why did you draw a thousand shriveled cucumbers?" Reo said.

"... green snails," said Hokusai.

"Hey! They're supposed to be dragons!" Satsuki said. "This is my design for a phantom dragon mikoshi!"

"Oh, is that what it is? Are those cracks supposed to be scales then?" Reo said. "For a minute I thought you were just really enthusiastic about drawing a bunch of mold."

"Snails would've been cuter..." Hokusai lamented.

"Oh, shut up! Since you're yukking it up, why don't you do better!?" Satsuki said.

"If you insist," Reo said, taking the pen and paper that Satsuki was foisting upon him. A bit reluctantly, he began to sketch up a design for the mikoshi on another piece of paper.

Satsuki peered at the piece of paper, and squinted one eye and tilted his head this way and that to view it from different angles. "Don't you think a mikoshi dedicated to the god of moths is a bit much?"

"It's a phoenix!" Reo protested. "It's just stylized!"

"I've never seen a fluffy phoenix!" Satsuki said.

"Well, it looks a hell of a lot better than your shriveled cucumbers!" Reo said, then sighed. "... ah, I think this might be a bit beyond our skill level."

"Maybe we should just hire a professional to design it for us?" Satsuki proposed.

Reo shook his head. "That'd be expensive, especially when we already have to think about how we're going to afford materials for the shrine itself."

"Dammit," Satsuki said. "If only we knew a yakuza dude who was good at drawing."

"Who ever heard of a yakuza who's good at drawing? We'd have better luck finding a tattoo artist," Reo said.

"A tattoo artist, huh? Well, I have always wanted to get a tattoo, and... and..." Satsuki said, but then trailed off.

"Is something the matter, Satsuki-ch--" Reo began, but he too got distracted as he followed Satsuki's line of sight.

Hokusai had taken the pen and paper, and was drawing away. Unlike their rough scribbles, Hokusai deftly moved the pen across the surface with such ease that it was clear he was on a whole other level from Satsuki and Reo. Hokusai was happily absorbed in his task, but when he noticed that they were looking at him, he put the pen down and held up the drawing he had made.

"I drew a tiger," he said simply.

"Whoa! That's really good!" Satsuki said.

"I didn't know you were that good at drawing!" said Reo.

"I have a bit of a knack for it," Hokusai said humbly. 'A bit of a knack' was an understatement-- he was good, and he knew it. He looked very proud of himself.

"That's sick, Hokusai!" Satsuki said. "If we've got you on deck, then we'll have it in the bag! If we provide the ideas, then can you do the designs?"

"Mm," Hokusai hummed in agreement, "I'll try my best."

"But Satsuki-chan," Reo said, "even once we have a design, how are we going to actually make it?"

"Huh?" Satsuki said. "Once you've got the design down, isn't it pretty simple from there to just... make it?"

Reo shook his head. "It takes a lot more than just an idea. You've gotta have wood, and the proper tools for the job, and so on."

"Oh?" Satsuki shrugged. "Well, I mean, it might be tough for just the two of us, but once we have a good design down, we can just get all of the guys to give us a hand, and--"

"No way!" Reo cut in. "... this is our problem to solve. It's our responsibility. We can't trouble everyone else for help. It takes a lot of time and effort to make a mikoshi..."

"... I mean, that's not the same as troubling them, though, is it?" Satsuki said.

"We're young and we're new," Reo said. "If we're going to run around saying that we want to rap, then we have to do it ourselves, or it doesn't mean anything. They'll think we're just freeloaders. And if I can't do anything on my own, if I'm a freeloader, then there's no way I'll be able to stay here..."

"Reo, you..." Satsuki said.

Though Reo usually treated Satsuki with a very cheerful and provocative attitude (much the same as he would do later as part of Akan Yatsura), at this point in time, he was still very fearful and self-conscious underneath it all. Even when they bickered, Satsuki was aware of Reo's sore spots; he would never intentionally make any kind of statement that would step over the line, even if they were fighting.

After a moment of giving it some thought, Satsuki came to a conclusion. He slapped his own knee as the idea struck him.

"'Ight! Let's start by doing what we can! I saw Zen-nii hauling around some lumber he had left over from a work site, so I bet I can get a hold of that! I'll go look into that! You two keep workin' on the design!"

"Wait, Satsuki-chan, are you sure that--" Reo began, but Satsuki didn't wait for him to finish.

"If you don't start something yourself, it ain't ever gonna get started!" With that, Satsuki rushed off without another moment of hesitation.

Reo watched him go, and then he looked back at Hokusai, his face apologetic. "I'm sorry, Hokusai," he said. "I didn't mean to drag you into this."

"Don't worry. I like drawing," Hokusai said. "... what do you want me to draw? Go ahead and make requests, Reo."

"Um... well... hold on, I'll look up some mikoshi for reference..."

Reo, with his face close to Hokusai's, pulled up images on his phone; Hokusai used them as reference to draw up a rough sketch. While the two of them were absorbed in this, a number of clan members -- among them Iori, Zen, and Suiseki -- stood watching at the door.


"... man, Hokusai's designs really are perfect," Satsuki muttered.

The Suiseki owned a construction company, so the boys were able to get a hold of raw materials from one of their warehouses they had space in, and were able to start on their mikoshi.

But this was, unsurprisingly, much easier said than done. The three of them weren't over-burdened with skills going in, and a large, flashy, phantom live-themed mikoshi was a bit of a daunting DIY project for beginners like them. Satsuki was good with his hands in the broad sense, but somewhat clumsy and bad at fine details; Reo, while he worked carefully, was very slow; Hokusai was doing surprisingly well, but he didn't talk much and had trouble coordinating with the other two.

As a result of all of this, what they currently had was less of a mikoshi and more of a ramshackle wooden jungle gym.

"I knew this was a dumb idea," Reo said. "We could never have made a proper mikoshi..."

"Never say never!" Satsuki said. "We still have plenty of time until the festival, we'll just have to keep at it!"

"What if we put in all this effort and it still turns out like crap?" Reo said.

"Well, we'll cross that bridge if and when we get there!" Satsuki replied. While in the process of trying to encourage Reo, he crossed over to move a huge piece of wood that was laying against the wall. It was heavy and rich-colored, and would have a very nice effect if they incorporated it into their mikoshi. However, it was a lot heavier than he thought it was going to be; no sooner had he hauled it up that it began to fall over again. "Whoa--!"

"Satsuki, look out!"

Before Reo was done calling out, Hokusai was already moving to rush towards him; but there was too much distance between them, and there was no way he was going to make it in time to stop the wood from falling.

Satsuki braced himself to be crushed under the wood-- but the weight never came. In fact, the wood suddenly became a whole lot lighter.

"Huh?" Satsuki said, and lifted his head to look. Two arms, as thick and strong as logs, were holding the piece of wood back. And, attached to those arms, was a smiling face beaming brighter than a summer day. "Z-Zen-nii!"

"Haha! Be careful, Satsuki-kun! They may be the same size, but raw wood is a lot heavier than dried wood. You have to handle it with a bit more care!" Zen said. Though he had just said it was heavy, Zen briskly hauled the wood up onto his shoulder with barely any effort. It would have looked as broad and heavy as a log if Satsuki or Reo had tried to pick it up, but in Zen's grip, it seemed as small and light as a stick of bamboo.

"I see now why you wanted those surplus building materials!" Zen continued cheerfully. "So this was what you were doing! What a nice idea, drafting up an original mikoshi like this. Did Hokusai do this design? It's a tiger! It looks great! The muscular features of an apex predator are incorporated so well into the design!"

"Oh, uh... I'm glad you like it too, Zen-nii," Satsuki said.

"And working with the raw wood like this, it's like you're getting a full-body workout too! Almost like you're using training tires! You could probably even lift it like a barbell!" Zen continued. "What a great idea!"

"Well, that wasn't exactly the goal--" Satsuki said, but was cut off.

"W-wait! Zen-nii!" Reo rushed over, panicking a little.

"What's the matter, Reo-kun? Would you like me to put this somewhere so you can use it?" Zen said, indicating the wood over his shoulder.

"Um... it's just... why are you here?" Reo said.

"Isn't it obvious?" Zen said. "We're here to help you guys out!"

"... when you say 'we'..." Reo said slowly.

"Oi oi! Sorry to keep you waiting!"

Reo turned to find the source of the voice that had just arrived, and he saw numerous Suiseki clan members all filing in. Guys who were good with carpentry, guys who were proud of their strength, guys who were good with their hands-- even guys who had none of the above skills at all.

"Aye, aye! These little spring chickens are bein' all standoffish, aren't they?" one of the men said. "You gonna go off and do something fun like a mikoshi live performance all on your own? Without lettin' us lend a hand?"

A clan member with a hachimaki wrapped around his head strode over to Hokusai's design drawings to get a better look at them. "Ay, Hokusai! Nice design, but you're missin' a few of the details if you want to use this as a blueprint proper. We'll have one of the guys who can do architecture take a whack at it."

"It'll make a damn fine mikoshi," one of the others said, and they all began to talk over each other.

"Alright! We'll start by sorting and shaping the wood."

"Don't hurt yourself on that, aniki."

"Ah, s'fine, I've just been doing a lot of paperwork lately so I'm a little bit out of shape!"

"I can handle the painting, I used to do a part-time job at a paint shop."

"And I can handle the sheet metal, I'm somethin' of an old hand at it, I know what I'm doing."

"Zen! Let's see which of us is the strongest! I ain't gonna lose!"

"Man, this is makin' me wanna rap, too!"

"Dumbfuck! You're so tone deaf, your singing could make the old man sober up from dead drunk in a single verse!"

The warehouse had become quite the lively center of activity. Zen and Hokusai quickly joined in on the work, but Reo and Satsuki were left somewhat flabbergasted until a hand clapped each of them on the back and they turned around. Behind them stood Iori, his ever-present smile on his face.

"A-aniki... what's... what's all of this?" Reo said.

"Just what it looks like!" Iori said. "Your ideas piqued everyone's interest and we came over to help out. Simple as that."

"... but, Aniki..." Reo said, frowning, insecurity welling up inside of him again. "If everyone helps out then I'm just... taking advantage of everyone again..."

Iori hummed. "Reo. What'd I ask you guys to do?"

"... you asked us to figure out something interesting to do for the festival," Reo said.

"Got it in one," Iori said. "And I'd say you did a great job! Everyone in the group's real excited to help out. Everyone was happy to pitch in. Sounds like a success to me, any way you cut it." Iori placed his hands on Reo and Satsuki's heads and ruffled their hair. "They wanted to help. The people you want to help are gonna help you in return. If there's something you want to do, it's alright to rely on them. It ain't taking advantage. If someone wants you to spoil them, it means they trust you."

Reo and Satsuki exchanged slightly abashed looks.

Then, Satsuki cracked a smile. "Hehe. See, Reo? What'd I tell 'ya."

Satsuki's words and his smile confused Reo a little, but slowly, he also let a bit of a smile spread across his face.

With that, the Suiseki Mikoshi Live project was officially underway.


Just like that, ten days flew by.

Summer was well underway, with the sun beating down mercilessly. Suiseki emerged from the hotel at which he had been having a meeting, and was greeted immediately by an air-conditioned car. He climbed in, fanning his face and removing his hat. Iori called from the driver's seat:

"Thanks for the hard work, old man!"

"Ah, you too, Iori," Suiseki said. "I swear, those Alter Trigger guys go all out, organizing these dinners every time we have a meeting."

At this point in time, the Suiseki were investing in the Alter Trigger company. Ostensibly, the funds they contributed were being used to research applications of phantometal to aid the hard-of-hearing to communicate easier. Suiseki had been impressed by the proposal. Though there were some red flags, Suiseki had faith in Alter Trigger; it was a well-established company, and the representative they had sent over to meet with him had been very convincing. Suiseki had a discerning eye for these kinds of things, and had faith that Alter Trigger were serious about using phantometal to accomplish goals with serious conviction. He didn't sense any kind of profit motive or outstanding greed from them.

Iori was a little more skeptical about their lofty ideals.

"Nice though it sounds, I still don't quite trust them," Iori said.

"Ah, I understand where you're comin' from, Iori," Suiseki said. "And I felt the same way. That's why I've been pressing 'em for some concrete results. Either way, though, I think it's probably a better use of our funds, rather than circulating them back into the underworld and the like..." As he spoke, Suiseki took the remote control on the seat beside him to control the car stereo. Smooth hip hop music began to play.

"Hey, old man," Iori said. "Did you know Reo's really into hip hop?"

"Is he, now? Well, I'm something of a fan myself," said Suiseki. He had in fact always been fond of hip hop; he especially had a soft spot for passionate songs that drew on traditional Japanese music. Iori, who was often tasked with being the old man's driver, was regularly exposed to these songs as a result.

(Looking back on it, this was probably one of the reasons behind the formation of Akan Yatsura.)

"To tell the truth, I'm not sure if I've really got a taste for it myself yet," Iori said.

"Bullshit!" said Suiseki. "Ain't you the one who's always humming away while you work?"

"Pretty sure that's your fault, old man," Iori said. "Spreadin' it around like a virus."

"Why don't you try givin' Yohei's rap a shot? He's got a bit of a knack for it, I think," Suiseki said.

"Mm. You're still really give a shit about him, don't you, old man?" Iori said.

"Ah, don't put words in my mouth," Suiseki said. "As you figured, though, Satsuki's been getting on well with the rest of the men, and Reo's coming out of his shell. If you keep on like this, then I think everything's looking set up nicely for the future..."

"... I still ain't gonna be any replacement for you, old man," Iori said.

"Dumbfuck, who said I was gonna stop being the old man any time soon?"

Iori smiled while Suiseki laughed.

"Any rate, I think it's good you're gettin' so much mileage out of Zen as a partner. Even if he can't keep a secret worth a damn," Suiseki said. "He's helpin' those kids make their mikoshi and he's shaping up to be a fine right-hand man. But what is it? You're actin' like you've still got shit to worry about. Is Reo making you worry?"

"Zen... you can't tell him everything or else he'll go run off and blab, but if you just tell him one thing at a time, he'll go all-out to do whatever you tell him. And he's got a whole lot of faith in me, too... he's a real interesting guy," Iori said, conspicuously avoiding answering the old man's actual question.

"You sure put a lot of trust in your men, huh? You really do got a heart," Suiseki said. "But come on, if you don't indulge me in what I'm askin', I'm gonna get all sulky."

"Ah, come on, old man, give me a break..." Iori muttered. He had no defenses against it when Suiseki complained that he was going to sulk. It wasn't like he was actually going to pout like a spoiled child, but he was... how to put this? He would get into a mood where he wanted to be indulged like a child. Sometimes, when he got drunk, he would bring up all kinds of stories from his youth and the trouble he got into, and it was always a total shitshow. It was unbecoming of a grown-ass man.

So, with a sigh, Iori began to speak his mind. "Like you guessed, I'm worried about Reo. Seems like the people who were chasing down his dad to collect on his debt are showing their faces around these parts again, and they ain't exactly gentlemen."

"Is that it?" said Suiseki.

"Mm. I just hope it's nothing to worry about."


Thanks to participation from the other members of the Suiseki, preparations for the summer festival were going along smoothly.

Reo and Satsuki were going to do the job of MCing, and Hokusai got roped into this somewhere along the line as well. The adults did the work of putting together the equipment. The plans for the "mikoshi live" were proceeding nicely.

The Suiseki were well-versed in the entertainment business; they ran CLUB Candy and pachinko parlors, as well as various clubs and concessions. You could even say that festivals were a bit of a specialty. As such, there were plenty of members who were well-versed when it came to setting up stages and venues for performances. With all of these details delegated, Reo, Satsuki, and Hokusai could focus on hashing out their actual performance.

"If we're going to do this, we're going to need MC names! Hokusai, have you figured out what you're going to go by?" Reo said.

"Fuurai Boy," Hokusai said. "That's what aniki has always called me."

"Cool, man, t-that's really cool," Satsuki said. "But I'm not gonna be outdone. I'll be... Gaia! Yeah!"

"... Gaia..." Reo said slowly.

"Yeah!" Satsuki exclaimed. "I don't know exactly what it means, but I heard it once, and it sounds really cool! It has a super manly vibe!"

"... it suits you, Satsuki-chan," Reo said diplomatically, while thinking privately to himself: but isn't that the name of a goddess? He had the tact to not say anything, though.

The track was put together from some free traditional-sounding Japanese music that they had sourced; this was yet another area in which Hokusai was displaying talent. Reo and Satsuki had a good sense of lyricism as well. While they worked on this, the construction of the mikoshi was going along well thanks to the hard work of the Suiseki members. By the time they were about two weeks out from the festival, they had already put together the form of a proper mikoshi.

"... ah, I'm gonna need more paint," one of the men said while he was working, and Reo overheard him.

"Oh, I can go get some from the store. We're taking a break from rehearsal at the moment, anyway," Reo said.

"Ah, much obliged, Reo! No rush," the man said.

After receiving a budget from the clan's treasurer, Reo popped out to a nearby paint store to buy what they needed.

He was still a bit self-conscious, but he was definitely starting to regain some of his cheerfulness as he found his place in the Suiseki. The preparations were going well. Against all odds, he had a good dynamic with Satsuki and Reo, and their track was turning out well. Their mikoshi was also turning out much better than he had originally anticipated. If they put on a good show while carrying their mikoshi, then they'd surely garner a lot of attention, and the festival would be a resounding success. Reo was confident in this.

More or less.

Maybe -- he thought -- that if they put on a really lively festival under a clear summer sky, if he put on a good hip hop performance... then maybe his father might see it. I'm alright, I'm here, he could say. It was a bit of a long shot, but Reo clung to that hope. He had been trying so hard to find a place to belong in the Suiseki, but he hadn't completely abandoned all of his feelings for his blood family.

A real family, where he was taken care of unconditionally; blood ties; the warmth of his parents' home. He still held a lot of fondness for the memory, and he couldn't shake the idea that he might go back to it one day.


"... hey, ain't that Maruyama's brat?"

Before Reo knew what was going on, a van pulled up on the sidewalk beside him, and a suspicious man was glowering at Reo out the window.

"Finally found you," the man said. "Can we borrow you for just a second?"

How could Reo have forgotten? These were the men that his father was indebted to. The past came back to him in a far crueler way than he would have liked.


"Alright, out with it! He's your own dad, ain't he? Ain't no way you don't know where he is!"

"No, I--"

"Don't pull that bullshit on me, you fucking brat!"

Reo had been manhandled into the car and taken to an abandoned warehouse out at the port.

There were five men all told. This wasn't a lot, sure, but it was more than overkill for grabbing hold of a kid. They had a rough edge to them, but it was a totally different vibe compared to the yakuza that Reo knew. Iori had once told Reo that, when it came to criminals, there was a hierarchy; you could only count on proper old-fashioned Japanese yakuza to have any sense of duty or humility. There were far, far worse people in the world-- for instance, the Mafia who operated in mainland Asia.

Reo couldn't be sure, but it felt like these guys were a few step downs from that-- they were a ways down the food chain. They were hyenas, scavengers who made their money on loan sharking and fraud. Regardless of what they were, they were still dangerous. Reo had developed a sense for determining dangerous men during his time in the Suiseki.

"W-why are you still trying to hunt my dad down? All the money's gone already! You're not going to get anything out of him!" Reo said.

"We already know that, kid. We're not stupid enough to think we're gonna get any money out of you. But it ain't money we're after. Your father, he used to do dealings with us. He said he knew all kinds of secrets about Alter Trigger's experiments, and that it might turn out to be profitable."

"... huh?" Reo said.

This was, of course, all lies; Reo's father had pulled all of this out of thin air. He just knew that there was a big company called Alter Trigger that presumably had a lot of secrets and skeletons in the closet. However, he accidentally managed to stumble backwards into some halfway truths with his lies.

"To tell the truth, it sounded like bullshit," the man said. "But all that changed when we got word that you'd been picked up by the Suiseki. Now, the Suiseki-- they're all tied up with Alter Trigger. Don't you think that makes it sound a mite more convincing?"

"Ah--!" Reo exclaimed.

"Frankly, we could care less if the Alter Trigger company is pulling some back-alley deals-- but phantometal, that shit's gonna be a real moneymaker. We want in on that market. So we're lookin' for any crack in the foundation to make our way in."

"Ah, then--" Reo said, but got no further.

"Now you're gettin' it!" the man said. "These days, the pickings are pretty slim for small groups like us. So, if we make good on your father's information, then we could start making friends in higher places!"

In a lot of ways, all of the coincidences and accidents came together in a most fortuitous and unfortunate way. Reo's father's lies, the Suiseki, the Alter Trigger company-- it was all incredibly flimsy and tenuous if you took a moment to think about it, but the promise of money has a way of making people act irrationally.

"If you tell us where your father is," the man said, "then we won't have a problem."

It was completely absurd. There was no way that Reo could tell them something he didn't know. He shook his head frantically.

"Man, you're just making things harder on yourself," the man said. "So... what about old man Suiseki's driver. Iori, right? How about you call him in? Suiseki seems real fond of him, he might know something."

As he spoke, the man held up Reo's smartphone, which Reo realized only now had been taken from him earlier. On the screen was a phone number that had been pulled up, with the contact name 'Aniki'.

"... aniki?"

If he went along with what the man was saying, and he called Iori... he might be able to find a way to signal to Iori that something was wrong without the men finding out. He might be able to find a way out of this situation. Even if he couldn't, Iori might figure that something was wrong and come to Reo's rescue.

But Reo didn't take his phone from the man. He couldn't.

Everybody from the Suiseki was helping out with his idea. The mikoshi, the live performance, setting up the stage. It was all a lot of work, and it had all been on his account, and it was all finally coming together. Then, he had wandered off on his own, not thinking, and he had been snatched off the street. He couldn't trouble them any more, be it Iori or the rest of the Suiseki.

With that in mind, Reo shook his head and forced himself not to cry.

"... thought that might work," the man said, "but if you're gonna force my hand... Oi."

On the order of the man, who appeared to be their leader, the other men pinned Reo down. Reo struggled, but his skinny arms were no match for the men, and for all his effort, it had no effect.

"W-what is it you're thinking of doing?" Reo said.

"Maybe if we pull out two or three fingernails, you'll feel a little more inclined to be helpful," said the man.

Reo choked with fear, and desperately bit back the scream that he was about to let out. A man holding a pair of pliers began to approach him. Reo imagined the pain of torture-- despite his time with the yakuza, he was still only able to imagine it, he had no frame of reference for the real thing. This was the real deal, not a bluff or a fake-out.

"No, hold on, stop, I really-- even if you do this, I can't--!" Reo blurted.

He felt a faint pressure at the tips of his fingers out of nowhere, and the feeling of cold, rusty metal only intensified his dread. It was all he could do not to scream. "I can't... be a burden on everyone..." he choked out.

"Is that all the nads you have?" the man said, applying a bit of force to the pliers as warning. "The sooner you give, the easier it'll be. You ain't going to get saved by some random passerby like you did last time."

That taunt was a fatal blow to Reo; it shattered the last of his resolve. In the face of despair, you can either give up, or face your situation; but the man's words dislodged something deep in the depths of Reo's heart. It reminded him of that moment of hope, of salvation right before things got too bad. He remembered that moment that Iori swooped in and saved him.

But it was just a memory, and that was what was so cruel. Nobody was going to help him. He couldn't seem to accept that. In the depths of his denial, that feeling of last-ditch hope flashed before his eyes.

"If you're gonna blame anyone," the man said, "then blame that good-for-nothing family of yours."

"... no! No!" Reo cried.


Reo's family was, indeed, not good for much. A mother who had left him behind; a father who vanished and left Reo to shoulder the debt. But when the man said 'family', that wasn't what he was thinking of.

He was thinking of...

Acting without conscious will, he cried out.

"Help... someone! Help! Aniki!"

As he yelled, right as the pliers were about to tighten on his fingernail--

A guttural roar, and the sound of a breaking window. A human figure came practically flying into the warehouse. This was enough to distract the men, and while they were caught off-guard, the new arrival kicked away the man holding the pliers with all the force of a sudden storm, and there he stood, protecting Reo from all comers. Backlit by the light shining through the window, it was a familiar sight-- it was just like the moment that Iori had saved Reo from his lowest moment.

"A-aniki?" Reo said, but it wasn't aniki.

"Hey, Reo! I was wondering what'd been holding you up!"


In an abandoned old warehouse, bathed in the dusty rays of light, his hair -- as bright as the sun -- swayed a little, even in the stagnant air. He was incandescently angry-- but at whom? The answer was obvious-- he was mad at the rat bastards who had hurt his family. Underneath Satsuki's fangs-bared fierce expression, Reo and Reo alone could see the trace of his caring smile.

Though the men were momentarily disoriented, they quickly regained their composure. This intruder was just a teenager, hardly any older than Reo.

"What's with this brat, getting in way over his damn head? Just because there's two brats, that's not gonna make a difference!"

Two of the men reached to pull pistols out of their holsters, but something stopped them. Without warning, two more large figures had appeared in the warehouse.

"Think again if you think it's just two of us!"

"... We're here, too. ... We'll save Reo."

Before the men could right themselves, Zen's strong arms and Hokusai's large body had already subdued them and had them pinned down. It was all a smooth one-two punch-- Satsuki's flashy entrance had distracted the men and provided an opportunity for Hokusai and Zen to get the drop on the men in an ambush out of the dark.

"The fuck are they coming from--!?"

Much to the leader of the men's dismay, the warehouse doors flew open wide, and his face fell. The other men's faces fell in turn as they took in the sight. They would never have dreamed that this many people would show up just to hunt down one bratty kid. Ten men, twenty men... more than that. There were too many to count.

The Suiseki had arrived, and were lined up in orderly fashion. These were not the usual friendly, familiar faces of the Suiseki that you might see when you ran into one out in the street; these were proper Yakuza, their brows furrowed, fueled by the rage of injustice.

Among them was Iori.

"Hello, gentlemen!" he said. "You must be new around these parts! Grabbing someone right off the street's gonna attract attention, you know? Surely you don't think we'd just let our littlest member run off without someone to keep an eye on him."

Zen clenched his hand into a fist. "Satsuki got impatient and ran ahead, even though I told him to make sure he had backup before he came to meet you. Good thing Hokusai-kun and I were able to keep up with him!"

Reo couldn't help but look at Satsuki. Satsuki looked away, looking a little bit abashed; there were tears in the corners of his eyes.

A gentle palm fell on top of Reo's head. When he looked up, there stood Iori.

"... a-aniki... I'm sorry, I..." Reo began.

"Hm? Who's asking you to apologize for anything?" Iori said.

"I made you worried... I needed to be bailed out..." Reo said. "I thought I could handle things on my own, but I still ended up crying for help... I still made you coddle me..."

"Ah, don't be a dumbass," Iori said, petting Reo's head. "You can ask for help as much as you want. If you want to be coddled, then ask to be coddled. We're all here to help you. Me, Zen, Satsuki, Hokusai, the old man... all of us. A lot of people love you, Reo. We're your family, after all."

Iori smiled as bright as the sun on a summer day.

"A-aniki... aniki!"

Reo began to sob; Iori pulled him into a hug. Then, he turned his gaze onto the men who had kidnapped Reo. His eyes, so warm a moment before, turned freezing cold, sending a chill down their spines.

Then, an imposing shadow made its way through the crowd and emerged from the gathered clan members.

It was Suiseki himself. He was smiling. Everyone in the clan knew that Suiseki's smile -- much like Iori's smile, wide and broad as that of Ebisu -- was the most frightening expression that a man could wear.

"Ah, gentlemen! It seems you've made the error of underestimating us," he said.

"Wait-- wait! Hold on!" the leader of the men cried. "If you want money, we'll pay up! We'll even let you take over our businesses! Please, don't--!"

"I have no real need for money. I can just earn more than you could give us," Suiseki said. "And I can buy any material things I might need. But the thing is... if you put a hand on my family, I'm lettin' that slide."

With that, the Suiseki clan began to advance.

The men who had kidnapped Reo had no way to understand. It wasn't for pride or for money; they got no profit nor material benefit from this. It wasn't for the sake of a child to whom they were blood-related, nor for the sake of any of the old gang members, but for this single young boy. For this boy alone, everyone was enraged. For one young member of their clan, they had fire in their eyes.

Without a doubt, on this one point, the entire Suiseki were a family steeped in rage.

"Now, gentlemen, let me tell you something that your parents and your bosses clearly haven't seen fit to teach you," Suiseki said. "So learn well. You take care of yourself and your own family. Ain't anyone teach you that if you cross someone's family, you'll have to pay the price? No? Well, then you're leavin' me with no other choice."

Suiseki's smile faded.

"Well, let's teach them a lesson, shall we?"


The day of the festival arrived, and it was a cloudless, sunny day. A very impressive crowd had gathered in the narrow shopping district street. The festival had drummed up a lot of interest; from anticipation to curiosity, many factors combined to make the summer festival quite a success that year, more than it had been in some time.

"Alright, men! Let's go!"


Reo gave the signal, and the mikoshi, shining bright with lights and booming sound from stereo speakers, rode out.

The trio of Reo, Satsuki, and Hokusai rode atop, while Zen led the happi-clad men carrying it.

It was exactly as splendid as they had dared envision, but there was one key difference from their initial plan. It wasn't only the three of them rapping; it was everyone in the clan taking part. They hadn't assigned parts; it wasn't really hip hop, per se, but rather a huge summer festival ensemble.

Watching over the scene, Suiseki -- also clad in a happi coat -- cracked a wry smile and fanned his face. "Ahaha, it's all gotten mixed up. It's not really much of a hip hop performance, but a big ensemble's not such a bad thing, I figure."

Standing beside Suiseki, Iori was also looking on with a smile. The two of them were busy conducting the event, and so were watching from the sidelines rather than as part of the group.

"Reo had said that if anyone was going to sing, then everyone ought to sing," Iori said. "He was real insistent. Looks like it worked out in the end."

"Ah, he's certainly getting to be a spoiled one," Suiseki said. "But he's doing a lot better, I figure. Got a smile on his face all the time, now."

"Sure does."

Reo had had a total change of heart after the incident. He no longer held himself back; he was much more open about wanting to be spoiled and coddled. Not just with Iori, either-- with all of the members of the Suiseki. This was his acknowledgement that they were his family.

"They're all a bit too soft on Reo," Suiseki said. "The way he smiles just really makes you want to indulge him, don't it, but even so..."

"Hey, old man, weren't you the one who bought him that new video game console just the other day?"

"Dumbass. Ain't you the one who paid out of pocket for a new air conditioner for the office because Reo asked?" Suiseki countered.

"... maybe," Iori said. "Suppose I'm just glad he's finally opening up to us."

"You really are my son, ain't you," Suiseki said.

Suiseki and Iori laughed and continued to talk. Two people who shared the same family name, despite not being related by blood; two people who drank from the same sake cup[6], a relationship of trust between parent and child that had been built up. It wasn't about blood. It wasn't about getting something out of it. It was a connection that was as strong as it was invisible. They knew it better than anyone else. They were family.

"One of these days, Iori," Suiseki said, "I'm gonna have to bestow upon you a more respectable title. When that day comes, you'll be entrusted with all the people underneath you."

"Ah, do you really think that's such a good idea?" Iori said. "Come on. Don't make hasty decisions. I'm just barely not a kid, myself."

"I know what I'm talking about," Suiseki said. "Look at Zen, Hokusai, Reo, Satsuki. They ought to be underneath you, at the very least. They're a bit odd, I ain't gonna lie, but they're real fond of you. They're the rowdy bastards you're gonna have to take care of."

"<Akan Yatsura>, is it?"

"You heard me. You're gonna have to be their old man."

"I ain't old enough for them to call me old man. Aniki will do fine," Iori said.

Laughter echoed all around the hustle and bustle of the festival. As the mikoshi approached them, they heard Reo and the others call out to them.

"Old man! Aniki! What are you guys doing here?" Reo called.

"Aniki, you gotta get in on this! At least dance or something!" Satsuki said.

"Festival's really fun," Hokusai said.

"Oh, it's you two!" Zen said. "Carrying the mikoshi is turning out to be a great workout!"

They all talked over each other. Iori furrowed his brow and gave them an apologetic look. "Love to join you, but we're not exactly free, we've got shit to do--"

"Boo!" Reo said. "I'm not calling it quits until aniki sings with us! We went to all this effort but it won't be any fun at all if you don't join in!"

"You really have gotten good at demanding to be spoiled, huh..." Iori said.

Then Suiseki cut in. "You know what? I haven't carried a mikoshi in years, now. Everyone move! I'm comin' in!"

"Hey, wait, old man!" Iori said. "Don't hurt yourself!"

Suiseki could not be stopped; he tied on a headband and went ahead, with Iori following soon after.

As they joined in, the festival music got even louder. It was like the festival spirit spread out from here all around the entire city. Everywhere you looked, the festivities were in full swing; everyone you saw wore a smile on their face.

Everyone in the Suiseki, from the lowliest new recruit all the way up to the old man, were united as one-- the world's most spirited and lively family. The summer's heat lingered long after the sun had gone down, just as the sounds continued to echo through the night. It was like the festival was going to go on forever.

Forever, and ever...


It was much quieter over here in the clearing.

Far overhead, the wind blew the clouds across the sky.

"Hey, Reo."

Reo snapped back to attention when Satsuki called out to him. Without realizing it, he had walked all the way out to the hills that lay at the edge of the cemetery. While he had been standing there, looking at the sky, he had lost track of time in his memory.

"Don't wander off wherever you want!" Satsuki said. "We're about to go back."

"Mm. Got it," Reo said.

"Well. Like aniki would say, don't worry about it," Satsuki said, shrugging. "The old man spoiled you just like everyone else. He's not gonna be mad that you didn't pay respects."

"... yeah, I know," Reo said.

Together with Satsuki, Reo walked back down the hill. He tried his best not to look at the gravestones that flanked him on both sides; it felt too much like acknowledging how much death had occurred in the past. Eventually, the path opened up, and there stood Iori and the others waiting for him. You could spot Iori from a mile away; Zen stood behind him, flagging them down by waving his large hands. Hokusai knelt next to them, playing with a cat.

Satsuki took off towards them, calling over his shoulder to Reo as he went. "Hurry up, Reo, or we're gonna leave you here!"

"Wait just a minute--!" Reo said.

And then, he swore he could hear festival music, drifting on the wind from somewhere far away. It seemed to liven up the cemetery, just a little bit.

The wind blew the clouds away from in front of the sun, like pulling back a curtain. It was suddenly so bright that Reo had to squint. It was blazingly bright, and shimmering right in front of him--

"... ah..."

Was an illusion.

For a moment, he saw the entire Suiseki clan. The guys who were good at carpentry, the guys who were good at painting, the guys who were proud of their strength, and the guys who were a little tone deaf-- all of them were standing there, surrounding Hokusai, Zen, and Satsuki as though they were watching over them.

And the old man was standing right beside Iori, smiling wide.

It only lasted for a moment. They moved their lips, but no sound came out; they seemed to be saying something.

When Reo blinked, they were gone.

"Is something up, Reo?" Iori said.

"... no, nothing."

Iori tilted his head at Reo, giving him a skeptical look. "You alright? If it's getting to you, it's alright if you need to take a minute--"

"No, I'm okay," Reo shook his head-- it wasn't the 'I'm okay' of denial, or of trying to prove he was strong. It was a genuine feeling. He was alright. "We're okay. Maybe because everyone's here with us."

"Is that so?" Iori said, though perhaps he didn't entirely understand what Reo meant; he was put at ease by Reo's smile. "Suppose you're right." He turned to lead them away. "Alright!" he said. "Once we get back, we've got a lot of shit on our plates! Floating island development work, and we can't neglect CANDY, and we've gotta keep on top of performances too! We've got new songs to come up with. Akan Yatsura ain't ending just because we lost!"

"Hell yeah!" Satsuki said. "And we have to give cozmez a bit of payback!"

"I'm ready! After all, I've already committed to taking on the world with you, waka!" Zen said.

"I'll do my best, too," Hokusai said. "With everyone."

"We're gonna make our mark! Nobody can beat our spirit, right, aniki?" Reo said.

"You got it!" Iori took the lead, pointing one finger up towards the sky to lead them in their refrain. "What's our number, brothers?"

"Number one!"

"Akan Yatsura!"


"Let's go!"

They were very lively, considering they were making a grave visit. They took off down that road in high spirits.

It was like a festival that was going to go on forever.

Forever, and ever.

And it always would.

[1] One of the Seven Gods of Fortune, associated with water, wealth, and fishermen; often portrayed with a big, wide grin.
[2] If you didn't know this, it's a thing that summer festivals - you know, the kind you see in every anime and gacha game - are put on with a lot of yakuza involvement. So if you were wondering why AKYR are so heavy on the matsuri imagery (see: akan soul fever and rowdiez), that's why, lol.
[3] A kind of yokai that just kind of shows up and acts like it belongs in your house and eats your food
[4]I'm too much of a dummy wummy to render this, but he's kind of half-rapping; imagine him doing this in Yohei's flow and you've got the idea.
[5] A mikoshi is a lavishly-decorated portable shrine or palanquin, used to transport a god from the main temple to a new shrine or to a temporary shrine at the site of a festival, often carried by yakuza. As I said: yakuza involvement with festivals is just a thing. You're probably going to want to look this up if you're not familiar so that you have any idea what they're talking about through the rest of the chapter, lol.
[6]Say it with me now: yakuza shiiit~. Specifically this probably refers to the initiation ritual where you pledge loyalty by exchanging cups with your boss.