He knew it wasn't over. They had parted ways, taken separate roads, but he knew it wasn't over. How many other times had they done the same, heading different directions only to find that they'd all been heading in circles, circles that led them right back to each other? He'd see Jin and Fuu again. This he knew and it made him angry.
Mugen hated circles. They meant never going anywhere.
It was a bright day, the sun high and engulfing him in warmth as he wandered down the road through Nagasaki, back the way they'd come a few days ago, while still together. His feet kicked up little puffs of sand as he went and he watched them, swirling and glittering in the light before settling back into the ground—sand ending up right back where it had started. Circles.
He cursed, looked up. The clutter of shops and merchants came into view just ahead, forming the busy city amidst the backdrop of rolling, green hills. Unique scents assaulted his nose, a strange mixture of East and West, rice and red meat mingling in the air, teasing his empty stomach and driving it into a bout of crazed, animalistic rumbling. A woman passing by glared at him, obviously bothered by the noise. She was old and fat and wore furrowed lines from a permanent frown. He turned on her with dark, piercing eyes. "What are you lookin' at? Just cuz you can afford to eat good…" Her expression yelled at him with shock and offense as she hurried off, the sound of her sandals scoffing across the ground and fading behind him. Grumbling to himself, he continued on. The vendors were beginning to appear on either side of him now, eager merchants beckoning the passerby of the suddenly crowding road to look at their wares.
He was in a bad mood, and it made him feel like fighting, like throwing his aggressions into the flick of his sword and the swing of his fists. A flash of bright yellow caught in the peripheral of his vision and he turned to one of the selling stands, piled high with wares.
He froze, debating, and finally walked over with a shrug of his shoulders. The seller, a small, old man, bent with age, looked up excitedly as Mugen approached.
"These sunflowers are freshly picked. The best you can find, and for a good price, Sir."
Sir? Mugen scoffed inwardly. He grabbed one of the huge flowers and shoved his nose into the center, inhaling deeply, and barely hearing the seller protest.
"Hey! Are you going to pay for that?"
"No," Mugen mumbled into the petals. He took another sniff before finally removing his face from it. "Well, waddaya know. It really does have a smell. And here I thought she was making it up."
He looked at the old man, who answered with a bewildered look, before throwing the flower back on the pile and turning away. No use getting nostalgic.
Stupid girl would probably get herself killed in a week anyway without him and Jin protecting her. How many times had they saved her life when they were together? At least an end to her would mean an end to the circles.
He kicked the ground suddenly, a surge of anger forcing the movement so that a deep groove was left in the dirt road. He knew he hadn't meant that last thought.
Again, his stomach grumbled, and again it was loud enough to earn him more dirty looks from the people passing by. Something had to be done about this. Reaching his hands into his pockets, Mugen rummaged around for some money, frowning when his palms came back empty. He stretched upward and yawned, crossing his arms behind his head. Time to find some food.
He stopped suddenly. In front of him was a large tea house, and in the window of that tea house were huge meat chunks roasting on sticks, dripping with juice. He imagined—could even feel—that juice dripping down his own chin. Swallowing, he realized that that "juice" was really drool, and he wiped his face with the back of his arm. This was the place.
Of course, he had no money, but he couldn't very well think of a way to get some money on an empty stomach, now could he? He was sure he'd figure out how to pay the bill after he'd eaten. If he decided to pay it.
Inside, stray wisps of chatter swirled around the room, voices of men and woman, various ages. His mind automatically picked out the dangerous ones and his eyes searched them out: a group of young men talking quietly in the corner, obviously about something secretive; a government official bragging to a pretty waitress with long black hair; and a few scattered others. Those were the ones to watch—the ones to go after when he was ready to start some trouble. He ambled along casually, hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched, and plopped down in a seat at an empty table.
It wasn't long before the pretty waitress with the long black hair came over and he couldn't help the feral smile that turned his lips. Behind her he caught the brooding stare of the arrogant government official and smiled even wider. This was going to be fun.
She looked down at him. Large black eyes and a false smile. "What would you like?" The voice was strained.
He almost laughed. This was waaaay too easy. His eyes traveled up her slight, curved figure, her dark gray kimono leaving just enough to his imagination to keep him occupied. A couple of choice dirty and crude replies came into his mind but then he thought he heard Fuu's voice reprimanding him. Stupid girl. What was she now, his conscience? That was the last thing he needed. He tried to growl the voice away internally. It didn't work. It had never worked with her in real life either.
What he ended up saying was much more discrete than what he'd originally intended, but he did still manage to get his point across, staring at her chest as he said, "Everything."
She scoffed, turning to leave, but he grabbed her wrist before she could, held it in a death grip. "I'll take care of that braggart over there if you want," he said, her back still to him. She turned halfway, and he let go of her hand. Her other hand came up to rub her wrist as she looked back at him, and he noticed he'd left a mark on her, not realizing his strength.
"Why?" Her eyes were full of suspicion. Raven's eyes, but the eyes of a raven about to be shot.
He laughed. "Not for free." He realized how vaguely reminiscent this scene was of the first time he'd met Fuu.
She turned to go again.
"I'm not going to take advantage of you. I just want a meal."
Again she stopped, looked back. "That's all?"
"How do I know you're not lying?"
"You don't." He smiled. There was a menu lying on the table and he picked it up, handing it to her. "And I really do want everything."
The waitress paused a moment, seeming to examine him, before taking the menu and walking away.
He sat back and waited for his food. The government official was sending him daggered looks that Mugen was enjoying immensely. It would be fun to beat this guy up later. Maybe the fight would even lift his mood, though he doubted it.
Memories came back on him, and he fought them away. That wasn't what he needed. Angst wasn't his style. Action and reaction, but not deep thought. The last thing he wanted was to turn into Jin—permanent gloomy eyes and a mouth practically frozen in a downward curve. Every time that man's lips even hinted at a smile, Mugen was convinced his whole face would shatter from the stress.
The official was still staring at him, but now the girl was bent close to his ear, whispering something in it.
Mugen knew then that he wasn't about to get a meal in this place.
The man's expression grew somehow more menacing, and he stood suddenly, snapping his fingers. Several more men joined him instantly, mostly figures he had noticed when he'd first walked in. Their hands were on their swords and they moved over to Mugen together, the original official in the lead, obviously intending trouble.
Mugen looked down, began picking at a scab on his leg, waiting for them to come, his hand tingling with the ghost outline of his sword in it.
"I hear you've been starting trouble with the waitress," the head official said. Mugen didn't look up.
"Do you hear me?"
Mugen still didn't look up, or react in any way. This sure was an itchy scab.
"Hey, I'm talking to you!"
And now Mugen did respond, a malicious smirk on his lips. "So?"
The official's short, wide face contorted. Mugen saw the man's eyes travel to the blue tattoos around his wrists and ankles—souvenirs from prison.
A slow smile spread the official's thick mouth. "Well, what do we have here? An ex-con, eh?"
"Who said anything about bein' an 'ex'?"
The official slipped his sword out of the sheath at his waist as he spoke, "Even better. Now we have every right to kill you."
He swung then, but Mugen was already in the air, sword unsheathed, flipping over the official's head and slicing though him on the way down. The rest of the men came at him, and he took them down without using his sword again, knocking them unconscious with the metal plates on the bottoms of his sandals and the equally solid heals of his hands. When he was done, they were all lying in a heap on the floor, not a single one of them dead, though the main official was bleeding badly.
I must be getting soft.
The teahouse was silent. Stowing his sword away and cracking his knuckles, Mugen began to leave. But his stomach stopped him. It growled in protest, pausing him in mid-step. Ain't no way I'm leaving without a meal. Pivoting around, he walked back to where the official had been sitting originally, ignoring the shocked stares the other patrons of the teahouse were giving him. Actually, he enjoyed the attention. That's right, be afraid, be very afraid, he thought amusedly at the mass of people. The official had left a large bowl of stir-fry. Stir-fry that involved substantial pieces of cooked meat. Stir-fry that had barely been touched. Mugen picked up the bowl, shoved his face in it, and practically swallowed the food in one bite, before finally turning and leaving the teahouse.
The first thing he noticed as he stepped outside, squinting in the bright sunlight and beginning to walk down the road again, was the man standing in the shadows at the side of the tea house. He noticed this because the shadows were the first things he always noticed. Those were the places he was used to being and he didn't take kindly to other people standing in his shadows.
He turned to face the intruder, expecting another confrontation, maybe another one of the official's friends.
What he found was a tall man, body looking like a series of long wires tied together, his eyes and face stolen away by the darkness. "You are quite a fighter." The man's voice was deep and smooth.
"You look like you could use some money. How would you like to fight for money?"
Mugen shrugged. "Okay." It sounded good so far.
"There is a place, on the other side of town, where people come to gamble. Upstairs are the card tables and dice games, but underground is the fighting arena. There, you would fight opponents for people to place bets on. If you win, you get half of the profits. The only rules are, no swords, and no killing. Of course, this establishment is rather… secretive," he looked back at the tea house pointedly, where the pile of government bodies lay inside, "but I doubt you'll have a problem with that. Are you interested?"
Again, Mugen shrugged. "Maybe."
The man stepped forward out of the shadows a little, and now Mugen could see his face, a dark red scar across the left side of his forehead and wandering around his left eye to the top of his cheekbone. The rest of his face was very nondescript, simple black slanted eyes and dark hair, a face that you could easily lose in a crowd—except for that scar. "Good," the man continued. "I'll see you tonight at the Lusty Diamond. Just ask anyone where it is, they all know."
And then Scarface turned and dissolved into the shadows.
The Lusty Diamond. Mugen tucked his hands behind his head and continued walking.
Well at least he wasn't going to be bored tonight.