A/N: Sorry for disappearing! I haven't abandoned Seedlings, I promise. I was on a trip, and many things happened after I returned. Since it's been ages since my last update, I'll add a recap!
What happened so far:
Iwa approached the gang and asked for their help in removing Fūjin's seal. Naoki met a mysterious girl after leaving the hospital, and is tasked with finding her. Ryoba is studying for his exams, Ririko is nowhere to be seen, and Wataba is still struggling with being in Naoki's shadows. Now, on with the story!
Chapter 4 — What's in Kyoto? (1)
Miraculously, Kei's car wasn't even damaged in the slightest—no dents, scratches, or shattered windows... just severed brakes. "I have a job, you know..." Kei said as he watched Isei pay from the corner of his eye.
Isei shrugged and said, "But it's technically my fault."
Kei wanted to argue, but he knew Isei wouldn't get a peace of mind if he paid for the repairs himself. Besides, he justified, Isei is loaded... He felt bad thinking this way, but he felt even worse having someone else pay for him. "So... we good?" Isei nudged him gently and asked.
Kei shrugged, "Hard to be mad at someone who looks so sad and guilty all the time." Images of Isei moping around floated through his mind, and he shuddered at the thought. As mad as he was, he couldn't bear to see someone so sad because of him, even though he deserved it. But the way Isei beamed when he forgave him blew all his doubts away. As expected, I like him better this way.
"Alright boys," the mechanic said as he walked over, wiping his hands on a rag. "She's good to go."
"I didn't know your car had a gender," Isei said, amused. Kei shrugged and took the keys from the mechanic. "Neither did I."
They walked over to Kei's car, its shiny red surface polished to the point they could see their reflections. "They did a good job with the waxing," Isei said and slipped into the passenger seat. Kei shrugged as he drove out the garage. "I suppose. You kept your schedule clear today, right?" he asked as he pulled out of the garage.
Isei nodded. "Yeap. Are we going somewhere?"
Kei nodded. "But we have to pick up Ingrid first. Iwa said she was busy, so we'll go without her."
Isei's face scrunched up once he heard that. "What? But we're doing this for Iwa, aren't we? Something about her seal?"
"Fūjin's seal. I've never heard of anything like that, so we're going back to Kyoto. If we do this right, we have a potential ally, and a powerful one at that," Kei said as he tossed Isei his phone. "Can you call Ingrid?"
Although Isei didn't like that Iwa wasn't tagging along, he couldn't deny the fact that Iwa was a powerful ally—a policeman's daughter, and someone with extensive connections in the Seedling community. He sighed and called Ingrid dejectedly.
A tall figure clad in a black hakama stepped out of the shadows. He tugged at his mask, unveiling a handsome face marred with an angry scar starting from his left browbone all the way to his cheek. "I'm back, Yonezu-sama," he announced, shrugging off his haori. His slanted emerald eyes scanned the room and saw a pair of slippers right outside a sliding door. He frowned and peeled off his mask, revealing hair as white as snow the length of his back. "Yonezu-sama? Are you praying?" he asked again, walking towards the door.
He extended his arm towards the door, but before he reached it, a hand appeared and grabbed his wrist. "Stop. You know she doesn't like people disturbing her praying sessions," another young man clad in black said. Before the white-haired man could retort, the door slid open and a short old lady appeared, a smile on her wrinkled face. "Ah, you're back. How was the mission, Kenji?" she turned to the white-haired man and asked. Kenji bowed his head and replied curtly, "It went well. I couldn't get the candle, but I managed to scrap some of the wax off and snapped a picture."
Yonezu nodded approvingly and turned to face the younger man. "Tch. Shojiro! What did I say about masks indoors?"
Shojiro bowed and peeled off his mask, revealing a small face framed by wispy strands of golden hair. Despite being a man, he had feminine features: large crimson eyes with thick lashes, small lips, and a slender frame. "I apologize, Yonezu-sama."
"I never get tired of that beautiful face, Shojiro. Reminds me of my daughter," she said, caressing his cheeks. Although Shojiro tried his best to conceal his irritation, Kenji still managed to see his hands balling into fists. Her face changed and she pulled her hand back. She dropped the small bag of wax into Shojiro's hands and said, "But enough of that! Kenji, since you used so much chi, you should rest up. Shojiro, bring this sample to the lab."
Shojiro nodded and slipped the small bag into his haori. "Alright. Should I show—"
"No need. I need to speak with Kenji about some private matters," Yonezu said and squeezed Shojiro's shoulders. "Go on now, Shojiro. Kushina is waiting."
Shojiro nodded and vanished. Once Kenji confirmed that Shojiro was gone, he turned to Yonezu and scoffed. "I see you still don't trust Shojiro. I don't know what happened between you and Tsuchida, but Shojiro doesn't deserve this treatment."
Yonezu scoffed. "Don't even mention that name. Thanks to that idiot, I had to come all the way to Japan."
Kenji shrugged. "Whatever. So, what did you want to talk about?"
She took a deep breath. "We found the boy."
His eyes widened to the size of saucers. "You found him?! Where is he? Is he okay?"
She rolled her eyes and held up a hand, cutting him off. "Fortunately for you, he's also in Japan. He's currently residing in Tokyo. As for his current state, we believe he is well, considering the circumstances. Now, aren't you glad you came to Japan with me?"
Ingrid frowned and stabbed her cake. "No, sis. I would've preferred staying in Denmark, thanks for asking. School is hard, rent is expensive, and no one can pronounce my name right," she said, frowning at the older woman sitting across from her. She was a splitting image of Ingrid, minus her blond ringlets and the beauty mark on her chin. Ingrid sighed and put down her fork, asking, "Why do you always ask me the same question every time?"
Astrid Choi smiled somberly and pat Ingrid's hand. "I just... I want to bring you back, too. But I really can't..."
Once Ingrid saw the sadness in her older sister's eyes, she squeezed Astrid's hand reassuringly. "It's... It's fine, sis. I know how hard it is for you. But I do wish we could go back one day. Not today, but one day," she said, winking mischievously at her sister. Astrid chuckled at Ingrid's attempt to cheer her up, and thought, She's all grown up now...
Right at this moment, Astrid's phone rang. "Oh... it's a call from work," she said, her face scrunching up as she went outside to answer the call. I sure hope she isn't overworking herself... Ingrid thought as she watched her sister exit the cafe. Astrid returned a few moments later with a grim expression on her face. "Ingrid... I didn't want to do this to you, but I'm needed at work. I... I thought we could spend some quality time together, but now that a promotion's around the corner, I have to work twice as hard to get that promotion."
"Wait, does this mean you're flying back to Osaka?"
Sighing, Ingrid got up and hugged her sister. "Alright... but please, don't overwork yourself, okay?"
Astrid giggled and hugged her back. "What are you, my mom? I'll try, but no promises!" She handed Ingrid some pocket money and dashed outside. Ingrid ate the rest of the cake and checked her messages. No new messages. She frowned and checked the text she received from Kei last night: Keep tmrw clear. Just those three words, and nothing else. She tried calling him, but her calls weren't going through. Sighing, she put her phone down and began drinking her coffee. Her phone started vibrating the moment she picked up her cup.
She checked the caller ID with furrowed brows. It was Kei. She let it ring for a few moments out of spite before picking up. "Hello?"
"Ingrid! Where are you right now?"
"The Panama Rose Cafe... why?"
"Wait outside." Before she could retort, he hung up. Sighing, she paid the bill and stepped outside, just in time to see a red car driving towards her. The car stopped in front of her and Kei rolled down his window, gesturing at the backseat. "Get in," he ordered, and she quickly got in. Was he always so bossy?
"Where are we going?" she asked once she was inside. Isei turned around and grinned, replying, "Kyoto!"
Astrid got off at Haneda airport and sighed, staring at her lockscreen—an image of her and Ingrid at Ingrid's middle school graduation. A butler carrying a briefcase walked towards her and greeted, "Astrid, I'm glad you could make it."
She shrugged and let him lead her to a black van parked in a secluded area. "I don't know, Yijun... I feel bad about leaving Ingrid by herself. First, I can't bring her back to Denmark, then I have to lie about my job and send her very little pocket money, and now I abandon her despite not seeing her for a year," she whined, stretching her arms.
Yijun opened the door and frowned at her, rebuking her, "I had to leave my wife and unborn child alone and work for that poor excuse of a father."
Red unfurled across her cheeks and she rubbed his arm in an attempt to soothe things over. "I get it... I have it better than you. Sorry about that, Yijun, it's just... Ingrid is such a sweet and understanding kid. I feel bad doing this to her all the time."
He let out a heavy sigh and ushered her into the van. "It's fine. I guess I got too worked up about it, too," he said as he closed the door behind him.
Several other passengers were inside the van, who nodded at her in acknowledgment when they saw her. Once they seated comfortably, she took the briefcase from him and snapped it open on her lap. Inside laid a pile of documents bound together and a black satchel. She raised a brow at him questioningly and leafed through the documents, commenting, "There's only one copy."
"This is sensitive material. That's why we chose you for the job, we need someone with good memory. The higher-ups also requested me to remind you to keep things on the down-low, since this is a very discreet mission," he said and gestured to the black satchel, "hence why you were given as little equipment as possible. They want you to be as inconspicuous as you possibly can. So, please memorize everything thoroughly. Although knowing you, you won't have any issues with memorizing."
She handed him the documents and swung the satchel over her neck. "Noted. Remember things carefully and discretion."
He nodded, impressed and locked the documents inside the briefcase. "You memorized everything already? Astrid, you never fail to impress me. Good luck—"
"Wait," one of the other passengers said and dangled a bottle of clear nail polish in front of them. "Lab told me to give you this. They said you'd know what to do."
She muttered a quick 'thanks' and stuffed the nail polish in her satchel, even though she had no clue what it meant. Although she was good at masking her emotions, Yijun still managed to catch a glimpse of her confusion. He chuckled silently and messed with the combination lock. Once he was done, the briefcase shook, accompanied by a soft explosion from within. He snapped it open and showed the other passengers the empty contents before tucking it away in a hidden compartment inside the van.
He patted her back. "Good luck out there, agent."
— Chapter 4 End —
[9/3/18] — I edited the last scene to make it flow better. I removed it earlier, but decided to stick with my initial decision.