The kitchen in the back of God's Tongue cafe, just as the sun was setting. There, having just finished making a pot of ramen, Yuri dipped a wooden spoon into the broth, scooping a small portion out.
She stared at it, frowning. But then she blew on it to cool the broth down and took a sip.
Extremely salty. Preprocessed ingredients and powder. Grease and chaotic mixes of vegetable juices that hadn't blended together at all.
It made her want to gag, but she forced that down and let out a sigh instead. After that, she turned off the stove and stepped back, letting the ramen cool down.
The curtain to the kitchen slid open and someone walked in. Minato, wearing a suit and tie. The older gentleman glanced at Yuri and the pot of ramen before letting out a faint smile. "You're working hard, Yuri."
Yuri wiped her hands down on her apron and said, "I have to. After all, I'll be graduating in spring. I need to be ready if I want to help you."
Minato smiled, but he shook his head. "There's no need for that, Yuri. Grandpa will be happy if you can just support yourself and enjoy life."
"And I'll enjoy life by making sure Grandpa is taken care of when you're old." Yuri crumpled the edges of her apron and quietly said, "I don't want to lose you too."
Minato's eyes widened a bit before watering. But he smiled and walked forward, patting Yuri's head. "You're a good granddaughter, Yuri. But Grandpa will be fine supporting himself. I haven't made it to this age by being a weakling, you know?"
He laughed and said, "Don't worry. No matter what, I won't die before my cute granddaughter finds a husband to support her."
Yuri huffed and crossed her arms. "Well, what if I want to marry a woman instead?"
"Oh?" Minato raised an eyebrow. "You should have said so. Grandpa actually has a friend with a cute daughter around your age-"
Yuri flushed and said, "I was joking! Geez..."
Minato laughed and then walked into the back, opening a cupboard. "Even if you aren't, this old man won't judge." A strange emotion crossed his face and he muttered, "The last time I did that didn't end well for everyone involved."
Minato pulled out a case from the cupboard and then stood up. Glancing at Yuri, he shook his head and said, "It's nothing, Yuri. Just an old man's regrets."
Yuri frowned and then glanced at the case. Then her frown deepened. "Why are you taking your knives?"
"Hm?" Minato followed Yuri's gaze and then shook his head. "Oh, one of Grandpa's old friends wants to get together... Ah, by old I mean an upstart that I trained in the past." He lifted the case and said, "That guy said he wanted me to teach him a few new tricks."
"Oh." Yuri nodded. "I suppose Grandpa's been a bit too secluded recently because of me. Your old students probably all want to catch up..."
Minato walked over and patted Yuri's head again. "Don't worry, Yuri. Even if that's true, Grandpa wouldn't change the time spent with you for anything else."
Yuri flushed and then she brushed Minato's hand away. "T-That's stupid. I'm almost a grown woman, you know?!"
"And until you are, you'll always be Grandpa's cute and adorable granddaughter. I can't help but worry about you."
"H-Hmph." Yuri crossed her arms and looked away, but she couldn't hide the faint smile on her face.
Minato laughed and started walking out. He grabbed a fedora that was hanging near the entrance of the kitchen before placing it on his head. Adjusting the rim, he turned back to Yuri and said, "Don't stay here too late and lock up when you leave, alright, Yuri?"
Yuri rolled her eyes. "I can take care of myself, Grandpa."
"Mm. I know. But this old man just can't help worrying these days."
"Fine, fine. I'll be careful and lock up everything tight. Happy?"
"Just be safe, Yuri. You're the only thing this old man has left to live for."
Yuri froze at the oddly heavy words. "...Grandpa? Is something happening?"
Minato chuckled. "Of course not. This old man just can't stop worrying since his cute granddaughter still hasn't even had a boyfriend in her seventeen years of life."
Minato waved and said, "Stay safe, Yuri. Grandpa's heading out now... I'll be back tomorrow morning."
Before Yuri could gather her wits to retort, Minato was gone.
Realizing that, the young woman huffed and adjusted her light brown hair. "Teasing me like that... Well, I guess it's good that Grandpa's more relaxed these days."
Ever since that meal with John Smith, Yuri's grandfather had been more carefree and happy, content to simply spend time with Yuri. As a result, his cooking had become a bit sloppier... but somehow, it tasted better.
Remembering that made Yuri turn back to her own cooking. Staring at the sloppy ramen, she frowned and said, "How did that man do it...?"
It had cooled down enough during Yuri's talk with her grandfather, so she served a bowl for herself and carried it over to the dining area.
Trying her best to figure out just how that John Smith created his dish, she sat down in the exact same spot he took the last time he was in their restaurant. A booth in the far back corner.
She didn't know if it was just her imagination or not, but her head seemed to be clearer when she sat there and she always managed to get some sort of enlightenment.
It could just be coincidence and superstition... but Yuri would rather believe that and pray for a miracle than show her face in front of that man and ask for his secrets.
Even if she had a feeling that he would tell her.
No, she would figure it out for herself if it was the last thing she did.
Placing the bowl of ramen on the table in front of her, Yuri reached into her pocket and pulled out her personal gold plated spoon and fork... but then she remembered John's words last time and set them aside. Instead, she picked up a pair of wrapped silverware on the table, a stainless steel fork and spoon. Using those, she carefully spun a noodle and placed it into her mouth.
An instinctive urge to gag and spit it out.
The noodle was limp, spongey. The broth was overdone, even after sitting for a while.
Superficially, it resembled what she remembered eating, but in terms of the 'essence' that she tasted last time, the difference was too vast.
Yuri swallowed, ignoring how the noodle trailed down her throat. After that, she stubbornly used the spoon to scoop up some of the broth.
A sharp metallic taste from the steel. Even so, Yuri ignored it and kept eating.
'Daddy would be worried if he saw how picky I was.'
Right. Her father looking down from heaven would surely be concerned for her health.
Granted, eating ramen wasn't too healthy overall, but it was true that she hadn't been eating properly. And she also couldn't rely on Grandpa preparing meals for her all the time or keep using those tasteless supplements either.
No. Even if she hated the sharp taste and mess of flavors, she would eat it.
Besides, her grandfather had given up so much for her after her parents passed away. This was a small sacrifice to pay in exchange... not to mention it was helping herself as well.
"Still," Yuri muttered. "This is pretty unappetizing."
She sighed and shook her head before standing up.
Since it was a failure, she might as well let it cool for a bit so that she could quickly eat it rather than torture herself bite by bite. In the meantime... Well, she had been skipping out on school work in the past few weeks helping Ichiro-kun practice cooking after the guy begged her to help him out.
"I might as well work on that while I wait..." Muttering to herself, Yuri walked into the back and grabbed her school bag before heading back to the table. Setting it down on the booth beside her, she pulled out her textbooks and binder of notes. Placing those next to her bowl of ramen, Yuri dug around for some headphones as well.
And then she heard a loud crash outside.
Grandpa had locked the door behind him, so it should be fine... but should she take a look just in case?
Yuri waited for a bit, wondering about whether to go check on the situation. But after a few minutes passed without another sound, she shrugged and put on her headphones, plugging it into her phone.
After that, she turned on her music player app and played her favorite song.
Humming along to it, Yuri pulled out a pencil and cracked open her textbooks.
Outside of the God's Tongue cafe, a strange sight had formed.
First of all, it was getting dark. Evening drew near, so the light was fading.
Because of that, and due to the current situation turning over the yakuza world, certain members of the Seiryuu Alliance had gathered to try and kidnap the former Torabu Chairman's granddaughter.
A group of six, one officer and the rest professional abductors and hitmen, scoped the area and made a plan to test the waters.
Intelligence reports had said that Minato Miyamoto had left the area, leaving his granddaughter unprotected.
So the men moved.
But that was when the incidents began.
The first man decided on a frontal approach, walking up the the front door to pick the lock and enter. But before he could, he slipped on a patch of black ice and knocked over a pile of trash cans near the entrance, splitting open his skull as he fell.
Seiryuu on standby quickly moved to recover the man and take him to the hospital for treatment.
But it was a minor setback, so the mission continued.
And then the second man moved, a wicked hitman known for his sadistic measures. Before he took a single step towards the cafe, he clutched his chest and collapsed. When the leader of the mission sent men to check, it turned out that the man had died from a heart attack.
A strange coincidence, but nothing serious.
The third man moved, a suave man that trained under Aoyama and was skilled at 'persuading' beautiful young woman to come along. Clutching a small bag of his usual tools, chloroform and aphrodisiacs, he stepped forward... and then suddenly fell to the ground, convulsing with foam coming out of his mouth and blood running down his nose.
An epileptic seizure, followed by a stroke.
And then only three men remained from the original strike team.
"O-Oi." The remaining hitman glanced at the leader of the mission. "Y-You don't think the rumor about those ghosts coming back last night was true, do you?"
The other man left in the group beside the leader, a skilled abductor, slowly nodded, his face pale. "I-I heard that one of those ghosts was the One-Eyed Demon..."
The hitman's eyes widened. "D-D-Didn't that guy run into our headquarters and kill an entire branch family just to save the Torabu Chairman's daughter? That was over twenty years ago, but... if it's true those legends came back as vengeful spirits..."
"Hmph." The leader of the mission scoffed. "What a joke. As if there's such a thing as ghosts in this world."
The hitman shook his head. "I don't know, Boss. I have a lot of friends who were killed last night. And whatever did it wasn't human."
The abductor nodded. "R-Right. I had a friend who was at one of the soaplands last night with his girl. He was fine since he didn't fight, but he said that he heard mad cackling and screams throughout the entire night."
The leader of the mission spat on the ground. "Cowards." Reaching into his shirt, he pulled out a knife and said, "If you two won't go grab the girl, I will." Saying that, he walked over, knife in hand.
Unlike the other men, he managed to reach the front door. When he did, he turned back to sneer. And then-
The hitman pointed up.
The leader of the mission looked up, following the man's gesture.
A giant icicle, glistening almost malevolently in the fading light.
The leader's eyes widened and he stepped back.
But then the icicle suddenly snapped, falling down with deadly speed.
A sickening squelch.
Blood and viscera splattered as the leader clutched his left eye. But to his credit, he didn't scream. Instead, he pulled out the icicle and staggered backwards.
But as if he was cursed, a lace on his shoes came undone at that moment, causing him to trip.
Reflexively, he tossed his knife away to catch himself. And he did, avoiding smashing his head against the ground and cracking his skull. But just as he let out a sigh of relief, the knife flew back down.
In his haste, the leader had tossed it straight up instead of to the side. As a result, when gravity took over, and because the man favored a tip-heavy knife with a wide blade, it pierced straight through the back of his neck, killing him instantly.
The hitman and the abductor froze, looking at each other.
The hitman blinked, slowly stepping away from the scene. At the same time, he quickly tossed out his Seiryuu identification, wallet, and then kowtowed. "B-B-B-Big brother Yuurei-san! I didn't mean it!"
The abductor caught on and quickly tossed aside his equipment as well before kneeling as well. "R-R-Right! We were forced! I swear, I'll go clean after this! I won't ever do something like this again!"
The two men waited, sweat pouring down their necks. But after a long time passed, enough for darkness to completely fall over the surroundings, nothing happened. Realizing that, the two men stood up.
The hitman blinked, running a hand through his shaggy shoulder-length hair. "Were we spared?"
The abductor, a young man who couldn't have been more than twenty years old, nodded. "I-I-I think so."
The men looked at each other and then sighed.
The hitman looked at the abductor and said, "You up for a drink? On me."
The abductor started walking away, wiping his hands down on his pants. "Let's make it Korean barbecue too. I need some good food and drink to forget about all of this..."
With that, the two surviving members of the team that set off to kidnap Yuri vanished into the night.
When they did, a faint shadow fell down from the rooftop before cleaning up the scene, getting rid of the body and blood, and leaving the area as if nothing had happened. Even the snow and the broken icicle were accounted for, making it seem like no one had been there all day.
Maji brushed his hands off on his pants and then glanced into the window of the God's Tongue cafe. There, he could see a beautiful young woman seated at a booth, working on homework while absently eating a bowl of ramen.
But that wasn't all.
There was a faint shimmer around the table that ordinary people couldn't see, but that Maji could because of his connection to John.
"Heh. Looks like the Boss saw through my lie about not having any regrets."
Maji didn't know how it happened, but it seemed like Boss had gotten involved with 'her' daughter as well.
Did he do it as a reward for Maji? As an incentive? Or was it a coincidence?
Maji didn't know, considering how unfathomable that guy was, and he had a feeling he wouldn't get a straight answer if he asked.
Either way though, the girl that he wanted to check up on and protect was safe and sound.
Maji stared at her a bit longer, muttering, "She really looks like her mother, huh? That other guy only really gave her his hair color..."
A stray thought crossed Maji's mind. If he hadn't given her up like that old man asked, then maybe the girl sitting there, instead of light brown hair...
"Tch." Maji pulled out a cigarette and flicked his fingers, lighting it with a small flame. After taking a long puff, he muttered, "Damned Boss. Working for a pushover like that's getting me sentimental now too."
He sighed and looked up at the night sky. "All I want is for you to laugh and live into tomorrow... was it? You're not here anymore... but I'll make sure your kid lives well, Maki." Muttering that, Maji shook his head and walked off, dissolving into the shadows.