"Kazuo, I have to study—"

"You will address me properly."

"I have to study, Kazuo. Now get out."

I knew it was disrespectful, the way I was addressing him, but I did have to study and Kazuo wasn't known for his ability to take hints, which was understandable when you thought about how old he was—like fucking a thousand and looking every bit of it, too. Just him standing in my doorway made me feel like an old geezer. Which was disgusting, because .. old people.

"Eh?" He shuffled into the room, squinting an eye at me. "What are you studying?"

I had to suppress the urge to roll my eyes. Like I said. Totally unable to take a hint. "Uh, art. Because I'm an art major, remember? Now shoo. Go take your blood sugar or something."

Kazuo frowned, halting at the foot of my bed. "Art? Like what?"

"Art, like .." What the fuck kind of question even was that? He wanted me to explain art to him? Who does that? I swear my eyes were crossing. "Like drawing. On, uh .. paper."

"There is no place for such fancies in the life of an onmyoji," Kazuo stated severely.

Now it was my turn to stare at him.

Onmyoji. A practitioner of the art of onmyodo. Onmyodo. A traditional Japanese esoteric cosmology, a mixture of natural science and occultism—basically, sorcery. But wait, now I'm going to tell you something even more mind-blowing, which is ..

I would rather do my homework than play with Japanese sorcery.

Gasp! I know, I know. Most people would probably think, what the fuck's wrong with this guy, us normal people would kill to have magical abilities! That's the catch, though. Also, fuck those people.

I don't actually have magical abilities. But as the firstborn son of Abe no Seimei, the greatest onmyoji since .. like, ever, I'm supposed to. And I mean, I do have the spiritual sight, but that's about my only claim to fame. Kazuo had practically fucking tortured me as a child—constant meditation, reading, hiking in the name of Zen, blah blah blah. I mean, I still have the kujikiri committed to muscle memory. I could perform them backwards while standing on my head, for fuck's sake. But I've never been able to do any of the real stuff—like summon shikigami, move capitals, or divine harmful influences in the earth. Which is the stuff everyone expected me to be able to do.

I've been dutifully studying onmyodo since I could walk, but I've never shown any sign of achieving satori or any kind of enlightenment, not even once. My father had already achieved satori twelve times by his eighteenth birthday. I'm turning twenty-two in six weeks and all I've achieved thus far is a massive, recurring headache, several sprained muscles from holding the full-lotus too long, and a prominent lack of a social life.

Yeah. Sorry for not being the Jesus Christ you were expecting.

The problem is, Kazuo's just as stubborn as me, if not more so. He has the patience of a snail—fucking endless. As a child, I had admired him. Had hung on his words and promises. I'd pushed myself to my physical limits, trying to please him and my father. But I was older now and I was done with the stupid rituals and meditation, with allowing myself to believe that I was anything like the great legend of my father.

And yet Kazuo didn't leave my room. He just stood there, staring at me as if I were the one being unreasonable. Like he expected me to apologize for having ideas and dreams outside of the family legacy. I mean, how dare me, right?

"Kazuo, I mean it. I'm busy. Get out." I kept my voice firm, unyielding. I even pointed at the door, just in case he needed a physical cue. Bad Kazuo! Get out, Kazuo!

He'd make a terrible dog, I decided when he didn't turn and leave immediately. Maybe more training was in order ..

"Keiko-san called this morning," he said instead. I felt the muscle beneath my left eye start to tic. "She wants you to take her to dinner."

Keiko Tsuchimikado. Think crazy female. Then add a dash—no, make that a shitload of obsessed with me. Stir in some stalker, season with that one weirdo who had a crush on you in grade school and multiply it by a thousand. Plus she was a girl. With, you know, a vagina. And then you get .. hell no, I'm out. As in I did whatever I could to avoid her, at all costs.

"And what did you say?" I demanded to know, narrowing my eyes at Kazuo.

Kazuo brought up a gnarled finger and pretended to examine it. Yes, still old and ugly. "I told her that you were otherwise indisposed, but would inform her if those plans changed."

"Yeah, well, they won't. I have a busy day tomorrow and I have a lot to study," I said firmly. I then squinted harder at Kazuo, wondering what his game was now. Everyone in the family knew that Keiko's obsession with me was not to be encouraged. Whatsoever. I was fairly certain that if I gave her an inch, she'd take my arm off. Girls were such bloodthirsty freaks.

Then it dawned on me, a niggling possibility. But no, Kazuo wouldn't. He was a trusted family friend. I called him Oji-san because he was practically family himself.

But .. would he? I set aside my sketchpad and studied the man I occasionally called Uncle. His old face, all wrinkly and .. well, old. But also wrinkly. But like, an even ratio of wrinkly and old. Totally balanced. And if I were honest with myself, despite my earlier insults, he made it work. Which made sense, I guess, considering how much practice he'd had. Because .. he was old.

Anyway, he looked like a prune. Or a raisin. Or one of those shar-pei things .. er, puppies. None of which, I told myself, were capable of such heinous treason. So there. He wouldn't. Case closed.

I retrieved my sketchpad, dismissing the matter. "I have to study, Kazuo. Out. Please," I added, hoping it would have the desired effect.

It did. Hallelujah. After what seemed like an eternity, Kazuo finally turned and shuffled out. He didn't shut the door behind him, though, and I felt the blood drain from my face when I heard him call out a series of words that I dreaded with every fiber of my being, effectively draining my brief exuberance and replacing it with a nauseating mixture of nausea, horror, fear, and some more nausea. Also, rage, because of course the bastard would betray me! Of course. I should've known.

"Return Keiko-san's call and inform her that Ren-chan's plans have changed. He would be overjoyed to treat her to dinner—"

I sprang off the bed and out the door so fast I almost fell down the stairs in my haste to reach Kazuo in time to interject. He stood at the end of the hallway, speaking to one of the servants. I was both relieved and incensed when the conniving bastard paused theatrically, as if to collect his thoughts. I knew he could see me out of the corner of his beady eye. He was really just going to make me say it. Bastard.

Clearing my throat, I pasted a genial smile on my face. "Actually, Oji-san, I thought we were going to practice again."

Kazuo turned to peer at me with fake surprise, as did the servant. "Oh? But what about your studying, Ren-kun?"

I gritted my teeth, counting to ten. This was such bullshit. Traitor, I wanted to spit at him.

"I finished early," I responded instead, injecting just the appropriate amount of artificial cheerfulness into the words. Moments of silence passed, before Kazuo finally nodded and waved the servant off, then beckoned me forwards. Such bullshit. I grumbled under my breath, falling into step at the elder onmyoji's side.