There were three quick raps on the door, and Kai glanced up from his book as the lock clicked and the wooden panel creaked open. "Kai?" Rei peeked in, amber eyes darker in the hotel's fluorescent lighting – not at all like the lighting in the photos on the hotel's website, but that was the only drawback so far.
It was close to transportation, they were practically in the middle of the city, and the rooms were comfortable and roomy; Kai and Rei shared one, with Tyson, Max, and the Chief – another name they called their resident researcher and mechanic – in another, just across the hall. By mutual agreement, all five had unpacked after checking in that afternoon. Rei had gone out after doing so – to where, the dark-eyed teen didn't know, but it had afforded him some alone time, and he was glad of that.
“Oh, good,” the neko-jin was saying as he closed the door, a small grin on his face. “I thought you were asleep or that I'd disturbed you.”
Kai glanced at the clock, and saw that it wasn't that late. “It's just a little after 5,” he informed the dark-haired male. “Tyson begging to be fed yet?” His tone was gruff, but there was a hint of amusement, which Rei picked up on easily.
“Nah,” he said with a short laugh. “It's just that the Chief and I want to see the Floating Garden Observatory, and we're not sure what the view will be like at night.” He took out a windbreaker, examined it for a moment. “It looks like it's going to rain, though, so maybe we oughtta bring jackets or umbrellas...”
"Hn." Not really much of a reply, but then, the phoenix's teammates were used to his oft-irritatingly short responses. Kai marked his place and set the book down on the table, getting up from the beige armchair as he did so. “They dragged you outside, from the looks of it...”
Driger's partner let out another chuckle, prominent canines glinting a bit. “Yeah, Tyson's psyched about an early dinner; they'd been outside for the past 10 minutes or so.”
"I knew it..."
"Hurry up, Tyson; wouldn't want to get left behind, would you?" For what seemed the hundredth time, Rei had stopped to turn and check on his slightly shorter, red jacketed friend, who lagged behind the group every so often. Kyouju had been able to learn of a few restaurants located in the Umeda Sky Building – where the Floating Garden Observatory could be found - so that they didn't have to worry about rushing to buy tickets after dinner.
Now here they were, and Tyson was dawdling along, gazing with poor-disguised wonder at the lush foliage to their right. The blue-haired teen wasn't given to horticulture or landscaping, but it was still a sight to behold. He supposed this was part of the garden they would see from the observatory.
"Tyson…?" Rei prompted once more, risking falling behind himself; already Kai and the others were about to round the corner up ahead, and then he wouldn't know which building to enter.
"Sure, Rei, I'm comin'…" the dragon blader replied, smiling broadly and falling in step with the feline-like teen. "I'd seen pictures of this place, but well, it's the first time seeing it in person. My mom would've loved this view...”
The former White Tiger member did a double-take; Tyson had never mentioned his mother before, as far as he remembered. “Is she...” he began tentatively, the nod from the slightly younger male confirming what he suspected.
“I was pretty young when it happened, so I don't remember too much – but I remember she loved flowers, an' there's a space in the garden where Grandpa still grows her favorite.”
Tyson's grandfather's home was Team BBA's de facto headquarters, and they had met Tyson's father 3 years ago, before the World Championship finals in Russia; meanwhile, his older brother Hitoshi had re-entered Tyson's life just last year, and was currently teaching young kids in different countries how to Beyblade.
Now, with this new information, it was Rei's turn to stop short, seeing Dragoon's wielder in a new light. While he had wondered why Tyson was staying with his swordsman grandfather, it had never occurred to him to ask after his mother; there'd been no sign, after all, that she had passed away. “That why you spend time in the gardens so much?” Rei tried again, trying not to appear too nonplussed, or at a loss for words.
Again, the younger blader nodded. “Well, besides Grandpa not wanting us to make a mess indoors.” A chuckle here. “He says I got her eyes – and her stubbornness,” he said, grinning, hands behind his head as he looked up at the tiger. “I dunno if that's true, but if Hitoshi got Dad's personality, it makes sense for me to get my mom's, huh?”
The young Chinese laughed, amused at his companion's logic; still, if he wasn't bogged down by a relative's long-ago death, then he had dealt with it well, and Rei had no cause to worry after his friend. "You sure have a way with words, Tyson.”
Both glanced up in search of their companions, in time to catch a glimpse of a black jacket, and a shock of dark blue hair, before the figure disappeared into the east tower of the Umeda Sky Building. The two bladers quickened their pace to catch up with their captain who, in a rare and surprisingly obvious display of concern had elected to wait for them while the other two went ahead to the restaurant. Rei pushed through the doors to see that there was no place to go but up – Kai had obviously on the escalator already, his good deed done.
“Man, that was quick,” Tyson muttered as the two of them stepped off the escalator, glancing around for any sign of their friends and spotting none of them. “One more floor, maybe?”
They'd barely stepped off the escalator at the third floor when Max practically bounced into view, his expression caught between bemusement and relief. “There you are! The Chief insisted we stay put here when you two fell behind – ”
“And with good reason,” the bespectacled mechanic interjected. “Going upstairs get confusing from here; this place is filled with offices, and we weren't sure you'd even gotten into the right tower, let alone the right entrance to the tower...”
“Ah, don't worry, Chief,” Tyson returned, flashing another of his grins. “Kai waited for us at the entrance.”
Relief gave way to puzzlement on the brunet's face. “Kai?”
“But- he went ahead upstairs, to see which places aren't full,” Max added, his expression just as confused as Kyouju's.
At this revelation, dragon and tiger exchanged looks. Both were sure they'd seen the phoenix blader at the door. “W-ell...” Rei began, slowly, “the person we saw was wearing a jacket like his, and his hair...”
“I'll admit, it couldn't have been anyone else – I mean, his hairstyle's pretty distinct...” the Beyblade researcher was thinking out loud, “but all the same – we saw him go upstairs...”
“Maybe he doubled back?”
“I'm not sure he had enough time to go to the west tower and back here...”
It was a subdued group still pondering this little mystery that finally arrived at the floor where the Chief said most of the restaurants were on, something that Kai didn't fail to notice – although he didn't comment. Still, Tyson perked up almost immediately when they entered the restaurant, a shop specializing in noodles but also offering set meals.
“Oh man, they were right when they said Osaka is the food capital,” the cap-wearing teen said, a quarter of an hour later after finishing the last of his soup, reaching for his chopsticks and attacking his noodles. “Nothin' against Grandpa's cooking, of course.”
Max laughed, also taking up his chopsticks so he could get started on his tempura. “Tyson, any food tastes good to you!”
“Hey, some places didn't have food that was up to snuff,” the young blader retorted, pausing for another mouthful of noodles. “Like that restaurant in Egypt, I still remember one of the pastries had a funny taste-”
“I'm not surprised – that was the first time we'd tried Egyptian food, of course you wouldn't be ready for it.” Kyouju admonished, reaching for his drink.
The young dragon waved the explanation away, finally setting down his bowl as he turned to their taciturn leader. “By the way, Kai, thanks for waitin' up for me and Rei downstairs – we might've taken a wrong turn if you hadn't done that.”
The frown that crossed Kai's face spoke volumes; it was thoughtful, ponderous, and when he spoke, it was without his usual bite. “I went straight up here when you two lagged behind; it was Max and the Chief who waited for you.”
The other four exchanged looks, not for the first time that day. The slate-haired teen raised a questioning eyebrow - was this the reason they'd been practically silent upon meeting up? “Rei, Tyson... what happened downstairs?”
They gave an overview of what went on outside the Umeda Sky Building, how they'd stopped to look at the landscaping, then glanced at the entrance in time to see someone dressed similarly to Kai walk into the building, showing them where to go, at which the frown on the phoenix's face deepened slightly.
“You don't have an evil clone or something, do you?” Tyson said, half joking. To his relief, maroon eyes twinkled in a rare display of open amusement, matched by the smirk on his captain's face.
“I'm sure I'd have told you if anyone tried that – we had enough to deal with when Dr. B tried making digital clones of our bit beasts, and when we had Zeo to contend with,” he retorted, setting down his glass of iced tea. “Have you thought that, just because you saw someone with a jacket like mine, you instantly assumed it was me?”
“That... makes sense,” the amber-eyed male said slowly, trying not to sound too sheepish. “The hairstyle could've been different, but we just didn't actually notice.”
Light laughter broke out at their table; thinking that Rei and Tyson were seeing things seemed silly to them now. Plus, if Kai wasn't worried, why should they be?
“The view up here is amazing!” Kyouju exclaimed in a low whisper – for some reason, people were pretty quiet up on the observatory deck. He was using a digital camera to take pictures, having stowed his laptop safely in a bag; he wasn't about to risk dropping it more than 500 feet to the ground.
After the group finished dinner, there'd been enough time to see the floating gardens, as they'd first planned. Then Max suggested heading to the rooftop observatory while they were still in the area, mounting the last few stairs to catch the tail end of a beautiful sunset. Thankfully, the observatory was open until 10 PM, so they could linger as long as they wanted to.
“Should've remembered that the higher you go, the colder it could be,” Max murmured, sticking his hands in his pockets. True, it was summer, and they had to worry more about rain, but the light jacket he wore didn't do much against the breeze, now chilly because night had fallen.
Tyson nodded in agreement, reaching a hand up as though to jam his cap more firmly on his head when a gust suddenly threatened to send it flying. “I'm gonna go see if I can find a vending machine that sells hot drinks.” Dragoon's partner looked around for the door that would lead back to the stairwell, and the lower floors.
“We'll go with you,” the blond said at once, Kyouju falling into step with them and tucking the camera back in its case.
“I don't see Kai or Rei anywhere, the bespectacled teen said as he, too, looked around. “Think they've gone downstairs?”
Tyson shrugged, but Max tugged on his friend's arm and pointed out the unmistakable profile of their captain, who was on the other side of the rooftop. Rei appearing at his side confirmed that it was indeed Kai he'd seen, and not – as had happened earlier – someone they could have just mistaken for him. The two older members of the team headed for the stairwell, too, and Tyson, Max, and Kyouju rushed to catch up with them.
“So, where do you want to go after this?” was the first thing out of Max's mouth as the group headed downstairs. It wasn't that late, and since their hotel was practically in the middle of the city, heading back wouldn't take that long.
“Actually, I think I've had enough sightseeing for one afternoon,” Rei replied, flashing the younger teen an apologetic grin. “We can plan where we're going tomorrow, though.”
“Osaka Castle? The cherry blossoms have long stopped blooming, but it's always worth a visit,” piped up Kyouju, adjusting his glasses.
Kai had no idea where he himself wanted to go on their full day of sightseeing, so he tuned out the discussion, falling a few steps behind the group but keeping them in sight.
He hadn't wanted to muddy the waters further, nor cause unnecessary alarm, but ever since they left the restaurant earlier, he couldn't get ride of the uncomfortable feeling that they were being watched.
'X8-06187 – genetic source 02076 and 13107 – removal successful. Status: Active'
'X11-41145 – genetic source 15027 and 08187 – removal successful. Status: Active'
'X13-26474 – genetic source 00574 and 05612 – removal successful. Status: Active'
On the list went, flashing in his mind's eye, along with photos, figures, graphs; how he wished he hadn't taken in any of the information – but he had, and there was nothing for it. The words on the screen grew clearer still, the only explanation staring him in the face, and though he wanted to believe it was a joke, the implications were too great.
But something else bothered him as much as, if not more than what he'd just read.
His left hand clenched around his Beyblade; it was the same one he'd had since childhood, albeit with several upgraded parts. Still, he'd been allowed to keep it, one of the few reminders of his past – and of his parents. If what he'd seen was true, and he allowed it to go on, what did that mean for this sport? What did it mean... for him?
“Ah, my star trainee," Yevgeny said, suddenly in front of him, coming from one of the side corridors he had failed to notice. “I know what you've just seen comes as quite a sur- agh!”
The teen had lashed out with his knife hand, a rather dull stab of pride as the air suddenly had a hint of the coppery tang of blood. He whirled past the older male, senses becoming more acute of where he passed. The guards would be even keener to catch him, he was sure.
On impulse, he ducked into an unlocked room, not bothering with the lights that would attract the same people he wanted to avoid. He'd hide, think things through, then tell his friends. There was no way he could figure this out on his own – whatever 'this' was. He'd just managed to steady the door when his ears pricked; footsteps were heading closer, and it didn't sound as though they were going to bypass this room. Of all the places to check first-!
Red-brown eyes scanned the room, frantically searching for another hiding place that wasn't out in the open; there was a connecting door, he saw, and he hurried towards it. As he neared, his shoe caught on a loose tile, and he stumbled, banging his head against the door frame. Momentarily dazed, the dark-haired male groped for something to steady himself, fingers finding purchase on some kind of panel – it, like the door frame, seemed to be made of metal.
There was a beep, and a dull glow from the band on his wrist, followed by a rush of wind and a bright light coming to life above his head. Still trying to get his bearings while not getting spotted, now he was blinded as well. All the same, he crouched low, moving by instinct. The guards were coming – he could hear them calling to each other outside the first door he'd come through.
Kai sat bolt upright, trying to slow his breathing even as he glanced around the hotel room; with a start, he realized the curtains had been drawn, and Rei was no longer in the bed next to his. Running a hand through slate bangs, then over his face, the stoic teen frowned as he tried to recall more than the stone corridors and sounds of Beybattles from the two dreams he'd had so far. It was both irksome and troubling that he was having nightmares about Biovolt – the organization buried in the bowels of Balkov Abbey. The last time it had happened was during the championship finals in Russia, that first year Team BBA had been formed.
Had he discovered something in that shadowy organization that was even more traumatizing than his first attempt to launch Black Dranzer? Since he'd just woken up, the phoenix knew there was no use racking his brains to force himself to remember. All the same, he couldn't help wondering what had triggered the resurfacing of these snippets of memory.
The sound of a toilet flushing intruded on his thoughts, and he looked up to see his Chinese companion come out of the bathroom, towel in hand. “Morning, Kai,” Rei greeted, “Had trouble sleeping?” He tried to sound more inquisitive than concerned; he'd woken up not too long ago and had seen Kai frowning and grimacing in his sleep, and had hazarded a guess.
“...same dream as on the train,” the phoenix wielder answered at last, unknowingly proving his companion correct. He'd decided that hiding facts would only make things more difficult – plus, there was a chance he'd still be pestered with questions if he kept quiet, especially if Tyson were in the picture. At least being straightforward would save him some of the trouble of dealing with that.
A glance at the clock on the table between their beds told the slate-haired teen it was past 8 – the same time they had decided to head to the Osaka Castle and other tourist spots, since Rei was practically still a tourist himself.
“Don't worry, I just about finished taking a bath, and I don't think the others have been down to breakfast yet,” Rei said as the other headed for the bathroom, a change of clothes – dark pants, a red shirt, and black jacket – in tow. There wasn't even a reply as the door swung shut, but the Chinese male knew better than to stew about it; that was Kai's way – not speaking unless he really had to.
As he waited for his room-mate to finish dressing, one hand fiddled with the last fastening on an off-white sleeveless top. The fastenings were inspired by traditional Chinese clothing, so it looked somewhat like his usual outfits, only the collar was different. His black pants were perhaps less baggy than they used to be, and he wore white sneakers instead of black thin-soled shoes.
Before long, the five were downstairs, discussing their adjusted plans over breakfast.
“Since the Shitennoji Temple is closer,” Kyouju was saying, checking the information on his laptop. “I thought we'd start there, then head to the Osaka Castle.” There was the sound of tapping keys again, before he continued, “Depending on how long we stay at each of those places, we could head to the Osaka Aquarium then have lunch, or vice versa.”
“Sounds good to me, Chief,” Max interjected, reaching for his orange juice. “Besides, I think the aquarium isn't that far from the new battle dome, so that'll definitely put us in the area.”
The brunet nodded, closing his laptop at the same time. “Right. That route makes it easier for us to drop by, like we originally planned.” They weren't going to be participating in the mini tournament Chairman Daitenji said would be part of the opening ceremony, but all of them had expressed interest in seeing the facility, at least.
“So what are we waiting for?” Tyson added, practically jumping up and just barely managing to catch his chair before it fell over. “Let's get going!”
“Wow...” Tyson mouthed as he stepped back, gazing upward once more at the Osaka Castle. They were out in the open, but somehow, the building's grandeur struck him as something that needed to be observed as quietly as possible. Despite his innate personality, he was still attuned to the atmosphere of certain places – like this castle – since he'd spent his whole life in a more traditional Japanese home.
He craned his neck a bit more, reaching a hand up to make sure his usual blue-and-red cap didn't fall off his head. He'd donned a red shirt and a light blue jacket this time, though he'd rolled up the sleeves due to the warm weather. Comfy-looking denim jeans and red and white sneakers completed the outfit.
“If I didn't read about it, I wouldn't know it's been rebuilt,” Kyouju said next to him. The Beyblade mechanic had stowed his laptop, and was once again taking photos with his digital camera. Instead of shorts, he was wearing dark olive jeans paired with dark blue sneakers, a light cream button-down shirt with a black collar for contrast, and a dark green tie. “The way it still reflects the original design, it's astonishing.”
A short distance off, Rei and Max were taking in the castle from a different angle, also talking about the castle's history from their gestures and constant glances at the stone structure with jade green roofs. The latter was clad in a raglan shirt of two different shades of green, light-colored, loose denim pants, along with green and orange sneakers – they seemed to be his favorite.
Natives and tourists alike milled about, some talking in the same hushed voices, others apparently not shy about being a tad louder – like one group of Europeans who chattered the whole way past the young bladers and into the castle's inner courtyard. That was where they planned to go, once Kai had gotten their tickets. That the phoenix had volunteered at all was a surprise for them, but it fit with his unpredictable nature. At least he wasn't pushing them away.
“Yo, Tyson, Chief!” Suddenly, the relative silence was broken by a shouted greeting, and though Kyouju grimaced at the intrusion of noise, Tyson turned to find the source, spotting a grinning, gray-eyed youth making his way over to them. “Fancy running into you guys here!”
“Katou?” For a moment, the young researcher looked surprised, then broke out into a grin. “You could have told me you were in Osaka!”
“I meant to send you an email, but I guess it slipped my mind,” the other replied, his easy grin turning just a shade sheepish. “Team BBA – or is it still G-Revolution? - here for the opening of that new facility?” By this point, Rei and Max had wandered over to join them, Katou greeting the latter with a high-five.
“Yep,” Tyson replied, now grinning as well. “But we decided to go sightseeing before the opening itself.”
The blue black-haired teen chuckled a bit. “Who'd have thought,” he mumbled, more to himself than anything, though he was definitely still audible. “Kei and I had the same idea – in fact, seems she and Kai met in line at the ticket booth.”
He gestured towards the path ahead, prompting the rest of the group to follow his gaze. The phoenix was walking towards them, white scarf trailing behind him, a blue-haired female easily keeping pace.
“Hey, Kei!” Max greeted the minute the pair drew close enough to talk, always-ready smile already in place.
“It's been a while, huh?” the lone girl in the group said, lips curved by a faint smile of her own.
“I'll say,” Rei commented. “Last we heard from you, you were helping the chairman streamline the BBA's training programs.”
The first time the twins – for that's what the newcomers were – had worked directly with Team BBA had been before and during the Justice Five Tournament the year before. Katou had collaborated with Kyouju and All Starz member Emily York, giving feedback on the designs of the Beyblades Tyson and his friends eventually used. At first, he'd done so over the Web, but as they trained to master using the beys, he'd done so in person.
Kei had been more behind the scenes, disguising herself and joining BEGA to find as much as possible on the the team Boris Balkov fielded for the tournament. True, the line-up had been broadcast over television; Kei's role had been to get as in-depth information as she could on each of the BEGA bladers.
The pair shared a quick glance, communicating silently, and Tyson felt the urge to ask what they were keeping secret. Kyouju, as though sensing what the young dragon wanted to do, nudged him gently in the ribs. The former, though, succeeded in restraining himself, knowing that it may well be rude to ask, considering the pair didn't have that close a relationship with the Team BBA members. Not yet, at least.
“We're actually here in connection to that,” Kei was saying, “although I'm guessing Katou here already hinted we were here for the opening ceremony.” It wasn't a question, and the gray-eyed teen gave a brief chuckle, confirming what his twin thought had happened.
With the two standing side-by-side, one could see the similarities – namely, their somewhat sharp eyes and their hair. Both even wore their bangs parted in the middle, framing their faces. There, however, the similarities ended.
Katou was a more casual dresser – somewhat like Max and Tyson. He was clad in a black and blue short-sleeved jacket, out of which a dark green shirt peeked, paired with dark blue jeans and black high-top sneakers. Kei, on the other hand, clearly took inspiration from the punk look, albeit somewhat toned down. She had on a black tank top and a deep purple vest that had two loose black straps circling her upper arms near her shoulders. A striped arm warmer, dark pants and boots finished off the outfit, along with a red belt and her usual choker, the ankh-shaped pendant glinting faintly in the sunlight.
“Well, even if we didn't plan to, why don't we tour the inside together?” Max suggested, gesturing to the castle nearby. “Seems we're here for practically the same reason, anyway – plus, the more the merrier!”
Kei simply nodded, while Katou was more vocal in his answer. “Sounds like a plan,” he said.
With that decided, the group made their way into the castle-turned-museum, careful to keep their voices down. The twins were the last to enter, partially distracted by a hushed conversation between them both. Once inside, though, all talk was forgotten, each teen distracted now by the historical objects to be found displayed about.
Even Kai seemed interested in the different displays, though he would readily admit he was no student of history; true, he like mythology, but that was a far cry from established historical fact. All the same, he couldn't help but notice Kei glancing behind the group a few times.
What had she seen – and how did he not spot whatever it was?