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Minako

"Nice legs, daisy dukes. Makes a man go. There he goes. He's gone."

457 views · last seen in Tokyo, Japan
a character in “Immortal Ties”, as played by Layla

Description

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MINAKO..........................................Guardian Angel
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A servant in both life and death, the former geisha wrought the death of her dearest friend and perished for her sins. She was made into an immortal guardian, where she would guide promising mortals till her end of days.

...ImageAge.......214......................D.O.B......... 14th February, 1803
Origin.... Edo Japan...............Sexuality....Heterosexual

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I. ..A D . H O M I N E M



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        A S P E C T U S
        5'1" | umber | light auburn


        Hair the shade of wheat fields spilled in undulating waves down a pale spine, the bony vertebrae visible beneath the smooth expanse of skin. Where hair the hue of darkness had been, modern dyes had rendered light chocolate. Eyes of glittering black peered from within a wig of thick lashes, set beneath gently downturned eyebrows that gave the appearance of perpetual sympathy. Lips the shade of bright roses lifted easily, revealing the depths of small dimples near her chin.

        The swish of alabaster skirts caressed her legs, the bodice weaving to reveal scantly clothed shoulders and protruding clavicles. Minako was the image of an angel, the cleanliness of her pale attire marred only by her bare feet, which she buried in the cool dirt. Wings stretched along her back, their ephemeral cast softly-glowing pools of light unfurling behind her. They possessed the clarity of fresh water, and the mass of air and clouds.

        In stark juxtaposition were the glamours she wore that varied between mountainous men and fragile old ladies. Minako wore different faces for nearly every one of her charges, weaving her disguise into their lives as the friendly old neighbour or the constant childhood friend. Her favourite was a young woman with an elliptical gaze magnified by studious spectacles, uncontrollably frizzy hair and clothes that hung from her wiry, six-foot frame.




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        P E R S O N A
        altruistic | obsessive | empathetic | insecure

        Minako spends her immortality contemplating all the ways in which things could go wrong. Her bleak visage of the future makes the present evermore impressive for having unfolded much more reasonably than the apocalypse she'd imagined. Her enduring surprise at how well things have gone enables her unrivalled optimism. It takes quite a bit more than a few dead bodies to get her down.

        Minako has a weakness for goodwill. The smallest kindnesses, no matter how unintentional, are vastly overinflated in her mind. Her capacity to love seems boundless and much too easy to earn. Though Kohaku has occupied most of her heart for the better part of the century, she offers the considerable remnants freely to any who express their hospitality. She invests a great deal more than is required into her charges, often to her detriment for their deaths and failures feel like her own.

        To feel the emotions of her charges as if they were her own own is as much a blessing as it is a curse, and the rules those of her profession must abide by are rules she hesitates to follow even now. Standing idle in the face of tragedy that could be prevented is the greatest punishment she could have been given in the afterlife, for the guilt is an all-consuming beast that haunts her, but is one she must withstand. There are some mistakes that her charges must make to become the great revolutionaries they were meant to be, a prize which is not without cost. She feels great sympathy for the angels' paradox, for whilst angels must witness death and pain, they are given the chance to see also success and rebirth. Reapers are not so blessed.

        Guilt taints her every decision, or rather the avoidance of it. There was a moment in her forgotten past when she had contemplated allowing her dearest friend to perish so that she might have the happiness she'd always wished. Though she does not recall it, its essence remains within her, alongside the malice she tries so hard to reject. Minako is a creature of desperation — desperate for the love of others, desperate for perfection and most of all, desperate for the need to not have been an individual of great prospects, but a waste in her end of days.

        Everything she does is in service of her need to be good. Her worth is dependent on the judgment of others, and the value of her immortal life is conditional upon her service to those who granted it to her. Criticism slices deeper than any blade could and the disappointment of one — even a stranger — has crippling effects. Alas, unrequited love is written in her memoir, and rejection stains its pages.




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PERFORMANCE..though her mind does not recall her life as a geisha, her
body recalls the lifetime she spent singing and dancing for her wealthy clientele.


OPTIMISTIC PESSIMIST..minako imagines the absolute worst and so is th-
roughly impressed when anything somewhat better than mindbogglingly horrid occurs.


NEAT..possessing a great love of symmetry and organised spaces, minako ca-
n be found executing elaborate calligraphy with a ruler and spring cleaning thrice a week.



MISINTERPRETATION..despite being an empath, minako has a tendency to
misread a situation, perceiving conflict as passionate love and convenience as caring.


CLUMSY..prone to tripping over her own two feet and leading her charges in-
to absurd predicaments, kohaku might be solely responsible for their survival.


GULLIBLE..unreasonably trusting and prone to positive assumptions, sarca-
sm and deception are lost on her. she accepts even hyperboles as fact.





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II. ... I M M O R T A L I S . M O R T A L E





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        A C T U M .T E M P U S


        Minako, or Ayame as she'd been called, had been a ghost long before the expiration of her mortal life. A wraith of ivory skin and scarlet paint, she inhabited the flower and willow world of Kyoto as only a rustle of silks and a whisper of wooden clogs. Nobles and samurai might glimpse the slender fingers plucking the strings of a koto and lifting ceramic cups of ground matcha, but few would see her wrists.

        The dress of the geisha were beautifully elaborate chains that buried the whole body, their weight so immense they required two men to hold. Yet every day before sunlight spilled into the horizon, Ayame stood within the walls of her okiya, awaiting the ensnarement of the layers of her kimono and the tightening of her obi. She would carry their weight through the day, her scalp hissing in protest against the glimmering kanzashi buried in her hair.

        She'd only had five years of freedom her early mind could not recall before her impoverished family would offer her life to the geisha house. Mitsuki Kinomoto would be stripped of her birth name and remade into the prized jewel of her okiya, her mournful voice and elegance garnering the attention of many high-ranking officers of the Edo period. For a time, freedom after having repaid the debts of her training had seemed impending, but the omnipotent mother of the house declared Ayame her daughter and heiress to the Komorebi Okiya. Her earnings would return to the geisha house and she would live there permanently.

        She found refuge in the company of her childhood friends, a geisha by the name of Yumiko, and the twin sons of a reverent samurai who frequented the okiya. Ayame had given her heart to the older brother from the day they'd met, when Satoru had dressed her wounds following a beating from their okā-san. For nearly two decades, Ayame watched as Satoru's love for Yumiko grew until he begged her hand in marriage.

        The wedding had been nothing short of extravagant, and though agony threatened to wrench her heart from her chest, Ayame felt joy for her dearest friends. However, none foresaw the darkness that had been festering within the groom's younger twin. Ichirou believed Yumiko his, and concluded their union in death would be preferable to their separation in life. He confessed his despair to Ayame in a drunken stupor, and admitted to having poured poison into Yumiko and Satoru's ceremonial wine.

        Fearful of what might befall Ichirou and the despair it might bring her friends, she chose not to reveal Ichirou's malevolence. As Yumiko brought the cup to her lips, a small fragment of Ayame hesitated, imagining the possibility of being by Satoru's side instead. She shook herself of the dark thought and knocked the wine to the ground, shattering the ceramic flask into pieces. Enraged, Ichirou marched towards the dais as the guests looked on in shock. He held a blade in the folds of his kimono, his eyes intent on the bride and groom. Ayame intercepted his path but he would not relent, until in her desperation, she buried a shard of the broken flask in his neck.

        They would whisper soon after Ayame was trialled for murder and found guilty of the geisha who had been so driven by her jealousy that she'd slaughtered the brother of the man she loved when he attempted to dissuade her from poisoning her own sister. The legends called her a wraith of raven hair and scarlet-stained robes, who inhabited the spirit realm as a tendril of song and sorrow.




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So begins...

Minako's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luciana de Silva Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Kohaku Character Portrait: Cassius Dōriēwes Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Seung Character Portrait: Teruki Satou Character Portrait: Alucio Character Portrait: Cara Chung Character Portrait: Ikeda Shiori Character Portrait: Ryan 'Rango' Prosker Character Portrait: Basil Gardner Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Kohta Honda Character Portrait: Aera Lee Character Portrait: Seok Areum Character Portrait: Kaede Shimizu Character Portrait: Wyatt Costanza Character Portrait: La Verne Caron Character Portrait: Paola Millán
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Footnotes

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━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━
CHAPTER ONE: THE BEGINNING
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Date: Evening, 1st April, 2017
Location: Tokyo City, Japan
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xxxOnce, before Tokyo had been given its name, before tall spires of metal dominated the horizon and light polluted the sky, one could see the stars. They say it was the gods who wove constellations into the otherwise blank expanse of night sky; exposing pinpricks of light to tell stories of legends that would transcend time. Yet, as civilisation grew ever skywards, electric lights began to drown out the natural illumination of the night sky. There are still those who remember centuries long gone, whose gaze at the night sky and remember a time when it was only clouds that interrupted their view. The constellations had changed since they were young, shifting across the Earth’s sky as time flowed forward. Yet, more than one could still take comfort in the beauty of it.

xxx “A shame really.” The man commented absently, his gaze fixed upwards, past the canopy of sky-scrapers towards the sliver of cloudless ink visible above. “Once you could have made out millions of stars from anywhere in the prefecture.”

xxxThe surly teenager seated beside him grunted and shifted slightly away, unsure who this stranger was and why he had randomly started talking to him.

xxx “I made it, you know.” The man continued, an almost smug smile on his face as he leaned against the park bench. He didn’t seem to care that the youth was resolutely staring at the screen of his cell phone, attempting to tune out the rambling stranger. “I mean, I made everything really. You’re welcome by the way.” He paused and glanced at the mortal, as if expecting a ‘thank you’, or any other form of gratitude. When none was offered the man merely continued talking, “But, I am particularly proud of the stars. ”

xxxThe man’s dark eyes returned to the small portion of the sky not covered in thick cloud. He held his hand in front of his eyes, stretched out as if he might pluck the very stars from their homes in the sky. Instead, he waved his hand slowly from side to side, as if waving away a particularly bad smell. A satisfied smile lit his face as his hand fell to his side,

xxx “There, you see!” The man said, nodding towards the now cloudless sky. Though the light from numerous skyscrapers still dimmed the brightest of the stars, they seemed stronger now, shimmering happily above the world below. “Much better.”

xxxThe youth merely grunted again, his hands fiddling headphones into his ears as he attempted to tune out the well-dressed man beside him. Unfortunately, the man’s voice continued to blare through the headphones, as if the younger man’s music wasn’t playing at all.

xxx “I fancy myself as a bit of an artist, if I’m being frank.” He continued, a note of pride creeping into his words, “You see that tree there? I designed it, right down to the edges on the leaves.”

xxxThe teenager didn’t even glance up, too busy checking that he had plugged his headphones in properly. Of all the nights for them to stop working, it had to be when he was getting his ear talked off by some mental stranger.

xxxFrom behind the pair a female voice replied, full of barely contained impatience, “I think you’ll find that I was the one to design that tree. If I remember correctly, you were still babbling on about how sludge was going to be the next big thing.” The woman snorted in amusement. “Well, we all know how that went.”

xxx “Excuse me for trying to do something different.” He retorted hotly, even as he slid across the park bench to make space for the new arrival. Beside him, the irritated youth was silently cursing the two adults who had interrupted his brooding and was quickly stuffing his phone into his backpack. Without a word the kid stood, pulled his hood tightly over his head, and walked away.

xxxThe two gods barely seemed to register the departure, more concerned with the back and forth that had begun. “I make one mistake and you never let me forget it. I made flowers, and gave the world bees. Who doesn’t like bees?” His hands made exaggerated movements in the air.

xxx “One mistake? Oh, I can count at least three dozen you’ve made in the last decade alone.” The female retorted, slapping his hands casually away. She opened her mouth to continue, before changing her mind and instead adding, “But I didn’t come to bicker with you.”

xxxHe nodded. His partner had come for the same reason he had. He stood up slowly, stretching out his tall frame, before offering a hand to the woman. She took it with a nod, her head tilting slightly in a wordless expression of ‘after you’.

xxxA second later the two figures blinked into existence on the wind-swept top of a sky-scraper. From here they could see the city sprawled out below them; neon, artificial lights marking roads, shop advertisements, and the lit windows of residential apartments. Above them, cleared of the thick layer of clouds, was the night’s blanket of stars.

xxxThough no eyes – mortal or otherwise – happened to glance up at the tip of the building, had someone done so, they would have seen two immortals bathed in moonlight, watching their world with a confidence only the gods know. They were one and the same, and yet separate, two entities burning in a universe of their creation.

xxxHe was tall and pale, his feet rooted solidly in the ground beneath him even while his hands reached heavenward. His cheekbones were chiselled from marble, sharp enough to cut mountains. Dark eyes of endless knowledge inspected his world, while strands of hair the same pitch black were pushed back from his face with lithe fingers. His appearance was similar to natives of this land, albeit almost concentrated, as if he were the original that all others had been moulded by.

xxxShe, on the other hand, had the dark, warm skin of someone who would have been marked a foreigner had she walked amongst Tokyo’s population. Her face was softer; a smooth sculpture of beauty, with thick curls of coal-coloured hair engulfing her head. Pupils that whispered of eons gone by watched the city like a predator of old, her lips held tight in a thin frown as possibilities of the days to come ran through her mind.

xxx “Owari” He spoke her name like a resolution; a finality echoing from his lips; the end.

xxx “Hajimari.” She responded with his name; a beginning; a taste of fresh possibilities, and boundless growth.

xxx “Things are moving.” He stated, his eyes too seeing beyond the crawling traffic below. “Do you think they’re ready?”

xxx “They’ll have to be.” Owari responded, her tone firm.

xxxHajimari nodded, rising his gaze from the streets at his feet to the stars above. His hand rose, fingers splayed above his head as his eyes searched between the digits. “Perhaps a sign then.” He murmured, almost to himself. Though, Owari heard and followed her partner’s gaze to the heavens.

xxx “Many have long since forgotten us.” She reminded him as his fingers began to dance overhead. His hand made a graceful pulling motion, a soft breath left his lips, and then the first star fell across the night’s sky; a streak of pure light momentarily illuminating the heavens. More followed, creating a meteor shower for any who happened to turn their attention to the sky that night.

xxx “Well, perhaps this is for my comfort than.” Hajimari replied, his hands clasped behind his back as he admired his work. Owari let the silence build as she too watched the show above, until a dozen moments had passed.

xxx “They all have demons to face.” Her words rang with a hint of pity, for she knew the dangers that were to come.

xxx “Most are of their own making.” Hakimari responded, “They would have had to face them eventually.”

xxxOwari nodded, her curls shifting as if stirred by a gentle wind, “We can only watch now.”

xxxA look of slight guilt crossed the pale god’s face, his eyes flashing momentarily. His partner turned ever-perceptive eyes on him, her frown deepening as she sensed his intentions, “Hajimari, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times, stop interfering with their lives!”

xxxAnd just like that, the aura of power and mystery that surrounded the two gods evaporated. Like an old couple, married for too long and all too aware of each other’s faults, they began trading words; barbs, insults, passive aggressive suggestions. A bird soaring above would be wise to avoid the area directly around the snapping deities, a rat might have taken sheltered in a solid pipe well below the pair too. For the less perceptive mortals, they continued their work without contemplating that above them stood two squabbling gods, or that among their number roamed immortals and ghosts. Even as the two gods disappeared, the only witness to their presence a pouting teenage boy, the world continued to move of its own accord.

xxxIn a shoe-box apartment only a few blocks from the building once occupied by the two gods, a Guardian Angel calling himself Kohaku was preparing to leave on work-related business. A short distance further, within the performance hall of one of Tokyo’s learning institutes, a blonde boy studying music gave his hands a shake as he glared at a piano piece. And further away, across vast oceans and mountain ranges carved and painted by the hands of the divines, a goblin’s hand reached for a door knob. Slim fingers curled around the brass head, her eyes shut, mind searching for the pull of her next destination. She opened the door and slid through, her eyes alighting on the clear windows of her Tokyo apartment to see stars decorating the sky.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kohaku Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Seung
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Footnotes

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▁ ▂ ▃xxxF L Yxxxxxx ▁ ▂ ▃xxxH E Xxxx# D 2 A D 9 Dxxxxxx▁ ▂ ▃xxxW H I T ExxxD R E S S

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xxxxxxThe chair shattered against the wall. Minako flinched as she witnessed wooden shards rain to the ground through the narrow kitchen window, the noise muffling the sound of weeping trickling through the house. The neighbours were quiet, long accustomed to the war zone that raged within the four walls next door.
xxxxxxThe angel returned her gaze to the shadows of the building, waiting for the creak of a familiar bedroom window to swing open. Finally, she heard the sound. A dark head emerged from the ledge, followed by a tangle of limbs that fumbled blindly for the ground beneath it, still many precarious metres away. Yuki Honda was a certified genius with dreams of pursuing neuroscience and parents who would not spit on each other if the other were on fire. She also lacked the ability to gauge distance, though Minako supposed she need not worry about such inconsequential affairs when she had a guardian angel to watch after her.
xxxxxxYuki fell from her bedroom window.
xxxxxxMinako beat her wings—incandescent pools of light that hissed against the soft grass and exhaled a breath of air to cushion Yuki's fall. Still, the mortal girl fell hard. She groaned and rubbed her lower back, which would no doubt ache for some time.
xxxxxxMinako watched her scuttle away from the chaos of her abode, that had long ceased to be anything but a prison with a lovely facade. She felt her charge's guilt for abandoning her younger brother to their parents and their vengeful acrimony. It coated her tongue like a film of ash, until Minako felt Yuki's emotions so closely as her own that they permeated her fingernails. She had never mastered the ability to separate herself from her charges, though in this instance she felt she deserved it. Yuki's brother was only eight—what a a pathetic excuse of an angel she'd be if she cast the young boy to his fate simply because he was not promised for greatness. Yet as Yuki moved further from her brother, so did Minako, like a balloon on a leash.
xxxxxxYuki lifted the hood of her sweatshirt over her face as she moved through Tokyo, another body jostled in the crowd. The blare of horns and cacophony of footsteps crowded even one's own thoughts, but Yuki felt more free in the throngs of overpopulation than she did in the inescapable cavern of her home. Her guilt retreated, but Minako's did not recede.
xxxxxxA cluster of apartments rose in the distance, a young boy standing at its feet with a bundle of roses clinging to his palms. A wide grin lifted Yuki's cheeks as she raced towards him. She threw her arms around his narrow shoulders and he laughed, catching her like a cool tide that washed over him. Yuki spilled pure and unabated joy, filling the pool of Minako's heart and bringing to the angel's lips a smile even wider than her own.
xxxxxxThe young lovers tilted their heads to the sky, their lips parting in awe as they took gulps of the universe. Minako watched the sky fall as her wings broke open behind her. Light spilled from her spine as she shot from the ground, spinning like an arrow as she broke through the trees and clouds.
xxxxxxA laugh burst from her lips as she dived through the night sky, drifting lower until she hovered above the kaleidoscope of cars and signs. She landed softly in a cluster of trees, her wings vanishing as her bare feet touched the ground.
xxxxxxHer hair lightened, paling and curling until it was the shade of lavenders. It grazed the edge of her collarbone, and the black lace that wrapped around her thin neck. A thick ring of kohl lined her eyes, juxtaposing the flash of silver at her brow and the ring wrapped around her lower lip. Fishnet tights hugged her narrow thighs, echoing the fingerless gloves that clutched her palms. She walked through the city, stopping at a small Japanese restaurant and slowing only to snatch a cigarette from the lips of a stocky man leaning against a street corner.
xxxxxxHer charge stared aghast as she threw the cigarette to the ground, grinding it beneath her spiked boot.
xxxxxx"Don't smoke," she said. "It's bad for your lungs. Your teeth will rot. And you'll be single forever."
xxxxxx"Excuse me?" he said after a moment of shocked silence. "Who the hell do you—"
xxxxxx"I bought you a bento box." Minako placed a takeout box in his outstretched hands, which he might have been intending to use to strangle her. "Chicken teriyaki. No sesame seeds."
xxxxxx"How did you know I was allergic—"
xxxxxx"It's not too late. He'll forgive you." She gave him a small smile and a gentle pat on his hand, before disappearing into the tide of passersby on the sidewalk.
xxxxxxShe moved through the city until she reached a familiar bar. The Tipping Point was dimly lit, but she spotted the two lanky figures easily. Minako slid in beside them, and planted her face on the table.
xxxxxx"I'm so—" she began, her voice muffled behind her squished lips, "—sad. Takumi will never love me." She thought of the hulking brute and the way his face had swollen to twice its size the day he'd discovered he was allergic to nuts and seeds in all its forms. He'd remained impossibly beautiful in her eyes.
xxxxxx"Is it because I'm dead?" she bemoaned.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kohaku Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Seung Character Portrait: Alucio
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Footnotes

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                          The crisp breeze of the evening brushed past Alucio's face, the alerting chill welcome on his always unusually warm skin. The tall, stolid man stalked down the city sidewalk, pace kept at a brisk, steady tempo, his long trench coat trailing behind him like a sentient shadow. Tucked under his arm, he carried a stiff black hat, waiting for its moment to fulfill its purpose. Despite walking along the outermost edge of the pavement, he still found himself taking a step this way and that to avoid bumping shoulders with some oblivious passerby, the scowl lines around his mouth growing deeper with every close encounter.

                          He arrived, thankfully, at his destination before his face could permanently be stretched into an ugly expression of displeasure. As he lifted an arm, pressed a palm against the cool glass of the hospital door, his other hand took the hat out from under his arm. He stepped over the threshold as he disappeared from mortal view, brim of his hat pulled down low over his eyes. Glancing briefly down at the thick white cardstock cupped in his palm, he set off towards the West Ward, the rubber soles of his worn leather shoes clacking against the linoleum floors. The echo of the sharp crack felt acutely lonely under the flickering fluorescent lights of the hallway, and for a moment, Alucio slowed his pace, soaking in the otherworldly atmosphere of the stretch of hall that seemed to go for miles. It was unnerving, in a very pleasant kind of way. He closed his eyes—still stepping assuredly forward, no hesitation in his long strides—and listened to the low ringing of tinnitus in his ears. If he concentrated, he could still hear the buzz of activity somewhere in the distance, but there was nothing but silence where he was going. He could see why. It smelled more like Death the closer he got to his destination.

                          He rounded a corner, passed a long string of hospital rooms, decay emanating from each one, until he paused in front of 267. Yes, this was the one. He stepped inside and paused again. A silhouette stood at the window, illuminated by both the moonlight and the unnatural city glow of street lamps and office lights. Alucio was not sure who looked more like a shadow: her bent figure against the dark sky, littered with erratic flashes of light, or her discarded husk of a body lying limp on the starchy sheets of the hospital bed. He crossed the room until he stood at her shoulder. She said nothing. For a moment, he looked on with the old woman, two sets of mournful eyes watching as the sky fell apart.

                          Then, with a short sigh, he looked down at the small card once more. "Ogata Yutsuko," he read off, monotonously. The buzz of activity came back, grew louder with each passing second. "Eighty six years old. Born on February 11th, 1931. Died at 7:24pm on April 1st, 2017. Cause of death is a heart attack." He took a glance at her impassive face. "This is you, right?"

                          The attending physician burst into the room, followed closely by two nursing assistants. The lights flashed on, dimmed the magnificence of the outside spectacle. Very simply, in a warbling voice, the old woman answered, "Yes."

                          Alucio nodded, took the gnarled hand of his latest assignment in his own, and stepped around the doctor and nurses gathered around her bedside. He looked towards the heart monitor, still sounding its steady alarm, and thought that death and silence did not sound so different after all.


                          It was not until he was halfway across the spacious lobby of the hospital that his phone sounded an urgent beeping from his pocket. Hastily, he fished it out, brows furrowing at the sight of the text message from his colleague and roommate. Mentally, he noted the plans before replacing his cell; it would be far too unprofessional to respond during work. Another acquaintance caught his eye from the far end of the lobby, the visage of a little girl flickering and mildly translucent, giving way to the image of a familiar somber looking young man. He considered, for an instant, greeting the angel, but quickly thought better of it. They were, after all, nothing but neighbors, weren't they? Going out of his way to say hello would be strange. Instead, he stepped out into the chill of the evening once more, gently guiding the old woman in the direction they needed to go. They were silent all the way there.

                          She drank the tea with little fuss, a small smile perched on her thin lips, mostly hidden by the prominent wrinkles around her mouth. He admired her, if only a little, her peaceful disposition. When he'd told her so, she'd only responded, "I have lived long enough to see all I need to see."

                          "I'm glad," she said, as her features smoothed out, spine straightened, "I got to see the stars before the end."

                          Alucio only hummed a low note in response. He stood, moved to the door, and she followed suit, walking steadily on elegant legs, reaching him just as he swung it open. She breezed past, paused on the first step of the stairs. "Thank you," she said, inclining her head slightly, and Alucio returned her smile. He watched until her figure was entirely enveloped by warm, white haze.

                          As he placed the used tools in the sink, Alucio remembered Seung, likely already waiting at the bar. He opened the conversation and wrote:

                          TO: TENANT
                          OKAY.


                          And then he turned on the faucet.


                          The walk to the bar was a brief one, and in just a few minutes, Alucio was hastily pushing the door shut to prevent any more cold air from entering. "It better be the good stu—" he began, but died off as he looked up from his shoes and saw the three occupants of their usual corner area. That was two more than the one he was expecting. "Oh," he said, stopping short.

                          He shook off the surprise and slid into his seat next to Seung. "Hello," he said, lifting a hand in greeting towards Haku. He might have greeted Mina as well had she not been slumped over, facedown on the bar, moaning incoherently. "I didn't think tonight was one of gathering nights."

                          He considered the female angel for a moment, thought of the consequences of his potential actions, then, with a soft sigh, pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. "Here," he said, sliding it across the wood. "The bar top is covered in germs. Put this over it." Without waiting for a response from her, he turned his attention towards Seung. Or rather, his sake. He didn't ask before swiping the glass and taking a long swig.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kohaku Character Portrait: Cassius Dōriēwes Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Seung Character Portrait: Alucio Character Portrait: Basil Gardner Character Portrait: Seok Areum
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▁ ▂ ▃xxxM A G N E T Sxxxxxx ▁ ▂ ▃xxx# 5 E 7 D 7 Exxx# B 3 8 4 8 1xxxxxx▁ ▂ ▃xxxA P E XxxxN I G H T C L U B

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xxxxxx"Hey." His eyes remained shut. "You lied to me."
xxxxxxCassius responded with a noncommittal grunt. Of course he'd lied to her. Dishonesty was his resting state; deception unraveled from his tongue as easily as Kaede's first thought fell from hers. The fox granted stolen lives found the young woman almost as refreshing as she was pretty. Almost.
xxxxxxThen again, she was very pretty.
xxxxxxCassius peeked at her through one eye, noting the swathe of colour on her lids visible beneath her mask. A smirk emerged on his lips. He wondered, did the defiant mortal girl dress up just for him?
xxxxxxBefore he could part his lips to usher a flush that was equal parts rage and embarrassment to her cheeks, she interrupted him. Her hands found his pockets, to which he arched a single brow. Cassius flashed a devilish grin just as Kaede captured his likeness on his phone.
xxxxxx"So you look disgustingly amazing as always," she said after returning his phone to his custody. "I was in the middle of doing something, you lying trickster."
xxxxxx"Were you redecorating your home with countless images of me?" he teased. "I wouldn't blame you." Cassius leaned against the bannisters, fingers flitting to rub his stubbled jaw. "Who did you smuggle into my club? Someone worthy of your company, I hope. You deserve nothing less."
xxxxxxCassius took a step forward and leaned down so their noses were nearly grazing. "But not too worthy," he murmured. His eyes followed the path of his knuckles that grazed the slip of dark hair that brushed her collarbone. "I wouldn't want to battle them for your attention." He straightened, moving away as a grin revealed the dimple in his cheek and his shock of straight white teeth. "Prison ages you, I hear."
xxxxxx“A beautiful night, made all the more lovely with the sight of you,” a melodious voice spoke. Cassius had barely noticed Areum's approach, though centuries spent in the company of a person so much like himself had a way of rendering her so much a part of his own existence that she barely seemed a separate entity at all. “My business proposition still stands should you tire of Cassius.”
xxxxxx"We could always share," he mused. "Surely you remember how well that went the first time." The humour was veiled in memory, spoken of pasts long gone and none but the two fox spirits could recall. He remembered clearly having claimed the mesmerising mortal for his own before the younger fox spirit attempted to steal her away. They had fought vehemently, only to realise the mortal not only had no more reincarnations left to give, but that she was wholly devoted to her soulmate of four lifetimes. They'd become companions ever since.
xxxxxx“The man in the yellow vest is trying to catch your attention, should we intervene?” asked Areum.
xxxxxxCassius traced the path of Kaede and Areum's gazes as they moved away from him to land on a lanky figure with a swath of pale hair, made all the more dazzling by the lights that spilled from the corners of the balcony. Cassius smiled and tilted his head, urging Basil near.
xxxxxx"Is that who you brought along?" said Cassius. "He was already on the list. I know how inseparable the both of you are. Besides—" Cassius lifted the flute of champagne to his lips and drank deeply, his jade eyes never leaving the tall boy, "—he's quite pleasant to look at.
xxxxxx"Basil," he called as Kaede's friend neared, his vaguely Italian accent flourishing the name in a slow purr. "The attire suits you—or perhaps it's my club." He smiled. "You should visit more often."
xxxxxxHe cast an appreciative gaze in Areum's direction, noting the dainty curl of her nose and the swell of her lips, which she'd no doubt been using for more than smalltalk. Dark lace curled around her body, an alluring orchestrated masterpiece of swells and dips that captivated many patrons of his club. She was impossibly beautiful in the objective sense, but he felt when he gazed upon her what he did when he'd travelled to a dazzling limestone cave hidden in Malaysia before mortals had discovered it and hollowed it for minerals.
xxxxxxAreum was breathtaking, but so lonely it ached.
xxxxxx"I believe you've yet to meet," said Cassius, his voice low. "This is Areum, though I doubt a woman like herself requires an introduction."
xxxxxxA parting of the seas caught his attention and Cassius turned to watch as a girl marched purposefully through the throng of bodies to challenge a man and assist a rather inebriated woman. Cassius frowned as the man flashed a lopsided grin and emptied the contents of a glass on the ground. The reality of the situation dawned on him as his bartender's furrowed brows mimicked the tense line of his mouth as he spoke to the defiant girl.
xxxxxx"Excuse me," muttered Cassius to his companions, though he was already moving towards the bouncers by the entrance of the illuminated balcony. "Get him out of my club." Cassius nodded towards the entitled man lurking in the fringes with his friends. "Them, too."
xxxxxx"But sir, that's—"
xxxxxx"I don't care if he's the reincarnation of the last shogun himself," Cassius interjected. "We don't tolerate sexual violence of any kind in my establishment."
xxxxxx"Yes, sir." He watched as his broad employees marched to apprehend the men, a feat far more difficult than it appeared. They proved adamant in their desire to remain and their resistance had drawn the attention of one too many attendees of the masquerade. Finally, Cassius strode towards them and wrapped his hands around the biceps of two exceedingly aggressive men.
xxxxxx"Ow!"
xxxxxx"What the—"
xxxxxx"I would appreciate it if you would leave," said Cassius, his grip tightening for emphasis. "Quietly."
xxxxxx"Shit, whatever. Just let go. This club's lame anyway."
xxxxxxTheir departure amplified the quiet that had befallen the Apex. The scene had stifled the enthusiasm that had thrived prior to the commotion. Cassius turned to address his audience.
xxxxxx"Free cocktails for everyone!" he called out.
xxxxxxThe crowd cheered, and the party returned to its former splendour.

▁ ▂ ▃ ▂ ▁


xxxxxxThe handkerchief smelled of snow and pine, or love and eternal devotion. It was always difficult to distinguish. Minako emerged from hiding, her wide eyes lifting to gaze at the reaper with overwhelming parts awe and adoration. Her lips parted and shut, only to part again and slam closed. Minako gaped and floundered in the tide of emotions and unspoken words. She was a dam breaking open, a tree split by lightning, a cliff at the brink of a waterfall.
xxxxxxI love you, I love you, I love you.
xxxxxxThe words caught in her throat as they always did, where they'd slumbered for two-hundred and fourteen years, or seventy-eight thousand, one hundred and ten days. How she wished everyday she'd spoken them to Satoru, who'd chosen another without ever knowing her heart. Who'd died believing she'd loathed him.
xxxxxxPerhaps if she broke herself open and gave away her pieces to whoever might take it, she would eventually discard every part of herself that he'd touched and decided he did not want.
xxxxxx"T-hank you," she stuttered. "Are you— How are—"
xxxxxxShe clutched the handkerchief to her chest. The words wouldn't come. They never came. She would die with them but the irony was that she already had. Yes, surely Takumi could not love her. The mortal girl she'd been had died long ago, and the persona that had taken her place was certainly not not dead. Minako was an animated corpse. She was worse than an animated corpse. She wasn't even a hot animated corpse like those presently seated beside her.
xxxxxx"Germs are the only things that will touch me." She planted her face on the table, and folded the handkerchief into a perfect square, which she would keep for prosperity for the rest of eternity.
xxxxxx"You look like you could use a drink."
xxxxxxMinako lifted her head to meet the eyes of the bartender.
xxxxxx"What can I get you?"
xxxxxx"Yes."
xxxxxx"I'm sorry?"
xxxxxx"I'll take anything you'll give me." She gaped.
xxxxxx"Vodka on the rocks...?" the bartender began tentatively, his expression conveying that he was finding her stranger by the minute.
xxxxxx"I mean, I'd prefer a bed..."
xxxxxx"What?"
xxxxxx"I love—to sleep." Minako turned away to stare intently at the three immortals beside her, her eyes screaming for help or death. I hate myself, she mouthed, her eyes rolling into the back of her head.
xxxxxx"That'll be two-thousand yen."
xxxxxxMinako swallowed a deafening cry. "Sure." Put me out of my misery, she told her companions telepathically as she slipped her debit card across the counter.
xxxxxx"Um, can you let go?" the bartender prodded, tugging at the card Minako pressed with white knuckles against the table. Minako darted her gaze towards the door, contemplating the speed at which she could run to avoid the authorities. Finally, she allowed the bartender to tear her savings from her. She was sweating.
xxxxxx"I'm going to pretend I ate the next week. Am eating? Will?" Minako's voice was shrill as she suffocated on her cries, all the while draining her glass of vodka between her choking. "Everything's fine. I'm fine. I love life. Life hates me but it's okay. I love to suffer."
xxxxxx"Here's your card back."
xxxxxx"Keep it. You've taken everything else," she gasped. "Like my dignity."
xxxxxx"Is she... Okay?" the bartender asked slowly.
xxxxxx"You don't even remember my name."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kohaku Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Seung Character Portrait: Alucio Character Portrait: Ryan 'Rango' Prosker
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Ryan 'Rango' Prosker
"A good drink will dull the senses, a great drink will erase them altogether."




Ambience --- Hex #AE0202 --- Leather Jacket




You would think that a man who was capable of flying his way through a hail of gunfire and rockets would be able to easily find his way out of a hospital. You would be wrong, because Ryan was having way more trouble than he cared to admit. One hand held the English to Japanese dictionary, while another hand aimlessly waved about in an effort to figure out his bearings. He could just start taking doors at random, but that would present another set of problems that Ryan was not wanting to deal with. His attempts to stop a couple of people in order to get directions were either met with him being ignored or stared at as he laughably tried some Japanese phrases. Either way, he was about ten seconds away from jumping through a window and seeing if he could simply fly to the bar.

It was at this moment that a young Japanese girl wandered up to him. A girl scout? In a hospital? At night? By herself? There were so many questions Ryan wanted to ask but thought better of it as she immediately launched into a tirade of the unknown language, stopping for but a moment as Ryan raised an eyebrow at the girl. His fingers flipping through the pages, trying to find enunciations that matched up the the rapid pace of speech this child had just given to him. “Uhhhhh…” Ryan murmured to himself, his eyes darting from the pages to the girl and back again. It was but a second later that she spoke in English, broken but definitely understandable.

She asked if he wanted some cookies, and before he could respond, she spoke again. ”Life is full of constant disappointment and heart-aching...But whenever I begin to question the pointless cycle of life, I find biting in a cookie is helpful in calming of my mind.” Ryan stared at her for a moment, caught between shock and surprise at the little girl. It was almost like she was reading his mind, and considering the amount of things he had heard and/or seen come out of this country, part of him wondered if that wasn’t in fact true. Before he could say anything, she pointed him towards the exit, shoved the cookies into his chest and skipped off. Ryan found himself staring at her for far longer than any adult man should stare at a small child, and shook his head.

“What?” Ryan asked more to himself than anything else. He looked down at the cookies, then back up at where the girl had skipped to. “What?” He repeated to himself, catching a few looks from passing nurses and doctors. He wasn’t sure what exactly had happened, all he knew was that her English was better than his Japanese, and that embarrassed him. He stared at the package of cookies, chocolate flavor, and wondered if this was some elaborate plan to poison him using an unassuming yet somehow creepily knowledgable girl. He shook his head and walked in the direction that she had pointed him towards. He was left with more questions than answers as he found the correct set of doors that would lead him outside. Note to self...make a map. Ryan thought to himself as he opened the package of cookies and peered inside. He picked one out of the box as he made his way towards the exit, looking it over before giving it a bite.

Mmmmm, chocolatey.

The crisp air outside was a welcome reprieve to the stuffy atmosphere he had just been subjected to. He stood outside the doors for a moment, his hand repeatedly dipping into the box and munching away at the cookies inside. He peered around at his surroundings, everything alien to the American as he didn’t even attempt to make sense of the signs and writing around him. He pocketed the dictionary into his jacket and took out the note that Konatsu had handed him instead. On it were directions written to the bar as plainly as he could make them, only an idiot wouldn’t have been able to find it.

Then again, Ryan had to get help from a girl scout just to exit a hospital...so the odds were not in his favor.

He started wandering down the street, the slight amount of wind pulling his jacket behind him as he peered through the nearly empty streets. Bits of litter floated as if pulled from invisible strings, windows were alight with activity like fireflies, but souls seemed to be absent from his view. It took a few minutes before he saw another person, which was a blessing as he had slowly been convincing himself he had died and been put in purgatory or something akin to a slow form of psychological torture. The lack of bodies was getting to him, he could feel himself getting agitated and antsy at the fact that he was practically alone in an unknown world. How he wished his buddies could have made the trip, or even if there was one more English speaking person walking beside him. He hated solitude, despised it with every fiber of his being.

With only the passing moments of people wandering by to keep his mind from spiraling into a desperate search for conversation, he could sense that familiar feeling of irritation welling up inside him. It felt like his entire body was restless, but would eventually evolve into an itch he couldn’t scratch, until it felt like his entire body wanted to spasm. He had once been told this was all a psychosomatic reaction to his natural inclination to always want to be surrounded by people, but whether it was in his head or not, it felt just as real. Luckily, before it could get any worse, he arrived at the bar that Konatsu had pointed him towards.

Ryan took a moment to size the place up, and to be quite frank it seemed about a half step up from a dive bar. Maybe Konatsu came here to avoid all the high profile people he had to deal with on a daily basis. It could have been his oasis in a desert of snobby lawyers, idiot executives, and stupid shareholders. Ryan double and triple checked the name and Kanji on the note, making sure he was in the right place before replacing the note into his pocket and digging for more cookies. His hand came back empty, so with a frown he looked inside the box to see that he had eaten them all in the short time it took him to get to the bar. Oh man I’m going to have to run that off later. Ryan thought to himself as he wondered how hard he had been pigging out just now, lost in his own thoughts. He looked around for a garbage can, and found a dumpster on the side of the building. He tossed the empty box into it before making his way inside.

The interior was dimly lit, either on purpose or because they couldn’t afford better lighting. Several tables were placed around the room, oddly enough they were the ones he was used to eating at. Ryan had the impression he would be kneeling at every establishment he went to, with the tables that might as well have been floors. Aside from that, it wasn’t bad. The atmosphere had a homely touch to it, the kind where the ‘everyone knows everyone’ vibe seemed to perpetuate the air, although he doubted that was the case. There was a bar counter with stools as well, and despite there being several people in groups among the tables, Ryan opted for the spot closest to the supply of alcohol. He didn’t know anyone, add in the fact that the language barrier made it extremely difficult to communicate and you have yourself one hell of a recipe for great misunderstandings. It was fine though, so long as people were around him and chatting away, Ryan could get rid of his antisocial anxiety.

As Ryan took a seat at the counter the Bartender came over, an aging man who looked to be about in his forties. He was completely bald although it was most likely from choice, and a surprisingly few wrinkles marred his face. If it wasn’t for the other physical facts, such as his slightly hunched posture and aging skin on his hands, Ryan could have easily mistaken him for someone closer to his own age. “Watashi ni nani ga dekiru?” Ryan didn’t bother trying to answer, instead he fished out the note in his pocket and looked it over. There were phrases written, including one that introduced him as a friend to Konatsu. He narrowed his eyes at the phrase, but luckily Konatsu had been kind enough to spell out the pronunciation of the words.

“Watashi wa Konatsu no tomodachidesu.” Ryan stated, heavily aware that his accent was most likely making the Japanese nearly unintelligible. The Bartender widened his eyes slightly and gave a smile.

“Ah! You must be Prosker-san!” The bartender stated in heavily accented English. Ryan looked up, pleasantly surprised that the man understood English at all.

“Oh thank God. You know English?” Ryan asked, severely relieved at not having to deal with a language barrier that would result in him simply emphasizing just how western he was. The Bartender shrugged.

“Here there.” The man stated, turning around and grabbing a bottle that Ryan could only hope had something that would knock him on his ass. “Konatsu-sama call ahead, he say put everything on his bill. You drink free tonight.” Ryan blinked for a moment, he had been expecting a discount not a free ride to blissful drunk town.

“I’m going to owe him something fierce…” Ryan muttered as the bartender looked under the counter.

“Gomen'nasai?” He asked, of which Ryan took a wild guess as to what that meant.

“Eh, nothing. Just muttering to myself.” The bartender nodded before seemingly cursing to himself as he reached underneath the counter and pulling out nothing. He cursed, or at least Ryan took it as cursing, in Japanese several times before placing the bottle on the bar.

“No cups, I get cups. Be right back.” The bartender stated before moving towards a curtain, yelling something in Japanese and getting yelled at back by someone with a slightly deeper voice than his. Ryan looked at the bottle, and naturally it was all in the language of the natives. He couldn’t understand what it said, so he took to taking a look around the bar instead. There were a number of people in the building. There were a couple of people huddled in a corner having a hushed conversation, a lonely looking man having a drink by himself and a group of four with a woman face down on the table. That sight brought about a confused look from Ryan, but there didn’t seem to be any immediate distress so he didn’t think it was warranted for him to intervene. All in all, the atmosphere was melancholic. Considering his own emotional fragility at the moment, this was not something that he wanted to be around.

It was then that the Bartender came back, carrying a few cups and placed them all under the counter while leaving one in front of Ryan. He muttered to himself in Japanese, and while the language may be different, the verbal cues of griping because of a lazy or incompetent worker was universally understood. The Bartender took the bottle and poured the liquid into the cup. “Sake, drink.” The man stated, to which Ryan grabbed the small bowl-shaped cup and brought it up to his lips.

“Domo Arigato.” Ryan stated, and immediately the Bartender’s face turned sour.

“What you call me?! You have nerve!” The surprise at the Bartender’s sudden shift in mood combined with the strength of the drink was enough to make Ryan gulp in surprise and start a coughing fit as he held up a hand, speaking in a hushed whisper as he attempted to swallow what he could in time to say something.

“What did I say? I thought that was thank you! Was it not thank you?!” The Bartender’s expression deadpanned for a moment before he burst into laughter, slapping the table slightly.

“It is! I make joke!” He continued laughing as Ryan cleaned up his face, grabbing the towel the Bartender eventually offered him.

“Ah yes, make fun of the American and his uncultured ways, how civilized of you.” Ryan stated in a mocking tone, although his smile was wide and genuine. He didn’t mind being the butt of a joke so long as people were having a good time. Besides, it helped him push everything that had just happened to the back of his mind. He was never good with dealing with his own emotional issues, preferring to ignore everything that wasn’t beneficial to the people around him. “I think we’ll get along just fine. What do I call you?”

“Miyata Yoshinobu.” The Bartender replied, cleaning up a bit of the spilled sake with a smile still on his face. Ryan took another shot of the Sake, breathing through his teeth as the alcohol hit his system.

“And...Miyata is your family name right? You place your names backwards to western culture?”

“Yoshinobu personal name, Miyata family name.” Ryan gave a nod.

“Alright Yoshi, then while I’m drinking on my friend’s tab, might as well let everyone else get in on the fortune too. He’s rich, he can afford it. Get everyone in here a drink of their choice and charge it to Konatsu.” Yoshi seemed to hesitate slightly before Ryan gave a wave. “He could buy this Bar with his pocket change, he won’t look twice I promise.” Yoshi yelled back into the kitchen-type area, and out came a younger looking gentleman. Most likely it was Yoshi’s son as his tone seemed to convey...a familial order to it. He barked some orders in Japanese and soon enough the man was moving from group to group asking them what drink they would like and explaining that it was already paid for.

“Generous with other people’s money.” Yoshi stated, to which Ryan gave a shrug.

“Better I spend it on other people than just myself, don’t you think?” Ryan asked, taking another shot of Sake as once again thoughts of his parents came unbidden to the forefront of his mind. There was only one way that he was going to get through tonight in any form of happiness or blissful ignorance. ”Now, keep hitting me with the strong stuff till I can’t see straight.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kohaku Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Seung Character Portrait: Alucio Character Portrait: Ikeda Shiori Character Portrait: Ryan 'Rango' Prosker Character Portrait: Basil Gardner Character Portrait: Seok Areum Character Portrait: Kaede Shimizu
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Seung & Seok Areum
GRIM REAPER | #D08462 | FOX SPIRIT | #D24038



      The sound of another occupant moving into the booth left Seung mildly more happy than he had been moments before. Such a feeling was not meant to last however, and as his neighbor began to speak his mood only soured, “I didn’t know you frequented ‘The tipping point’. My charge might visit here tonight. Please don’t take his soul. I’ve only just received his case and it would look terrible on my record if he died the first night in my care.”

      Sighing heavily he then took a sip of his drink, “Only after work,” he lifted his head so his eyes could meet his neighbor's, “Haku, Reapers only take the lives of those destined to die, we don’t get to choose.”They remained silent until the bartender came and the Angel ordered a glass of water. Seung felt a sense of understanding knowing it was probably to save money. He would have offered the man a drink but knowing Alucio and his penchant for more expensive drinks, he would need to cut his losses where he could. Adding another expense would be detrimental.

      With nothing else to say they lapsed into a comfortable stillness until another figure slid into the booth and rested her head on the table. Seung sighed and gently pat her head.
      "I'm so sad. Takumi will never love me. Is it because I'm dead?”
      “I think it may be because he doesn’t know you.” Before he could say anything else though the other half of the rent came walking in and sat down next to him. "I didn't think tonight was one of gathering nights."
      “You left me on read.”
      Alucio pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to Minako with a soft sigh. Seung would have been touched had his roommate not ruined the moment by drinking his sake without even so much as asking. If that was how he wished to be then so be it.
      “Indirect kiss,” his voice was monotone and without thinking he made a heart with his thumb and index finger. Hopefully he wouldn’t spit it out.

      Just in case however he made a move to call the bartender over, only to notice the man had appeared seemingly out of no where. Minako ordered her drink and when she nervously responded, “I love—to sleep,” she looked helplessly at the three men — most likely asking for death. Seung had no idea how to handle the situation and so promptly kept his gaze lowered and forgot to order another drink. He as well needed sleep after dealing with his friends.

      The bartender then named the price of her beverage, and had to almost pry the card out of her hands. Minutes later the man returned bringing with him her vodka and money. She downed her drink as if it were water and tried choke back her sobs. It was saddening and Seung was clueless as to what to do.
      "Is she... Okay?" he asked.
      “I believe so. Thank you,” he took the card from the bartender's hand and waved him off to spare Minako some humiliation. He was her friend after all.
      “You don't even remember my name.”
      “You never gave it to him, if I remember. Right, Haku?”
      Before their discussion could escalate however a man came to their table with a bright smile. Seung didn’t trust him, but nonetheless listened to whatever he had to say.
      “What can I get you all to drink today?” a frown appeared on Seung’s face, cautious of his overly happy disposition. “Ah, it’s already been paid for.” He should have started with that line.

      That got Seung’s attention and so promptly he ordered a drink he had been eyeing all night long, “I’ll have a bourbon then.” He didn’t ask who had been generous enough to pay for their drinks, the attendant's attention already having moved on, and so looked at his friends expectantly. After all, they should thank the person who had essentially saved them rent money. Mortals could be so nice at times.



      ( • • • )


      It had occurred to Areum multiple times before that although it wouldn’t be hard to imagine a life without Cassius, she deeply resented the thought of it. Perhaps her mornings would be a little less bright, and the sound of her soul would sing more loudly, but in comparison to who she was intrinsically — nothing would change. And yet, even the mere thought of separation brought a dull ache to her heart she thought would have faded with time.

      As another attendant passed by Areum plucked a glass of champagne off their tray and shifted her gaze from the man in yellow to her new drink. She furrowed her eyebrows in dissatisfaction as she finally took notice of its taste. It was much too sweet and left a tangy flavor in her mouth, not even vodka could smother its presence.

      While in deep thought, Areum had been deaf to whatever pretty but meaningless compliments Cassius was most likely gushing. It was only when the pitch of his voice lowered that her attention was finally on him once more. "I believe you've yet to meet. This is Areum, though I doubt a woman like herself requires an introduction."

      She raised an eyebrow and finally lowered her drink. Before her stood the man she had been glaring at previously, and with a new perspective, she smiled.

      “It’s a pleasure to meet you —” she gave a quick sideways glance to Cassius, “Basil. A friend of Kaede’s is a friend of mine, and so I hope we’ll see more of each other in the future.” Without warning she stepped closer to the man and stared at his face in concentration. She noted his thick eyebrows that framed doelike eyes and the way his pout was wide but very pretty. He was an eccentric kind of attractive, and it made her want to stare at him all the more curiously. “Should you ever wish to model for my magazine feel free to contact me. I’m sure we can have something arranged.” Slowly she backed away and focused her gaze on Kaede instead. It was unspoken that she would be the photographer, and for Areum that would only be an added bonus should he accept.

      "Excuse me,” Cassius interrupted and before she could get a word out the man was gone. Areum rolled her eyes but in doing so caught sight of the event unfurling that Cassius must have seen as well. In her mind, she praised her friend for taking a swift course of action and let him deal with it himself; however, it was the familiar face of the woman sitting at the bar that made Areum move to help.
      “Forgive me, I’ll be back in a moment,” walking with purpose she quickly slid between the patrons who still hadn’t noticed the debacle and kept dancing. They were either too drunk to notice or too self-absorbed to care.
      Silently, Areum sat down next to Shiori just as the bartender supplied her with another drink. She tapped the counter to order the same beverage as well and placed her empty champagne glass on her right side for someone to clean up.
      “I saw what you did, and I’m very grateful but —” she turned to look the officer straight in the eye, “—why didn’t you arrest him?”

      The bartender finally finished creating her drink and placed it in front of her hands. Idly she traced her ring finger along the rim of the glass and awaited her response. She had the authority to act, so why didn’t she? Was it the fear of repercussions, or an inability to serve due to being off the clock? Her thoughts was cut short however by the sight of men storming away from where Cassius stood watching. Areum recognized them for who they were and in a quick act of vindictiveness dumped the contents of her drink onto their passing forms.

      There was no logical reason for what she did, and like most things Areum didn't think of the consequences, but the feeling of revenge was too good to pass up. She let out a small condensing smile and a quiet laugh. The apparent leader snarled and made his way to Areum to which she gave a disinterested sigh, “Perhaps I should call Mr. Dōriēwes over.” A pointed look to her friend had the men freeze before backing away slowly. A grin spread across her face.

      When the men left and all that remained was a stillness, Cassius' strong voice echoed in the silence and promised the patrons a round of free cocktails. Applause and laughter filled the room bringing life back to the party, and with a weary grimace Areum focused her attention back to Shiori.

      “I have someone I’d like you to meet,” without warning Areum took the girl’s wrist and lightly tugged at her to follow. She cut through the center with ease, her disposition not allowing for any jostling, and finally made way to where she left Kaede and Basil. She needed Cassius’ opinion on the girl, and more than anyone she knew, he understood her needs the best.



Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kohaku Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Seung Character Portrait: Alucio Character Portrait: Ryan 'Rango' Prosker
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xxxIt made no difference how many times reaper Seung reminded Haku that they did not choose who died, merely followed the cards assigned to them. The guardian still maintained the prejudice that their mere presence must not be lucky for any mortals in the vicinity. Yet, as Seung reminded him of the fact, the guardian merely nodded solemnly in response rather than argue. Best not to upset a grim reaper after all.

xxxA moment of comfortable peace passed between reaper and guardian instead, the sounds of the bar’s other occupants and the steady beat of vehicles rumbling down the road outside soothing after a day of work. Haku sipped on his water, wishing once again that he could afford anything more than the free drink. A despondent sigh escaped the angel, his shoulders slumping slightly as his gaze left the sad glass of water. His lips parted, words collecting on his tongue, before a small figure joined the quiet pair with a thump and a sorrowful exclamation.

xxxKohaku knew Minako’s moods well, and was well acquainted with her inclination to find love in the smallest, most meaningless of gestures. A passing stranger might smile at her, and the diminutive guardian angel would assure Haku that she was in love. She felt too strongly, opening herself up for disappointment whenever a fresh sweetheart failed to return her newly developed devotion. On more than one occasion in their decades of friendship, Haku had found himself comforting his fellow angel, offering a quiet shoulder to cry on as he patiently waited for her to right herself.

xxxAt least now Haku had the support of his neighbour. No two neighbours, he corrected himself as Alucio joined the quiet table. Kohaku returned Alucio’s greeting, raising his hand vertical and giving a short wave before letting his fingers wrap around the glass of water and pulling it closer. He should have asked for a straw. He watched as Alucio offered the distraught guardian his handkerchief, and Kohaku suddenly had the sinking feeling that he’d be spending the next week hearing Minako waxing poetic about Alucio’s generosity. The male guardian bit back a sigh and returned his attention to the glass of water.

xxxThoughts of sinking into a hot bubble bath distracted Kohaku from the chatter of the table, his mind already swimming with sweet scented candles and luxurious bath salts. Bath bombs were his guilty pleasure, the rare item he allowed himself to splurge on. Not that he did so very often. He would use a candle right down to the stub, and lay in a bath until all the bubbles were gone and the heat had completely vanished. Anything to make the most of his spent money.

xxxOnly the sound of his name draws Haku away from his mental bubble bath, and he gazes up to stare blankly a Seung. Having missed the earlier conversation, Kohaku merely nods and agrees uncertainly, “Right.”

xxxThen a worker is at their table, and Haku’s lips quirk into the first almost-smile of the day. A free beverage? What luck is this? With a quick nod, Haku picks up the menu hastily and skims down the list of cocktails, wines, and other assorted alcoholic drinks. He’s half scared that if he takes too long, the offer will disappear. Yet, as soon as he finds something he likes, he glances up and finds the bartender waiting patiently for the order.

xxx “I’d like sex on the beach, please.” Kohaku informs him, ignorant to how such a phrase could be turned around in any other situation. Yet, the barkeep’s face does not break into a mocking smile at the cocktail, but a regretful frown.

xxx “I’m sorry sir, but that drink was discontinued last week. You must have an old menu.”

xxxHaku is handed another menu, his disappointment and resignation clear by the set of his shoulders and gloomy mask. Nevertheless, he selects another drink – a respectable beer – and hands the menu back with another sigh. It’s only then that he notices the man sitting at the bar. He can sense the man’s emotions, the connection slightly sluggish thanks to the few shots of Sake he’s already consumed. The bartender follows Kohaku’s gaze and gives a happy nod,

xxx “Yes, the American has kindly bought the whole bar a round.” He informed the table, nodding towards the figure of Ryan Prosker.

xxxHaku nods absently before his elbow shifts, prodding into Minako as he drew his eyes away from his charge. “I’m going to talk with my charge. If you’re capable of sitting straight and tearing your gaze from the table, I would appreciate any advice you could give me on him.” Haku mumbled, before a gaze at the men in black sitting opposite them made him add in a quieter voice, “And make sure the reapers don’t kill my charge.”

xxxWith a nod to said reapers, and a promise that he would be right back, the guardian angel slid from his chair and gained his feet. He felt almost naked without a glamour on, but knew that it would be redundant to leave the bar only to come back wearing the image of another person. He may as well wear his own face. Subconsciously, Haku tugged on the lobe of his almost-too-big ear and set off, dipping around tables empty and occupied as he made for the counter.

xxxHe didn’t entirely have a plan, but knew that talking with his charges would only help in his mission to enable them to meet their great fate. So, he took the seat next to the American and drew a rare smile onto his face as he faced Ryan. His lips were unaccustomed to such a position, and the smile quickly fell into a more neutral position as he addressed the man seated beside him.

xxx “Hello, do you speak Japanese?” Kohaku asked in his native tongue, before switching to his less-fluent English, “Or should I thank you in English?”

xxxMovement to his right momentarily drew Haku’s attention away, and he was rewarded with the sight of the bar tender sliding a cool beer into the guardian’s waiting palm. With a nod of thanks to the worker, Kohaku turned towards Ryan once more, his beer held out towards the American – an age-old, wordless invitation to clack their drinks together and ‘cheers’.

xxx “To what are you celebrating?” Kohaku continued, his tongue feeling uncoordinated as it pronounced the English words.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luciana de Silva Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Kohaku Character Portrait: Cassius Dōriēwes Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Seung Character Portrait: Alucio Character Portrait: Cara Chung Character Portrait: Ikeda Shiori Character Portrait: Ryan 'Rango' Prosker Character Portrait: Basil Gardner Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Aera Lee Character Portrait: Seok Areum Character Portrait: Kaede Shimizu Character Portrait: Wyatt Costanza Character Portrait: Paola Millán
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━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━
CHAPTER TWO: THE FESTIVAL
━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━

Date: Early afternoon, 2nd April, 2017
Location: Kan'ei-ji Temple, Ueno Park
Tokyo City, Japan

━━━━━━━━━


xxx A sea of delicate pink blossoms fluttered in the faint spring breeze, a show of nature’s intoxicating beauty revealed for the world to see. Lanes of sakura trees turned the pavement below a rosy hue, while in other places the falling flowers had carpeted the grass in blushing blooms. The Hanami custom was old, a traditional indulgence by the people of Japan and those world-wide to walk beneath spring’s buds and admire the astounding beauty of it.

xxx In Ueno park, lanterns hang on invisible ropes between the trees, arching across lanes and illuminating pathways during the nightly yozakura. Yet, even during the day, as wisps of cloud pass overhead, the lanterns only add to the festive feel. Kan'ei-ji temple is a Tendai Buddist temple within the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. It sits in the park, a beautiful array of centuries old architecture within the modern city.

xxx Fires from various civil wars and earthquakes have seen the original facades diminished, yet still the temple stands tall and proud. The five-storied pagoda and the Ueno Tōshō-gū shrine still remain as gems of the original temple, beautiful relics of a time gone past. Today, as the midday sun passes overhead, the temple grounds were thriving with activity. Cherry blossoms coloured the grounds pink, while the laughter of young children brought smiles to many who passed by. Stalls set up in one of the courtyards offered delectable treats; yakitori, grilled chicken on sticks; takoyaki, pancake balls with tempting chunks of octopus in the middle; watamep, cotton candy in all colours and styles, and more.

xxx The temple’s festivities were set to continue throughout the evening and into the early night, when the lanterns strung up would offer soft illumination. However, as early afternoon struck the festival was well into full swing. Some families take to the lawns beneath the cherry blossom trees, where picnic blankets allow them to stretch out and admire the blooming petals, while others content themselves with pulling young children around to the games set up for those who require a bit more entertainment. Also present are young couples keen to take in the romance of the sakura blossoms, their hands intertwined as they whispered endearments to each other while walking beneath the blooms.

xxx It was one of these couples that caught Lucia’s gaze as she stepped off the bustling street and followed one small, winding path towards the heart of the temple. They were young, late teens or early twenties, and yet their devotion to each other was clear. As the goblin passed the love-struck couple, she caught a glimpse of their future, intertwined for decades, their hands still clinging together as they age from young and fresh to gnarled and old. Luciana smiled softly, a hint of sadness perhaps beneath the warmth in her eyes. She had once been in love, a foolish affair, yet her story had not ended in happiness as this couple’s story would.

xxx She bypassed the devoted couple with a quick side-step, sending them a hint of good luck as she passed. Ahead, the path opened out into the main courtyard of the temple, a busy thoroughfare of festival seekers. The smell of freshly cooked food and sweets drifted between the crowd, tempting any with a nose or hint of hunger towards the wooden stalls edging the courtyard. Overhead, unlit lanterns and streamers added further decoration, even as the cherry blossoms were the real draw card.

xxx “I’ll take two yakitori, please.” Lucia intoned in flawless Japanese, nodding in thanks as her money was exchanged for the chicken sticks. The dress hugging her body floated around her knees slightly as a faint breeze snaked through the crush of people, and Lucia followed it beneath the tall pagoda and around to where a lawn of grass unfurled beneath a stand of sakura trees. A free root offered the perfect seat, and Lucia tucked her feet to the side as she sat beneath a shower of rosy petals, her gaze drawn upwards to the light blossoms blushing softly against the sky.


xxx “Beautiful” The goblin thought to herself, a feeling of peace settling across her shoulders. She left her mind wander to the twists of the day before, her thoughts less tense than the swirling cacophony of feelings that had assaulted her the previous night. Following her departure from Paola’s apartment, Lucia had spent a long time deciding on her next course of action. Her first instinct was to leave, to run from the city where she had seen and touched her ex-lover. Yet, the goblin couldn’t shake the sense that she should be closer to Paola, if only to investigate the mysterious way the girl had called her.

xxx To stay, or to go? It was the decision that had taunted her throughout the night, and though the goblin hadn’t landed on a conclusive answer, here she sat, still in Tokyo. The tough choice of the previous night seemed all the easier to face now, beneath the sakura. She would stay, would face Cassius if ever they came upon each other again. She was not the same young, naïve woman she had been as a mortal, she was stronger now, more sure of herself. She could handle it. Yet, even as her resolution settled, she remembered the feel of his hand on hers, the colours of his eyes, feel of his breath against her skin…

xxx A flicker in the corner of her eye dragged Lucia’s thoughts from the fox and she turned, searching the crowd of blossom admirers for the movement. Her brows moved into a frown as soft green eyes fell on the dark figure of a ghost. He looked as out of place amongst the pale blossoms as a bear would look in a colony of honey bees. Taller than the natives around him, and dressed in regal, medieval garb that was only now worn in theatrical plays, he was a man out of time and out of place. Though, it wasn’t the unsettling wrongness of his appearance that had Lucia pushing herself to her feet in a second. No, it was the familiarity of his face, the way the deceased soul’s gaze seemed to pin Lucia to the spot, as if he had sought her out from the beyond.

xxx The goblin took a step forward, a jolt of fear racing down her spine. “It cannot be…” She thought, wishing the distance were less so that she could be more sure, even as she wished to be miles away and safe from the soul’s eerie glare. She strained her eyes, even as a crowd of young Japanese temporarily blocked her view. Lucia took another half step forward, only to stop as the crowd passed and where the ghost had been, was nothing. He was gone, like a mirage teasing the goblin with images of her past. Had it been him? Or had the events of the previous day caused her to remember the less fortunate parts of her mortal life?

xxx Luciana took a shuddering breath, her hand instinctively flying to her neck where her fingers traced across the jewels that clung to her skin. She remembered the necklace tightening, the memory of the hand that had ended her life stark in her mind as she stared at the empty spot where he had just stood. But no, that was centuries ago. No ghost could last for that long. She forced her shoulders to relax, let her legs buckle as she regained her seat. It had been her mind, nothing else. She was safe.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luciana de Silva Character Portrait: Minako
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xxxxxxxx▁ ▂ ▃xxxxxxxMemoriesxxxxxxxxxx ▁ ▂ ▃xxxxxxx# D2AD9Dxxxxxxxxx

xxxxxxHer fingers glanced across the silk fabric as if it might dissolve beneath her touch. Minako felt the near-imperceptible ridges of the thread and dye that gave life to the butterflies and cherry blossoms woven through the tapestry. The kimono was the most beautiful thing she’d ever owned, yet in the century since she’d received it, Minako had never worn it. It sat in its box, perfectly spread as if awaiting its owner to slip into its folds at any moment. It took up more space than she had, occupying the whole length of her wardrobe. Of everything she owned—however few there might be—this kimono was her dearest.
xxxxxxSaya Takashima had been her first charge. Minako still remembered her first breath, and the shockingly determined grip of her tiny hand. Minako had glamoured herself as the midwife who would care for the young girl after her mother passed in childbirth. She remembered the day Saya wore her butterfly and cherry blossom-speckled robes when she finally came of age. She’d been the most beautiful girl in the world.
xxxxxxWhen Saya laid on her death bed, she’d met her guardian angel again, who was now disguised as a young nurse at the hospital after the midwife passed of old age. The skin around her eyes had crinkled when she smiled, and she’d clutched the nurse’s hand with more strength than one would except from a woman nearly eighty-nine years of age.
xxxxxx”I know who you are,” she’d said. “Thank you.”
xxxxxxPerhaps it was the dementia taking hold, for surely Saya could not have known. Yet on her last day of life she gifted the young nurse with the butterfly and cherry blossom kimono her mother had worn when she’d been alive. Forever ago, when she’d been a geisha named Yumiko freed from service by the love of a samurai’s son.
xxxxxxMinako had wept for what had to be a small fraction of eternity. She had wept as if she’d been Saya’s own mother, for it certainly felt as if she had. Her superiors had declared her mission a success, when in the last of her years Saya had given all her wealth to establishing a shelter for those widowed by World War I.
xxxxxxMinako pulled the nagajuban around her shoulders, the white robe swishing at her ankles like the breaths of long grass. She had never worn a kimono as herself, only as a glamour over another glamour of an old woman or a pretty girl. It felt strange to wear it now, but she had felt the call of the silks like an ache in her chest this morning.
xxxxxxShe tightened the undersash of her robes and pulled the tobi socks over her toes. The scarlet kimono fit her perfectly and for a moment she was unnerved. But of course she was only average in size and height; it was no surprise it fit her.
xxxxxxMinako wrapped the gold obi around her waist slipped her feet into the sandals.

xxxxxxA cherry blossom fell on her nose. Minako lifted her fingers to pluck the petals from between her eyes, only for it to flutter to the ground. She supposed such was her fate. To be in the presence of passing beauty but for it to never be in her grasp.
xxxxxxShe searched the temple for the shadow of a feather that might indicate Haku's arrival, but the tide of people made the task impossible. Minako wandered instead through the stalls, staring longingly at the culinary delights on offer.
xxxxxx"Little girl," called a familiar old man. Minako gave him a terse smile. Little girl? Good heavens, she'd been twenty-eight when she'd been, well, executed.
xxxxxx"Abe-san," she greeted. The man often sold desserts in their neighbourhood from his bicycle. "You're still alive!"
xxxxxx"And you're still alone!" he replied, spreading his arms as if questioning the feasibility of such a notion with the multitude of living men in Tokyo.
xxxxxx"Haha!" she barked, perhaps a little too aggressively. "Haku will be here soon."
xxxxxx"Still chasing that handsome boy?"
xxxxxx"For over a century, if you can believe it."
xxxxxx"I'm sure it feels that way." Abe beamed and offered her two fish-shaped cakes stuffed with adzuki paste. "My treat for you and your future husband."
xxxxxxMinako snatched the taiyaki from his hands, eyes watering as she bowed repeatedly and bathed the seller with words of gratitude. She bit into the soft centre as she left the store. There was no chance she'd share the sweets with Haku.
xxxxxxShe was so engrossed in consuming the food in her hands she failed to notice tree in her path, or the woman seated at its roots. Minako startled when she nearly tripped over her.
xxxxxx"So—" Her apology was halted by the remnants of a strange pool of emotions that rushed into her. She tasted the lingering scent of confusion and fear on her tongue. Salty and bitter against the flavour of the taiyaki. When the feeling ebbed, Minako stared open-mouthed at the most beautiful woman she'd ever seen.
xxxxxxEyes the shade of Spring leaves were set in skin the shade of burnt caramel. She was what Minako had always imagined Angels to be when she'd been alive.
xxxxxx"Gomen—" she continued in Japanese, before thinking otherwise. "Ah, I'm sorry," she said again in English. "Are you hurt?" Emotionally, physically, spiritually. Minako fumbled for a way to scatter the discomfort of speaking to the splitting image of the deity's perfection. She felt her hand shooting out to offer the woman her unbitten taiyaki. "Fish?!"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luciana de Silva Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Wyatt Costanza
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xxxxA head of blonde curls shifted, shuffling beneath the warm cocoon of blankets. Early morning sun filtered through blinds, painting the bed in horizontal beams of light. The figure beneath the sheets wriggled slightly, distorting the bands of light as a disgruntled groan left his lips.

xxxx “Go away” Came the muffled cry, directed at the intruding light that had woken the blonde prematurely. With a grunt, Marlon’s slim hand reached from beneath the protective collection of blankets and searched blindly for his second pillow. His fingers brushed against the pillow cover, clutched at the soft cushion, and pulled it quickly over his blanket covered head, attempting to block out all light entirely.

xxxxIt didn’t do much, and within a minute Marlon was pushing blankets and pillows aside to draw in a breath of fresh air. He squinted at the obtrusive sunlight, as if glaring at it would somehow make the light disappear and enable Marlon to return to sleep. Yet, surprisingly, it did nothing, and with another pout, Marlon pushed himself out of bed.

xxxxA curse escaped his lips as his foot banged against something – a textbook – and then he had to wobble on one foot as he clasped the tender toes. Eventually, without maiming himself further, Marlon made it to his door. Breakfast was eaten standing in the kitchen, a bowl of cereal and milk while Marlon danced from foot to foot on the cold tiles.

xxxxThe apartment he shared with Wyatt was small, a given in a dense city like Tokyo, but it was comfortable and close to everything they needed. The kitchen-living room-dining room was cosy and filled with their shared items. Sheet music littered the coffee table, mixed in with his university assignments. Marlon knew he should probably take a look at them at some point today, but his hands were itching, and as he turned to stash the cereal bowl in the dishwasher, Marlon already knew that he’d be heading to the university’s music rooms for a morning practice.

xxxxThat’s where the blonde found himself an hour later, ‘tinkling the ivories’ as one old pianist used to say. He moved through an easy Beethoven piece, twisted his fingers around Liszt, and had begun a set by a local artist when thoughts of the previous day truly hit him. Marlon had been deliberately trying to keep his mind off the suddenly appearing monk, Jiangyu, both because thinking of those abs was distracting, and because he wasn’t entirely sure that his encounter with the monk hadn’t been some figment of his imagination… albeit an imagination that somehow incorporated Wyatt and a hot chocolate and…

xxxx “I wonder where he went last night.” Marlon mumbled to himself as he stood, shuffling through his music idly as he replayed Jiangyu’s exit at the café. It was as if Marlon had blinked and suddenly the departing monk had vanished as he’d passed through the door. Perhaps Marlon had merely missed him disappearing into the crowds outside. Marlon readily admitted that his eyesight was slightly impaired thanks to hours staring at piano music, but surely not bad enough that he’d mistake a man stepping through a door for completely disappearing?

xxxxMarlon gave his practice another attempt, but every note struck was accompanied by a reminder of the previous day’s oddities, and eventually Marlon gave it up for a lost cause. Packing up, the young man left the university, phone in hand as he brought up the contact information for Wyatt.

xxxTo Wyatt,
xxxxxxI’m heading to the cherry blossom festival at Ueno Park. Meet up if you’re free?


xxxxHe wanted to get Wyatt’s opinion on Jiangyu, after his friend had had a chance to sleep on it. But, until he made contact with his roommate, Marlon would entertain himself at the cherry blossom festival. He’d not been to one before, having arrived in Japan too late for them last year. Yet, at the advice of several local friends, Marlon was not about to miss them this year. So as midday passed Marlon set his feet towards a bus stop, from where public transport would deliver him right to Kan'ei-ji Temple’s doorstep.

xxxxThere were already crowds streaming in and out of the temple, young children pulling happily on their parents’ hands or couples clutching at flower souvenirs. Marlon only hesitated slightly, checking his phone reflexively for a reply from Wyatt, before slipping his phone into his pocket and stepping forth.

xxxxA skewer of delicious takoyaki found its way into Marlon’s hands at the exchange of some money, his tongue licking some of the sauce into his mouth.

xxxx “Urgh, yes.” Marlon said in English, his taste buds happy as he savoured the treat. The pianist’s feet pulled him along with the crowd, hazel eyes rising to take in the pink ceiling of blossoms. While he was usually drawn instead to thriving bars and clubs with music that made your ears ring the next day, Marlon had to admit that there was a certain appeal to the slower paced events like this. The sakura was beautiful, and the takoyaki was mouth-watering.

xxxxMarlon’s phone was pulled out again, his thumb tapping through his apps before arriving at snapchat. Extending his arm, Marlon smiled, held his remaining octopus balls up in frame, and took the photo. He added a smiley face emoji and typed a quick ‘When in Japan’ in the text bar before adding it to his story. Now everyone would see how much fun he was having. Except…

xxxxBiting his lip, Marlon glanced around. He wanted a better photo, but with only an arm of limited length, he would need help to take it. His eyes darted to a group of young college aged men joking with each other, but despite the way his eyes lingered on one’s full lips and dimpled smile, he discounted the youths and instead landed on a pair of women beneath one of the cherry blossom trees. The smaller woman was dressed in a kimono, delicate and small, she could as easily have looked at home in the Japan of centuries ago. She appeared to be offering the other women, who was clearly not of Japanese descent, a bite of her festival snack. Stumbling over to the pair, Marlon plastered a friendly smile on his face and waved with his free hand to grab their attention.

xxxx “Konnichiwa,” Marlon said in Japanese, “Would you be able to take a photo of me, please?”

xxxxHe held his phone out hopefully, having flicked the device from snapchat to his phone camera. Who knew, if the photo was any good he could plaster a filter over top and upload it to Instagram. That’s what technology was for, after all. Though, as Marlon’s gaze drifted between the two women, he began to wonder if he’d accidentally walked into a conversation best left alone. The woman seated on the root, whose smooth olive skin made Marlon want to ask what cleansing routine she followed, seemed particularly unsettled. Shit, he should have asked the dimpled college boy.

xxxx A tug on his pants momentarily drew Marlon's gaze from the two women, down to a young child who was holding aloft the thin wire of a sparkler.

xxxx “Uh, arigatō." He thanked the child as he took the offered sparkler,
holding the tip towards the adult hovering behind the child who held a lighter. Another thank you left his lips as the handheld firework caught alight, before Marlon leaned in to blow out the flame flickering at the top. The red flame disappeared, replaced with the white crackling sparkles, and Marlon once again smiled and thanked the kind child before the kid and adult left to find another soul to gift their sparklers too.

xxxx “Um, do you think you could take a photo of me still? With this?" Marlon asked the two woman, waving the sparkler in his hand at the same time.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luciana de Silva Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Seok Areum
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                      Seok Areum
                      FOX SPIRIT | 1392 | #d24038

                      Areum often wondered if the world was nearly as bad as she thought it to be. Her view was cynical at best and morbid at worst, expecting the worst of everyone and everything. Perhaps she was too stubborn to realize the inherent goodness in people, or maybe more realistically it was because she surrounded herself in chaos, but the events of the night prior left her without a change in thought.

                      The man she had dumped her drink on had been one of many parasites that thrived off the unfortunate. She despised them. They were infectious and multiplying, a small blip of darkness that continued to paint her whole dark.

                      Alone she could admit that it was people like him that had created a person like her for they shaped her worldview in the way they persisted to exist.

                      Walking briskly down the streets of Tokyo Areum could only contemplate her thoughts within the confines of her own mind. The cold air pressed against her face and grounded her back to reality. Her face was colored red and the wind mussed her hair, but she kept her gaze steady and continued to walk with a certain kind of finality.

                      Her feet eventually carried her to a boutique where above the entrance the word Wicker was inscribed. She did not hesitate to open the door and walk in as if she owned the place. Areum surveyed the room appreciating how the minimalist aesthetic complimented the bohemian vibe, but her attention was drawn away from the beauty when she caught sight of what she came in looking for.

                      Reverently she picked up the the lotus shaped candle gently as if afraid it might break otherwise, and brought it close to her face to smell. She hummed in satisfaction and noticed how its delicate fragrance was realistic enough that if she were to close her eyes she could be fooled into thinking it was a real flower. It was perfect.

                      Without much thought Areum grabbed an armful, being careful not to smoosh them, and got in line to pay. She stood silently while the other patrons looked at her oddly, but she kept her expressional neutral and patiently waited for her turn. When it finally came time to check out she gracefully placed the candles on the counter and pulled out her card to pay.

                      “Did you find everything all right?” the woman behind the counter asked to which Areum simply hummed in response. The casher recounted the amount owed and without hearing the number Areum payed and left the shop just as quickly as she came.

                      -

                      The bag felt heavy in her hand, and grounded her in a way she hadn’t realize it would.

                      The memories it invoked flooding back, and although she had long since abandoned the practice of Buddhism she still felt an unexplainable pull that demanded her to recognize Vesak day.

                      She remembered with clarity the moments in time when her soul felt at peace, and the worries of the future did not loom like a thundering cloud. It was a much simpler time, and one she could not regret even if she tried.

                      Hearts had the tendency to change though, and over the years she came to realize her her religion had seem to at once become too holy for her. It was a surprise for everyone, even herself, when she announced her departure. They had been kind and thoughtful though — not once begrudging her for the decision she made. It had been a bitter sweet ending, but a crucial one nonetheless.

                      Telling Jiangyu hadn’t been too difficult. They both knew it was not the end, knew that despite the decades that might pass and the distance that may separate them, they would be the one constant in life they could count on. After all, what was the point of being immortal if not for the ability to see the past within the present.

                      Areum stopped walking and let her gaze refocus on the scene before her.

                      Pale pink petals colored her vision, and the dazed expressions of many gave indication as to where she was. She had heard off-handedly about a festival occurring in Ueno Park, but she hadn’t thought much of it at the time. Standing in the midst of people praying however reminded her that she was not meant to be there, and that her very presence was a violation.

                      There was a difference between celebrating in the safety of one’s own house, and another in a public and sacred area. The festival of course was not celebrating Vesak, as it was too early in the month for that, but it was similar enough to unsettle her.

                      Having shaken off her stupor Areum made a motion to leave but an almost imperceptible shift in the air caused her to freeze. A body, previously not in the crowd, had appeared.

                      Areum watched as the petals surrounding the area then fluttered to the ground like flies dropping dead in midair. The man who materialized did not take note of his disruption but rather staggered back and caused a couple to push past him mercilessly. He was tall, outrageously so, and took on a stance that looked much too familiar.

                      She did not sigh, but her stomach lurched involuntarily.

                      As if blown by the wind, Areum found herself walking toward him and the group he was with in an unusually unsteady gait. She clutched shopping bag tightly while her focus was oddly set on interrupting a conversation she had no part to play in.

                      Areum had no reason to be apart of the discussion other than her want to make sure the man was truly who she thought it was — a weak excuse even to her own ears.

                      (If she were being honest though she’d admit that it felt like her soul was being dragged, and despite wanting to resist she simply couldn’t.)

                      Slowly, she made her way toward the group and saw the chance to intervene by way of a young boy to act as her catalyst. He had curly blonde hair that reflected the light, and a hopeful but uneasy expression on his face. And despite knowing he would be shocked by the sudden appearance of Jiangyu, Areum calmly walked up to him and smiled.

                      “I can take your photo if you would like,” she said, pretending as though Jiangyu had always been there. “Unless you would rather have him do it as the two seem to be . . . preoccupied.” She gave a sideways glance to the three mythics — Luciana, Jiangyu, and a Guardian Angel, and a knowing look to the boy.

                      Their encounter felt like fate, and Areum was helpless to stop it.


Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luciana de Silva Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Cassius Dōriēwes Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Seok Areum
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▁ ▂ ▃xxxP I E R R Exxxxxx ▁ ▂ ▃xxxH E Xxxx# 5 E 7 D 7 Exxxxxx▁ ▂ ▃xxxL A Y E R E DxxxJ A C K E T

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xxxxxx"Oh gods, I think he's dead."
xxxxxxThe syllables floated into Cassius' consciousness and reverberated in the 84 by 23 inch ebony and mother of pearl box he laid in. The interior smelled of money, though perhaps that was the gold leaf that encased its exterior trickling in. He opened his eyes.
xxxxxx"Izanami!"
xxxxxx"I'm not the goddess of life and death, unfortunately," Cassius murmured in response. He gazed at the two men who watched him, one with abject horror and the other with the exasperation Hideo Irashi was famed for after fourty-six years in Cassius' employ. "Though I once calmed a rogue stallion on behalf of Jesus' apostle. What was his name? John? Michael?"
xxxxxx"M-Mr Doriewes," his intruder stuttered. "I mean no offence to your foreign customs, but why are you lying in a coffin?"
xxxxxx"Casket, actually. Coffins went out of fashion centuries ago." Cassius raised his body into a sitting position. He gave the other man a small smile. "As to why I'm in one, well, I thought its soundproofing might provide some time to reflect. Clearly not. I suppose I'll have to commission another."
xxxxxxIn truth, he spent some nights sleeping in a casket in preparation for the death of this body. Whilst he never intended for such a day to come, he liked to be prepared. Even immortals were vulnerable to decapitation, drowning, atomic explosions, et cetera et cetera.
xxxxxx"What— Why—"
xxxxxx"Mr Doriewes," Hideo interjected. "Priest Tadashi here was hoping to thank you personally for your donation to Kan'ei-ji Temple."
xxxxxxThe Shinto monk fiddled with his robes. "Yes. We are grateful for your generosity and wish to invite you to our festival today as an honoured guest." He paused, as if doubtful of the words he spoke. "We would love for you to attend. Truly."
xxxxxx"I will attend."
xxxxxx"You will?" Tadashi's eyes widened.
xxxxxx"Certainly."
xxxxxxCassius rose from his casket and offered the man a respectful bow before Tadashi left, leaving behind a narrow-eyed Hideo who looked just about ready to throw his employer back in the casket and chain it shut.
xxxxxx"You greeted the priest in a coffin," he accused.
xxxxxx"Casket," Cassius corrected. [color=#5e7d7e]"And frankly, you should have told me he was coming."
xxxxxx"I did."
xxxxxx"Well, I pay others to remember such things so I don't have to."
xxxxxx"You fired your secretary."
xxxxxx"Goodness, you should know to never let me do that." He gestured at the door. "If there's nothing else, I'd like to go back to reflecting on existence."
xxxxxx"It's morning."
xxxxxx"Exactly."
xxxxxxHideo departed with a sigh and Cassius folded himself into the coffin, imagining for a moment what it must be like to perish after a single, ephemeral lifetime with no hope of a second. Cassius closed his eyes, and dreamed of golden queens, sweat soaked skin, and sea green eyes.

xxxxxxThe air was perfumed with the scent of cherry blossoms. Cassius parted through the tide of people.
xxxxxxHideo had tried his best to accompany him on this excursion, siting a burning need to consume monstrous quantities of okiyaki, but Cassius had heard such excuses before. No one would babysit him. He was a god-like immortal—better even, for surely he was nowhere near as dull or sadistic as them.
xxxxxxHe searched the crowd for Areum, knowing she'd be here. It wasn't hard, he saw her familiar sweep of dark hair, glossy and smooth in a way no ordinary human's was without an extensive haircare regime. She stood amongst a cluster of people comprised of a towering man who was strikingly handsome—of course Areum would find him first; a curly-haired blonde with the face of Cherubs and angels; a caramel skinned—
xxxxxxCassius marched forward without thinking, ready to fold Luciana in his arms before she could vanish into flames again. His palm was wrapped in gauze where she'd scorched him. She had to be a goblin. The thought, the implications, had haunted him till dawn. He neared the group.
xxxxxx"Yes!" a slight Japanese woman said in accented English. "Of course I'll take your picture. The both of you?" she asked, eyes darting between the blonde boy and the tall man. "Unless—" She turned to Areum. "You would prefer to take it? Anything is fine, of course. I mean, we could both take your picture and you could burn them all because the angle makes you look like a whale but that would be mean to whales. Haha!" She slapped a hand over her mouth. "I mean, not that you're—"
xxxxxxCassius stared at the kimono-clad girl, lips parting as recognition set over him. She was as frazzled and prone to spilling her thoughts as she had been when he'd spoken to her while she swept the steps of her okiya and wept oceans from her eyes. He had cared for her like a little sister. Though he'd known she'd become an angel after her death, it had been some time since he returned to Tokyo. The only notable difference he could see in her was her height. Ayame appeared to have grown shorter, if such a thing were possible.
xxxxxx"Oh god," she said suddenly, and Cassius noticed then that she was watching him watch her. "I'm uncomfortable being surrounded by so many attractive people."
xxxxxx"Surely that isn't possible," he purred, voice low as he closed the distance between him and the group. "You have seen your own reflection, haven't you?"
xxxxxxScarlet stained her cheeks and neck. Her lips parted and shut, eyes round as she searched for a face in the crowd. Cassius flashed a dimpled grin.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luciana de Silva Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Cassius Dōriēwes Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Ikeda Shiori Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Seok Areum
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The blossom fell slowly but surely, catching the breeze and surfing on the spring scent. Dip, glide, dip, dip, glide. It floated and fluttered soundlessly. Separated from its life source, and yet it had never looked so living, so sentient, as when it fell. Down, down. But it didn't land on the footpath, nor was it caught by one of the grasping children, eager for the luck a falling flower brings.
Instead, it landed softly amid raven locks. It nestled in the dark, and a pale hand reached up to pluck it from its perch. She examined the blossom pensively as she walked.
A moment of thoughtful gazing, and then she was torn as to what to do with it. Somehow she did not want to drop it, out of fear of it being crushed under foot. But for the same reason, she did not want to put it away into the crease between her yukata and obi, where it would surely be turned crushed and ragged in just moments, regardless of the silk's apparent softness.
She stopped where she walked, taking out her wallet from her yukata purse and slipping the flower into the clear pocket, pressing the plastic down and flattening the flower. Still pretty, she decided it would last longer this way. And it did. The flower smiled cheerfully- a harsh contrast to the unsmiling face that glowered at her from her drivers' license.

Placing the wallet back into the purse, she breathed a soft sigh and continued on her stroll, feeling oddly at peace among the blossoms, which sang in pastel, demanding ode to their vernal glory.

"Lovely, aren't they?"

Despite seldom being one for social interaction with strangers (or anyone, really) Shiori regardless knew common courtesy. With a soft smile, she drank in the sweet scent of the air, responding politely and warmly as she turned to the speaker.

"Yeah, they really-... fuck."

The woman grinned triumphantly at her, eyes wide as her mouth contorted into an 'O' and she pointed aggressively at the off-duty cop. "A-ha! I knew it! I knew you could see me!"

Shiori sighed again, although this time the sigh carried rather different connotations. Pointedly not looking at the ghost, she started into a brisk walk. The ghost followed her.

"Hey- hey, wait up!" Nearly jogging to keep up with the long-legged officer, the ghost's scuffed up skate shoes did not seem to quite touch the pavement, and despite the loose lace, there was no chance of her falling. "Oy- I said wait! ... Honestly, this is so crazy. You're alive, aren't you?" "Technically." "And yet you can see and hear me?" "Obviously." "Uwa- Are you like, a shaman or something?" "No." "Then is your mum a shaman? Like, does is run in the family or-"

Turning sharply towards the ghost, Shiori's expression radiated impatience and exasperation.

"Look, I appreciate how exciting this must be for you, but could you go away now, please?"

The ghost looked surprised, then a little hurt. Finally, in typical teenage fashion, she jutted her lip out defiantly, "Actually, I think I'm going to appreciate this, if you don't mind. It's exciting, and I think I deserve a bit of fun-ness." An expression of solemnity shrouded her pretty features, "You see, I'm not sure if you've noticed, but I'm dead."

Shiori responded with another bout of exasperation, Ah, the "I'm dead" card. Ghosts are nothing if not fucking opportunists.

She eyeballed the ghost for a long pause, and the girl smiled winningly back at her. Another sigh. "Fuck it. It's not like I could stop you even if I tried."

"Awesome! I'm Takahashi Hana, by the way..."

Looking back to the path, Shiori noticed an elderly man staring at her, his eyes creased in confusion and suspicion behind gold-rimmed spectacles. Shiori bowed awkwardly, forcing a smile. It wasn't the first time she had been stared at for her odd behaviour, and she was well aware it would not be the last. Not with pests like Takahashi Hana out to there to turn her into one of Tokyo's many resident crackpots.




"...I don't remember it hurting though. Is that weird? Because it must have hurt, surely? I mean, there was blood everywhere, so it must have hurt..."

Shiori responded occasionally to the girl walking beside her, and otherwise let her ramble. So far, Hana had covered conversation topics such as 'food, and how much she missed it' and 'why the worst part about being a ghost was never been able to change clothes and so of course she had to die in her school uniform because her luck is just the worst'. Now, she was dipping into her back story: a familiar tale of a drunk driver coupled with wet roads.

"The doctor said I could have survived, if the asshole had just phoned a freaking ambulance instead of leaving me there, but he didn't. Obviously. God, if I see that jerk in the afterlife I'm going to kill him. He's going to be the ghost of a ghost."

"I don't think that's possible, but go for it."

This time it was the ghost that heaved the sigh. "I know- it's just so unfair though. And you know what else? Just a week before I was, like, hanging out with..." And she was off again.

Glancing to look at the spirit beside her, Shiori felt a tiny, amused smile tug her lips. The girl, with her red-ribboned ponytail and ruffled school uniform, looked more at place among the cheery blossoms than Shiori did. For a girl no longer with the living, Hana radiated youthfulness and optimism. She's right. It is unfair.

Shiori's smile softened into something a little sadder, and she reached a hand up to rush her fingers through her dark locks.

Then she froze.

She froze as she caught sight of him, flickering in and out of view among the people walking through her line of sight. Tall. Dark. Handsome. But most of all, familiar. So, so familiar. Like a dream awoken from, wherein she remembered its presence, but none of its contents.

She walked numbly closer, searching her mind as she did so. But nothing.

Flash

Torrential rain and radio music.

Flash

Screaming horns and screaming people.

Flash

Cold water, so so cold. Blood on the windscreen.

Flash

Safe arms, hard chest. An emergency blanket, a man in black.

"Hey- hey, are you okay?!"

Shiori didn't remember stumbling, and yet when she blinked, she was supporting herself against the trunk of a tree. She blinked a few more times. She shook her head to away the flashing, and kept staring at the stranger from across the courtyard. "Yeah, I'm fine." Her voice was distracted, distant, her mind focused on him. She didn't even notice the ghost girl beside her suddenly jump, shuddering out a frightened "Oh, geez, those guys are g- I'll catch you later, 'kay?" And run off as though her 'non-life' depended on it. Shiori didn't even say goodbye, for her mind was trapped, her sight caught in an agonisingly frustrating tunnel vision.

You... you were there. Surely that's not possible... so why am I certain that you were there?

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luciana de Silva Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Cassius Dōriēwes Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Ikeda Shiori Character Portrait: Ryan 'Rango' Prosker Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Seok Areum
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Ryan 'Rango' Prosker
"Life isn’t meant to always be painless, sometimes the greatest triumphs come from the distressing and oppressive situations."




Something was exploding, alarms were blaring, lights from several dozen spotlights were searching for something. Survivors? Who could possibly survive from such a situation? Was he in a warzone? Did his helicopter crash? Eyes opened to reveal a blurry realization that hit him so slowly elderly people passed his brain by on the street. Ryan gripped his head, feeling the slight amount of sweat on his brow as the pounding at the front of his skull only seemed to intensify. His hand reached up to the shelf directly above him, where an alarm clock blared with all the intensity of several thousand screaming babies. Ryan pushed his eyes shut, opening them at this point nearly as painful as being shot as he felt several objects pushed off the headrest before finally finding the alarm and slamming his palm down on the large ‘snooze’ button on the top. Ryan sat up slowly, the entire ordeal causing an involuntary gag reflex out of him as he pressed both of his palms into his eyes, the coolness of his skin giving him a momentary relief from the oppressive nature that was one of the worst hangovers he had experienced since his induction into the corps.

With a sigh, Ryan opened his eyes slowly to limit the pain of having them try to focus on any one thing, and revealed to himself his rather nice but small hotel room. The walls painted a deep maroon color, calming if somewhat an odd choice to him. Aside from that, his room was fairly bare. A single dresser and closet for his clothes, a separate bathroom from the rest of the unit and a mirror that acted as the door to the closet. How did he end up here? He didn’t remember walking home...in fact he didn’t remember too much of anything last night. He looked down to see that he was still wearing his clothes from the day previous, save for his jacket, shoes and bandana. A quick look over at the nightstand sitting beside him revealed a singular note on it written in English. Ryan grabbed it, feeling like something a dog just threw up on the carpet, and winced as he forced himself to focus on the letters on the page. In more than a few words, Nick had written the note and explained that he had returned Ryan to the hotel. Ryan gave a sigh, crumpling the note and throwing it back onto the nightstand. Nick, the saviour of pathetic drunks everywhere. Ryan sat on his bed for a good few minutes, long enough for his alarm to trigger once more earning more than a few choice words from the man as he desperately found the way to turn the damn thing off.

What was he supposed to do today? It was too early to go visit the hospital, not that he really wanted to endure that particular meeting in his current condition, but he couldn’t force himself to back to sleep or do nothing. Wasn’t there something said about a festival somewhere? Something about blossoms? Flowers? Something interesting anyways, possibly a good way to pass the time if nothing else. Plus there would be people there, and that was always a bonus. Even now, the inkling that Ryan had to be around another person was starting to creep up on him the more he thought about it. He gave himself a slap to get the feeling out, and was rewarded by feeling such a sharp pain shoot through his forehead that it nearly made him cry out. First thing was first though: Shower, throwup, eggs, throwup, run, throwup then maybe the festival...if he was still standing by that point.


Ueno Park

Home to the Cherry Blossom festival, according to the notes written on the napkin in Ryan’s hand. He looked around at everything, taking in the subtle beauty of the place with the eyes of a foreigner used to screaming crowds of loud drunks, spoiled children and exhausted parents. Admittedly, Ryan would never claim to be a cultured person, but this was something he could definitely get used to. There were plenty of people around to make him feel comfortable while the peaceful atmosphere was a complete change of pace from his usual way of life. He slipped the note back into his pockets, just so he would remember how to get back to the hotel from here. He could just use the GPS on his phone, but much of his training with the airforce actually had him rely on his own wits to figure out where things were in case his gear was somehow destroyed. Machines break, eyes don’t. Whoever said that never had a knife poke through their iris. Well I got dark on myself. Ryan thought as he continued looking around at everything. It was then he noticed how out of place he looked when compared to the average festival goers.

It seemed that a change of clothes was required for attendance, as everyone appeared to be wearing extravagant robes. Kimonos if he remembered correctly, in accordance with their ancient culture...right? Ryan pulled out his phone, muttering to himself that he really should have a better internet plan in this case as he tried to pull up a list of taboo things to do at the Cherry Blossom festival. Hopefully one of them wasn’t to show up hungover wearing jeans, a t-shirt and leather jacket complete with ballcap. He stood there for quite some time, his phone’s internet not taking the hint to just hurry up for once without the aid of free wifi. He finally gave up after a few minutes of watching the screen stuck halfway through loading. He pocketed his phone and resigned himself to the fact that he might just end up making a fool of himself once more, with luck it would garner a few laughs from people. Retrieving the dictionary from his pocket, he started flipping through pages and did his best to memorize some words as he walked past the decorations and other festival goers.

A few people stared at him as he went, which was something he fully expected at this point. He paid them no mind as he went to the ‘most common phrases’ section of the book, memorizing the pronunciation for things such as ‘Thank you’, ‘please’ and coincidentally the differences between the honorifics. San was the same as saying Mr. or Mrs, while chan indicated a level of friendliness that was not to be used by strangers, mainly used by and on women names, while Kun was the same for men. Ryan suddenly found himself missing the very simple ‘Mrs and Mr’ format of the english language as the honorifics continued on, leading him to believe sooner than later he would somehow mess up in a very embarrassing manner.

He closed the book for a moment, surveying his surroundings and finding a food stall of sorts. While he wasn’t overly hungry, he was curious as to what kind of food they served here and wandered up to the stall. Immediately the man who appeared to be way too happy to be working at a stall in a festival beamed a smile at him. The glare from his white teeth was nearly enough to make the headache start all over again as he spouted off Japanese at an incredible pace akin to english rappers if Ryan were to draw parallels. Ryan just held up a hand softly, brought the book forward and held it up, hoping that would be enough for the man to realize that he didn’t necessarily speak the language. Luckily he seemed to get the message but it didn’t appear that he spoke English, so he was content with just remaining silent.

Ryan looked over the items for a moment, before motioning to the items. “Ichi to ichi” Ryan stated, not wanting to waste the man’s time in looking up the kanjo for the items in question. The vendor seemed to understand this as he handed the food to Ryan.

“Ichi yakitori to ichi takoyaki.” Ryan pulled out his wallet, looking over at the price and fumbling with the coins for a moment before handing the payment over. “Arigatō.” The vendor stated while Ryan gave a nod of appreciation, heading out into the festival unknown. Just by looking at the food he could tell one was basically chicken on a stick mixed with vegetables, essentially a kabob. The other seemed to be some sort of battered ball, but it smelled sweet so maybe a type of pancake batter? Either way, Ryan had somewhat of a sweet tooth on him, so he decided to munch on the takoyaki first. A quick chomp later revealed something to Ryan that made his eyes go wide for a moment. What the hell was in the middle of this thing? It was...was it squid? Octopus? I could look this shit up if my phone’s internet didn’t suck the literal joy out of my life! Regardless, it wasn’t bad so Ryan continued on his little trek through the festival, taking in the sights and just generally enjoying the atmosphere. It was a nice thing to be around, considering the circumstances of his being here, not to mention the fact that he would have to try and visit his father in the hospital again tonight. Hopefully Mr. Konatsu would be around to bring the tension down a little, but with his upcoming retirement and running a global corporation, he was already doing more than Ryan expected him to do.

In the middle of his thoughts, he caught something out of the corner of his eye. A woman who appeared to be talking to herself as she travelled through the festival, an odd sight for certain regardless of where you were in the world. Maybe she has a bluetooth in her other ear or something. Ryan thought, just about to disregard it when he noticed that she seemed to be struck by something. A revelation or some sort of deep thought, once again he was going to ignore it and continue on, but she started to stumble and ended up supporting herself on a tree. Most people would just continue on at this point, deeming it not their problem, but that was either Ryan’s greatest trait or worst fault in that he couldn’t resist to aid people if he felt they were in need of help. He threw his stick from the takoyaki into the garbage can, pulling out the dictionary once more and flipping through the pages to figure out a proper phrase to ask the woman in her language. He quickly wiped his hand on his pants trying to make sure they were at least somewhat clean as he approached her. She seemed deadset on staring into the crowd of people in front of her, a few of whom seemed to be taking a picture. He stopped just beside her, waving a hand slightly in front of her face as she leaned against the tree. “Anata wa...how do I-...day...jobudeska?*” He asked, hoping that he didn’t butcher the word as he flipped through the book a couple times more to figure out some more phrases that might help with the situation, his one hand awkwardly holding the yakitori as he did so.


*Are you ok ma'am?

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luciana de Silva Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Cassius Dōriēwes Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Seok Areum
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The goblin’s body still retained the slight chill of uncertainty as she made herself comfortable at the roots of a sakura tree, her lithe fingers tracing over each encrusted jewel chained to her neck. Luciana needed a distraction, and was somewhat surprised when a distraction was delivered in the form of a small, beautifully dressed woman. A body jolted against Lucia’s seated form, threatening to topple over roots and goblin alike before quickly righting itself. Lucia turned, half expecting to find the haunted phantom of her past, only to meet the gaze of an, apparently, shell-shocked woman.

The start of an apology fell from the angel’s mouth, those lips which had shifted to form the word remaining open as the immortal stared at Luciana. The goblin returned the woman’s gaze, her eyes admiring the way delicate silk wrapped around the woman’s frame, an exquisite example of the Japan’s traditional wear. Luciana’s eyes returned to the immortal’s face, the angel’s own. She felt her own lips forming a half smile as she watched emotions flitter across the woman’s face, before a tasty morsel was pushed forward, the taiyaki offered an apology.

“I’m unhurt. Luciana responded, before shaking her head and adding as she waved the remaining skewer of chicken still in her hand, “Thank you, but I’m fine.”

The unsettling sense that had previously washed over the goblin at the appearance of the old soul was diminishing rapidly in the presence of the delightful angel. Lucia parted her lips to ask the woman’s name when another voice intruded. He was young, with a shook of blonde curls and features that made him stand out from the crowd. A cell phone was clutched in his hand like a lifeline, held forward slightly to the woman he’d ask to take his photo. Lucia turned her gaze to the Japanese angel, happy to let the other woman answer the young mortal if it meant Lucia wouldn’t have to reveal her ineptness with modern technology.

Only, before either could take the blonde’s photograph, a sparkler was pushed into his hands, his lips pursed to blow out the small flame at the tip, and at his side appeared the immortal monk Luciana knew as Jiangyu Bai. She stood in a fluid motion, eyes questing from goblin to mortal with unspoken queries. Jiangyu’s reaction was one of shock, mirroring Lucia’s own feelings when she had been called into Paola’s bathroom the previous night. The goblin’s gaze flicked to the sparkler in the boy’s hand, now forgotten as he turned surprised eyes on the tall monk, and she began to wonder if his actions had something to do with Jiangyu’s sudden arrival.

Not even a spellbound historian would deign to envision the assembly that seemingly appeared from the musty-scented texts he read or the interlacing worlds he fantasized. Jiangyu was in his traditional garb and once again a spectacle to the peering eyes of the city dwellers. He was even more out of place as his gangly frame towered above the passersby. This hypothetical historian could neither imagine the salubrious smiled that fancied the lips of the giant as he quickly rebounded from his initial shock and assayed the other members of the group. Jiangyu was not the only one who stuck out, for a glance sideways revealed the fair-skinned woman wearing the kimono. He was glad that there were others not completely lost to the adulteration of the modern world and he was quickly enraptured by the vibrantly sewn blossoms in the kimono’s swirling fabric. His eyes did not linger long for they shifted posted to the subject of his wonder.

Lucia , He felt her name rumble through his vocal chords but it failed to a part his lips. It had been years since they had last seen each other and even now, as ever, his thoughts quelled as he set his gaze upon her stoic features. Jiangyu had often been told that his was an expression difficult decipher, but few were able to elicit the same irritation from his perspective besides Lucia. She irradiated an air of discontent and grief that grayed the soft lines of her appearance. And yet she never oozed enough gloom to think it courteous to ask what ailed her; whatever it was, was not for others to know.

From the background Jiangyu heard Marlon’s voice, in its infinitely boorish way, ruin the unspoken bond

“Are you stalking me?” Marlon responded to Jiangyu, eyes narrowing to slits as he squinted at and around the man. “Because… “

Marlon’s words were cut short as Luciana spoke, “Jiangyu?”

The pair had little time to gape at the man, as their party was soon joined by another immortal. Marlon’s gaze followed the swish of her translucent tails, before settling on her face. Marlon may not be attracted to women, but he could still see the beauty in them. She spoke to him, offering to take his photo just as the Japanese woman accepted his request for one. Marlon’s eyes snapped to the Japanese woman as she rambled in accented English leaps better than his bumbling Japanese.

“Uhh…” Marlon stalled, confused and under the distinct impression that he’d just been compared to a whale. His hand remained extended, phone hovering between the two women and unsure which he should trust to temporarily hold his prized cell phone.

Jiangyu’s face reddened at the sight of her lackadaisical intrusion. Here he had just barely adjusted to Lucia’s presence only to see her jet black hair cross his vision. No matter what guise she wore or how she altered her appearance, Jiangyu could only see the visage of the innocent girl who had arrived at his doors all those years ago. Jiangyu could have imagined far better ways to consummate this reunion, but instead he was met with his former pupil’s condescension where there should have been joy.

Jiangyu could have sworn that Areum had caught a glimpse of his face yet she only answered to Marlon’s triviality. When they had last parted ways there were no ill feelings held between the two, but now by her cunning, jaundiced slip under his detection, Jiangyu fumed at this gesture of her old mannerisms.

Buddhist monks refrain from intimate contact with loved ones for their company only sets a stumbling block in the path of enlightenment. Be this as it may, monks take comfort in the each other's’ shared goal of spirituality and cleansing. It seemed that Areum had no problems detaching herself from the former when she came under Jiangyu’s tutelage at the monastery.

Areum had not only shown that she had long ago forsaken her ties of kinship but that she was loath to forming anyrelationships. Such a predisposed renunciation hinted at the greater pain hiding inside her. To separate oneself from those they hold dear should be a difficult proposition; one that culminates in a cathartic release upon the realization that such sufferance is but perpetuated by the cycle of life and death. For Areum it seemed she had not known any such experience; where the feelings of love should have been was already where a pit of emptiness laid claim. Of course the monks had not turned her away for she had shown genuine passion for self improvement, but the darkness in her heart was uncanny.

Jiangyu had known well what had driven her away all that time ago. Areum wished to reject her humanity and instead feed off the short lived happiness of egocentrism; cutting loose all the ephemeral lives she had lived, not thinking to what meaning they had served her. The Eightfold Path can only begin to aid those who let it guide them; Areum had never done so.

To extract all this from this such a sudden encounter seems far-fetched and perhaps Jiangyu did hold some dormant dislike for the person Areum had left behind at the monastery. No matter, Areum’s refusal to recognize him was very telling.

And then, out from the showers of floating blossoms came a vision in black and denim. He was a god walking among men, beautiful, chiselled, perfect beyond words, and Marlon felt his heartbeat increase in what some might call the onset of love. It wasn’t love, however, but the lust of a teenage boy who had just laid eyes on a walking wet dream. Marlon’s body reacted quickly, pushing his phone forward for either of the women to take as he took a step towards, his free hand moving to tug on the newcomer’s sleeve.

“I don’t mind who takes it, but I want him to be in it.” Marlon mumbled. The mortal didn’t even care that the man possessed tails matching the other woman’s, surely his unearthly beauty was a result of the curious apparitions.

To Marlon’s delight, the man turned and offered the mortal a smile that gleamed brighter than the golden, midday sun. “It would be my honour.” The fox intoned. Marlon tried to keep the excited squeak from passing through his lips.

While Marlon drooled, Lucia’s recently acquired smile quickly vanished. Her brow wrinkled in a frown as first one fox slipped into their group, and then another. To be sure, she saw his beauty too, yet with it she also saw the danger and felt the heat of anger swell within her that had propelled her to run the previous night.

With her fists clenched, her gaze a heated brand on the fox’s body, Lucia shifted forward. Her hand wrapped around the blonde boy’s collar, pulling him back easily from Cassius’ danger radius despite the sounds of protest that left the mortal’s lips.

“What’re you…” Marlon began, trying to squirm out of the woman’s grasp even as he stumbled over a tree root and fell back against her.

“Best to stay away from him, boy.” Luciana responded, though her gaze remained on the fox as she spoke, before flicking to Jiangyu. “I was going to seek you out. I have a question, but I will find you later.” Lucia told the monk as her hand released the mortal. For now, the company had grown too crowded and she needed space. With a nod of farewell to the guardian angel, Lucia turned away from the group.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luciana de Silva Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Cassius Dōriēwes Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Ikeda Shiori Character Portrait: Ryan 'Rango' Prosker Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Seok Areum
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Look this way, look this way, look this way, please... Perhaps if his eyes met hers, their interlocked gazes would break open the floodgates, and spill into her memories all the empty spaces, all the unanswered questions. See me. See me. See me and tell me. Tell me who you are and why-

The bark was biting into her palm now, but her palms were rough from years of hands on work, and her mind was so distracted that no pain was felt. No physical pain, anyhow. Emotional trauma? That was another story.

“Anata wa...how do I-...day...jobudeska?”

Butchered was the Japanese, but even if it hadn't been, Ikeda wouldn't have quite understood. She was too distracted, to focused on the familiar face. Too focused the flurry of memories stirring in her mind, crawling up through the dirt, unwanted and unwelcome, but nonetheless aggressive in their resurrection.

It took her a moment to compute, and a moment longer to acknowledge the stranger. When she did, she blinked for a second, gathering her senses. Loose strands of raven shuddered about her face as she shook away at the thoughts, managing to quieten them enough to reply in Japanese.

"Uh... yeah. Thank you. I just-" She paused, cocking her lips in a sheepish smile, gesturing vaguely to her head. "Dizzy spell."

Standing up straighter, she fought the wobbliness of her legs, demanding them to obey despite the lightness still present in her head.

Looking up at the stranger, it was easy enough to tell that he wasn't from around here. It wasn't the broken Japanese that had told her that, nor even his obviously caucasian features (Tokyo was quite the hotspot of diversity, so that in itself was nothing new) but rather the air he carried. Young, stumbling. Noble but unsure. Perhaps it was just her gut feeling, but the young man struck her as a fish out of water, either new in town or visiting. For that reason, and his earlier act of compassion, Ikeda opted to risk embarrassing herself by offering an introduction in her own rusty English, which was not terrible, but far from polished.

"Thank you, for your concern. Just a drizzy spell, that's all." 'Drizzy'? That can't be right. Shit. Oh, well, he'll get what I mean.

Offering her hand, she introduced herself, forcing herself to ignore the urge to glance back at the tall man in the crowd. The familiar face.

"My name is Shiori. Ikeda Shiori."