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Amori Tsubasa

Disillusioned Tengu monk. "Wherever enlightenment is, it sure ain't ta be found sittin' by yerself at the summit o' some damn mountain."

0 · 509 views · located in Ingloriously Normal Japan, 20XX

a character in “Bad Hands”, originally authored by Kurokiku, as played by Selene Durlan

Description

Amori Tsubasa: Yamabushi no Tengu


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BASICS

Name: Amori Tsubasa is what he calls himself, though his name at birth was simply Sojobo.

Age: Hands that would seem too large for such small devices flick a lighter open, holding the resultant flame to the bowl of a long pipe. He puffs a couple times, and stows the lighter back in some unseen pocket. "Older’n you, kid." Appears 30, with one of those faces that’s probably looked that way since he was about nineteen and probably will until he’s well into his fifties. Well, longer, actually, considering the whole “youkai” thing. His real age isn’t something anyone’s asked after, and he’s not the kind to volunteer. Actually pretty young by demon standards, though.

Race: "One wing-ed freak o' nature, at your service." There is no jocularity when he says this, only something veiled in the cynical words, almost recognizable as guardedness. Tengu, and outwardly blasé about the whole thing. The black wings indicate that he was born a youkai, rather than becoming one.

Faction: "The grand ol’ union of the three most important people I know: me, myself, and I." He seems to know everyone, and nobody’s really sure who he actually runs with. The middle’s a dangerous place to be, but commitment isn’t really his thing anymore.

Role: "Y’know those fancy-ass weapons that most of these idiots carry around? I actually know how to work ‘em. Pretty good talker, too, if I say so m’self." He crosses his arms over his chest, as if to emphasize the point with a show of intimidation. Don’t let him fool you, he’s not nearly as much of a buffoon as you think he is. Having spent the majority of his life in a monastery that practices martial arts and sword skills, he’s quite suited to turning reckless street brawlers into more efficient fighters. He’s also likely to come off as important only to himself- exactly the kind of person people let down their guard around. As of right now, he works freelance, as a bodyguard, bouncer, or even occasionally slayer/exorcist/miscellaneous religious practitioner, whatever pays the bills.


APPEARANCE
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He tosses those troublesome tendrils of hair back from his face with an impatient snort, putting on his best condescendingly-incredulous face, which kills the amusingly horselike manner of the gesture. "What d’you care? I mean, I know I’m nice to look at, but really…" He’s become quite skilled at hiding his more avian traits, but there are still a few subtle nods to his heritage here and there. His hair is a mass of strangely greenish-black glossy strands, but there’s an oddly-feathery texture to it. "What? Not like I’m gonna let you close enough to touch my hair." It’s easily mid-back in length and shaggy beyond all reason. Probably because he always had to keep it bald when he was a kid, you know? His eyes narrow not-so-subtly, and something in his posture shifts. "Watch it." Touchy, touchy.

His face is rough angles and a square jaw, with a nose that, while large and somewhat hooked, suits the rest quite well. I ain’t a girly-man, if that’s what yer askin’. Oh, for- he’s probably best described as rugged-ly handsome.. Fine. His ego’s not entirely misplaced here, and he is rather pleasant to gawk at if that’s your thing. But please, don’t ever tell him so. Having spent much of his life outdoors, he’s quite tan, though for whatever reason his face (cheekbones particularly) often takes on the slightly-reddish hue of someone who’s had just a bit too much to drink. His eyes are an eerie red, though for the purposes of disguise he does sometimes turn them black. They’re the first thing to go if his camouflage slips, though.

In either form, Tsubasa is rather massive, at least for a Japanese man, standing at around six very well-built feet tall and replete with an impressive, though not cumbersome, musculature. Most of the time, he’s scowling, but will crack a wicked smile at the smallest of provocations. Just because I’m a man of faith doesn’t mean I don’ appreciate a good joke, lady.

Should he choose to transform, which he doesn’t seem to do often, he can affect the change either partially or fully. The most common iterations are wings only, which erupt from his back rather than his arms, and the full shebang, in which plumage sprouts pretty much everywhere, his eyes go scarlet from sclera to pupil, and his feet and hands grow curved talons. Even in this state, though, he still has thumbs and fingers, so as to successfully grip things. He does grow a beak, which is pretty sharp in its own right, and his head resembles a crow’s, only on a humanoid torso.

Complexion: Tanned, with a slight ruddiness to his cheeks on occasion.

Body Type: Very well-muscled. He is what some people would refer to as "built like a brick shit-house." It contrasts kind of awkwardly with the holy-man vibe he gives off before he opens his mouth. Broad-chested, broad-shouldered, and long in the limbs.

Height and Weight: 6’0, approximately 185 lbs? I suck at guessing weights.

Distinguishing marks: There’s a large raven tattooed across his back. It appears to have its wings spread and carries a dragonlike creature in its talons. The dragon is breathing flames, setting the bird on fire from below. "Don’ ask." Why’d you have it done in the first place, then? "I was drunk." The words are clipped, clearly defensive, though perhaps not entirely untrue. Right… For some reason he also has unnaturally-pointed canines in his humanoid form, which occasionally causes people to mistake him for something else.

Apparent Temperament: Well, considering he slouches like someone with a permanent spinal curvature, the intimidation factor is lessened, but the unfriendly frown he wears isn’t exactly helpful. Of course, some people are just crazy and find him approachable anyway. Maybe it’s because the folks he hangs around usually presume they’re tougher than a guy dressed like a monk, who knows? He's the sort of person you'd expect to see in a bar, smelling like a distillery, making perverse passes at women, gambling away all his money, and generally being an ass.

Hair and eyes: The hair is pretty much his most recognizable feature. Here, a near-predatory grin splits his face in half, though it's not quite right for some reason you can't quite place. "Ladies all wanna touch it, too." Unless he forgets to keep them that way, his eyes are an unremarkable black, but otherwise, they do tend to become a very bright red.

Facial features: His nose would stand out horribly on any other face, probably, but it fits his well enough.

Wardrobe: He seems to be something of an eccentric dresser, always in some kind of traditional clothing. Usually, it’s of the sort worn by yamabushi, but he has less-religious haori, kimono, and hakama as well. Whatever he’s dressed like, you can bet it stands out. His footwear rarely changes; a kind of geta with only one “tooth,” they appear extraordinarily difficult to balance on, but offer an extra six inches of height, as though he needed it. If you ever have to do his laundry Ya won’t, thank you very much, you’d notice that all of the hems and such actually contain heavy metal plates, intended to weigh him down. It’s an endurance thing, okay? Gotta take yer trainin’ seriously. Also sometimes seen to wear a cape of all things, which is probably around 50lbs of extra baggage. He's really serious about the training thing, apparently.


PERSONALITY
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Tsubasa is a study in contradiction. On the one hand, he generally tries to project a tough, unbothered, devil-may-care exterior, complete with the gruff mannerisms and all that good stuff. Underneath this rather poor showing of his acting ability, though, he’s quite the softie. Oi, you, shut up! He has a fondness for animals, children, and gardening, and his ramshackle apartment is filled to the brim with bonsai trees, kites, and handmade pottery. Though he talks a big game, he carries only blunt weapons and rarely ever gets into serious confrontations with anyone.

He’s easily fooled, and most people with even a bit of guile can pull the wool over his eyes without any particular difficulty. He was raised by people who didn’t lie (at least not in ways he discovered), and so the idea of deception is still entirely foreign to him. He’s picked up an understanding of sarcasm, but is surprisingly earnest when he forgets he’s acting. Though he plays the part of a drinking, gambling, womanizing fool, he actually gets tongue-tied around people who show him genuine kindness (especially women), and doesn’t really know how to handle things like physical contact or compliments. The only things he’s able to talk about with real fluidity are certain religious precepts Enlightenment ain’t somethin’ you find sitting around on a mountaintop all day and waitin’. It’s everywhere but there. It’s at the tip of your sword against a man’s neck, in the sound of the rain on a roof, in the smell of sakura blossoms in the spring, ya know? and also martial arts. He’s surprisingly thoughtful, he is.

He’s also extremely vulnerable. Tengu are fiercely protective of those things they choose to guard, but Tsubasa is adrift in the breeze with nothing to hold onto anymore, and this has left him groundless, without much purpose. Should anyone offer him a hint of that, it’s entirely possible they could manipulate him to ill ends without much trouble. There are certain things he will categorically refuse to do, but he does not understand politics or mind-games, and is thus very much in danger of falling victim to them. His sense of humor is kind of strange, as part of it seems to resemble a twelve-year-old’s, but the other part is quite witty and intellectual.

Speech: You gotta problem with how I talk? He puts on a slangy Kansai-ben accent, which sounds vaguely hickish or uneducated to most Japanese speakers (and will likely peg him as the village idiot pretty quickly), but isn’t quite as uncommon in Kyoto. Common tics include the substitution of “han” for “san” and so forth. Presumably, he doesn’t actually talk this way, given his upbringing. Not that again. He also swears pretty often, though if you pay attention, you’ll notice he never actually calls anyone anything nasty, and his epithets are directed at circumstances or general things rather than individuals. His voice has a surprisingly smooth, lyrical quality for someone of his construction, which can actually be quite jarring.

Pet Peeves: You. Truthfully, Tsubasa isn’t bothered by much. All that meditation has to be good for something, right? Mostly, he tends to look ill upon people who live their lives with no discipline, which would probably strike most people as hypocritical of him but isn’t. Not a huge devotee of the “sadistic murderer” type, people who mistreat kids, or other levels of inexcusable douchebaggery. Also not a fan of being lied to; it sits poorly with him.

Favorite color: He’s fond of bright colors, especially in jewel-tones. Hates pastel anything.

EQUIPMENT
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Specialty: He’s uniquely capable of taking things out without killing them.

Fighting Style: Being a (former) Buddhist monk and all means he doesn’t want to kill things, but he does know a few amalgamated styles of martial arts and a kendo style called Tenshiken.

Preferred Weaponry: He carries a traditional monk’s shakujo, or ringed staff, and a bokken, which is a specialized type of wooden sword that is shaped more like a katana than the shinai. His has a soft-metal core perfect for stopping other blades, but this also renders it heavy enough that he has to check his swings or risk crushing something vital. Just 'cause I look like an oaf doesn' mean I got no finesse.

Weaknesses: What are you talkin’ about? I ain’t got any weaknesses! Yeah, right.
Manipulability: Simply put, you might have a tough time hurting him in a fair fight, but the moment you make it unfair, you’ve probably won hands down. He won’t risk innocents, and he won’t know you’re lying to him unless it’s really obvious. Susceptible to the most basic of damsel-in-distress routines or similar themes.
Remnants: He might not be a practicing monk anymore, but that doesn’t mean he’s thrown his beliefs out the window. He is absolutely, categorically opposed to killing anyone, (or anything, really; dude doesn’t eat meat), won’t do violence unless he sees it as completely necessary, and refuses to deceive or mislead intentionally. These aren’t rules he’ll bend as soon as it’s convenient; they’re strict tenets of his entire lifestyle.

Inventory:
Shakujo staff
Bokken
Hauchiwa- a fan made of feathers, of assistance in wind conjuration.
Prayer beads
The key to his apartment
Some money, but honestly not a lot.

Minor Ability:
Theoretically, Tengu are devourerers of all manner of other youkai, capable of whipping up fierce winds and possessing people to cause problems for others. In reality, Tsubasa finds eating other demons distasteful as a notion and untried as a practice, and is young enough that his air manipulation skills are pretty weak. Basically, he can do small things like shift breezes or conjure very small gusts. He can’t possess anyone either, but has a weird peripheral sort of empathy, enhanced by his understanding of the oneness of all things. If I understand me a little bit, and you and me are the same in the end, then I understand you some too, yeah? He can pick up on strong emotions like anger, despair or confusion, even if people aren’t expressing them. He won’t know about your minor problems or even what’s causing the big ones, but he’ll have a general sense that things are good or bad in your world.

Additional Guise: Well, unless “itinerant monk” or “loudmouthed moron” are guises, no.


LIFE
Hobbies: Gardening, especially bonsai, and pottery are his main hobbies, though he also enjoys things like listening to stories, music, and flying recreationally (both kites- oh, irony- and himself).

Likes:
  • Peace and Quiet- Shame it’s so hard to find in the city. Mind you, it’s not total isolation he wants, but a little space to hear himself think would be nice. No shit.
  • Food- A man his size eats quite a bit, though he refuses anything with meat content. He appreciates home-cooked meals the best, and though he’s rather good at cooking himself, he’d rather eat anyone else’s food but his own. Says a lot about a person. Right; it's definitely not that you want a free meal.
  • Humans- While he pretends to hate them just as much as he pretends to hate everyone else, the fact of the matter is that they fascinate him.
  • Gardening- Probably a strange hobby for a guy like him, but, well, you’ll probably never know anyway, right?
  • Kids- And for some reason, kids like him too. Adults might get intimidated, but something about him tends to set children at ease.
  • Smoking- Pipes only, mind you. It's a recent habit that he picked up for the sake of appearances.

Dislikes:
  • Holier-than-thou attitudes- These drive him up a wall. There aren’t a lot of ways to actually make Tsubasa angry, but start talking down to him from the so-called moral high ground, and you’ll see his nasty face pretty quick. Had enough o' that shit for lifetimes.
  • Egocentricity- Funny, since he initially appears to have this problem himself.
  • Threats- Specifically to persons or places he’s told himself he’ll protect. His word is his bond, and once he’s sworn to look after you, those who’d challenge your right to walk the earth are put in their place without hesitation.
  • Lies- If there’s one thing about Tsubasa that always applies, it’s that he doesn’t lie. He won’t tell them, and he’s absolutely horrendous at detecting them.

Fears: Well, being a lifelong vegetarian, his system reacts violently to the consumption of meat, which basically amounts to an allergy at this point. As for fears, well… I ain’t afraida nothin’. Mostly, he’s afraid he’ll never find a purpose. Also doesn’t like confined spaces, or places where he can’t see the sky.

Agenda: Tsubasa needs something to do with himself. He’s recently left behind his entire life, and frankly, he’s quite the fish out of water in the city. For now, his motivation is the desire to find a motivation, paradoxical as that sounds. Guardianship is in his nature, but he has nothing to guard at present, which has left him feeling uncomfortably aimless.

Where they hail from: Nowhere important. Mount Kurama, a small monastery.

Relations: Monks don' do that whole 'worldly attachment business. Bad for your karma. Not that he believes that anymore. He was raised by the abbot on Mount Kurama, in a mountainside monastery with maybe twenty other monks at any given time. No nuns, either, which means that he has a tough time relating to women sometimes. Mostly, they confuse the hell out of him. Anyway, the point of the story is that emotional attachments were generally discouraged, though he couldn't help but view the abbot as a father-figure of sorts, despite the fact that the man was human.

Since then, his permanent relationships have been few and far-between. He lives a primarily solitary life, though he does it in a large city.

Notable Experiences: I ain't done nothin' you'd be interested in, kid. Go bother someone else, will ya? Actually, his most notable experience thus far in his life was leaving the monastery. He'd been raised in it all his life, and they didn't even bother to tell him he was a Tengu until he was old enough that he transformed the first time. The abbot was a very distant relative of the Queller, and was able to exercise enough influence over a single demon child that Sojobo was unaware of his lineage until he was about twelve. You can probably imagine the identity crisis that resulted.

Once he figured it out, though, he took to affecting the transformation himself, so as to take the pressure off the abbot. At this time, his religious training began in earnest, and he was exposed to the teachings of esoteric Buddhism. Included in his study of the sutras and exorcism were several styles of martial arts, including Tenshiken kendo forms.

Would you quit with this crap and get to the present? Only an idiot spends this long on the past.

For reasons he refuses to divulge, Sojobo became convinced that the true road to enlightenment lay not in escape from the world, but immersion in it, with attention to certain details that the average fool might not pick up on, so he left the monastery and undertook something of a pilgrimage. He's shown no desire to return since, and has generally been one of those cranky ramblers you don't want to sit next to at the bar. At some point, he decided that it was probably a bad idea to attend this party as himself, so he chose a different name and a separate persona to go with it, in an attempt to conceal his glaring vulnerabilities.
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Credit will go to the artists when/if I can find them again. None of these images are mine.

So begins...

Amori Tsubasa's Story

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Osaka, where it's just too damn noisy.


ImageCallused fingers folded over the bowl of the pipe in parody of a lover’s embrace, lifting it from between two rows of slightly-oversharp teeth. A cloud of smoke swirled and eddied into the air after it, hanging there with stubbornness that lasted only a moment before it was carried away by a gust of winter wind. A girl somewhere to his left shrieked, her fancy parasol abducted by the deft fingers of the breeze. He could have sworn he heard it shout something on the way, but the sounds were too far beyond him for even his youkai ears to detect.

Tsubasa chuckled beneath his breath at the young woman’s put-out expression, an exaggerated pout chasing all loveliness from her face until she huffed and turned back to the gaggle of others she walked with, collectively voluminous enough to stop traffic in all the wrong ways. He’d never had to deal with crowds until he moved to this forsaken city, den of thieves, panoply of colors and veritable salad-bowl of sound. Folk bustled around here and there, but generally parted like water before the massive man, a river around the base of a still mountain. Or maybe a volcano, with how much he seemed to be smoking. Yes, that suited him just fine. Serene as you please, but with magma burning slowly in his veins where the blood should be.

From his vantage point six feet and some inches from the ground, he was easily a head taller than most in the crowd, and scanned the lot with affected disinterest, throwing a disdainful look onto his face for good measure. Inwardly, he was just about as excited as the little boy who tugged mercilessly at the hems of his mother’s yukata, urging her this way and that with the exuberance and needless fluttering of a sparrow. In all his years of life, he’d never once been to a festival, and the undercurrents of happiness that most of the participants bore seeped into his limbs, enlivening them and creating an unnatural buzz beneath his illusory skin.

But there was something else, and this was why Tsubasa had stopped his strolling and was now looking about- seemingly without anything more than generic distaste for the enthusiasm and tomfoolery of those about him. A clay bottle marked with the kanji for sake found its way to his mouth, and he tipped it back carelessly, causing a middle-aged housewife to shoot him a disapproving look as she passed, a nice compliment to the obvious envy on her husband’s visage. Joke was on them; the bottle contained nothing but simple water. The taste of smoke was cleansed from his tongue, and he tossed the empty vessel into a nearby receptacle, folding his hands into his distended sleeves. Yes, something ran even deeper than the happiness here, and it felt almost like… unease. It pricked the hairs on the back of his neck, and he cursed his useless empathy. It was like a thousand stinging ants, marching along his spine and taking a bite out of his nerves whenever they damn well felt like it. Hateful little bastards.

Mark his instinct, something was going to go down here. He didn’t know what, who, or when, which just annoyed him. Snorting and tossing his head slightly, he moved off into the crowd, ignoring it for the moment. Might as well enjoy the lights and glaring-bright colors while he still could. There had to be food around here somewhere, right?


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Osaka, a little more fun than yesterday.


Shirayuki stared at her reflection in the mirror for a long moment. This was something she was almost compelled to do every time she saw a reflective surface, but she had yet to decide what she felt about the image presented to her. Presently, her face was uncovered, her story written in white and pink lines across the canvas of her skin. She tilted her head to one side, an almost-curious gesture, and a too-long morass of curls fell over her shoulder. She blinked once, slowly, then pulled the elastic material up and over her mouth and nose, shoulders loosening in cast, and brushed at her fringe absently with thin fingers so that it obscured the majority of her forehead. Picking a piece of dust off the light-and-dark blue yukata, she sighed breathily and shrugged.

Descending the stairs, she sidestepped to avoid two seven-year-olds chasing each other up to the second floor, spotting her brother just entering the house. She smiled beneath the mask and signed a greeting, which he returned as well as he could with his singular arm. She hadn’t told him why she’d suddenly decided to go to the festival, but he’d volunteered to watch the young ones anyway, and for this she was grateful. Though in time his questions would cascade over her head faster than she could mime her answers to them, she for the moment was safe, since he saw this as ‘progress.’ It didn’t quite feel right to take advantage of that, but it was harmless enough.

Moving to a kitchen drawer with a lock, she pulled the key from her sleeve and opened it, tugging as the wood caught. Everything in this place was dreadfully old and only worked sometimes, but it was still worlds better than the big, empty mansion they’d once inhabited. Inside were several old-fashioned throwing knives, which she stowed carefully in her obi. The Minami area held many unfortunate reminiscences, and it would not do to go into any situation unprepared, no matter how innocuous it might seem. Daichi watched her wordlessly, then nodded solemnly, before catching himself and smiling instead. She appreciated the thought, and bade him farewell before stepping out into the cold, taking up a small satchel that sat near her door.

The walk was pleasant, if chill, and her spirits lifted. It had been such a long time since she’d actually done something purely for amusement, and when this realization had hit her during her conversation with the stranger (such as it was), she hadn’t had to think very hard about what to say to his offer. Sometimes, chance dealt you a strange hand, she knew that well enough. She also knew that such wild cards were only ever what you made of them, and so she took it as a sign, illogical as that may be, to take a break from the studying and the diligence for a while.

It wasn’t hard to find the place where the parade would be, festooned in gilt and glitter and color and light. It reminded her poignantly of her childhood, and for a moment, she was simply transfixed by the happenings around her, before she shook her head with a rueful smile and melded into the crowd, searching for someone who stood out rather more than she did. She passed a tall fellow with a raucous mane of hair and unusual footwear, but such oddities weren’t so unusual in places like this, so she scarcely paid him any heed. Time and guesswork placed her in the vicinity of a tinseled archway, and there was the curious stranger.

Shirayuki approached, dipping her head in greeting since he likely didn’t understand the elaborate system of gestures she used to convey meaning. She wasn’t even sure if he read proper Japanese, now that she came to think of it, and their earlier conversation had been a stumbling sort of affair that had nevertheless left her highly amused and rather enjoying herself. The young hanyou gestured towards the gate, asking if he was inclined to enter. She did feel bad for making him wait, and hoped it hadn’t been entirely too long. Without a good way to inquire, though, she’d have to risk being a little rude.

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Tomoe was getting bored, and standing in one spot wasn’t making him any warmer. He decided to take a look around the festival and see what attractions caught his eye. He decided against candied apples; they’d make him hyper and on-edge. He’d be jumpier than a little kid on Halloween. And as excited as the goldfish-catching made him, he already had enough at the shop; they were swimming on almost every counter at the brothel from festivals past.

One stall selling little trinkets caught his eye, however. He peered around and stifled a chuckle at a plastic fox mask. Oh, the irony. He paid five hundred yen (way over priced; it was worth MAYBE one-fifty) and pulled the elastic strap over his styled hair. The red and white mask obscured his face, and he was sure that anyone who saw him would recognize who he was. He chuckled, actually enjoying himself a bit now. He moved on, enjoying the ambiance a little more. Kids nearly as tall as he were running around with sparklers, and he could hear a biwa being played in the distance. He was almost certain he could play better.

After a few moments of walking, he saw a familiar face. With a sly grin under his fox’s face, he walked up to the scary-looking tengu. “Hello, Amori-san. Enjoying the festivities, are we?” He glanced at the trash can where the sake-jar had been tossed, and wished jealously that he could drink a bit, as well.



Center of the Festival

Nin tossed away her empty cup with a hmph. She should have gotten more water. She was thirsty again, dang it! “Where is that little rascal? He needs to get me a new drink!” The silly tanuki had run off once more, and Nin could only guess where he’d gone this time.

She pulled a bite of takoyaki from a wooden stick and looked around. So many little kids! They were all getting underfoot, and dirtying up their kimonos and yukatas! How disrespectful. And the biwa player’s makeup was so badly done! Grumpgrumpgrump.

No matter how she tried to hide it, though, Nin was having a great time. The food was good, the stall owners were polite, and she could feel something shimmering in the air. No, not excitement… conflict. And goodness if that wasn’t excitement in its own.

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Festival Grounds, and perhaps she can’t just melt into the ground after all...
♫ ♫ ♫


Contact. Perhaps she was silly not to have expected it, but all the same, the smooth motion with which her hand was grasped elicited enough surprise that the offending fingertips nearly lost all color, though they held onto their solidity by a thread of will. It was the same thread that Shirayuki’s inner self clasped onto when she realized that his face was in much greater proximity now than it had been the moment before, and she swallowed, throat suddenly dry and a doubtlessly unbecoming scarlet hue spreading over her face. She was unable to do much, and she definitely had not the wherewithal to move, but likewise she did not flinch in the slightest, the only betrayal of her feelings the nearly-comical widening of her eyes. The words were almost lost, so startled was she by the suddenness with which she was seized (though, she supposed, it was far too delicate to be truly construed so), but in the end they only confused her further. She glanced quickly this way and that, as if to confirm that the other people passing them were in fact ordinary enough, and not some form of grotesque monster that would lead him to say such things.

People had once willingly said such things to her, and she had accepted them as nothing more than her due. That had been years ago now, though, and as her embarrassment and shock faded, they gave way not to shame (as they might have were she inclined to think him making jests at her expense), but rather a particular kind of amusement. She found him so very strange, and this was perhaps just one more instance of it to cement the inclination with proof. She could not be insulted for the very same reason she could not consider it a true compliment: he had not the faintest idea what he was talking about. This was the whole point of walking around masked. So instead, she assumed the overwrought chivalry to be a jest of some kind, and a breathy chuckle passed into the air between them, shattering that most peculiar hold she could have sworn his presence had inflicted on her before.

For her, it was as if his last comment confirmed her suspicions, and she smiled broadly, stepping back a little and bowing deeply, as if to humbly acquiesce to his request. It doubtlessly looked amusing, the willow-branch of a woman still gently clasping one hand and bending at the waist with unnecessary flourish before the foreigner with twinkling eyes. Her own crinkled at the corners with the force of the invisible smile, and she winked, gently tugging him so that he might follow her without getting lost in the crowd. True, contact was not something she was much accustomed to any longer, but that did not make her at all averse to it.

She flowed through the crowd as though it were a river and she were a fish, born for nothing quite so much as navigating the treacherous streams of passerby and merrymaker. Shirayuki was trying to devise a way to ask him what he felt like eating or doing, as most people she encountered didn’t understand sign language. Though she would have used her reedy-soft voice if it would have made a difference, there were simply too many people and too much noise for her to make herself audible. Instead, she stopped in front of a row of food vendors before releasing his hand and about-facing, tilting her head to one side in the clearest pantomime of an inquiry she could affect without intricate gestures and an understanding conversationalist like her brother. The smells of tempura and takoyaki drifted towards them from the little grills installed in the bannered boxes of industry, each wrought with brighter colors and bolder slogans than the last.




Osaka, where remembering is harder than it should be.



Image The bushy, rebellious eyebrow ascended his forehead immediately upon the approach of the small person, though he did not cease eating the odango he'd purchased himself. Tsubasa found it entirely impossible to discern the person’s gender by virtue of the voice issuing from behind the plastic mask, and moreover, the fact that whomever they were clearly knew his name was disturbed him. The more he thought about it (and he was taking his sweet time, too, standing there like a dumb fish for the better part of ten seconds and chewing contemplatively, if with a hint of exaggerated arrogance), the more he was certain he knew the person from somewhere. He just couldn’t place it.

The former monk swallowed with an air of finality. “Do I know you, lady?” he asked, the question almost petulant. It probably would have been, were his lingering confusion not so evident in every word of it. Instead of the crass address that he had tried to make it, then, it sounded like a genuine inquiry, and he resisted the urge to smack himself for getting it wrong… again.

It was bothering him, though. He’d gone ahead and assumed the speaker was female, because in his experience, they didn’t make men that small, but there was something else, too. The vaguest inclination that he knew what the face underneath that mask looked like, and had had this particular internal debate with himself at some point in the not-so-distant past. For some reason, a peculiar, smoky scent was also called to mind, though no other associated impression leapt to the forefront of his boggled brain.

So, as he was convinced he ought to, he pretended that his confusion meant nothing to him, crossing his arms over his chest and staring around at the goings-on as though they held no particular interest to him, but then neither did the not-stranger. A sham, all of it: he was absolutely fascinated with the festival and all the people in it, the woman in front of him no less so than any of the rest and perhaps more. It was supposed to be rude to stare at women though, wasn’t it? Or did that very fact mean he should be doing so, as to appear more the lascivious drunkard sort?

Sometimes, all this pretending bamboozled the hell out of him.

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"The dragon is dead," came the whisper from Nin's pursed lips. What did this mean? She searched the eyes of Fate, trying to find an answer, but everything was too mixed up. An amalgamation of colours and sounds. This wasn't right. It wasn't. She saw the death of the lanternfish at the feet of Makoto and quailed. "Bad omens. Bad, bad omens." She'd forgotten Sachio's presence; she forgot the festival, the progression, the brewing war. She didn't think about others. Instead, she worried, How will this affect me? Hurt and harm, or business and glee. Something bad was going to happen tonight.




As the confused Tengu racked his memory for their earlier memories, Tomoe examined his nails boredly. They needed to be repainted. Perhaps a lighter pink this time. At the question, Tomoe couldn't help but chuckle. "Am I forgotten so easily, Amori-san?" he asked, tipping up his mask to reveal his face. He let the lady comment slide; it was common that he was mistake for a woman, and it had the potential to be hilarious if he could see how long he could drag out the mistake. "You'll have to stick to bars so I don't have to rescue you from the opium den again, if it affects your memory so." Tomoe had only seen the tengu take a drag before he was threatening other den-goers and doing strange karate moves.

Tomoe looked out to the festival with a sigh. Children played merrily, old couples walked serenly, and young couples dipped into giggling shadows for a quick grope and kiss. Tomoe looked into the sky and thought of the night full of promise. But as he shifted his feet, he felt the weight of his sleeves and frowned. He had a duty tonight.

He slipped the mask back over his face to conceal his eyes as they searched through the crowd. "Have you any plans for the night? There is much here to do." But just as he finished his sentence, the oyabun broke through the crowds. Startled, Tomoe pulled off his mask and held it at his side. "Isamu-sama," he greeted with a deep bow at the waist. "The parade has begun?"

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Image
Festival Grounds, where she’s enjoying things more than she’d expected.
♫ ♫ ♫


She might have snorted softly (not terribly ladylike of her), and might have rolled her eyes at him, but in the end her good humor won the day. With a small shrug, she procured some shrimp and a daifuku, handing him the former with a nod of thanks for footing the bill. Admittedly, she hadn’t fought the suggestion overmuch; she wasn’t exactly as well-off as she’d been in her childhood, and medical school did tend to drain one’s resources, scholarship or not.

They ambled for a while after that, mostly in silence, which was kind of nice. It was hard to recall the last time she’d been to this particular festival. She had hazy memories of these colors and smells, and of course this general area had been her home for most of her life, but… hers had not been a duration particularly disposed to stopping and smelling the roses- or the assorted grilled goods, for that matter. There was, though, a vague inclination that if she looked skyward, she would see something that made her feel at ease: a great blue shape high above, watching over them all. Perhaps it was simply a childhood fantasy, that there was some powerful being out there who would deign to look benevolently upon the figures on the ground, and yet…

She felt the rain before it began to fall. Such was one of her many useless talents, a vaguely prescient feeling about the weather, at least if precipitation was at all involved. This was a good thing, without a doubt- she had never been averse to the rain. At first it was tiny droplets, the kind that would fall and only dampen with great time, but gradually they coalesced into something more substantial, and she relished in the rush of relief that such things always brought with them, tilting her head skyward and welcoming the feel of moisture. Gravity was not quite enough to pull them from her, and they fell slowly only when she relinquished them, to patter on the earth quietly. Another silly, symptomatic something, but scarcely noticeable or important.

They were cut off by something, and Shirayuki opened her eyes to see her companion’s arm hovering over her head, a makeshift shield against that which would do her no harm. Sweet, but wholly unnecessary. Nevertheless, she allowed herself to be guided beneath a canopy, where only the occasional drop found its way to the ground. He said something she did not understand, followed by a question that made only a bit more sense. Shirayuki did not know who “they” were, but it did not seem of too much importance from the way he said it.

She might have even asked, for no other reason than to be polite, but the parade began in earnest now, and she watched with something between reverence and amusement at the procession meandered, marched, and shuffled by. Like his, her eyes found the dancers almost immediately. Her reason was of course entirely different, and a trace of longing flitted its way across her face before she settled into looking a little bit wistful. She was never hard to read, and did not play at stoicism, having learned long ago that it was a game she would never win. Still, at the same time as it saddened her to remember what she had lost, she still appreciated the grace and poise of the art, and so it made her happy, too.

The shapeshifters were always entertaining. It was not so unusual for most youkai to be able to do such things, but she, having only half that strength, was not. Any alterations that she underwent were entirely involuntary, and usually associated with situations most unpleasant.

Diverting her thoughts from that unfortunate tangent, she tried to think of how best to answer his question. It was still too loud, though, what with the music and the crowd, and she rubbed her throat ineffectually. She had thought of pointing to the sky, but since he already wondered if it had something to do with the weather, that probably wouldn’t work. Pursing her lips, she looked around, at last raising her hand to point at the painted likeness of a dragon, borne by several marchers and some distance in front of the mikoshi. Technically, she was unsure that this was even the right answer, but it had always seemed so to her. She supposed he would understand how literal she was being, since he had seemed not at all surprised to see children turning into foxes or women into toads.

Looking at him, though, she noted his fascination with the mikoshi itself and wondered. There was something going on here that she did not understand, and she watched it trail past them. Shirayuki wasn’t sure if the reason for such intentness was wistfulness, confusion, or something else, but it seemed to be important. She only became further convinced of this when his arm twined around hers- that was, in her experience at least, a comfort-seeking gesture. Perhaps it was misplaced for her to project the attitudes of family members and children onto someone else, but nevertheless it was what she was inclined to do, and so she did it, lacing her fingers through his and nudging her shoulder into his arm with characteristic affectionate indulgence.

She tilted her head in the direction the mikoshi had gone, towards the Shirogane Shrine. If it was important to him, they would just have to go see.


Festival Grounds, and the whole thing is so damn confusing.



Image Tsubasa blinked a couple times, not initially rising to the bait the weird lady presented. She removed that mask she was wearing, and he was struck again with the sort of vague familiarity you have for the clerks at some store you visit maybe once a week.

"You'll have to stick to bars so I don't have to rescue you from the opium den again, if it affects your memory so."

For a second, he was pretty sure she’d just made that shit up, but then it all clicked into place, and he narrowed his eyes. “Bastard had it coming,” he replied a little too quickly, flinching internally when he felt the heat on his face and very well-aware that he was turning that slightly-red color he took on rather frequently. The tengu huffed impatiently and decided now was not a good time to stick around and have the conversation. In fact, he was pretty sure never would be the best time for it.

He only sort of remembered exactly what had happened in the opium den. Some guy he was working for at the time had mentioned it in passing as a rather good place to find the shady kind of folks who would hire a guy like him to muscle around like an idiot, and since that was basically the only thing anyone would hire him for, he’d decided to pay a visit. Well. When in Rome… Opium hadn’t been anything like tobacco, really, and he had this feeling that he’d overdone it. He vaguely recalled some fool picking a fight with him, which his drug-laced self was only too happy to oblige, and then… not much else until he was dragged out by a person much smaller than himself. Since it was a lady (albeit a slightly off-looking one), he hadn’t really the heart to protest.

He’d woken alone, sober, and at his own address, apparently having let himself in, though how he found the place was still a mystery. Now it made considerably more sense. His old instinct for politeness warred relentlessly with the constructed one he’d made for being an asshat, and in the end neither of them really won. “Right.” One syllable, neither a thanks nor a disparaging remark. He didn’t even really manage to make it sound dismissive, though he tried valiantly.

The rain started to patter down, and Tsubasa frowned with mild distaste. He’d always hated having wet feathers. Not that he had feathers right now, mind, but it would probably still make his damn head into a sopping mess of uncomfortable damp. He was about to excuse himself to find yet more food and a better spot from which to watch the proceedings when the lady bowed to some old guy and asked if the parade had started.

Correction: this was not just some old guy. Tsubasa shifted his weight from one foot to the other, an unconscious action that prepared him better for any number of defensive maneuvers. It wasn’t that he thought he was about to be attacked, merely that it had struck him subconsciously to be wary. It was much the same feeling he’d had around the abbot, but that had been tempered by years of near-familial connection, and this was not. They walked with the same deliberate, regal stride, and there was some similar kind of too-much-knowledge in their faces. It made him distinctly uncomfortable, though he refused to allow himself to show it.

It also forced him to reevaluate the woman next to him. He glanced between the two, feeling quite like he was intruding upon something and should leave, but he sharply negated this internally. He’d been here first, dammit, and he wasn’t going to leave just because some guy in a suit showed up. If they wanted to have their little conversation here, that was fine with him, but he wasn’t going to pretend he wasn’t listening or anything like that.

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Den-Den Town, Strutting Around, and Would You Look At These Losers


He was stricken with the familiarity of a different sort of gokudo, the sort who sashayed in pink and flaunted superiority before his tattooed brethren, citing lines from Korean soaps in lieu of urgent business. Isamu, per usual, was endlessly amused as he found Tomoe, but also grateful for his company—there was nothing like a bit of well-organized ruckus to get him grasping at nostalgia again, and though he reveled in the bliss of the lights and the sounds and the spectacle as if they were a novelty, as if he could reach out and catch ticker tape like fallen sakura petals, he feared becoming forever trapped in this haze, to be blindsided by this youthful aura. From the kitsune, he knew vignettes of doubt sprouting amongst the clansmen; said loyalty could only hold up for so long 'til the memory started dwindling and indecision took hold. How they wouldn't hesitate to devise a new order if the opportunity permitted. Yet, he looked to the mikoshi for solace. He saw the men united by garment and cause, so relentless in their support and spirit. Such a sight, fundoshi excluded, made him swell with pride.

The godfather lay a hand on his adviser's shoulder, signaling an end to the submissive greeting. The same hand lightly whapped the saiko komon against the back of his head. Good-natured abuse, that was. "C'mon, kiddo, look around you. Can't have you miss what's right in front of us." All in jest, of course: His words, playfully phrased, brimmed with levity, rolled R's, and Kansai-ben; his expression, furrowed at the brow, turned wry. "Knew you wouldn't miss a chance to dress pretty for the boys. The get-up's good, very geisha of you. And speaking of boys..."

What did they have here? A victim of harem seduction, no doubt. Isamu forewent spoken introductions for a curious, stranger-on-the-subway glare and a cocked head, measuring up Tomoe's confidant like he would approach a red ogre with a spiked club. He sniffed, not too subtly, at the dampened scent that wafted from the lad. Drifting from era to era had granted him with many an acquaintance, most inhuman in nature, and after a moment's contemplation, tengu, long of nose and wet of feather, seemed like a reasonably educated guess. He knew these fellas. Carried chips on their shoulders and used 'em for weaponry, if the Terajima brood was anything to go by. The mere thought of them creased his lips into a smile, small fangs revealed, and his inviting look to the man relieved any tension surrounding them—or heightened it. To call the glint in his eye devilish was understating and offensive in its tiredness. Either way, he felt rather silly afterward.

"Pleasure, truly. We're the yakuza, and I see ya've met our pin-up girl," he said, tossing an arm round the adviser's shoulders, voice raised over the cacophony. "Like what we've done with the place?"

Delightful as this was, something was afoot. Prompted by the humming in his pocket, he fished out his smartphone, and after a spot of elderly struggling with the touch screen, he found an alarm—not to mention a message from a friend who, confined to the beaches of Hawaii, insulted him with the utmost sincerity—warning them of events to come. Indeed, the mikoshi's sudden vanishing would cause quite a panic were one not to notice its quickening pace as it appeared to break away from the festival troupes. The yakuza supporting it gave out one last chant before detouring from the common path, and the oyabun, though relieved that plans had not yet gone astray, did not take this as a sign to rest.

He faced the both of them, gestured curtly, and began to pursue the pheonix house: "You two—walk with me."

That shit was an order.




After a reprieve, they moved with haste, and with knowledge of the Alpha driving forward motion, they reigned upon Shirogane like lightning of Raijin. But this was a quiet storm: hidden from view, lowly poised, the juveniles went swiftly with high ardor, trotting in the shadows of their more experienced comrades, going, going, going still. It was remarkable—what had seemed to be a suicide mission had now shifted into a display of tact and espionage; Osaka didn't cry of their attendance, but turned a blind eye, rather, settled into oblivion of the task at hand. The Dogs were not enemies. They did not wage war against the dancing folk, and they did not initiate shouting contests with the performers. They were one amongst the denizens, to laugh and to weep beside them, to throw caution to the wind and drink their sorrows away.

But they were aware, and they ran. Unseen, they cut across the way of the shrine lawn, hugging its perimeter, hiding in the greenery. Although the stairway to the honden was a death trap, there was always a workaround. The mikoshi drew ever closer, and as it approached, the Beta would hear salvation from the earpiece: twenty soldiers, fifteen of which were kamikaze, were at her disposal, and one appeared before her to confirm the situation. It was Itoi, a commandeering kappa in human guise.

"From the Alpha!" he claimed, breathless, to Kaori and Hayato, bowing before them as he revealed a small amulet. Crafted from vile magic, it would resemble the pheonix-shaped piece that adorned the Queller's neck. "If she is to reach the sanctuary before us, we can still get to her. With enough persistence, the barrier will be drained." The dragon was dead, after all.

He resisted the urge to question the source of her wounds. The contrived scheme, he inferred, was taking its toll on their leader. Apprehensiveness kept him obedient, but he would surely bolt on instruction. Itoi added: "We had minor difficulty with grouping everyone. The rival factions are everywhere. Please forgive us, Beta."

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All of Nin’s focus, all of her musings and worries and fears, pinpointed on Sachio’s hand on her elbow. Her whole body jerked, mind snapped out of its reverie, and she scowled weakly. “The dragon,” she said shakily, trembling slightly. Trying to pull up some of her usual scorn, her tone sounded forced and thin. “The blue dragon! It is dead!” Her bony finger pointed accusingly at the dark, empty sky. There was no long, twisting tail in the sky, no wings blocking out the light of the moon. “He does not fly tonight; he is dead.” Her voice wavered, perhaps on the verge of tears. Aoi was an old friend of hers; they’d kept company through the long centuries, laughing at the futility of the human race. “This is bad luck. Bad omens,” she said warningly. The balance was off. Everyone noticed the absence of the dragon, and it turned the world onto its side. People were enjoying the festivities, but their eyes searched the sky.

Nin felt weak. She gripped the tanuki’s arm and her tired feet shuffled over to a bench. She planted herself there, face buried in her hands as she felt a migraine of the worst proportions beginning to crash over her mind like a wave. That had been the worst kind of vision; long, full of information, and emotionally painful.

But now she could only wonder. What had killed the Fuku Ryu?




A frown worked its way to Tomoe’s lips as his hair was mussed by Isamu’s good-natured hit. His hand froze on its ascent to smooth it down as Isamu commented on his state of dress. Embarrassed, he retorted, “At least I don’t look like I’ve gotten into a fight with a monsoon and lost.” He sniffed daintily, tucking his fox mask away in the folds of his kimono. “I always dress like this. It’s comfortable and it looks nice.” Geisha, his fox-tailed ass.

He watched, amused, as Isamu gave Tsubasa the Glare. It was almost famous in most circles as the most invasive stare that one could be given, even more unsettling than the leer of a pervert or the calculating gaze of a conman. Of all the people he’d met, no one remained calm under that first meeting of eyes. Besides Makoto, of course. But she was different. Even he himself had felt unnerved by this intense glare. However, he felt that Amori probably felt more weirded out by the stare than anything else; he seemed like one that didn’t frighten easily.

But as quickly as it had come, it was gone, replaced by a toothy grin that would make children wet themselves. He made himself imperceptibly taller so the oyabun wouldn’t have to reach so far down to wrap an arm around him. He blushed at the pin-up girl comment, but let it slide. It was an old joke between old friends, and it would never cease to embarrass him.

But then the oyabun’s demeanor seemed to change, and Tomoe stood a little straighter. He knew this look; it was time for business. Things were going to happen. There would be no time for stupid questions, for it was time to move. He sent Amori an apologetic glance, knowing that this wasn’t what the tengu had signed up for when he came to enjoy the festivities, and followed quickly after Isamu.

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Osaka, and shit's gettin' good.


ImageOld familiarity eased an ancient man’s hand onto a thin woman’s shoulder; camaraderie earned her the light rebuke. Hold there, pup, too much of this and you’ll go soft. Don’t forget me, I’m the man who holds you all in place with his fucking gravity, ponderous and inescapable. The spoken word was almost irrelevant, really.

Dominance stared him down, but the Tengu, brash and foolish as he was, just folded his arms into his sleeves and stared right back. Knowledge flared his nostrils, like an old hound dog on the scent, braying and bawling till his prey was up a tree and doomed to dinner. Tsubasa felt his vision sharpen in response, and knew his eyes had flashed, no longer so human. But then, Humanity was the recessive trait here, wasn’t it?

Tamping down on the tell, he considered the words, chewing over his answer as though it would weigh more in the space between than he did, standing in the rain. “It seems a little bit… kitsch.” He drawled by way of reply, scratching the back of his neck with idle concentration. His look moved askance, old jokes he didn’t understand ran over his answers to rhetorical questions, but he didn’t mind.

No, no, if the shit-eating grin that spread over his face was anything to go by, this was just damn perfect indeed. The air was changing, the mood was shifting, and he was catching on. The tingle of anticipation shot down his spine with all the force of a suicidal pigeon barreling headfirst into a shiny plexiglass window, and even less caution. Square-tipped fingers flexed, bringing vigor to rain-chilled limbs, and the world came alive before his eyes.

He couldn’t have been more happy to comply when that old hound barked his orders, never mind that he wasn’t in the habit of following without proper incentive anymore. The roaring in his blood, the electricity of anticipation that ran in the empathetic undercurrent of the crowd, that was incentive enough. A mottled tongue, half-transformed without his knowledge, darted out and over pointed teeth, and he answered the woman’s unspoken apology with a dark chuckle. Make no mistake, the former monk was no manslayer, but he’d be the first to catch the fight-instinct and run with it.

His thoughts were punctuated only by the measured clack, clack, clack of his unusual footwear against the pavement. He’d always been taught that no matter how fast and how hard you ran, fate would find you in the end.

Right now, in the miserable rain, beside two total strangers, and walking into a helluva lot of unknown, well… that felt quite a bit like fate.