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Jiangyu Bai

"Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering."

0 · 712 views · located in Tokyo, Japan

a character in “Immortal Ties”, as played by Irrefutablescion

Description

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Jiangyu Bai.................................................Goblin
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A goblin raised in the 7th century BCE during the Spring and Autumn period of China in a climate of great political uncertainty. He met his untimely demise when pitted against his own kin and the people he swore to protect.

...ImageAge.......2805......................D.O.B.........Autumn, 788 BCE
Origin.... China...............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
        6'4" | dark brown | jet black


        A cog in the cosmic wheel; insignificant when solely observed, but fluidly attune with the machinations of the universe. Balance and harmony both necessities for the equanimity of both natural and metaphysical phenomena. Any one factor when disproportionately skewed threatens the sanctity of the whole. Jiangyu is well aware of these unseen elements at work and it is from his millennia of contemplation that his adherence to equivalence extends to every fiber of his being. An angular jaw as if wrought from gemstone; an aquiline nose invoking the dominance of predatory aggression; high cheek bones set in a gaunt construction and taut skin suggestive of his repentant occupation. Some people mistake Jiangyu’s emotionless countenance for nonchalance however it is but an expression of composure. Peculiarly enough laugh marks around his thin lips indicate a jovial smile that do not, however, reach the cold distance in his eyes.

        Once swathed in the luxurious, unwieldy garb and adornments of the royal blood line, the cloths’ and silks’ inferior brocade and incomplete stitching signified an empire quickly falling to disrepair. After his death, Jiangyu would adopt the far more bona fide robes of the Shaolin monks to complement his narrow, unassuming frame. Although he renounced all earthly possessions to join the monastery, Jiangyu carries one belonging that he may never cast away.

        None have seen the gold-leaf snake coiled around its crimson hilt or the mean glint of its blade when the light catches it just right. The accursed dagger was the death of him and a continual scourge to his afterlife. He need only take a sideways glance and acknowledge the perpetual sting of the glacial metal against his bare skin to be reminded of why he must continue his punishment




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        P E R S O N A
        Levelheaded | Tedious | Resolute | Aloof

        Hunched over lower than a camel as he meagerly croaks by on the street on his rounds begging for food trying to elicit the least attention as possible. He bears a wide, hearty, with undertones of eerie smile and an air of levity. The apparent joy within his figure would draw connections to the Laughing Buddha if not for his slim frame. Of all the sights to behold, Jiangyu’s decrepit figure is sure to confound. How he got to this station in life was a result of a series of unfortunate circumstances. And as few realize, there is far more to him than meets the eye.

        A pacifist by trade, it was a nascent trait that will was ill-received in the era of his rearing. The kingdom was in need of a carnivorous, tenacious militant force and as one of the royal sons expected to lead the charge, Jiangyu’s clemency was hounded. Jiangyu never eyed war with the saintliness that many an unencumbered youth imposed. He took no solace in victorious campaigns or the spoils attained from battle. While the children of the kingdom were hopelessly enchanted by the glorification of savagery, Jiangyu could see right past the façade. The empire was weakening, justification of rule through “holy” edict was losing its efficacy and the royal family was in need of a powerful army to reassert their claim to authority.

        Nevertheless, Jiangyu did not really care. He had always noticed the sidelong glares and heard the ruminations of his capacity as leader as result of his illegitimate birth. This was fine with him, he was glad that in lieu of this uncertainty his indecent older brother Yijiu was taking control.

        Since he was no longer projected for greatness, Jiangyu had increased liberty to wonder the castle grounds as he would. He found tranquility in nature and in his hours sight-seeing the majesty of the surrounding landscapes he began to develop his own ethical philosophies. Akin to the Taoist tradition of becoming one with the earth, Jiangyu began to recognize the importance of balance and harmony. This journey would continue on with him into the afterlife.

        As revealing as the meditation was, Jiangyu also became increasingly disillusioned with the state of worldly affairs and took an aloof stance that his pursuit for spiritual enlightenment placed him in a higher standing than others. It is an arrogance that persists and has left him largely friendless in the millennia since his death. Well that and his wish to distance himself from society; distance himself just far enough for them to not notice his watchful eyes.

        Jiangyu’s choice to stay in China is also a testament to his great devotion and integrity. After that fateful day and his belief that he had failed his people, he swore to witness helplessly the rise and fall of the all Chinese dynasties as penance. If only that were enough…




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ALTRUISTIC..He had always had a soft spot for the poor. He has become
a bit of an urban legend due to his philanthropic pursuits.


CONSCIENTIOUS..From his years of mental training, he considers eve-
ry argument and is painstakingly thorough with the facts before making a decision


INTEGRITY.. I mean not as showboat-y about it as Superman,
but he has a strict code of honor and fights for justice.



SELF-RIGHTEOUS..He always preferred spiritual endeavors over the throes
of royal bureaucracy. Most in his eyes are not anything more than insolent fools.


SUBMISSIVE..Although he will insist he is better than you intellectually,
he is shockingly docile and complaisant to those who assert their authority.


RECLUSIVE.. he's not as bad as a glazed-eye hermit nesting in the
mountains, however he values the sanctity of nature to the company of humans.





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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

        The sovereignty of the Zhou dynasty was quickly waning and the end of the feudal system seemed to be looming near. Rival factions throughout the Zhou’s dominion were forgoing there ties to the royal family and were on the outset of disputing territorial rights in order to establish their own independent city states. At the head of this crumbling empire was the crass, boorish King You of Zhou who was further leading the kingdom into disarray.

        Although he would produce a child with Queen Shen, King You took far greater comfort in the company of his concubines, especially Bao Si. King You grew so infatuated to Si, that she was able to convince the king to depose Queen Shen and their innocent son, Crown Prince Yijiu. Cast off into the streets and forced to make the long trek home by foot to the Queen’s father’s domain of Shen, the two were quickly overtaken by bandits. Prince Yijiu was able to escape their grasp at his mother’s behest however the same could not be said of the queen who was brutally assaulted and raped by the loathsome robbers. Far worse could have occurred had the queen not begged the marauders to leave them be and convinced them that if word broke out of her kidnapping her father’s army would be up in arms. She was free to continue the humiliating journey back to Shen after first yielding her royal gown to the vile beasts who demanded her valuables.

        Having been both ashamed and abused, the Marquess of Shen was furious at the treatment of his daughter. He allied himself with the Zeng and Quanrong bandits to attack the Zhou capital of Haojing and overthrow King Zhou. Thereafter, Prince Yijiu and the queen’s bastard son, Jiangyu, would grow up together and act with the knowledge of their duty to uphold the Zhou dynasty. Jiangyu was never treated with the same respect as Prince Yijiu and he would always curse himself for his ignoble birth. It was, however, the guiding the arms of his mother that would give him the strength to move on. Queen Shen always lovingly referred to him as Bai or “white” because she was convinced of his pure soul and motivation. She sensed a potential for greatness in him that no one had or ever would.

        Life would continue for the two youths until they were old enough to assume responsibility for the kingdom. Jiangyu was never expected to take over the kingship, but instead acquire reign of a lowly vassal state. Circumstances would change when a group of dissidents began to oppose Prince Yijiu’s ascension to throne in favor of Jiangyu. Although aware of his stature, many of the commoners felt Jiangyu to be more affable owing to the hours he spent during his childhood away from castle grounds mingling with the townspeople. In comparison they detested the pomposity of Prince Yijiu. Jiangyu had no former intentions of rivaling his brother, but having never been afforded such a position of power and keenly aware of Prince Yijiu’s plans to reinstate the Mandate of Heaven, he wished to submit his own methodologies for governance. Queen Shen was livid that her two beloved sons were challenging one another but neither responded to her pleas; they both believed their cause more noble.

        As quickly as his rise to power came, so did it vanish. Jiangyu had been making great strides in accruing public support and in name of this, Prince Yijiu, seeing no alternative option to solidify his victory, would send assassins against Jiangyu. Even in death Jiangyu did not resent his brother, but believed that he had failed his people more than anything else.




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                  ( OOC )

                  FACE CLAIM: hao yun xiang
                  HEX CODE: ur hex
                  PORTRAYED BY: Irrefutablescion
                  CS CREATED BY: Epimetheus
                  TIME ZONE: EST

                  DISCLAIMER: This sheet uses
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So begins...

Jiangyu Bai'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
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

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#, as written by Cloud
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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: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

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    A sprawling complex centrally located on Mount Song, visitors of the site do not know what to be more impressed by: the concert of Mother Nature’s forces in creating the gorgeous landscape or the inhabitants’ organic assimilation into the site, their superior architecture intrinsically owing to the earth itself. The Shaolin monastery, one of the original spiritual institutions in all of China. The oldest parts of the temple grounds are suggestive of this storied history. Some might view these towering edifices as decrepit and possessing an air of decay; carpets of green muddying the sharp angles of its composition, their faces discolored and weathered by the elements. While ancient in its formation its overgrown complexion is evocative of progress; the vivacity of natural life melding with the the man-made, abounding and adapting in spite of Earth’s caprice. A glorious unity of man with his environment in a harmonious milieu testing its integrity against time and fate.

    Eclipsed by the midday sun as light flows over him in a soft gold hue, sinewy muscles tight from exertion, stands the one individual who embodies this exceptional consistency with his surroundings. Alone in a temple courtyard, Jiangyu was deeply concentrated on his training, his every movement charged in reverence to the heavens. The clunk and swoosh of each swing of his staff were reverberant against the stone terrain. The grounds were eerily empty as the other monks aggregated for the evening meditation. Jiangyu had the intention of going as well but he quickly devolved to the depths of his mind.

    Despite his years of mental training there were few occasions when the horrors of his past roared forth with striking realism. The previous night he had dreamt of the late Queen Shen cast in an angelic visage as he was wrapped in the arms of her motherly embrace. Moments later came the hulking silhouette of his brother, Prince Yijiu, and his subordinates marching in line as if they were soldiers headed for battle. Queen Shen and Jiangyu ran as fast as they could, but they could not escape the behemoth strides of their pursuers. With their last breath they collapsed in exhaustion and they were at once shrouded in the shadow of Prince Yijiu who, with chilling certitude, trampled over their measly frames. Spurred awake by this incident and drenched in a cold sweat, Jiangyu spent the rest of the late hours of the night huddled in a ball praying for these phantoms to leave him.

    These thoughts throbbed in Jiangyu’s mind, each sensation prompting feelings of remorse and regret. Normally blindingly fast and acute in his movements, each stroke upraised by a geometric precision, he was now hampered by a heavy-handedness that wavered his lines. Though his muscles groaned in resistance, Jiangyu was determined to finish his routine.

    Of all the weapons the Shaolin monks used Jiangyu was the preeminent master of the staff. Always a pacifist, he preferred the staff’s lean shape to the menacing severity of swords and spears. Monks never fought to kill, so when equipped with staff in hand, Jiangyu was deeply aware of the weapon's ability to accomplish this goal, redirecting the anger and frustration of the aggressor and the person wielding it. In contrast, blades always felt ungainly in his grip; devices that suspended human sincerity and coaxed them to blood lust. In this moment, however, Jiangyu found himself yearning for that sensation, the ability to determine the fate of someone by the simple slash of a blade.

    “I have atoned for my sins, what more could I have done!” His voice trembled in resignation and defeat. His body thudded to ground in exhaustion and his staff clattered past him despite his scant efforts to grab it. He struck his head back down with enough force to lose consciousness if not for his physical numbness. Staring up into the skies posed a fitting slate for his musings, but he was at once startled when he heard the sharp chip in the dull roll of the staff. He did not recognize the monk who picked it up, but that was to be expected due to Jiangyu’s only recent arrival at the monastery.

    “It appears sufferance does not end when we renounce our fetters to the mortal world”, the wizened man asserted, “what do you find now that ails you and that reflection cannot cure?” His words were amiable and yet an anger welled in Jiangyu that was uncharacteristic of his craft.

    “I’m afraid it’s an affair that cuts too deep and others cannot hope to understand” Jiangyu remarked brushing him off. The old man began a methodical approach toward him, his arms raised in an expression of forfeiting verbal defense.

    “Sure cast me aside with your uncouth words”, he threw the staff to Jiangyu, “but that serves no purpose than to create greater rancor within the soul”. Not so easily perturbed he sat across on the ground from Jiangyu so as to attempt to force the conversation.

    “We all have struggled, but it is this path we have chosen to accept the hardships of this life and free ourselves from the cycle of reincarnation”
    . Jiangyu grumbled in assent and quickly rectified his ill-suited demeanor in his address.

    “Forgive me lǎoshī, for treating you so. My mind is ill at ease for I am constantly haunted by my sins”, Jiangyu quickly sat himself down so as to talk to the old man as equals.

    “One can only begin to free himself from earthly attachment,” elucidated the old man, “if he first refuses to be captive to the environment he finds himself. Calm your heart and your mind. Unseal the troubles sealing your chakras; let them flow with the cleansing energy of meditation.”

    This advice came in spite of Jiangyu’s poor manners, so he was wont to heed his words. The old man had already arranged himself in meditative formation; he sat cross-legged, back erect, breathing slowed, and eyes closed.

    Jiangyu quickly followed suit and within a matter of minutes he found himself in a trance focusing all his energy on his breathing. Thus consigned to the annals of his inner self, at this juncture, his perception seemed unusually aware. He had a mastery of meditative practices, but he had never before been barraged by the animation of his surroundings nor heard a distant voice that simultaneously spoke with stunning clarity, both of which greeted him now.

    The voice said, “I wish I had someone special to share this with. A friend, partner, sibling… anyone. And I wish I could put this into music, I wish I could play how this makes me feel. The beauty of it, the loneliness."

    He felt a tingling sensation against skin almost prickling with the quality of electricity and he heard the slight hum of gusting winds. Something was amiss. With his heightened cognitive skills, even with eyes still closed, he had realized that the space around him had changed. Instead of the crisp aroma of blooming vegetation he was greeted by the pungent smells of pollution and filth.

    Jiangyu opened his eyes to find a pale-skinned youth by his lonesome, face fixed in the effect of longing and desire. His brilliant hazel eyes sparkled with ferocity as they scoured the skies as if petitioning the heavens. His body, with back turned away from him, was positioned in a diminutive state, slightly hunched at the shoulders and legs crossed in timidity. Jiangyu was not so much as shocked by his surroundings than he was at finding another emotionally castrate individual caught in his vulnerability as he himself had just been. It appeared to be a sign from the universe.

    The youth began to walk away failing to notice the man clad in bright orange robes directly behind him. It was then with a resounding clamor and a scurry away that he would respond to the foreign voice that called out to him, “umm… excuse me…”

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Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Wyatt Costanza
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xxxMarlon’s feet came to an abrupt halt as a flash of orange cloth pulled his attention up. With a yelp, he jumped back against the railing, skinny elbows smacking against the iron balustrades hard. The mortal’s gaze flicked up, taking in the towering figure as Marlon’s mouth opened in surprise. Part of his brain was trying to figure out where the man had come from, for only one door led onto the balcony and Marlon was sure he hadn’t heard it open behind him. Of course, the larger portion of his brain was dedicated towards inspecting the strange figure before him.

xxxThe man was tall and incredibly striking in what Marlon assumed were monk robes. Yet, what really drew the teenage boy’s gaze was the well-defined muscle of the stranger’s chest and abdomen. Even in his shock, Marlon’s eyes took a moment to memorise the way taut skin pulled over perfectly formed abs. It was, certainly, a much more enjoyable sight than the thing that jutted out from the man’s neck. A knife marred the man’s aesthetic, protruding violently from his neck. A gold-leaf snake slid around the hilt of the weapon, while most of the blade itself was buried in the man’s skin.

xxxMarlon quickly cast his eyes back down to the comforting sight of the man’s abs, wondering if this was just another odd being that the general populace couldn’t see. Like those who wondered the streets in all black, slipping around mortals invisibly, or the individuals who wore two images and sometimes sprouted wings. Or perhaps he was merely an actor, dressed for a play in which he played a handsome monk who was stabbed to death. Regardless, when Marlon’s lips parted, it was not to ask why the monk had a knife in his neck, but to instead inquire,

xxx “How did you get onto the balcony?” The English was rushed, and Marlon immediately began to translate the sentence into Japanese, though using simpler words, “How did you get here?”

xxxJiangyu did not know what entirely to make out of the current predicament. Whatever color remained in the pale-skinned youth's face had leached down to intensify his trembling physique.

xxxThe lilt of his voice was the same that called Jiangyu out of his sedentary reflection with its earnest deliverance. It was immediately clear that the youth had summoned him, yet his cowering form implied otherwise.

xxxUpon hearing the inquiry, Jiangyu turned the question back on it's owner, fumbling over the Japanese characters with as much difficulty as the youth, "I could ask the same of you, sir. All I can determine is that I have appeared here by your directive. Whereas before I was in deep meditation, I heard the sounds of your pining words and I stand before you now. It's owing to the intricacies of karma that we should meet by such strange circum--"

xxxJiangyu had not been looking directly at the boy as he spoke, rather his eyes filled with the glittering city lights he saw below. As he drew his statement to a close his gaze wandered back to the youth, whose attention likewise seemed riveted elsewhere. Instead of attempting to read the man in front of him through the emotional imprints cast in the contours of his face, the youth's scrutiny was rather aimed at the contours of Jiangyu's...lower... abdomen...

xxxAs a Buddhist, Jiangyu had learned to live a conservative, plain existence. All human possessions are a furtherance of materialism; an outcome that nature had never intended. Even wearing the robes of the Shaolin monks was symbolic of living in austerity of nature; the purest form of living. But the way the youth looked at him now, eyes content on the beads of sweat still dripping down his body, was unnerving. Jiangyu found himself willing to defy his principles if he could cover up his entire body from those prying eyes.

xxxBefore he would continue any further, he said, "Please sir, can you refrain from looking at me so? In my culture that is what they call the 'evil eye' and I need no more misfortune in my life"

xxxIt appeared, despite the initial Cantonese verbalised by the monk, that he knew Japanese too, for he began to answer Marlon’s question in the same language. Yet, Marlon found his brows knitting together in concentration as he attempted to translate all the words. Some, the harder. rarer words, were beyond the boy, but he was able to understand the general idea regardless of the gaps in his comprehension. Marlon understood enough to translate and grasp the admonishment, his eyes quickly flicking up from the monk’s abdomen to meet his gaze as a faint tinge of pink coloured his cheeks. Normally, some quick barb would be thrown right back. Something relating to the impossibility of not looking when the man’s abs were so clearly on display. Yet, Marlon found himself slightly unnerved by the sight of the knife in the man’s neck – which he was resolutely avoiding inspecting.

xxxInstead, he wet his lips and addressed the man’s earlier point, “I didn’t call you here.” Marlon assured the man, his hand sliding down to tap the cell phone in his jean pocket. He had felt it buzz moments before, indicating a text message. “I don’t know who you are, and I don’t have your number, so…”

xxxPart of Marlon’s mind drew up memories of speaking with a friendly Japanese police officer who shared Marlon’s ability to see the black clothed individuals and fox-tailed few. Yet, she had also spoken of conversing with ghosts, a skill that Marlon had never held. He wouldn’t have believed her had he not spent his life able to see the oddities that walked invisible throughout the world. Could this man be a ghost? The only way to find out was to ask.

xxx “Are you dead?” He asked bluntly, gaze flickering from the man’s face, down to the knife impaling him, and back to those steady eyes.

xxxAlthough the youth's focus now returned to the conversation instead of morbidly engrossed on his body, Jiangyu still shivered with the gust of frigid air that followed and that lay his skin afrost. His scant apparel did little to shield him from the wind, but he continued to fasten the coarse cloth tighter around himself.

xxxDespite the abruptness of his departure from the refuge of the monastery walls, Jiangyu remained indolent to the affair. Peg it to his lassitude to the transience of the universe, but his demeanor revealed no signs of distress. Jiangyu had long ago acknowledged that to grow jaded with your condition was to inevitably invite pain and sorrow in the future. Renouncing attachment and notions of hope imposed the necessity for adaptation to whatever the universe may send his way. Jiangyu knew that everything happened for a reason... even being teleported to company of some cowardly boy.

xxxAll forms of pleasantry had escaped the boy's address and Jiangyu could read that of the numerous thoughts flitting through his head, only the irrelevelant, disconnected ones were expressed. "Our connection was not made by some physical device, it was a spiritual connection, don't you understand?", Jiangyu remarked in a soothing tone. In response to his inquiry, "Though at points I have doubted whether my soul had deviated to the depths of the Netherrealm, I do declare before you now that I am indeed living, breathing, sentient flesh. Why do you ask?"

xxxMarlon shook his head, playing his lip between his teeth as he fought valiantly to keep his hazel eyes off the offending knife stuck in the man’s neck. He didn’t really understand what was going on; who this man was, where he’d come from, and why he spoke like Gandhi – if Gandhi spoke Japanese and had abs like-… No, forget the abs. He’s not allowed to look at the abs.

xxxClearing his throat Marlon finally speaks, “So you I think I called you here by some ‘spiritual connection’?” Marlon made quote marks with his fingers as he spoke, clearly sceptical about some so called mystical bond. Perhaps this guy was actually insane? Or maybe Marlon had gone crazy after too long practising the same piece. Rather than contemplate his own sanity, Marlon continued quickly, “Look, I didn’t call you, and I have to finish my practice so… Do you need me to show you out?” Marlon’s hand waved vaguely behind the monk towards the door, despite the fact that clearly it should have been the door the monk entered through as it was the only one to the balcony.

xxxMarlon’s hand fell to his side as he left the statement hanging, fingers brushing against his cell phone in his pocket and wondering if he could get away with taking a quick picture of the stranger. Would he even appear in a picture? Marlon had tried it once, years ago, with one of the beings who had multiple appearances only to find that only one image was captured. Now, he wanted proof of this bizarre conversation so that he could share it was Wyatt.

xxxThe generational (historical?) gap between the two was sluggishly tangible, both socially and technologically. The youth could not seem to adhere to the idea that there were greater forces at work than chance that would bring them together. Besides, the more they lumbered to and fro in this excruciatingly awkward waltz, the more the boy appeared intent on bee-lining for the door in a frenzy. That was not an option.

xxxAlthough Jiangyu had the ability for years to traverse expanses far removed from his homeland, he remained transfixed to his roots. He need only step through door and be transported to the regal Mount Kōya range in Japan or perhaps coalesce a true syndicate with the heavens in the isolation of the Himalayas. Yet, bar the visits he had made to abide his duties to the monastery, he always found his footsteps returning back home. That was until now. For far too long he had been entangled in affairs of his mind and finally here was an egress to direct his energy to the outside world instead of one of his own creation.

xxxStirred awake by the boy prepping his speech, Jiangyu knew his own answer before the question was even finished. I see your attempt to dissuade me, but I am far more disposed to carry out what has been preordained. I shall follow you along as you continue your day and see where it takes me.”. His composure shifted in accedence but as his eyes lifted to meet the youth’s, he realized the negligence of his statement.

xxx “Forgive me for it seems that in the confusion of the moment there has been a lapse in my character,” he said coyly. “My name is Jiangyu Bai and I am a practicing Shaolin monk, hence this;” he pointed to his clothes. What would I have the honor of calling you, young man?”

xxxMarlon pursed his lips, hesitation clear on his face as he considered the man- Jiangyu’s words. His initial thought was to refuse Jiangyu’s desire to follow Marlon as he continued with his day, not wishing to have a six foot something stranger in monk’s robes following him around modern day Tokyo. Yet just as a refusal was on the tip of his tongue, he paused and reconsidered. Surely, bringing the living, breathing curiosity with him would prove to Wyatt just how bizarre his night had turned. It would be much better proof than a photo possibly could be. It would also enable Marlon to ascertain whether Jiangyu were another figure only visible to him, or a solid, breathing person capable of interacting with others.

xxxSo, after a weighty silence, Marlon nodded slowly and returned the introduction, “You can call me Marlon. Marlon Page.” He replied, digging his hand into his pocket to retrieve his phone. “And if you’re going to follow me, just…” Marlon paused again, unsure how to tell a Shaolin monk with a knife in his neck to ‘be cool’. Clearing his throat, Marlon merely waved his hand and, skirting around the monk slightly, headed towards the door. “..come on.”

xxxSwiping across his cell phone screen, Marlon opened the text message he’d received and smiled at Wyatt’s invitation. Normally, Marlon would suggest visiting some bar that was barely within Wyatt’s comfort zone, but with a Shaolin monk in tow, he decided on a less risque route.

xxxTo Wyatt,
xxxxxxMeet me at the Chocolate Café on the corner by our apartment… I’ve got a surprise for you.


xxxWith another glance over his shoulder to make sure he was being followed, Marlon stepped back inside and began to collect his things, already picturing how Wyatt might react to Marlon’s ‘surprise’. The blonde boy wouldn’t have long to wait, for it was only a short journey to the café mentioned in his text. Of course, the normally simple trip was made slightly more extraneous in the company of a shirtless monk. When they made it to the café Marlon smirked at the way the waitress’ gaze roamed down Jiangyu’s chest before returned to his face with a blush before she ushered them to a booth at the back of the cafe. At least that answered Marlon’s question about whether he alone could see the monk. Now he had only to wait for Wyatt’s reaction.

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Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Aera Lee
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xxxAERAxxLEE
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xxxlocation: streetsxxxoutfit: here

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xxx"learning how to make a name
xxxfrom the words we can't keep in.
xxxlearning how to strike a flame
xxxand draw a flame from nothing."


"You know what?" One of the other girls declared, making Aera tear her eyes away from the skies. "This is a sign. A sign we shouldn't be sitting here talking what we should be doing, we should be out doing it!" Aera laughed lightly, but she had a point. Aera was bored of just talking, she wanted to be doing. "Let's just go explore the city. Let's go people-watch. And if we find a club that we're dressed for, let's just go for it!" Aera added, grabbing the hand of the girl nearest to her and dragging her out into the streets. The other girls followed.

Most nights, Aera's feet would have been aching, and she probably would have just wanted to go home. But something about tonight was different. The skies were alive and so was she. The starlight lit up the streets, and it felt magical. It was one of those nights were it felt like anything could or would happen. And, indeed, it seemed it would.

"Is that guy seriously dressed like a monk?" One of the girls squealed, but as Aera looked around, she couldn't see any such character. "He just went into that cafe!" The girl insisted, but the rest of them just laughed. "Somebody's on a sugar high," Aera remarked, laughing. "

Somebody produced a vlogging camera as they continued on their merry way and they started chatting about the event. English was the only language they could all speak with confidence, which was exactly how they had bonded. Aera had taught the girls some Korean phrases, Emma had taught them some Scottish slang, and Hana had taught them how to flirt in Japanese. Aera was in her element.

"Aera, how many languages do you speak?" Hana asked. She was the one holding the camera. "Four. English and Korean fluently and Japanese and Russian relatively well." The girls gasped. "Aera Lee everyone, proving that brains and beauty are not mutually exclusive," Hana said to the camera, and Aera shrugged, laughing a little. This was why she felt alive.

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Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Wyatt Costanza
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Wyatt ran his thumbs over the curved sides of his flip phone, the action comforting him like a worry stone. The meteors that were streaking above him were fading into the indigo sky and with their leave, the boy felt a gentle reassurance in them. The chilly air was beginning to eat away at Wyatt's skin, his body still mostly acclimated to the warm climate of Southern Italy rather than Japan. An involuntary shiver ran its fingers down his spine before the tiny device clutched in his slender fingers let out a digital chirp. Wyatt's eyes instantly flew to the tiny screen that told him he had one new message. It had to be Marlon's answer, Wyatt hadn't gotten overly friendly enough to hand out his phone number, he just figured he'd see people when he saw them. He quickly read Marlon's text, his face visibly shifting from polite interest to a weak grimace. And all in the span of 17 texted words.
A surprise.
Yikes.

With Marlon that could include a multitude of things, some very varied in response. Sometimes what was a pleasant surprise for Marlon ended up being mildly uncomfortable to Wyatt. The man wanted to quickly explain that to his roommate, but was much too lazy and uninvested to go through the inevitable five minutes of typing it would take to text out anything on the tiny flip phone. It could really be a hassle sometimes, but at least it wasn't as distracting as a smart phone. Wyatt felt ironically more connected to the world around him by refraining from the use of social media.
So, Wyatt shoved the phone into the pocket of his light jacket and began the short trek to the Chocolate Cafe. Maybe the surprise was that they would have a lovely quiet conversation over some coffee instead of shouting their brains out over drinks at a bar. Wyatt couldn't smother the grin that worked its way onto his lips, curling back to reveal a mouth full of white teeth.
Yeah, right.
Wyatt cracked himself up sometimes.

It wasn't long before the cafe came into view and Wyatt's pace developed a bit of a spring in it while he yanked the door open and slid inside, looking around the tables, searching for Marlon's wavy hair that reminded Wyatt of a halo that floated effortlessly around the youthful face of his friend. Marlon definitely looked that part of an angel. As long as he didn't open his mouth.
The man's eyes landed on a shock of wavy blonde and he headed towards the table, his mind already searching for a topic to bring up first.
He could mention how a woman had come into the shop and accidentally sneezed a box of powdered herbs into a grimy dust on the floor.
Or how a man in a suit kept coming into the apothecary every day armed with Scientific brochures that were meant to prove the superiority of modern medicine and how the shop would close any day now with the information swimming around outside the doors of the tiny shop.

Any words instantly shriveled up in Wyatt's throat like a raisin in Summer sun at the sight of the dark haired man sitting across from Marlon at the booth. The first thing Wyatt noticed was that the man was bare-chested, sitting plainly like it was something he did every minute of every day. His eyes wandered for half a second before he tore himself away, physically shoving his head to the side to rip the sight out of his head. After a hesitant moment, Wyatt's eyes flickered back to the pair, taking in the situation again before slowly grabbing a chair from an adjacent table and kind of awkwardly dragging it across the floor to place himself at the end of the table, still eyeing the dark haired man with obvious skepticism.

"Hey," he started uncomfortably, looking to Marlon so that he only saw his friend's face and nothing else so that he wouldn't make a fool of himself.
"How's it going? Uh, who have-" Wyatt broke off here to (hopefully) nonchalantly clear his throat, an apologetic glance thrown at their guest before he continued in a quiet, but pointed voice, "Who have we got here?"

Wyatt ended the question with a smile, hoping to look at any rate, normal. His mouth felt too stretched though, like someone had dug hooks into his cheeks and were stretched them into some semblance of a smile. He hoped the man couldn't tell. He was trying to be polite, but making new friends was not a forte of Wyatt's. Still, practice makes perfect.

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Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Wyatt Costanza
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xxx As a child, Marlon's mother had attempted to hammer into his thick skull many moral and educational sayings. 'Patience is a virtue', 'The early bird gets the worm', 'Sukces ma wieju ojców, porażka jest sierotą', and other such common phrases. Marlon was sure that half the children in the world had grown up with such inane lessons being repeated again and again whenever impatience or sloth struck. Marlon was not immune, and could recite a list of Polish and English phrases that would make any grandmother jealous.

xxx However, in the slow minutes that passed since entering the small chocolate cafe, Marlon could only hear one phrase being repeated constantly in his mind: 'Patience is a virtue'. Marlon glanced at the clock on his cellphone, before hazel eyes slide sideways and then across the table to where his monk sat. A crinkle worried Marlon's brow as he frowned slightly, pursing his lips and forcing his gaze once more to the door. Wyatt couldn't be long now.

xxx Marlon supposed he could attempt conversation while they waited, but each time his mind was made up and his lips began to part, he found himself wondering what use speaking would actually do. All his immediate questions had either been answered at the university hall or waved aside. Confusion was still rife and Marlon decided that before he were to start spurting off anymore accusations or repetitive questions, he'd sort his thoughts out first... and see how Wyatt reacted to the Monk.

xxx As if on cue, the store door opened and in walked Marlon's Italian roommate. Seeing Wyatt's steady form walking towards him helped steady Marlon slightly, as if seeing someone from his normal life helped to convince the blonde that this wasn't some elaborate dream or prank. Certainly, Marlon had seen some strange things in his life, but the sense that Jiangyu gave off unbalanced Marlon more than the men and women in black, or the individuals who sometimes sprouted wings out of their backs.

xxx Marlon waved Wyatt over and waited, watching for his friend and roommate's reaction to the shirtless god sitting in the chocolate cafe. Regardless of the situation, Marlon couldn't help the small grin that spread across his face at Wyatt's shock. He was glad Marlon wasn't the only one put off by the appearance of a shirtless monk.

xxx "Hey Wyatt." Marlon replied as his friend pulled a chair to the end of the table. Biting his lip and glancing from Wyatt to Jiangyu, Marlon waved a hand and introduced the pair, "Wyatt, this is Jiangyu, a practicing Shaolin Monk who decided to... ah, drop in as I was practicing tonight. Jiangyu, this is my friend and roommate Wyatt."

xxxMarlon pursed his lips momentarily, wondering whether he should admit to Wyatt just how odd Marlon's first meeting with Jiangyu had been. Would Wyatt believe him if he said that Jiangyu just suddenly appeared behind him with no sound of the balcony door opening or closing? Marlon had never before mentioned any of the unusual beings he'd seen, and he really didn't want his roommate to start thinking he was crazy... perhaps Marlon could get a few drinks in the quieter boy and then spill the information. Though, he'd rather do it without the presence of the tall monk, but Marlon had a feeling that Jiangyu wouldn't be easy to shake. And for some reason, completely unrelated to the man's impressive chest, Marlon wasn't entirely opposed to having Jiangyu around.

xxxMarlon's thoughts were interrupted as the waitress brought over the hot chocolate Marlon had ordered during the wait for Wyatt. A free orange flavoured chocolate sat on the dish, and Marlon pushed the treat towards Wyatt. Orange flavoured chocolate was not chocolate in Marlon's mind. With a nod of thank you to the waitress he turned back to his friends, before turning his head back again to the waitress who was still hovering by the table, her gaze glued to Jiangyu's face and chest.

xxx "Thanks." Marlon said, catching her attention and raising his eyebrows. The waitress blushed slightly, muttered something under her breath and them scampered off.

xxxAll too soon Marlon's drink was nothing more than dredges of melted chocolate at the bottom of the glass, his stomach warm and his tongue sweet with the taste of sugar. He smothered a yawn with his hand, eyes glancing at the quickly emptying cafe as he realised the lateness of the hour. "I hope you weren't planning on a rager, Wyatt." Marlon commented with a smirk, even as he hesitated slightly to find the right words in Japanese, "I'm exhausted."

xxx A stray thought crossed Marlon's mind and his gaze turned to Jiangyu, "Ah, do you have somewhere to stay?" Marlon hadn't thought he'd seen a wallet or keys on the Monk's belt. Well, technically Marlon hadn't noted a belt either. "I guess, you can always stay with us if you want? We have a semi-comfortable couch..." Marlon's voice drifted off, unsure whether inviting the relative stranger into his and Wyatt's apartment was the best idea. Then again, he didn't get any dangerous vibes off the monk and, though he might pretend otherwise, he was slightly curious about him.

xxx "Though, you might be too tall for the couch. You can have my bed and I'll go in with Wyatt." Marlon declared, smiling confidently at Wyatt, as if the wider his smile, the more likely Wyatt would be to have Marlon hogging half the blankets beside him. "That is, if you're staying with us...?"

xxx Marlon left the question hanging and open, he supposed that whatever would happen, would happen. He wasn't one to believe in destiny, but if it was destiny to have a strange man with incredible muscle definition staying in your apartment, then Marlon could come around to the idea.

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    While the monks’ lodgings back at the monastery were concentrated in a small village east of the central temple area, Jiangyu’s dormitory was found on the outskirts of the village repurposed from a storage site that had fallen into disuse. Gnarled strangler figs curled like tendrils of smoke around the building concealing most of what lay beyond.

    Besides assembling for group meditation, Jiangyu spent most of his time in his quarters. He was not opposed to fraternity with the other monks, but if that meant he should partake in the obliquities of food and drink, he spurned the idea. Jiangyu felt that the monastic routine had grown grossly diluted. Monks were placing a disproportionate significance into physical training rather than spiritual betterment. The village common area had thus become a breeding ground of imprudence and indulgence for those who felt entitled to celebration after a long day’s labor. Recreational time had also become far more prevalent and it would not be uncommon to see monks with technology of the modern age in their hands, smart phones and the like consuming their attention. Jiangyu steered clear of all these distractions.

    Jiangyu felt far more liberated when relegated to the homely backdrop of his tiny dwelling. They were not the highest quality of fabrics, but the drapes he hung on his walls afforded a very secure atmosphere. Wisps of incense completed the ambience, their ancillary visual appeal merging with the pungent fragrance that hung in the air. This was the ideal environment for his reflections as he soundlessly drifted to his meditative reveries.

    These thoughts would wade through his mind as Jiangyu’s temporary escort led him through the busy streets of Tokyo, the youth’s shock of blond hair bobbing through the sea of flesh. The entire experience was a mixture of terror and delight, but whatever emotions it invoked, Jiangyu could only halt in sheer wonderment every few moments at the debauchery of dazzling neon lights, flurry of sounds, and bold presentation of everything that greeted him.

    While Jiangyu had largely divided his time circulating the monasteries in China, there were a few occasions when he operated outside the country on assignment. He was not completely uncultured to the ways of the modern world, but all his ventures outward rarely challenged his sense of complacency for these locales had him in the ease of the countryside. He never had reason to set foot in to the domain of industrialism until this point.

    I see that that they reject all means of modesty , he thought to himself although he was unsure if he surmised it at any specific point or if it was more of a sustained impression of his surroundings. In all his giddy fascination with this new setting, Jiangyu barely noticed when they had arrived at their destination. He was not given any explanation as to the reason for their visit, however without question he followed Marlon inside, drawn by the floral scents of tea and the tamer atmosphere.

    They had no less stepped inside when they were meant by the amicable smile of their hostess. She comfortably slid into pleasant banter with Marlon, but upon seeing Jiangyu, here attention turned to his uncovered physique. It was only for a few moments, but it was enough for an awkward hush to fall over the group. The woman snapped her attention back to the monk with a sheepish expression of embarrassment and apology and quickly directed them to an open table, not wishing to probe the situation any further.

    Jiangyu could not understand why everyone was shocked by his appearance. By the hostess’s blushing, he could deduce that his robe was immodest or profane, although his bearing of social cues was lacking so the conclusion was uncertain. All’s well that ends well , he thought to himself. If he had any inkling to see where this cosmic interlude would take him, he presumed that he would have to adjust to customs of the period, including clothing himself properly. Based on their last exchange Jiangyu would have to guess that Marlon would not be too enthusiastic about that. However, he was of the opinion that his nakedness would leave an indelible impression on the youth.

    With that thought Jiangyu once again studied the boy that sat in front of him. Jiangyu had just lectured Marlon on the importance of evaluating all circumstances with detachment and objectivity, yet here he was in the company of a stranger he had only just met. The boy was nice enough to let Jiangyu accompany him, but Jiangyu still had his qualms. There was little opportunity to divest the cordial façade Marlon had on, for his friend had just arrived. Immediately the newcomer bore the expression of terror that everyone seemed to have worn that night, yet Jiangyu pretended not to notice.

    Jiangyu heard Marlon’s voice as it materialized from the background, “Hey Wyatt… Wyatt, this is Jiangyu, a practicing Shaolin Monk who decided to... ah, drop in as I was practicing tonight. Jiangyu, this is my friend and roommate Wyatt."

    Jiangyu wordlessly bowed in greeting. He did not venture to talk, believing that it would further sour this first encounter if the outsider was to initiate conversation. He looked to Marlon for prompting but he was in the midst of downing his drink.
    Seeing no better recourse he turned back to Wyatt and said, “Umm… You seem tense, Wyatt. I promise you I mean no harm. It’s just as Marlon said we happened to cross paths and I asked him if he could help me find my way through the city. Without him I most assuredly would have spent a night in the cold…” The words sputtered out and he felt strained telling them. Jiangyu was not good at stretching the truth and he gave up maintaining eye contact halfway through his statement for fear that Wyatt would call his fib.

    Marlon saved him from his hopeless fumbling when he interjected with a stifled yawn. Jiangyu was disappointed in his spontaneity for the day; the crowds were beginning to thin outside and it was with a start he realized how long he had been away from the monastery. This excursion was quickly losing its charm.

    When Marlon mentioned the possibility of lodging with the two roommates for the night, Jiangyu held up his hand in polite refusal, “Pardon me for the brevity of my departure, but I did not realize the lateness of the hour…, anticipating resistance from Marlon he continued ”…If I remember correctly from my last visit there should be a monastery close by here I may reside for the night.” The words stung for their obvious contradiction to what he had just previously said.

    He muttered and few words of thanks not waiting for a proper response before his feet struck with a brisk pace towards the exit. He knew his preferred destination as soon as the doors swung open.

    In flash he was back in the central courtyard of the Shaolin Monastery and he noticed the surprising lack of the old man that had been there before his adventure. He said with a humpf, “Figures.”

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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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#, as written by Cloud
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━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━
CHAPTER TWO: THE FESTIVAL
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Date: Early afternoon, 2nd April, 2017
Location: Kan'ei-ji Temple, Ueno Park
Tokyo City, Japan

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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.

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Character Portrait: Luciana de Silva Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai
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    It was not the asperity of his untimely demise that broached his emotions with such sudden vigor as had surfaced the previous day. Jiangyu had long ago leased away the manner of his death to the governance of his time. Contending powers dueling for the rights of dominance and riches, Jiangyu had never been hardened to the feral tendencies of man or the ruthless tactics of aristocratic finagling. Jiangyu would admit, with albeit a grimace of the irony it intimated, that he was glad he was killed to release him from these hellish responsibilities.

    Buddhists dedicate their efforts towards freeing themselves from the cycle of karma, but along with this pursuit they cannot but help to recede to the intertwining causalities that dictate it. Jiangyu always found himself caught in these webs of what-ifs and could-haves. Over the years he wondered as to the effect his proposed leadership would have had in the grand scheme; if China’s decline could have be reversed or at the very least delayed. Yet that all came for naught as he sat idly by and empires of yesteryear rose and fell, ravaged by war and disease; pilfered by the foreign powers staking claims to his peoples’ land; the perversion of the culture itself throughout the eras. Jiangyu’s aggravation was not his death but what he had failed to do during his living.

    Thus the outburst the day before had been the culmination of years, maybe tens of hundreds of years, of dormant emotions focused into a moment’s… release. The monks always said that evenness of the mind was the first step toward leaving the cycle of reincarnation, but in that instance Jiangyu felt a serenity that training had not afforded. Besides, if not for his act of intemperance who is to stay that karma would have etched the lines of his encounter with Marlon? The sordid matters had melt away and for now Jiangyu was content with the idea that the universe had something greater planned for him.

    These thoughts stirred in his head as his shapeless lump moved about the covers. Was it the sun’s brazen sheen working its way past the mossy drapery or remnants of mirth from the evening prior that awoke him from his slumber? Jiangyu could not tell. No matter the cause, the verve of his morning routine was unrelenting despite the sedative haze of sandalwood smoke that clung to the air and the soreness of his limbs. As he edged his way past the cocoon of vines that ensconced his quarters he emerged much like the butterfly, revitalized and transformed.

    The village was spared Jiangyu’s harsh rebuke for as he had headed for his lodgings the night prior, he witnessed none of the revelry he was used to. It was as if the monks had finally returned to their consecrated sensibilities; perhaps there was hope for even better tidings to come. It seemed that Jiangyu was guilty of error instead, for he realized, as he passed the empty stalls in the village, that he was late for the morning assembly.

    He bustled along, his cloak flowing behind him as he passed, not sparing a sight to the wondrous tapestries of green that undulated with the wind in the valley below. He was reminded of the day’s beauty with the penchant vigor of spring aromas that filled his lungs as he hurriedly sped to the training grounds.

    The sight that met him never failed to amaze. All the temple’s monks, with the uniformity of a cohesive unit, transitioned to the next stance in their routine. They eased into formation letting nature’s repose guide their movements, gravity readjusting the weight of their limbs to the fulcrum of their poise. Jiangyu hoped to join with little disturbance, however it appeared his late arrival failed to go unnoticed. He saw his friend Chen-tao beckon him and soundlessly edged his way to the adjacent open space next to the monk.

    Is everything ok Jiangyu?, Chen-tao whispered in concern, “ I did not notice you retire from the evening practice yesterday. It was as if you disappeared and now you simply saunter in unaccounted for?
    Jiangyu could not contain a light-hearted chuckle, “Fear not my friend, all is well! There were, uh, matters I had to attend to. However, I am glad I am here now…”

    These last few words trailed off as Jiangyu turned to face Chen-tao only to be greeted by a familiar shock of blond hair. He stepped back aghast, Marlon had taken Chen-tao’s place or had he… He was suddenly hit with the sensory explosion of his surroundings. Beautiful rosy petals hung overhead but they were eclipsed by the milling throngs of people that lay before him. His reactions were numbed even as he was pushed past by the grumbling couple he had carelessly shoved.

    “Umm, fancy seeing you here, Marlon.”, he muttered sheepishly

    He had been so bemused he failed to notice the two others present at this reunion. He was soon to realize that the olive-skinned belle that sat before them might be the key to figuring what exactly was going on.

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Character Portrait: Luciana de Silva Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Minako Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Seok Areum
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#, as written by Verix
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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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#, as written by Layla
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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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#, as written by Cloud
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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."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luciana de Silva Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Cassius Dōriēwes Character Portrait: Ikeda Shiori Character Portrait: Ryan 'Rango' Prosker Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Seok Areum
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#, as written by Verix
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                      Seok Areum
                      FOX SPIRIT | 1392 | #d24038


                      Once, Areum had considered herself to be a main character in a story she now knows is much larger herself. She thought of a world where she was content to live an eternity without consequence, and it had worked — for while. As time slowly creeped forward however her thoughts became hazy and distorted to the point where she could no longer recognize her dreams.

                      It had been the for best; truly, it had.

                      From a distance Areum could make out the silhouette of a man marching toward the group with a desperation she could only recognize as hope. Her being wept for him knowing he was far too tender — despite what he may say — for a fox that stole the hearts of others.

                      He loved with passion than seemed to burn brighter than the sun, temping even fate itself. Areum was not blind. She knew that even if he stole the incarnations of his lovers, a part of him always disappeared with them as well ( she saw it in the brief moments; distant stares, unspoken words, ghost-like movements ) — whisked away into a dreamless eternity.

                      She knew not why he left his soul open for such tragedy, but it frustrated her to no end regardless.

                      The boy with blonde curly hair looked at Cassius with wonder as the Guardian Angel began to ramble, and quickly he shoved phone in their direction asking for a picture with her friend. She chuckled, and took it as the woman was too preoccupied admiring the fox’s beauty all the while melting over his sweet appreciation. Areum regarded the scene with mild interest as the fox looked at the angel with a familiar fondness. ’Who had she been?’

                      Within seconds however, Luciana pulled the boy away with a hiss, a warning, and a promise to the other Goblin before storming away. Areum froze, suddenly all too aware of the monk beside her and the reason for her intrusion with the group.

                      Jiangyu was dressed in traditional clothing and wore a look of well hidden disdain on his face. Apparently her ignorance of his presence did not go unnoticed and was met with irritation. Oh, how she missed him and his silent ego.

                      Areum had been drawn to him early on in her immortal life, seeking comfort from a world she knew to be cruel. Though she left her religious views behind, her attachment for the man did not cease in fact it seemed to only grow. Perhaps it was time spent apart that made every encounter with him feel somehow new.

                      She knew it was irresponsible, but being far apart she then began to bath him in a holy light meant for Gods, not humans. Upon reconciliation however her vision of Jiangyu always returned to where it needed to be and her friendly treatment of him continued. Areum gave him what few others could say they’ve received in earnest: her genuine friendship.

                      “Are you not happy to see me?” she spoke with a forced lightness to contrast with the sudden departure of her business partner. Areum hoped at least they would still work together. Luciana was far too serious not to mess with. Briefly she wondered if her friend would be foolish enough to follow her, but forgot the ideas just as quickly as it came. “I thought after years of separation you would have something to say.”

                      Areum ignored the fact she had been the one to see him first, but it was always hard to admit defeat even for her friends.

                      She looked at the two unknown faces before her and smiled, “Forgive me, I’ve been impolite, and to such beautiful people as well. You may call me Areum, may I ask for your names?” The last few words were sounded out strangely for her gaze landed upon a pale figure hidden among the trees.

                      Her grip on the candle bag tightened and she pursed her lips to slow her breathing. It did not move, It did not breath, it simply watched. Areum’s heart began to uncomfortably press against her chest and threatened to give out at any possible second. She was not scared, God no, she was far too old to be frightened of a phantom; but what stole her breath was the knowledge that she knew him from her past.

                      Just like any other time she remembered him, an unfamiliar sense of self-reproach engulfed her entire being. She hated it, hated it more than she hated feeling powerless. Before her own mind could squeeze the life out of her she quickly tore her gaze away with much difficulty. If she didn’t see him she didn’t need to acknowledge his existence.

                      As a final push for normalcy she began to survey her surroundings to distract her from the uneasy feeling growing within her mind. A familiar face did the trick.

                      Shiori looked so unsure of herself, staring at the space where Jiangyu had been. Areum did not know why she had been trying to gain his attention, and at the moment she did not particularly care, but she was grateful for something to preoccupy her time with.

                      Without a second to spare Areum said, “I believe my acquaintance was trying to get your attention,” she said while motioning to Shiori, and took notice of the man talking to her. In a softer voice she said, “Do you have an idea as to why?”

                      With a nervous glance she quickly brought her attention to where the ghost had been, and sighed in relief when she saw no sign of it. Perhaps she had imagined it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Marlon Page Character Portrait: Cassius Dōriēwes Character Portrait: Jiangyu Bai Character Portrait: Seok Areum
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    Jiangyu had barely heard her words before he saw Lucia’s visage recede into the crowd, Marlon’s eyes appearing annoyed from this unwelcome breach to his obsessing. It was apparent the subject of Marlon’s gawking as he was pushed away; the jaunty visitor who crooned flattery in his first few words. Jiangyu had known the type well, those few ravishing faces, with a charming glint in their eyes and whose breezy arrival placated all fears. While the broad-chested, God-on-Earth had all the others present grappling for his attention, Jiangyu was not so easily stirred.

    Humans were strange creatures. They fret over of morals and issues of characters, even champion equality, and yet all the while in their personal circles they invite snakes to slip in. Although he had his dazzling white pearls arranged in a cogent smile, Jiangyu knew that a snake was exactly who he was. It sickened him to see the kimono-clad girl fall like dough into his hands, but he felt a particular distaste form in his mouth as he saw Areum stare at him with a knowing gaze.

    He was at first taken aback by the tone of hurt in Areum’s voice upon seeing his own look of contempt. He was immediately inclined to reform his opinions of her, seeing as she had shown any acknowledgement at all of him, yet he still had his reservations. Although Lucia’s words of warning had been directed at Marlon, Jiangyu too sensed something askew about the Areum and the mystery man.

    “Sorry if I came off rude, Areum, it’s just that I wasn’t expecting to see you here after all this time.” Jiangyu said in a measly attempt to allay her fears. He was far more aware of the nuances of body language than to anything he could vocalize. Call it his relative isolation for centuries, but he could not make most of anything of what he said sound genuine.

    Be that as it may, Jiangyu, so caught up in interpreting the cursory movements of those around him, had scarcely realized that he had not introduced himself to the others. His decision to do so was spurred on by Areum’s.

    “Jiangyu’s the name,” he inflected with curt formality, “I’m glad to have met you all.” He bowed in the reverent manner of monks, and extended his hand in greeting to cover both traditional and modern pleasantries. This attempt seemed to have gone unnoticed by the kimono-clad one, for she seemed to be busy trying to simmer the red from her cheeks.

    Jiangyu instead offered his hand to the Greek, not without some hostility shining through when, with slit eyes he said, “And who might you be?"

    He had his ammunition loaded for a seething repartee to however the man would respond, when Areum called for his attention. She pointed to quaint girl in the distance who wore a forlorn expression on her face.

    Although his finer sensibilities pleaded to him to offer some sort of condolence, he instead chose to refashion his fighting posture toward the stranger and quickly muttered, “No.”

    Even as he did so, he was vaguely aware of some memories of the girl registering to his synapses, but he cast them away. He was prepared to send the Greek another withering look, when he believed he saw the nebulous apparition of his mother sneak past his vision and her soft laugh peak his ears. His gaze wistfully reassessed the ground he thought he saw her tread before glancing her ornate coattails vanish behind the tree Lucia had been sitting at earlier.

    His heart did not race at the thought of her. He had long ago come to terms with the circumstances of his death and his misdeeds as a son. Although he submitted to the Buddhist beliefs that ghosts of the dearly departed did not truly exist, a part of him always held out to the notions that these recurrent illusions were a sign from his mother. They always seemed to conjure up at time when his arrogance would get the better of him. It was with this sentiment in mind that he bit hard down on his tongue to stifle his next gibe at the snake.

    With his impetus thus quieted, Jiangyu felt the unusual urge to be alone in the company of the flamboyant youth, who he now saw still appeared flummoxed by his own aggression. Seeing that his every action seemed to be charged with revulsion, Jiangyu felt that Marlon’s presence alone would serve to brighten up his day.

    With the metallic taste of blood inundating his taste buds and having adequately soured the whole situation, he said to the others, “You know… forget I even asked”.
    Grabbing Marlon's hand first, he turned on his heel and walked away with a mission in mind. “I know exactly where we should go”. He thought to himself