Facing East

Anything you might want to try out that doesn't temporally or thematically fit the serial should go here. This is an ideal space for all your what-ifs and might-have-beens, as well as for your average silliness.

Re: Facing East

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Thu Sep 07, 2017 11:24 pm

Kurama's beak curled upwards sardonically. "I remember your handwriting, Aspasia," he said. "Soulless perfection. You were made to succeed in all things. This? Child's play for you. So I must raise the challenge."

He pulled out a shorter, more canvas-sized length of delicate paper as well as small inkpots of various colors. "You will paint them in the ways of the Urakawa clan, so that the Englishman might remember failure."

One claw-like finger came up. "Urakawa Ukiyo-e. Not Hanamura, not Kamakura, not Meiji," he commanded in Japanese. "You are to paint as the daimyo would - in style, precision and emotion."
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Re: Facing East

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Thu Sep 07, 2017 11:56 pm

There was just the slightest hint of tension in the fauness' muscles, as though she momentarily recalled muscle memory-created duplicates of classic paintings during her time with Rendell. However, in the next instant, her muscles relaxed as her mind seemed to be eased by the memories of painting with Miranda. Aspasia offered Kurama a small smile. "I accept the challenge," she responded.

She knelt near the small table and picked up the brush, beginning by establishing the sky. Fluid curls would gain more definition as they transformed into clouds. Her trained precision and memory led her to recreate the village grounds surrounding Lord Urakawa's palace. However, it wasn't just practiced moves that drove her, but she slipped into an ease that was focused that also carried a sense of enjoyment.
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Re: Facing East

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Mon Sep 18, 2017 5:21 pm

Archie's command of Japanese allowed him to take in the meaning of the phrase as much as the actions required, but he'd never painted large murals as the Chinese do. More traditionally-sized calligraphy elements would have suited him - but this? This felt akin to someone asking of him that he flawlessly impersonate someone he wouldn't have been given time to study. He felt he had enough command of the basics to reach at least a crude reproduction, but was also well aware that this wasn't what Kurama expected.

So, steeling himself, he tried to let loose and to allow the brush to flow with the directions the brush strokes suggested. He tried to reach the exact kind of surety of motion that would have produced banners of this size, but ultimately felt like a fool trying to ape a waltz with a mop and wheeled bucket as partners.

As he placed the last stroke, what he knew and expected to happen did, in fact, unfold. Kurama unsheathed his sword and, slowly, traced a slash across the length of paper he'd used.

"Useless," he said in English. "The great English spy has toppled Russia but cannot write. Your queen would cover her head in shame and ask for your sword, so that she may cut off your head with it!"

Archie's reflex involved bowing his head and trying for a contrite sumimasen, but Sojubo cut him off abruptly, turning his sword so that its pommel would rest against Holden's chin.

"Enough! Do not presume to grovel or beg in my presence," the bird seethed in Japanese, "as I will not allow it! You have failed me, and stand without excuses. I asked, and you did not deliver. What good will you be to your American friends if you return to them as pathetic as you now are, in front of me?!"

Archie fell silent, but his jaw could be seen working. The bird withdrew his blade's pommel. "Pull another length of paper," he commanded. "Start over. As you do, look upon your friend and mate. One who was shackled in perfection and only now expresses herself through it, another for whom all of this is foreign."

The tengu took a long look at Crystal's effort. "I see fear in these strokes," he said. "The fear of failure. It is a sick thing, a wrongness of Nature. In all things - calligraphy, poetry, sword-smithing and war - joy must be found. The fauness felt joy, so there was no thought. No worries. Mushin."

He sneered as he looked back at Archie's earlier work. "The fear here makes me sick. You fear failure, death and the loss of your soul. You fear past losses that can no longer hurt you. You wonder if the Aratama have designs for your machine shell, if one day your fingers will close on your werewolf's throat, guided by demons."

There was a pause, and something struck Kurama. He looked back to Archie. "Write in English, then. Let us see your resolve."

Archie opted to transcribe the same passage he'd been given, but tracing Cursive with that much of an oversized brush was a hard sell. He made it to half of the tenet in question - A samurai's duty is found in death - before his recently-repaired arm made him twitch, wince and drop the brush. This time, however, he had some sense of what Kurama was getting at. He closed his eyes, let the brush lay where it stood for a few moments, and centered himself. Then, carefully shielded from the pain, he picked up the instrument again.

Kurama nodded. "A samurai embraces pain. A samurai confronts adversity. If Lord Buddha himself were to stand between you and your goals, Lord Buddha would be cut - or killed. The one-eyed fool tried teaching the fauness' people, but self-sacrifice cannot come from superiority. One must know that one is low; that one has been brought low before. One must accept it, find stillness and peace within it."

Archie thought back on his life. "I've been hurt before. Many times over, in fact. I was taught to suck it up, to move on, to deny it had ever happened. For years, most of my ills were manageable: missed shots, bungled extractions, the neverending aggravation of sensing my world slip away as new technologies surfaced... I was never taught to let my injuries heal. The Bhatia girl was the first wound I would feel for a hundred years on end, and now an old man is under my care, living in my house, and is denied basic happiness because of a despicable deal we were forced to agree to."

Kurama nodded. "And you cannot find peace.
- How could I?" asked Archie.

Sojubo looked at Lowell and then back at Archie. "Do you control her wolf?"

Archie looked puzzled, the tengu replying with a withering look. Choosing to humor his sensei, Holden shrugged. "No, of course not. I wouldn't ever presume to, either.
- And Englishman lives well with this. With wolf in his lover's skin.
- I bloody well have to, don't I?" asked the spy, not seeing where Kurama was going.

Kurama sighed. "You found peace and stillness with things you cannot grasp. You must do so again."

Archie nodded, still looking slightly uncertain. "Eiji had a saying, back in the Meiji years: pick your battles, go one at a time. Bucky insists on taking things day-by-day, even if Preston's nemesis and my uncle and the Void Weavers would rather we thrust ourselves headlong into the future. The Aidan lad says he only really cares about what is in his sightlines at this particular moment. Thinking back on his past or projecting himself ahead seems unhealthy to him."

Kurama cackled softly. "Remind me again: how is it that a British lord can be so foolish while his commoner friends are so much wiser?"
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Re: Facing East

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Mon Sep 18, 2017 9:43 pm

Crystal surveyed her calligraphy work and then shrugged. "Of course there's a bit of fear in my strokes. I'm new at this, but it doesn't mean joy couldn't be in my movements if I tried it again. As they say in the West, if you fall off the horse, you get back on."

Aspasia nodded in agreement. "And you adapt as needed." She then tilted her head in Archie's direction. "I've seen you fight in battle before, and you seemed almost giddy and even jocular at times. What prompted you to act in that manner, during those conflicts? I think you subconsciously understand what Wallace and Drake have told you, but it needs to be dislodged from that part of your mind for you to be able to remember it and apply it to your current foe."
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Re: Facing East

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Tue Sep 19, 2017 8:24 pm

Archie shrugged. "I don't know; I suppose I felt in control, somehow - even in the midst of Machae's caused chaos. I know you have something of a point, miss Robertson - I also remember the years in-between the World Wars and how it felt as though I'd never get my fill of adventures, but-"

He hit on something and paused to consider it. "Nothing was ever about me in those days, wasn't it? I was free to slip in and out of things as a rogue agent, stealing from would-be tyrants or turning trap-filled tombs into empty husks for the Jerries to find, while whatever holder of evil portents I'd fished out of some old ruins would go on to grace Francis' collection, the Royal Society's vaults or the Vatican's sealed chambers... What little I saw of the sixties was a garish collection of permed hairdos and flunkies of the Watatsumi clan striking desperate deals with Rasputin and poor old Lev..."

Holden sighed. "I have no ego, in my best of days. I exist, I take up space, but I suppose I'm little more than jaunty enjoyment, old affectations and a few reflexes cobbled together with some cogs and a few springs. To steal from your generation, I feel like a million bucks in those instances. I feel... youthful and capable and lethal. I feel debonair and, frankly, ridiculously self-assured behind my composure and my making sure I never ruffle feathers I wouldn't have wanted to toy with."

He scoffed. "Now? Now I feel old. Old and confused and afraid. I have a hard time seeing the old me quirk up an eyebrow and slurp at his teacup while the Black Goat dredges up Mother's cold and damp stand-in for affection or Father's perception of me as a sack of hormones good enough for Eton College and the House of Lords and nothing else. I have a hard time envisioning the sort of repartees I would have offered, how I would have managed to go from someone's sublime contempt for me to my own sublime lack of care. I have a hard time picturing the old me fussing over rogue hairs in his mustache appliances or fixing his cravat before leaving the office, because I worry about so much more, now."

Kurama said nothing and nodded, a sign he could go on. He did just that. "Things were easier, back when it was only Shamus and I. I am built more solidly than your average man, and Shamus is several times over your average man's resilience. Aidan is powerful, but he is plagued by doubts. Aislinn and Tom are capable, but their growing affection for one another could cripple them if it were ever broken by outside forces. Miss Jameson loves to affect corporate invulnerability, but only a fool would remain blind to how much she craves validation and inclusion! Neasa places her life on the line for us while desiring to keep her career as a clothier - when any number of severe disabilities could cut her off from her professional dreams! Preston also thirsts for vindication, but his best efforts could spell his undoing at the hands of a man who would have no care in the world while shutting off his windpipe with one hand!"

The Clank briefly floundered, looking about as if to find more examples floating in mid-air, but he soon realized he'd made his point. "There is so much I have to care about now, that I can no longer forget myself. I can no longer lose myself in the adventure of it all - I must be responsible. For everyone's sake."

The tengu shook his head, swearing in Japanese. "How is it that a man can understand Mushin at such an essential level while still failing to grasp it? If I worried about Lord Urakawa's men, they would die and it would be my fault. I would seek to spare them the shame of defeat and would elaborate faulty tactics to avoid having to report bad news to their wives, partners and children. In my compromising, I would give the enemy purchase on us. The enemy would seize this offered grasp and would crush us like ants under a boot."

Archie scoffed. "Am I supposed to stop caring?" he asked, also in Japanese.

The swordsman nodded in the negative. "A samurai observes cherry blossom leaves when he has the time. A samurai loves his family and sheaths his sword when peace falls over the land. He rests when the day is done. When a samurai must fight, however - he fights. There can be no hesitation, no intrusive thoughts, no doubts or fears. In the moment, a samurai gives everything to his art. The enemy will try to make the samurai doubt, but his resolve must stand firm until the last sword is sheathed. Only then will he cry. Only then will he mourn his dead comrades.

There are those before whom we can be weak without shame. There are others we must face as a blade does another. When faced with these, only the violence of our blades or of our defiance matters."
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Re: Facing East

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Tue Sep 19, 2017 10:59 pm

As Kurama gave his explanation, Crystal and Aspasia knowingly looked at each other and then at the automaton. "Holden, you're going through what could be considered a variation on parenthood. Obviously, you didn't sire or raise your friends, but you're acting like a new father who's seeing his kids being involved in a dangerous profession. You want to see them happy and safe and want to protect them. However, that can't always be the case," Aspasia noted.

The werewolf nodded and gently grasped his hand. "It is similar to when I became Andrea's main caretaker, after my divorce. I tried to be there for my daughter as much as possible when she was young, but sometimes I had to leave her with a relative or a babysitter. When she got old enough to stay by herself, I had to trust that she would be alright during the hours I was at the precinct. It's not the same as what your friends and coworkers are going through, but there's similar elements."

The fauness also nodded and sympathetically smiled at the lord. "It's the same with Miranda. Drake and all the others are your family, but there's times where you have to separate them from the objective of a particular moment. They're vulnerable, yes, but you also have to trust that they can take care of themselves. You're not the lone caretaker of a team, Holden; you're a member of a team. I'm sure there will be times when they will each be threatened, but all you can do is prepare them as best as you can and leave them to do the rest, if you're not there. There may be a time where you don't have them to rely on or vice versa. In either situation, you must act without worrying about them. It's not going to be easy, but it has to be done. You and they will both be stronger for it. That is what is required of Mushin."
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Re: Facing East

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Wed Sep 20, 2017 12:59 pm

The old defenses came up, bearing their old chestnuts. "You would assume that I consider myself a parental figure to my employees? Aidan and Aislinn certainly do not need me, much less poor old Charles! I-"

By then, however, the truth both women had hinted at had broken through his ego. He hesitated, unable to stop himself from reminiscing on how seeing Tom and Aislinn's candor had triggered a few feisty evenings between himself and Crystal. Instead of a look of admission or defeat, the Clank offered the outside landscape a pensive sideways glance. Maybe this was it, maybe he was more the type to normally prefer the professional take on passionate abandon over basic dedication..."

He looked down on his handiwork and grimaced. Copying phrases out of the Hagakure wouldn't stimulate him properly - he'd need some amount of danger to feel at ease. Of that much, he was certain. The Goat had leeched the fun out of his job through some process he didn't fully understand but that at least had involved some amount of psychological manipulation.

The Clank chanced a look at Kurama. "I presume the investigation into the Kori clan's involvement in yesterday's events has just begun?"

"Hai," nodded the tengu. "Englishman does not need to concern himself over this. Urakawa-san supported Koga-daimyo in past times. Ninja and nekomata together."

Archie caught the implications. "I'm sure Lord Urakawa keeps an excellent retinue," he said. "Be that as it may, I would learn more. Ahead of our host's men, if at all possible."

Kurama's temper flared. "Englishman is not ready! You have proven nothing!"

Holden tsked. "My form is not the issue, nor are my stances. Single-blade, dual-blade, tanto, kunai or shuriken - I would pass your tests. My focus is the issue. Let me at our enemies, Kurama-sensei, and you will know why your people called me Ghost Spider."

The tengu's eyes narrowed. "Again, you presume to have no need of me. Again, you tell me you have nothing to gain. Again, you would throw yourself at our enemies on the off-chance to prove the most tentative of breakthroughs. I have seen men like you with perfect form, Archibald Holden. Perfect form and flawless poise. They all died, victims of their arrogance. We will fight the Kori when Lord Urakawa will declare we must fight the Kori. Not before."

Archie protested. "But I need to rediscover this personal sense of danger I was familiar with! Bokken and calligraphy will simply not do!"

Kurama shook his head and paced over to Crystal. Lowell would briefly be able to register the prickling sensation of a Veil unfolding around her, even as the tengu locked an arm behind her back - and placed a finger at her throat. Aspasia would realize she could see through the ruse as well, but that Archie could not. As far as the Clank was concerned, a flat-bladed tanto dagger was pressed on Lowell's throat, complete with a rather convincing single droplet of blood.

"Copy tenets of Hagakure," Kurama said, in his usual broken English, now laced with a rather convincing seething edge. "All of them, in ten minutes - or werewolf dies. Take one step towards me, and werewolf and fauness will die."

Archie froze. "This isn't what I-"

Oh, but it was, wasn't it? Another old chestnut, one he used to know how to cope with: threats towards his results-oriented self. He'd once found them energizing - up until the point where he'd realized potential adversaries would have more to bargain against him than simply a mission's success or his own reputation. He'd wanted high-flying ice ninjas and had instead earned a dagger pressed at his lover's throat. Thoughts of Andrea, of worst-case scenarios, raced through his mind. Andrea. Someone else who occasionally depended on him, now. He thought provoking selfish endangerment would rekindle the old spark, and Kurama had most cruelly shown him the error of his ways.

As he didn't know Crystal wasn't actually in danger, all he could do was choose to get to work. In the meantime, Crystal would sense that Kurama had subtly altered his hold, making it look painful while still only keeping things within the realms of simple discomfort. She wasn't in any real danger - not that Archie needed to know this...
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Re: Facing East

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Wed Sep 20, 2017 3:31 pm

Having understood Kurama's threat to be a ruse, Crystal played along and tensely stood there. An expression of fear and wincing pain ruled her features, as she knew she had to make it believable. As she wasn't restricted in her movement like the werewolf was, Aspasia feigned her own look of andrenaline-laced tension and worry at the thought of the tengu killing them both, not budging a muscle to thwart Holden's sensei.
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