The Zen and Fury in Healing

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.
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IamLEAM1983
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The Zen and Fury in Healing

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June 17th, 2026 - Early Morning


Silence had settled in the previously quarantined areas of the city. The security cordons had changed in composition and goal; now being focused on keeping everyone out while Hope's open Infernal sores dried up and crumbled. There no longer was enough negatively-charged via to allow for spirits or possession events, but that wasn't much of anything to celebrate.

There wasn't much via to go around at all. The city's ley lines were behaving like arteries in the aftermath of a stroke, miles of the formerly intricate webwork having dissipated over the last two months and shy, currently fragile bifurcations having begun to form. The city's body was working around its own impacted veins, shunting traffic where it could, crimping it where a previously fertile spot now led to nowhere. The new convergences were still weak and most were terribly inconvenient for most practitioners. It'd be years before the city's Public Works division managed to transition from mere reconstruction to actual and purposeful adaptation to the local ley lines' new state. For now, nobody so much as wanted to consider pushing billions onto the project of shifting Seventeenth Avenue in its entirety three inches to the East, so those who needed an access to some form of arcane power had to coax lines into reaching them, convince branches into manifesting themselves. Walk along Clark as it runs parallel to the Seventeenth, and you would've seen a small orgy of empty flower pots and boxes, carved chimes or even umamori charms - anything so the weak and shy flow of one of the city's new arcane confluents would spider out into capillaries. If you were sensitive, you'd have sensed that the lucky few were more than just few. 

Live long enough, and this no longer seemed like a tragedy. Dryads died and passed their mantles on, and the new one either took its time or expressed a different impetus on the local network. Lines shifted and a new norm was set. If you were lucky, you could rent or buy another house with an access point and maybe avoid facing the slow and frustrating demise of your own capabilities. Not everyone could move, however, not with roughly one-eighth of the city still classified as uninhabitable.

The world of magic was - and is - a ruthless one, after all. If you can channel magic, you're a practitioner. If you can't, well... You can't. All across the country, countless arcane talents were dying off or slowly crippling themselves, while other ones slowly and timidly flourished. The first few weeks' arcane motherlode had been short-lived, and nearly all of its potential had gone towards nurturing Sophia's elected descendent. The part of the young dryad that was nothing other than a tree was growing well, but the McHale woman had told every reporter from here to Providence that some form of Sophia's would return. Her body had been destroyed, yes, but the seeds she'd kept aside hadn't just been saplings. On Eirean's recommendation, Sophia had spent the last years of her life occasionally whispering to these little lives in their shells, infusing them with her memories and thoughts. Some people believed that growing another tree out of one of the dryad's own technical clones would bring Sophia back, memories and all. 

Most knew enough not to get their hopes up. They'd meet Sophia's would-be daughter, or a long-lost sister or long-neglected friend - but never Sophia herself again. How could it have been otherwise? The Chimeras weren't all copies of Aspasia and Spearhead, cognitively speaking, so why would the sapling be just the herald of an old friend's consequence-free return?

Cold dew still clung to the late-spring leaves, Clark Street's offered corridor being mostly empty, its residents still cozying up inside - still asleep or perhaps just beginning their morning routine. A black electric sedan quietly came to a stop along a stretch of unmarked fencing, and out of it climbed three men. Two of them looked obviously Celestial, but were clad in sweat pants and workout gear emblazoned with Chimera Row's color scheme and logo. The third one was Allocer, delicate silver wristbands and ankle guards adorning his limbs. He was taller than the two human angels by two heads and could've floored both of them in a single blow, but he merely stood at attention, waiting as one of the angels double-checked his restraints. He had free range of movement but was effectively tethered to them, only able to stand a few feet ahead at any given moment.

"Not too tight?" asked the blond-haired one. He had a weathered face but didn't quite reach Gabriel's levels of grizzled authority. Instead, he had the looks of an inhuman being who'd suffered enough, bled enough, to quickly and painlessly adapt to the cycles of mortal life. Valtiel was his name, but Allocer just called him Walt. 

"Depends," replied Allocer, smirking. "What's the loosest you can afford that gives me a chance at besting you boys for a thirty-K endurance run?"

The second angel looked Indonesian, if not Philipino. Dark eyes met the demon's, hard at first and then softening somewhat. "You know Oberman doesn't appreciate these little jaunts, Al - the warden still thinks you're better off in Solitary. I let you off the leash too much, and our very mortal boss gets our immortal asses. Neither of us would care if angels and demons could still park themselves Above or Below the mortal condition, but..."

The former administrator sighed. "I get it. Bills to pay, pantries to fill. I'll get there too, eventually - once they trust me enough to not feed me with taxpayer money."

Manuel the guard - also known as Menoth, Third Sphere Angel - scoffed in amusement. "I swear you're like Rendell and Mister Rogers had the Ken doll of Pitspawn for a baby, Al. One day you'll be just slightly less reasonable and they'll think you're about to bust down the doors."

Allocer parted with a very human and very warm cackle. "That's because I'm from the section of Pride's wastes that sharing multiple arcane thoroughfares with Canadian Warlocks. If I ever knock you out, I'll write a formal complaint first and then spend fifteen minutes apologizing for spewing Hellfire on you."

Walt groaned and rolled his eyes, something like a grin playing at the corner of his mouth. "Alright, okay - let's get Mister Unsung Hero his court-sanctioned constitutional, and then we're tackling the serious issue of Canadian demons on the way back. If we reach the temple garden without our legs screaming for release, I'm putting in a reccomendation with Oberman."

Allocer's dark eyes lit up. "A computer?!" he asked, a shred of anticipation touching his voice. Manny nodded. "No network access, but I can convince Security they can start screening for dailies. Doc Cerebro's agreed to curate a selection of software, files and games. We'll pass a portable SSD back and forth."

The former commander looked like suppressing his grin would be difficult. "I don't mind," he said, "all I want is a word-processing program!
- So which deal did you take?" asked Walt, watching as Allocer stretched his legs and did his best to ignore the passing onlookers.

"Mother Jones," replied Allocer with a grunt as he carefully pulled his knee back. "Trans-planar political commentary in collumn form. For now, they're looking for an insider's perspective on Pride's many, many failings, almost begging me to make parallels between the Black Goat's court and the Supreme Court under President Jones' last mandate... A lot of old, undying money had sunk its teeth in the judicial system - not all of it especially Progressive. The Goat tore out a good few of these fangs when he blew the country apart - and then treated a few of them to an exxagerated version of their own agenda. It at least showed a few dragons and vampires that there's limits to being self-serving and self-gratifying in a society like ours-"

He couldn't finish, as Valtiel launched into a short, if intense sprint for a few steps, forcing the wristbands into action. They glowed blue, Allocer's legs reacting as though he'd been pulled along by an invisible cord. Anger bloomed across his features for a micro-second, immediately trading places for a rueful look of amusement. What had begun as a disciplinary measure was now more of a teasing gesture than anything else - at least judging by how the disgraced demon's teeth showed.

"Every time, huh?!" he said, then finding his pace and falling in near-lockstep with the two angels.

Walt shrugged as his legs pumped. "Just getting you used to the inevitable Questions period, once you do publish that book and read an excerpt in public..."

* * *

Shen Long's own exercise regimen looked less impactful to the untrained eye, but it required as much of him as any sprint. Slow, measured Taijiquan stances were assumed and then transitioned out of, his breath measured so that every intake of air would last for the entirety of the shifting stance. Eyes closed, he carefully rediscovered his muscular capacity and tested his sense of balance, making mental notes whenever the price he'd paid for the city's defense reared its ugly head: a spasm here, an errant twitch there, and a vague pall of chronic fatigue that covered his every move. He'd slept nine hours last night but still felt slightly peaked, and he knew from experience that the exhaustion would progress over the day. He'd never needed naps before and now relished his mid-afternoon hours in the darkness of his covers, knowing he'd need them for the Sons' training drills in the afternoon. He also had other students, now, and other talents to foster that had little in common with a gaggle of motivated Chinese and Japanese Americans all invested with the goal of protecting their loved ones from rogue gang members or the occasional abusive cop. Miranda needed no introduction, of course, but a few in the Legion of Burning Suns had taken interest in his skills, along with Paimon and, surprisingly, Herbert Wormsworth. The former Pride Knight sought counsel to help quell his lasting anger and shame, while the Pride lawyer had begun seeking lessons after realizing that no amount of perceived self-worth could protect from strikes you didn't see coming. Mindfulness, the demon claimed, was also a useful exercise in his approaching humility.

His mind having wandered, the dragon's sense of balance shifted. Vertigo briefly clutched at his chest, instinctive fear rising as the White dragon junior's voice sounded.

"Excuse me, sir?"

The Eastern dragon's feet slid into position on the ground, and he managed to conceal his needing to shift his centre of gravity by placing his arms up against his back. You would've needed a supernatural being's eyes to have noticed the near-stumble, but it was there. 

"Yes, Richard?
- It's just - your secretary would've liked to remind you you have appointments booked for today. You've got Allocer in a few minutes.
- Yes," calmly nodded the dragon. "I know today is Wednesday, Richard. I was only almost killed by demons, you know. I'm still here up there," he said, then tapping his own skull with a finger. I had my calls screened so I could practice my routine, there is little need for anyone to worry."

Richard nodded. "Is your balance back?
- I won't fall down walking, if that's what you mean," replied Shen, chuckling as he did. "There are a few stances I won't be able to assume again, however - at least not for several months. My right shoulder, left thigh and right knee still feel tender. It won't be ideal for Miranda, but it is what it is..."

The junior nodded and then licked his lips. "What's it like?" he then asked. "Teaching a Prince, I mean."

The dragon's lips parted in a silent ah of both amusement and understanding, and he turned to his spacious kitchen nook to brew himself some tea. "I'm not sure this is exactly metaphorical," he replied, "but Wormsworth seems to follow my lead in removing his crown, before we begin. I've taught him to ground his Ego in the same way I might ask of someone with chronic pain who comes to me for Reiki; he knows no-one in my dojo will ever attempt to claim what was sworn to him."

He shrugged lightly as he poured water inside his kettle. "I'm not even sure anyone could. With Rhandamantus having sworn him in, Herbert Wormsworth is as incontestably of Pride as the Black Goat is.
- How's he doing, without it?"

Shen Long shrugged lightly. "I don't concern myself with this creature. Buddha says I should have pity to spare, but I have no contempt, at least. I would suggest asking Miranda or Aspasia, once they arrive."

Ricky glanced about. "How do you think he's doing, then?"

By that point, the dragon had caught on. Richard Kwai's father was in the HPD, and his father's partner was a certain lieutenant named Claire Redding - also known as Clarimonde, formerly of Valefor's stables. Mrs. Kwai stated that Miss. Redding had been nothing but charming, but she'd been an unaffiliated Wrath operative during the war, striking back against a Vice that she felt was acting without due cause. In her mind's eye, the only ones who would've been worthy to petition Wrath were the mortal and supernatural resistance. Her anger was cold, easily clothed in smiles and affected human warmth, her people skills approached a succubi's - but she was of the outspoken minority that believed that Pride should have been obliterated outright.

The boy was afraid his father's new partner would see him as a tool to be used, then. Considering, Long made an effort and withdrew in his thoughts for a moment. How would it be, he wondered, to be of Pride and to have none of it?

"It must be difficult," he then conceded. "Punishments are never meant to be easy. Mister Wormsworth tells me the Goat makes for a pitiable sight during his visits. Fallen grandeur and hubris made flesh, as though something in his mind were unable to grasp just how indigent he has become. He still acts as though he were powerful and then breaks down when magic and Hellfire both fail to answer his call.

Wrath's circlets were destroyed, Valefor himself reduced to one of Grimley's clowns, and all that is left of Pride's aristocracy now openly works with us. The Goat is, for all intents and purposes, alone."

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Re: The Zen and Fury in Healing

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With the incursions over, the largest concern for the Robertson household had been to rebuild their hourse and The Last Round and otherwise help with the reestablishment of their community. A major change for Miranda had been the start of doing classes online, rather than in a classroom. With the need for the young fauness to form a rapport with the sword, meeting Shen Long for regular lessons had also been added to her schedule. Aspasia's most recent shift to her Wyldfae state had prompted her to looking into going abroad and touching base with the local Gruff populace. She had spent years traveling to Japan and experiencing life and its many events to connect with her roots, but she knew that the ancestral lands of her genes were the missing puzzle piece to have her fully regain her inheritance. For the time being, though, she still needed to ensure her daughter was well cared for.

Today was one of those days that would have her daughter learn more from the old dragon, and they opted to walk to the dojo. Given the conspicuous nature of the sword Joyful Death, they both figured was better to carried discreetly and away from scheming eyes, currently enveloped in a duffel bag. Shen Long and Richard would hear the doors open, as they light clopping of cloven hooves hit the glossy wood in the entrance. The former commander wore a sleeveless, gray, and button-down shirt and blue jean capris. Given that she was going to be active, Miranda was clad in a light green tank top and gray, cotton shorts.

"Good morning, Shen Long!" greeted the teenager. Her mother settled with a more sedate and polite nodding of her head as they approached him.

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Re: The Zen and Fury in Healing

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"Miss Robertson, Miranda," nodded Shen Long, who turned to face them with his teacup in hand, one hand applying gentle mixing gestures to the macha powder he'd dropped in hot water. He sat down at his small bistro table, looking for all the world like he wasn't about to try and revise Shaolin or Taijiquan techniques with the younger Faun.

"How are your Grecian entreaties faring, Aspasia?" he asked after a sip. The damage to most metropolitan areas is still important, from the latest reports, but I suppose your search would take you to Central Greece," he noted. "Have you managed to cultivate points of contact in Boeotia or Euboea?"

He wasn't about to try and force himself in Aspasia's quasi-literal soul-searching, but he was still like many other dragons in that he'd acquired logistics he could share. "It seems to me as though your forest and plains-faring ancestors would have remained where valleys are plentiful. Greece's heartland feels like a decent spot to launch a few feelers towards. I've heard reports of partial Faun dig sites as far West as Cephalonia, Kythera and the remainder of the Ionian Islands, but this would not have been an easy place to put down roots for your kind," he noted. "Contemporary reports indicate that America's recent Chimera enlistees make the most of the Marine Corps' balance-enhancement augmentation requests."

That wasn't exactly news to Aspasia, either. Fauns were bred for mountain ranges and could adapt best to open plains or urban areas. Her legs' structure and her centre of balance's position would always leave her at a bit of a disadvantage, out on the open sea. Miranda probably had slightly better chances, all things considered, thanks to her father's genetic input.

The dragon then smiled at the girl. "I hope some of the old masters haven't given you too much trouble, lately," he asked, flicking a finger at the duffle bag. "A fair number of them would understand that delayed schoolwork matters more in the immediate, but some others still operate under the assumption that I run a Shaolin school," he said, his shoulders silently shaking.

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Re: The Zen and Fury in Healing

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Aspasia nodded in response to his inquiry. "I've been able to make some headway in reaching out to the courts in Euboea. Thankfully, I have my connections with the Countess, who was able to connect me to the more local reps in Chalcis. The local Gruff baron Alcides seemed ruffled when he heard an American faun was trying to make connections with their ancestral homeland. He's at least able to talk on your standard telephone, so he gave me a chance and spoke with me. Thankfully, he seems open-minded enough to eventually meeting me and allowing me to visit with the more rural and isolated populace of Gruffs."

Miranda chuckled awkwardly. "Most of them are pretty chill with my catching up with my schoolwork, but a handful of them fuss at me, wondering why there's not more focus on philosophy or meditation. I mean, Mom's had me doing some of that, but I also need to do algebra and stuff."

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Re: The Zen and Fury in Healing

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The past six months had not been kind to Marius Vlastos. The loss of magic had hit him in ways he hadn't anticipated, and he had realized how he had relied on magic to amuse and sustain himself. And without amusement or sustenance he found himself falling back into unpleasant spirals of loathing and despair, the racial need to obsess over something overtaking him after months of laying dormant. He had latched onto his company, the tattered remains of his influence and his fortune, and sought to piece it back together.

For a time this was enough. Chasing data trails and rumors of relics across the globe, just like the old days... He justified it to himself by saying he'd donate the more powerful pieces to the city of Hope, so that others could make use of the residual via. It was a believable story anyway, after the rather memorable stand he had made in the ruins of the prison keep in Hell. He figured he could maintain enough self-awareness to see it through, that his willpower would prove stronger than the racial thirsts he was plagued with.

And then he found himself digging a new vault beneath the city, sizing it up for a containment cell, plotting out which contractors could be bribed and which would have to be silenced in other ways. He was regressing, and it had snuck up on him so quietly his "willpower" hadn't even caught on!

The next few days were a haze of dead demons and nasty, hellfire-laced blood, as he took out his rage on the cowering, outlawed remnants of Pride that still lingered here and there. Afterward he sought out Shield, and spoke with Archie, who had suggested going to his uncle Forsythe in Vienna. That wasn't a welcome suggestion, going back to Vienna felt too much like time-out for the old vamp, but what else could he do? So away he went, and the mouse made time to listen to him rant and rave, and in the end he had an appointment with Shen Long of all people. Why Shen Long? he wanted to know. Dragons can fix anything, was how he chose to interpret the replies. He doubted that, but went along anyway.

Because, again, what else could he do? When the alternative was becoming a useless gold-obsessed coward like Victum...

In any event, here he was, on the doorstep for his appointment. He walked in, introduced himself, was led to Long's chambers where a few others had already congregated. Great, people, he thought as he stepped into the room. "Hi," he muttered awkwardly, not quite up to making eye contact with the ones he didn't know. Which was... all of them, really.

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Re: The Zen and Fury in Healing

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The dragon nodded in assent. "Of course. Don't despair, even if this could be reserved to your multiple senseis and sifus. Mathematics have a way of proving their worth in ways that are less obvious than you'd think. Work on those analytical skills, and you just might gain a deeper insight into a bout's required footwork or its optimal distancing."

He smiled at Aspasia. "Speaking of distancing, you're likely to find Alcides a little less amenable than his clan's Pythia. She's likely to be the one you'll be directed to; although it remains to be seen just how effective she might be at discerning the threads of your fate... You're in luck, however; Greece wasn't quite as ruined as North America or the rest of Europe."

Then, Marius arrived. A slight frown appeared on the dragon's features, a small burst of absent-minded Mandarin leaving him as he excused himself for a moment. Marius, Miranda or Aspasia wouldn't have long for any sense of awkwardness to seriously root in, as the dragon quickly returned, hands joined together in placid and generally unbothered supplication.

"It seems we've hit a bit of an interesting snag in the works, my friends," he said. "My secretary's office suite has failing arcane protections thanks to the city's paltry Eldritch state, and it seems bugs have entered my timetable..."

The way he smiled, he seemed to consider it as more of an object of enjoyable interest than as an annoyance. "While we can always reschedule, it seems to me like all those present - and those who have yet to arrive - could learn from one another. I'll always gladly offer what I have to teach, of course, but it would be a waste to disregard eons of experience or the wisdom of youth."

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Re: The Zen and Fury in Healing

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Aspasia was ever so slightly skeptical at the convenience of his secretary's software having issues because of via fluctuations. Still, she understood the validity of his alternative suggestion, and she mused that there might be some unknown kernel of knowledge she could glean from the curmudgeon vampire and whoever else was supposed to arrive. Stranger things had happened in her life, after all. She nodded. "We'll stay, Shen Long. Perhaps we will find some useful lessons while we are here."

Her daughter also seemed skeptical about the scheduling snag, but it was for an entirely different reason. What could the vampire teach them? She could smell his awkwardness and reluctance to be around people, hoping he would at least relax a bit. They weren't going to harass him or make fun of him. Had his immortality limited his contact with others and caused his hesitance around their presence? She didn't say anything and opted to let someone steer the conversation for the moment.

The former commander seemed to be the one to do so. She nodded her head politely at him and said, "Good morning, Mr. Vlastos. I don't know if you remember me, but I was there with you, Meris, and Wormsworth during the siege of the fortress. You can call me Aspasia."

The younger fauness waved. "Hi, I'm Miranda."

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Re: The Zen and Fury in Healing

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"Aspasia, Miranda," Marius replied politely, giving them both a nod. "I remember seeing you there, ma'am, but we didn't interact much. I'm Marius, Marius Vlastos." That last was mostly for Miranda's benefit, obviously.

After that he ran out of steam and stood where he was, staring into the middle distance, trying to ignore the gnawing voices in his head insisting this was a waste of time, he had to get back out there and secure his wealth, his power, keep it secret and safe... Demanding he go back to the vault, check on the new artifacts one more time, just one more time, everything he had was tied up down there...

He was literally halfway back out the door before catching himself again. "Dammit," he muttered, forcing himself with apparent reluctance to turn back and re-enter the room. "Sorry, I..." He scratched at the back of his neck, desperately wishing this was unnecessary.

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Re: The Zen and Fury in Healing

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Shen Long kept his hands steepled together and slowly approached Marius. "Please, don't apologize," he said. "You are Ordo Dracul; you cannot help those urges of yours. As with many things in life, however, what matters is this..."

He placed a hand on Marius' shoulder. "You are not your urges, Marius. They do not define you. Some of your kind are lucky enough to seek mere order, some measure of peace - and others such as yourself are torn apart by this world's injustices. The burden of power weighs more heavily on you than anyone else in this room - that much I do know."

A smile slowly crept into place. "You are here to learn how to temporarily free yourself of this burden. You will never be fully rid of it, but you may still be given the tools others of the Dragon's Blood have learned to use. The first of these tools is universal, and something which Miranda here had to master, to avoid injury during our sessions together. That tool is breath, Marius."

Shen Long slowly raised a hand, palm up, and inhaled through his nostrils. His hand then came down, and so did he exhale through his mouth - just as slowly.

"Come sit with us," the dragon then offered. "Try and remain present, if you can. No-one here is asking for perfection, only that you try and devote your attention to today's lessons. Keep your breaths steady, and you should feel your inner tensions drop. Miranda and Aspasia undoubtedly can smell your stress, but they should also detect any lowered cortisol levels in your bloodstream, once relaxation takes hold."

He sat back down. "All vampires of living blood so often forget to breathe in situations of tension or stress, so subsumed as they are by their own immortality. I may not be Lilith, but I believe those of the Dragon have been left alive in order to better cherish the makings of life itself. You may be immortal, Marius, but one is never truly alive if they do not savor the moment. Constant presence requires years of practice, but it all starts with this."

Shen then nodded at Miranda and Aspasia. "All warrior monks and soldiers know of breath's importance. It clears the mind and infers a sense of flow to one's actions. Follow the breath, modulate your weight distribution and movements in accordance with it, and all physical and tactical prowess can be unleashed safely."

To demonstrate his claim and to keep Miranda engaged, the dragon then took position, arms raised in front of himself, and performed a few preparatory half-squats, before stretching his right leg along the ground and folding his left one uncomfortably close to his chest - or at least, uncomfortably so for anyone who wouldn't have participated in the fitness doctrines of certain martial schools such as Shaolin. His was a classic Pu Bu stance; pain-inducing for your average martial artist, but still something that could be safely assumed with some training - and some steadying breaths to keep ignoring protesting tendons and ligaments. Marius wouldn't need much to sense that the old sifu was shouldering old sores, but he did so with more aplomb than many other Ordo Dracul or Carmilla he would've seen training, before.

"Start your warm-up stretches, Miranda, remember to work on your joints. Fauns traditionally never enjoyed having their legs laid out flat, but it should help with your repretoire of kicks."

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Re: The Zen and Fury in Healing

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Miranda proceeded with her stretches. Given the particular configuration of her legs, she raised a leg at a time and rotated them inward and then outward. Similar warm-ups were done for her knees and ankles. She then sat down on the dojo mat and awkward arranged her legs, with one stretched out and the other brought closer to her lap. She leaned forward and reached as far as she could. She glanced up to see her mother doing similar exercises. "Ah, you're doing them, too?" she asked.

Aspasia briefly shrugged as she stretched her right leg.. "I might as well; it beats standing around like a bump on a log," she answered with a light chuckle.

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