Theme: into the mist by autoisolation
FormName: Kiyo // Alix Matsuno
FC: Sayo Yoshida
Age: Doesn’t remember. Isn’t bothered.
Current place of residence: Shiiba, Miyazaki
Motivation: Believes humans are ruining the planet, but believes that the ageless are powerful enough to run everything from the shadows
Interests: Nastya, Cedric, Jackson (for now...?)
Is this your first Synod?: Yes
RelationshipsDiana: Kiyo’s first - friend? Memory? A bit of column A, a bit of column B. Kiyo remembers her as being her first clearest memory when she came into form, and that she met the woman in a wilderness, somewhere cold, distant, windswept and fierce. She travelled with her briefly before going their separate ways, but they have kept in touch. Kiyo admires her independence, her fearlessness, though wishes she were a touch less reckless. Nevertheless, Kiyo respects and loves her a great deal.
Jackson: The two crossed paths a long, long time ago, when Kiyo was still searching out for the best place to observe, the best place to hide. Mistrusted him at first, as it was easy to tell from the start what transformation he was, what black magic he’d been put through - and in the underworld, such creatures are powerful, feared, dreaded. Instinct taught her to keep a wide berth; but the centuries showed her the skinwalker was more than just a malevolent force. She makes it a point to seek him out if she knows he’s in the area - or if she’s anywhere near his.
Morgan: Acquaintance through Nastya. Kiyo likes the woman - being? - well enough, and finds her insights and discussions enlightening. However, Kiyo doesn’t feel she knows the woman well enough to count her as a friend, and she isn’t the type to have heart-to-hearts.
Nastya: One of her closer confidantes, having met her while Kiyo was wandering the Russian-Mongolian border. Kiyo appreciates her sense of humour, her open-minded nature, and that whenever they meet each other, Kiyo gets a good deal of news through her. She sometimes flirts with her, but is content to keep up a friendly-flirtatious relationship without it going any further.
True Form // Arrival // Dinner
o. nantonakuKiyo woke to the rumbling of the bus, and the pitter-patter of the rain falling outside the window. There were few other passengers with her - mostly day-trippers and tourists, with nary a recognisable face. On some days, the children and grand children would come visit their relatives still here, but - not today. Not today.
A glance out of the window revealed nothing but trees, steep cliffsides, and more greenery, but - she knew. She could feel it, the shift in the wind, how the air smelt a little different. How the energy thrummed in the village, and told her she would be home soon. Perhaps one of the benefits of being so closely attuned with the underworld.
Another thirty minutes, and the bus came to a shuddering halt. Kiyo thanked the driver, picked up her suitcase from the undercarriage of the bus along with a duffel bag, and watched as the bus sped off. It’d be another three hours or so before the next bus came, but she had no more use for it.
She wandered down the wooded path, and smiled as a orange tabby wandered out from the shop. The matronly shopkeep followed shortly, and her face lit up at the sight of Kiyo.
“Welcome back, Alix-san!” the woman greeted, her Japanese warm, lilting. “Did you have a good time at Hyuga?”
The tabby rubbed itself against Kiyo’s feet, tailing swishing from side to side. She couldn’t resist: she set down her duffel bag on top of the suitcase, and bent down to scritch the cat’s ears. That earned her a purr, and another sinuous, affectionate rub against her shins.
“Good afternoon, Haruno-san,.” With a smile, Kiyo gestured to the suitcase behind her. “Ah, it was to purchase some things, but it was busy, as always. It’s always good to be home. Before I forget though -”
Kiyo stood back up, but the tabby leapt into her arms, snuggling into her chest. Kiyo sighed.
“Fuku-chan, I have something for Haruno-san and you, so could you let me set you down first?”
She received a rumbling purr for her trouble, and she sighed. Shifting the tabby so it would drape around her shoulders, she reached into the bag and passed a small, gift-wrapped satchel to the woman.
“I remembered you mentioned this last time, so I took the liberty of purchasing it.”
Haruno-san, of course, was delighted, and there was a small hiatus of “Oh you shouldn’t have”s, and “Oh I couldn’t possibly forget”. But Kiyo did not mind: the woman had taken her on like a daughter of her own, and Kiyo would repay it in kind. Treat unto others as she was treated - regardless of who it was, what they were. Give, as much as she received - and take as much as was due.
Sometimes, Kiyo wondered if she was Enenra or fae. The whispers from the Synod, the news she received from the occasional visitor, had opened her eyes to that much.
She left the grocery shop, Haruno-san, and Fuku-chan behind, and made her way down the lush path disappearing into the mountains. Even in January’s wintry grip, the village was beautiful - perhaps more so, its swirling mists amongst the stone pathways, the grey clouds above, the smoke piping above the many chimneys and stoves.
Yes, they had indoor heating - but for the villagers of Shiiba, nothing beat a fireplace or a wood-fired burner. Kiyo was inclined to agree, but most would accuse her of being - ah, biased.
She ambled along the path, suitcase and duffel bag trundling along, until she tired of the play-acting and sure she was the only one there. Then, it was a matter of closing her eyes, focusing -
Another reason why Kiyo enjoyed Shiiba was because of the myriad shadows that shivered and shifted underneath the trees’ boughs. It meant a much faster, shorter walk back home. Of course, it also sacrificed the vibrant, beautiful colours the real world had, but she had no intention of lugging a suitcase around more than she needed.
A few more minutes, and she re-appeared back in front of the gate of her house. Locking it was, as with so many things, a pretense: even if there were any aspiring burglars or home invaders, her home was appropriately protected. Still, she had chosen to blend in, and this was one of the many things she needed to bear in mind.
A sweep of her hand, and a corner of the house became unshadowed. She fit her key through the door, watched a ward light up, then stepped through, dragging suitcase and duffel bag behind her.
Another flick of her hand, and the door shut, followed by the tell-tale noise of a lock sliding back into place. Another spidery pattern of glyphs spread across the door, then dimmed, vanished. Satisfied her home was appropriate defended, Kiyo took stock of her home. Motes of dust hung in the dimming light, and for most, the house would be freezing. Not for her. She shrugged, taking off her boots in the genkan, changing into her slippers, then hefted her suitcase to a nearby shelf. Supernatural or no, she did not need to track dirt into her home.
She could, of course, turn on the lights, but there was something more essential that she needed to do. Leaving the suitcase to one side, she headed towards the irori set in the floor, stopping to pick up kindling and charcoal along the way. A strike with her tinderbox, a little encouragement, and Kiyo had a hearth and flame flickering in her home, the smoke warming, comforting.
Anyone watching Kiyo step through the fireplace and the burning flames would have dropped their teacup in shock. Fortunate, then, that she was the only one in the house. Still clad in winter clothes, she opened another set of doors, this time to her fenced garden, evergreen plants and woods just beyond. The little bubbling brook just beyond was completely frozen over, Kiyo’s garden barren save for the sparse rows of daikon, hakusai, and strawberries, but - spring would be here. And she would have ash later.
As she went about lighting and warming her house, checking for shadows and crannies, something caught her eye. Her mailbox, its flag popped up. Inside was a missive, and she knew where the letter was from the moment she saw the first few sentences. The invitation’s intent was clear, unmistakable. She raised an eyebrow: the Synod, as was their wont, but the issue they posed…
Kiyo decided against using her modern kitchen the next room over, and instead contemplated the question over a bubbling cast iron pot. The bubbling smell of dashi, meats, and vegetables served as a counterpoint to her thoughts, to her own otherness as a creature, an immortal - even to the others. Still, even if she didn’t require food per se, there was nothing more soothing than a hot nabe. Or perhaps watching the smoke curl, reminding her if she so wished, she could float above, join the wisps above.
At the corner of the irori, her tea kettle was whistling, steam screeching through its spout. If Kiyo had guests, she would have used a thick pot holder, picked up its red-hot handle, made her tea. But here, in the emptiness of her home, she reached over and picked up the pot, the burning heat comforting, soothing. On a human body, it would’ve been a conservative third degree burn. But for Kiyo…
She must have been human once. All souls from the underworld had a sliver of humanity in them, a regret left behind, clinging to life. Kiyo did not know which sliver of regret she was born from, only that she grew stronger, more substantial, until one day, she stood in the underworld’s stillness and thought: I am nearly whole.
The flames grew higher, then turned to embers, to ash. Kiyo sat sipping tea, thinking, the invitation suspended in mid-air as she read and re-read it. Humanity. Always about humanity, their uneasy, suspicious neighbours. So rational. So superstitious. She remembered the first time she’d set foot, and how they tried to chase her out with flimsy paper, smoke, and herbs thrown her general direction. How once they’d tried to set her on fire. That was a memory and a half that she’d laughed herself sick over.
For her preferred seclusion, she needed to keep abreast of these developments, especially those that concerned her. Perhaps enough for her to join the Synod for the first time. She wondered who’d be there: which friends, which familiar faces, which she wanted to avoid. Twisting the smoke plumes around her, she picked up the discarded missive once again, contemplating it through a mouthful of bamboo shoot. She would go - of course she would. If only to see what would be decided - and if there would be any foolhardy enough to shout their immortality from the rooftops.
i. wasuremonoThe biggest inconvenience was that the Synod had not implemented any form of fast travelling for their gatherings. This meant the longer, more tedious form of reaching Belgium: by plane, then by train, then finally, by car arranged by the gathering.
Kiyo got on her train at London. Eurostar would take her at most two hours, and from there, she could make her way to wherever she needed to be. The invitation said she’d be met by a chauffeur, who would take her to where she needed to be. Where “needed to be” was very much up in the air: hazards of this being her first Synod. Still, there would be indications - magic. Wards, much like those she had back at her home. That Kiyo could recognise.
St. Pancras International was much like Kiyo remembered: bustling with people, flowers, and a few shuttered stores proclaiming they would be re-opened or renovated soon. Above, sunlight shone down through oversized glassy panes, families and business travellers weaving their way through counters and cordoned areas. Kiyo kept her passport close to hand, answered to Alix Matsuno with a smile, and slipped past immigration towards the Business Premier lounge.
Yes, Kiyo liked a tiny bit of luxury and a little cocktail before boarding. She was eternal, and eternity meant good investments money-wise. If she wanted to splurge… who’d mind? She certainly didn’t.
The lower floors were, as always, crowded with travellers and exhausted office workers. She took the stairs to the quieter upper floors, settling in with a hot chocolate and an armchair. Fairly sure she was out of sight, she let a tendril of smoke wind around a paperback she’d brought and float it to her eyeline. There was still time. There was still plenty of time.
She knew who was coming to the Synod, and there were enough familiar faces that she was comforted. At least she wouldn’t be alone to face whatever this gathering was, to answer the issue placed before them. Still, a niggling question stayed with her: what had prompted this question? Last she’d heard from Nastya, the last Synod had been… hm, the Second World War. She remembered those times, where she’d sequestered herself in the isolation of Norway. Even then, she heard of the atrocities - and in truth, humanity seemed content to tear each other apart, blame anyone but themselves for their harm, their suffering.
There were exceptions, of course, the good, the kind, those who saw the poor souls trampled underfoot. But that was all they were: the exceptions. And even those had skeletons in their closet.
“Pot kettle black,” she murmured, eyes scanning over the printed lines in her book. She had her own skeletons to hide - but at least she could half-claim she hadn’t sought out people to kill. That dubious honour she could leave to the myriad souls drifting in the underworld, waiting their turn.
The hot chocolate had cooled by the time the boarding announcement rang out, but she’d finished it nonetheless. It warmed her belly, soothed her hands, and did absolutely nothing for her energy levels or her sustenance. Still, she relished the sensation, and it stayed with her as she boarded her train to Brussels.
From there, there wasn’t much to note, only her own thoughts and her novel to occupy her. She was looking forward to it, of course - her first Synod, with all its implications and the people she’d meet. She’d heard stories, of course, from her friends, the occasional visitor who came by her remote part of Miyazaki. Politics. Intrigue. Plotting. Deals to be done. And in at least one case she knew of, broken agreements. With luck, that would be one issue she wouldn’t have to look in the eye.
The train around her darkened as it went through the underwater tunnel. Kiyo counted the minutes, examined the printing quality on her paperback: soon she’d be in Paris, then in Brussels, where a pick-up had been arranged. The contact number she kept folded in her shirt sleeve, along with a paper charm - for protection, just in case. But she sensed no other beings on the train, only the humans around her: their nerves, the light burning in their hearts. Some of the more dreamy, distracted humans would call it aura or vibes. It was an adorable name, though if Kiyo started blathering on about sensing bad juju, she might get herself laughed out of the Synod.
Brussels came faster than she had expected, but everything else was how it had been: a crush of busy people, noise and shouting and someone trying to collide with her. Kiyo let herself go intangible, the woman stumbling through her and onto the ground, and merged back into the crowd, belongings safely on her. The invitation said a chauffeur would await her in the Arrivals area - so to the Arrivals she’d go.
Emerging from the crush of humans, Kiyo felt the energy before she actually saw it: a well-dressed young man, a mildly vacant expression on his face holding a placard proclaiming “Alix Matsuno”.
“Good afternoon,” she greeted, drawing on her very limited Dutch conversational skills. “You must be Arthur?”
Identities confirmed, Kiyo declined his offer to carry her rolling suitcase with a smile, and followed him to a smart-looking Benz waiting in the carpark. There was another man inside, bearded and stern-looking who Arthur introduced as her chauffeur. Her suitcase was packed away, pleasantries exchanged, and the car pulled out from the lot.
“It will be a while, madam, so you may wish to rest.”
“How long?” Kiyo enquired, not looking up from her search for her smartphone.
“Four hours, if traffic is good.”
“I see. Let’s hope it is then.”
This could be so much faster if she’d been allowed to shapeshift, turn into smoke, but she hadn’t a clue where the Synod would be held. Instead, she contented herself with a podcast - something about a corpse in a freezing valley being discovered - and watched the scenery roll by. Her driver was disinclined to converse, his eyes on the road, and that suited Kiyo fine. How long had it been since she was last in Belgium? Perhaps a trip was in order, in between whatever the Synod had planned for the day. Apparently, the Royal Greenhouses had completed their restoration, and Kiyo contemplated if it’d be worth seeing how much had been kept, how much had been stripped away.
Eventually, the car arrived in a small village, pulling into narrow, forested roads that Kiyo was so familiar with. It stopped just outside a wooded trail, a discreet marker pointing further into the woods.
“We are here, madame.”
Kiyo refocused from the forensic expert’s voice in her ear, and saw the driver looking at her through the rearview window.
“Excellent. Thank you.”
“Do you need assistance? The trail is quite far, and your suitcase…”
“I will manage.” Kiyo gave him a slight smile, her head tilted to one side. “Thank you for your concern.”
The suitcase was duly retrieved from the car’s trunk compartment, and Kiyo waved her driver off cheerfully. She waited for him to go out of sight, then stepped onto the trail, branches crunching underfoot. Ahead was a ruin - old, beautiful, Kiyo thought, weathered stone and ivy creeping around it, reclaiming the man-made structure for itself. But as she walked through two stone pedestals, the air around her shimmered - and it fell away to reveal a pair of carved stone doors, the whole structure intact, magically charged.
For the briefest moment, Kiyo wondered if she would need to identify herself, perhaps hold the invitation to the archway. As she did so, the doors swung open, and Diana’s face appeared, first scrutinising her, then breaking into a smile. Kiyo could feel the weight off her shoulders, and gave her friend the most genuine smile she’d mustered since she left Shiiba.
“Good afternoon, Diana-san,” she greeted, mocking a bow. “Am I late?”
Diana laughed, bright, unbridled. “Early, as you usually are. None of your Pantheon are here yet.”
“Excellent. I can browse all the rooms, and settle in the one with the nicest view.” Kiyo’s smile grew a little wider. “Or know people, see what mischief I can get up to.”
“Of course.” Diana let Kiyo through the threshold, before slinging one arm around Kiyo’s shoulders for a side-hug. Kiyo let her, her smile never fading, savouring the warmth and familiarity. “You look well.”
“Well enough, I was in Hyuga last month. When did I last see you?”
Diana hummed, letting go of Kiyo and walking with her into the complex. Kiyo fought every urge to look up, to admire the carvings, the mosaics etched into the wall. Even with something as simple as walking through the corridors, Kiyo could feel the prickle of magic on her skin, the myriad energies thrumming beneath her feet. But Diana was here, and she could explore, get into a little trouble… later.
ii. saikaiKiyo emerged from her assigned room to relative silence in the Spirits’ assigned pantheon, the hallways outside mostly deserted. It was a gorgeous spot of land, truly - but Kiyo wouldn’t have expected any less. This was Nastya they were speaking of, after all, and this property belonged to her. Just as well, because at least the woman would not look askance at her for bringing a customary gift. Now, if she could find enough time and locate the woman - before anyone else, preferably - that would be all the better.
She wandered through the property, noting the masonry, the decor, the leaves and greenery peeking through windows. There was even a courtyard, for crying out loud - one with beautiful tall trees, branches strong enough to serve as lumber or a convenient perch to while the day away.
In the end, Kiyo really shouldn’t have been surprised to catch sight of Nastya in a gazebo, contemplating the view beyond. She was sat a small ironwork table, a porcelain cup placed in front of her, wrapped up in a kimono-like garment patterned with flowers and gold. Kiyo admired the view for a few moments, before she shook herself out of it and made her presence known.
“I hope I’m not interrupting?” she asked, stopping at the archway. Nastya raised her head at her words, and Kiyo could pinpoint the exact moment her practised indifference gave way to recognition, then to warmth.
“Apparently! Diana said I was one of the earliest.” She crossed the threshold, indicating the cloth-wrapped present by her side. “I’m glad you’re the one hosting, actually, because it spares me having to explain this.”
“Very few bring a present to a Synod,” Nastya remarked mildly, as she gestured to the bench opposite. Kiyo settled into the indicated seat, relaxing into the chair - then winced when she realised she was sitting on very solid stone, and not a single cushion in sight. She sat back up more primly, in time to catch Nastya looking at her with one eyebrow raised. “Am I expected to refuse the present before accepting it?”
“Please don’t, I have enough of that in my day-to-day.” Kiyo smiled, and pushed the present across the table. “That said, I do want to leave a good impression for my first Synod.”
“You know impressions last very briefly.” Nastya took a sip from her drink, reaching for the package. “But that’s another discussion for later - I’m more eager to see what you’ve brought.”
“The customary.” Kiyo shifted in her seat, fighting the urge to relax, to revert to her spirit form. She would’ve in the comfort of her own home, but this was Nastya’s place, where other supernatural beings across the world gathered. Perhaps when she was in someplace more private. “If I’d known you were hosting I’d have gotten something more…” She searched for the word, weighed it on her tongue. “Personal.”
Nastya’s lips curved into a smile. “And what did you have in mind?”
“Mm.” Kiyo conjured a small thread of smoke and mimed rolling it between her fingers. The mist twisted and spun, grey trailing into the thin quiet. There wasn’t much meaning to it, only to buy Kiyo a little time to find a response. “Brocade. Maybe one of those wood sculptures, small enough to fit on your bookshelves.” She crinkled her nose. “Or I should just arrive and announce myself as the present.”
“Would you be wrapped up in ribbon then?”
“Maybe. If asked?”
The woman didn’t laugh, but Kiyo saw her hide a smile behind her drink. She counted it as a small victory. A moment passed, and Kiyo let the conversation thread slip, content not to push it too far.
“That said, I did ask a few old acquaintances to pull a few strings for this, so it won’t be too shabby.” She inclined her head towards Nastya’s porcelain cup. “A good accompaniment to… whatever you’re drinking, honestly. Are you looking forward to this gathering?”
The warmth left Nastya’s smile, replaced by something cooler, steelier. She tapped a slender finger against the saucer, the other hand braced against her elbow. It was a while before she spoke again, and Kiyo did not rush her.
“I will count it a victory if we can reach even one small consensus during the Synod,” she said finally, her finger stilling. “But these gatherings are not called lightly.”
“The last one you told me about was a little over seventy years ago. I should hope it isn’t for something frivolous.” Kiyo waved one hand in the air, the smoke thread dissipating with the motion. “Didn’t think anyone would remember a recluse in the edge of Japan either.”
“It is a weighty decision. And it would be a good idea to summon as many as they can to answer this question.”
Nastya shrugged. “The proposer for this Synod.”
Kiyo frowned, then focused for a moment. Her invitation appeared in a puff of smoke. “But you’re the one hosting the Synod.”
“I’m presiding over it, Kiyo. Mostly to make sure the Synod goes according to agenda, to keep the peace, ensure no one comes to blows. Thus I’m glad you accepted the invitation.”
“Because I know how to behave myself?”
“And because I can count on you to be at least somewhat level-headed in the proceedings.” Nastya sighed, her hands curling around the still-steaming cup. “This will be an eclectic crowd, and enough outspoken voices that tensions may spill over.”
The two lapsed into silence, Nastya sipping at her cup of tea, and Kiyo comfortable enough to let the quiet stay. It was the silence that came with a centuries-old friendship, knowing that empty chatter was unneeded - unnecessary. Eventually, Nastya looked up at her, her gaze sharper than the gentle conversation they’d shared moments ago.
“Have you given it some thought?”
Anyone else, and Kiyo might have laughed lightly, told them she thought about a lot of things all the time. She would not insult her companion.
“Humanity seems to be doing an excellent job killing themselves. We only really need to look at how deep their divisions run.” She conjured another figure from the smoke - this time a little diorama, little smoke soldiers rushing across the table, engaging each other in combat. “I wish they didn’t try to take the planet with them in the process.”
“So you too think they are driving the planet to ruin.”
“I wouldn’t call it a thought. Science has chased away most of their fears - what can’t be explained can eventually be deciphered through science.” Kiyo crinkled her nose, the smoke diorama shifting again into a little unicorn galloping around the perimeter of the table. “If there’s no proof, then it was a perversion through oral history, or will be found soon. I don’t mind progress, but I mind the way they’re doing it.”
“Hm.” Nastya leant back, fingers steepled, and Kiyo met her gaze evenly. Compared to Nastya, Kiyo’s scant centuries of living must seem like a toddler’s. Her experiences certainly were: Nastya had her stories twisted, changed, transformed from the easy, effortless beauty before her into some sort of haggard crone. The worst Kiyo ever had been associated was with death, and even that was half-right.
After all, no matter where she was, she could always smell the tell-tale smoke and sulphur just trailing behind.
“You think we should intervene then.”
A statement, but there was no judgment on Nastya’s face, just curiosity.
“I think re-instilling a little superstition would go a long way.” Kiyo smiled, bright and gentle. “I’m not fool enough to declare for open intervention - the Divines might be fine, I certainly won’t be.” She patted her own arm - solid, human, smoking faintly. “I’m quite fond of this body and I’d really rather not reincarnate.”
“What of you though? You sound like you have some idea.”
“You know as well as I do that there’s no one way forward.” Nastya was still relaxed in her seat, but her voice was all business. “I’m curious to see what everyone will bring, and I’ll see the Synod through.”
“You’re not telling me what you think then?”
“If we settle in over a bottle of wine, maybe we’ll have enough time to go through the basics.”
Kiyo did laugh then, the tension lifting. “Fine, I’ll wait with bated breath to see how this turns out. Enough with the Synod talk though - what else have you been up to?”
iii. boketoHaving parted ways with Nastya, Kiyo explored the property a little more. There were new arrivals, of course, but there hadn’t been anyone she was familiar with - nor anyone kind enough to introduce her. So she slipped away, bringing along one of her books, borrowed a light, and levitated all the way up to one of the tree boughs she’d seen on the property. The bough was sturdy enough for her to sit and perch on; the positioning high enough she could just make out the skyline, and the distant lights winking away.
If she asked nicely enough, maybe Diana or Nastya could put her in touch with someone who could grow trees in a blink of an eye? That’d be a thought.
She passed a comfortable afternoon there, the quiet interrupted by the rustle of leaves or the sound of a page turning. Whatever ward this place had, it was enough to keep the wind mild and the temperature soothing. Well, soothing in her thick coat and scarf wrapped around her neck. If she could, she’d set up a small fire, but starting a bushfire in the middle of January would put a damper on the Synod’s mood.
Kiyo was halfway through the author’s autobiographical recollection when she felt the pinpricks of familiar energy on her periphery. This was accompanied by footsteps, and two voices that she could just about hear from her vantage point. Curiosity piqued, she peered over the edge of her seat, and caught sight of two men striding through the canopy. She put the dark-haired figure with the energy together, and registered him as Jackson. The other man - his voice was inaudible, but his energy this close almost overrode the inherent malevolence Jackson’s own aura radiated. They seemed to be quietly speaking to each other, unaware of Kiyo’s accidental eavesdropping.
That wasn’t courteous, but there was no way she could get either’s attention without either dropping her light, or her book - neither a good option. So she swung her legs over the branch, and called down:
“You didn’t tell me you were coming too, Jackson.”
Jackson started, eyes, following her voice. The other man looked up too, and Kiyo was startled by the grey-white of his hair - and how his gaze went cold, harsh at her interruption. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. So she adjusted her seating, and waved down at Jackson, who visibly relaxed at spotting her.
“The hell you doing up there?”
“Reading! It’s an excellent spot to gather your thoughts, read, not be disturbed.”
Kiyo slid off the side of the branch, and in that instant, her form went from human to smoke, drifting lazily towards the ground on white-grey plumes. She re-materialised once her feet touched ground, still half-translucent and hazy.
“I shan’t interrupt though, it looked important.”
The stranger was scrutinising her, and no matter how long Kiyo lived, no matter how many times she came face to face with divinity, she could never truly suppress her unease. The best she could do was to hide it, and was grateful her body torso-down was still incorporeal, smoking.
She was also having a minor flashback to the first time she came face-to-face with Diana, somewhere out in the Mongolian wilderness. Except Diana had greeted her with a drawn bow, before relaxing and laughing when she saw the fledgling enenra - this stranger simply let his presence speak for him.
The man finally broke the silence. He nodded to Jackson. “It’s good to see you. If you’ll excuse me.”
With that, he turned heel and left, the two of them watching them go. Kiyo let out a breath she hadn’t realised she was holding, and finally, finally returned to being fully human, the white smoke dissipating.
“He seems friendly,” she observed, giving Jackson a sidelong glance. The skinwalker smiled wryly.
“Cedric’s much nicer than he appears. But he has his own way of dealing with things.”
“Mm.” She watched Cedric’s retreating back a moment longer, then turned to Jackson with a small smile. “I’m beginning to enjoy this Synod a little more - at least I’m not in a raft of strangers.”
“Simon and I arrived together, but it is good to see you.” He looked up to where Kiyo had been sitting, then at the lamp and the book in her hand. “Doesn’t explain why you decided to read all the way up there.”
She shrugged. “It’s quiet, it’s convenient, and away from any new arrivals. You know I’m not used to being around so many people.”
“That makes two of us.” Jackson’s smile turned sardonic. “Care to walk with me?”
“The property has a quiet trail around it.” She inclined her head towards the gate. “And given the strength of Nastya’s magics, I doubt we’ll run into any humans.”
The man listened to her words, then nodded. “Good. We have much to catch up on.”
“On your side, or on mine?” Kiyo’s voice retained a teasing lilt, falling into step next to him easily. “Because if you want my updates, I’m afraid I’ve been quite boring.”
“No mountain shrines this time?”
“Do vegetable gardens count? Because I’ve had an excellent harvest of strawberries the past spring, and if I wasn’t worried about it spoiling I’d have sent you some.”
“I appreciate that thought. You could bring me a few pots next time.” The two of them left the threshold of the garden, towards a winding trail into the forest. This deep into the ruin, she was quite certain there’d be no interlopers - and it’d be quiet enough not to tempt him. Kiyo had seen the man fight, claw against everything that his nature had become. She’d never doubt the strength of his will, but she could feel how hard it was, each time when the magic and the curse threatened to overwhelm him.
If there was one thing Kiyo could do to lessen that burden, she’d do it gladly.
“If I do, I expect a strawberry field in your grounds next time I drop by.” She nudged him, to indicate she wasn’t at all serious. “I plan to travel again after the Synod, leave Shiiba-san for a few months. They say the Yellowstone Park is more active than ever, and I’m keen to see if I can’t catch a glimpse of home.”
“You know where to find me then, if you’re in the area.”
“Still Roanoke? I’m glad there’s not been trouble.”
His smile thinned. “Not much. But the area’s reputation means most keep a wide berth, save for a few…” He trailed off, shrugging. “You know the sort.”
“Dares, vandals, people trying to make documentaries?” She laughed, but the sound was more brittle. “There’s a reason why I moved into Shiiba, and it wasn’t just for the scenery.”
“All the more reason to remain hidden. Imagine if humanity realised their legends and magics were real.”
“You think we should?” Despite herself, Kiyo was curious. She’d not broached the topic with Jackson yet, and didn’t see the need to - not yet, at any rate. But if the man was offering…
“I’d prefer it if we didn’t contend with open season.” He paused, just as they rounded another stone cairn. It led to two stone paths: one further one, and another indicated the way back to Nastya’s property, and Kiyo didn’t miss the way he stepped around it, following the way back to the house. She followed suit - she could always explore later, and she was here to catch up with a friend. “But I’d rather live on this planet and help what people we can, and do what we’re led to do.”
Unsurprising, Kiyo thought, as they made their way back to the property, chatting amicably under a setting sun and an increasingly rapid chill. After all, Jackson still kept his old traditions, still kept charms under his coat and around his wrists like he was part of a tribe. If anything, she was glad at least one friend of hers shared her own opinion.
iv. atarashiThe dinner was a quiet, low-key affair - as low-key as one could get with the variety of foods on display. No, not just normal, human foods like roast chicken, salads, or even venison. No - there were a variety of odd-smelling concoctions and herb poultices and other… things on display Kiyo had not encountered before. Only thing that hadn’t been served, apparently, was live human. So in theory, there was human meat somewhere. Probably not labelled.
Then again, morality, humanity - for some, it was out of pleasure. For others, it was for survival. That thought in mind, Kiyo picked up what was definitely a potted crab and avocado tartare, and went off in search of a quiet corner to sit and watch the gathering.
It was the first time Kiyo had seen so many of their kind in one place, from the divine to the demons the spirits to the humans and everything in between. It was interesting, the push and pull of energies and souls swirling around her, how it felt on her skin. Distantly, she wondered if she’d focused, would she end up feeling more? Or would it be a complete sensory overload?
Best not to test it here, not with so many strangers around. Kiyo’s eyes tracked each person, nibbling at her pot and scooping the tartare out with melba toast. Some she knew by sight, like Morgan or Simon, both who knew her own friends; others by reputation, although it did leave Kiyo a little on the edge.
After all, she remembered what Diana told her about Lael, how their relationship fell apart and his obsession with mysteries, scrolls. That would be someone she’d keep a wide berth from.
Of course, there were other arrivals, Aylin being one of them. It was good to see her dragon friend again, and time had not dulled her altruistic, gentle patience. Another person she’d not expected to see, but that saved Kiyo having to trek out all the way to Korea to find her friend. Even if Japan was a short airplane flight away from the peninsula. They’d caught up, swapped intel - or information, depending on how one looked at the discussion - and now she was off to speak with some others. So here Kiyo was, alone and people-watching.
She’d finished her crab and was contemplating her freshly ordered hot buttered rum when she felt someone stand over her. She looked up, and saw the man Jackson called Cedric standing over her, drink in one hand, silver hair in a half-up, half-down bun. In the dim light, his eyes were golden, and Kiyo was startled by how bright they were.
“I don’t believe we’ve been introduced,” Cedric rumbled, his voice audible over the hubbub. “Or that I’ve seen you at a Synod before.”
“No.” Kiyo stood up, standing up with her glass mug in her hand, careful not to spill the drink or get whipped cream anywhere. Up close, Kiyo could feel the power radiating off him, the same kind Diana had the first time she met her in the icy tundra. Except where Kiyo had had time to acclimatise herself to her presence, his hit with the force of a tsunami against her. A divine then - and so she’d have to adjust her attitude accordingly.
“This one’s called Kiyo,” she said finally, her voice even, polite. “A pleasure. And you are…”
“Cedric.” He extended a hand, and Kiyo swapped her mug to her other hand before shaking his. His grip was firm, strong, and Kiyo saw wooden beads wrapped around his wrist. Interesting.
“You sound like you’re a fixture in these events.” She nursed her drink, the warmth grounding her, steadying her. “Aylin mentioned you’d been to a few of these.”
“Hm. So you’re acquainted with her.” Cedric sat down on the lounge, and Kiyo followed suit, maintaining a careful, respectful distance a few feet away. After all, divinity and demons and everything in between were… unpredictable. The man seemed to be thinking over something, until she saw a flicker of recognition. “You’re the enenra she mentioned.”
“She’s mentioned me? I’m flattered.” She pressed one hand over her chest, her smile widening. “Though I think I’d be more offended if she didn’t, she’s got tea leaves I sent over to her and I did spend several seasons understanding how to grow them.”
“I did not take you to be a farmer.” The man was relaxed in his seat, full attention on her.
“I live in a fairly remote farming community, it comes with the territory.” Her grip tightened on her buttered rum, wondering if this conversation would go better or worse if she were intoxicated. “I’m fortunate - the denizens in Shiiba are self-sufficient, and they don’t ask too many questions.”
“I have been to Shiiba on occasion.” Again, he weighed his words, as though judging how much he were to reveal to her. That suited Kiyo just fine - it would give her time to understand him, see how much she could say, how far she could push. Even if she were acquainted with him by reputation. “It’s pleasant enough, close to nature. The wilderness there is calming and far enough from civilisation.” He paused again, and his eye sharpened. “I don’t recall seeing you there.”
“Maybe you weren’t looking hard enough.” Kiyo tipped her mug of buttered rum at him, and took the opportunity to take a swig. The caramel sweetness soothed her, and she laughed. “I kid. I don’t think I’ve caused enough of a stir to warrant any attention.”
That, and she preferred being a recluse, keeping her company to those she trusted and knew. But she didn’t need to say that out loud just yet.
“Do you routinely go exploring the wilderness?” She asked him instead. “You sound more versed in these things than your usual visitor.”
“It’s a welcome escape, and I don’t say this just because it’s my domain.” He tilted his head, eyes never leaving hers, and Kiyo suppressed the urge to shiver. Fear? Pleasure? Perhaps both. Kiyo wasn’t blind - she could appreciate aesthetic and attractiveness when she saw it. She also knew when she was still trying to understand the stranger across her. “There’s something refreshing about getting your hands dirty and doing something tangible.”
“Oh, I understand that.” Kiyo finished her drink and stretched, rolling her shoulders. “It’s one of the reasons why I chose to settle in Shiiba. Not so much getting my hands dirty, but I do enjoy tending to my garden, staying well out of sight from most others and making sure my home is difficult to reach.”
“Little wonder no one’s found you yet.”
“I interact perfectly well with the shopkeepers.” She wrinkled her nose. “They simply don’t need to know I’m - well, inhuman.”
Cedric chuckled, but offered no further response to that. Just as well - a voice called out for him, and Kiyo followed the source of the noise to another dark-haired woman. Cedric too turned to the source of the noise, and whoever that was, seemed to have his attention.
“Well. It seems I am needed elsewhere.” He nodded to Kiyo as she stood up as well, now holding her empty mug. “I’ll see you around.”
“Everyone’s here in the dining hall,” she teased. “I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere else.”
“For the food?”
“Novelty. We don’t actually need food, but it’s a nice reminder that I was human, once.”
Not that Kiyo could remember when that was, or how she was formed. All she had to go on there were her own half-formed theories and what she’d pieced together on how they were born. That thought stayed with her as the night lingered on, and not even conversation and people-watching could chase it away.
v. yokanThe next morning, Kiyo woke up to the sun barely peeking over the skyline, and snow falling onto the roof, the cobblestone courtyards. Someone had lit a fire in her room, and she placed her hand into it appreciatively, savouring the comfort, the smoke, the warmth.
Apple wood. She recognised the scent, and appreciated that Nastya remembered her particular preference.
The Synod would begin today, if she remembered correctly. The announcement of the Prolocutor - Nastya, by virtue of her hosting - and then… whatever the agenda would be for the day. But now, here, there was time for a little quiet, a little breathing space. Maybe explore further down the trails that led out from the property she was on.
She pulled on her hiking boots, a warm jacket, mostly to keep up appearances more than anything else. The house was quiet, either sleeping off the night before, or perhaps all cuddled up together with their respective partners for the night. But she was used to being an early riser, and years of peace meant she very rarely found use for her powers save to make her day-to-day life comfortable. The mist and the shadow suited her just fine - if there were any strangers or threats (if they could get past the spell), she could simply vanish into smoke, move along quietly.
The trail was, as she’d expected, beautiful and every bit as peaceful as she’d like it to be. In winter, there were trees with sparse branches, cobbled pathways, but even in this cold, there were still evergreens and leaves rustling in the background. If it were summer, Kiyo could easily imagine the birdsong chirruping through the forest. Out here, she didn’t need any watch to keep time - with every step she took, the sky grew brighter, and each snowflake glittering in the sunlight.
She was utterly refreshed by the time she got back, though the lack of other ruins in the vicinity was a disappointment. She had also rather foolishly failed to account for other early risers. Which, in turn, was why she squeaked when she nearly collided headlong into Diana. Her friend’s hair bound in a wild, loose ponytail and looking as if she’d come in from a run.
“Morning!” Kiyo greeted cheerfully, once she’d recovered from the shock. “I see I’m not the only early riser.”
Diana’s expression relaxed as she took in Kiyo’s appearance. She seemed to be putting away - something. Kiyo didn’t check, nor did she pry.
“It’s good to clear your head, before the Synod begins.” The woman’s face turned a little more wry. “Especially since you have unwelcome company.” A pause, and Diana added, “Not - you. You know who I mean.”
“Oh, I know, don’t worry.” She inclined her head towards the property. “Should we get drinks? I don’t need it, but it’s nice to have something warming my hands once in a while.”
“So long as you don’t pull a burning piece of wood from the fireplace, we’ll be fine.”
Kiyo snickered, but made no further comment. They might have made an odd pair, but Kiyo’s affection for her remained constant through the years. Humans said you always remembered your firsts - and Kiyo remembered Diana as her first memory, stood with an arrow pointed at her, her gaze steely and unwavering. That was, until she recognised her as a spirit, and then gave her a hand to help her up, and asked her what she was doing there.
Kiyo didn’t remember her answer, but Diana would never tell her.
The two settled at an island counter, where the embers of last night’s hearth was burning low, ashen and dark. Kiyo rectified that, locating the tinderbox and setting the fire alight once more. Diana had a mug of hot coffee; Kiyo went for matcha, whisking it til it was frothed the way she’d remembered.
Been taught as a spirit, or was it a distant memory? All Kiyo knew was she went through the motions like it was a second skin, in another life, and each time, the thick, bitter-fragrant drink would be waiting for her at the end.
They sipped at their drink in silence, content to bask in each other’s company. Eventually, Kiyo spoke up.
“So… how are you feeling?”
“In general, or about specific things?”
Kiyo contemplated her answer, turning her chawan in her hands. The glint of its golden seam winked back at her.
“Whichever you want to talk about. I know Lael arrived at the tail end of the day, but it didn’t faze you.”
“I wasn’t surprised, after he broke his side of the agreement last time.” Diana set down the mug of coffee, ceramic clinking against the marble table. “I don’t intend on making nice, but that can wait until after the Synod’s been concluded.”
“I’m still not sure what to expect.” Kiyo waved her hand towards the empty expanse behind them, to where their other companions lay either slumbering. “We come to achieve a consensus… that assumes we’ll have speakers for us. That hasn’t been decided either.”
“Nastya will tell us the arrangements later today.” Diana smiled, and Kiyo saw the fondness behind it. “Don’t fret too much, it’s not as formal as you think it is. Or as terse. There are ground rules everyone respects, after all.”
“I’d tell you that was reassuring, but…” She took another long sip out of her chawan, the bitterness of the matcha soothing on her tongue. “Well, we’ll see. I’m expecting a lot of shouting, and that’s always fun to watch.”
Even as Kiyo kept her tone light, even after the two of them parted ways, she felt a sliver of dread in the back of her mind. She stared at herself in the mirror, dark hair and almond eyes, and checked for goosebumps on her human body. Perhaps the nerves could be explained by the fact it was her first Synod. Could it? It had to be. And yet she couldn’t shake the feeling something wasn’t quite right…
Last edited by Jadis (15/02/2022 at 19:46)