Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#61—'Paralysis')

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brythain
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Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (17—'Interesting Work') (20150313)

Post by brythain » Fri Mar 13, 2015 12:47 am

If you think of this as part of 'After The Dream', then it happened in 2012, mostly.
You can think of it as taking place largely before the events of this part of Rin's arc. Or not.



Interesting Work

All wrong, she knew it was. The green wasn’t right, the blue was always behind the stars black like whatever it was that wasn’t her kind of blue. And there was a boy who had been useful and patient until he wasn’t useful or patient. There had to be a way to let it out, let the uncomfortable feeling in her move onto the canvas. She had always trapped it there, held down by paint and nailed to a wall or mounted on an easel.

But today, it was stuck in her, and she could feel it taking over. Whatever it was. It bled out of Emi onto the running track, that’s how she got rid of it. But for Rin, running didn’t work so well. Falling down got some of it out, unless that was only blood. Only blood…

She looked down at her palette knife. Knives cut reality. They drew lines that couldn’t come back easily together. She picked it up with her left foot, swished it around experimentally. Knives could cut colour with colour, making things new again.

You could pivot two knives together. They called it a scissors. Or you could have a very short sharp knife with a long handle, and call it a scalpel. Maybe it was used to scalp people, once upon a time. And once upon a time, Rin had been happy in a sunlit room in Yamaku, just letting it out on some poor, unsuspecting canvas.

Demon traps. Where had she heard that before? Must’ve been Emi. Poor, unsuspecting, superstitious Emi. Probably the same person who had told her not to comment on unfinished works in case bad luck came. Rin felt empty, confused. But you couldn’t have both. If you had nothing, you couldn’t be confused, could you? So it wasn’t emptiness. It was just confusion.

She sharpened the short knife on the leather strop. It got sharper and better each moment. She liked the glint, the shine, the reassurance that something would work. The atelier itself was cold and sharp, but not enough to really work. She didn’t want to break the beautiful old glass, although she had thought occasionally how interesting it would be to dive through it and be part of a rainbow for a while.

Crystal butterflies, blue sky, red… stuff. Like the stuff she shed every month, such a pain—but such an interesting smell, hue, taste. She knew others seemed wrong in their faces and bodies when she talked about it, so she’d stopped talking about it. Emi, ah, Emi used to be angry at her for talking about such things.

Poor Emi, stuck too. Stuck in the university building instead of out on the track. Stuck in a place that wasn’t Yamaku and didn’t have a sunny place to nap next to a canvas. Rin sat down slowly. She wished she had a cat. Cats had sharp, pretty claws. Like the tiny steel blade in the palm of her foot.

The window was open. Funny, that. Funny how windows opened when you had never opened them. Funny in the way that doors weren’t. If a door opened when you had never opened it, that was people, or maybe ghosts. But ghosts normally didn’t do windows, did they?

[NO. I DID.]

There was a gently cold wind wandering around the room. It was sharp but friendly, like a cat’s paw before it got angry. Rin didn’t like it when cats got angry. But most of them liked her feet. They probably didn’t know any other humans with feet like hers.

[YOUR WORK IS INTERESTING. PITY IT HAS TO END SO SOON.]

She shook her head. There was a strange voice in it. It sounded like 3-3’s form teacher, Mutou-sensei, but much deeper, and coloured like midnight, and maybe old perfume, if the scent of it had a colour. She wondered what would happen if she tried talking to the voice.

“It’s not right. And you shouldn’t comment on unfinished works, it brings bad luck!”

[BUT IT’S FINISHED. AND IT –IS– INTERESTING. I LIKE THE BLUE-BLACK COLOUR YOU HAVE THERE. IT IS THE COLOUR OF A GREAT SPACE TURTLE’S EYE.]

She’d had many of those dreams before, but never about turtles. She didn’t much like turtles. She’d had a pet turtle once and it had never really liked her, although it hadn’t minded nibbling on her toes. And one day, it had just left. Like so many other people had, since then.

“I don’t think it’s finished. I can’t finish it. And Sae says I have to leave.”

[SAE. WELL, YES. I HAVE TO DROP BY HER BED LATER. BUT NOT FOR ANOTHER THREE YEARS, I THINK.]

“I feel like I’m drowning.”

The wind was still prowling around the room, like a cat with the paws of a butterfly’s wing. She hated it that the words didn’t make sense. ‘Midnight’ was a cat’s name. ‘Monarch’ was a butterfly’s name. What was ‘Midnight’s Monarch’? Some kind of flower? Words never made sense in the way she wanted.

[HMM? HMM. NO. THAT’S OVER. SOMEONE SINGLE-HANDEDLY SAVED YOU.]

That’s what you got for talking to the voices in your head. All the nonsense. But all voices were nonsense. Except that what the voice had said about being saved was true in a way.

“Not a pirate? Emi wants to be a pirate, she said.”

[EMI IBARAZAKI. HMM. WELL, THAT’S UNEXPECTED, BUT A LONG WAY OFF. NO, NOT A PIRATE.]

Rin didn’t feel right. Her words were all wrong. She didn’t feel like Rin. The wind was making things different, as if she were in a different world, where words were all… meaningful? She didn’t know. But she was used to not knowing. And there was something else. The voice didn’t sound like Rin either, in any way.

“You’re not me. And also not a butterfly or a cat.”

[THERE’S A CAT ME AND A BUTTERFLY ME TOO. WHAT PUZZLES ME IS HOW COME WE CAN HAVE A CHAT LIKE THIS. NICE, BUT ODD. SEEING AS YOU DON’T HAVE AN APPOINTMENT ON MY LIST.]

“What are your favourite words?” she said, feeling strange immediately after saying it. “I hate words, they don’t say what I want them to say. Paint is better.”

[ON THE SUBJECT OF ART, I FIND I SAY THAT A LOT: “YOUR WORK IS INTERESTING. PITY IT HAS TO END SO SOON.”]

And then she knew.

“Can I collect you? I collect interesting people.”

[HMM. I’M NOT PEOPLE, AS SUCH. BUT I UNDERSTAND. I COLLECT PEOPLE TOO.]

That made sense. Rin felt the excitement spill out of her heart and into the space between her eyes and the space between her thighs. She knew she was a very short distance away from understanding something.

“I have to paint. Can I say something? I think I said it before, but I can’t remember all of it. ‘Artists can't find romance, their favourite TV shows are canceled, or they die young because of an unspecified disease. It's a deep and mysterious law of the universe.’ Is that about you?”

[OH. THAT SOUNDS SAD. I ASSURE YOU THAT I SELDOM HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH NOT FINDING ROMANCE OR CANCELLING TV SHOWS.]

“Can I paint you?”

[THAT WOULD BE A DIFFICULT EXPERIMENT. I’M NOT SURE IT WOULD WORK, AND IT MIGHT NOT BE GOOD FOR YOU.]

It was at that point that Rin ignored the voice completely and began to paint. She painted for two days, and was weak and out-of-sorts at the end of it. And when she was done, she walked out into a crowded street. It was raining, and she wondered if she had an appointment. Later, she dreamt that the piece she painted occupied an honoured position in the household of a very powerful person. That person kept a small climate-controlled room for it, in perfect darkness. The painting, unusually for Rin Tezuka, had a name. She named it ‘Rin’s Wind’. The owner always had a little chuckle when viewing the work.

Rin had always been good at imagining things. She never really knew if her conversation actually happened. She didn't even know if she'd really painted that picture, or if it existed.

But when Hisao showed her the obituary of Sir Terry Pratchett, one of his (and Hanako’s) favourite authors, she felt a strange familiarity. For a very brief moment, she thought she heard these words: [HIS WORK WAS INTERESTING. PITY IT HAD TO END SO SOON.]

It was a cool spring day in 2015. She caught Hisao staring at her, and smiled a secret smile. Maybe it was all true. And maybe not.

=====

To the memory of Sir Terence David John "Terry" Pratchett (28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015).
You taught us the colours of magic and of midnight, and so much else.


alt index
Last edited by brythain on Sun Sep 16, 2018 3:07 am, edited 5 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (17—'Interesting Work') (20150313

Post by dewelar » Fri Mar 13, 2015 1:14 am

brythain wrote:To the memory of Sir Terence David John "Terry" Pratchett (28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015).
You taught us the colours of magic and of midnight, and so much else.
Aw, damn.

Damn Damn Damn.

...

Damn.
Rin is orthogonal to everything.
Stuff I've written: Developments, a continuation of Lilly's (bad? neutral?) ending - COMPLETE!

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (17—'Interesting Work') (20150313

Post by Rhodri » Fri Mar 13, 2015 5:53 am

I only have a limited knowledge of Discworld after being in a stageshow of Wyrd Sisters many years ago (my brother who is the discworld fan of the family played Vitoller and I was the guard stabbed by Granny Weatherwax) and reading the graphic novel adaption of Mort, so it took me a while to realise that Death had popped round for a visit but I will say that you got Death down pat.

So long Terry
"She also ties you up to a chair. You're gonna like that. Chairs are good. Chairs are your friend."

BeeFhGhost, Jan 15th 2012.

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (17—'Interesting Work') (20150313

Post by brythain » Fri Mar 13, 2015 8:32 am

dewelar wrote:Aw, damn.
Damn Damn Damn.
...
Damn.
Yeah, it got me quite hard too. Grew up reading his stuff. I just had to write something, y'know? :(
Rhodri wrote:I only have a limited knowledge of Discworld after being in a stageshow of Wyrd Sisters many years ago (my brother who is the discworld fan of the family played Vitoller and I was the guard stabbed by Granny Weatherwax) and reading the graphic novel adaption of Mort, so it took me a while to realise that Death had popped round for a visit but I will say that you got Death down pat.

So long Terry
He was a great one for the mosaic, if you think about it. I learnt a lot from him, but never enough. :cry:
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (17—'Interesting Work') (20150313

Post by Serviam » Sun Mar 15, 2015 2:06 pm

First, Nimoy. Then, Pratchett. Damn.
"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else."
- Tom Clancy summing up l'état in a nutshell

In order of completion:
Lilly > Hanako > Rin > Emi
Currently on: Shizune

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (17—'Interesting Work') (20150313

Post by brythain » Wed Mar 18, 2015 12:25 pm

Serviam wrote:First, Nimoy. Then, Pratchett. Damn.
Yeah. :(
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (18—'Bear & Fire') (20150318)

Post by brythain » Wed Mar 18, 2015 12:33 pm

Sometimes, the strangest ideas come forth from the oddest juxtapositions of material...


A Bear Discovers Fire
being an excerpt from the secret sections of ‘The Autobiography of Hakamichi Jigoro’ (2008 Edition)

My name is Hakamichi Jigoro, and I am writing this in ink, using the traditional style. This is to make clear the difference between the document I am creating here and the one that is my official autobiography. The reasons for such a difference may become obvious to the discerning reader. If you are not so discerning, too bad.

(Editor’s Note: In this English edition, I have attempted to preserve the nuances and atmosphere of the original. Sadly, in Mr Hakamichi’s case, the potency of his words and the forcefulness of his directions with regard to editorial policy render such attempts challenging at the very least, and often impossible. I have included a few of his comments as examples.)

*****

The story begins in a fairly traditional manner. It is spring, the third month has ended, the children have gone back to school. I, Jigoro of Clan Hakamichi {‘Clan’: this is a very good word, it reminds me of one of my favourite entertainments}, am sitting in my office, looking through the latest installment of my dictated memoirs. It is a load of excrement; it provokes a feeling similar to the disappointment one feels after eating delicate and delicious meals only to find that what emerges is so different from the original. With righteous bile welling up within me, I pick up the phone to give my amanuensis {another good word, where do you find these excellent words?} a piece of my mind.

That is something I fail to follow through with, unusually for one of my decisive nature. It occurs to me, you see, that the child of a one-legged mongrel dog has already received several pieces of my mind, and this has failed to improve performance significantly. As the fault is not in the quality of my thoughts, it must be that passage through auditory nerves of such poor quality must have diluted their meaning. So I refrain from going once more into such communication, and elect to send a short message: “YOU ARE FIRED.”

It is very satisfying. But now, how will I find a second pair of hands and a second brain to help frame my words for maximum impact? I am not so self-unaware that I do not realize my situation. I have powerful thoughts. I have had a wonderful life. But in these decadent days, it is hard to sell such qualities to the general public, as they are such a dissolute and incompetent population. Hence, one must be crafty. But Jigoro of House Hakamichi {did ‘Clan’ sound better, I wonder} is not a crafty warlord like his hero Date Masamune; sadly, I am straightforward to a fault, and the righteous do not always triumph by that virtue.

So I do an assessment of my assets, and realize that my limited social network has very few options in it for the assistance that I need. Ah, but what is this? I check my email, and it is the usual endless wittering that proceeds from the keyboard of the Principal of Yamaku Academy, one of my charities and the institution at which my much-loved daughter Shizune is supposedly being educated. What does Principal Yamamoto want?

Oh, it is not the Principal himself, but some flunky selling services provided by the alumni and the parents’ support group. How convenient. My wife, may she be at more peace than she ever gave me, used to handle these things. But, no time for sentiment now—a man can mourn in his spare time, best to use one’s life to build legacies, not elegies. {Ah, good words, almost as good as my Japanese.}

Wait, something catches my eye. Editorial services by a professional copy-editor? Most useful. And such a low fee too. Who is this unambitious person? Hmph. Madam Nishizume M., it says. If I can obtain her services, it might be a great thing for posterity. Professionally copy-edited, my autobiography will overflow from the shelves and seep into the mentality of the indolent.

Such a bright future lies ahead! Now to fire off another email, and we shall see what we shall see.

*****

Not so traditionally, I have decided that my impressions of our first meeting should be set down here. Future generations can decide as to whether our conduct towards each other was appropriate or not. I believe that it was so, but opinions may differ across a long enough span of time. Not everyone keeps notes for posterity.

So here I present the tableau of that fateful day. I have tasked the boy to tidy up the rooms, and he has done a good job. Ten thousand yen are diverted to his trust fund, and I show him the little printed receipt. As is customary, I dole out five per cent as a bonus to his living expenses. Then I pack him off to do his homework.

At five minutes to the appointed hour, I sense a presence at the door. Aha, mentally I allot a point to my potential new editor: punctuality is a virtue to be encouraged. I am intrigued when I hear a gentle tapping on the door. Surely a single firm press of the doorbell button would suffice? There is such a thing as being too well-mannered.

I swing the door open. “Good… morning. Do I have the privilege of meeting Madam Nishizume?” I say firmly and heartily, in my usual style. I am all prepared to demonstrate a warm handshake (in the modern style) or a carefully calibrated bow or nod (in the traditional style) as long as it fulfills my goals of obtaining a useful amanuensis. {I confess that is a beautiful English word.}

You will have noticed uncharacteristic hesitation. It is not every day that one sees long flame-brown hair tied neatly in a headscarf that matches and complements that shade of red so perfectly. The lady is also rather good-looking in other aspects. She is less starkly elegant and stunning than my wife was, but she seems pretty enough.

Beautiful women throw me off a little, I don’t mind saying. When you need to work with someone, you cannot have your thoughts continually straying. As a consultant providing the kind of services I do, the slightest inattention to detail can cause calamitous troubles to those who depend on me. Mayoi Satou was such a distraction. I miss her, but life goes on.

“Good morning. My family name is Nishizume, and I am honoured to meet you. You must be Hakamichi-san.”

She bows gracefully, and I acknowledge her good manners likewise. Another point or two! She seems like a winner. But good manners must come with competence, or the rice will not cook.

“Yes, I am. Please come in. I shall make tea.” And I am very good at that, despite the kinds of things I have heard the young people whisper about me.

The interview goes well. She is articulate, but polite. When she laughs, it is cultured and controlled, not like a jackass. She has all the qualifications, and she even has a university degree in economics, from a second-tier institution. Very promising. I test her gently with the classics, and she plays my game well enough to display knowledge without showing off. At this rate, I should hire her to be a governess for Hideaki. It would be preferable to him imbibing all kinds of odd ideas from that half-foreign niece of mine.

I probe a little bit more. When I am gently testing, I am like a bear with a slender stick looking for honey. There is no obvious forcefulness. I find out through this approach that Madam Nishizume has a daughter in Yamaku, in the same year as my own daughter. This gives me the excuse I need to ask more questions. Of course, she can always choose not to answer—so I am pleasantly surprised when she does.

And that is when I realize that for the sake of my honour, I have to employ this woman. The chain of logic is long, and many twisty pathways lie between its beginning and its ending. But Meiko Nishizume’s loss is linked by iron and fire to the man I was many years ago. You will not find the details here, nor in my autobiography. Some shame is personal, and can be exposed in sincere regret and apology; some shame is shared, and will damage others. I am not so crass as to do that.

Who would have thought it? This is ‘Thorn’ Ibarazaki’s widow. Perhaps I can make amends. The gods place such coincidences in our lives only so that we can have the choice to make things right.

*****

I look at the note in my hand. Clearly the work of a deranged, or perhaps very upset, person of interest.

[FATHER, WHAT IS SHE DOING HERE?]

I scribble quickly: [She is a very good copy editor.]

[SHE IS HELL-ON-NO-LEGS’S MOTHER!] appears in my hand. We are engaged in a paper duel, the kind of thing we have shared for many years. This, however, is the second one this year, after the one we had concerning her friend Nakai.

[Am I to assume that Hell whatever is the daughter at Yamaku?]

[EMI ALMOST GAVE HISAO A HEART ATTACK. TWICE.] is accompanied by a glowering fury that would have given me pause were I not already used to it. I love Shizune more easily partly because she shows her emotions more plainly than her mother did. If Mayoi had been this angry, the first I would have known it would have been when her suitcases were already packed and in the car.

[The previous secretary was not effective, nor efficient. And always tardy. I had to…]

Before I can finish writing, a third note appears on top of my pen. [IT IS YOUR RIGHT TO DO WHAT YOU WANT, FATHER. ALWAYS. GOODBYE.]

I have no time to collect myself before she storms out of the room. Tempestuous, my dear little girl. Always. I whisper a goodbye, and wish her well. If only her brother had that much passion. Such a robot, he is.

Meiko has been waiting patiently for me in my office. Sighing, I make my way there. As always, she is dressed casually, and yet formally. She is a study in the balance between chaos and order. In the weeks I have known her, I have seen her act absent-mindedly, but I have never actually caught her forgetting anything.

“Good day to you, Jigoro,” she says. There is something merry about her voice, always. I do not quite recall when we became Meiko and Jigoro—or, indeed, if ‘we’ is the correct word. {‘She and I’ might be better here, all things considered.}

“Ah, I make no excuses for my tardiness. I am just very sorry to have inconvenienced you, Meiko. My daughter, you see.”

She laughs softly, like water running through a parched land. “I know how it is with daughters. And our daughters, they do not seem to be the best of friends these days, if ever.”

I am genuinely curious. High school politics are a distant memory to me, and to be honest, I consider them unimportant to my work and most of my life. But this could supply potential insight with regard to Shizune, and so I will pursue it.

“If you would be so kind, perhaps you could explain this situation to me? Is it not a matter of one’s concern for Nakai’s health, and the other one’s disregard?”

“Tsk,” says Meiko. It is unusually impolite for her to do that to me, but I have learnt that when she does that, it is her version of showing that she approaches disapproval or even anger. “It is more complicated than that, Hakamichi.”

Oh dear. This is no longer my secretary speaking, but the woman who considers herself my peer. Which is not to say that this is incorrect, I hasten to add. She has as much education and talent as I have.

“Do tell, madam.”

She wrinkles her nose, which is rather cute, but distracting. I raise one eyebrow, to encourage her to continue.

“My Emi considers herself responsible for Hisao Nakai’s continued good health. To that end, she has placed him under dietary restrictions and a regular course of aerobic exercise, carefully calibrated to do the most good. In this, she has had the assistance and guidance of the school’s chief medical officer, Head Nurse Kaneshiro.”

“That is all very good, I’m sure.”

She continues speaking, with the merest nod indicating that she has heard my interjection. I feel a little chastened. {‘Chastened’? If you can find a better word, I would be most appreciative.}

“On the other hand, your Shizune feeds him endless amounts of fried food; also, she encourages him to adopt a deskbound lifestyle and frequently demands high performance under stressful conditions. This is not conducive, says Emi, to extending his longevity.”

“Ah. I see.”

She has a smile on her face, but it is not a particularly good-humoured one. This woman! She can be infuriating, but I am Jigoro of Clan Hakamichi and I am not daunted. Pretty women with sour faces? Bring them on.

*****

A year has passed, and my autobiography is going to the publishers at last. It is a good day, I think, and I call Meiko to let her know how I feel.

Her reply is odd: “Is that so?” she says. “It is pleasant to hear such kind words used to describe one’s humble self. I thank you for praising my competence and my ‘presence’. Very kind of you. I apologize for being so busy, it is a failure on my part!”

Of course. She must be quite a busy person. But surely, we have worked together so well, we deserve some time of social interaction?

“Would you be pleased also to join me for dinner some time this week?” I ask. It is the request of one equal to another. My admiration is not the fawning adulation of a lovestruck lad. {Surely you are putting too flowery a gloss on my lack of sentiment?}

“Unfortunately, that is not possible. Perhaps it might be best for me to avoid unpleasantness? Let me explain.”

I hear her take a deep breath. I take one as well, a very quiet one.

“Since my husband passed away some years ago, I have had no men in my life, apart from Kaneshiro-san, who has been kind enough to look after my daughter’s medical needs in school. It has not been easy, especially considering the suspicious circumstances of Ibarazaki-san’s passing.”

This is unexpected. {Of course it was unexpected! She might have suspected my involvement from the beginning! ‘Unexpected’ seems a little inadequate.} With a little of the air in my chest, I muster a neutral, “Please go on.”

“It is unlikely that we will meet again, now that my editing contract with you is fulfilled. I sincerely wish you all the best, and I am sure I should be proud to say I have been able to work amicably with such a man. May your book have the success it deserves.”

It is an unfamiliar sensation, this. I do not know what I am feeling or should be feeling. Perhaps it is the desire to share a good thing with people responsible for its provenance. I have always firmly believed that those who have done good work should enjoy the fruits of their labours. Yet, here is Meiko… Ibarazaki, I suppose she would call herself most of the time, turning away from this.

“Ah, excuse me for presuming on your availability,” I reply. Too late, I realize that this phrase can be construed rather differently from the literal sense in which I mean it.

“No, no. I understand you, Hakamichi-san. I have learnt a lot from working with you. You are a perfectionist, and you are satisfied that we have done good work. Thank you for the experience. Farewell.”

“You are welcome. Goodbye.”

I suppose it is a kind of emptiness that I feel. Somehow, the need to share success is still in me. My daughter is studying at Tokyo, which is a highly prestigious thing, but she is therefore not at home. She is with that Nakai chap, who is not so useless after all, it seems. My son? He is still young.

Perhaps I should, nevertheless, bring him out for dinner. A father should not neglect his offspring. And besides, the loneliness that comes with being a man amongst men—is that not meant to be compensated for by family ties? I shall write an essay on that, someday.

=====
alt index
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (18—'Bear & Fire') (20150318)

Post by Valjean Lafitte » Thu Mar 19, 2015 4:59 am

Who would have thought it? This is ‘Thorn’ Ibarazaki’s widow. Perhaps I can make amends. The gods place such coincidences in our lives only so that we can have the choice to make things right.
. {Of course it was unexpected! She might have suspected my involvement from the beginning! ‘Unexpected’ seems a little inadequate.}
'Thorn' Ibarazaki?

Jigoro's involvement in the car "accident" that claimed Thorn's life?

You have teased my curiosity, good sir! Could it be that the Hakamichi clan--or at least Jigoro--is tied the Yakuza? :o
I look at the note in my hand. Clearly the work of a deranged, or perhaps very upset, person of interest.
:lol:

All in all, one of my favorite short stories by you. :)

It's just a shame things couldn't work out between Meiko and Jigoro, because the fallout from that could be quite interesting, not to mention hilarious (Hell hath no fury like a Shizune that is forced to become stepsister to an Emi).
"I wonder what is it about the rain?"
"Everything."

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (18—'Bear & Fire') (20150318)

Post by Serviam » Thu Mar 19, 2015 9:38 am

Hell-on-no-legs...that was amusing. Now, Jigoro making amends...indeed, now you've gotten me wondering if he has/had ties to OC.
"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else."
- Tom Clancy summing up l'état in a nutshell

In order of completion:
Lilly > Hanako > Rin > Emi
Currently on: Shizune

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (18—'Bear & Fire') (20150318)

Post by brythain » Thu Mar 19, 2015 10:57 am

Valjean Lafitte wrote:It's just a shame things couldn't work out between Meiko and Jigoro, because the fallout from that could be quite interesting, not to mention hilarious (Hell hath no fury like a Shizune that is forced to become stepsister to an Emi).
Haha, I actually sketched out the events of the missing year in this story. I was laughing so hard...

[Is your mother making eyes at my father?]

"What's she saying, Misha?"

"Wahaha!~ Shicchan would like to know if your mother is available for dinner!"

As for conspiracy theories etc (and that goes for Serviam too), it's all in the rest of the main arc.
Note, however, that this short piece isn't really part of my 'After The Dream' continuity.
Like the rest of the pieces here, it's based on material that didn't make the cut... :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (18—'Bear & Fire') (20150318)

Post by Solistor » Fri Mar 20, 2015 5:39 am

Slowly but surely I'm reading all of your works, Brythain.
As always, your writing style is surreal and intriguing, and every story captivated my interest with little effort. I feel not as though I'm reading, but moreso that I'm floating in an ether and watching your stories unfold before my very eyes. Although, some of that may have to do with the fact I do most of my reading when I'm tired.

In regards to the latest oneshot, Jigoro always seemed like a deeper character to me than the VN let on, and I like seeing that explored. I may end up doing a Jigoro fic someday, but then again all I seem to have are ideas with no substance. That's a discussion for another time and place, however. Thank you for another enjoyable literary experience.
~Links to recommended fics
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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (18—'Bear & Fire') (20150318)

Post by brythain » Fri Mar 20, 2015 6:53 am

Solistor wrote:Slowly but surely I'm reading all of your works, Brythain.
As always, your writing style is surreal and intriguing, and every story captivated my interest with little effort. I feel not as though I'm reading, but moreso that I'm floating in an ether and watching your stories unfold before my very eyes. Although, some of that may have to do with the fact I do most of my reading when I'm tired.

In regards to the latest oneshot, Jigoro always seemed like a deeper character to me than the VN let on, and I like seeing that explored. I may end up doing a Jigoro fic someday, but then again all I seem to have are ideas with no substance. That's a discussion for another time and place, however. Thank you for another enjoyable literary experience.
You're very welcome, and I'm honoured that you're reading all that stuff. What an interesting perspective you've described! And yes, Jigoro's life... what I wouldn't give for a real copy of his autobiography. Heck, we could write one ourselves! Yes! :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (19—'Moment') (20150401)

Post by brythain » Fri Apr 03, 2015 10:31 pm

This was actually an idea I discarded from 'After The Dream' because it was just too much even for me.
Eventually, I tried it out as an April Fool's Day post for 2015. Unfortunately, some people told me it fit too well into AtD. :shock:
A less well-known member of Yamaha's 3-3 class of 2007/8 is tasked to balance an equation, sort of.



Moment of Transition

It was, for me at least, a moment of regret. The people he left behind meant little to me; what mattered was that he should make the transition. Now that I am a lot older, I am like an outcast. Neither of my parents’ countries will take me back, unless it is for a reckoning.

The one wish I suppose I still have is for forgiveness: that my daughter will forgive me, and so will her husband and his family.

*****

“Why am I doing this?” I had asked. Never accept an assignment from DS3, I have learnt, unless you know why. And unlike most other agencies, they will attempt to give you an explanation that will fly.

I tensed my right leg subconsciously, an old and ghostly habit. Something clicked, and I could tell that they felt unease at the sound. Little servomotors whined near-silently as I straightened out again, my posture slowly realigning to that which I had grown up into.

“You’ve lived there,” said Master Purple, in his crude urban accent. “You’re familiar with the streets and the people, you can be a tourist or a visitor or a half-race.”

Hafu, my people say. They have treated people like me far worse than they treat Okinawans or Koreans. Some people have had it worse; not many. Some half-breed women, like that half-white Lilly Satou, get enhanced curiosity value and fetish fiction written about them. People like myself, half-Indian? Not so much. Yet, I do love my mother’s land, and the language and culture thereof. Committing what would be a crime in that world? It would be something horrible; something not to be taken lightly.

“Why him?”

“Don’t be disingenuous, Moriko,” warned Madam Gold, in her breathy northern tones. “You’ve read the briefings and you know that he’s a key man in the process.”

Yes, of course. It is always ‘the process’, the way in which data becomes information, information becomes knowledge, and knowledge becomes actionable and deliberate ‘best practice’. In our world, we want to define the words ‘actionable’ and ‘best’; in our world, it is always better when someone else is not allowed to set the terms and conditions, the rules of the game.

None of my friends—the few that I had once had, anyway—would be involved. There was one potential early respondent, but she would probably not get to the site in time. If anything, Suzu would be part of the mopping-up or cover-up crew, her duties as an opposing team member who came too late. I gave her memory a second of contemplative silence, thinking about how her life had been as unfortunate as mine.

As for the rest? I knew who would be impacted most by my actions, and to tell you the truth, I had little care for what they would think. And so I agreed to helm the little two-person job.

*****

Imagine that you are the proverbial eye in the sky. You are looking down upon a sunny street in Sendai. It’s a lovely Saturday morning in July. Not far away, a park offers deep green shade for picnics and other activities; a few hundred yards down the road is the old Shanghai, a restaurant where reasonably cheap meals are served to the student population of a school for the disabled not far away.

Yes, indeed. You are looking down at what was once my world. I have come, an alien and a stranger, to this foreign land that is also where my mother was born. And I am sitting in a truck, with a person I do not particularly like, waiting to do something about a man I do not particularly hate.

“Bluebox has exited Clock, entered Dragon. Repeat: Bluebox has exited Clock, entered Dragon. Copy, over.”

“Copy. Visual confirm. Out.”

He’s not a young man. He’s middle-aged, with an academic stoop, and beginning to look ill-shaven at this time of day. He was once my form teacher. Below me, the engine guns quietly to life, the sanctified blessing of high-powered batteries. Those batteries power many things besides the engine. And they will soon give way to simple diesel.

I groan at the thought and attempt to relax my purely mechanical legs. No servomotors today, for several reasons, all of which will shortly become clear.

We coast. Bluebox crosses the road. He has entered Dragon, the grid area of our operation. My partner adjusts something. The little engine that could roars silently from fifty km/h to about a hundred and fifty; silence is golden, and there is no time.

No time for Bluebox. Perhaps a single tear, even though I hardly knew him. He turns, and I know what can happen if he completes the turn before I do what I must do. So I punch the innocent red button, and everything dies in a hundred-meter radius: everything electronic, that is.

Fractured seconds pass by, but I see everything. I see at close range his astonished face presented to us head-on, blinded because he sees nothing in his sudden agonizing pain. His brain implants must be twitching madly at this range, as our batteries surrender their huge energies in a wave that ripples outwards, killing everyone’s tabphones and security cameras.

Thump. The last discharge, the cartwheeling body, as fragile as a dandelion across the vehicle’s hardened shell. I watch, in case I have to do what I hate doing but am good at—but I can tell, Akio Mutou has taught his last science lesson.

We have very little time, but before they attempt vainly to resuscitate the man who did no harm to anyone, we are gone. I try not to imagine the people who love him and their pain. It is easy, because I have practiced not thinking about them for decades now.

Later, on the exfiltration flight that will eventually lead me home to San Francisco, I watch bad movies and think of my daughter.

*****

How was I to know that her future lay back in Japan, the homeland to which I could never return? And yet I did. I am here, powerless; I have completely surrendered to the justice of the Families. I wonder what they see as they look at me, long dark hair silvering slightly, tightly braided with my signature red ribbon; they have left me basic limbs, from the thighs down, spidery and artificial.

In my last moments, I feel at peace. I deserve this ending. I now know the last thing I will see: light reflecting off the sharp blade that Rika Katayama wields.

=====
alt index
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (20—'Fighting Words') (20150407)

Post by brythain » Tue Apr 07, 2015 2:00 am

In which a certain famous scene is re-presented in a slightly different way.
How hard was it to make that particular decision? And what happened afterwards?



Fighting Words (Full Version)

Just a few days into my life here, and I’m already hating the green material. My legs feel trapped and I’m missing the dark, elegant midnight-blue uniform I used to wear in my previous school. But there’s no help for it, I’m a crippled kid now, and crippled kids wear white and green—unless they’re loud neighbours who grab you in the morning and tell you all kinds of crap you never wanted to know about, in which case you can wear a colourful scarf as well.

My mind’s all messed up. I have no idea why I’m thinking that. It’s just calm and peaceful now, sitting alone in the classroom, smelling old wood and new sunlight and wondering if there’s anything really nice about any of the people here. The way my life is going, they might be the last friends I have before I… die. Die, what a final-sounding word, a word I’d never thought much about till now.

Sitting here by myself for twenty minutes, before class starts, sure beats having to suffer that time with aforesaid loud neighbour. I’ve not slept well, and I feel as if my life has no meaning. The combination starts making me feel weary.

BANG! Urgh. The desk has just woken me up through violent contact with my sleepy head. There’s still nobody here, but I’m now seeing a strange aura around everything. After a while, it goes away. Waking up early is a bad habit. Maybe I should see Nurse later.

Tap… scratch… tap. That’s a familiar sound. There are a lot of visually-impaired people who use canes of various kinds. I wonder who it is; most people stop at 3-2 if they’ve got that kind of impairment. I look up, and I see the tall, pale, blonde girl just as she reaches the doorway. Lilly Satou, one of my new acquaintances, probably looking for shy Hanako, who is my classmate and her very good friend.

She stops at the door itself, looking hesitant. It’s as if she were a Western vampire, of the kind which cannot come in unless invited. In her case, it would be an offence against her upbringing, perhaps. She looks rather lonesome standing there. Subconsciously, I nod at her, and as if she’s actually seen me, she too nods, and steps into the classroom after adjusting her uniform.

“Excuse me?” she inquires politely, loud enough to be heard without sounding rude or disruptive to anyone who might be there. Her voice is carefully trained: it seems to fill the classroom exactly, as if she is using sonar to draw a picture of the room in her head. It calls to me, like the voice of one of those mythical sea-maidens, whatever they’re called.

Compelled to respond, I come up with, “Good morning, Lilly.”

“Hisao? Good morning! You move very carefully; I didn’t hear you.”

It’s like a tactful rebuke. Perhaps she is chiding me for leading her on, or for some other breach of etiquette. Not for the first time in a few days, I feel a tiny bit of regret that I’m in this place.

“Ah, well, I was already here. Was early and fell asleep at my desk. Nobody else is here yet.” I add the last piece of information as a peace offering, in case I’ve offended.

“Oh. Have you seen Hanako today, by any chance?”

“No, she should be here just around the time the bells ring. Would you like me to tell her something for you?”

She smiles faintly, and I think of a pleasant summer of the kind that you don’t want coming to an end. “No, that’s all right. It’s strange, but I think we’re the only two people in the school right now. I didn’t hear anyone else on my way here."

That’s not true. The school has many other people already awake and wandering around the corridors. What does she mean by this? Maybe I should just laugh it off? “I shouldn’t have gotten up so early today, I guess.”

“Why chastise yourself for something that most people should do?” she says gently. She has a sweet smile, and I wish I could make her show it more often. “Punctuality is a good thing. I think so, anyway.”

Her brow furrows a little. Something in me cries out at this crime against beauty, but I listen silently as she continues. “It’s a very busy morning. The festival is coming up soon; today is the deadline for event registration, budget reports, and any other official paperwork.”

She says that last phrase as if it is nasty. If she were indeed a vampire, it would be as if she were saying, “Garlic, garlic, garlic.”

“It could be that everyone is trying to complete the necessary forms at the last minute. Maybe that is why it’s so quiet,” she says, her words echoing my thoughts, and a certain association with my class representative.

Speak of the devil, as they say.

“Hi! Hi, hi, hi!~” says a very loud voice. If voices had colours, this one would be bright electro-metallic pink, like the hair of its owner. My class rep and her Voice have both entered the room, trapping Lilly in here with me. Involuntarily, I glance toward the back door, but quiet Natsume Ooe has already occupied her seat, and she is staring at our little drama with rapt attention. Taking notes too, I think.

“Hi, Hicchan!~” says the Voice of Shizune.

“Hi,” I reply. I’ve had enough time with Misha to know that while she’s actually quite sweet (and her apple-scented shampoo is quite a turn-on), it’s best not to encourage her.

Behind her, however, I see Shizune’s sinister smile. I don’t think my class rep is a bad person; I just think she likes her petty victories too much. I should learn how to sign; a lot of people here use it, and it would help me figure out what these two are up to—except that I think they invent some of the signs they use for private conversation.

She pushes up her spectacles a bit and begins to flash her hands around intimidatingly. Misha hardly glances at these gestures as she interprets: “Look, it's a certain class representative!~ Hello!!~"

In the short while I’ve known Lilly, I’ve never seen such a hard smile on her lips. She’s clearly a bit amused, but that smile is so thin that it could open an envelope.

“Good morning.”

“Of course, you’re not the representative of this~ class, right, right?~”

Lilly’s lips thin further, if that were even possible. At this point, they approach the legendary thickness of a one-dimensional line.

“I’m not.”

Her ears twitch a little. I’m fascinated: can she really twist them like a cat? She seems as if she’s straining to build a sonic picture of the area around the doorway… oh, of course, she’s wondering if Shizune is here too. Well, I can help with that—it will save a lot of time and reduce everyone’s stress levels.

“You’re here early, Shizune,” I say casually.

As Misha translates, I realize too late that this might be seen as a sarcastic attack on someone who prides herself in being on time and setting an example. I look at my class rep’s face and the frown there says most of it. Misha says the rest, her cheeks puffing out as if venting outrage for Shizune.

“You were here even earlier than we were!”

But the worst hasn’t arrived yet. Before Misha can finish, the thundercloud has now shifted in Lilly’s direction.

“Class rep of next door’s class!~ It’s a good thing you’re here!~ We have to talk.”

Reduced to a mere bystander, I look at their faces. It’s very odd. Misha’s face is a mask. She puts on an ‘I-am-speaking-for-Shizune’ face, that’s becoming increasingly recognizable to me, when she’s being the Voice. Shizune, on the other hand, looks as if she wants to hold Lilly’s hands as well as slap her hard at the same time. Or maybe I’m just imagining things. Maybe she wants to tie Lilly up and yell at her… no, why am I thinking that?

“The festival is coming up in three days, right? Every other class has already handed in their projected budget reports for their events! Even the first-years! Except you!~”

Misha laughs, but it sounds forced, as if Shizune had prompted her to laugh on cue. “Wahaha!~”

I don’t know why I feel sad, but I do. I watch Lilly’s face in turn. In it there’s mostly surprise, but a faint wash of peevishness can be seen.

“There is still time to hand it in, is there not?”

There’s a flurry of signing from Shizune, and Misha reads her quickly before switching on her emphasis tank and interpreting.

“Today! The deadline is today! You’re certainly taking your time, aren’t you? If I had it my way, I’d have had all~ of the necessary paperwork days ago, but someone~ had to say ‘the deadline, please extend it’!~”

I’m still watching Lilly, who is really quite pleasant to look at even when she’s upset. That’s when I notice something. She’s actually looking at Shizune’s hands. Don’t get me wrong—it’s still a blind gaze—but it’s unmistakable that while she’s not focusing, something’s allowing her to track the signing. It gives me sudden goosebumps.

“Yes, it was I who said that. Planning a festival on such a scale is not a small task, and a week is too narrow a time frame to expect all of us to work out such a complex issue completely.”

Shizune, however, is definitely looking at Lilly’s hands, which are clasped atop her cane. As I follow Shizune’s stare, I notice something I’d not seen before: it’s a very old cane. It’s not plastic, but something like very pale glossy wood, and all that’s holding it together are small rings of tarnished metal. She must have had it for a long time.

The anger on Shizune’s face blossoms into heat. Misha takes one look and just decides to get it over with in a rush.

“Do you want to know what’s harder~ than controlling the funds for one class’s stall and sideshow? Handling the same matter for every class in the school, the reserve classes, and then some! It is I who does that!”

The strawberry girl puts her hands on her hips and draws herself up. Wow, I think to myself, she’s really getting into the role. I can feel my heart pounding just to look at her. Lilly’s beginning to look grim, though, and I desperately want to reduce the tension in the atmosphere. I don’t know what makes me say what I say next.

“Hey, Shizune, aren’t you being a little too hard on Lilly? There’s still a whole day left, you know.”

I swear I see runes of fire begin to form at the tips of Shizune’s fingers. Indeed, my second intervention is worse than my first. If anyone were watching, they’d be thinking what a moron I am. I hear the scritch-scritch of a pen on paper, and remember Natsume in the corner. Oh dear.

Maybe Lilly sees the fire too, because she smiles faintly, still gazing at Shizune’s fingertips, and says softly, “Please, Hisao. It’s all right.”

A soft sigh that I can just barely hear escapes from her lips. She seems to be caught between disappointment that I feel the need to defend her, and gladness that I am. That fascinates me.

Firmly, she adds: “If this is about the budget, then I’m disappointed you think I have forgotten about it. I understand how important it is. To all of us.”

Shizune’s face is a study. She seems disappointed that I’ve defended Lilly, but also intrigued that I’ve bothered. Her next few signs are sharply delivered.

“Then! Can I have it? Please?~"

Well, this ship is sailing, and I’m already on it. So I continue my reckless provocation that seemed such a good idea a few minutes ago. “Shizune, she might not have it on her at this exact time.”

What if I’ve provoked both of them into never being my friends again? Well, perhaps best now, before I become a good friend of either, I suppose. That’s Hisao Nakai, one-man idiot show.

Lilly’s lips look like they’re turning blue. “Yes, it’s not here right now. I asked two students to take care of it for me—students from my own class.”

Misha blanches before anyone else says or does anything. Shizune takes an impressively deep breath, considering she’s not going to use it to speak, and then begins a furious spate of signing. If this were a fantasy tale, she’d be carving through the thin walls of reality right now. Misha’s voice sounds troubled, as though what she’s interpreting is too much for her to handle.

“As class rep of 3-3, it is my responsibility to take care of my own class. Enomoto is no longer here to do it. So I am drafting the new student who replaced her to do some work. As council president, it is my responsibility to deal with the whole school!”

Misha sucks air in and continues gamely: “The budget was your personal responsibility!~ A budget report isn’t something you should just delegate away; as class rep, it’s your job to be on top of things! This kind of disregard for proper procedure is really just terrible!~”

If Shizune’s fingers were tearing slits in reality, Lilly’s words are stabbing holes in it.

“They completed it, as capable and responsible members of the school community that I personally selected. Unfortunately, they have been sick recently, so they could not come to school and return it to me. If you want, I shall apologize on their behalf for falling ill.”

Overcome by what she thinks of as a release of tension, Misha spontaneously responds with a chirpy “Okay!~”

This doesn’t go down well with Shizune, however, and she slaps Misha’s elbow to force her to continue translating.

“Lilly, don’t they live here at the school? That’s only a five minute walk, you know!~ What disease could they possibly have that prevents them from taking five minutes out of their busy lives… to drop off something that will affect the enjoyment of their entire class?”

Misha’s still trying to sound upbeat and conciliatory, while having to translate what sounds like a heavy burden of righteous wrath.

“What kind of attitude is that?~ I said it’s not something you should be delegating away: are you the class representative or not? Who are these two people? Perhaps they should have your job if you can’t handle it yourself.”

“This is not all I’m handling, as you very well know.”

Lilly grasps the top of her cane firmly, as if willing herself to continue responding in a civil way. Shizune, on the other hand, adjusts her glasses as if spoiling for a fight. When the storm breaks, it begins with the crackle of lightning. I can smell ozone.

“Of course, you do so much, class rep!!~ It must be so difficult being you!~”

Misha’s voice is at great variance from the biting sarcasm that Shizune must intend. I’m so involved in this confrontation now that I’m like a man standing in the middle of a sudden downpour because he can’t make up his mind to run for shelter on the left or on the right, to continue on or to go home.

For Lilly, it’s the last straw. Her face transforms. I’ve seen a picture like that before, when I was in the Greek mythology phase that young fantasy readers often pass through. ‘Pallas Athena’ was the caption then. Her words, however, are simple and pointed.

“I was actually just discussing the budget report before you came along. You must be extremely gifted to be able to afford so much time from your many, many duties to hunt me down and rail at me for something will reach you as scheduled.”

Lightining flashes. The thunderbolt almost knocks me off my feet. That level of barbed wit was something I didn’t think Lilly had in her.

“Are you accusing me of slacking off? It seems like you’re confusing me with another class rep who delegates her work away freely!~”

That riposte is almost as sharp. I hide in the limited protection of my seat and glance furtively around the room. Natsume is diligently taking notes while her neighbour, Naomi, supplies further commentary. Taro, who sits behind me, is looking out of the window. There are more people in the class now, more than when this first began. Most of them are pretending that this isn’t happening.

Lilly’s next strike is vicious. It’s like a kick in the nuts. “I don't think so. That would be a very difficult thing for me to do; comparing myself to someone like you.”

Misha opens her mouth but is already having to translate. Her face twitches as if what she has to say is going to taste bad.

“You’re right, the difference between us is like heaven and hell!” A thunderclap echoes silently around the room.

“And it’s not hard to guess which one you might represent,” Lilly retorts, not missing a beat. It’s almost as if she can indeed see Shizune’s signs before Misha interprets them.

The air between them ripples with the heat of their enmity. It’s something that can’t be disguised, and I wonder how things ever got this way between them. Even Misha looks like she’s beginning to understand the real nature of this conversation and wishes she weren’t around.

“I’m not the one who needs a defender from some other class!~”

Entranced, I miss my cue completely. Shizune and now Misha are both staring at me. “What?”

“Hicchan! Pay attention!~ Don't you slack off either!~”

“Wait, what are you talking about?” is all I can say.

“Aren't you taking part in the festival, Hicchan?~ You are, aren't you?~ Then!~ I hope you're going to do a lot more to make sure it goes smoothly than this… person!~"

Lilly turns towards me. It’s clear that she expects me to say something. It’s at this point that I realize I am faced with a choice between night and day, justice and mercy, the taste of salt or the scent of flowers.

In that instant, my life passes before my eyes. An undistinguished life, a meeting in quiet snow in the park behind my old school, the bitter promise of a new life. In the distance I see Hanako at the doorway, her hands to her mouth as she sees what’s happening in here.

I think to myself: “What would Hisao do?” And then I realize: I am Hisao. Whatever I decide to say, it’s my life. I open my mouth to speak.

But the words that emerge seem like those of a complete stranger.

***** (this is where I cut the original story — but there was a second part) *****

Later on, I replay the events of the day in my mind. What I can provisionally deduce is that Lilly is now my friend and Shizune is upset with me enough to still want to make use of me, but nothing more. I think I feel sad about that, but I’ve had enough of her for today. I keep replaying one particular moment, though—the point at which I told Shizune to lay off.

In that moment, Shizune’s expression had not been merely one of wrath. She had looked concerned, then disgusted, then deliberately neutral in her anger. Misha, on the other hand, had looked as if a relative had died; she’d looked like a trusting puppy that had been kicked across the room.

Then Miura, someone I hardly knew, had joined in. “Yeah, fuck, leave the guy alone. He wants to stand up for a friend even though he’s new around here, he’s got guts in my book.”

I had been so sure that my decision was the right one. I wasn’t so sure about Miura, who was almost as tall as Lilly, exotically pretty but strange. But lying in my bed, I feel a sudden lust, a desire to possess Lilly Satou—or more unsettling, for her to possess me. The dried-grass scent of her, with something mildly floral… the sound of her long skirt swishing against a table, the oddly erotic way in which she smoothed her blouse against her body… as if making sure that something feral was kept hidden.

I realize that I’m stiff. My neck has cramped up. My hand lies awkwardly across my lap. Guiltily, I uncurl myself and get out of bed. Outside, I can see the stars. If I look hard enough, I can see a faint river of them.

Perhaps, I’ve been making decisions only because I’m physically lonely. Because the idea of sex as communion, as sharing—that’s what I’m looking for. I’m making decisions as if I’m heading towards a consummation. I’m not sure who I am, and it’s beginning to show.

Maybe I should go back to bed. My meds are doing a good job of not letting me think too much. But still, I wonder, What have I seen today?

Still later, I feel as if I’m dreaming. Maybe I am. I’m thirsty, very thirsty, so I get up and quietly open the door. All the lights are off, and my mad neighbour Kenji is not around to ambush me while completely and alarmingly naked. Down the corridor is a water cooler, and I’ve brought my plastic bottle with me.

As Kenji’s pointed out before, there’s a way to get up to the roof of the men’s block—which is what he calls our dorm. We’re on the lowest residential floor, a wing that connects directly to the foyer and saves us a lot of time getting to the classroom block. There’s even a shortcut to the labs.

Most important, there’s an old staircase which hardly anyone uses, behind a door that everyone thinks is used to store cleaning equipment. The door at the top of the stairs, four floors up, isn’t locked. There’s a padlock there, but its shackle died a long time ago. Kenji keeps it polished, looking new while only pretending to fulfill its original function. Having a mad neighbour can be useful.

I get my water and climb towards the stars. There’s another reason I’m headed that way. Kenji keeps a telescope up there, and from his usual vantage point, you can see down to the balconies of the women’s block and across to their own roof. The blocks are too close to see into their rooms, of course. But he’s always told me you can get across the gap if you only had a strong enough line. That’s the point at which he grins mysteriously and I try not to think of how many spy movies he’s digested.

Maybe I’ll see Lilly Satou—at 3 am, out on her balcony. If I do, it would be an insane coincidence. Or she might have foreign witch-blood in her, and I am under her spell, being summoned to my doom. I can’t stop thinking about her. In a very unsettling way, I can’t stop thinking about Shizune either, because they’re like two sides of a coin.

Very carefully, I open the failed padlock and push the roof access door open. It moves silently, its hinges oiled regularly and well. I step out on the roof and look for the camouflaged cardboard hide that Kenji uses to protect his instrument. In a short while, I’m adjusting the fine focus.

It’s not Lilly, I realize with a blow of disappointment. There’s a figure on a balcony, turning away from me and looking up into the shadows of the mountain behind the school. But that figure is not as tall, not as graceful. To my Lilly-obsessed eyes, she’s just another… Wait. It’s Misha.

I’ve not seen her like this before. She has carefully styled hair, two long spiral drills of bright pink, but tonight, her hair is down, falling naturally to her shoulders. Her nightdress is a subdued shade of beige, gathered loosely around her waist. I can see her pale hands on the parapet of the balcony as she cranes her neck up, gazing into darkness.

I track the telescope along her line of sight. What’s she looking at?

It takes my eyes forever to adjust. And then on a bare patch of slope on the mountain’s broad shoulder, I see something. In the half-moon’s light, I can’t be sure what it is. I stare, rubbing my eyes a little and trying the eyepiece again.

There’s a silver horse on Mount Aoba’s flank. It looks odd, like a pony, but larger and heavier. Above it circles a white crane, black markings prominent. Japanese cranes are red-crowned, but this one has a far darker crest. What’s going on?

I fiddle with the fine focus again. The horse rears. It’s a beautiful creature, all white with a flaxen mane. A distant part of my mind notes that it’s female, and even further into my brain, something tells me that there’s strange marking on its forehead, almost like an injury. As she turns her head towards the crane, I see fierce blue eyes.

The crane lunges. I almost scream, but fear of discovery chokes the sound within me. The telescope loses them. I lose them. I find myself sitting on my ass on the cold concrete. Is that what Misha does every night? Watches myths come to life?

I shake my head. The drugs are doing this to me. I’m actually safe in bed, mixing up everything that’s happened to me in the last few days with a too-active imagination. Right?

Reluctantly, I reach out for the telescope again. With my naked eye, I can see Misha’s outline on her balcony. I wonder what she sees. Feeling like a pervert, I track the telescope’s field of view back to her. She’s not perfectly still. Her chest is heaving, as if she’s been running. It’s quite distracting. Then she wipes her face with a handkerchief, and I realize she’s been sobbing quietly to herself.

For a moment, the sadness of it all gets to me. Then I ask myself why she’s doing that, and all I can think is to look up along the hillside. There’s nothing there, I note with disappointment. Then disappointment becomes disbelief and I track the telescope back up the mountain.

I’m dreaming for sure now. Up in the air, in furious silence, sparks are flying between two creatures out of legend: a phoenix with a dark blue crest, and a dragon with bright blue eyes. The dragon strikes, lips peeling back to show teeth like icicles. The phoenix flares, intense light providing enough distraction for it to evade and counter with a slashing talon. A diamond flies into the night, and the dragon retaliates with a tail-sweep that scatters chrysanthemum petals across the hillside.

Misha and I are locked into this, unwilling observers of a clash of titans… and the moment I think that thought, I know that this is what my heart was telling me. This was what didn’t happen in class earlier today. This was what could’ve happened, but didn’t. And now the cutting words and brutal phrases have given way to fang and fire.

I don’t know how long I watch. It’s with a start that I realize it’s over, and no traces of the combatants remain. Misha’s room is dark, the balcony vacant. Something has changed in my life. It’s as if the story I was in has been rewritten.

*****

I wake in the morning, sore and tired. On the way to the running track, I try to reassemble the fragments of my dreams, but they are too raw and too incredible. The lightly-perspiring girl I meet when I get there looks so very normal—although she is indeed as pretty as I remember—that I doubt even more my experiences of the night before.

“Hi!”

She turns, a little surprise on her face. She’s been dabbing at her face with a small towel. “What the hell!” she says, sounding pleased. “It’s you! Here again? Really?”

I raise a hand, wondering why she sounds so enthusaiastic. Before I can say anything, she wags her long black ponytail at me. “Not many people actually manage to come back for a second try, Nakai. I’m glad I got your character right. Now big bad Miki will take care of you!”

I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this, but I guess things will work out. I smile at her as the sun rises, and wonder what she looks like at night.

=====
alt index
Last edited by brythain on Wed Apr 08, 2015 11:16 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Leaty
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Location: Exile

Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (20—'Fighting Words') (20150407)

Post by Leaty » Tue Apr 07, 2015 6:07 pm

I'm just going to comment on two of these stories: this most recent one and one you did a while back. (If I were to apply my specific brand of commentary to the entirety of your portfolio, I would need full-time wages and probably some adderall. But I can chip away at it little by little. ;)) So let's whip out my terrible handwriting-based font again! (Yep, my handwriting is that ugly.)

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This ficlet evoked for me a (predominantly tasteless) VN I read almost a decade ago. That story began with the rather bland protagonist still smarting from a breakup, and if he failed to successfully romance one of the mysterious mystic waifus (sigh,) he got thrown back in time to before his old girlfriend broke up with him. What you've written here feels very much the same—it genuinely feels like you've written a Lilly Bad Ending. In a parallel universe, I could definitely see this scenario appearing in Lilly's route, somehow.

If my opinion on this one could be Siskelized (or Ebertified,) I'd give it a thumbs-up; I really was tickled by this idea and I think you executed it fairly well. I do, however, think it could have been more than it was.

Let me just get the pedantic stuff out of the way first; as you might have guessed, I've thoroughly dissected and taxidermied every iteration of the Iwanako's Letter scene, and Lilly's route stands out by being the only route where Hisao is blatantly "OMFG fuck this letter" and throws it away. The only one where he actually writes out a response is Rin's route, so this scene would have to take place in a scenario where Hisao felt totally different about the letter, for whatever reason, at the time he received it in "A Brief History of Thyme." It would have been nice if you'd explored why, exactly, that was.

Similarly, Iwanako's motivations come off way too "expository." It feels like you just kind of raced through her explanation—one sentence just wasn't enough. It felt kind of... contrived, maybe? I feel like you should have gone back-and-forth on this a little bit longer. This part of the scene ends way too fast, I guess. I would have liked to see you go into greater depth about how Iwanako grew stronger and more assertive in the seven months or so that they were apart. I guess what I'm saying is that you played this off too much like a deus ex machina when there was plenty of opportunity to write it organically.

Also, since this whole scene starts off as a pastiche of the Lilly Good Ending, it would have been nice if the epilogue was more in parity with the post-credits scene from the route—personally, I don't have a taste for far-future epilogues, and this one was, I think, too expository. If I were to do this ficlet, I would have ended it with Hisao in college, discussing with Iwanako his realization that Lilly wasn't even sending email, anymore. (And maybe ending it with cuddles? This ficlet totally could have ended on cuddles.)

Okay, next up!

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I... just do not know how to feel about this one. Like, I'm not even sure I know what it was I just read.

I mean, obviously I've read 'Cold War' about a million times—though I skipped over it in my fic, that definitely wasn't my original original plan—and I can see how it's different, but I can't exactly understand why it's different. Like, everything about this piece just doesn't make sense to me. I feel as though there's something here that I'm missing. Like, I'm reading it again and I guess that Hisao is commentating more strongly here than he did in the VN? But Hisao also seems a bit more horny and angsty than he was in Act One, or at least that's how my mind is processing it.

I guess that it's interesting, but it just... doesn't work for me. Maybe I'm just really, really tired of Cold War, after a million fics used it as a jumping-off point for mediocre, abortive pseudo-routes, or maybe I'm disappointed because I wasn't sure what was happening and got myself psyched up for something really weird to happen, but I didn't like this one as much as some of the other ones I've read.

Whatever exactly you were trying here, I think it was an interesting experiment, but not one that I think works. At least, it's not my bag. Other people might feel differently. Still, though, I applaud the effort.

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