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Old 10-11-2018, 03:26 AM   #1
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Default [Solo] In Spirit

“Sir, you wanted me to remind you?”

In Spirit



Haru’s scribbling stopped, the pen resting against his writer’s callus. He rolled it back and forth in his fingers as he reclined into the desk chair, looking to his chief administrative officer, who was leaning half-way into the room, a few strands of hair the worse for wear.

“Thank you, Yumi.”

His nod to dismiss her barely moved his braids. After she had closed the door, he propped himself against the edge of the desk, hands spread wide, for the long sigh that was to follow, but cut his procrastination short and instead began to gather up the papers scattered across his beaten wooden desk before fully exhaling. He stacked them, deposited them in their accordion binders and transferred the documents to the short filing cabinet by the door.

The small bullpen beyond his office’s reinforced glass was alive with activity. It was a busy afternoon in EON’s modest headquarters. There were no windows save the ones fronting the street by Yumi’s desk, through which sunlight slanted steeply, and it was clear that the bulbs in one or two of the high ceiling’s hanging lamps would need changing soon, but the wan illumination didn’t phase a single one of his officers, drafted in on rotation from each of Kusagakure’s three major divisions to follow up on cases in Sougen. Some were in it for the long haul, while others commuted, and Haru respected those who had commitments elsewhere.

His eyes glazed over for a moment. When they cleared, he was staring at his own pale reflection, one hand still on the lip of the filing cabinet’s partially closed top drawer. With a quiet sound of admonishment, he rolled his eyes. He held a different opinion on those who shirked their commitments, particularly if they were a certain Sennin with no real excuse to be wasting time.

Quickly locking the drawer, he donned his blue-collared kimono and shinobi sash, fixed his top knot then left his office quietly. The bustle of the bullpen rose to meet him as he turned around. Tora walked past, pushing a perpetrator towards the holding cells and winking at Haru with a wolf-like grin, which caused his own resting frown to dissolve into a soft smile. Was he really showing his hand so plainly? His resulting chuckle shored up the chink in his armour and he swept past his other colleagues with renewed charisma. Whatever the turbulence inside, he would be damned if he let it show.

Not today.
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Old 10-13-2018, 11:50 AM   #2
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Saki was standing outside, tall and long-legged in a slim-cut maroon three-piece, examining the buttons along his suit sleeve and fussing over a cufflink.

“Waiting long?”

The young detective didn’t look up, but swayed on the spot, as if to start walking.

“Not so much.”

Haru moved to head west and Saki fell into step beside him, a golden shadow. After a few moments in silence spent looking along the weather-warped facades of small business up and down the street, Haru cast an eye over his shoulder.

“You didn’t have to wait, you know. You could have taken a beat, met me on the way.”

“True.” Saki slipped his hands into his pockets and shrugged. “But I’m rendezvousing with someone after we part ways, so sooner’s better.”

“Hm.” Haru was tempted to ask the younger man if she was pretty, and opened his mouth to do so, but could fairly feel the fatigue radiating from Saki so he closed it again. The chuunin had literally just arrived from Kusagakure, with only enough time to drop his bags. Instead, Haru made a small sound and gestured for the pair to turn up a narrow side street, bypassing the foot traffic around the government buildings.

“Tora picked up that POI of yours. Seems to be making headway. Any progress on the home front?”

“Nope. Stonewalled.” Saki’s handsome expression soured. It didn’t suit him.

“That’s a good thing,” Haru interjected. “They’re showing their hand by shutting you down. A little give would be natural if they had nothing to hide.”

“I know. It just seems like a wasted trip.”

“Good intel is hard to come by. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Tora’ll make your guy crack and then the pieces will start fitting together. Or at least, the edges’ll start to take shape.”

Saki was silent for a moment, then nodded. The pair passed back into sunlight to navigate a densely peopled plaza, stripping away their dialogue to a handful of sidelong glances and nods. The currents were against them until they neared the entrance to the theatre district, denoted by its oversized, bright red torii gate. Haru picked the reins of the conversation back up when they could walk abreast again.

“How is the Village?”

“Small talk now?”

“No, I’m serious,” Haru professed, with a chuckle. “I’ve been so wrapped up in everything here.”

“Well it’s…fine, I guess. Hasn’t burnt to the ground. They’re in the same bind we are, only with more shinobi in the mix— …what?”

“Nothing.” Haru kept smiling all the same. “It’s just…that’s the first time it’s been ‘they’ and ‘we’ instead of ‘we’ and ‘you’. Feeling more at home here?”

Saki made a show of looking around, but couldn’t hide his expression of eyebrow-pinching amazement when they passed under the multi-coloured rows of unlit festival lanterns lining the streets. The town had been dressed up a fair bit in his absence.

“Slip of the tongue,” he answered, still looking up, although Haru suspected it was more of an avoidance tactic. He didn’t mind, and chose not to push the matter. He appreciated Saki’s companionship and could see the cracks in the younger man’s stamina beginning to show, slip of the tongue or no.

It was time for the two of them to part ways.

“I can take it from here; it's just a short walk. Try to get some rest after that meeting of yours, or shorten the meeting. If you’re making silly mistakes like that, you clearly need it! I’ll need you on top form tonight.”

The chuunin lowered his gaze to street level and scratched his cheek, perhaps realising the merit in the order, or maybe just its good timing. Or neither. Haru found that Saki usually played his cards pretty close to the chest, and liked to keep them that way. Tora was the open book.

“Yeah… I’ll do that,” he said, and started to drift. Haru put a hand out, catching him gently by the elbow.

“You good?”

“Yeah,” he repeated, turning to regard the sennin, his thoughts clearly laboured. Then, after a beat, he relented and scowled softly. “Forgot I had tonight.”

“I know it seems like a lot to ask, but I need you there. Work something out with your partner.”

“Sure, boss,” he said, donning his mask of the professional once again, but not doing the best job of it. “I’ll, uh, see you.” He made as if to leave, then pivoted to backpedal instead. “Oh, and, uh, good lu— I mean, break a leg!"

Haru watched him jog back the way they had arrived until he was out of sight.

Poor kid.

It pained him to be the bad guy when things needed to get done, particularly on a bootstrap, but it was good work, and a good test for his officers. Besides, as Saki had been the first to point out, galas could also be fun!

Last edited by Calibur; 10-14-2018 at 09:45 AM..
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Old 11-05-2018, 04:00 AM   #3
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The stage doors on the western side of the Nogusa Concert Hall were supervised by a single usher, who laid a hand on the nearest brushed bronze bamboo handle when Haru approached. A mural of grasses and wildflowers adorned the entire facade, and opening the door gave the impression of parting the vines to a secret garden beyond, where only the chosen few could go. He slipped inside with a nod, and was greeted by the groans of cold instruments from the orchestra pit down the stairs to his right. He headed the other way, past racks of pantomime costumes and stacks of props marked by tape and paper slips. Two stage hands broke off their conversation and stepped aside with silent deference. Haru grinned and bowed in return.

"Afternoon, gentlemen," he said, pausing to peer at the set list hanging from the wall, illuminated brightly by a lamp sprouting from the wood just above it. "Are we on schedule?"

When neither man immediately answered his query, the closest of the two, and the younger by a good ten years, mumbled an apology and hurriedly checked his pocket watch.

"Yes sir. Wind Rush Quartet is just warming up."

Pleased, Haru nodded thoughtfully. "And how’s the audience?"

By this point, the older man had closed his slack jaw and overcome his first instincts. "Getting there," he replied, with the assurance of experience riding the words. "Seats were about half full this morning, but we got a new influx with the lunch crowd, and it’s only been building since then."

"Excellent," Haru said, with genuine zeal. It might have been that ‘building’ only meant a little over half full, but that was still a good day for any concert hall in the district, where attendance had diminished as recreational drug use had risen. The old ways of getting one’s thrills were at a disadvantage, which was why they needed to be one of the ways the tables could turn — a symbol of the city fighting back. From the sounds of it, they were off to a good start.

The green room was down a short flight of stairs, where sounds from the auditorium piped through copper flutes lining the wall. He moved through to the dressing rooms, his belly aflutter with a minor worry that the item he had requested be brought backstage hadn’t arrived. They stilled when he heard a deep, resonating hum issuing from behind one of the doors.

Thank goodness. If he’s here, it’s here.

And, true enough, it was. In the next room over, on the table in front of the mirror, sat the cello case. Cracked black leather worn smooth around the edges. A small paper luggage tag with the kanji for ‘Tortoise’. Part-rusted iron clips that needed replacing. As good as old. His fingers found the purple fur lining as soon as he opened it, matted down to a satin-like surface and woke the rosewood instrument from its slumber.

He handled his grandfather’s cello with reverence and purpose, turning it over in his hands before sitting to fix its metal stand in place and rest its neck against his own. Then he meditated, eyes closed, feeling out his relationship to the cello, the room, the theatre and the city as a whole. Finding the gateway to his zen.

His hands moved instinctively to tune the instrument, head sifting through each pluck of the strings so that his ear could find the right pitch. Jurou-sama’s cello had always held its tune remarkably well, and it sounded so unlike anything Grass country had ever produced. Haru could only wonder at its origins. But regardless of its storied past, and where it had been, what mattered was where it was now.

What lay ahead.
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Old 11-13-2018, 04:12 AM   #4
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When he returned to the wings, Takamura was waiting for him. His accompanist stood with his narrow back to Haru, rocking lightly on his toes and clasping his hands before him, gazing through the curtains at stage right. His head was bobbing to a rhythm that didn’t match the onstage orchestra’s. Haru drew level and planted his cello before him like a cleaver sword, bow hanging from a spare finger.

"Thank you for bringing it," he whispered, with a slight bow.

The other man nodded distractedly with the flutter of a smile but did not speak. Haru gazed at Takamura a moment longer, enough to take in the light sheen over his shaven head, the tremble at the corner of his eyes, and the glimmer of a different smile behind lips parted to mouth melodic nothings. He always got like this; it was just Takamura’s habit of the craft. Nerves before a performance, driving him forward, the rocking in his feet keeping him moving enough to contain his kinetic energy. How he always kept his fingers so still was a mystery to Haru.

His own were tapping the rounded crest of the cello’s scroll in time with the orchestra’s shamisen section. He wasn’t thinking about his own piece. Thinking wasn’t going to get him anywhere but into a state of second-guessing. Feeling was key. He knew the piece they were going to perform — knew it in his soul, in his body. It was a part of him. He was more likely to forget how to walk onstage and raise his arm or shake his head.

Haru took a step closer to the edge of the wings, where shadow met stage lighting, and tracked his eyes across the small mountain range of peaked black hats to the sea of faces beyond and up, up to the grand circle, where they began to thin out. The upper circle was practically empty. He had hoped that in the hours since his arrival, the audience would have grown. It was good, still, but not the best. However, their applause chased the disappointment away. Loud cheers, yips and whistles punctuated the ovation.

That’s right.

This was not your average crowd. These were people from all walks of life in Sougen and beyond, drawn to see all manner of performing artists in the space of a day, while the festival was not purely about the music. Nor were the cheers. It was also about hope, and community — unity in the face of an epidemic sweeping their nation.

The orchestra took their bows, twice, then shuffled out stage left, while the stage hands swarmed onstage to reorder seats for the next large group and push everything upstage, leaving space for Takamura’s grand piano, which was rolled on from the wings and fixed in place. After its stool was set, a single chair was positioned horizontally across centre stage with a music stand in front of it.

Haru quickly caught one of the retreating concert hall employees by the shoulder and shook his head firmly, causing the man to pause, grimace and hurry back onstage to remove the stand. A rustle of intrigue issued from the seating galleries, backed by a bristling of new commotion as the lights began to dim. He ignored whatever it might be and looked instead to Takamura, who was still as a statue. Gone was the nervous energy. Only the perspiration remained, but Haru could tell it had cooled. The man finally met his gaze, his features devoid of doubt, and the pair nodded. Then they walked out under the cover of darkness to take their seats.

Last edited by Calibur; 11-13-2018 at 04:07 PM..
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Old 11-21-2018, 03:48 AM   #5
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When the lights came up, Haru sat poised, his grandfather’s cello resting against his left collarbone. Behind him stood another cello — his own — brought onstage in a planned turn of events to clip onto the back of his chair so that its fingerboard crested the back of his right shoulder. His duet was to be a trio. He clasped his hands together with a bow hanging from each pinky finger as if in prayer but instead mouthed a near-silent jutsu to feel a familiar rush of chakra to his shoulder. Takamura waited, hands on his lap. The crowd looked on, hushed.

Two ethereal limbs clawed their way free of Haru’s torso, ghostly fingers and joints snapping into place behind him and clothing themselves in sheaths of grass to flex their animated digits, roll their wrists and squeeze their palms a few more times. Naturally, it was a matter of showmanship, as was handing over the spare bow and readying himself, but with all said and done, it would also be one of the more memorable dramatic entrances of the festival season. Takamura met his eyes with a marginal head dip and the glimmer of a smile, then flexed his own fingers before laying them lightly on the keys.

Not yet.

Neither musician’s fingers moved. Haru’s cello was the first to make a sound: deep, syncopated chords plucked by green fingers, steady as a stream, building the bass. Jurou-sama’s rosewood followed when Haru put bow to string and pulled the first note from memory, then the second, the third, the fourth — two minims to accompany each bar played by his spirit self — the part he had once played as a child, while grandpa Jurou had taken the melody. It had been their last duet, never before played live, but locked up tight for decades and now reimagined.

The melody issued from the rosewood like the first birdsong of the morning, bright and hopeful but mourning the night. It grew until the plucked line could no longer sustain it and the green fingers finally put bow to string, resuming Haru’s steady pull and push harmony, the steam having reached the seaside to lap instead upon the shore. Only then did Takamura begin, mirroring the second cello until the torch could be passed and the backing taken to new heights. The chakra arms dipped momentarily, bow falling softly into the custodial palm of a third arm, which had been folded into the space behind Haru’s back, but returned to the fray in a manner Jurou-sama never would have foreseen. Indeed, this was where tradition gave way to innovation and the baton of generations was to be transferred to new hands.

The grassy palms drummed against the cello behind him like the wings of a dancing hummingbird, and as ever greater numbers of arms folded out of his back, the percussive beat intensified and the plucked notes returned. It sounded less like like two men and more like four. Haru hoped his grandfather would approve of the choice.

How long ago it seemed now when the two of them had sat side by side on the corner of block eighty-two, chipped white flagstones dazzling in the warm spring sunshine. A lull in their busking, Jurou-sama counting their take for the morning.

‘Grandpa,’ he had said, ‘what’s this song called that we’re learning?’

‘Doesn’t have a name, Sprite. Not anymore.’

‘What happened to it?’

‘Well, I suppose it got lost, somewhere along the way.’

‘Back where you grew up?’

Jurou-sama had paused then. It happened every time the land of Bear was mentioned. Though he had been oblivious at the time, Haru could now recognise that there had been a pain in his grandfather’s eyes.

‘Yes,’ he had answered, quickly changing the subject, ‘but don’t you worry about that. What matters now is the name you give it.’

‘Me?’

‘Yes you! Unless you think your mam or pap deserve the honour.’

‘Not a chance! You can’t go back on that!’

‘Then what’ll it be, Sprite?’

It was the song they had chosen to perform at the concert later that year. Haru had spent months contemplating the name but had never arrived at a decision. Even after deciding to craft his life with his own two hands as his grandpa had advised, Haru couldn’t put a name on his song of the soul, if this was even it. It was still Jurou-sama’s at that time.

But now it was his. So he played, and all across the audience unfurled a tapestry of Rosewood Dreams.
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