chaos and imagination

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Thank you for reading!

Thank you for reading!

Anonymous sent: How do you feel about the oromo crises in Somaliland

My publicist said I’m not allowed to talk about anything that doesn’t glorify the white people. Sorry.

146065 sent: I knew something was wrong with my dash, but I didn't know what. I was on Imans page and read her about and found you again and now I'm scrolling through your page lolo mashallah youre such an amazing writer woah woah. You should try to get your book published!!

Wowzers! That’s quite the compliment! Masha’Allah, Alhamdulilah, thank you! I didn’t hear back from the first agency I sent my work to, so I’ll try and mass-send them to others now. I’m definitely going to try and get it published! :)

Sharmake Abdi Bouraleh

I’ve also got a Facebook Page for my silliness and wangsty-fueled wangsting. Like it! You won’t regret it!

(Ok. Maybe you will.)

I did it! (As of December 22nd, 2013!)

Well, it took me forever (a year, six months, and 25 days, really, but who’s counting), most of which was spent sleeping or being writer’s blocked or sleeping while being writer's blocked, but I did it. I took my sweet ass time, abandoning my baby for months at a time, but I did it. From conception to completion, the day is here.

I have successfully completed the first draft of my fantasy novel! Hurray! Huzzah! Woo! Go me!!

I’m relatively happy with it. I think it’s clever, and funny, and really good, but shittily paced, there are probably plot holes lying around everywhere, and I focused upon some characters more than others, but…it is what it is. 

In case you’re curious: It’s 24 chapters, 324 pages, and 136k+ words. Yeah.

Thank you to everyone who has given me encouragement or said I was a good writer or promised to read it but never did (don’t worry, I don’t blame you. It’s a massive TL;DR). 

I’d like to thank my Grade 12 Creative Writing teacher, Mrs. Anderson-Reeves, for telling me my stories were something special, and how a stand-alone chapter about a girl who catches her boyfriend cheating with a hooker (and the girl and hooker becoming friends because of it) was something she “couldn’t stop thinking about over the weekend” and “could see as a TV show.” Thanks, Mrs. Anderson-Reeves for being an awesome, tough but fair, teacher. She said that she told a friend about it and he agreed he could see it as a TV show too. I think that’s when I really got a passion for writing and began to think of it as a career I could go into.

I’d like to thank all the sources and inspirations I basically plagiarized (ok, not really, but I feel like I did because a lot of ideas are similar). I’d like to thank people like Runa who consistently reads my chapters and gives me feedback and is basically the first fan of my original story, and Sarah, who is doing the same thing.

This became a massive TL;DR that I probably shouldn’t have delved into. But I’m kinda proud, so I think I deserve a little gloating. It’d be great if I could find an agent/editor and then have this story picked up for the 13 book-installment series I plan for it to be.

Now begins the long, tedious and heart-wrenching task of butchering my babies, selecting which of my children can stay and which get mercilessly deleted out of existed. This is also known as editing…

rotiflip-deactivated20140328 sent: nah i was watching this bolly movie and one of the dudes in credits was named moukhtar ahmed

how did you find me

rotiflip-deactivated20140328 sent: yo is your last name ahmed by any chance

Maybe. Why?

Anonymous sent: You know that Belgian half Somali singer Stromae? Yeah he's my cousin 😏

I’m sorry, I don’t see the resemblance. Not to mention he’s half-Rwandan, not Somali.

Anonymous sent: Y u no followback? 😩

Because that would clutter up my dash and I wouldn’t properly see what I’ve posted and would lose track of my writings rather easily. Sorry about that. I might change that ideology some day, though.

Anonymous sent: Are you qaxooti?

abbisolutely

Anonymous sent: "Oh, I'm a Gummy Bear yes Yeah, I'm a Gummy Bear yeah Oh, I'm a Yummy, tummy, Funny, Lucky Gummy Bear."...?

Anonymous sent: Waryaa..

Balaayo

Anonymous sent: Nigga,

cracka

Anonymous sent: Hey, I found a way to get a lot of followers and make your blog super popular! For some reason it will not let me put links in this message but here go to fоllowhype(.)com

No..

Yin 16: Hell Hath No Wrath Like A Kung Fu Master

Everything was dark.

 

Slowly, the area around him began to lighten up, shifting into white, before it suddenly lit up in a burst of purity. He shielded his eyes with his arm, squinting into the brightness. He could make out the form of someone, walking in the opposite direction from him. The figure suggested it was male, and Kyo instinctively felt there was something vastly important about this man – he had to catch up with him and find out.

 

As he began to run after him, demonic, feathered half-women, half-bird creatures soared from the skies, attacking Kyo, obstructing his vision. Desperation began to claw at him, and he kept trying to shoo away the harpies, slapping and pushing them away, but they were relentless. Ahead, the figure continued to stride forwards, not acknowledging that which occurred behind him.

 

“NO!” he shouted, pushing past the now-flaming harpies, who shrieked in protest. Kyo broke into a sprint, running with all his might as the shadowy figure ventured forth, a flickering flame accompanying it. “Come back!” Kyo pled, a sense of urgency overwhelming him – who was this man? Why was he so important? Did he have a piece of the puzzle Kyo had been working together? “Come back! Please!!”

 

The figure did not heed him. The man seemed to be getting further away from him the further he ran. Kyo realized that the closer he got, the further the man seemed to get. He wouldn’t be able to reach him. He slowed to a walk – perhaps if he didn’t run so fast, the terrain wouldn’t stretch as far and he could reach the man. Slow and steady wins the race. At his slower pace, the man seemed to be closer in range, and the flame floating beside him grew brighter and brighter.

 

“Who are you!?” he screamed, wanting the answers that had eluded him for so long. “Why are you here!?” He had a feeling he knew…a sinking suspicion he wasn’t sure he wanted confirmed, but he’d been without answers too long – for far too long. As he finally reached the man and grabbed him by the shoulders, he was shocked to find that the man was faceless – he had not a single feature on his face. A gasp wrenched itself from the boy as the man’s body began to ensnare Kyo, winding around his arm and body with what seemed like black tentacles. Struggling, he realized that the man had turned into some sort of binding on himself, and as it crept up his body, transforming into twin snakes, one white and the other black, threatening to swallow him whole, all he heard were the echoes of female voices: “Be more careful, Kyo-kun” and “How can you love me? Love does not exist.”

 

The snakes bit him simultaneously, one at each temple, and the sharp pain caused Kyo to lose everything to the darkness.

 

***

 

There were some pleasant ways to wake up. A morning kiss, a hug, perhaps even breakfast in bed.

 

Having a ravenous, grudge-holding, man-eating lioness roar in your face was not one of them.

 

Mentally cursing, he awoke with a start, sitting up in his cot, wondering where he was before it hit him. No, literally – Wang Mu hit him, her rough paw smacking him harshly as he stared around in his bleary-eyed state. She had made no effort to avoid cutting him with her claws, and he felt blood seeping at both temples. Feeling anger at first, he realized who it was assaulting him, and a sort of fearful respect caused him to not retaliate. Looking around, he saw no sign of Long, assuming he was already at the training grounds.

 

Another roar and swipe from Wang Mu got him out of his miserable, lumpy cot, yawning heavily as he stretched himself to awareness. Dressed in his Pokémon pajamas and wearing his Super Mario Bros. slippers, Kyo tossed his Legend of Zelda blanket off him, bunching it up on top of his Devil May Cry pillow and snatching his Resident Evil towel before heading down to the hot springs for his morning bath. It was while he was bathing, relaxing to music on his Samsung Galaxy S4 (NICO Touches The Walls’s single, Niwaka Ame ni Mo Makezu) that his mind drifted to his dream last night.

 

Who had that man been? Why was he in his dreams, and what purpose had the harpies served? Did they symbolize something he wasn’t grasping? Blah, this was all so very confusing and he didn’t have the context to make sense of it yet, so it was best he didn’t think about it too much; that would only make things worse.

 

Another roar from Wang Mu had him scrambling out of the hot springs, drying himself off and donning the black-buttoned, red tangzhuang long-sleeved shirt and black pants, as well as obsidian slip-on shoes. Luckily, there was also a long strip of black cloth he fashioned into a headband, tying it into a not at the back of his head and noting how it hid the Wang Mu-dealt wounds at his temples perfectly.

 

Kyo felt reinvigorated, reenergized, renewed. He was ready to learn how to kick ass. Or avoid getting his ass kicked. Either was good.

 

Led by Wang Mu to the training grounds, he noted how Sifu Lao Shi wasn’t present. Glancing up at the sun, which had risen minutes ago, he grinned to himself. ‘Maybe I’ve made it,’ he thought. ‘Maybe I got away with coming in late.

 

“Idiot pupil!” Before he could even process the words, trying to turn around to where the sound came from, the side of a foot struck Kyo harshly at his left temple. “Ah!” He was on the ground, holding the side of his head tenderly as his vision throbbed.

 

You’re late! Did I not warn you!?” Despite his small stature, Sifu Lao Shi towered over Kyo in that moment, and the shadows cast on the boy from his master’s frame served to remind Kyo of what strength was belied by the appearance of the miniature senior citizen.

 

Gomen nasai, Sifu Lao Shi! It won’t happen again!”

 

“Of course it won’t. Because you are no longer my student. Go home.”

 

“Wha…I can’t just go home…”

 

Go.”

 

“But wha…why?”

 

Sifu Lao Shi’s eyes were sharp and narrow. “Because you clearly do not take me seriously. I told you plainly and clearly so that even dullards like you may be able to grasp the concept. I warned you to appear on time, and I warned you of the consequences. Do you know what your lack of punctuality tells me? It tells me that you are neither driven nor honourable nor willing to heed the words of your wise elders. It tells me that you do not have the patience nor the respect to want to learn my teachings. I am doing you a favour, yet you disrespect me by not even coming on time. Why should I waste the time on such an insolent brat?”

 

Kyo got down on his knees, bowing before his sensei. “Apologies, Sifu Lao Shi. You are right. Please forgive me just this once. I swear to you, by the sun and the moon, that I will never disrespect you with tardiness again.”

 

His plea was met with a swift kick to the other temple.

 

“Get up, idiot pupil. You’ve much to learn, and much suffering to endure. Do you not wonder why your tangzhuang shirt is red, as opposed to white like Long’s?” For the first time since Kyo had known him, Sifu Lao Shi smiled – Kyo didn’t like it. “Because it will be easier for you if you don’t see how freely your blood will flow.”

 

Fuck. Kyo hated that smile.

 

Fixing his pupil with a death glare, Sifu Lao Shi launched right into the topic. “There are many Kung Fu forms and stylings. In China, there were styles of fighting that were formed after observing the natural movement as well as offensive and defensive mannerisms of certain animals. These ‘animal styles’ have developed world renown for their unique techniques and emphasis on different areas of importance. Chief among them are these styles seven: Tiger, Crane, Leopard, Snake, Praying Mantis, Monkey and Dragon.

 

“Each style has a noble origin and a colourful history in its own right. But you are not here to learn all their histories; you are here to learn but one. Perhaps you are not so big an idiot as to not be able to tell which style’s secrets I shall be imparting on you.”

 

Sifu Lao Shi stared at him pointedly, and Kyo answered, “Seeing as I am the Son of the Snake, I’d imagine the Snake Style denomination of Kung Fu is what I will be learning.”

 

“Correct. Perhaps your stupidity isn’t as rampant as I thought.” He raised a single fist. “Regardless of whether you call it Fanged Fist Style, shéquán, or Hebiken, the Snake Fist style is one of the most respected and eloquent fighting styles in all of China, and the world over. For your ease of remembrance, I shall refer to it as hebiken from now on. Though it may be studied and applied extensively in China, there are few practitioners of the art outside these borders. Therefore, you may have some small advantage by way of the element of surprise – and since hebiken relies on countering your opponents’ defense and striking at opportune moments from places they do not expect, this tips the scales in your favour even further.” Kyo covered a laugh by coughing, wondering if that pun had been intended. Sifu Lao Shi ignored him, a fact for which Kyo was grateful. “What did you do back home in Tokyo? What was your ambition?”

 

“I was a student, but I also worked as an acupuncturist.” He hesitated, before answering the second half, “I was in school to be a doctor.”

 

“I did not ask what you were in school to become. I asked you what your ambition was. What did you want to become? I want to know your dream, not your parents’.”

 

Kyo winced; he’d seen right through him. “…I want to see the stars and skies. I want to know what is up there, what is beyond, what I used to look up to when I was a child, and why I am down here, left with a big question and no answers. Perhaps there will be answers in the heavens. Even if I find a single conclusion, just one certainty, I will be content.”

 

Sifu Lao Shi appraised him in silence. ‘This boy…he has the makings of a great philosopher, a great teacher, a great mind. Just as he may do so in the future to others, right now, he has a fresh mind that needs some moulding.’

 

“Very well, idiot pupil. Your time as an acupuncturist will do you well. I’m assuming, as you performed such a job, you have intricate knowledge of the body and pressure points?” Kyo nodded, and he continued. “That information will serve you well as the Serpent’s Son. As the representative of the Snake of the Zodiac, and as a practitioner of the hebiken, an intimate knowledge of the body, yours and otherwise, will be very beneficial to you.

 

“Now the first lesson in hebiken: if there is an opportunity to escape, take it. While it is brave to stand your ground, it is not wise to fight the enemy in an area where you are not superior. Hebiken does not rely on strength, nor does it rely on endurance or bravery. Hebiken, like the fighting styles of actual serpents, relies on the wisdom to strike when optimal and escape when opportune. Hebiken does not focus on attacking: rather, it will, like the snake, avoid combat unless cornered and provoked – when all options are exhausted, then you must counterattack.

 

“There will be those with whom fights are unavoidable. There will be those who will seek to strike first, strike fast, and strike strong. I will teach you how to deal with those people. Recall how you avoided Wang Mu for as long as you could, before you deemed the situation necessary of your standing and fighting. How you dealt with Wang Mu is how you should deal with a majority of your enemies – perhaps that should have been a red flag as to your Zodiac affinity. Strike quickly, but only when you have reason to. Sacrifice strength for speed. Properly utilized, in conjunction with your elemental affinity of fire, you will be quite the threat. It is then, when you have mastered hebiken, that you may choose to dictate whether or not your personal fighting style will place more emphasis on bravery and striking first, or whether you will take a pacifist approach and strike only when necessary. When the time comes, you must choose wisely. It will be your choice, but recall this: bravery begets victory.”

 

Kyo nodded, bowing.  “What’s next?”

 

Sifu Lao Shi raised his index and middle finger on the elevated hand, beckoning to Kyo to come forth. In his open palm, there were two pebbles. Eyeing him warily, under Sifu Lao Shi’s stern nod, he snatched the two pebbles out of the elder man’s hand, grinning to himself.

 

“That was easy,” he proclaimed proudly. Sifu Lao Shi smiled.

 

Shit.

 

“This is the pebble exercise you’ve been wary about.” Upon Kyo’s questioning eyebrow, wondering how he could possibly know that, Sifu Lao Shi reminded him, “I know everything that goes on in this land. Now that you have ‘successfully liberated’ the pebbles from my inexorable grasp, place one in each of your slip-on shoes. Then we shall begin.”

 

That’s it?’ Kyo thought, doing as Sifu Lao Shi asked, ‘this is the infamous pebble exercise of which I’ve heard so much about? This is nothing.’

 

Almost as if reading his thoughts, Sifu Lao Shi’s smile grew wider. Damn.

 

Lowering his posture, leaning back and raising his arms, hands flattened out like snake-heads – right one above his head, the other by his chest, one leg forward and the other a little ways behind – Sifu Lao Shi assumed the position of hebiken. Turning his right ‘snake head’ hand into a beckoning gesture, he instructed Kyo on what to do.

 

“Engage me in confrontation. Observe my reactions to your actions. Keep a critical eye, for I strike as quick as a viper. Begin!”

 

Every kick, every punch, every lunge, grab and attack was countered and evaded with minimal effort; a duck here, a hand blocking there, a leap and so on. Kyo quickly realized that the pebbles in his shoes were there to be a hindrance to him, poking and rubbing his feet raw – it was particularly painful when he leapt and landed. He grit his teeth and bore it; this was surely a test of endurance from Sifu Lao Shi. He wouldn’t disappoint him. Pushing past his pain, he kept up the assault, but it was about three hours later that he finally had to put a stop to his assault.

 

“I can’t go on anymore,” Kyo panted, collapsing to the ground and removing his shoes in a hurry. “My feet are killing me – I tried to last as long as I could, Sifu Lao Shi, I’m sorry my endurance isn’t good enough.”

 

“Your endurance is fine,” Sifu Lao Shi corrected. “But that wasn’t the point of this test, which you failed to pass.”

 

Kyo paused just as he was about to toss the pebbles from his shoes away. “But…I don’t understand…I thought you wanted me to endure the pain and work through it?”

 

“I never once said such. Your assumptions caused you enormous pain with no pay off – you should note that assumptions and presumptions are just as deadly as swords.” Sifu Lao Shi opened his palm, revealing he was once again in position of the pebbles Kyo had been holding moments before. ‘What the hell!? When’d he get them? I didn’t see him at all!’ Kyo wondered.

 

“No, this was a test in wisdom. You had a hindrance, a physical limiter that inhibited your ability to perform optimally. Sometimes, it is necessary to push through the pain and is, in the heat of the moment, not as important as the task up ahead. However, this was a simple training exercise that was designed to get an intricate look at your default thought process. When a hindrance is imposed upon you, whether by order of your superiors or otherwise, the wisest course of action is to remove it if it interferes with your ability to do the task you were assigned. That was your test. Your objective was to see if you had the wits about you to disregard orders that interfered with your ability to obtain your goal, and do what would be best to ensure success for the mission, regardless of whether or not you had to disobey rules to do it.”

 

Sifu Lao Shi fixed him with an inquisitive stare. “Why limit your power to do your best because you were told to do so? If your interests and your superior’s interests are aligned, and they give you a contradicting order that would compromise or increase the difficulty of obtaining the objective, disregard it – the Snake is an independent and wise creature. Wisdom is the ability to use discretion between when you should act and when you should think, and you have failed to display the level of autonomy that is typical of the Snake. ‘Vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a nightmare.’ That is important, because should you lose contact with your superiors or those who have instructed you in your task, or should you run into unforeseen trouble, you need to have the state of mind in which to think for yourself, assess the situation, analyze possible courses of action, and select the best compromise between most reward and less risk. That is the mindset of a Snake. That is what you need to learn.”

 

Kyo shook his head, bitter disappointment washing over him. All that pain, all that effort, and still he had failed to impress his sensei. Sifu Lao Shi caught sight of his disappointment, tears streaming down his cheeks, and forcefully threw his slipper at Kyo’s head. Knocked to the ground, the boy stared up at the short man paradoxically towering above him.

 

IDIOT PUPIL! You think you have the luxury of feeling sorry for yourself!? You think that a Child of the Zodiac, much less the shrewd and intelligent Snake, has the time to cry? You think you can afford to sit there and weep your little heart out and mope around and do nothing productive? And you call yourself the Son of the Snake? What a joke! The true Serpent’s Son would take this as an opportunity to learn from its mistakes and better itself – it would never make the same mistake twice. And yet here you are, tears streaming, giving yourself a pity break as though you are some special little snowflake who is entitled to break down and cry when the going gets tough. You are the Serpent’s Son. You have potential, great potential, and your mind could easily be the smartest out of the Zodiac. Do not weep for failure, learn from it. Ensure that you become wiser than before, for your experiences are the only way to better yourself. You think I’m a cruel teacher? Experience is a cruel teacher: it gives the test before presenting the lesson.” He huffed, calming down before speaking firmly once more. “Learn from this, Kyoji of Japan. I will not tell you this again.” He waved him off. “You are dismissed for today.”  He glanced at his pupil once more, before disappearing instantly.

 

Fu Shi lumbered forth, nuzzling Kyo’s hand, urging him to climb up on his back. The boy nodded, hobbling with difficulty to the lion’s side before straddling him and letting himself be taken away. The next thing Kyo knew, he was chest-deep in warm, relaxing waters. Sighing, he remained in a drowsy state, not quite nodding off, thoughts of Sifu Lao Shi’s rant mulling over in his mind like the waters in the hot springs. ‘Maybe he was right,’ Kyo thought. ‘Maybe I should take this as an opportunity to learn how not to make the same mistake again. After all, if I wish to stare the stars in the eyes, I can’t afford to quit just because it gets too hot.’

 

“Recovering from the pebble test, I see.” Soft footfalls approached Kyo, and the boy peeked to catch an image of a well-dressed young man in a suit with a shock of blonde hair. Sonic removed his leather white dress shoes and socks, placing his feet in the warm water. He smiled at the boy, a reassuring, genuine smile. “I’m told it’s quite the bitch and a half.”

 

Kyo groaned. “You’ve no idea.”

 

“Actually, I do.” Kyo opened his eyes at this. “I had to go through a similar exercise with Haruhiko-sama. I’d presume he was more lenient and forgiving than Sifu Lao Shi, but I assure you, I’d imagine that I can understand what you’re feeling right now.”

 

Kyo closed his eyes, sinking a little lower into the warm, soothing waters. It felt so good to just lie there.

 

“Did you know,” Sonic began, “that these waters are magical?” As Kyo perked an eyebrow in response, Sonic continued, “I’m serious. It’s said that these waters were blessed by a witch, and created from the tears of phoenixes. Much like how phoenixes can regenerate, their tears also embody this ability to be imparted upon others.” He nodded towards toward Kyo’s feet. “You’ll most certainly find them healed by now.”

 

Raising a foot out of the water, Kyo found his remark to be true. “I’m sitting in phoenix tears? That’s kinda cool…”

 

Sonic nodded, idly kicking water with his feet. “There’s a reason these hot springs are here; I’d wager it’d be impossible to survive or heal enough normally to withstand Sifu Lao Shi’s intense training otherwise. Though, after a bout with Sifu Lao Shi, I have my doubts as to whether or not it’s only your physical wounds that need healing.” Casting a careful cerulean eye over Kyo, Sonic studied the boy before him. “He’s got good intentions, Kyo, even if his methods are questionable. Despite that, his methods work. I do apologize for how he can be, but as with any medicine, the bitter the better. Think of him as an unpleasant bout of fever that will get worse before becoming better. And when it does get better, it’ll be all worth it, don’t you think?”

 

“I suppose…” Kyo was secretly thankful for Sonic’s kind counsel. “What brought you here?”

 

Sonic smiled. “Lady Takamura requests your presence. The day is not done, and you’ve still got much to learn.” He removed his feet from the water, getting ready to put on his socks and shoes once more. “I suggest you get ready quickly. You’re going to want to learn this.”

 

“Wait, she’s teaching me things too? I suppose it’s the more spiritual side to all this stuff?”

 

“You’re quite perceptive, aren’t you?”

 

Kyo nodded, and in a short time, he was dressed and ready, escorted by Sonic to the lush courtyard garden. There, they found Takamura sitting on the benches by the rose gardens, viewing the clouds overhead. The sky was a brilliant blue, bright white clouds floating aimlessly above. She seemed to be staring at them in concentration, focused onyx eyes flickering between the shapeless clouds. As they approached, Takamura called them over, eyes still focused upon the sky.

 

“What’s she doing?” Kyo whispered to Sonic.

 

“I’m cloud-gazing,” Takamura replied, to Kyo’s surprise; he hadn’t thought she’d heard him. “You’d be surprised at the amount of subtle omens Mother Nature gives us, provided we’ve got eyes as sharp as a hawk’s to notice them.” Feeling Kyo’s inquisitive gaze, she answered. “Aeromancy – the study of the clouds and weather. A useful art, if you know what to look for.”

 

“You, however, you’re here to learn another –mancy. But before we get to that, you need to learn how to manipulate and control your chi.”

 

Kyo nodded, and Takamura finally turned her gaze upon him. “What do I need to do?”

 

“First,” Takamura began, “you need to relax. There’s a reason I sent Sonic to locate you right after you slipped into the healing hot springs: you would be at a state where you felt the most ease and the less stress and tension. For a beginner, this will be most helpful.” Pulling out her kiseru, she lit it, copious amounts of smoke forming into a shadow, smokey silhouette of a man. The man was riddled with innumerous green dots, and from these dots flowed a seemingly blue liquid.

 

“As I’ve told you before, within each person’s body is a network of interconnecting points of power, miniature ley lines from which the very essence of life in energy form is produced and transferred between them. It is the reason you are still alive – depletion of your chi is equivocal to and often constitutes death. Furthermore, it is said that the soul is nothing more than an exceptionally-powerful collection of chi within you; given that death occurs when the soul leaves the body – or, alternatively, death is the cause of the departure of the soul – this makes a startling amount of sense.”

 

“Chi is important, sure, but how do I benefit from that?”

 

“As I said,” Takamura noted, “everyone is born with the potential for the mystic arts, but to prevent injury, most of the chi nodes are located at your pressure points, or tenketsu. If you manage to control the opening and closing of your tenketsu, you will be able to learn chi manipulation, and turn the invisible, intangible substance into tangible, physical energies that can have countless applications.” Continuing, she said, “Given that you were skilled in acupuncture, you’re well aware of the pressure points in the human body, and the chi points as a result. Chi is produced by the organs, most notably the stomach and the heart. Therefore, it is possible to regain lost chi by replenishing your health, usually by means of food which is converted into energy and chi. It is also possible, with time and training, to increase the amount of chi one’s body is capable of storing and producing at any given time, though this takes a lot of effort on the part of the trainee. Your will must be like iron, if you wish your body to be so as well.”

 

“What can you do with chi?” Kyo asked, curious for a demonstration.

 

Gesturing to the smokey, shadowy man Takamura said, “I moulded my chi and imbued it with the smoke, bending it to my will. With the chi in the smoke, I can manipulate it as I please, for it is one of the many techniques I know. With proper chi control, you too will be able to manipulate and generate many effects and techniques.”

 

“You have displayed a talent for chi control to the point you could channel your chi from your hand into the card after solely being instructed in it,” Sonic elaborated. “You are also aware, again, of the pressure points on the body, and have already had a near-death experience at least one time that we know of when you encountered Kuchisake-Onna and encased her in a ball of flames, despite it being rainy outside. I have no doubt you’ll grasp this lesson quickly, Kyo-san. You certainly seem to be turning out as a prodigy.”

 

“Beginner’s luck,” Kyo said. “Maybe Lady Luck’s smiling down on me.”

 

Takamura smiled.

 

“Chi can be utilized for a variety of uses. Suppose you are in the wild, alone and night has settled. Should you be attacked, whether by animals or other enemies, those of a weaker will can be scared off or incapacitated by the mere pressure of your chi. You would have to release a large amount of chi all at once, in a sharp, quick burst in order to achieve this effect. Watch as I demonstrate.”

 

Sonic whistled, which instantly had a negative effect on the animals nearby. Amongst them, a rhinoceros and a bull by the serene pond turned, killer instinct radiating from them in waves. Bucking at the ground, they began to charge at both Takamura and Sonic, both of whom smiled demurely and waited patiently. It was when they were near that Kyo felt an immense air pressure in the surrounding area – Takamura’s and Sonic’s hair were ruffling, and their clothes were rippling with the force of their expelled chi. The aura about them caused the animals to falter, and where killer instinct had been moments before, pure, unadulterated terror was on full display. Stumbling over themselves in their attempt to get away, the animals ran from Takamura and Sonic as quickly as they could, disappearing into the horizon.

 

Kyo himself was slick with sweat, heart throbbing and pupils dilated. “W-w-what…the hell…was that…!?”

 

“A useful trick that you will learn in time.” Takamura pointed at him. “At any rate, much like myself, you have an affinity for the element of fire. Typically, this manifests itself in certain personality traits, such as impatience hot-headedness, and a violent temper. Conversely, it also indicates those who are passionate, nurturing and have a warm disposition. Do you recall when you yelled at me in my saké shop for my supposed inaction in pursuing Hatsumomo after she had been kidnapped? It brought to mind how Hatsumomo suspected you may have had an affinity for fire. The cards certainly seemed to fit. This is good, Kyo, for there are many things that you can do with fire.

 

“You are an interesting case. You are the Serpent’s Son, reserved, wise, focused on reaction instead of action. Yet your element, much like the Snake’s, is fire, passionate, wild, unpredictable. You must strike a careful balance between them, walking the line with a sort of finesse and class as a result of the wisdom you shall gain in this life. The yin and yang is strong in this one.” Takamura smiled. “Lucky for you, the Snake is all about the wisdom. Let us hope that it is hereditary, Son of the Snake.”

 

Kyo grinned, beginning to warm up to the idea of being a hero. “This sounds like a lot of fun. What applications does fire have?”

 

In response, Takamura looked at him pointedly before spontaneously combusting, erupting into flames that incinerated her within seconds.

 

No!” Kyo screamed, mouth agape at the spontaneity of the fire. He couldn’t blink, couldn’t think, couldn’t believe it. ”No, no! Takamura!

 

“The Snake always did have a thing for theatrics, didn’t it, Sonic?”

 

Kyo whipped his head about, spotting Takamura quite a bit away from them, alive and well. She erupted into flames again, disappearing, before appearing in a burst of flames once more. The boy before her was speechless.

 

“By vitalizing every part of your body with chi,” Takamura explained, “you are capable of enabling it to manifest in your preferred elemental proclivity, literally becoming your element and teleporting to wherever you’d like. There are limits, of course: you must have your destination clearly and firmly visualized in your mind’s eye, some place you’ve been before or know well enough about to accurately depict it. It takes practice, patience, and power. One of the more advanced techniques, but it certainly is handy.”

 

Kyo considered. “Why can’t you teleport into the Yakuza’s lair and rescue Hatsumomo?”

 

“They have multiple lairs,” Sonic clarified. “There is no way of knowing which one Hatsumomo-san is being kept in, assuming she’s still even in Japan. On the other hand, Misaki knows where Takamura-sama’s shop is, as it’s a public, open place – it’s the only place Takamura-sama and her associates would keep shop. They seemingly have no idea about Sifu Lao Shi’s mountaintop abode. By merit of that restriction, our inability to teleport within their lair due to not knowing what it looks like is the same token by which they cannot teleport here. It’s a double-edged sword, but it’s fair.”

 

“Speaking of swords,” Kyo remembered, “what happened to that katana sword in Takamura’s shop? You didn’t leave it behind, did you?”

 

“No,” Takamura admitted. “I keep it on me at all times, after your curiosity nearly got you killed. Worry not about that sword – you’ve got your own worries to deal with. That aside, we’ve got to go through basic menial exercises to teach you how to manipulate your chi. We’ll start with the breathing exercises, and then the mental ones. Inhale, exhale, take a deep breath, hold it, and feel a connection to the life-sustaining substance you take for granted. Realize how important nature is, and realize the importance of the breath. You inhale air, absorb oxygen, and expel the carbon dioxide you produce in exchange. All in one, simple breath. You don’t even think about breathing, it’s an inherent action, subconscious and subtle, though you do have voluntary control over it. Controlling your chi gates is like that: you have inherent control over them, but you will need to train to better your manual control.

 

“Think of how without air, there can be no fire. Focus on your breathing, learn to take precise, controlled breaths, and learn to master peace by controlling your piece of mind like you control your inhale, exhale. Converge your chi and breath together, and expel it forcefully from your mouth. If you do it correctly, you can convert your mere breath into a flame-throwing weapon.”

 

“Even I have trouble with this one,” Sonic noted. “I’m not quite up to Takamura-sama’s level, but once you pull of this tricky technique, you’ll be able to advance onto more complicated techniques. Remember: inhale, feel, exhale, feel.”

 

The afternoon dragged on, with Kyo focusing on breath-control exercises. He felt silly, as though he were practicing how to stay calm during a birthing procedure. Still, he kept at it, absent-mindedly flicking the spark-wheel on his green lighter. Eyes closed, breathing intently, he spent most of the day trying to clear his messy mind, jumbled thoughts trying to push their way back into the centre of his consciousness. No matter how hard he tried, visions of that mysterious man in his dreams, Kikyou’s upset visage and Hatsumomo’s smiling face kept pushing to the forefront of his thoughts. Finally, he heaved a sigh, prompting Takamura to raise an eyebrow in question.

 

“I had a weird dream last night,” he revealed, and Takamura appeared more alert at his words. He spent the next few minutes explaining what happened to the best of his recollection, and Takamura’s onyx eyes seemed to be darting between his eyes, watching him in scrutiny. When he was done, she said nothing.

 

“Well?”

 

“You’re sure you saw a mysterious man transform into twin snakes, white and black, before striking you? And her and Hatsumomo’s voices?”

 

Kyo nodded, thankful for her tactfulness in not mentioning Kikyou’s name, or referring to her as his ex-girlfriend. “Yes, I remember that very well.”

 

“Show me to your pillow.” Takamura stood up, sweeping her kimono about her as she made her way to Kyo and Long’s room, followed by Sonic. Perplexed, Kyo followed after them. Once there, they found Long lounging about in his bed, eating spoonfuls of peanut butter from a jar. Scrambling to sit up and hide the jar behind his back, Long looked like a deer caught in headlights.

 

“It’s not what it looks like, I swear!” he spluttered. “You can’t tell Sifu Lao Shi!” Takamura completely ignored him, instead reaching for the Devil May Cry pillow case Kyo pointed out. With her kiseru, she produced a smokey cloud that formed into a solid computer, one with a small USB cable she plugged into the actual pillow. Kyo didn’t know that could be done – obviously it had a purpose. On the screen, a folder entitled ‘DREAMS.EXE’ popped up, and she double-clicked it, opening a program that opened yet another folder. Within were dates, and Kyo recognized as being within the last few days.

 

“…Are those my…dreams? How…?”

 

“It’s a dream catcher. I know a thing or two about techno-sorcery.” Her answer was short and simple, and she clicked the video with the date of the night before. Instantly, a video opened up, and the group watched on with rapt attention as Kyo’s dream played out on the computer screen before them. The man, the voices, the snakes, all appeared just as Kyo said. Once the dream finished playback, the Daughter of the Dragon looked to be deep in thought, her eyes narrowed as it so often did when she was lost in contemplation.

 

“Does it mean something?” Kyo ventured. “Something important?”

 

“I fear,” Takamura began, “that it just might.”

 

“Dun dun DUN.” Everyone looked at Long, another spoonful of peanut butter in his mouth. He shrugged. “What? I thought this was a dramatic moment.”

 

“Dreams are very important,” Takamura explained, not acknowledging Long’s comment. “They can be visions, prophecies, tales of things to come. They can be memories of before, a past life, or some event that happened long ago. Properly interpreted, it can serve as a warning. Dreams usually have a purpose. Like cloud-watching, all one must do is learn what to look for.”

 

“What are we looking at here?” Kyo inquired. “Who’s the man and what are the snakes? What about their voices?”

 

“We will find out in due time. If I had to guess, however, I’d wager that at the very least, the harpies symbolize something holding you back from moving forward. Whether internal or external, there is something preventing you from moving on with your life and finding out what you seek. I suspect the man represents that desire for knowledge that is constantly eluding you, but that’s simply a guess. Only you will be able to know for sure.” She dismissed the smoke with a wave of her sensu fan. “For now, let us focus on your spiritual journey.

 

“Aside from learning from a shaman, who specializes in possession, I as an itako specialize in summoning spirits. I’m not sure you’re a suitable type for this branch of the mystic arts, and it wouldn’t do to have too much on your plate at once. You need to become proficient in one area before you end up as a ‘Jack of All Trades, Master of None.’ It is better to do a single job proficiently than it is to do many ineffectively.

 

“More to the point, you’ve been practicing your breathing exercises, now let’s practice actual elemental manifestation. Inhale, feel, and when you exhale, focus on a particularly strong emotion; this is because fire is dependent upon a passionate thought or feeling to erupt from you, and it helps you mould your chi with a mindset that is complimentary to your elemental affiliation. Fire is passionate, proud, untamed. Think of a strong ideal or memory, and when you mix your chi with your breathing patterns, focus on that emotion. Try your hand at it now.”

 

With closed eyes and measured breathing, Kyo’s thought of his source, focusing on that thought and expelling a sharp burst of brilliant red flames from his mouth. The heat came in a rush, warm and relieving. It felt as though a great pressure from within his chest had been released along with the flames. It was a good feeling.

 

Takamura nodded proudly. Sonic clapped. Long just stared in horror as his jar of peanut butter melted through his fingers. Kyo breathed in slowly, opening his eyes at last, as he turned to look at Takamura. “Did…did I just…?”

 

“Breathe fire?” She was smiling rather brightly. “Yes, you did. On your first attempt at that. You’ve shown prodigious talent, Kyo.” With a deft wave, a bottle of saké and a couple of wine glasses appeared in her hands, accompanied by a puff of smoke. “To celebrate, let us drink to your accomplishment.” Sonic poured the drinks for them, a small amount of the deep, purple liquid for Kyo and a full glass for Takamura. The itako raised her glass in toast to Kyo.

 

“To the continued success of the Prodigious Progeny, the Serpent’s Son, Kyoji of Japan!”

 

He really did it. He managed to breathe fire. Clinking his cup against Takamura’s before taking a deep sip, Kyo couldn’t help but feel as though he was accomplishing something – as though he was one step closer to rescuing Hatsumomo and tackling on the big bads yet to come. The drink tasted bitter, Kyo noted, assuming that to be the reason why Sonic had given him so little.

 

He set down his glass with a satisfied sigh, and caught Takamura’s eyes – was it his imagination, or had she been gazing at him intently as he drank his saké? Perhaps she was thinking about her previous wards. Kyo wondered how he stacked up in comparison to them, and if that’s what Takamura was contemplating as well.

 

Through the window they could see the sun beginning to set. Kyo sighed in relief; he was going to be able to get back to bed and off to sleep soon. He asked Sonic for some more saké, to which the blond man acquiesced, giving him a little more. It had been a long day but he’d made it through, he had a purpose, and he had those who wished to see him succeed.

For the first time in a long time, Kyo felt something he had denied himself: safety and belonging.

 

He was amongst family now.