The Mountain Guardian (ArgentAconit and Tinder)

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Inconceivable
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A Few Posts a Week, One Post a Week, Slow As Molasses
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Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
More Aggressive. May change depending on partner.
Favorite Genres
Fantasy (High, Low, Modern, Any), Romance, Supernatural Creatures, Fairytale Retellings, Mythological, Heroes Journeys, Fandom (Bioware Games). Open to Trying Different Genres.
Genre You DON'T Like
Furry, Animals, Historical (Especially the Victorian Era), Hardcore Scifi
#1
A cracked stone path surrounded by a tunnel of greenery greeted Narihira when he stepped out of the little blue car. The wind swept forward almost in a greeting to ruffle his short cropped hair and to kiss his cheeks with its cool touch. His first taste of the mountain air left him breathless. So sweet yet ancient, almost from another century. It stirred something within him that he had no name for, a sensation somewhere between excitement and fear. Something that his ancestors might have felt standing on the edge of this forest before the world began to outgrow such wonders.

“Here’s your bag, Takenaka-san,” the driver, a little old man by the name of Sato-san, said as he pulled Narihira’s suitcase out of the trunk and offered it to him. It contained only a handful of essentials that his mother had not sent up with his other things.

The younger man took a hold of it and inclined his head to the other. “Thank you very much. I hope I didn’t put you through too much trouble.”

“None at all. Welcome to the neighborhood,” Sato-san responded with a grin as he stepped around to get back into the car. “If you need anything, I live just down the hill. No more than a half an hour to walk. Come on over sometime.”

“I will, thank you!” Narihira waved at Sato-san as he drove off, leaving the younger man alone with his thoughts. He turned back to the forest with to stare down the path again. Not one creature made itself visible. Only a few strains of bird song indicated any living being made its home here. Eerie yet inciting like the beginning of an old tale full of monsters and warriors. One waiting for him.

The trip up the path to the house took Narihira longer than he expected. His mother had warned him that the cabin was far from the road though not a ten minute walk away. Little wonder why his father had talked of widening the path. A car would shorten the trip significantly. Not that his mother would allow such a thing.

He reached the yard puffing from his impromptu hike and found the small house waiting in the clearing. His eyes widen as he took it all in. It looked like something straight out of a history book, the sort of classic Japanese architecture that tourists flocked to. Only a handful of visible repairs took away from that image: some new screens on the doors, new glass, and a few wood panels that didn’t match the color of the aged wood. His father had sent a crew up to begin the renovations before Narihira chose to come, intending to prepare it for the next spring as a vacation home. He had consider it to be too rustic. Narihira, however, didn’t mind it. It would be more work than his apartment back in Tokyo without the hassle of his many neighbors.

He approached the house and unlocked the door with the key provided for him. A small entryway greeted him with a little cabinet sitting by the side shoe rug and a few simplistic pictures adorning the ways. A handwritten note waited for him on table bearing his parents’ seal, from his mother judging by the handwriting. He shook his head. Always the worrier.

After setting down his bag and slipping on a pair of house slippers, he paced down the main corridor to investigate the house. First he passed by the door leading into a small sitting room where he spied a low table in front of a flat screen TV—disconnected as the internet connection had yet to make it out so far—with a chest of drawers and pair of cabinets against the other walls. The scent of new carpet and wood polish hung in the air. He made a mental note leave the windows open for the night.

Across the hall he found the kitchens, a narrow room with a counter running the length of it, a small refrigerator, and stone stove. Little appeared to have changed in this room outside of the new fridge and a handful of appliances lining the counter. Upon examining the stove, he discovered it was wood burning which would present an interesting challenge when preparing his meals. Perhaps he ought to have asked about that sort of thing ahead of time.

He found the bathroom located off the kitchen, a small room with just enough space for a sink, toilet and bathing area. Much like the kitchen, little looked changed outside of some piper work that appeared to have happened. His father must have chosen to wait on the major renovations. Most would take months to complete, especially given the issue of the narrow path.

The last room he found was his new bedroom. A futon sat in the center of the room next to the other luggage his mother had sent along before him. A closet and chest of drawers that both appeared to have been added during the renovations stood at the back of the room. Very little decor had been added, obviously an invitation for him to make himself at home in the room. He smiled again though with some effort. His eyes had strayed to the pile of art supplies he sent along. He only meant to have them around to keep his skills sharp but even so…

He returned to the front of the house to collect his other bag, passing by a linen closet and what looked like stairs leading up to an attic. He ignored both for the time being, deciding that settling in would be a better way to spend his evening. For better or worse, he would be living her for a few months or however long it took to satisfy his mother. The sooner he got comfortable, the sooner he could turn his attention to other matters.

The first few days trickled by as Narihira adjusted to the house. He unpacked his things on the first day, taking some time to hang a few of the favorite paintings he’d received over the years around the house. Some inspired him while others merely brightened the room; each and every one reminded him why he had chosen to dedicate his life to art. The use of color, the technique, each chosen specifically to invocate an emotion without saying a word. He ran his fingers along the frames as a fond smile touched his lips.

In addition he filled the shelves with the books he had always meant to get around to reading along with his movie collection, his pride and joy, with titles ranging from classic Japanese cinema to many popular American and European films. Though internet and cable might not reach out to him for some time, he at least had some option for relaxing throughout his day. He’d also brought a stereo system with him, a task which took the majority of two afternoons to get hooked up. The salesman had made it sound so simple.

The biggest hurtle came in the form of learning to cook with the wood fires. While he had learned to start fires in his youth, the noodles stuck to the bottom of a pan he tried to use told him that cooking with the same fire would take time to learn. He knew how to cook, but without the control of a convention oven he found himself burning recipes he had made dozens of times. By the third day, he begrudgingly accepted that burnt food might be his lot until he managed to get the hang of things.

Though the struggles of cooking did offer him some meaningful distraction. Once he had finished settling into the house, little remained for him to do outside of daily chores and whichever hobby caught his interest that hour. He started in on one of his novels, a crime drama recommended by a cousin, watched a few movies, and even went on a short hike or two in the woods surrounding the cabin. His mother made him promise he would relax out here, but hourly his eyes wandered to the canvas he had set up in the corner of the living area.

Near the end of his first week, he made the mistake of watching Ju-on: The Grudge one night after dinner. He had seen the film before but seeing it again out in the middle of the woods with the summer breeze causing the old house to creak and groan at random intervals…it left a different impression. Sleep wouldn’t be coming easy tonight. “Perhaps if I take some time to appreciate the night,” he told himself as he walked to the window. He’d picked up the habit of speaking to himself about a day into his stay. Better his own voice than days without.

He peered out of one of the many wide windows in the living room. The starlit sky greeted him, banishing some of his jitters. A full moon hung high above, dappling the ground with patches of silvery light and purple shadows. Once again his mind returned to his original thought about how old this place felt, like the memory of a century long since passed by. A sudden urge to capture the scene took hold of him.

Without a thought, he walked over to the canvas in the corner and pulled out a pencil with a metallic cap on the end to begin a rough sketch. He only needed a rough estimation of where shapes were before he started in on the colors. His eyes flickered to the white space in front of him, suddenly realizing what he intended to do.

He froze there, pencil posed over the canvas. The beautiful image fled his mind, replaced with dread and a feeling of being watched. His gaze returned to the window. The shadows had grown inky since he’d looked away, the moonlight only enough to highlight their subtle waving with the wind. Had something just moved? A low creak sounded behind him, causing him to jump. The pencil fell from his hand to the floor. He looked around the room, shaking his head at himself. Just the wind and his over active imagination. Best to get some sleep tonight before he convinced himself ghosts had come to life.

After a night of tossing and turning, he drifted off into a deep sleep with the rays of the bright morning sun. He decided to avoid watching horror movies late at night after that. He slept through the morning into the afternoon before waking with his stomach rumbling. Skipping breakfast always left him famished. He set out to cook something filling, gazing out the kitchen windows as he did. It would be a wonderful day for a hike. He ate his well-down tempura on the engawa, basking in the sunlight. Despite the hiccups of his first week, he thought he might learn to like this place.

He slipped on a sturdy pair of hiking shoes after he cleaned up lunch. A few hours of sunlight remained and he intended to use them to the fullest. With a water bottle and compass by his side, he set off down a trail he had yet to try.

The dirt trail wound through the thick foliage, branching off into hundreds of little trails, some manmade while other appeared to be from animals. He wondered, briefly, what sort of wildlife made its home around him. Following the main way took him roughly an hour into the woods before the trees thinned out and opened into a clearing at the foot of the nearby mountain range. He stopped in his tracks, mouth falling open. Before him trees the size of skyscrapers rose up into the air, their trunks thicker than any tree he’d ever seen. They clumped together, becoming an impenetrable sea of leaves as they went up the mountain. If he remembered correctly, Sato-san had said these mountains were part of the national reserve. One of few forests left untouched by modern innovations. “It’s beautiful,” he muttered as he took a few steps closer.

A closer marvel stopped him again as he tore his eyes from the majesty before him. A series of little shrines sat before him, all covered in moss and chipped with age. He leaned down to examine them, but kept a respectable distance away. Such shrines existed where he lived but these looked so much older. It seemed as though someone had been seeing to them as well, perhaps some forest ranger. A smile played on his face. He almost wished he’d brought an offering with him though the forest spirits might not appreciate his cooking abilities.

He caught the glint of something from the corner of his eye, turning his attention to one of the far shrines. He rolled back onto his feet and started toward it. When the thing came into view, however, he stopped dead in his tracks.

A pencil sat on the stone surface. His pencil.

He blinked, almost unable to believe his eyes. Just last night he’d dropped it in the cabin yet…here it sat. Some terror from the previous night passed over him. “No, this can’t be mine,” he said, voice shaking some. “Perhaps the rangers or another hiker had a similar pencil and left it as a joke.” He backed away from the shrine, suddenly ready to be somewhere else. Dinner would need to be prepared soon and he might do well to call his mother and let her know how he had settled in. She’d left him a few messages already. It would be good to hear her voice.

When he arrived back at the cabin, he went into the living to find his pencil and assure himself that he had indeed only seen one similar.

But it was nowhere to be found.
 
Last edited:

ArgentAconit

Silvan Blacksmith
Roleplay Invitations
Group Roleplays, One on One Roleplays
Posting Speed
A Few Posts A Day, One Post a Day, A Few Posts a Week, One Post a Week
Writing Levels
Adept
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Female, Primarily Prefer Male
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Both can be quite fun and I often switch between them to allow my partner chances to play both styles as they please. Even as a passive player I like to insert small bits of lore- nothing that will drastically change the story in any way but will allow me to feel as though I've contributed some kind of content.
Favorite Genres
Fantasy, Scifi, Modern, Magical, Slice of life, Romance when romance is called for, Magic with Technology, Post-Apocalyptic, Yaoi/Yuri/Het/Poly, and Futuristic.
Genre You DON'T Like
Gore, Horror, Forced Love (Not Including Arranged Marriages), Kidnapping, or Abusive Relationships.
#2
Kaito hated the prickling sensation on the back of his neck whenever construction workers appeared near his mountains. The pinch and burn of people littering the edges of the forest with trash, the sound of heavy machines polluting the air, the sight of thick smoke tainting the otherwise blue skies of the land he protected. He hated all of it and yet no matter how hard he tried to run them away from there, they come back year after year after year. Corroding the tree line, rushing animals deeper into the mountains, angering the birds with the noise they made.


Rarely did he have a human come to the mountains and leave only the slightest traces of themselves there. Boot prints, apple cores, dinner scraps. Even rarer were offerings made at the shrines near the bottom trails. A simple ceramic plate of fruits and mochi, a humbling offering of rice balls and fragrant green tea and grilled fish from one of the older humans who Kaito had come to tolerate over the years. He was nice. He picked up the garbage he saw on the trail, he tried to do right by the forest. The Tengu returned the favor with small gifts- even returning his dishes and giving him the ones that others left.


More construction work was taking place recently. The rattle of a hammer against lumber, the loud chatter of workers as they carried their tools back and forth. He could hear them complain frequently about the contract that demanded absolutely nothing be done to the path to the oldest house so near the mountain. Kaito would watch them in the mornings, perched high in a tree with his wings drawn in closely in irritation. Some of them smoked on their breaks and Kaito often found himself whipping pebbles at their yellow hats to scare them off and stop them from tainting his air even more. His. Everything here was his, and they hadn’t requested his permission or offered anything at the shrines to honor the creatures and spirits they were terrorizing.


Eventually, they wizened up and stopped coming, leaving the house in a half rebuilt state. He would leave the panels open through the night and wander through the rooms. Everything was different here. Where a modest futon once rested in front of a fire pit, carpets now lay. Where he remembered a simple stone stove, he now saw countertops and some large metal box that smelt of new plastic and paint when he opened it. There were shelves and pieces of glass, and other little things he couldn’t quite piece together but Kaito knew that he didn’t like it. Humans changed too much.


The old man who left weekly offerings would come and close the house up again, and Kaito would ruffle his feathers at him too. “Let the forest reclaim it,” he would say to himself. He wished he hadn’t kept the house and the land around it in decent condition if it meant drawing in more humans- and not the ones who shared with the forest like the last tenant. The trees disagreed with him and wouldn’t encroach on the short grass around the building and Kaito was left frustrated.


Cars came and went, dropping off boxes and bags and dragging furniture through the path. The trees graced them with piles of vibrant green leaves in greeting and welcome. Kaito wanted to shoo them away too and reprimand the trees for trusting the humans so willingly. The Tengu huffed and stalked around the building again through the night but now locks were in place. The panels held together with bolts of metal and clever sliding mechanisms on the inside. As much as he wanted to rip them down the memory of the man who lived there prevented him from laying a hand on it.


Finally, a single human came with a bag in tow. The trees whispered excitedly about the new man who would be staying with them. They peppered him with little blossoms and leaves, but he hadn’t noticed it. He was too busy panting as he made it to the clearing where the house was. Kaito had been kept up all day from their chatter and already he found himself disliking this new person. He refused to go see him the first night, deciding to instead patrol through the forest and collecting his newest offering from the old man. He was gifted an extra treat of peeled oranges and Kaito took it as a sign that the human knew about his new neighbor.


Begrudgingly he took what had been given to him and ate his meal near the top of the mountain, red eyes glinting in the moonlight every time he looked toward the house. His wings ruffled and he bit into an orange slice, sucking on it. He was not going there. As long as the human kept to himself Kaito would let him stay there. The trees mocked him and sang that they knew he was lying. Damn them for knowing the truth.


It was after another two nights had passed. That was when he lighted down the mountain and tucked himself into a particularly bushy tree to sit and observe in the early night light. It wasn’t long after he made himself comfortable that the windows pushed open and a head of dark brown hair peered out from the inside of the living area. Kaito could smell the slight burn of food and wrinkled his nose at it. His perch giggled and he frowned at it, looking at the sturdy bark around a thick trunk before returning his attention to this new human who apparently couldn’t cook for himself.


Something silver flashed and Kaito found himself leaning forward, curious about the little piece of metal. It moved out of his line of sight and the Tengu dropped down to the ground, tracing the edges of the shadows to another window. The boards under his sandals creaked and he hopped back, hearing the human jump in shock and drop the trinket that had caught his attention. Eventually, the human talked himself into going to bed, and Kaito took it as his chance to strike and inspect. He was respectful enough to leave his shoes outside as he hopped through the open window; the memory of his last human there scolded him for even thinking about entering with the raised footwear on.


He found his prize in front of the table, halfway under it. His fingers snatched it up and Kaito turned it between his hands. A writing stick- humans used them quite frequently and he still confused himself between whether it was called a pen or a pencil- what was the difference? He straightened when a noise sounded from the room down the hall and took his prize with him to examine better on his own time.


By the time he had his fill of the pencil his legs brought him to the shrines which he checked nightly and in the mornings before returning to his sleeping space. He flipped the pencil between his fingers and frowned, realizing his attraction to the shiny bit of metal was waning. He stopped and looked at the small gathering of shrines before crouching and sitting it gently on one of the bits of stone marked for the Yobukodori. The calling bird spirit hardly ever received offerings in this day and age and Kaito figured he would be just as interested in the stick as the Tengu had. His good deed done for the night Kaito took to the air and made his rounds through the mountains.


~~~​


The second time he got to observe his human- yes, his, he lived in the cabin that the Tengu had claimed so essentially the human was his as well- was an early morning meeting. The red-eyed being stalked him from the canopy and humored himself with a guessing game. Would the human go left or right? He often went left when Kaito thought he would go right. Would he stop and admire the lake? Yes. Humans were fascinated with water. The only reason Kaito was fascinated with it was the abundance of food he could fish up on rainy days. Not that he needed to eat regularly, but the tiny silver scales of the small fish that came to the surface on rainy days enticed him to cook what he caught and share his bounty with the other shrines. He was a protector after all, and he needed to provide if he had wealth.


Birds kept gifting him with pebbles and the Tengu eventually ended up with too many to hold in his hands. He started dropping them into the gap of Narihira’s bag, between the pieces of cloth into its shaded depths. Click… Clack… Clack... Thump... Swish... He frowned when he missed twice in a row and ended up forcing his entertainment to turn back to the house. So much for that.


He ran his thumb over the smooth river stones still sitting in his palm and skipped between tree branches to follow the brunette back to the house. The house came into view and his human was tucked away inside before he had a chance to deposit the remaining pebbles in his care. He yawned and stretched wide, fanning his feathers in the gentle breeze and shaking them out in wide arks. One loose feather fell into the clearing and skimmed across the ground to bump and nestle against the stone step meant to lead up to the engawa. His morning of fun thoroughly ruined, Kaito turned back to his own nest and took off to rest for the remainder of the day.
 

Tinder

Inconceivable
Roleplay Invitations
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Posting Speed
A Few Posts a Week, One Post a Week, Slow As Molasses
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More Aggressive. May change depending on partner.
Favorite Genres
Fantasy (High, Low, Modern, Any), Romance, Supernatural Creatures, Fairytale Retellings, Mythological, Heroes Journeys, Fandom (Bioware Games). Open to Trying Different Genres.
Genre You DON'T Like
Furry, Animals, Historical (Especially the Victorian Era), Hardcore Scifi
#3
A few days after the unsettling pencil incident, a title which said something about this supposedly relaxing retreat, Narihira resumed his now daily excursions into the surrounding wilderness. He found the morning the most pleasant time for walking when the air remained cool from the night and the rising sun played with the retreating shadows to create the most interesting color schemes. Each one got his fingers twitching, invigorating his imagination in so many ways. But the inspiration never remained long enough for him to find a canvas.

Yet the forest refused to let him settle in. It happened one morning when he found the lake down a new trail. He stopped to gaze at the waters in the early morning light, fascinated by the golden streaks playing off the royal purples and inky blacks. One of these mornings, he told himself, he would bring a sketchbook. Then something hit his head. He turned, rubbing the spot when another something bounced off his backpack. His eyes scanned the area, suddenly uncomfortably aware of how alone he was. He took a few cautious side steps before starting back down the trail back toward his home. What on earth could have been throwing things at him? Some kind of animals, maybe? He tucked the thought away as he picked up his pace. Some days he wondered if the forest just wanted him gone.

Upon arriving at his home, he slide the door closed behind him and breathed out a sigh. Safe…relatively speaking. He shrugged his backpack off and dropped it onto the floor. A series of little click-clacks emanated from it when it hit the floor. A frown came to his face. Click-clacks? He’d only put a water bottle and his phone inside. He eased his bag open, peering inside as he did.

Rocks. A dozen or so little rocks.

He scooped out a handful, marveling at how smooth they felt. The colors, while ordinary greys and browns, managed to play off each other as he rolled them on his palm. So simple, but the sort of simplicity that one could gaze at for hours. He collected the ones remaining in his pack and them into the other room. Direct sunlight playing of their smooth surfaces would look perfect. He set them onto the window sill, nudging them into a pleasing pattern before sitting back to admire his work.

Only to realize he’d gotten himself distracted. Rocks didn’t hurl themselves into passing backpacks, not without help. He raised his hand to rub the back of his head where the thing had hit him before. Something or someone had thrown these. A shiver crept down his spine. Maybe he wasn’t so alone out in these woods.

After that cheery thought, Narihira needed distraction. He decided to put on a movie while he did some cleaning. All thoughts of the stones and their mysterious thrower disappeared from his mind as he scrubbed the floors of his bathroom. By evening, he’d found some sense of ease as he stepped out onto his porch. The sky had become a vision of amber gold with the approach of night. He took a deep breath as he stretched. Despite his misgivings after the odd occurrences, something about this place felt so peaceful and otherworldly. He rolled his neck to work out the kinks only to catch a glimpse of something on the ground. A single feather.

He knelt down to examine it, marveling at the size. Whatever dropped this had some wing span. He touched it gingerly before picking it up. A gasp escaped him. Iridescent blues and greens danced before his eyes as the fading sunlight hit different angles of the feather. It was beautiful.

Dinner preparations called him inside but he took the feather with him and set it on the chabudai. He gazed at it throughout his dinner, studying the shape and the various ways the light played off the glossy surface. Natural light did a better job than the manufactured light from his lightbulb. He wondered... Setting aside his food, he grabbed his nearby sketchbook and flipped it open. That color had to be captured somehow. He set to sketching the feather from a number of angles, going long into the night before exhaustion drove him to bed.

The next morning he took the feather, his sketches and some inks out to the porched. He laid everything out in his preferred way before getting the feather into position in the sun. A plate of slice apple sat next to him beside a glass of green tea, his meager excuse for a breakfast. He wanted to start in on his painting immediately before the sun shifted too drastically. Cooking a proper meal would take too long.

He set to work after munching on one of the apple slices, losing himself in the colors and the image of the feather. One after another he painted in the sketches, playing with the colors and a few brush techniques. His first came out with hardly any color peeking through the dense black. The second had far too much; it resembled a parrot wing more than the feather before him. His jaw clenched as the hours crawled on. He was missing something. Nothing he tried capture that magnificent blending of colors. Each new attempt looked cheaper and messier and worse until he finally dropped his paint brush and got to his feet.

Hopeless. Absolutely hopeless and atrocious. He grabbed his tennis shoes and started for the woods, muttering beneath his breath as he went. Why he bothered, he didn’t know. That spark that once defined his style died long ago. All he was now was some hack riding the memories of his glory days. Worthless. Greenery rushed by around him as he sank into his gloomy thoughts. He failed to realize when he left the woods surrounding his home and continued into the mountain foothills, wandering far from the trails he knew.

Some hours later he stopped when a growl from his stomach pulled out of his anger. He’d missed lunch thanks to his frustrated outburst and judging by the dimming light it would soon be time for dinner.

He blinked, turning in a slow circle. Where was he? Tightly packed trees and dense underbrush surrounded the trail. The trail itself looked more like an animal path than an actual trail. He shivered as he tried to study his surroundings in the dying light. Nothing looked familiar. He took a few steps back, feeling a touch claustrophobic. Everything was so dark and those trees went on for miles.

A twig snapped. Narihira froze, trying to determine where the sound came from. “Hello?” he whispered, uncertain he wanted an answer. He moved closer to one of the nearby trees to put something solid behind him. He had to move but which way got him back the trails he knew? His hand patted his empty pocket. Of all the days to leave his phone charging.

He wrapped his arms around himself and started back down the trail, hoping that it would only be a matter of following it to familiar territory again. Better moving than remaining here to shiver in the dark all night.
 

ArgentAconit

Silvan Blacksmith
Roleplay Invitations
Group Roleplays, One on One Roleplays
Posting Speed
A Few Posts A Day, One Post a Day, A Few Posts a Week, One Post a Week
Writing Levels
Adept
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Female, Primarily Prefer Male
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Both can be quite fun and I often switch between them to allow my partner chances to play both styles as they please. Even as a passive player I like to insert small bits of lore- nothing that will drastically change the story in any way but will allow me to feel as though I've contributed some kind of content.
Favorite Genres
Fantasy, Scifi, Modern, Magical, Slice of life, Romance when romance is called for, Magic with Technology, Post-Apocalyptic, Yaoi/Yuri/Het/Poly, and Futuristic.
Genre You DON'T Like
Gore, Horror, Forced Love (Not Including Arranged Marriages), Kidnapping, or Abusive Relationships.
#4
Human, human! Heavy foot! Tree colored! Alone… Angry. Tengu’s Human. Tengu! Tengu! Lost! Too close! Kaito groaned in frustration at the constant chatter of trees whispering urgent and childish missives into his slightly pointed ears. He waved away at them and tucked back into the gentle warmth of the stones around him only for a storm of leaves to tickle over his body. He snapped up into a sitting position and glared at the trees that shimmied as they carried more short words to him.


The sun was just barely set and he had desperately wanted to sleep in a little later tonight. He had a late turn in yesterday and while he hadn’t minded because he had been entertained, he did mind now that he was lacking sleep! He huffed at them and pushed himself up into a stand, grimacing as he swept away clinging leaves and dirt. “What?!” He snapped when the whispers muddled together into a windstorm cacophony of words. Human! Your human! Here!


Kaito frowned and crossed his arms as he looked down the mountain into the sea of trees. They were antsy and energetic tonight, molting leaves and twisting twigs as they passed on chain after chain of messages from the trees that crowded against Narihira. He took slow steps forward, reaching out to take one of the fallen branches that fit nicely into his hand and using it as a kind of walking stick. The tree it fell from ruffled in pride at being of use to its protector and Kaito only spared it a sidelong glance as he kept following the chatter.


Eventually, he made it to where the human had stopped, and he hid among the striping shadows cast by an enthusiastic birch that twisted and twirled high up between a ring of oaks and poplars. It preened at the touch of his hand against the papery bark of its trunk and he tried to ignore it as he focused on the human who had wandered much too far from home. He frowned at him and narrowed his eyes as Narihira pat his pockets while flattening himself against a patient and old maple like he had been cornered.


The tengu squeezed his hand around his walking stick and pursed his lips before approaching him a little closer. His voice still echoed in his ears and Kaito would have been tempted to answer if Narihira weren’t so close to stepping into what humans called fairy rings. Kaito whacked the bottom of his stick against the roots of his new hiding tree and idly soothed it with his other hand, effectively making the human jump and swerve away from the circle of bright mushrooms that invited new visitors. How clumsy.


The songs of night birds started to pick up, a screech from a hungry owl reminded Kaito of the time and how humans were even more clumsy when it got dark. His wings folded tightly into his shoulders and Kaito debated if it would be worth it to show himself if only to get the unaware creature out of his territory. Soft rattles tickled his ears and he glanced away to find the faint outline of a small spirit perching itself on his stick. It clicked for him again and wispy arms waved in greeting, the trees around it mimicked the spirit and Kaito hummed quietly to himself as he thought.


Lesser tree spirit. Kodama. Kaito held his hand out for it and waited patiently as it climbed over the creases of his fingertips down into his palm. It rattled pleasantly and twisted like rising smoke on his palm. “I need your help,” He told it, voice barely above a whisper and well enough out of range of Narihira’s ears. He checked on the human and walked slowly after him to make sure he wouldn’t get himself caught in any other traps. His companion clicked and chimed before he pointed it toward Narihira’s back.


“Ask your kin to light his path,” It was still for a while, and Kaito wondered if his request would be agreeable or not. It took several minutes of carrying the spirit after his human before an answer was received. Little soft yellow-green lights petered into existence among the thick foliage, fluttering around lazily in the shapes of fireflies and releasing a din of rattles that sounded very similar to the music crickets made in the late hours of the evening. The spirit in his hand however lingered and Kaito found himself moving it to sit on one of the large red beads holding a white braid in front of his chest. It clicked enthusiastically and clung to the moonlight colored strands, settling against the bead contentedly.


Narihira often tried to stray from the path and Kaito found himself setting his course right, throwing a rock or snapping a long-dead twig to push him back onto the lit path until they made it back to terrain the other being would find familiar. The lake glittered under the last rays of orange sunlight and the cool beams of the moon as it peeked from between the mountains. Some of the spirits lighting Narihira’s path slipped away to dance over the water, scooping up droplets and carrying them back to their trees as offerings to help them grow strong.


Kaito’s passenger even slipped away and collected its own water before departing, leaving the two alone together now. The trees sang murmurs of wanting him to join the human on the path. They teased him with the idea that he wouldn’t run away, that he would be fascinated with his ‘leaves’ on his back. That he was already treasuring one. He raised eyebrows in question at that but the trees were too busy chortling at the pair to notice it. The tengu tapped another rock and encouraged his human to stop dallying, he was late enough as it was already.


Once he was back safe and sound in the clearing around his house, Kaito made to leave only to stop and see what was laying against one of the inner screens of the house. One of his feathers, long and dark and taunting him with its presence. He could see similar shapes on a wind-strewn piece of paper and snuck around the tree line to get a clearer look. The timbers giggled, yet Kaito was too distracted to chide them. The human was drawing his feather, over and over again with varying amounts of blue and green and black. Hah, if he had looked closer he would have seen that some of Kaito’s feathers weren’t black but were dark, rich purple instead.


Something told him he shouldn’t take too much pride in that. A light flickered on from inside and Kaito snuck around on the engawa- avoiding the creaking boards this time so that he could peer inside. A body passed by the living room doorway and Kaito ducked to avoid his line of sight before rising up again. The pebbles he had thrown into the human’s bag the other day were arranged neatly on the open window sill and Kaito studied it for some time, tilting his head left and right to see the appeal. Pale fingers stretched out to rearrange them, sliding them over the lacquered surface until he made a neat crossing pattern with a pebble in each quadrant and a loose circle around it all. It looked like the old window that used to be here, he noticed. A sound from the kitchen made him jerk back before he could undo it, and a traveling shadow over the screens had him dashing away quietly back into the tree line.


His feathers ruffled against the back of his open robe in agitation at being scared off by a creature that could do nothing to him. Why didn’t he want to be seen? A flash of a small hunting party tearing through his trees came to mind and it seemed reasonable enough. The last time someone had seen him voluntarily they had reported it to the nearest village and tried to have him exiled from his own domain! Kaito huffed again and glared over his shoulder toward the remodeled house.


The old man who left him offerings better set out some okoze next time for all the trouble he endured for this human. Kaito was almost certain he was entertaining the new tenant anyway. It only made sense that he offer thanks and penance in place of the witless male who had somehow come across one of his feathers.
 

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#5
Narihira wandered into the thickening darkness until he lost track of his location and the time. All around him the sounds of insects buzzing and other unidentifiable bumps and thumps had his heart in his throat. He considered finding some place to take shelter until morning once or twice, but whenever he tried to search, some sudden noise nearby in the bushes sent him running.

Then something incredible happened. One by one the light of fireflies flickered to life among the foliage in front of him. He blinked as he slowed to stare at the marvel. The warm glow provided him some small bit of relief from the darkness. Or did until he realized how the fireflies appeared to be only in front of him along a very specific trail. That seemed… He started to move away from the path. Perhaps following them was a bad idea. Old stories—Thud! He stumbled back toward the lights, searching for the source of the sound. He tried again a few yards farther down the trail only to hear a twig break near him.

His mouth grew dry. Something was out there. Something in the darkness. He squeezed his eyes shut as he stopped to rest. He just wanted to get home and put this nightmare behind him.

After what felt like hours of desperate scrambling, he noticed a body of water up ahead. A choked cry of relief escaped him when he recognized it as the lake from the other day. The fireflies drifted off toward the water as he stopped by its edge to kneel and drink some himself. It slipped down his throat, offering him some relief. His first drink since the tea he’d had that morning. Another plink got him back onto his feet, reminding him of the something in the darkness.

He rushed into the house as soon as it came into view, sliding the door behind him closed as he sank to the ground. So long as he lived, he was never doing that again. He slipped off his shoes and headed into the house, his empty stomach and dry throat sending him toward the kitchen. Food would help.

He retrieved a glass of water and drank it as he walked toward the living room. After that trip through the woods, he needed something to fill the empty air, anything. He flicked on the lights and retrieved his laptop from the chabudai, glancing at the window as he did. His eyes widened, almost dropped his glass. They moved. The rocks had moved. A chill passed over him as he crept closer to examine them. Unless he had lost his mind, something or someone had moved these into some odd pattern.

Something had been in the house. Possible still was. He set the glass down alongside his laptop attempting not to shake visible as he drew the windows closed. There was no denying it. This mountain, the house, perhaps this whole area was haunted. He swallowed as he latched the windows. Tomorrow he’d go see Sato-san and ask him about all of this. He might have some wisdom to pass on. Until then Narihira decided to close lock…everything. Just in case.

The next morning he walked back down the long driveway toward the main road, almost breathing a sigh of relief when he escaped the cover of the trees. The main road that he followed felt familiar, safer than that ancient forest. It took him nearly forty-five minutes to complete the trek but eventually he came to a house where he caught sight of Sato-san outside working in the garden. The older man with the balding head looked up as Narihira approached him, a smile appearing on his weathered face. “Takenaka-san, hello! Good to see you come down from those hills.” He stood and dusted the dirt off of his pants. “Come on in. You must be thirsty after the hike to get here.”

“Hello, Sato-san. A drink would be nice, thank you,” Narihira replied before following Sato inside where he was introduced to Sato-san’s wife, Aoi-san. She left the laundry she had been folding and went to go make some tea for their guest.

Sato-san settled down by the chabudai and gestured for Narihira to do the same “So tell me, what brings you down to these parts today?”

“Well…” Narihira reached up and rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “This might sound a little silly but have you ever heard any stories about…yokai in the mountains? Some odd things have happened recently. I had some things go missing and some objects moved in my house. Yesterday I even got a bit lost in the mountains and a trail of fireflies led me back. I know it sounds crazy and really I’ve never believed in this sort of thing but it feels a bit…haunted up in that house. Is…is that possible?”

Aoi-san returned with the tea and set the tray down before taking a seat by her husband.

Sato-san reached for a cup. “Can’t say for sure. Everyone has their own opinion about the spiritual and how much of those old legends are true, but I do believe something lives up in those mountains. Good spirits though, not nasty ones. Got to be good if they got you back down the mountain after you got lost. I wouldn’t worry about them if I were you.”

“Hinata is right, Takenaka-san,” Aoi-san said as she set a cup of tea in front of Narihira. “We’ve lived by these mountains for years and always found good luck whenever we offer our thanks to those spirits.”

Narihira nodded though an uncertain frown remained on his face. “Is there anything that I might do to…make the spirits less likely to do things like stealing pencils from me?”

“You might try leaving an offering of food at the shrines near the foot of the mountains. I always take something there whenever Aoi makes too much food,” Sato-san said with a confident nod.

Aoi-san smiled. “I believe homemade is best. The spirits seem happiest when Hinata leaves them a plate of my home cooking. Perhaps you could do the same?”

Narihira tapped his finger against his chin before giving a tired smile. “It’s worth a try. Thank you both. I’d best be on my way.”

They wished him goodbye and insisted he come back for a meal sometime before Narihira began the return trip to the mountains. An offering gave him something he could do about the whole uncomfortable situation and seemed appropriate given the previous day. Even if the supposed spirits had nearly given him a heart attack, something had guided him back home.

He dedicated the remainder of the day to making curry, his personal best dish. After a few painstaking hours with some trial and error, he came up with a batch that actually tasted like it ought to. He put a generous helping onto a plate and started down the trail just as the sun began to set. Best to get the food there while it remained hot. If such a thing even mattered to a spirit. Upon arriving at the stone shrines, he hesitated a moment before bowing and placing the food on one of them. He clapped his hands twice and bowed again before backing away.

With his delivery made, he started back down the trail toward home where his meal waited to be eaten. Perhaps the food would be enough to get the spirits to leave him be. Or perhaps he’d just wasted a perfectly good plate of curry.
 

ArgentAconit

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#6
Kaito spent the majority of the night in the depths of the forest, climbing animal trails and spiraling around the points of smaller mountains that dipped into his territory. The forest gifted him with many things, blossoms and berries mostly. Blossoms were exceedingly difficult to come by during this time but the bounty of berries painted the lower foliage in shades of blue, maroon, reds, pinks and purples. He picked and ate what berries were given to him, and spread the blossoms on his way back, sharing the pollen with the curious Kodama that snuck out of their trees. It was part of his routine, albeit not a routine that he took up very frequently. Most of the other, more attuned beings here would take care of it on their own but he saw no harm in participating when the notion struck.


He peppered his last handful of small white flowers on the next coming wind and watched as they ducked, dove, and curled behind new trees and bushes. He hopped over fallen trees and spread his wings to glide down open clearings in the mountains, stopping occasionally to inspect something that caught his attention. There wasn’t much to do on a day to day trip around his forest. The mountain was tame, having accepted him as it’s guardian so he didn’t have much trouble from any other spirits or yokai that had settled into his greenery. Usually. The Kappas always deviated from their waterways and tried to steal horses and cattle, getting into mischief whenever and however they could.


His feet and wings eventually lead him back to his little cave-turned-home as the moon waned, chasing after the sun that peered over the horizon behind it. It was simple, mostly open to the elements, but with an overhang of moss and trailing ivy to hide the entrance. There wasn't a bed to be seen, though Kaito did keep an old cover folded in a solitary trunk in the back for when it was too cold even for him. The cover had seen better days but the tengu figured it was still useful and hadn't bothered with replacing it.

Instead, Kaito stretched out onto the smooth floor of his den to try and get an early start on his sleep. His wings twitched behind him on the stone as he thought about Narihira and how frequently he had tried to stray from the path that night. Humans, they always seemed to search out trouble. He scoffed and folded an arm under his head, "He better not get used to being guided home every night."

~~~
There was a new plate of food on his table. It steamed and filled the air with the scents of spices and cooked meat. Kaito crouched in front of it and frowned as he looked at the mound of rice on the side, tall and fluffy and only slightly overcooked compared to what Sato usually left for him. What was this supposed to be? He dipped a finger into the sauce and tasted it. His wings clenched into his shoulder blades and Kaito's frown persisted.

It was spicy but didn't set his tongue on fire, and the bits of carrot sweetened it to balance out the flavor. Kaito picked at one of the pieces of meat and discovered it to be beef. He licked the trail of sauce that ran down the side of his thumb and grabbed the plate with his free hand before standing up, turning, and promptly sitting down on his shrine. What? It was his, he wasn't being disrespectful to himself.

The tengu kept picking at his dish, fishing out bits of vegetable and pinching white rice until the plate was virtually empty. He ran his fingertips over the surface and then licked those clean too. Admitably the food was better than some offerings he used to receive. He could do with more of them, he thought. This food had variety and flavor, something most generic offerings lacked. You could eat white rice for so many years before you get sick of the bland flavor that nori couldn't even accent.

When his food was gone he examined the dish, twisting it between his palms and watching as it went end over end. He caught sight of a marking on the back and paused long enough to read it. Some kind of makers mark that reminded him of his human that he had been tending to for the last few days. Kaito cocked his head to the side and looked down the path that leads to Narihira's house. If it wasn't Narihira's plate then the old man could take it from him when he comes to make his next offering, he figured.

Delivering the plate was easy enough. Whenever the human was home he hardly ever came outside or opened the inner screens wide enough to view the clearing around his house. Perhaps that was a good thing, considering the yokai and spirits that would take it as an invitation to snoop around and plunder his pantries for their favorite snacks... Or explore other aspects of their desires while in the home. He shook the thought from his head and sat the plate face-up on the stone step outside of his engawa.

Red eyes turned toward the entryway before lazily gliding toward the closed window he had frequented since the human moved in. Apparently, his invitation to observe had been rescinded. Oh well. The male would slip up again eventually and Kaito would once again have his entertainment for the evening hours. He turned and stepped back into the treeline, keeping to the path that had been carved out. Better check on the new grove of apricot trees that had sprouted from a few pits thrown off of a trail further in.

~~~
Visiting the apricot grove had been a bad idea. Well, maybe not a bad idea, but he felt like he could have gone another decade without running into a forlorn Yurei that had manifested. She died without fulfilling her desire to marry the boy she had come there with in previous years. The pits they had thrown off the path grew and grew into saplings and yet their love had withered soon after their visit there. She spoke on end about her beloved and cursed the fact that she couldn't leave the forest. It took hours to cleanse her spirit of the regret and bitterness and in the end, Kaito felt thoroughly exhausted. If there was one thing he disliked more than unaware humans, it had to be their wandering ghosts.

The sun had already made its way back around by now, turning the sky into rich shades of violet that ran red, peach, orange and would soon enough turn bright yellow followed by clear, clean blues again. He wanted to go to bed. The tengu rubbed at the back of his neck with both hands and walked along the far edge of the lake he had guided Narihira back to the previous night. The glimmering waters called to him in a way he thought was fairly inviting and he slowed to a stop to admire the lake once again. It would be nice, he thought, to take a dip and dislodge a few loose feathers. He deserved a chance to get clean after banishing a spirit, right?

The water was cool against his skin and quickly worked its way between his feathers. If he knew what heaven felt like, he would compare this sensation to it. Kaito sunk further in and dipped his head back, running his hands through his hair. He glanced back to make sure the large, red glass beads and leather band had remained on his stack of folded clothes before ducking under again. The birds that liked to gift him river stones also liked to steal the beads he wore and he wasn't particularly in the mood to fuss with them about returning the accessories.

Kaito enjoyed himself for a while, scrubbing at his skin and preening his feathers. Each loose feather skimmed over the surface of the lake and eventually was either snatched up by a greedy bird or sunk into the dark depths at the center. By the time he was ready to even think about getting dressed again, the giant golden orb in the sky had washed away the darkness of dawn and bathed everything in a pleasant soft light. Was it really so late?
 

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#7
The shadows of that long night passed by and Narihira woke to the first rays of dawn. He considered turning over and going back to sleep, but a growl from his stomach banished the remnants of sleep from his mind. Breakfast then. He pulled on a robe over the tank top and pajama pants that he wore to bed, going into the kitchen to begin preparing a proper meal. Once he had the rice in the cooker and some miso soup heating up on the stove, he turned his attention to letting in some of the early morning air. He reached for a latch, hesitating a second before opening it up. Though a chill remained, the sunrise bathed the whole house in a soft glow. A sense of peace filled him, enough for him to decide to stop out onto the engawa.

He took a deep breath and stretched in the sun. Perfect weather for putting the previous day behind him. He took a few steps forward and looked around the clearing. Like so many childhood fancies that had terrorized him late in the night, the sun melted away the evil that chased him through the forest. Perhaps he’d let his imagination run a little too wild. His eyes lowered until they came to the stone step up to his engawa where he noticed a half-cleaned plate. It looked like one from his collection. Like the one he’d left on the shrine...

A sudden shiver shook his body. His plate had returned—rather something had brought it back. He took another step toward it, eyes shifting around the yard to check for movement. Nothing stirred so he lowered himself to one knee and picked it up. It appeared to be in good condition, not chipped or scratched. Not the work of an animal then. He moved back into the house, trying to keep himself calm. Sato-san was right. Something lived in these hills. And it had noticed his presence in this house. This…he did not know what to do with this information. He needed to do something. Something like a short hike as long as the sun remained out.

He had his breakfast first before gathering the proper supplies in his backpack including his phone, a compass, and a map his mother had let with her note. A water bottle came last. More than he needed for a short hike but better to be over prepared after yesterday’s fiasco.

With a full belly and plenty of supplies in hand, he set out onto the trails. Despite his frayed nerves and uncomfortable awareness of his surroundings, he found himself enjoying the forest. It felt almost peaceful. The leaves left dapples patches of sun on the ground and the breeze ruffled the vegetation just so to create a kind of rhythmic song. Even the air remained fresh from the heavy dew of the night. He forgot about his troubles as he drifted from sight to sight, stopping on occasion to admire the way a shadow fell against the rough bark of a maple or to marvel at the bluing sky against the canopy of trees.

Some splashing caught his attention, informing him of how far he’d wandered. Back over to the lake it seemed. His heart did an odd leap in his chest but he ignored it and continued. No doubt the water looked magnificent on a day like this. He had to see it. He padded toward the water’s edge when something odd caught his eyes. A bundle of clothing and what looked like hand balls on top of it. He frowned as his gaze swept the water, stopping on a figure within the lake. A very naked figure.

His eyes widen as he turned away, words leaping from his mouth, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize anyone was here!” The image etched itself into his mind as he saw that lean body and the wing… The wings.

He froze up. Something sat in the middle of that lake, something shaped like a human with wings on its back. A spirit. He’d found an actual spirit. Unless his eyes had played a trick on him. His lips quivered as he made himself speak again. “I didn’t mean to disturb you, sir. I…I’ll just be going.”
 

ArgentAconit

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#8
There was something peaceful about being underwater. It was almost comparable to being in the winds, with his wings spread far out to his sides. He didn’t often indulge himself with unhindered flights high above the mountains. Too many human creations polluted the air and Kaito couldn’t hide from them in plain sight like he could in the forest. Here, however, he was free to stretch aching limbs and push them against the water, dragging him forward or further down into the dark hues of the lake.


He resurfaced near the center of the lake and found an old pointed boulder that was hidden there to perch on. It was going to take hours to dry out his wings but it was worth it. He flexed his toes against the rock and stretched his arms high over his head with a blissful expression- that is until he heard someone speak. His wings snapped closed and he crouched low as he whipped around to find the one who spoke. Red eyes landed on Narihira’s turned back and he frowned at the human who apologized for stumbling onto him.


Had he seen? A stiffness pulled the human’s shoulders back and Kaito silently cursed himself. What now? He stood up slowly again and walked down the steep edge of the boulder while his human tried to excuse himself, “Stay put,” The Tengu’s voice carried over the water with a lazy authority and he wasn’t exactly certain why he was willing the human to linger. The trees whispered their gossip between one another and Kaito forced himself to block it out. They hadn’t deigned it important enough to warn him that he had company so he was already displeased with them.


“Are you looking to lose yourself in the forest again?” Kaito’s feet found purchase on the sandy bottom of the lake and he walked his way back to shore in measured steps. He wasn’t concerned with nudity but apparently, humans didn’t change over the centuries and kept to some form of ‘polite’ gesture by turning away from those lacking clothing. He eyed the bag slung over Narihira’s shoulder and was pleased to see he had at least thought to bring a few things with him this time. “Seems you’ve learned your lesson if you brought supplies.”


He crouched down and collected his clothes, wet strands of black and white hair pushing forward over his shoulders as his wings drained more and more water on the small pebbled beach. He placed the collar of his robe between his teeth and juggled everything else as he stepped back into the old jeans that had been folded against one of the taller standing rocks at the edge of the lake. Any other spirit would have kept to the traditional clothes that had been first given to them. A long kimono, or a set of hakama and haori. Kaito didn’t bother and often replaced whatever was torn instead of mending it. Everything, except the haori. Something inside of him couldn't part with the item and he often found himself repairing it with silk threads he bartered from a spider yokai further into the mountains.


He took the robe back into his hands and bundled it around his hair ties with a long, quiet sigh. His night was going to be even longer, and he wondered if he would manage to find sleep before the sun set again. Would his human run in terror, or would he stay and obey the creature at his back? Rarely had anyone kept his company for more than a few breaths before screaming and shouting ‘demon, demon!’ as they fled. Only, he wasn't a demon. He wasn't some mindless thing that desired the flesh of humans, or their power. What was the point in having human flesh or power?
 

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#9
The command halted Narihira’s attempts to move, remaining in a semi-awkward half-turned position. He drew his arms in over his torso and hunched his shoulders when he heard the lapping of water behind him. It was coming out. If only he’d paid more attention before barging into the clearing. He might have seen the creature and thought to turn around without shouting at it. A jumble of curses filtered through his mind. Stupid, stupid, stupid! He never thought before he did anything.

He gulped when it spoke again, the voice much closer. Something had followed behind him the other night. He wondered if it had done that often or if that night had been the first. Perhaps it had followed him during the day as well. He remembered the rocks sitting on his window and the missing pencil. Maybe it had been the thing to come into his home.

If only he could think of what kind of creature stood behind him. Large wings covered a multitude of legends and he’d not seen its front. It could be a shapeshifter or perhaps a creature that looked nothing like its counterpart from human stories. Most people said spirits were myths so why should their appearances be accurate in folklore? Maybe it had a monstrous lower half or face. With hung fangs dripping as it salivated while examining the meal it had stalked for weeks.

“I a-apologize for the intrusion,” he said again, wishing his voice wouldn’t tremble so. “I didn’t mean to disturb you today. Or the other day. I made a mistake, but I promise to stay out of your way in the future. Just please…” A shiver crept down his spine. “Please don’t kill me.”
 

ArgentAconit

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#10
His human curled in on himself like a sleeping flower and Kaito raised his eyebrow in mild curiosity. He made it longer than most previous humans, at least there was that much. “I don’t mindlessly kill humans,” He huffed.


Kaito wiped his feet over the shins of his jeans to remove the sand and stepped into his sandals as Narihira shuddered and refused to turn around and face him. For some reason that irked him more than having his bath cut shorter than he would have liked. His eyes flicked over the human again, eyeing the backpack and wondering just what all he had brought with him. He would admit that he snooped on occasion. Anything that came into his forest belonged to him until it left again, he had the right to clear any items that would cause damage if they stayed. Narihira didn’t seem to be the type to cause destruction intentionally, so Kaito’s attention diverted again.


“Has it become a custom to talk to someone with your back turned toward them?” He stretched his wings and shook them out, sending droplets of water and a weak wind around them that toyed with the foliage nearby. It felt like he was carrying three times the weight on his back and he wanted nothing more than to stretch out in the early morning sun and dry out before going to bed. Could he play this off in a way that he could leave and be done with this? Probably not.


Kaito walked past Narihira and let his eyes follow him until he was standing behind the tengu, only stopping once he had climbed the small bank up to the path. His wings left wet droplets behind him, sprinkling the ground as they drained and the plants drank greedily. He frowned and pulled his wings closer to his back, “You should go home before noon.” It felt cooler under the trees, in a way that threatened rain. Leaves twisted and flipped to reveal the pale underside to the sun, anxiously waiting for the rain that hadn’t come for weeks. He truly did not want to chase his human down in a rainstorm. At least this time he wouldn’t have to hide in the shadows.
 

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#11
Narihira frowned when the creature mentioned his staying still, a blush creeping up his neck. “You said not…to…move,” he mumbled, flinching when something wet hit him.

Only water. He released the breath he’d realized he held.

Some of his nerves dissipated as it continued. The creature appeared to be the peaceful sort. What sort of monster tried to have a conversation before it ate someone? Unless it meant to make him lower his guard before striking, perhaps to ensure it met no resistance.

It walked back up to the path before him saying something about going somewhere, but Narihira heard nothing. His eyes caught on the massive wings on the creatures back. Black and glossy, almost glimmering in the weak sunlight. Just like his feather…because they were the same. Suddenly the impressive size of the feather made more sense. The rest of it appeared human almost. The hair had an unusual color and he hadn’t seen the face, but its body was far less misshapen than he’d anticipated.

Silence hung in the air as Narihira weighed his options. He thought to leave but remained unsure if the creature would consider that rude. Come to think of it, the creature had helped him the previous night and it had not attacked him. Perhaps he owed it some recognition and that was what it waited for.

“Was that you with the lights last night?” He stepped forward and bowed deeply. “If it was, I should thank you and apologize for my thoughtlessness. I caused you some trouble. It was good of you to help.”
 

ArgentAconit

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#12
Kaito turned half way to face Narihira when his human remained silent. Most people would bow quickly, stumble over their thanks and then rush for the nearest building to hide in. He opened his mouth to question him again, only for the brunet to do exactly what the tengu had expected. He bowed, said his thanks…. And stayed there. A black eyebrow rose up in curiosity. “You shouldn’t wander the forest at night,” He said after a few moments. Birds chirped around them and hopped from one branch to another in the trees, small flashes of reds, blues, and ivories sneaking through the green foliage as they moved.


“If you don’t wish to cause trouble, stay home when the sun sets. I won’t be able to guide you back every night. There are more threatening things here than you may think.” He thought about leaving then, assuming he had given a proper warning that might scare the human away. Maybe if he left the forest would finally agree to reclaim the clearing around his home. Something about it felt almost disappointing now. Over the few short days Narihira had been there, Kaito had found plenty of entertainment for himself by following and spying on him.


He let out a slow breath and bundled his clothing again, “I’m assuming you left the offering last night. The old man doesn’t leave food like that, neither does he leave it on one shrine,” Sato wouldn’t always leave a single offering, sometimes placing small grilled fish on the other alters with their own rice ball or cake and tea. Kaito’s meal had something extra to it every time but he assumed it was because he returned the dishes once the alters were clear. “Be careful that you leave some for all of them. They will take it as an insult if you choose to ignore them.”
 

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#13
Another shiver went through Narihira. More threatening things than he imagined? Either this spirit vastly underestimated his ability to imagine terrible things or the entire forest was filled with the flesh eating nightmares of old. No more wandering the woods at night. Or going out on the engawa. Or opening the windows. Even sleeping felt as though it carried some risk after that statement.

Yet the spirit continued on with another warning about the offerings. Fear and shame flashes across Narihira’s face. Of course those other shrines belonged to other spirits. Probably the hungry ones that wanted to eat him. “I’ll keep that in mind next time,” he assured the spirit as he rubbed the back of his neck. If there was a next time. He had come out to this forest to recover his passion and relax, not to endanger himself living next to a forest full of ghouls and ghosts.

A glint of sunlight on the spirit’s wings caught his attention. Those colors… He found himself staring as the black broke into an iridescent sheen. That desire to understand that beauty, recreate it, returned to his hands. In Tokyo nothing motivated him. Not the bland concrete walls or the dully eyes of the inhabitance. Out here so much beauty existed in the land and in the people. Or spirits as it were. If those sights might help him, cure whatever blocked his muse and kept his art from evolving, he’d pay any price for that.

Sato-san would know more. Sometime tomorrow Narihira would have to make a second trip down to visit him. “I’ve taken enough of your time. I’d best do as you say and get home before the rain.” He hesitated, biting his lower lip before bowing once more. “Thank you again…” Satisfied, he walked around the spirit to return to the path and begin his walk back to the house.
 

ArgentAconit

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#14
{{ Sorry for having taken so long to get back to you, I had a relapse in health and haven’t been able to focus for long periods of time. I’m hoping that it will be straightened out soon enough- though that being said my doctors said it could take a few months. }}


Kaito made sure to watch his human leave until he was past the bend in the path before he turned to go back to his own dwelling. He was a strange little human. Had he stayed to show some ounce of courage or had he been too terrified to move from his spot? Did he listen when Kaito told him to stay put because of fear, or respect? Obviously, fear was a part of it, but could there have been more? His curiosity grew stronger the more he thought about it.


By the time he made it to the top of the mountain, he had found his exhaustion again. The soft sand near the entrance called his name instead of the smooth stone he had worn into a comfortable shape over the years, and he answered by stretching out onto it. His wings unfolded limply on either side of him and he folded his arms under his cheek with the intention of dressing fully once he woke up. Unfortunately, the rain that came through the day lasted into the night and ruined any chance of his mood improving.


The next time he saw Narihira, he had stretched out on one of the tree branches dangling into his yard. Back pressed against the tree trunk, wings slumped down to the point that the tips of dark feathers could be seen by anyone who gave the tree line more than a cursory glance. One of his sandals probably poked through the foliage as well but Kaito wasn’t too worried about hiding his presence now that he had already been found. What would be the point? He tossed a handful of small pebbles into the air and caught them with gentle click-clacks as they struck each other in his palm.


Narihira had dutifully avoided the forest from what Kaito could tell. Of course, he could just walk around in the early afternoon and the tengu would have had no clue on the matter. The trees were more interested in the gathering birds and the blossoms slowly coming in on their branches. They wouldn’t bother with telling him about afternoon strolls, being as vain as they were when changes appeared on their branches. He scoffed quietly and slid further down on his perch. The tree shimmied happily as the guardian settled in, pleased that it was able to do something in return.

Kaito's eyes slipped back toward the dormant house, peering through a thin veil of leaves. His human had resorted to closing the windows decorating the front room, and most of the screens were closed around the engawa as well. At least he took his warning seriously- the house didn't look very inviting at all to those who appeared outside of it.
 

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#15
The second trip to visit the Satos took a few days longer than Narihira had anticipated. He limped back along the trail to his home in the dim light of the early evening, grumbling under his breath. All this trouble because he had to go up and investigate the attic. So stupid. His ankle had recovered for the most part after his unfortunate tumble down the stairs but the long walk to and from his far-off neighbors aggravated the sprain again. Which meant he’d be spending another couple of days resting in his home if he wanted to avoid making it worse. Wonderful.

At least his chat with Sato-san had proven worth his arduous journey. The older man took the time to explain his own relationship with the sprits of the mountain, never once laughing at the younger man’s questions. More often than not, Sato-san had said, he found them playful if somewhat destructive when it came to gardens. Once or twice he and Aoi-san had woken to find plants in their garden stripped or their equipment knocked over. The offerings appeared to calm those that sought to destroy or perhaps had won them the favor of the powerful creatures that kept the others in check. However Sato-san emphasized that the offerings ought to come from a place of gratitude and respect, not greed. If Narihira sought selfish gain from them, he would taint the food and insult the spirits.

The information eased some (and heightened others) of Narihira’s fears. Aoi-san scolded her husband for scarring their new neighbor into thinking he had spirits after him. Narihira tried to set the record straight before an argument broke out only semi-succeeding. It appeared to be an old dispute. Even so she offered to make a journey up to visit him in a week and to bring some fresh vegetables from their garden to share. They always had far too much to eat themselves. He accepted the offer with no complaints. His own supply of fresh produce had begun to run low, something he would need to remedy with a trip into the nearest town soon.

His mind drifted away from his meeting to the bird man he had seen a few days ago as he neared the end of the trail. The books he’d discovered in the attic cutesy of the previous owner led him to believe the creature was a tengu, a mythical beast with a whole host of legends around it. Which sort he had seen remained a mystery though he hoped it was one of the peaceful kinds. The creature had looked so beautiful, Narihira wished he could catch just one more glimpse of it. The colors in those feather just made his fingers itch to paint something.

Then again meeting him might not end so well the next time. Perhaps if Narihira made a genuine offering at the shrines again he might glimpse the creature again somewhere out on those trails without having to speak with him. He reached the clearing after what felt like an eternity, sighing with relief when he saw his cozy home. Not much farther now he promised himself as he limped onward. Another minute or so and he’d be able to sit down to soak his ankle for a while.
 

ArgentAconit

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#16
Human! Human back! Tengu’s human! The words whispered their way through the tree branches as they rained a soft shower of loose leaves and petals on Narihira in welcome. Kaito cracked open his eyes and flexed his hand around the pebbles he had previously been tossing, shifting them around against his fingers. He had closed his eyes for a short nap with the intention of only being there for a few more minutes to ensure his new human would stay put for the night. The sun had shifted further down into the sky than he would have liked, but it seemed his nap had granted him a chance to catch the man on his way back home.


He shifted on the tree and pulled one leg over the branch so that he sat sideways instead of astride. The tree seemed disappointed that he was leaving, but Kaito was more focused on the figure that slipped into the clearing, limping. His eyebrow rose in curiosity and he watched as the brunette struggled his way into the space of soft grass in front of his home. He dropped out of his tree with little noise to give him away, wings fanned out partially to help keep his balance as he landed in a crouch. Red eyes kept steady on the human as he stood and dusted off the sides of his open haori, the pebbles left in the grass at his feet.


“It seems you haven’t kept yourself out of trouble,” He said, voice just above a comfortable speaking level to catch his ears. Kaito took a few slow strides out to where Narihira stood but kept his distance. Something in him said not to scare him away this time, that it would be negligent for him to cause him any more discomfort especially since the forest accepted him as a thing to be protected. He was no more than a deer or rabbit, skittish and fearful of any other creature that could mean harm. That first true meeting had told him as much, and his show of respect proved that he was different from the boorish men who came to fix the house, that he was more than those who wanted to tear down his trees for their own comfort instead of finding another path.


The Tengu glanced down at the foot that was being favored and tilted his head in a birdlike manner, “Humans always heal so slowly,” He muttered. It reminded him of his last human, how he had broken his leg in one of the fierce rainstorms years ago, trying to climb to the Tengu’s cave when Kaito had been away from his little house for too long. He had said something along the lines of making sure the spirit hadn’t abandoned him, but all Kaito could focus on was the soured feeling in his stomach as he carried him back down the mud-slicked mountain so he would heal. Bones healed slowly, he found out. Weeks of time spent in a splint, avoiding putting weight on it, he didn’t understand why such a fragile creature had decided to stay in a dangerous place like this. And yet here was another one, sporting a similar injury, refusing to leave the house despite how terrified he was.
 

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#17
Narihira started when he heard the new voice, stumbling as he turned to locate the source. The sudden weight on his injured ankle caused him to wince but he managed to keep his feet. His wide eyes landed on the creature near the tree line seemingly summoned by his thoughts.

Never had he expected to see the creature again so soon. His blood turned to ice in his veins even as his curiosity riveted his gaze onto the sight. It looked…so human, yet inhuman. Some indefinable mixture of dare he say handsome human features with those huge, black wings on his back and red eyes that cut through Narihira’s very heart. It made his skin prickle beneath his clothing despite how hot he was after his exertion. Wholly unsettling yet far too fascinating to turn away from.

The comment it made registered a few seconds later. A deep blush colored his pale skin as he rubbed the back of his neck. “I—it’s only sprain. It will heal in a few days,” he mumbled, unwilling to admit how he came by it. Telling the awe-inspiring beast of myth he tripped down the stairs just seemed so humiliating.

Though he wondered why the creature had bothered coming to his yard. He had done nothing to prompt it unless leaving his cabin to go down the mountain had drawn its attention. Or perhaps it meant to warn him about the other offerings again.

“I’m sorry for taking so long,” he spoke quickly, bowing his head to the creature. “I…I meant to take a proper offering for the others before I…this happened.” He gestured to his leg. “I only intended to take a day or so to heal before I made the trip, to ensure I wouldn’t cause you anymore trouble.”

Only for this trip to prove he hadn’t waited long enough.

He bowed his head again, lower this time. “I promise to show my thanks to all as soon as I am able to make the trip. Please understand that I mean no disrespect.”
 

ArgentAconit

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#18
Kaito hummed lowly in thought as he watched Narihira rub his neck, was he hurt there as well? He understood that the flush of rosy color to his cheeks meant that he was embarrassed or nervous, but his eyes kept flicking between neck and ankle with an indecipherable look edging around his face.


Before he could mention his opinion on the male’s obviously injured body, he carried on in a rushed tone to apologize about the shrines and offerings. Kaito’s wings tucked in close to his shoulders, “If you were to take the offerings in the shape you’re currently in they would think of you as one yourself.” He knew that one shrine, in particular, liked to pick on weak worshipers, feeding off of their pain and worsening it in some way. Something about that reminder had him taking a few steps closer until he was within a step and arm’s reach of the other being. This human was his, he wasn’t food for the others, and he particularly disliked the idea of his possessions being hunted. Fortunately for them, it went both ways and not just when it involved humans.


“The others do not expect constant offerings,” He muttered, head tipped to the side again as he looked at Nari, eyes flitting over his face and the shape of his ears. He didn’t look any different than he had the last time he spied on him, perhaps more red, tired even. His feathers ruffled, “There is an older man who leaves his offerings every few days, on some days he will leave one, or five- many times he has come to pray and left nothing in return.”


He had no idea why he mentioned it, but this particular human seemed too high strung about his forest and the pinch between his shoulders told him how much he disliked it. “Heal before you leave your next offerings. Prove that you can walk without limping before you attempt to lay yourself across an altar without realizing what you are doing.”
 

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#19
Narihira swallow hard when the creature mentioned him being perceived as an offering. Meaning dinner if the other offerings he had heard about were an indication. “I wish I understood this better,” he mumbled under his breath. If only his parents had bothered to teach him more about spirits and how to appease them. He had often attended the yearly festivals growing up in Tokyo but never had anyone bothered to explain their significance or even mention the old legends about spirits save for the occasional, spooky bedtime stories. Stories he had loved until this became his daily life. Perhaps only the people who continued to live so far away from the big cities knew these stories.

The creature approached him as it continued to speak. Narihira fought his instinct to back away, fearing such a move might provoke it—or him. It looked like a him. Either way, he appeared to be docile for now if a little intimidating. Narihira would rather keep him happy to avoid becoming his meal. If only the creature would speak less dramatically, maybe Narihira might be able to relax some.

“Old man? Do you mean Sato-san? He’s a short man, balding with glasses,” he inquired, gesturing to illustrate what his words referred to. “I just came from his home. He said he often goes into the woods to collect dead wood for his carvings. He’s a very skilled wood carver for an amateur.” A smile returned to his face as he recalled a few of the pieces Sato-san had shown off during his visit. Absolutely beautiful.

A pause followed Narihira’s question as he became very aware that they continued to stand in the middle of his yard. His ankle ached after the strenuous trip yet he had a guest. Sort of. It would be rude to walk away without offering him something. “So…did you stop by for a reason…um sir? Would you like something to drink or eat?” An odd question to ask a mythical beast but he had no idea how else to move the conversation forward. “I could get you something from the house if you’d like.”

He turned to start for the house, but stumbled and fell to one knee. His ankle had stiffened while they stood there chatting. The damned thing. The blush on his face deepened as he forced himself back to his feet, a grunt of pain escaping him. “Don’t mind me,” he assured the creature with a forced smile, “I just need to sit down for a bit.” He brushed off his pants and continued limping toward the house.
 

ArgentAconit

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#20
Kaito barely caught the murmur of words, something about understanding. If he didn’t understand Kaito would have to teach him quickly to prevent any further confusion. The thought of trying to impart such knowledge was daunting but Kaito had been careless and Narihira had caught him at the lake. Whether he wanted to or not, they had no choice now if his human wanted to be safe while he lived there.


He went on to describe one of the old men that visited the shrines and Kaito thought back on him. Their appearances didn’t quite match, “Sato doesn’t come to the shrines as often as the other.” No, the one who prayed more frequently had a quality of young strength to him and he often offered up more traditional foods. Sato brought meals that were caught between modern and traditional, leaving rice wine and various other things. The trees whispered frequently about him collecting their dead branches and offering his thanks to them as he went.


Before he could say as much- and he wasn’t sure why he wanted to say it in the first place- the skittish creature asked why he was there in the first place. He was offered a drink or some food and the trees urged him to agree, their whispers carrying on a gentle, warm breeze that coiled around the clearing and then slunk off down the mountain paths. His eyes skirted the treeline behind Narihira, suspicious of his intentions but curious what he intended to do if it weren’t malicious in some way. The calmest or most terrified humans were usually the ones to fear, considering their unpredictable behaviors.


He stumbled and Kaito found himself standing in his personal space, a cool hand sliding around his ribcage to take the weight from his injury. It reminded him of his other human, too stubborn to stay and rest at home after his splint had been removed. The tengu tugged him closer and lifted with ease, “You need to do more than sit,” He chastised before he remembered where he was, who he was with. His fingers twitched against the fabric of Narihira’s shirt. This wasn’t the time or place to lose himself in his thoughts.


They moved to the house and Kaito skipped them both onto the engawa with an airy supernatural grace, landing barefoot on the wooden planks and leaving his geta neatly where his feet had been on the stone step with a practiced ease. That same memory that told him he should be respectful to the house had reached out to him and reminded him to take them off again, if only for the sake of the false ghost that haunted his memories. He loosened his grip on Narihira’s side and waited for him to regain his balance before fully stepping away. He had been given the invitation for food, not to enter his home, “I came to tell you that in a month’s time you should close your windows and doors for the night and leave a dish of rice wine on the stone step. A spirit passes through this place and will leave you alone if you follow those steps. If you ignore my suggestion she will plague you with nightmares. I feel you do that to yourself enough.”