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Scene Title Whirlpool
Synopsis Jac and Joy share a moment by the water.
Date February 7, 2020

The island formerly known as Alameda is a veritable ocean of grays and blacks. Structures made of steel, concrete, and glass rise up from the man made sea of stone and tar like islands. Generations after Izanagi and Izanami stirred up the primordial oceans to create the islands of Japan, their descendants have drawn the island now known as Praxia out of the chaos and ruin left by war.

Green spaces are few and far between. Most of those that had existed as the military and research facilities were being built turned brown with the passage of so many feet and vehicles. With water being pumped in, there's been little incentive for grass to return to these heavily trafficked areas. Asphalt streets shimmer in the heat like vast deserts, as unforgiving and unyielding as the sands further south and east. From nearly every angle it would seem that the constructs of humankind have wedged a permanent toehold in nature. However, there is one angle that's often overlooked.

A band of green cuts along the southern shore of the island. It stretches a rough half mile from Ballena Bay, eastward before the sands native to the Northern California beaches take over. The small oasis of grass and trees provide relief from the veins of asphalt that shimmer with heat even in the morning light. The scent of the eucalyptus tames the smells of iodine and putrefied seaweed. Once upon a time it would have been a place for picnics and birdwatching, a place to enjoy nature without leaving the town.

Picnics and impromptu games of frisbee no longer take place in one of the few remaining swaths of parkland. The presence of the military and the emphasis of research and business throughout the island, combined with the plethora of amenities offered within the community reduces the need for a getaway located just minutes from home. Sometimes, it's that kind of quasi-isolation that a person wants and needs.

Sometimes it's where Jac Childs goes to practice away from judging eyes and artificial light.

Former Washington Park

Praxia, California

February 7, 2020

10:23 am

The sun hasn't yet reached its zenith, but it's already promising to be a warm day. Sweat darkens the curls of Jac’s red hair and makes it cling to her forehead and the back of her neck. Even the sleeveless tee she's wearing is damp down the back. But neither heat nor discomfort has chased her back to the climate controlled corridors of the Ziggurat.

The metal blade of her sword flashes in the sunlight as she moves with an intentional slowness. Her small frame moves with a practiced fluidity, transitioning between stance and cut smoothly. She's far from perfect, a small wobble causes a brief ripple in her form.

Jac pauses only long enough to re-center her balance, then resumes the dance-like motions.

Liquid ink shadows creep up along the park space, winding over concrete blocks that once had benches affixed to them, now little more than rusted metal studs remain to indicate they were ever there. The tenebrous undulation rises up and takes on a vaguely human form, then peels away like a sheet of oil to reveal Joy. Her attention is divided by the space and Jac, taking in both in equal and patient measure.

“I noticed you weren’t in the Ziggurat and I…” Joy doesn’t finish the statement, threading a lock of dark hair behind one ear as she makes a slow, meandering approach toward Jac. “If I’m interrupting, I can go.”

Movement catches her attention, and Jac’s eyes shift in focus. From whatever imagined foe or mental imagery that she'd been intent on, her eyes slide to the shadow-that-isn't. Her movement shifts, altering from simple practice to a subtle readiness — not that she's expecting an enemy within the borders of Praxia. Training for combat, such as what the girl has been doing, tends to shape the mind and shift perception.

Her posture eases when it's Joy that's the shadow-that-isn't. As if there had never been an alternative to who it could be. Jac grins slightly, relaxes into a more natural stance.

“I thought it would be alright if I came out here,” the teen explains for why she isn't in the Ziggurat. Blue eyes flicker, a darting look angling in the direction of the largest building. “You aren't interrupting. I'm just… it's green here, and the outside air feels good.”

“It is green here,” Joy admits, quietly.

Joy walks up to stand beside Jac, now that she’s been given permission to be in her space. “I want to say something like, when all this is over we should go to Hokkaido, show you where I grew up.” Her dark eyes angle down to the ground. “But it’s hard to be that optimistic. To think that both of us will still be…” Joy stops herself, realizing how bleak she sounds.

“How are you doing?” Joy decides is a better conversation, looking over to Jac with the hesitance that is always somewhere in her eyes. A nervousness of a woman who wants to make a meaningful, emotional connection with her daughter but is held back by fear of the ephemeral nature of such a bond.

“I miss my friends.” Usually, Jac steers away from talking about the life she'd left behind, but an open question deserves an honest answer. She turns to pick up the scabbard, left just aside from where she's standing, and slides the sword into it as she straightens. “And I'm scared. Not… not really of facing Uluru but… mostly that I'm not…”

The girl shrugs and looks up at Joy. She's wrestled plenty of times with her uncertainty, when the weight of hope and expectation felt particularly heavy. It's not something she wants to talk about right now.

“I'd love to see Hokkaido. We should go there, after.” Jac leaves no room for the alternative, leaning on enthusiasm for the idea of such a trip. “What's it like there right now? Are there really festivals for everything? We had one once, for Halloween. There were fireworks and I went trick-or-treating for the first time ever.”

“I…” Joy wraps her arms around herself. It’s the smallest she’s ever seemed in Jac’s eyes. “I don’t know. I haven’t been to Hokkaido in decades,” she admits in a small voice. “Even then, it was… brief, confusing.” Slowly, Joy turns her dark eyes over to Jac and takes a step closer to her. “Can I… tell you a secret?”

Joy’s question is a rhetorical one, she knows Jac would both accept and agree to keep it. “Sometimes I don’t know who I am.” Joy admits, looking out to the water. “I… I remember hundreds of years ago, I remember Adam as Kensei, I… I remember all the terrible things that happened. But sometimes I’m just,” her eyes narrow, “it feels like I’m a thousand different people, all stitched together like a ragdoll.” Joy closes her eyes and looks down at her feet. There are dandelions growing up between cracks in the walkway underfoot.

“Sometimes my memories don’t match up with Adam’s, sometimes I remember old events differently from the way they happened and… and I know I died. I know Adam— ” Joy cuts herself off and presses the heel of her palm to her forehead. “I don’t remember how I died. But I remember waking up in a cave in Hokkaido, three hundred years later, confused and scared.” She looks to Jac, trying to force a smile but it doesn’t come.

“I understand your fear,” Joy says softly.

The nod that Jac offers is as unnecessary as Joy’s request. No pinky is offered to seal the promise, the sober, concerned expression does that in its stead.

The teen is quiet while Joy speaks and for a bit after. However much she wishes, relating to literal ancients is difficult at the best of times. It's taught her to be introspective, fostered the ability to think and question more deeply, beyond the surface wonderings and childish musings she'd been prone to. Jac moves to stand closer to Joy, eyes picking out the sparkling caps on the water, a hand lifting to rest on the woman’s arm.

“Maybe it isn't important,” she offers quietly. Joy probably wasn’t looking for anything more than a chance to confide in someone, but the words come anyway. A moment passes before she looks up, studies the woman who's been so much more than a mentor to her. The vague worry she often feels shows in her expression. “Maybe the details aren't important, because your being here is.”

Jac tries for a grin of her own, but it falls a little short. “Or. Maybe you're like the kami with multiple souls.” Her eyebrows lift slightly. It's something to consider. Her fingers curl slightly to squeeze Joy’s arm, companionably, a younger sister gently pulling her elder sister away from sadness and fear.

Joy laughs, a small and gentle thing, and looks up to Jac with a newfound appreciation for the young woman. Lifting a hand, she gently touches it to Jac’s jawline and then lets the touch fall away. “I will never let any harm come to you,” she says fiercely and determinedly. “You understand that, yes?”

It isn’t merely a loyalty that drives Joy to this point. It isn’t that Jac is the culmination of she and Adam’s lives, the daughter they were never able to truly have together. It is that she is an innocent in all of this, and for the life she was unable to save in her youth, she would save this one.

“I love you,” Joy says softly, her palm touching Jac’s cheek. “And love is a shield.”

A small nod tips Jac’s head forward a fraction, but her eyes remain on Joy. Some things are instinctively understood, unquestioned of their origin or reason for existing. The girl has never doubted the natural bond they share or Joy’s protective nature, not even in those awkward early days following her arrival in Praxia. It's how it was then and will always be. That it's spoken aloud now draws a faintly puzzled furrow of her brows that fades after a couple of seconds.

Without speaking, Jac turns and hugs Joy tightly. Love is a shield isn't the contradiction to the very first lessons her father had taught her, that she cannot trust anyone to save her but herself. It's the balance to it — two sides of the same coin. Her eyes squeeze shut, face buried against the woman's shoulder, and for a moment being simply a child again.

“I love you too,” the girl responds, a near mumble against the folds of Joy’s shirt. A moment passes, Jac turns her head, gazing out across the bay.

Another moment passes, maybe too quickly this time, and the girl looks up at Joy. Blue eyes study, search for something. The answer to an unknown question, or the reason Joy had come looking for her. They're kind of the same thing.

But what Jac asks instead of those deeper questions is, “Can we practice out here today?”

Joy’s throat is tight with emotion, one hand at the small of Jac’s back and the other raised to dry her eyes while Jac cannot see her face. She nods, wordlessly, then presses her nose against the top of Jac’s scalp. She slowly unwinds from the embrace, looking down at the ground, then out to the water.

“We can,” Joy finally agrees after considerable thought. Though there is clearly a question still on her mind. “We’ve done so much training on how to fight,” she says thoughtfully. “Is there something else you’d want to know? To learn? To ask?”

Something that isn't preparation for battle is an option? Jac watches Joy, still searching, wondering for an instant if the choices of something that isn't fighting is a distraction from anything else. Her head tilts slightly to one side as she studies the woman's expression.

“Millions and millions of things,” she answers honestly. She'd be lying if she said no even without wondering about the source of the question. The girl takes Joy’s hand to lead her back to the space she'd been found in, to where the grass is more plush and a tree offers some respite from the sun.

“I want to hear more stories.” Jac sets her sword carefully beside her hip once she's sitting. “Like ones you heard when you were little. And I want to learn paper folding because that's really primal.” Whimsical things as unrelated to everything she's normally studying as she can manage. The girl looks up at Joy, shoulders shifting out a small shrug. “Mostly, I wondered what you're thinking so hard about. You started asking something more than once and then changed topics.”

Joy makes a noise in the back of her throat, then looks away. “Those are all good ideas,” she says in a way that adults do when they might not actually follow through with their promises. “I’m always thinking about things,” she says with a hint of distance in her voice that wasn’t there a moment ago. “Worrying, maybe, is more accurate.” Joy blinks dark eyes back to Jac. “About you, about the future. About… everything.”

Exhaling a sigh, Joy takes a few steps forward and starts to walk toward the water. She doesn’t motion for Jac to follow, but keeps her pace slow as an invitation to. “Do you know how my abilities work?” She wonders, looking over her shoulder to the redhead. Joy wasn’t sure if Adam had divulged that secret when she wasn’t looking.

It's an answer without being an answer, the way adults do when they over complicate things. Jac accepts it as it is, but likewise makes no promises. She may ask after it again, especially following Joy's shift in tone. Maybe there really isn't anything, even though her gut says there is.

After watching Joy walk a few paces further away, the teen kicks out her feet. It's when the woman looks her way again that she stands and jogs to catch up.

“No,” becomes more of a question and less of a response. Jac’s forehead furrows with thought, and she looks up at Joy once at her side again. “I don't even know everything you can do.” She's at least figured out that, like herself, Joy has more than one ability. The puzzled look turns to one of interest, hoping something of those unknowns would be shared.

“Neither do I,” Joy says with a mischievous smile. “But I can explain it as best as I understand…” she says, continuing on past a low cement divider, down onto rough and rocky ground descending toward the shoreline.

“I know that there’s a tide inside of me.” Joy says with a look back over her shoulder to Jac. “A whirlpool, drawing inward, the thoughts and aspirations of others. Who they are, or… I suppose more who they were.” She pauses, standing beside a broken piece of concrete jutting out toward the water. “I know that when someone dies, a piece of them comes here, to me.” She reaches out and touches the middle of her chest with two fingers. “And that part of them, changes me.

Joy begins to walk again, carefully choosing her steps on the way down to the water’s edge. “My abilities come from those deaths. They are born in me. When someone dies, a part of them changes as a part of me, and I reflect their memory.” She looks over to Jac, brows furrowed, curious to see how the young woman response.

A half squint meets that mischievous smile, like there's some secret to it that Jac feels she should know and Joy is waiting for her to guess the right answer. And maybe the answer is a lot more obvious than it seems. Like those brain teasers that list two dads and two sons as part of the riddle but the answer is always three people.

She's still thinking about it when Joy begins moving, and has to jog a few steps to catch up again. The teen's path takes her over a divider, arms stretched out to maintain balance. She makes an easy step off when she reaches the end, falls neatly into step with Joy. Her eyes lift, instead of watching the water or the sea birds, she watches the woman.

So many mysteries. Every answer only creates more questions without ever answering the one before. Her brows furrow but not with skepticism. What Joy is talking about isn't something Jac has ever heard about. At least, maybe, not so directly.

“That must make arguing with yourself pretty strange sometimes,” Jac decides after an introspective moment. A rare use of humor that she puts away shortly after. “I think… that's… primal.” Unsure of how else to put it, the girl looks out at the ocean. She chews on her lip for a moment, then slides a look up to Joy again. “How… how many have you figured out? Or… or how do you know when you've got a new one?”

“I used to feel it more intimately,” Joy admits, sliding off her sandals and stepping into the water up to her ankles. “Years ago, when I first woke up in that cave. Every time one of us passed, I felt it.” She places her fingers by her chest again. “But over the years a friend, who is a part of me now, helped me learn how to tune the feeling out. It used to be a roar, something I couldn’t ignore, all the hurt and grief and fear hitting me at once…” she lowers her hand, “now, barely a whisper. Most of the time I don’t even notice.”

Joy slowly turns, looking to Jaco and motioning for the girl to join her in the shallows. “I don’t know how far my range is, but…” she looks back to the rippling water’s surface, “I know when one Richard Cardinal died in Alaska, I felt it in Massachusetts.” She holds up a hand, and that hand turns into so much shadow and night, then transforms back to flesh and blood. “The war was hard…” she adds, brows knit together, “I spent most of it in hiding, isolated in the deserts of northern China.”

Joy closes her eyes, exhaling a sigh through her nose. “Eventually, fate drew Adam and I back together. He was seeking closure… revenge. I told him I could not be with him until he was finished, until he had put the bloodlust behind himself.” She smiles and shakes her head. “He thought I meant once he achieved his revenge…”

Joy is silent for a moment before clarifying, “…I meant, until he found himself again.”

“That's a long way.” An entire continent. The girl begins to shake her head at the magnitude, but the change from hand shadow to hand again tickles a memory. She's seen something like that before — a year before — but that wasn't Richard Cardinal. It was Richard Ray. Her mouth tugs toward one side, but before she can start to wonder, Joy’s next words pull her back.

The war was hard, but even Jac knows she can't even begin to understand how difficult it must have been for Joy.

Her shoes are worked off, catching the heel of one with the toe of the other. They're pushed to the side, and the teen steps carefully into the water. Arms clasp behind her back as she stands at Joy’s side, shoulder briefly leaning into the woman's. Blue eyes watch the sun sparkling off the distant ripples like glitter spilled across a blue-green sheet.

“Did he find himself?” Jac asks after a long moment. Her eyes lift to seek out Joy’s.

Joy looks out to the water, her gaze distant and unfocused. The gentle surf crashes against the broken concrete of the shoreline, washes over her ankles. She listens to the cry of the sea birds, struggling to remember the way the shore sounded when she was Jac’s age.

“Yes…” Joy says bittersweetly. Because even though Adam found the man he once was, he found his old obsessions as well. He remembers their love, but she fears he will never live to appreciate it.

He did.

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