Whose Blood



Scene Title Whose Blood
Synopsis Jac Childs journeys to Japan to keep a promise and find some answers.
Date April 10, 2021 — April 17, 2021

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.

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.

«“Ladies and gentlemen, we have just been cleared to land at Narita Airport. Please make sure one last time your seat belt is securely fastened. The flight attendants are currently passing around the cabin to make a final compliance check and pick up any remaining cups and glasses. Thank you.”»

The announcement from the flight attendant intrudes politely on wandering minds, reminding the flight’s passengers of the inevitable. For most it's a return to the ordinary — business trips or the end of a vacation. For some, it's the beginning of a new chapter with all new adventures.

For Jac Childs, it's following through on a promise she'd made; it's a promise to the enigmatic Joy to see the land she's from, and it's a promise to herself and the legacy she was born into.

Blue eyes pull back from their faraway gaze to focus on the faint reflection in the window. The diaphanous outline of her face peers back with the same anxious excitement that fills her stomach.

Jac sits upright and stretches at the arms and legs while keeping in her seat. It's hard to believe the trip has actually become reality.

“Are you sure you have everything?” Motherly concern laces Gillian’s voice and pulls Jac’s attention from packing a few last minute necessities into her backpack. Mother and daughter regard each other for a second, before Jac reaches over to put a hand on her mom’s arm.

Reaching into her pocket, Jac fishes her cellphone out. A tap against the screen illuminates the display, showing the time back home and, more importantly, a better than half-charged battery.

“Yes.” They'd gone over the list twice before Jac had even started packing. Now that slip of paper sits on her nightstand, lines crossing through all of the things deemed needed for a week, plus some extra. “And,” she continues as Gillian opens her mouth to press another reminder. “I promise I'll call as soon as I land.”

Sitting back in her seat, hands folded around her phone so she'll remember to call home first thing, Jac looks through the window as the world gets bigger. A strange world, unlike anything she's seen outside of books or television. She leans into the armrest to watch as fields and arbors of all sorts, broken by the infrequent out building or solar panel skim by and beneath the airplane. It's dizzying and exciting. The trees seem so close the plane might clip them and yet so far away at the same time.

Then as soon as the farmlands appeared like a patchwork quilt of greens and earth tones , they're gone again as the aircraft seems to glide peacefully over the asphalt runway. Closer and closer, Jac holds her breath in anticipation to the jarring jolt of wheels making contact with pavement then exhales in a huff as the deceleration momentum pulls her against her seatbelt.

«“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Narita Airport. Local time is 6:59 am and the temperature is 10 C. For your safety and comfort, please remain seated with your seat belt fastened until the Captain turns off the Fasten Seat Belt sign. This will indicate that we have parked at the gate and that it is safe for you to move about.»

«On behalf of Japan Airlines and the entire crew, I’d like to thank you for joining us on this trip and we are looking forward to seeing you on board again in the near future. Have a wonderful stay!”»

Narita Airport International Arrival

Tokyo, Honshu, Japan

April 10, 2021

9:27 am local time

The passthrough in Customs had taken so much longer than it should have. The lead-in for it had been filled with enough anxiety. Jac had made her peace previously with a blood test being required to pass through customs, and each person nearer heightened her anxiety about that.

The process was just a fingerprick.


She hadn't even seen the needle, just felt the jab after an orange cap had been pressed to the pad of her index finger.


She couldn't help but swirl her thumb against her injured finger obsessively.


When Jac's passport was scanned after that, and she was given a preliminary screening on why she was entering the country, the woman at the gate had asked her to hold there. It had been so easy to think that maybe she'd just needed to get an English interpreter, maybe. Maybe?

But then she was pulled out of line and escorted to a room where all the same questions were asked again. Where her luggage was examined. Where she was asked why she was traveling without an adult. Who could vouch for the nature of her visit, and if it was.

Visaless entry for travelers wasn't uncommon, they explained, but they were concerned about her having traveled alone. Was she a runaway? “No.” Jac was asked that more than once. Why was she registered as Expressive when she tested as SLC-N? “It's complicated.” A second blood test was administered in that small room to confirm what was already verified at the gate, and finally, finally, they asked her to wait again and left her alone, gave her enough space to breathe.

Forty-five minutes of breathing space.

When they came back, a Japanese man with either aging or stress-lines around the corners of his mouth accompanies the security manager, his hair still black without a shred of grey to be found in it. He wears a tweed suit jacket dark brown in color, tie a lighter beige while he wears a navy blue shirt that both complements and looks drastically out of place with his color combination choices. He has a badge pinned to his chest, official-looking— it reminds Jac of the one she wore when she was still interning at SESA. It's entirely in Japanese save for a string directly below the solemn photograph of the same man, some ten, maybe even fifteen years younger than he is now.

長野 元気
Nagano Genki


"Ms. Childs," he says cordially, speaking smoothly, at least at first. "I'm Agent Nagano." The self-introduction is where his ease ends, his accent and speech not quite halting, but his word choice definitely careful with each thing he says. Even so, what comes from him next is decidedly a bit tongue in cheek.

"I hear these nice people are standing between you and the sights you came all this way to see."

Jac’s head comes up when the door opens, and she stands as someone new accompanies the security manager. Apprehension coils cold fingers around her spine for an instant in spite of the vague familiarity of the newcomer’s presence. Has something gone very wrong? Should she be asking for representation from the embassy? A slow and steady breath is drawn in to control and mask the uneasiness growing in her belly.

“Mister Nagano.” Her response is measured and polite and completes the lie that she's worried; in a few words she's simply a subordinate greeting an unfamiliar superior, fittingly since she's never met the man in her life. The etiquette comes easily, not just from her brief time with SESA but the year long practice of the situational facades within Praxia.

A quick look is angled to the fellow who's kept her sequestered. Being scrutinized wasn't unexpected or even troubling. “Yes,” she responds, a subtle cagey note in her tone when she speaks that single word. It's the repeated questions, the lack of explanation when she's been nothing but cooperative. “Are you here to help clear up the confusion?”

Genki's head wobbles. "Ehh…" he starts. "ま," he begins anew, then corrects it with, "Sort of." One hand slips into his pocket, looking the petite young lady up and down like he's sizing her up. Maybe he has an ability? But maybe not. He doesn't wear a metal bracelet like the Evolved in Japan do.

Like Asi warned her she might be tagged with if they went with her registration rather than her circumstances.

"Japan is a very safe country, but we would be very bad hosts if we did not see you safely to where you are going," Genki says in a way that doesn't come off as anything less than patronizing, maybe because of his lack of ease with English. Then again, there's the downward tip of his head as he says it, like he's observing her over the top of spectacles he's not actually wearing.

"I think you've been here long enough you missed your next flight," he sympathizes. "So, how would you like to get on a bullet train to Sapporo instead? To Hokkaido." Genki gestures back to the door with a tip of his head. "I'll show you the way."

He doesn't explicitly say she can get up and go yet, though, and the security manager doesn't step aside either.

The way Genki looks at her reminds Jac a little bit of another stranger she countered once. He used to look at her like a little kid, especially when she bombarded him with questions. Fortunately for Genki, Jac has learned to control her curiosity. At least as far as using her words goes. She still meets his look, patronizing or not, with searching blue eyes.

Even without looking at her watch, without glancing at the clock on the wall, Jac is pretty certain Genki is right about the plane. Irritation at that prickles like pine needles, but the alternative that follows is like a cooling salve. The bullet train piques the teen’s interest almost immediately.

“I like that idea.” Jac does glance away now, to the security manager, as though asking if she's allowed to leave. A beat later her attention returns to Genki, with eyebrows raising. “I know I would especially be grateful for having someone with me who's familiar with the area.”

Genki's head tilts in an oh really gesture before the corner of his mouth kicks up in a coy grin. "You know," he says with way too much emphasis. "That sounds like an excellent idea." He turns to the security manager, who gives him a small nod. After a short, terse exchange of words in Japanese, the door is opened, and Jac is waved through with her bags.

On the other side of the door, there's a rolling suitcase left unattended. It's claimed by Genki as he walks alongside Jac toward the baggage claim and exits to shuttles in their various forms. "最初—" Ah, but that's not right, is it. He clears his throat, brow furrowing. "First, we need to take the train into the Restricted Zone … from there, we will transfer. And…"

He dithers for a moment before looking back to Jac. "日本語をご存知ですか1?" There's even a bit of cautious hope in his eye as he continues on, not breaking stride. Hey, maybe she does know Japanese. Wouldn't that be something.

A grin blooms when Genki agrees, but it's contained quickly. Jac ducks her head, in part to show her thanks, but also to school herself to stillness. It must work because the following conversation, in words she doesn't really understand, is weathered behind a facade of patience.

It's when she's finally dismissed and allowed to continue her journey that the mask breaks. Her relief that this trial is over is almost palpable as she gathers her bags and skitters out of the room behind Genki.

Blue eyes, practically shining with curiosity, raise to look at the old man when he speaks. There's clear wonder for what the Restricted Zone might be. Maybe something like the Exclusion Zone that contains Manhattan? Wonder inevitably shifts, as her guide continues, to apology.

“I'm sorry,” Jac answers with a small shake of her head. “I don't… I know a few words.” Brows knitting with the onset of worry, she takes a few quick steps to move ahead of Genki, then turns to face him even though it means she's walking backward. “I learn quickly though.”

With a crack of a grin, Genki seems satisfied with at least that. "We will see just how fast, お嬢さん2." He glances up to a ticker on the ceiling, brow lifting.

His pace picks up.

"Lesson one: 早く."

He leaves the definition of that one to context alone as he rushes them both to catch the train in time.

Hokuto Limited Express Train


4:30 pm local time

It turned out the bullet train made it all the way to Hokkaido, but not much farther. They had to transfer to a different line after passing through a long, dark, underground tunnel from the main island of Honshu to Hokkaido. But they were almost there now, finally.

Genki has on and off been tending to work on his Awasu, occasionally flipping the device open to tap on like it's a laptop. He spent a short period trying to reach Jac phrases he finds to be important for their time together. But mostly, he's just stared out the window, arms drawn into a tight fold across his chest.

It's a silence that's become predominant since they changed over to this line. Perhaps it's as a sign of politeness for others on the express line. Either way, he's lost in thought.

Like a sponge, Jac absorbs everything around her. An initial, youthful wonder is expressed once the bullet train has moved on from the station. It goes only so far as a few pictures captured on her cellphone before she’s settled again. Mastering the language, even if it’s only a few phrases she’s taught, is met with enthusiasm. There’s bound to be time and opportunity to pick up more.

And when she’s not directly engaged, she’s still politely observing and even emulating mannerisms. The teen is easily accepting of the lack of conversation and has no problems with keeping herself occupied.

For a time, Jac stays busy with studying from her laptop. Fingers pinch the space between her lower lip and her chin as she stares at the screen. But at some point, with eyes feeling heavy from travel, she traded the laptop for the world outside.

“Sapporo is our stop?” Jac asks in little more than a murmur. Her eyes have found Genki again, brows knitting as she speaks up for the first time in a while. It’s likely she wouldn’t have said anything at all, but maybe she’s picked up a shift in mood from the other passengers, something that would imply the train is closing in on their own destination.

"当ったり," Genki answers in a pleasant lightness, eyes still on the window. He turns to her only after. "Correct, お嬢さん. This train ends in Sapporo." He doesn't smile, but he does his best to put on a good face for Jac's sake. He's tired, too, after all this travel— all this nearing to something he doesn't want to be near, even more than he doesn't want to be speaking English. Something about dealing with a younger person who doesn't know any better, and who is earnest to learn has put him in a decidedly better mood than he'd otherwise be in, though.

"Can you tell me where we are going from there?" His arms unfold so he can spread his hands as he wonders, "Where next your plans are on this 大冒険, this great adventure of yours?"

With a dip of her head to acknowledge the answer, Jac sinks back in her seat. Sapporo. She tries to draw up a mental image of the maps she'd brought, to build an idea of where anything is. The land here is less familiar, and it isn't as easy as knowing the ways in and through the Safe Zone.

“I’m planning to start in Shinhidaka.” Her response has a slight lilt to it, as though she's not entirely sure of her own answer. Did she pronounce it correctly? Out of habit, her eyes flick to Genki for his reaction. “And the river, Shi… zunai. After that, I'll have to decide. Probably back to Honshu though. There's some places…”

Genki lifts his head in acknowledgement first. Shinhidaka's not a terrible day trip, he supposes, especially if it's to see the river. He starts thinking… then doubletakes as he cycles back to something else she's said.

"Eh?" The tone comes from him deadpan. "To… Honshu?" He blinks, his eyes fixating on Jac more strongly. "You said you were traveling to Hokkaido," he says, slow and clear, like this perhaps might have been forgotten.

“Yes,” Jac answers, just as slowly. Although from her it's more likely she's trying to puzzle out what the problem with returning might be, rather than mimicking Genki’s intentional cadence.

“I have reasons.” Ones she obviously hasn't shared with anyone, that are unlikely to be shared on the train or anywhere she feels isn't the appropriate place. If she shares them at all. “It's fine. I have to go back eventually, if it's a few days early or extends my trip a couple of days to see these places…” Well.

Jac shrugs, for the moment unconcerned about what that wrench will do to anything.

Meanwhile, Genki frowns openly, perturbed. What this does to his calendar is what has him concerned. He'd packed up a bag quickly to be here, under the expectation he'd be gone only a handful of days at most, and…

He drags his hand down the lower half of his face with a sigh.


This one he doesn't offer a translation for.

She may not understand the language, but Jac recognizes the posture and expression that Genki adopts. She's familiar with it, the long suffering, vague and indirect frustration she seems skilled and uncovering. It prompts a small shrug, contrite but only for whatever inconveniences it might bring about.

“It is what it is,” Jac murmurs, turning to the view beyond the window.

Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park

Shiraoi, Hokkaido

April 11, 2021

12:09 pm local time

There was so much to see and so little time, so Jac had sneaked away from Genki’s watchful eye to find the exhibits she was truly looking for. History isn't going anywhere except further in the past, and so she can always circle back around, pay closer attention to those things she's passing, all while returning to her chaperone’s side. But first, for now, there are scrolls and ink paintings of greater interest, and quick but quiet footsteps carry the teen between displays which move backward through history.

Blue eyes touch on the plaques that accompany each display. She lingers just long enough to see the date before moving onto the next. Some artifacts catch her attention — a faceless mannequin in armor, an ancient ink painting depicting Yatagarasu, scrolls that tell stories in a language she hopes to one day understand — as familiar. But they don’t hold her interests for long. As she turns the next corner, though, she comes face to face with a piece that stops her in her tracks.

Head tilting slightly to one side, Jac stares at the scroll that, like so many others in the collection, is weathered and worn with age. Age, though, hasn’t diminished the scene of a dragon in shades of red coiled around a mountain top where a man in black o-yoroi armor holds a sword toward it. Even the clouds that shroud the mountain retain their water-like luster. The girl eases closer, brows knitting as she edges as near to the scroll as she can. She pours over every detail, but it’s the man in the painting that gets the most scrutiny. The image of Adam Monroe is burned into her memory, but this representation looks nothing like him.

Jac takes a sudden step back, confused. Why would Adam, as Takezo Kensei, be painted to look Japanese? One eye goes squinty, as if blurring the image a little might help her understand better. It only results in making the ink painting more blurry, and it isn’t a 3D hidden image. With a softly huffed breath, she relaxes her eyes, then turns her attention to the card accompanying it.

Kensei & the Dragon of Kiso Mountain, 1670

On loan from Yamagato Industries, Yamagato Park, NYC Safe Zone


Limestone Caverns

Toma, Hokkaido

April 12, 2021

9:32 am local time

The cavestones had been closed to the public for some time owing to an archaeological investigation of the interior over a year prior. But the specialist in Tae Hwan No being gone, the remaining studies had wrapped up and the caves resumed access to the public.

Budding trees frame a long walk up steps to the caves. While the timing of the trip hadn't really been a focal point for this reason, the cherry blossoms were in bloom across the country now. Green and other spring flowers peek out gradually, but further south of here, back on the other islands, there's sure to be prettier sights to see.

Up here, there's the cave which opens up into a metal-walkway guided tour of a small fraction of it. The signs, lamentably, are almost entirely in Japanese— especially those at the museum house near the mouth of the cave.

Genki stands in the middle of it all with his hands tucked in his slacks, nearly an antithesis of his namesake. But for all his lack of good humor about being here, there's not a bored aloofness. He watches Jac's movements carefully, seeing what she takes interest in, occasionally stopping to read a sign for himself.

He's looking for something in the running beauty of the caves, but he hasn't found it yet.

Jac seems to take an insatiable interest in everything. Though she's mindful of her surroundings and keeps herself in check, it’s clear even from the start that she's curious about everything.

With polite patience and sometimes even seeming shy about it, she photographs the cherry blossoms and all little things that might seem uninteresting. Odd rock formations and the striations on the walls of the caves are studied for long moments before she moves on. The teen even collects pictures of the signage, even though she can't read them now, she can certainly translate the characters later.

Occasionally Jac breaks from her explorations. She stills, just for a second or two, and looks over her shoulder. Her eyes flit from face to face, studying others who've come to explore the caves, eventually finding Genki again. Then, as if that's what she was looking for, she turns away to study something new.

He trails along after, unshy about meeting her look and waiting until she moves on before he stops staring himself. The sigh he gives is audible over a range, and he follows along after a spell with steps not so heavy as to be grudging— though sightseeing in the shoes he is chafing him.

Only after they've been on a loop through the publicly accessible path does he speak again. "Why this place?" Genki finally asks. "Do they say something about it in America?"

“Have you heard the story about Amaterasu and the heavenly cave?” Jac sounds vaguely distracted, even as she counters Genki’s question with one of her own.

With their path having brought them full circle, the young woman lingers. She could walk around again, or relent to her suspicion that Genki has little interest or further tolerance to see what's been seen a second time. Briefly, she lets the former tempt her. It comes with the thrill of adventure as she realizes she could slip from the public path and sneak off into the depths of the caverns.

She looks up at Genki as the moment passes. Apology mingles with reluctance in Jac’s eyes. She can't say exactly why this cave or this island or even this country. It would seem whatever secrets she's harboring aren't being answered for her either.

Genki arches a brow at Jac's question, wondering at it. He waits out a period, giving her time to prove if that was a rhetorical country. By the time she looks up at him in apology, he can only let out a faint laugh under his breath.

"If you are looking for that cave…" he notes. "We are on the exact opposite end of the country for that."

For being so glib with his observation, he relents by gesturing with a nod of his head back on the path out. "Come on. I am in the mood for something sweet."

Maybe he thinks she could use something like it, too.

Kiso Ontake

Nagano Prefecture, Honshu, Japan

April 14, 2021

2:47 pm local time

The charm of the Edo period post towns has long since given way to the modern and industrialized world. Sound roadways cut dark ribbons through the forest town, its name Jac missed when Genki announced it — insatiable curiosity had kept her attention on the scenery outside the window of the local train. The distraction probably saved the old man escorting the teenager from a plethora of questions.

He'd already fielded plenty and more as they'd settled in at the local ryokan for the night before; Jac was captivated by the living history they’d traveled to and of course tried to see everything and more all at once.

In spite of the transition from historical to modern, there are few vehicles on the road. Birdsong dominates instead of the noise of the city, but sometimes the wind carries other sounds of the countryside too: cattle and horses, a dog or two, children shrieking in play.

In the dappled sunlight, the teen turns her wandering attention from the distant sounds she's guessing is a group of kids playing to look upward. Jac squints against the sunlight, then raises a hand to help shade her eyes. Through the boughs cloaked in greens of every hue, she can see the mountain ranges that loom protectively over the valley. Meanwhile, across the street, Genki has been exchanging words with an older couple offering fruits and vegetables outside their shop.

He's currently pointing one hand up a path around the side of the mountain, a hard candy sounding against teeth as he rolls it against the inside of his cheek. That way? he asks. Yes, he'll just need to follow…

His feet ache from his. Honestly.


He's at least bought a second pair of shoes following the adventure in Hokkaido, sensible enough to not make this trek in dress shoes. Still, his feet ache. Still, he bears through it. No grinning here though. He's not nearly in shape enough for that.

"What do you want to find," he asks after rejoining Jac, "At the top of this mountain?" He feigns patience and grace in this moment, focused on the next set of landmarks they need to discover and then move past.

He could have left her to just… do this by herself. But after the last time he let an American in his custody out of reach and they vanished, he's resigned himself to the need to be here.

“Understanding.” It's both cryptic and purely honest in spite of the vaguely distracted tone that Jac adopts. Her eyes slant away from the mountains to angle a brief side eyed look at Genki before she sets out onto the somewhat disused trail.

At first it seems like she's planning to leave her answer at just that. The old man probably knows all the stories about the area, so whatever else she could tell him would probably be laughed at. Or scolded. Or worse, depending on the details she drops. But after a minute or three, with just the birds and breeze to fill the silence, she pushes aside her worries about being seen as foolish or childish to explain more.

“These mountains are important.” Again, Jac’s eyes find Genki, wariness casting a shadow over her determination. How is he going to react? “A lot of people say they're sacred, and Kiso Ontake is actually home to a dragon.”

By now, Genki has grown somewhat accustomed to the vague or opaque responses the girl keeps providing. For her, they're simple and straightforward and yet for anyone else

He sighs anyway to make sure his feelings are known on the matter, like the dramatic curmudgeon he is. The silence of their trek for those few minutes after are welcomed, and he whiles away the last of the candy he'd started on the bus trip that had brought them this far. There's ought but a sliver left by the time Jac speaks again, and he crunches the rest of it to pieces before replying.

"A lot of people also know better," Genki answers, almost disapprovingly. It'd seem he's of the particularly secular variety. "Such things don't exist. People will tell stories about it anyway." He lifts his head to consider the sky. "The only story I know… is one where a warrior came to bargain with a 'dragon' on a mountain. Was that this one?"

Stubborn determination meets disapproval, in the form of one full second of silence and a very slight lift of Jac’s chin. She knows better, that stories are usually just stories. Usually, because, “A lot of fairy tales are based on facts and real life things. Same with lots of myths and legends.”

Raising her eyes, the teenager searches through the leafy and pine needly canopy for the mountain peaks. “Besides it wasn't very long ago that people with superpowers were just make believe,” she points out, quietly and with less outward confidence in the claim. More introspective.

“Takezo Kensei climbed Kiso Ontake so he could learn the secrets of the sword.” It's as close to a confirmation for this choice in destination as Jac has given to anything since she followed Genki from the airport several days ago. “The dragon granted him that, plus the gift of knowledge and power, in exchange for the oath that Takezo Kensei would give the dragon what he wanted most of all.”

Several steps pass in silence, before Jac angles her searching gaze to Genki. “I don't think we’ll find a dragon.”

Genki snaps his fingers when Jac names the warrior he vaguely remembers from childhood. He's better with details now than he was then, so he won't forget again. But his look of satisfaction fades quickly again, nose wrinkling as she goes on.

He's loath to admit it, but he didn't understand all of that. At least she ended on a note he can reply to. "Of course we won't," he states stubbornly. "Shinka-jin—" the word he uses for Evolved, "look just like regular humans. It took until now for us to see a person's DNA to tell that difference. Dragons, though… no proof. No…"

With a limp wrist, he rolls his hand in a few looping circles while he thinks, glad for the shade as they continue up the slope they reached at some point. "No bones," Genki clarifies, taking a look back to glance at their progress before looking forward again.

"What we worry about now, though, on the top of this mountain, on the way up…" He points ahead to a warning sign off the trail. "Boar. Very real. Very mean."

The idea of boar, on a mountain, should normally tip off questions. By now, it's probably even expected that Jac would ask about the boar and what they sound like and how can you watch for them and is this the right season for seeing boar? But she's caught by something said before the warning, puzzled and obviously beginning to arm herself with things to ask.

“Maybe no one has looked in the right place,” she wonders out loud. Her pace, so far keeping up easily with Genki — if not staying a step or three ahead sometimes — slows as she follows a rabbit hole of thoughts. Sure, it's pretty unlikely, mostly impossible even, that they'd see a dragon, but the proof…

Maybe dragons go off to die in Antarctica or Alaska or someplace that's hardly explored.

This is how a good handful of minutes pass. Jac is silent, chasing the rabbits of her thoughts, not quite lagging behind Genki. As her focus on that wanes, her shoes can be heard scuffing against the packed earth. A brief jog brings her alongside the old man. “I think we’ll be okay,” she states, decisive and with a sideways tilt of her head. “We just need to get to the top.”

Genki would be horrified to know he's thought of as old. But as he lifts his eyes toward a peak he can't sight through the trees, years suddenly weather his face. Stubbornly, he uncaps the bottle of water he's brought with him, downing a gulp before setting out with a renewed pace.

And up they go.

The summit of Mt. Kiso

5:08 pm local time

From the ridgeline trail crossing Mount Kiso Ontake, much of Japan’s verdant countryside sprawls in rambling hills of dense forests broken up by blotches of urbanized and uniform gray where cities and towns cut into the natural wonder. The wind that blows across the ridge is as soothing as it is strong and gusts send unpinned hair lashing around like tiny whips. In the spring months, the cool temperatures in the shade of the ridge trail serve as reprieve from the direct light of the sun. Birds sound in unlimited song, nestled out of sight high in the woodlines and as much as lower brush.

The crunch of the shoes of the two travelers who've summited the mountain over the course of the last two and a half hours is another steady rhythm adding to the ambient sound. Genki has run out of things to say on the rise, reaching the summit of no particular relevance to him, and bringing no relief. They'll have to walk back down, after all, and he's already thinking ahead to that.

No, this is Jac's pilgrimage, one in which being here she'll find her own meanings … or walk away with more questions than ever.

Walking away has always been an option and, at this moment, Jac chooses to wander. Much like the trip to the caves the teenager breaks away from Genki’s company, taken by her desire to find some unknown, undefinable something.

The mountain is unoccupied at this time of day, no foot traffic save for Jac, Genki, and one other visitor out by the shallow crater lake. For a moment, as Jac sees the darkly dressed stranger her heart skips a beat. It feels as though there was a moment where it could have been someone she recognized, but rationality disabuses her of that possibility.

It takes a moment in this fright for Jac to realize something is wrong, however. The sound of the wind has vanished, no birds chirp from their tiny nests, and Genki is frozen in place where he was but a moment ago. Not even the clouds track their way across the sky, flags on the nearby building at the summit do not snap in the breeze but appear frozen in a moment in time.

For that moment she feels more alone than she ever has, trapped like a fly in amber. Right up until the stranger turns and looks up to where she is on the ridge, and Jac can see the burning gold eyes beneath those blonde brows.

Everything, everyone, is frozen in time except for Jac and…



Jac breathes the question, barely hearing herself ask the most obvious question. Her heart hammers against her breastbone and echoes like thunder within her ears. The excitement of curious discovery swells over the discomfort of wariness and caution when her blue eyes meet the stranger’s gold ones.

But they're not some stranger’s eyes. She knows those eyes. Just like she knows the answer to her half-started question.

Fear injects itself into her being. It burns colder than the coldest day in Antarctica, fills her core with an oily ickiness. Jac tries to keep her face schooled to wariness even though her chest aches and, for a second, she feels disoriented.

“Uluru.” It would be a greeting any other time, if Jac’s delivery weren't uneven. Her mouth is dry, gritty like sandpaper.

Please,” the entity says with a scoff and a squint. “Now, what did they do to you, butterfly?”

One moment the entity is down at the crater, the next he is standing beside Jac like a frame cut from a film reel. Those gold eyes bore a hole through the back of her head, and she feels as if they’re staring straight into her soul from the face of her father. “Filled you up with their poison, warped you.” His upper lip curls in disdain. “It’s disgusting.”

The entity looks Jac up and down, brows furrowed all the while. “Did you come here to beg the dragon for a wish, like your father did, little butterfly?”

The sudden closeness of the entity is jarring. The gravel under Jac’s shoes grinds against itself as she moves a hair’s breadth before stopping herself. The urge to run and hide prickles along the surface of the oily film of fear. On the one hand, it would be smarter than staying. She folds her arms over her chest instead. On the other hand, it's probably futile.

Feeling the weight of those gold eyes on her, the teen casts a long side eye at the unnervingly familiar face. She can't remember a time she ever felt so vulnerable, not even when she was little and living with the Fords. Jac swallows and her arms tighten in their fold, protectively for all the posture is worth.

“Yes,” she agrees with the assessment. But she has no answers for what actually happened.

The girl does have an answer for the next question, even though it's not given right away. Jac musters the defiance to take a few seconds, three or four maybe but less than a minute for sure, to try and gauge the eyes and the man that owns them. Maybe there's a thread of hope she's found to pick at, that somehow her father will reclaim his self and the demon will be thrown out. She watches, for those few beats, not quite flinching when her eyes meet the entity’s, but almost.

“No,” Jac says in a lilt that implies not exactly. She came looking for understanding, without knowing really what she was looking for or if she'd even know it when she saw it. Blue eyes angle upward again, skirting just shy of meeting the burning gold ones. “And even if I did, I don't have anything to bargain with.” Her broken sword to match her broken body isn't much to offer a dragon in return.

The entity smiles with Adam’s mouth, but the affectation feels exactly like him. It’s haunting how much like Adam this thing behaves. “Just because you don’t know your worth doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to bargain with,” he says with a crooked smile. “But besides, you ask and then I make the demand. I think that’s how the story went, right?”

The entity reaches up, brushing a coppery lock of hair from Jac’s brow. “You’ve seen where fighting gets you. Look at you, mangled beyond recognition, robbed of your birthright, abandoned by those who love you.” He rolls his eyes. “Ain’t that the bloody way of it? Come on,” the entity says with a gentle touch to Jac’s shoulder and the lingering weight of that hand between thoughts, “sidle up and take a whack at the infinite. How much else do you have to lose, really?”

“Something like that.” It's one of Jac’s favorite stories, introduced even before she had just a tiny sampling of where she'd come from. She knows it well enough — Takezo Kensei made his request and the dragon named the price for it. But Kensei had so much more to offer then than she does now.

It's summed up pretty neatly and casually as the entity continues.

Jac’s brows knit and she tilts a sidelong look up at the being beside her. It's all lies, she tries to remind herself, even if it's hard to believe it’s all lies. Especially when they're being spoken in her father’s voice. The entity lies, just like it did when it had Eve’s body and probably every other body it's stolen.

Blinking away the heat of fresh tears, the girl takes a purposeful step away. “What can the infinite offer me except actually being alone?” Jac squares herself to the entity as she lays out her question. “What do I gain except…” With a hand, she gestures vaguely at the host the entity inhabits. “Being imprisoned another way? Why? What… what does anyone get from that? Why are you here? No one really wants you around. Why did you take him?”

The entity scoffs, a smile spreading across his lips. “Why is anyone here, butterfly. That’s the question you should be asking yourself. Why do any of us willingly persist in this endless cycle of suffering when we could just…” he spreads his arms, “stop.”

The entity’s spread arms turn into a shrug, and he drops his arms down to his side with a clap of his hands on his thighs. “I’m here because I always was here, because you came here, and because I wanted to see you. Because this,” he gestures back and forth between himself and Jac, “happened.

Leaning in close, the entity brings his eyes to level with Jac’s. “What could I offer you,” is said more as a statement than a question. “Don’t you want to be special again?” He pokes a finger at her shoulder, gently. “Don’t you want to have a special purpose? Maybe you just want to go home, see your family? Maybe you want everyone to like you?” The entity slowly stands up straight again, then adjusts his tie.

“You don’t know what you don’t know, butterfly,” the entity says with a lopsided smile. “Deep down, you don’t know what you really want yet. But yet is a temporary thing.”

“You don’t know.” Jac isn’t yelling, but there’s a small force in the tone of her voice that implies an uncertainty. “You weren’t there,” not for all of it, “my dad was.” And this isn’t him, it can’t be. She was so sure, so absolutely completely convinced that it wasn’t Eve when the entity inhabited the former seer’s body, but this is different. Somehow.

And it’s only just different enough to make her start second guessing her resistance. After all, her own eyes used to turn gold too, sometimes — even though she’s nearly sure these eyes aren’t her dad’s eyes — and Uluru exploded in Detroit. Plus, Adam is probably the most wanted man in the world, so this could be a mask of some kind.

The teen’s arms drop to her sides and she angles her face away, maybe to find support in Genki’s presence. It’s an effort to keep those walls up and keep herself at a distance. Especially when she can only point out the nitpicky errors in the entity’s claims. Blue eyes, narrowed to show she still doesn’t trust the direction of the conversation, swivel back to the entity.

“No,” is the best ambiguous answer she can offer and hide behind. For a second Jac seems content to leave it at that. Her lips press together and her eyes stare back in that searching way of hers. What even is yet anyway? Her teeth snag on the inside of her cheek, knuckles tap against the side of her leg. She huffs a breath.

“I want… I just…” The teen takes another breath, cooling and calming the sting in her eyes. Jac’s chin lifts a little, blue eyes meeting gold again. “I want purpose. I had it…” she thought she had purpose, but now… Huffing, the girl scrubs her eyes with the back of her hand. She's tired of it, being powerless and just simply existing, tired of being a burden to her family and friends. “I want that. I want… to be me, to be the me before…” With a hand she motions to herself. “I need my abilities and my purpose.”

The entity snorts, closing his eyes and shaking his head. “Purpose,” he says with a click of his tongue, stepping away from Jac. “Everyone wants purpose, wants their lives to mean something.” The entity dismisses that notion with a flippant gesture. “Purpose is a lie, butterfly.” He says, looking back with those gold eyes. “Purpose can’t be given, because purpose must be chosen. Life is purpose, and life is freedom.”

But then, a melancholic wave washes over the entity. His brows crease together, lips drawn into a frown, and it quickly swims back up to anger or maybe resentment. To Jac, it feels like the way Adam behaves, even though she believes better.

“But freedom is a lie,” the entity mutters, as if it were a curse, “and choice is a prison.” He adds, upper lip curling. His eyes wander the ground, then flick back to Jac. “I can’t give you purpose, butterfly, because only you can give that to yourself. But purpose doesn’t matter when we’re shackled to the chains of causality.”

“Your face is a lie,” Jac softly counters, cheekily.

The entity doubles back, returning to Jac’s side. “But you’re right about one thing,” he says, closing the distance between them swiftly, “I am not Kensei, and you are not…” he presses a finger to Jac’s forehead, golden eyes surging.



The entity’s expression subtly shifts from a look of manic impulsivity to bewilderment. Those gold eyes track from side to side, brows furrowed, lips parted. He presses his finger to Jac’s brow again, eyes steadily growing wider.

“Not…” The entity murmurs, slowly backing away from Jac.

“Not mine?” Gold eyes zip up and down, scanning Jac, and confusion turns to something new.


Jac’s breath catches when the entity in her father’s form turns back. Her lips press together, eyes watching with a mix of wonder and worry as he extends a hand toward her. Very slowly, she lets her breath out as his finger is pressed to her forehead the second time. Her worry eases as fear grips the entity, giving way to renewed conviction.

She doesn't know what the cause for the entity’s sudden uncertainty is, but she herself grabs onto it like an anchor.

“You're not Kensei,” the teen affirms, at first following forward a footstep for every one the entity takes back. “You might look like him and sound like him, but no matter how hard you try or how long you possess him you'll never be him.”

Jac’s eyes hold steady, intense on the golden eyes set in her father’s face. Why is the entity afraid? “I'm not yours.” On that she'll agree. Her brows knit. “How could I be? You aren't my dad, you're just… wearing him like a costume. You're a fake. And you know what?”

Jac takes a step to close the distance. She's shorter than the man standing before her, but she boldly stares up at him anyway. “You don't have a purpose either. You don't belong here, and Takezo Kensei isn't yours to control anymore.”

Gold eyes stare back in silence. No rebuttal, no poise, nothing. One minute the entity is there, and the next minute—

"わ, うちを見えるかも3," Genki lets out a sigh, peering over the edge of the summit to review their progress. English is beyond his immediate reach while he mutters mostly for his own benefit. He gripes as much as marvels, "ここ高すげい4"

He's as breathless as he is oblivious to what just transpired while time was stopped. But he's neither of those things for long once he actually turns to look to Jac.

He lets out a tone of inquisition. "どうしたの5?"

Unaware, at first, that time and everything has returned to normal, Jac stares at the space the entity had been occupying. Frustration pulls color into her cheeks and draws her eyebrows together. It makes her heart pound in her chest and ears, drowning out Genki’s murmurings and musings.

She almost doesn't hear when she's spoken to directly either. She actually notices only when she turns away from the spot with a huff and discovers Genki looking at her.

For a long time Jac doesn't answer. She stares at the old man, sort of like she's about to blame him for the whole trip. Or break down in tears and nonsensical mumbling. But she doesn't do either of those. Instead, the teen opts for the best and worst lie she can tell: she shakes her head, squashing what it is down deep.

“We should go back, before it's dark.”

Genki's emotionally dense, but he's not blind. That Jac's face has colored red might indicate she's overheating— were it not for the tears she tries to hide by shaking her head. He doesn't bother to hide his confusion.

Is the girl really that upset they came all this way and didn't find much more than a mountain?

In a feigned stubbornness, he just holds up a hand to stop her, turning away to look out over the valley. "Not until you see," Genki demands, nodding out at the view. "If you don't at least appreciate this, how can you appreciate the climb? How can you appreciate having come to Japan in the first place?"

"Maybe you'll get to see your dragon some other time," he says gamely, unaware entirely of what happened when time was frozen.

An argument forms, but it takes the place of a deep breath in and a huff out. Jac just wants to leave. She can appreciate this place from the train or the airport or even home. But to say as much, she's decided, is only going to lead to questions she doesn't want to answer. So she blows out a breath, marginally less forceful than the first, and wanders a short distance.

Her hands scrub at her face with annoyance, and then folds her arms against her chest after the tears are wiped away. Blue eyes search the patchwork landscape below, tracing roads or railway lines when they're found until they're lost again. It's nothing like the awe and wonder that anyone might expect the teenager to show, her questions and chatter are in very short supply and there aren't any explanations revealing themselves.

Another half dozen steps takes Jac closer to the edge of their plateau. Her ankles cross and she sinks to sit on the gravely surface. With arms draping over her knees and chin resting in crossed arms, the girl studies the world beyond the mountain top.

Somewhere in the background of that, Genki awkwardly rubs at the side of his neck. Clearly she's upset nothing magical happened when they came up here. The answers she was hoping might strike her in the head are just as missing as before.

After taking a drink from his water, his feet crunch on the ground to announce his presence as he nears her side. He takes a moment to appreciate the view, or at least pretend to, then slants a glance down at Jac.

"We should celebrate," he asides. "You moved a stubborn ass up a mountain. We could have table barbecue. Or shabu-shabu. Do you know what that is?" He offers a hand down to her to help her back up. "Come on. My treat."

After, of course, they descended the two hours back down the mountain.

Narita Airport International Departures Terminal 2-South

Tokyo, Honshu, Japan

April 17, 2021

7:12 am

“Thank you,” Jac says as she looks up from her suitcase. She had just spent a solid minute checking its contents, after the hour she spent the night before ensuring that she had everything packed, and now it’s zipped closed again while she looks at the man seeing her off. It also isn’t the first time she’d thanked Genki, “for hosting me this week. I definitely would have been lost without your help.” She may have been able to navigate from the airport to the train and back again. But her gratitude for having the old man accompany her is honest. It wasn't just for getting around the language barrier, either.

"いえいえ," Genki balks, waving one hand. There's no humility in that gesture. Just please, don't thank him. "I had excellent English practice time. It was worthwhile." Whether or not that's simply platitudes is up to debate, as he's immediately checking his watch again. "The plane is soon. Do not be late, Jac."

He has his small suitcase with him as well, one hand on it. "I made plans to be back at the office today. My vacation is over, too." The tongue-in-cheek comment passes without particular sarcasm. He's tired from the early rise, in need of caffeine from somewhere before he rejoins society proper.

The warning lifts Jac’s eyes up and over her shoulder. The airport terminal is busy the way the whole of Tokyo is, and she still has to find her way through customs and to her gate. She takes a breath and hitches her backpack onto her shoulders. One hand finds her suitcase, and the teen takes several purposeful steps toward the entry. But then her steps slow and then stop.

For a full second she stands, half way between the curb and the doors, unmoving, until an impulse takes her. Before the crowd can swallow her, before Genki and move free of his charge, Jac is suddenly in front of him, hugging the old man tightly, like a child saying goodbye to a favorite uncle.

Completely not having expected to be assaulted like this, the thin oof that comes from Genki on being collided with is entirely genuine. He half-lifts a hand to Jac's back in a gesture to pat her back as much as pry her away, as he would with his own child, but he pauses. She's not his place, not his responsibility. But she's dug her way in nonetheless, hasn't she, despite herself.

Are they sure she doesn't still hold some kind of preternatural power?

He lets out a disgruntled note. "遅くないように急ぎって6," Genki balks without teeth. He sighs and relents though, patting her once on the shoulder. "One last lesson for you. お世話になりました. It means 'thank you for looking after me'. Once you say that, you can go." Despite himself, the corner of his mouth kicks up in the slightest foxlike smirk.

Jac separates from the hug almost as suddenly as she started it as Genki begins speaking, both apologetic and not for her actions. She casts a glance aside to find her suitcase, unsure of what his words mean and finding the need to collect her things again the best excuse to not meet his eyes. But then he offers a final lesson, and the unfamiliar words draw her eyes up.

“お世話になりました…” Jac feels out the string of syllables, rounding out the rough edges with some assistance. She repeats the phrase a second time, with a sliver more confidence than the first. It still isn't perfect, but she can keep practicing. She will keep practicing. “お世話になりました. I hope I can come back another time.” But now she needs to leave. It's time to go home.

This time it's confident steps that carry the teenager toward the terminal entry, not the earlier hurry to avoid the moment that just passed. As she nears the doors, before she's swept away by others and the rush of travel, she casts a look over her shoulder. A hand raises to wave one more time, just as she disappears into the crowds.

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