The day the Phoenix descends from the sky,
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The moment the Dragon ascends from the sea,
An era is born from dragon’s roar and phoenix’s cry:
An era of legend, of myth, of magery.
Sunlight filtered through the window, gold changed into light by some strange alchemical experiment. It collected on the flowing script of ancient verse, written anew in a much-read book. A long-fingered, graceful hand rested on the page opposite the writing, a page that displayed a colorful image: that of a fiery bird trailed by six colored stars, diving downward towards a rising water dragon that swam up from the frothy sea amidst six shimmering points of light.
Children of the Phoenix, unveil your kin.
Possessors of the elements, reveal the legends within.
One from each race, ancient and new:
Sennyu, ‘tis yours to lead the way through.
The owner of the hand that now followed each word on the decorated page whispered the verse softly. Two piercing violet eyes seemed to stare past the paper to another world and another place, seemed to see more than mere words. She looked beyond the page into a possibility, impossibility: an ancient world of myth and magic, where legends walked and breathed and were reality- even normalcy, if the silver mists of dream could ever be named normal.
Children of the Dragon, conceal your kin.
Possessors of the elements, hide the legends within.
One from each race, ancient and new:
Sennyu, ‘tis yours to block the way through.
The one who held the strange, beautiful book was no less unusual- and no less beautiful. She was tall- anyone could see that with a single glance, though she sat on the window seat with her long legs folded beneath her and her head bent over her book. The golden sunlight seemed to make her pale skin sparkle almost silver, and it gleamed off of the golden phoenix pendant around her neck. Frozen in a moment that stretched on forever as violet eyes continued to follow the words, her otherworldly and ethereal beauty was only accented by the sense of the unreal that permeated the sunlit room, perhaps due to that singular book.
Will this new age be death or new life?
Two paths mirror each other, and fate shall not choose.
Ryuko and Kouko, twins torn by strife:
Which one is death, and which one is life?
She brushed a wayward strand of long, silver-blonde hair out of her captivating, soul-piercing eyes as she reached the end of the page. With a sigh, she closed the worn volume, and the passing sun glinted off the golden title: Shinwa Shiranai. A voice out of long-ago memory echoed in her mind as if speaking in that very moment: Everything in this book is true. You must understand that- you most of all…
“Oh, Kumi!! There you are!”
Violet eyes flickered upwards into brown ones. “Were you looking for me?” Her voice was soft and musical, a sharp contrast to the other’s high- pitched, perky tones.
Akiko Taji smiled at her violet-eyed, seventeen-year-old daughter, so different from herself. “Rei and I are going to the fair. Do you want to come?”
Kumi shook her head, another strand of hair tugging free from the two tight braids that were her bangs. The rest of her platinum-blonde hair hung loose to her waist. She ignored the strand of silver-gold this time. “No thanks, Mom.” Her gaze drifted back down to her book.
The tall, black-haired man beside Akiko followed Kumi’s violet gaze with his gray one. A disapproving scowl creased his square features. “You’re reading that book again? How can anyone read such foolishness, let alone write it?”
If only you knew, Father… An ironic smile touched Kumi’s fine-boned face. “It’s not against the law to read fantasy, you know.”
“Maybe it should be,” Rei said, his scowl deepening.
Akiko touched her husband’s shoulder with a carefree smile. “Oh, quit arguing and let’s go to the fair! We’ll be back in a few hours, dear,” she added to Kumi, and then led Rei off, chattering all the way. “Masako told me they have the most adorable crafts. And of course I must check up on Machiro to see if the library stand is doing all right, and…” The door clicked shut, cutting off Akiko’s chatter in mid-sentence.
Kumi sighed in relief as a deep silence settled over the house. She smoothed a wrinkle from her pale lavender skirt and again opened her book. Finally, she was alone. No more people to disturb her from her thoughts. The house was silent, and she could read in peace…
The ground-shaking din of an electric guitar on full blast shook Kumi’s thoughts into chaos. Another teeth-gritting chord sounded from the next room, and Kumi rose from her seat, fuming. “TARO!” she shouted with all the volume she could force out of her lungs, just as another discordant strum shook the house.
She flung open the door and glared into her younger brother’s room, disgusted as she always was at the chaos that covered the floor and sprawled across the furniture. Dirty socks curled next to grimy shirts. A half-eaten pizza slice decayed atop the dresser that had more clothes on its surface than within its drawers. The bed’s coverings were rumpled and twisted, unmade in days. About the only remotely tidy part of the room was the corner by the window, filled with wires and speakers and switches.
The drone of an amp fell silent with the click of its volume dial being turned to zero. A thirteen-year-old boy dressed in a grubby, too- long t-shirt and khaki cargo pants looked at his elegant, tidy, completely disgusted sister with a slight hint of his own disgust for her cleanness in his brown eyes. “Whaddaya want, sis?”
She glared pointedly at the electric guitar that he held. It was the only immaculately clean, well-cared-for item in the entire room. “I want you to keep that thing turned off, Tajo.”
“Hey, Mom said I could play while she and Dad were at the fair,” he said. “Deal with it.” He reached down to the amp’s volume control and clicked it on, twisting it to an unnecessarily high volume. Kumi beat a hasty retreat and closed the door, not wanting to be deafened by the tumult of sound that her brother insisted on calling music. Grimacing as the guitar amp again began to shake the floor, rattling both pictures on the walls and her own nerves, Kumi walked out of the house to the busy city street outside.
The park was more crowded than Kumi had ever seen it. The outskirts of the vast forest preserve held a traditional park, complete with man-made lake, paved trails, picnic tables, playground, baseball diamond, basketball court, and soccer field. It was on the huge soccer field that the fair had been set up. Brightly colored pavilions had turned the field into an artist’s playground of noise and people, color and light. Kumi propelled her bike past the falsely named park to the dirt trails that led into the forest and wildlife preserve. Few people would be roaming the mountainous forest this day- and no one knew of her little spot in the woods, anyway.
She followed a labyrinth of steadily fading trails until she reached an apparent dead end. Chain clattered as Kumi fastened the bike to a tree’s sturdy trunk by its handlebars. Humming a lilting Celtic dance, she continued into the sunlit forest, down a barely visible game trail. No human voices touched these woods; only the song of birds in the summer treetops and the occasional chatter of squirrels scolding the furless invader of their territory.
“So ye arrive at last. Ye took your time.”
Kumi spun about, violet eyes widening in shock and indignation. “What are you doing here?” The outburst exploded from her before she even saw the intruder, but a further tirade died on her lips when she took stock of the person with the archaic manner of speaking, and was awed into silence.
The woman before her was impossibly, blindingly beautiful, but it was not the beauty of any mortal. This was the breath-taking, awe-inspiring beauty of nebulas and novas and comets, of the sun and moon and stars that danced in the cold nothingness of space. It was the wild, unconquerable beauty of the earth-hued canyons, the purple-blue mountains wreathed in silver mist, a wildfire raging across a forest. And like fire, this beauty held a dangerous heat, a terrifying edge… and Kumi suddenly realized that she was frightened.
The stranger noted her wide violet eyes and paler-than-normal face and winced, a curious expression on the breath-taking yet ageless face, a face that glowed with incomprehensible power. “Oh, I hath again forgotten myself,” she said softly, and her voice was a fire hissing at the splash of falling rain. “I truly regret this, yet I am unable to comprehend what reason ye mortals fear such as I.”
Kumi didn’t see the woman do anything, but slowly the unbearable aura of power and beauty dissipated until she could manage to stop quivering in her sandals. Now she was able to see past the blinding sense of power to scrutinized the woman enveloped in the dampened aura. Long, scarlet-red hair moved independently of the body, as if it were alive or stirred by some wind that only made itself felt around the stranger. Gold and red feathers unlike any Kumi had seen before were woven into the thick mane of hair so that they seemed to be part of her own body. A long dress the same brilliant red as the woman’s hair reached to her ankles, and the fringe of glorious red and gold feathers brushed her bare feet. Her eyes… Kumi started hard at this stranger’s eyes, no less exotic and unreal than the rest of her. She’d thought that they were gold, but then they shifted to deepest blue, and then red- then green- silver- black- gray- gold again…
Kumi tore her gaze from those ever-changing eyes, feling suddenly very ordinary and plainly attired, although her silken lavender skirt and shirt were dressier in appearance than what most teenagers wore. She fiddled unconsciously with the golden phoenix pendant around her neck, blue- purple eyes flitting from tree to tree, looking anywhere but at that disconcerting, otherworldly woman. “Who are you?” she whispered.
“My name in this place be Hoshikami Kou,” the woman said, her voice echoing as flame and midnight stars in Kumi’s mind. She gave her last name first in the Japanese manner. “I knowest what name hath been given thee, Taji Kumi, and it fits thee well.”
“Hoshikami… That means ‘star god,’ doesn’t it? And Kou… Kou means…” Kumi stopped mid-sentence, confused. “I’ve heard that word before, but I don’t remember where.”
“It touched thine ears from the Prophecy of the Kouko, in the book of lost legends. Shinwa Shiranai. Strange legend… lost legend… it hath two meanings.” Kou smiled, almost sadly. “Knowest ye now my being, and my purpose? The day the Phoenix descends from the sky…”
“The moment the Dragon ascends from the sea. An era is born…” Kumi continued the ancient verse quietly, having read it too many times to not have it memorized. “I thought it was only a legend!”
“So do many of sound mind and closed eyes say of elves,” the woman returned gently, a slight smile touching her ageless features. “And ye, of all people, knowest some legends be truth.”
Silently, Kumi reached behind her neck and unclasped the phoenix necklace. Illusion faded around her ears, revealing the gently tapered ones that marked the elven race. The thin layer of illusion over her face fell away to show a delicacy and elegance of bone structure that was never seen on a human face. It caused her already otherworldly beauty to look even more alien, a being of shimmering silver skin and slanted eyes of brilliant purple, with slit pupils like a cat’s.
The elf looked up slowly, purple eyes meeting ever-changing ones. “You are the Phoenix, the Oo of Ho-Oo. Am I right?”
“Kou be my proper title,” the Phoenix replied, but nodded. “Yet ye speak truth, sennyu.”
Kumi shivered from a chill that began as ice around her heart and spread through her veins to touch every fiber of her being. Kou. The Phoenix of legend, a goddess in her own right…
Kou laughed, a sound like lightning crackling from a darkened sky to a drought-dried tree. “No deity am I, though I be immortal. Even one such as I has a god who be far stronger in power and mind and soul and being.’
The elf shook her head slowly as this sank in, closely followed by all else the Phoenix had stated and implied in her archaic speech. Vividly purple eyes looked down at the pendant held in one silver-skinned hand. “Then if you are here and not wherever your kind normally lives, then… the Prophecy is being fulfilled?” Kou’s silent nod was all the answer she needed. “But… why come to me?”
The Phoenix smiled gently. “Ye knowest my reason.”
“Let’s say I’m still doubtful.” Kumi’s newfound bravado surprised her, but she continued nonetheless. ‘Tell me in plain, simple words.”
Kou chuckled, not at all offended at the elf’s forthright manner. “As ye wish, sennyu. Ye be the Kouko Gatherer, the sennyu of mine six Children.”
The elf let out a long breath, closing her eyes as the words reverberated in her head. The Kouko sennyu, or elf. The Gatherer. The Gatherer’s stanza of the Prophecy of the Kouko flowed through her mind unbidden.
Sennyu, brushed by firebird’s soul,
Drawing together the Children, your goal.
Six shall make the circle whole.
Sennyu, this is your difficult role.
But as the Kouko Gatherer, she would have to search all of her city Shukumei, maybe even all of the Earth for the other five Children of the Phoenix. And how could she possibly work with those who weren’t elves? A dragon, a unicorn, a gryphon, a centaur, a human… She couldn’t even live peacefully with her adoptive family of humans. And…
Kumi pushed aside the dizzying tally of problems with a grimace. There was one problem she hadn’t even addressed yet, one that might wipe all the others away if solved. There was a challenge in her voice when she addressed the woman before her once more. “How do I even know you’re who you say you are?” She lifted a hand to stop the answer from leaving Kou’s lips. “And don’t say that I already know. I want proof.”
“A sennyu wisheth proof of magic?” The Phoenix sighed, shaking her head gently, a shadow drawing briefly across her face. “I shalt ne’er comprehend the minds of mortals… Yet ye knowest not what ye ask. Are ye certain ye wish to see my true form?”
The elf nodded firmly, although her heart quailed at the thought of what she may have gotten herself into. Kou nodded slowly, smiling sympathetically at the sennyu. “Ye are of much import, too much to ignore. Thus I will grant thine request.” She breathed deep, and the aura of power about her flared like fire fed by a bellows. Her form lost color, lost detail, changed into glowing plasma as changeable in hue as her eyes. The form stretched, shimmered, grew and changed into a golden eagle, fiery and glorious and more beautiful than any of the world, towering over even the tall elf. As in the ancient Japanese myths of the Ho-Oo, the Phoenix wore a crown of jewels that pulsed with intense magical power. A coil of flame snaked from her beak as she opened it, exhaled, closed it again.
**Be this proof enough, sennyu?** The Phoenix’s voice evoked visions of the fiery hearts of far-off stars, painting colorful nebulas within the elf’s mind until she realized that her ears had heard nothing but the wind that whipped her silver-gold hair across her face and ruffled Kou’s glorious plumage. The Phoenix had spoken directly into her mind with thoughts that were more than mere words, thoughts that contained the universe in their breadth and let it touch whomever heard the powerful voice of wind and flame and stars.
Kumi was pushed beyond fearful awe, past reluctance and skepticism by the sight and sound and sense of this powerful being who even now was veiled so that her true self would not overwhelm the mortal sennyu. The wind rose to a storm’s unrestrained power, influenced by the mere presence of the Phoenix. “What would you have me do?” the elf shouted over the roar of the gale.
**The Prophecies hold much of what ye require. I shall give ye what more ye need in due time. Seek the Guardian, sennyu. Find but one of my Children, and more shall become clear.**
The wind’s still-rising force turned Kumi’s hair into whips that lashed across her face, but she ignored the sting. The Phoenix was fading, her body becoming shot through with starlight, points of living brightness in an eagle-shaped patch of nothingness. Kumi fought to stay upright as the almost tornado-force gale rushed into the vacuum where Kou had stood, moments before. “Wait!” she screamed, her words torn away and scattered to the four winds as soon as they left her lips. “You’ve told me nothing! Where do I begin?”
**You will know the Kouko Guardian, the Kouko Kouryuu, in your very spirit.**
A rush of wind being sucked into the void flung the elf to the ground. Her ears popped as the vacuum grew unbearable, tearing the air out of her lungs almost before it had even entered them. She could hear nothing but the roar of the gale, could see nothing but blackness, feel nothing but the tug of gravity on her body… and without warning the whole in reality closed up. The wind died, leaving behind an eerie silence that caused Kumi to wonder if her hearing was gone.
But as she forced herself up from the ground, a single bird began to sing, a birdsong that she couldn’t place. It was far more complex than any birdcall she’d heard before, and more beautiful than any music from any age. It was a song of deep sorrow, grief for ages gone and one that was soon to die. Yet threaded through the song like a shooting star seen through a break in dark storm clouds was a note of hope for the age to come. Images and emotions and a tumult of words flooded through the sennyu, and hard as she tried she could only remember a few of the words, a pale shadow of the true song pouring from the beak of the unseen bird.
Phoenix fly, winged flame, through the sky
Wondering why legends old must die.
See the world, broken dreams, and you cry
Legends lost, legends gone, denied.
Where are the dreams?
Do they underlie
A darkened world
Beneath a darkened sky?
Legends come, legends go, must they die?
Taking the dreams of a world gone dry.
A splash of wetness fell onto the golden phoenix pendant clutched in Kumi’s hand. It shone like diamond on the metal for a single moment, reflecting a vision of the blue summer sky. And in that split second when the pendant was covered in the drop of diamond liquid from the cloudless sky, Kumi’s purple eyes caught a glimpse of a golden bird soaring high to disappear beyond the sun.
Music: A complex series of sounds written onto paper by the composer, misinterpreted by the conductor, who is ignored by the musicians, the end result of which is abhorred by the audience.