NFG Season One - The Fifth Element

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Description: Pure happenstance brings Rei Hazuki to the Thunderdome at the exact moment Ichika is training. He decides to give her a little clue to jumpstart further study of her abilities, but in the process both sponsor and student end up discussing much deeper topics than they'd anticipated...

Ichika had mentioned, recently, that she tried to train the same move a thousand times before bed each evening. It may be likely that some of the people she told that to thought she was exaggerating. A thousand repetitions of the same movement is... a great many, and she has so many other demands on her time. How could she possibly fit them in?

And yet.

Within Temptation's 'Mad World' screams out from the tinny laptop speakers she's set up, as the girl brings her sword out in a swift slash, drawing light contact against the side of the training dummy.

~We wanna scream our pain
And break away from the dark~

Barely a whisper of a touch. She sheathes it again.

~Caught in this wicked game
We know that nothing stays the same~

"Eight hundred thirty three."

The sword is drawn. The exact same motion. Not, close to it. Not a good approximation. The motion is identical. The movement of her muscles carefully controlled. The blade of her sword cuts the same path through the air. Touches the same point on the dummy. Is sheathed with the same fluid motion.

~'Cause we're living in a mad world
We're living in a mad world~

"Eight hundred thirty four."

It's, pleasing. Not as good as a real fight, but this kind of focus, this repetition, is a kind of meditation she can actually focus on. Physical. Demanding. Intense. There's no room for error, just another identical cut to add to the arsenal, ready to be deployed when the moment is right - and not before.

~We're living in a mad world
We're living in a mad world~

o/~ Trying to hold on to all we know
o/~ But one day turn around and let it go


The elevator opens on these words, the song's words fluttering through the air like butterflies to perch on the ears of a frankly gormless-looking redhead in Chinese clothes who is holding a soft-serve ice cream cone from which he occasionally takes a lick or two. He tilts his head to the side a second, thinking about what he just heard.

Rei Hazuki takes a lick of his ice cream, before pronouncing aloud: "Good advice, actually."

When he got up this morning from whatever Metro hotel he's been staying in, two impulses wrote themselves across his gaze: get ice cream, and visit the Team Thunder 'accommodations' that Lyraelle had arranged. Rei hadn't been; partly because he felt that space really belonged to the team, and not the mentors, and that all students on some level need somewhere to go where their teachers can't follow. But with the team part of the tournament coming to an end, and only the individual matches to go, it felt like the time was right. Plus, well...

For a certain type of person with a certain type of spiritual awareness, you come to trust your gut feelings. Or, more accurately, the universe speaking through your gut feelings. Something like that. So, here he is.

For a moment, he takes in Ichika's relentless practice swings, and can't turn off the sudden surge of memory and nostalgia: sitting in actual kid-sized hakama, bokken in hand, repeating the same swing over... and over... and over, as if it were a piece of untempered metal and each swing is a hammer blow intended to smash the impurities out of it. Which, Rei reflects, thinking about his mother, was probably PSYCHOLOGICALLY true.

Instead, what he says is: "At least you don't have t keep shouting 'men! kote! do!' over and over. Afternoon, Ichika-kun."

Ichika startles when Rei speaks up - "Ah! Rei!" Which is a testament to just how deep in her meditation she has gotten, not to have noticed his approach. There is a final click as the sword is slid back into its sheathe...

~Can't deny the dreams we had
Are glowing sparks, the fire ain't dead~

She presses the spacebar on the laptop, freezing the music video she had been allowing to play her music for her mid-frame, and then she turns to face her mentor a little more fully. Her eyes drift to the ice cream, and she smiles faintly - how many times has she seen Rei without an ice cream in hand? It... has to be less than the alternative by now, doesn't it?

She gives a small bow to Rei, about as short as she can get away with without it seeming disrespectful, and then she straightens. "It's good to see you. And, yes, I... hm. I suppose my training in actual swordplay has been quite atypical, but... it seems to have worked for me." A beat, "Do you think shouting such things would actually help in some way? Counting seemed more logical to me."

Counting probably IS the more intuitive way to do it, certainly. There's a pensive look on Rei's face as he finally hits the endgame of an ice cream cone: crunching into the cone itself. Dabbing at the corner of his mouth with a thumb, the redhead makes a 'hmmmm' noise in the back of his throat. "It probably is. My, uh..." When was the last time he told this story? Probably when he shared it with Alma, however many years upon years ago. Then, it was because he needed to unburden himself. Now?

Now it might serve a different purpose.

"I didn't study the sword for long, but it DOES run in my family, so I did when I was little. My mother made sure of that. But we, ah..." How to describe this, exactly? In this world, that specific branch of the style is gone; what Aya learned from her branch of the family is quite different. "The family style was intended for killing, basically. Not that Mom did that, but she did take it quite seriously. The shouting was because of where you were hitting the dummy." He grips an imaginary bokken and 'thrusts' it a few times. "Head, sleeve, chest. Men, kote, do." A shrug. "I think it mostly just made me not want to study the sword after all, which is why I ran away from home."

The redhead is silent for a bit, after that, punctuating a surprisingly heavy story with the deeply discordant act of crunching into the final bit of ice cream cone and chewing it thoughtfully. He almost seems as surprised at the story as Ichika likely feels having heard it... and then, in a blink, it -- like the ice cream -- is gone.

"Sorry. Waxing poetic, enough about me. I actually hoped I'd get one more chance to talk to you before all of the NFG goes their separate ways."

Ichika listens, of course. She's always been a very good listener. Those bright eyes of hers drink in the story, and she nods, sadly, and seriously, at the explanation. She follows the motions, too. Head. Chest. Two areas where you have to be... extremely careful, lest you do more damage than you actually intended. Except, of course, as has become grotesquely clear in this second arc of the New Fighting Generation, there are plenty of people who do not care about such limitations. Who may, in fact, want to do as much damage as they are able and damn the consequences.

"I wondered about that early on." She says, "Killing, I mean. It... worried me, a great deal. When I first picked up the sword, I did it because it seemed logical. An easy way to make up for my lack of physical strength. It was only after I had used it a few times, and... gotten angry, once."

In her mind, Ichika is enraged, her pride wounded by Buford's stubborn refusal to simply give up. She strikes, fully intent on running the racist, misogynist fool through and ending his foulness once and for all.

There's a shiver.

"That I realised, how dangerous my chosen weapon could be."

She draws it. The sword is cheap; a mass-produced relic from a war long ago. It has no more grand and storied legacy than the girl who wields it. But it, too, has been carefully maintained. Lovingly handled. Even after so many cuts, so many battles, and some extremely harsh treatment, the simple length of plain metal gleams.

"Then." She says, "I realised that the sword means more than killing, to me. The katana is a symbol of my home. It has defended our land from all who would take it from us. It has struck down our greatest enemies, true, but it has also been a shield. Carrying it with me... even in the strangest places, even when I feel I have nothing else I can rely on, I have that tool. One my people have relied on for centuries, and found no way to better."

She smiles, then, and it is bright and dazzling. "Now I am the one waxing poetic!" She declares, cheerfully. "And... yes, soon, I will fight Kuzumi-san, and perhaps then my journey will be over, and I will return home. To my family. And my school. And my, life."

One hardly needs to be a genius to hear in her voice how much that thought weighs on her. A return, after all this, to her 'life?' Is that, truly, what those things are?

"A sword is a tool for killing," Rei says, with uncharacteristic gravitas. "That isn't all it can do, but fundamentally, that was what it was built for." He does not add, but definitely THINKS: if you really want to get the full version of this speech, ask Ayame. Instead, he powers through his own feelings and memories on the matter and shakes his head. "At some point you will have to reckon with that fact one way or the other," the xian adds, in a more gentle tone. "I guess you already are, based on what you just said."

Her katana, as she's drawn it, is indeed plain and sturdy in make and appearance. But that's the thing about weapons, isn't it -- it doesn't have to be pretty to end your life. It just needs to be sharp, or pointy, or heavy... and not even all that much of that, in the end.

"Tools are things. What matters is what you do with them. But all the... you know," the redhead says, stopping short, rubbing the back of his neck with a sheepish half-smile. "Maybe you don't need to hear moralizing from me about it."

"But... well. The two things you just talked about are connected, sort of, if you think about it." Are they, Rei? Are they really? His hands come up as the xian's typical MO of gesturing heavily as he talks kicks into gear. "You can't pretend a sword is anything but a sword. Likewise, the NFG can certainly be OVER someday, but the Ichika who walks back to her old life can't be anyone except the Ichika who made it through all of those trials. You can't be anything other than what you are, in the end. I hate to say it, kiddo, but you can have... a life SIMILAR to your old life. But 'exactly the same'... nope. That ship has sailed."

Ichika nods her head, as she sheathes the sword again. "It is." She agrees, on the first point. "And, Ichijo-sensei has already warned me about that crossroads. Will I kill, to perfect my art, or will I take the harder road and place myself between those who would kill and their victims?"

She is quiet, for a moment. Because of course she is. Such a discussion demands gravitas, and if there is one thing that Ichika could never be accused of, it is not thinking about these questions hard enough.

"We need a better world, Rei." She says, softly. "When I began this journey, I would have said that I will bring it about because it is my duty as one of the Super-Elite. Even a few months ago, I would have said that I will do it, because I am one of the people who can. Now?"

And there is a very deliberate change in her mode of speech. "I know that we." And she emphasizes that strongly, "Will do it. Because we must. Nobody is coming to save us. We will need to do it ourselves. And when there are no more victims, then, there will be no need to kill the monsters. Because they will have nothing on which to feed."

There's just something about the way the girl talks when she gets going; the intensity in her voice, the earnestness of it. She truly believes everything she says, down to the very core. It's, funny. Because she truly believed everything else she said, even as her thoughts and intentions changed. She has never given anything less than her all.

And then there is the last part to address. The fact of that change itself. And she smiles. "You are right of course." She says, dipping her head again. "But, truthfully? I am ... tired, of the expectations of others. So much of my path to this point has been dictated for me. I want to make my own way. But, whether I can... that, will depend on whether I have come far enough to earn that right, yet."

"You don't have to earn it," Rei says, quietly. He hadn't expected just how intensely he would be living in his memories, coming into this conversation, but it is where he finds himself... and every little thing he says to get away from it, ends up dragging him back. He's found somewhere to sit by now -- a chair, a box, SOMETHING -- and his hands are folded together in his lap or between his knees, as he struggles not to struggle; not to fight what is happening, but simply to be part of it. It was one of the big lessons he learned, coming to the place he's at now, spiritually: we learn knowledge by struggling against the darkness.

We gain wisdom by realizing that sometimes, we simply cannot know.

When he looks up at Ichika, it is with a surprising amount of exhaustion in the green-eyed gaze, though the lightly freckled face still wears a smile. "I had a friend a long time ago," he explains. "An idealist. A deeply empathetic person who believed strongly in justice. I think he would like what you just said, really, if he could hear it. I think he would agree with you, too; it's the duty of those with ability to create a better world for everyone. That power unused is power used unjustly."

A pause, and the xian looks off to the side, vaguely troubled. "I've always had a different approach. I'm a great believer in balance; for good to exist, there must be evil. Bright lights cast deep shadows. I think it's the natural tendency of the universe to orient toward balance, and sometimes that..." He pauses, then looks back at Ichika with a faint, tired smile. "That means my friend and I were at odds, philosophically, at times."

There's a pause, Rei's fingers twisting as they're twined together. "I never got to tell him one of the most important things I've learned since then, which is this: yes, the universe tends toward balance. But it requires people who will upset that balance." The redhead's eyes close, and he is clearly seeing something, SOMEONE, else. "That's how we grow. Things become skewed, unbalanced, and then somehow, we find our footing. A new normal emerges. Things fall into place, different than before. Otherwise, noting changes, and stasis is death."

Opening his eyes again, Rei fixes them on Ichika with a mild expression. "You don't have to earn the right to be you. You were born with it, and you will die with it. That is just... life."

Ichika moves to pull out a chair herself, and sit opposite her mentor. She listens, politely, and she nods her head where appropriate. "I am sorry you did not get to share that insight with your friend." She says, because it seems the kind thing to say. She's far from a fool; there are only a few reasons why one wouldn't be able to share something with someone, and none of them are good.

"Respectfully, though, I do not know if I agree with the core of your point either. In the same way that I disagree with your tutorship of Daidoji-chan."

She lets that disagreement sit, for just a moment, before she elaborates.

"You have more wisdom than me. So, I will not say, categorically, that you are wrong. Perhaps in time I will understand. But as I see it now... there is power in this world that hurts everyone it touches. And there are people in this world who do the same. Only, harm. I am comfortable saying that such things should not exist. Any balance that requires them, is one which is not worth preserving."

And then, having said her piece, she dips her head. "But thank you, also, for saying that I have a right to be me. You are correct there. The difficulty is, if I do not perform well in the final analysis... then I must still bow to the authority of my parents, and my school. I will be me, but it will be at least three more years before I have the agency to do as I wish."

Ah. So, his little moment with Junko got back to Ichika, did it... Being an Old(tm), some of the Ichikast -- a lot of it, actually -- goes a bit over Rei's head, but he's not an idiot. He can sense the undercurrent, there, and so this reaction does not surprise him. There is still a tiredness in his words, as Rei lowers his head a bit to regard Ichika carefully; if he were wearing glasses, he'd be looking at her over the rims.

"That's a choice you can make," he acknolwedges with a nod, "but to be clear, that is ALSO like the sword: it is a thing *you* are choosing to do. Never lose sight of that important fact, Ichika. That's the one duty you owe not just to the world, but to yourself: to acknowledge that what you do, is your choice to make. Nobody else's."

There's a pause, before Rei takes a breath, and continues. "Junko's made some bad decisions. She's going to have to live the rest of her life with them. But *she's a victim too*," the xian suddenly says, with surprising... well, heat. "It doesn't absolve her. But it matters."

Ichika has more to say, about tricksy things like the school system, coming of legal age, and all that, and at the end, a ghost of the joke-quipping Rei Hazuki emerges from the murky fog of morality and nostalgia. "You could always transfer to Taiyo," the redhead jokes, leaning back somewhat. "Batsu and company do NOT have a problem with not going their own way, I can promise you that." And the less said about the Justice students he DOES know about, the better.

The details, of course, have eluded Ichika - but the broad strokes are obvious enough. Junko remains on the team. She continues to train. There has been no reckoning. She must, therefore, retain the support of the sponsors. Who certainly knew what had happened; Lyraelle had made sure enough got out that there was no secret, even if Ichika refused to discuss it in public.

She gives a sharp nod of her head. "It is my choice, yes." She agrees. "I have no trouble admitting when I have been wrong. But there is no higher power which compels me. My choices are my own."

The idea that Junko is a victim draws the girl's lips into a thin line and her brows into a surprisingly deep frown. "You are right there, as well." She says, at last, though... perhaps with a coldness that already betrays what the next words are going to be. "It does not absolve her."

And then, she's looking embarrassed, and if it were a joke, it doesn't get the laugh it deserves. There is, instead, more earnestness. Her features soften from that flash of anger and frustration, and she looks... almost, sad. "I'm going to tell you something I've never told anyone else, Rei." She says, "And... despite what I just said about owning my choices, if you mention it to anyone, I will deny it."

Her hands clench the hem of her skirt, then. She can't look him in the eye. "... I would have rather gone to Taiyo." She murmurs, "It is, an unworthy, ungrateful thing to think. Justice has given me so much. My tutors are nothing but supportive. I would never even be here if I hadn't been there..." And, she has to force the tears back down, which is definitely not want you want when joking around.

"... but it is the truth. I am, jealous, of their freedom. I can't have it."

For a moment, the xian simply watches Ichika, noting the sadness, the frustration evident in the tears pointedly NOT moving across her face. Rei knows he can do nothing about that. It isn't a problem that can be 'fixed', and even if it WERE, him doing it would accomplish basically nothing. She has to walk this bit of the path on her own. Plus, well... he knows how this is going to sound, metaphorically. But that's okay. That's a lesson he had to learn, too... and weirdly, it was a much easier one, all things considered.

"I'm not... a parent, Ichika," the redhead says quietly, his fingers curling together again in his lap. "But I can tell you that there's a battle every parent fights, inside... about wanting to pass... things on to their children. About wanting their kids to experience the things in life THEY found meaningful."

Raven-black hair fills his mental image. 'I don't know who it is that stands before me,' says a voice. 'I don't know if I ever did.'

Leaning back, Rei looks at the ceiling of the room and only now seems to see the star map on the dome, smiling a little at the miniature night sky that some ancient civil engineer thought to create here: a chunk of the sky reproduced below ground. A reminder of the world above.

"It's not wrong want something different from them, and wanting something different -- NEEDING something different -- doesn't mean you don't or can't appreciate what they are providing. You can be thankful, grateful, and still have a little piece of your heart that will never be filled by what they want FOR you... because you're you, and they're them."

'That was the me... and you... of yesterday,' comes Rei's own voice, inside his head, like a stranger's. 'Those two are gone, and now it's us.'

He brings his head back down, and now it's his own turn to dab a little at the corner of his eye. Part of him wants to tell her *everything*, but what would be the point? Most of it would confuse her; the rest would probably make the sitution worse, not better.

"They're going to need time. Not to forgive, but to understand. I guarantee they don't, right now, because they've only ever been themselves, and you have only ever been you. But the best way, the SUREST way, to get there... isn't to be miserably obedient. It's to live well and happily. Because in the end, that's what they want for you more than anything. If you never, ever believe anything I say to you for the rest of your natural life, PLEASE believe that I am speaking from considerable experience on this one."

In many ways, it is easy to forget that Ichika is a child, at times. The way she talks, the insight, the way she draws connections. But, in so many ways, she still is. When you are a child, there's this urgency to everything. It felt as though time were slipping through her fingers; every moment where she isn't striding towards her goals is another that she will never get back. The New Fighting Generation has taken up almost 1/16th of her entire life, and now she is faced with what feels very much like a step backwards. After having sprinted so far down the road she has determined she will walk, is it so surprising that she would feel hurt at the thought of a retreat?

More than that, though, there's also her need to please her parents. This tournament has put such a terrible strain on their relationship, and it is only at this 11th hour that it has started to feel as though they really, truly support her. Ironic, that it took the actions of the young woman she simply refuses to accept in order to bring that about. Perhaps, in years to come, when the anger has cooled and she can look back with a clear head unclouded by emotion, she will be able to see that. And she will feel guilty, for how she behaved.

But. If there is one way in which Ichika really does buck the trend of many of her peers, it is that the young girl listens. Truly listens. And those wide, shining blue eyes of hers look at Rei as though seeing him for the first time. Not as a fighter, or a teacher, or even as a friend. For the first time, she's looking at him like... a person.

"Thank you." She says, though this time, she doesn't bow her head. She looks him in the eye; respectful. As heated and obstinate in her disagreement she might have been, she sets all of that to the side now. Good and evil, the purpose of power, the nature of reality?

How little those things matter, in the face of family.

"The truth is, I do not know what I want." She says, and she spreads her hands, a small, helpless gesture. "The goal has always been the same. To leave the world better than I found it, and in the process, make sure that the name Kasumoto is respected, when I am gone."

Because that's the dark subtext of a legacy, isn't it? She's never made any secret of the fact that she wants that legacy, but she's never bluntly pointed out the obvious: a legacy is something you leave behind. It isn't enjoyed whilst you live, it is acknowledged only in your absence.

"How best to achieve that... that's the question I've never been able to answer. I have, ideas. Things I could try. But so much depends on others. That, is the most difficult truth I have had to accept throughout this journey. Whatever I achieve, it will not be by my effort alone. It will be because others support me. Trust me. Allow me, to help them, to become their best selves. As you, and the other sponsors, have helped me to discover my best self."

She folds her hands back into her lap and takes a deep breath, looking up to the ceiling with a gentle smile. "I was so angry when all this began, Rei." She says, "And the funny thing is, I didn't even know I was. I always thought I was this... calm, rational, cool-headed individual. That's, not me at all. It is what people expected of me, but it was never my heart."

And then she's looking at him again, her eyes seeking out his; just as sapphire-bright and brilliant as the young girl to whom they belong. "Please. Trust me when I say I believe far more than just that. But I will believe that, too. And I will carry it with me. Whether I return to Justice, or Taiyo..." And wow, wouldn't her friends simply lose their minds to hear her even acknowledge the possibility, "... or whether I do not return to school at all and instead go on to conquer every fighting tournament I can enter." A small, self-effacing smile. She doesn't really believe that is possible, not at all...

"I will do it, as Kasumoto Ichika. And I will trust my family to come with me on this journey. I... hope, that you will as well."

Youth does indeed, perhaps ironically, impart a sense of urgency. Not because death is close by, but rather the opposite: because life is so accessible, so new, there is something about it that pushes people along. In his current state, Rei Hazuki could not be more of a contrast to that, despite his youthful appearance; facing down all the time in the world, he feels no real urgency, no need to get it all done *now*. But he does remember what that was like.

"Well... good," the redhead says at last; while he has been more subdued of late compared to past versions of himself, this topic of conversation feels like it's settled over him like a hazy screen of some kind, as if he's experiencing the entire thing behind a veil of gauze. Now, though, there is the sense that he's coming out of it; some of the sparkle returns to the green-eyed gaze, the animated gesturing to his hands. "Because that's maybe the only thing life where you have no choice in the matter. You can only ever be the person you are, so you may as well be that person good and hard."

'Then I shall simply be me, as hard as I can.'

He thinks carefully about legacy, as Ichika discussed it, and visibly blinks as he thinks back on the man he met in China however many decades ago, who taught him. For the first time, Rei wonders: does he exist in this world? Would he be pleased to see the depths of understanding his pupil attained... or would he be horrified at the tragedies that contributed to that understanding?

"Wisdom," he mutters, eyes closed, possibly -- PROBABLY -- to Ichika's confusion. "Letting go."

A beat, and then he opens his eyes again, glancing sidelong at Ichika. "Sorry, ignore that. I didn't necessarily know that you would be here when I decided to drop by, Ichika, but... the truth is, I had something I wanted to share with you the next time I saw you. It's... a little complicated," he adds, tilting his head slightly to the side. "And it might just confuse you rather than help you. But it could also be the key to working something out for yourself, too. I'll leave it to you," he says, finally, a quirk of a smile returning to his face, "if you can put up with another lecture from yours truly. No tabletop RPGs this time, though, I swear."

There is a brighter smile at the first statement. It sounds almost trite... but she knows better than most how important the lesson there really is. She'd spent almost all of her short life suppressing such a huge part of herself in order to be the person she thought others wanted her to be. It is, in fact, possible to *exist* as someone other than yourself.

It just isn't possible to live, that way.

There is a moment of confusion as Rei says those words, and her brows furrow, trying to make sense of them. Then he reassures her that she needn't, and she can't help but smile. Though, when he throws out his implicit challenge - are you really ready for this? - she can't help but straighten in her chair, excited.

"The best lessons I have had, have confused me at first." She says, "Please. I would be delighted." And then, a small laugh. "You know, I never did get a chance to see if Buck, Chevy and R-san wanted to play... perhaps, we could do it across the internet, a nice way to stay in touch..."

"The funny thing is," Rei says, amused at the image of Ichika getting an online D&D group together with her NFG teammates, "what I have to say actually kinda... hmm. Well. Maybe we should start at the beginning."

There's a moment where the xian does a weird sort of stretch; arms out, elbows bent, it's almost as if he's vibrating in place for a second, as he tenses and then releases muscles rather than the typical pushing of arms overhead. But then he rises from his seat and walks over, interestingly enough, so that he's standing under the false sky of the dome, feet set slightly apart.

"Do you remember when you found me in Catalina, and the question you had that day?" Rei asks, watching Ichika carefully. "You wanted to know about how you could make your energy be fire, or lightning, and such."

He waits a bit to see if the young lady acknowledges this, but will push on regardless after too long. "I stand by what I said that day: that the most important thing is to do what comes naturally. I hope you'll keep that in mind as we have this conversation." Now there's an ominous statement, right?

Turning a little bit, the redhead looks sidelong at Ichika. "What do you know about the elements? In terms of how chi manifests, I mean."

Ichika is quiet at first, watching with more obvious curiosity as he stretches and prepares himself. When he stands and moves under the dome, she hesitates for only a moment before rising and following him. It's an interesting thing, this. Drawing her mind back to that first meeting makes her remember how much of a fraud she had felt; she was a girl wearing the costume of a fighter, then. Now, she really does feel like one. It's visible in the small movements; the confidence in her step. Not quite a swagger, but a ... certainty, that there definitely hadn't been in the nervous, exciteable person who had felt that taking a bus in America by herself was the biggest adventure of her life so far.

"I remember." She says, nodding her head. To call down fire and lightning like the legends of old, she had thought that would be so much more impressive than her own ... blue.

She thinks about it for a moment, and then she says. "Most people agree that everyone has an affinity for a certain kind of chi, though most people don't ever learn how to use it." There is a moment of pause before she continues, "Chevy has her water, and she is very good with it. She has also learned how to use it to reach a related element, ice. Moore-san has his fire, but I don't think he has as much conscious control as Chevy. He lets it all out naturally, as he fights. If he studied, he might be able to expand into related elements as well, but you are the only person I have seen who can control multiple, diametrically opposed, elemental powers."

Here, she looks apologetic. "I still have no idea how you do that."

That gets an embarassed little cough out of Rei, who has the decency to look sheepish. "I told Chevy that she will forever be more adept at using water than I'll ever be. She didn't seem to believe me, but it's the truth," the redhead says, an earnest expression overtaking his embarassment. "Someone who has a very strong affinity for an element... I don't know how to put it. It's really like there's something in their actual *soul* that resonates, I think. It makes them capable of stuff I'd never be able to pull off."

That is the truth, and his goal in saying it to Chevy had been -- along with the point he had to make about how tied she was to the element inside -- to emphasize that she had heights to reach yet. Much like... well.

At the rest of Ichika's explanation, the xian nods, holding his hands apart. The thing he's about to do, he's done as a demonstration plenty of times. More than once, he's been called a showboat, even a braggart, for doing it... but to him, it's the most natural way to explain a complicated thing. "So... there are lots of different beliefs about the elements. But the Greeks and the Chinese probably have the big ones that are widely recognized."

A hand comes up, a finger extended into the air, and a spark of crimson flame no bigger than could fit in the palm of a hand comes into being. As Rei talks, he traces his finger around a circle, drawing compass points with other elements: a metallic-looking orb of pearlescent white, a rich navy blue swirl of water, a flowing dance of green leaves tinged with blue, so that a 'compass' of a kind is drawn. In the center, he places a vaguely spectral-looking rock of a mottled green-brown-gold.

"The wu xing, the five Chinese elements, are fire, metal, water, wood, and earth. They have complicated relationships that fuel things like divination and alchemy... ruling dynasties would choose the color of the imperial house based on the previous ruler based on the wu xing. It's all about cycles: one element turns into another, then another, then another, until you get back to the very start again."

A brief pause to make sure she's following, before the xian continues. He reaches in to this visual display and taps the 'metal' orb, which winks out of existence, before moving the earth orb out into the compass ring, and tapping the 'wood' leaves, which become a little tornado of emerald wind; this leaves the center blank. "In Japan, which you probably already know, that belief filtered through our culture to become the five great elements: Fire, Water, Wind, Earth, and Void. Interestingly, the Greeks came to a similar conclusion, though instead of what we would call 'Void', they called 'Aether'."

Glancing down at his own handiwork, Rei reaches into the center, and with a twist of the wrist, summons a little orb of light among the compass point elements, its surface a constantly shifting shimmer of color that reflects in his eyes as he looks at Ichika. "That last one -- void, aether -- is what I want to talk to you about. With me so far?"

"Chevy has always been more capable than she knows." Ichika murmurs, "Though, I think she is starting to believe it. If I can't take this tournament, I hope that she can."

Resonating in the soul, though. That, she understands. In her most glorious moments, she has felt that so keenly. When she found herself calling on the Mountain, or on the Sword, it was as though some part of herself that was asleep most of the time woke up. Came to life, and allowed her to do these things that nobody else could.

She watches, and she listens, and it is obvious that the girl is fascinated. This time, though, there's no envy. Before, when he had shifted the elements rapidly through the cycle, she had plainly yearned for that power herself. Now... she is comfortable with herself. Her 'blue' as she thought of it, was as much a part of her fighting style as the katana at her side. Though... more difficult to train. And it is that which she is thinking about as he walks her through the wu xing. She nods, too, about the similarities between Japanese and Greek elemental theories. If there is one thing Ichika has read a lot of, it is books. But, reading and comprehending are two very different things. Chi had always eluded her when it came to understanding the material she was given, it is part of what made fighting as a whole such a frustrating exercise. You simply can't have it all written down in books. You need to learn it in your muscles, in your soul, as well as in your mind.

She nods slowly, "Sora." She says, "That has never made much sense to me. It means, the things that are beyond our comprehension, doesn't it?" There's a faint tone of annoyance that creeps into her voice, then. "Which is tautological! How are we supposed to understand that which is beyond our comprehension? If that is truly something that exists, then nobody could ever use it, because the moment you know you are using it, you would comprehend it and it would cease to exist!"

She seems to realise, a moment later, that she is ranting at her tutor - a man whose study of chi far outweighs her own... and who has a certain, mystic, outlook, where such things probably did make a modicum of sense.

"Aaahh... no, offense, of course. I would very much like to learn more."

Rei can't help but be amused at Ichika's entirely understandable frustration, though he does his best to rein in his expression of that amusement; it would be very easy, and entirely counterproductive, to come across more than a little smug in the process. Still, a smile tugs at the edge of his lips.

"Don't be sorry. If this were easy to understand at first blush, everyone would be doing it," the redhead says, in a calm tone. He reaches out and taps the little rainbow orb in the center of his 'display' with a fingertip, idly. "Actually, something else I said to Chevy might be useful for you to hear, too. The elements exist in a *functional* way: fire burns, for example, because that's how thermodynamics work. But spiritually, elements also exist in a *conceptual* way," he adds, sweeping a hand to indicate the little elemental diorama before him. "In Chevy's case, for example, water is both literal -- a liquid she can control -- but it's also a state of mind: adaptability. Fluidity. The concept of ebb and flow, of being soft or firm depending on what's required of you. If you look at her fighting style, you can actually see the 'water' in it *without even looking at the water*." He doesn't bring up the Bruce Lee quote again, however; losing that proverbial battle once was enough.

Reaching into the diorama, the xian grabs the 'aether' orb and holds it hovering in his palm. "Void, or aether, or akasha -- lots of cultures have different words for the same idea -- does connect to the unknowable, but mostly only conceptually. Think about, well..."

With his other hand, Rei looks up, and gestures with his free hand at the ceiling. "Space. In the godai, 'void' is connected to capital-h Heaven -- the realm of what's not of this earth -- because if you think about it, the universe is mostly full of nothing. There's a lot more space than there is matter. So in the same way that we can't comprehend the vastness of the universe all in one go," he finishes, turning his gaze from the star map to Ichika again, "the void represents that enormity of the unknown. But, *practically*, it represents something else."

A pause, and then with the hand not holding the rainbow orb, Rei gathers up the other elements -- fire, earth, water, air -- and effectively joins them together with the 'aether' orb, leaving it the only one left. It glows its prism of colors at chest height, as Rei looks at Ichika directly over it. "Void, quintessence, akasha, whatever you want to call it... its unknowability means that it represents the most fundamental of all the forces that exists:"

With a tap of his fingertip once more, the other elemental wisps erupt from the rainbow orb, circle it, and then rejoin with it, as the red-haired xian utters a single word:


Ichika can't help but smile at the description of her friend's fighting style. She'd said much the same, herself. How the reason Chevy was the strongest of them wasn't because of brute force, but because she could adapt to any given situation. One moment flowing around attacks, impossible to touch, the next bringing all the fury of the crashing storm upon her opponent. It does help, a lot. Enough that she doesn't dwell on the fact that, as a Justice High student, understanding things which are not easy to understand is supposed to be her bread and butter.

She listens, very closely indeed, and rather than just be ruled by that logical contradiction which nags at her... she thinks. Not just about what Rei is saying, but why he is saying it. This has to be related to her, doesn't it? Heaven. Emptiness. Ichika is very far from a stupid girl, even if this is the area of study which has frustrated her the most, and she thinks, again, about who she was at the beginning, and who she is now. From a girl who never really had time for superstition, to someone who felt the presence of the Kami...

She watches the elemental powers flow into the orb, then come back out again, and she nods her head - it isn't until he says his final word that the usually-talkative girl actually says anything at all, and when she does, it's, bizarre.

"The bokken!" She declares, as though this were an answer that she'd been seeking for, well, months at this point. Her eyes flick up to Rei, and a light blush colours her cheeks, but her delight is obvious. The puzzle piece has finally slid into place; the answer to an issue that had been nagging her ever since it occurred and she didn't even know how to frame.

"W-when Ichijo-sensei trained me, she had me use a bokken. It was dreadful! I could barely summon my chi at all, it felt like I was trying to fight with one arm tied behind my back and shoes made of lead. But... but that makes sense, because... the, potential, of a bokken is much, much lower than the potential of a katana, that's the whole point! That's the reason you use one!"

She is almost vibrating on the spot with her excitement as she looks up into the redhead's eyes, "Is... is that right?" She asks, "Are you saying that I do have an elemental affinity after all, it isn't just 'blue' it is ... Void?" The thought is so exciting. She'd come to make peace with her 'blue', appreciate it and let it augment her style as best she could. But, ironically given her objection of moments ago, she still didn't really understand what she was doing...

Now it feels like some understanding is right at her fingertips.

For just a moment, Ichika's sudden outburst, the complete change in energy from stillness to excitement/agitation, takes Rei completely by surprise, and visibly so. He blinks, more than a couple times, as the Justice student lays out her theory about her training, her elemental affinity, and the such. Briefly, he's reminded of when they first met -- of Ichika reasoning aloud to an understandable but somewhat mistaken conclusion.

It speaks, interestingly, to a confidence he's not sure even Ichika knows she has: a belief that she can Figure It Out. Part of Rei wants to tell her that so few people in the world have that specific kind of confidence; that most people live in a world where they not only don't think they CAN have The Answers, but in fact believe they *never will* have The Answers.

It will be really interesting to see where she is a few decades from now, the xian thinks to himself.

*Aloud*, he clears his throat. "Well... I'm not going to comment on Ayame's training methods," Rei says cautiously. There are perfectly practical reasons to train with a bokken, after all, but in her own way, the miko's methods are as inscrutable as his own, so who knows? Still, the nerd part of him that loves questions like this wonders: why would it matter? Other than their own conceptual attunement -- wood vs. metal -- there should be functionally no difference between them.

How odd.

The question of elemental affinity, however, is a little easier to answer. "As for the rest... sort of?" A pause; he hears the hesitation in his voice, considering how excited Ichika was to come to her conclusions, and realizes he's soft-selling it to protect her from feeling like she got it 'wrong'. Putting up both hands palm out for a moment, he pauses. "Let me start that bit over: I'm not sure what an 'affinity' for quintessence would even look like, because its only real defining quality is formlessness, you know? But, that doesn't mean it's not possible. After all, everything I'm saying is... well."

A pause, and then he shrugs. Why sugar coat it? "It's me putting into imprecise words, concepts that I've come to understand on a spiritual level. There's no manual or anything. Maybe someday you'll find for yourself a truth that totally contradicts all of this... and if you do, be sure to tell me about it," he finishes, with a faint grin.

'If you can imagine it, you can become it? Ah, Buck! We are going to have so much FUN working out the rules!'

There has never, in all the challenges and strange possibilities Ichika has encountered, been a doubt in her mind that she can find the answer. It may take time. It may be frustrating. There are puzzles, such as Genie's strange power, which still don't make any sense to her. But in a way, those kind of frustrating enigmas are their own kind of pleasure. Because she knows, deep down, she will answer them one day. It is, perhaps, the greatest gift that Justice High has given her - the unassailable belief that not only is she capable of learning anything, but that it is her duty to apply herself as forcefully as she can to every problem until she finds a solution.

That is her calling, after all. To be one of the Super-Elite is to look at the world and know that it is up to you to find a way to make it better.

Her enthusiasm is dimmed only slightly as he reins back on the answer. She nods her head slowly. The fact that he isn't even sure what it would look like, though, is another tantalising thing. If this element truly did exist, really was part of the cosmic balance - well. Affinities for it should exist, shouldn't they? It ought to be a known quantity. In fact, if 'space' and 'emptiness' were as ubiquitous as it seems they are in reality, one would think it would be a very common affinity...

"Most people never learn how to harness their chi..."

She murmurs, softly, to herself. Another piece of the puzzle? Perhaps it is difficult to harness because of its intangible nature AND it is the most common natural affinity. Maybe that is what is holding most people back from developing fighting talent at all. Wild speculation, and one she doesn't, quite, verbalise yet... but it is clear the girl is thinking.

And his admission, perhaps surprisingly, draws a broad smile on her lips. "It's fascinating, isn't it?" She asks, "Ah, this is why I love fighting so much. These, questions. We won't find the answers talking to each other, or reading books. We have to go out into the world. Test ourselves. Walk the Warrior's Road."

She pauses for a moment then, because she is suddenly struck by an urge. And it is a foolish one, really. But. The words of her mentors come back to her. So many times she has been told to trust her instincts, and so...

"Ever since I climbed Mount Shasta, I have had the desire to climb Mount Fuji again." She says, "I have a feeling it might be ... important, that I visit a second time, after learning all I have." And once, she would have left it there. A dangling note of intent that she wouldn't have had the courage to let be more than that. Now, though. She really has grown.

"Would you care to join me, Rei? Even if there are no insights for you, I promise, the view is... spectacular."

"You know," Rei says, distractedly, at the early bit of Ichika's story, "I'm... well. Forgive me, little guy, but you've done your job, illustration-wise," he adds, out of nowhere, before tapping the little rainbow ball one more time, the glowy little wisp dissipating into quickly-fading sparks. Nodding, the redhead goes back to find somewhere to sit down. This might take a while... and he realizes, it's a story he may not have EVER told. Maybe it's reasonable to do it? Who knows, maybe Ichika will learn something from that, too.

"I said before that I learned the sword as a kid, right? But... just like you, it was something my mother wanted for me, but I never... it didn't feel right. Something was missing." A pause, and then a blink. "Maybe I was seeing the *ghost* of something, though. Maybe it was getting just close enough... not important. Anyhow. So I ran away from home, like I said."

Closing his eyes for a second, the xian replays fragments of old memories in his head, sifting through them like an archaeologist trying to sieve fragments from eons of dust. "I just... wandered. China, India. Places where a lot of what you might call 'Eastern spiritualism' were born. Religions, spiritual practices, all sorts of things; I found them and I was fascinated. It was what had been missing from the wholly practical art my mother wanted me to learn."

For a moment, Rei reflects that these events happened in a world WITHOUT 'magic'. What would they have been like here, he wonders?

Eyes opening, he continues. "I actually discovered chi well before I ever learned to fight. That was how I met the master I talked about, the one who trained me, and he taught me everything he knew about chi before he ever suggested I learn how to fight." A 'Warrior's Road', huh. "He said that everything he taught would be theoretical, forever, unless I gave it form, put it to the test. So I learned to fight, and more importantly, to incorporate chi into *how* I fight. The rest is history."

The redhead tilts his head, faintly. "NOW I know that it didn't necessarily HAVE to be fighting... but you're right. Talking, reading, absorbing... it's all necessary, but it's not sufficient, no. You have to DO something with it."

As the kids say, Rei hears himself think, you've got to fuck around and find out.

There's the other part of this, though, that also bears responding to, and it was probably more immediate than the need for this little story. Still, all things in their due season.

"Sounds fun," Rei admits, on the subject of climbing Mt. Fuji. One of Japan's most sacred public sites, after all. And when there's a sacred site, there's usually... "And actually, potentially instructive for you, in particular, I think." Now there's a cryptic lead-in.

Ichika smiles faintly as the conjured elements are dismissed apologetically. She has to wonder how much of that is affectation and how much is a genuine nod to the kami. She still hadn't sorted out all her own thoughts about that, either; but she knew enough to know that they were much more real and present in the world than she could ever have guessed when the totality of the world was Southtown and the hussle and bustle of those city streets.

"I don't know that I had put together that you ran away." She says, softly. "That must have been difficult." And it certainly puts the offered advice from earlier, that she ought to be honest with her parents about her desires, in rather starker perspective. "But at the same time." She says, "Traveling the globe... learning, studying, bringing all of those ideas together into a unique whole? I bet that was... wonderful."

She smiles brightly when he agrees to join her, and she is pleased, too, that he also feels that it will be a worthwhile use of time. "Thank you." She says, "And thank you for sharing so much about your own journey. All of it, truly." She pauses, then, and seems to think. "You know." She says, "I might have been going about this all wrong. I've been thinking... I need to choose my path, and commit to it completely, now, come what may. See it through to whatever end it entails, whether that is Justice, or Taiyo, or the fighting circuit."

A beat.

"It would be ... irregular, but, Imawano-sensei gave me this year to participate, and he has been very pleased with my reports back. Maybe... I could take my exams, but delay my enrolement for another year. Travel, under my own power. Without entirely setting my direction."

The absolutely focused, intent Ichika, letting herself live life without goals, to just, enjoy the journey wherever it took her?

"... something to think about, anyway."

Now she's talking about a gap year, and traveling, and... whuf. "As with all things," Rei says carefully, while he devotes more than a few background cycles to figuring out his next conversational move, "it had its ups and its downs. Fighting is... well. It's good to remember, sometimes, that we surround ourselves with other fighters, live our lives by fighting, or things related to it..." he adds, gesturing vaguely with both hands, as if weighing two things on a scale.

"Sometimes it's good to remember that we aren't 'normal'. We can do things most of the world can't. And as a result, it's easy for fighters to get embroiled in... uh..."

He's right back where he was with Honoka asking what Shadaloo was, and his own desire to desperately protect her from ever needing to find out. But didn't he *just say* to her that you can never forget 'a sword is a tool for killing'?

For a second, Rei puts a hand to his face, having stopped talking for a noticeably long period of time. There's a muffled sound as he breathes into his own palm, before he brings his hands up and through his hair, then gives Ichika a serious look. "I think I owe you an apology, Ichika," he says, speaking with deliberate care. "There's a thing I've been meaning to say, that this whole discussion of the elements was meant to help with, and I end up having second thoughts and talking around it, heading off on tangents..." Here, he gives a helpless shrug. "But this one, I need to... ugh. I'm saying everything all wrong."

The xian is quiet again, for a moment, before bringing both hands up. "I'll get to the real point in a second. But you need to be prepared to be potentially drawn into things, Ichika... big things, dangerous things. They just kind of... *happen* to fighters, especially big tournaments. In truth, part of the reason I signed up to be a sponsor is because in my experience, a big tournament often has some sort of ulterior thing going on behind the scenes, something that might put you kids in danger."

The redhead lets out a slow breath, tries very hard to banish the sight of Krizalid flying off on a helicopter out of his mind. "Thankfully, I didn't find anything, which is good. But there are people out there, Ichika, who make the more antisocial folks in the NFG look like playground bullies. And while I wouldn't give up that wandering time for anything, well..." He lets that trail off, the implication clear: it was not all peaches and cream.

Ichika listens, again. And this time, it is all listening, all the way through. Every awkward pause, every stumbling restart. She lets Rei take the time he needs to sort through what he is trying to get across. It's clear that she respects this difficulty as well; words have not always come easily to her... though it must be said, they come a lot more easily than they used to. Lyraelle's influence and the Ichikast have been so valuable, when it comes to teaching her how to get her point across without running herself through.

In the end though, she smiles. And that... might be worrying. Because it almost seems to say 'oh, I'm quite aware'.

"I appreciate the warning." She says, earnestly. "But. Rei. You have to understand... I am going to change the world."

There's that certainty, then. A kind of, zeal, in her, which does not exist in many people. The same absolute confidence that she could solve any problem? What is the state of the world, if not the biggest problem of them all?

"Greedy capitalists choke our seas and skies. Corrupt politicians sell their people cheaply. How many people just like me have died in fields and sweatshops because they never had the chance to pick up a sword? Or touch a piano? Or hold a pen? This world. Is run by monsters." That energy is back; the calm facade fading as she grows more animated. The goal, she had said, had always been the same: to make the world better than she found it. She hadn't lied. She had simply omitted to mention how disgusting she found so much of it.

"And like all the best monsters." She says, "They take us, and make us mirrors of themselves. I have no doubt that I will find them. Or they will find me." The smile grows, dazzling in its intensity. "So let them see me. Let them see all that I am. Let them stare." She says, "Because there is a saying that has been in my head, since we started the discussion about the elements."

There is another word for absolute certainty. One which might seem strange to apply to earnest, hard-working, serious young Ichika.

"For if you gaze too long into the void, the void gazes also into you."

Oh, this... THIS is the hard part.

When he mentioned the 'friend' earlier, Rei deliberately left out that the nature of their philosophical disagreement was about the definition of justice itself. Rei's argument then, as now, was always that there are as many definitions of justice as there are people in the world. That wanting to make things better for others, to right wrongs, to topple monsters... the desire is right and good, but the ACT can sometimes go very, very wrong.

All it takes is one moment, one topic, where the person acting on the side of justice is a little TOO sure, a little TOO confident, that their conviction is the right one. That their justice is the TRUE justice.

The connection between doubt and mercy is so much stronger than anyone thinks.

But she is young. Conviction is the province of youth; you are certain you are right, that you will live forever, that the world is your oyster. Mercy is, well... something you have to learn through experience.

To learn mercy, you have to suffer.

"That quote," Rei says at last, as if snapping out of some internal reverie, "is a warning, you realize. But maybe this is a good segue to tell you what I learned about quintessence... the element of the void."

What he's about to say was, in fact, the keystone that helped him reach the state of enlightenment he's in. Of course, the lock that key worked on was built on decades of experience and thought. But as he told Nakoruru, it was revelatory once he realized it.

"Unattenuated chi, the just free-flowing stuff in the world most fighters tap into, can BE anything. But think about that for a second: if it CAN be anything, that means it contains EVERYTHING."

He holds out a hand, palm up, but there's no lightshow this time. "That's the thing the wu xing teaches us. Water feeds the growth of wood, which fuels fire. Fire creates ash, nourishing the earth. The earth brings forth metals, which become the tools we use to gather water. The cycle starts over. But this means that somewhere inside fire, is a little bit of water. Somewhere inside wood, is a little bit of metal. Everything that exists, has a little piece of everything else that exists, in it... spiritually, I mean."

Rei closes his hand. "There is ice so cold that its effect on your skin is the same as a burn from a hot flame. Wind can be so strong and so forceful that it attains the solidity of stone."

Carefully, quietly, but definitively, he adds: "Every hero is a villain to someone; every villain, a hero. This is a universal truth."

"It is." Ichika agrees. "But the world that I am going to build ... is worth suffering for."

Zealot. The word for such certainty, taken to such a degree, is zealotry. But as Rei notes, Ichika is young. And she is very far from the point on her journey where she could make good on all those grand designs. The New Fighting Generation had proven that; she couldn't even run a soup kitchen without it devolving into a chaotic disaster. The world that she will build, where all people are acknowledged and seen for who they are, where everyone gets the opportunity to reach their full potential, as she had been given, is far, far beyond her reach.

Though, time moves more quickly than anyone would like. Who knows where Ichika will be in five years, or ten, or twenty? Such is the danger and wonder of youth.

Her eyes widen, though, at the explanation. It's, a difficult thing to wrap one's head around. This was, they had discussed, the element that embodied nothingness; it also embodied everything? "Fascinating." She murmurs, and all that seriousness just fades away as he speaks, replaced by that childish delight - given a new toy for her formidable intellect to play with, she nods, listening intently. All the elements linked, all of them bound in an eternal cycle, but all of that needed to spring from somewhere. And if it were a seamless cycle, it could not begin from itself. It needed something else. A possibility-space from which everything else could emerge, at any moment, at any point on the wheel.

"Ah, this is so fun!" She exclaims, with a laugh in her voice, and she actually - punches the air. An uncharacteristic burst of motion as she lets her nervous energy out. "Rei! I'm never going to be able to stop thinking about this, you understand? It's like..." What is it like, exactly. She struggles for a moment. "It's like a language. A whole new way of expressing, everything."

It's probably hard, to stay as nervous about her when she gets like this. Earnest and joyous in her discovery. "I promise." She says, at last, "I know that this path is dangerous. I know that eventually, I will have choices to make that are... difficult. Dark, even. And I know that I can't really be sure how I will react to them, until I am in that situation."

And then, she bows. She knows it may make him feel awkward, too. But there are moments in life where a student needs to bow to her teacher, whether they are the most laid-back one in the world or not.

"But I will do my best to make you proud. And the other Sensei proud. And ... myself, as well."

If Rei Hazuki believed for even a minute that Ichika would be a *serious* danger to herself, others, or the world in her immediate, or even median term, future... he wouldn't be talking to her at all. That he is sharing any of this with her is his proof that he believes she will make good choices in the future. That her convictions will not overpowered by her fundamental humanity... the only thing that, sometimes, stands in their way. And if she doesn't, well...

Then he'll take responsibility and do what's required.

"Experience teaches what learning can't," the redhead quotes, giving Ichika a faint smile. It is true that he can't be mad at her being excited. After all, the whole *point* of telling her was to get her to think very differently about things. At the bow, he responds by pressing one fist into the opposite palm, a Chinese martial arts 'salute' of sort... a relic of both his own time in China, and a memory of Kentou.

"I'll give you one last piece of information: I can't speak to the feasibility of a gap year in your case, practicality-wise, of course. But if you are interested in learning more about quintessence, I think travel and meditation are excellent ideas. Fuji would be an excellent start. Beyond that, well..." A pause, and then a faint impish smile. "The rest you'll need to figure out for yourself. I expect you know yourself how much more meaningful something is when you put the pieces together on your own, after all."

Log created on 14:15:03 10/31/2023 by Frei, and last modified on 12:09:52 11/03/2023.