Between Two Worlds

14.21 Of Phoenixes and Cranes

Here, beside a lake clear and deep
You live amidst clouds
Where softly through pine trees, the moon arrives
To become your pure-hearted friend.
Shaded by flowery blossoms underneath a thatch roof hut you rest
Calmed by herbs that flourish in their bed of moss
Let me thank you for the time
On Xishan mountain with phoenixes and cranes.

~ Chang Jian

The outline of her silhouette bathed in a silver glow against the unnaturally white moon-bleached concrete. An intermittent breeze disrupts the still air, carrying her familiar scent of fresh lilies to me again and again. While she dwells in her private reverie, I wander in my own thoughts of what once was.

Without realising, I found myself drawn to her, encroaching on her solitude. She does not appreciate my blunder into her personal space.

“You are careless tonight,” Kirino says without looking at me. She’s right. I’m usually more subtle.

“The day had been unexpected for me too.”

She says no more. Her gaze never once left the giant bulb in the sky surrounded by a sprinkle of stars. My gaze trailed from her arms hugging herself to the small of her waist, her exposed back, then lingered on the back of her neck.

“I’ll get your blazer.”

“I’m fine.”

Her desire for the night as her sole companion is clear. I proceeded to leave.

“Wait!” she grabs me by my arm.

She surprises both herself and I. As I turn to face her, she withdraws her hand and steps back, maintaining our distance. But her face is no longer concealed by her angled position. The moon illuminates her beauty in a soft milky glow. Enchanting as she was, I search her eyes instead. Thayne’s intrusion of our lives had unsettled me. It seems he had affected her as much too. We stare into each other’s eyes – each other’s soul.

It didn’t take long for her brows to press downwards; her eyelids to droop. Her facial muscles tense as she bites her lip.

“Stay,” she says softly.

We stand alongside each other overlooking the empty school grounds. I recall her expression during that moment of vulnerability. The pain is there as always, but there was something else. Should I push further?

“I was so mad at you,” she says suddenly, interrupting my thoughts. “I couldn’t believe it when you took Curtis under your wing. Not only did you not consult me, the boy is Thayne’s son! Why should we take care of his when he let ours die!”

She stares into the distance as I say nothing. I steal a glance at her, but her face is calm.

“But I did,” she continues monotonously. “He’s our decoy, our scapegoat, our trump card against Thayne, and I let him grow on me…” Her lids droop once more. “How can I let him? Takeo should be the one standing beside us, he should be the one I give my affections to…” Her voice trailed.

“Had I known how Calypso made you feel, I would’ve left him to die,” I say, reaching out to her. “It can still be arranged.”

“I don’t want that,” Kirino replies firmly, avoiding my gaze and touch. “I want Curtis to be our heir.”

I took the safest approach — Silence. Wasn’t she professing how guilty she felt a moment ago? She read my thoughts, for she hurriedly grabs my hand and explains the inconsistency of her words.

“Curtis will never replace our son. But if Takeo were alive, they’d be friends. Curtis reminds me of Takeo. That’s why I hated him, because he lived and because he’s Thayne’s child. But I don’t anymore. Maybe our son sent him to us because Curtis feels like family now.” She spoke quickly, putting on a brave smile.

Our son..” I echoed her words. I can’t remember the last time she referred herself and I under the same term, as a singular item – together; nor the last time she touched me cordially. My guard lowered.

“You surprised me today,” she continued. “What you said to Thayne made me realise that you care for Curtis too.”

I scowled. “Care for Calypso? He is insignificant to me — a disposable pawn should Thayne refuse to cooperate!”

“I wouldn’t expect any other reply from that prideful lips of yours,” she touches my arm. “But when the moment comes and you’re forced to make a decision, I’m confident that you will choose Curtis.”

I snorted. So this is it. The Mistress of Disguise is hard at work – my Kirino is trying to manipulate me. I know her like the back of my palm – her judgement is impaired by her love for children. She wants to ensure the boy’s safety under my command.

She uses my feelings for her against me. Perhaps it is working, for I find myself lost in her ocean eyes and yearning for her smile, but I must resist. This isn’t her true face. If we are to make an exchange, it will be done without this farce. Two can play at this game.

“Kirino.” Each syllable of her name rolled off my tongue smoothly as I closed in on her. Her eyes widened briefly as we stand as lovers do – what once was – our faces inches from each other. “Do you remember why I acquired this school?”

“Because people are only as strong as their weakest link,” she replies stiffly. She tries to move away, but my hands are firm around her waist. She has no choice but to continue her facade, even as it crumbles. 

“Yet, I’ve never harmed a single one of those children in all these years.” I leaned in and whispered. “This school is my gift to you.”

Her body turned rigid as she narrowed her eyes at me.

“Losing our son tore us apart. It changed us, made us a mere shadow of what we once were. The world betrayed us, we lost everything – our career, identities, friends and family. We had to find a new way to live — a reason to live. I knew then, the moment you found out what happened to Takeo-“ I caressed her face. “-that I would lose you too.”

“You shut me and everyone out. You’re a puppet on stage – flawless in every mission, but there is no end to your performance.” Her gaze hardened in defense as I went on. “I couldn’t reach you, Kirino, but the children can.”

Her guise is completely broken — her plan backfired. She tries to break free, but I wouldn’t let her run away, lifting her chin and forcing her gaze against mine. She shot daggers at me, but pain reappears as she glimpses our son’s shadow – Takeo’s striking resemblance to me. I, her once was, am a source of her pain. 

“If Calypso is what it takes to have you descend from stage and let curtains fall, so be it,” I wound up fulfilling her request to stave off her pain. Her face lit up as I clicked my tongue disapprovingly. “Calypso is not even a fraction of Takeo’s cuteness,” I murmured under my breath.

“Oh, stop picking on him!” Kirino’s tone is now light and cheery. Her eyes glisten as she embraces me. “You’re just too proud to admit that you like the boy.”

I said no more, savoring her and this moment. She speaks nonsense of my feelings, but perhaps adopting Calypso is the right move. Perhaps a child to call our own will set her – set us free.

Poem: 宿王昌齡隱居 常建 (Wang Changlin’s Retreat by Chang Jian)

  • The phoenix and the crane have many meanings but here they symbolise marriage. Phoenix as yin (feminine); and Crane as yang (masculine).

16 thoughts on “14.21 Of Phoenixes and Cranes

  1. It’s sad that Kirino lost her own son. Well, by the way, what has Athena and Curtis been up to at this moment?

    1. Athena is recovering. She’s going for therapy sessions and living life as normally as she can. Curtis is tracking Scorcher and listening for underground news of Athena. Next chapter will feature Athena’s POV. 🙂

  2. It’s nice to see Kirino and Masato’s POV’s. I wasn’t expecting that Kirino would want to adopt Calypso, but she is a grieving mother and needs to fill that hole in her heart. I’m curious how they knew Curtis’s father and how he still seems to have some control over them.

    1. You’re right. I definitely neglected giving them screen time so I can understand how these 2 chapters must feel very disjointed. I can only attribute it to bad planning since the idea was already in my head for the longest time. But I didnt flesh it out in the story so it must seem so out of the blue.

      Masato n Kirino were ex agents working under Thayne. A mission gone south exposed their identities and destroyed their family. After some digging, they found Thayne responsible for their loss. This was in ch 14.2. Sorry the message isnt clear. Thanks for letting me know too so I can do some reflecting/analysis!

  3. I enjoyed this. The question still remains why Curtis lived the way he lived as a child. If they knew about him why did they let him live like that? He was a child not guilty of his father’s sins. I was wondering back then why would Scorcher treat Curtis so horribly if he were the blood of his blood. But terrible parents exist. For a while I even wondered if Masato could have been Scorcher. But Curtis would have known.
    Anyhow, I like this couple and their little games a lot.

  4. Ooh, I did not expect we’d get a chapter from Masato’s point of view. It’s interesting to be in his head, because it almost feels like he’s not even fully honest with himself. Must be tough to be him, he can never relax.

    I’ve enjoyed getting to know Kirino’s different layers. She seemed so above it all when we first met her, emotionally detached and completely focused on the success of whatever job was at hand, but underneath it all, what keeps her going is pain. She’s a beautiful character, really. (Not to say that justifies everything she does haha) I bet Curtis would be shocked to learn how much she’s come to care for him.

    1. amg girl, I’m really loving your character analyses. You got that from 1281 words! (I checked 😆) I wish I can say that Curtis knows but he doesn’t. 😭 He trusts her more than Masato but he knows her role so that in itself makes him wary of her.

  5. So I know Chinese poetry is difficult to translate and I think what the translator did is easier for English speakers to understand (if my suspicions are correct), but is ‘Xishan Mountain’ like ‘ATM machine’? That is, does the phrase read like ‘West/Tin/IDK Mountain Mountain?’

    Interesting that Kirino calls him Curtis and Masato calls him Calypso. It’s as if Masato is going out of his way to distance himself from Curtis and not allow him to function as a replacement child, given that ‘Calypso’ is a whole extra syllable and boy, does that seem like a waste of time otherwise. Not to mention how messed-up it is that they both keep comparing Curt to their dead son. It’s like they’re not even trying to hide it.

    1. I read the original poetry as ‘mountain in the west’ so it’s more a generic mountain in reference of the poet’s position than the name of the mountain :> But I didn’t want to go against the translated version or make changes upon it. 😄

      Ooh this is the first time I heard of this. I’m not familiar with tropes. So everytime someone points out a trope in my story I always get enlightened. 😆 Kirino definitely sees Curtis that way. Masato, hm… I’ll let you be the judge. 😏

  6. I love the poetry here. And the beautiful backdrop of the rooftop and the moon. Kirino is a stunning woman. I’m not quite sure where this chapter is supposed to fall since it’s labeled 14.21? but I really enjoyed it. I could feel Kirino’s pain and sadness, and I could sense Masato wanting to make her happy again. His gift to her… the school. I about cried. I really hope that he will follow through on his word for her… even though I don’t like the idea of Curtis being stuck in the endless cycle of crime. Though I have a feeling he will be for a long, long time.

    1. Also it’s a bit strange they keep comparing Curtis to their deceased child. Curtis isn’t a replacement!!! He’s his own man. And he doesn’t deserve this… but I also want these two… Masato and Kirino to have a bit of happiness also. Darn it! I have all the feels now.

    2. My bad I was pretty lost where to put this chapter either. I’m still quite green at numbering and experimenting which way is clearer. Looking back maybe I could’ve filed this as interlude. Chronologically, it occurred right after their confrontation with Thayne at the cemetery.

      I’m sorry! Kirino and Masato have quite a difficult relationship. And it definitely isn’t fair for Curtis to get dragged into things that has nothing to do with him. Masato tries in his own ways. I hope that he follows through too.

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