But today, of all the secrets of the river, he saw just one, which gripped his soul. He saw: this water flowed and flowed, it kept on flowing and yet it was always there; it was always and at all times the same and yet new every moment...
The cherry blossoms flickered down like raindrops in the sun. Will Stanton moved through the park, watching the families and couples conversing under the strange shower. The atmosphere was peaceful despite the continuous throb of traffic and the occasional blast of music.
Will had become a traveler of many years, mostly on his eldest brother Stephen’s encouragement. Once or twice annually he took a week’s holiday to another place in the world. Sometimes the only notice his family received was a postcard from an exotic destination, at times arriving when Will had already settled back into his stuffy office. Partly it was to break the routine. Partly it was to sate the ache of loneliness in his heart.
The youngest and the last. Had they really all gone away? He had come to know so few in the Circle, scattered throughout the world as they were. This was when the Dark was rising. Then the Dark was driven back, and they had all departed, all but Will himself. A futile hope, but it drove him. It was the human part which sometimes recoiled from the wisdom he was privy to.
He sighed. Everywhere in Kyoto there were whispers of Old Magic, yet no one met his eye and knew him. It filled him with a longing so fierce that he wondered why he continued to chase the feeling.
Will came to a stop. A gnarled stone dragon peered at him fiercely. A stream of people separated it from its twin on the other side of the stairs. These two had stood parallel like this for hundreds of years, guardians of the temple beyond, facing the same way but never meeting. Will felt a pang. He remembered a postcard sitting on his desk. The sky’s not the same elsewhere, bachgen. Perhaps on a lark, someday. The hills have grown on me, isn’t that funny?
Slowly he climbed the stone steps. A girl in long robes cleaned the stone lanterns as the sparse crowd moved in and out of the main building and the small temple shops. Glistening with rainwater, flared eaves sheltered wooden murals of fantastic beasts. Trees both ornamental and wild drew the eye skyward, enclosing the square. The air was thick with incense, soft hand claps, and murmured prayers like waves on a calm sea. He stopped before a tree laden with paper prayer strips. They were like the cherry blossoms, ready to fall.
Suddenly he was jostled from behind. Startled, he almost lost his balance on the slick stones, but a strong hand caught his arm and righted him. "Suman—" began the boy. No, he was a man, only a little younger than Will. He had the deepest blue hair he’d ever seen. The unruly mop managed to stand out in a crowd with some dyed blonds and reds and greens. "Ah. Sorry?" He tried in English.
Will shook his head. "No, it’s all right." They were both looking hard at each other, he realized. His heart rose: he sensed something beyond the affable expression and worn denim jacket. Yet it wasn’t quite right. This wasn’t what he was looking for. Of course not, how could it be?
The other blinked first. He held out a strip of paper. "Here. Do you have a wish?"
"To find someone," Will blurted, then wondered why he’d said it. The Old One in him continued to stir, inexplicably.
The man paused, then whipped out an expensive pen and scratched out some kanji. "But you already have, na? That’s cool." His voice wrapped around the L, as though trying to impress with his grasp of English.
"Have I?" Will had to smile despite the strangeness. Here was a mind racing ahead of itself, and ahead of everyone else.
The man handed him his paper, and tiptoed to tie his own. He was a touch taller than Will. "Like this."
Will knotted the paper carefully, and was rewarded with a grin. Perhaps it had just been the novelty of connecting with a stranger, he thought. But then the man looked up like a dog pricking his ears. In the next instant he took the astonished Will by the shoulders, and turned him to face the temple entrance.
Standing at the top of the steps, in a heavy sheepskin coat and a thin black t shirt, was the last person Will had expected to see. The people going up and down gave him a wide berth, and not because he was gaijin, a foreigner. Faced with one so drained of color that his hair was whiter than an old man’s? Kyoto was rich with the legends of white haired spirits, servants of gods or demons, or the gods or ghouls themselves. These worldly city dwellers were afraid.
Bran Davies paid them no heed. His dark glasses hung from his hand as he stared at Will across the square.
Will goggled, then turned to thank the young man... who was gone. There was no sign of him in the sparse crowd.
"What are you doing here, English?" Bran had sneaked up.
"Bran!" His voice wrapped as warmly around the long syllable as his hands around the other’s. "I should be asking you that. How did you know I was here?"
He looked relieved to see Will. "I rang up your sister Mary. She’s a talker, that one." His tawny eyes gleamed. Will was uncomfortably aware of the staring now. Dark as he was, he was lighter than the locals, and two of them together stood out all the more.
"Jane sent me," Bran said, as though that explained all. "Come on, I’ve only just arrived and the jet lag’s horrible. Where are you staying?" He patted his knapsack.
Will suppressed a laugh, jogging his elbow. "Don’t tell me you came all this way with just that?"
"Don’t tell me you packed three suitcases to stay a week!" returned Bran.
"Come on, old friend," Will said, looping their arms together, as he’d watched others do, all day. "Let’s get us settled. And act like a guest, would you? I’d rather not double my room rate."
Bran grinned. "Pinchpenny."
"You would be too, if you saw the prices," Will said giddily, starting down the stairs.
It was only later that Will would realize: mixed with the elation at seeing Bran, was a familiar feeling of dread and anticipation, such as he had not felt since the rising of the Dark.
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