Only in Chaos Are We Conceivable
[23:58] * Rejoined channel #Clouds
[23:59] * Topic is ‘What’s Outside the Window?’
“Dojo’s been hurt,” Helena reported after she hung up the phone. “But he’s being taken care of at an emergency clinic.”
Jay froze, his keys still inserted into the lock of his front door. An anxious pain rattled his stomach and chest. His mind felt light and muddled. The detective lifted his hands off the keys and brushed past Helena.
“What’s going on? Which one?” Jay rushed back to the garage where he had just parked his sedan. “Where is he?”
“The clinic’s all the way back downtown,” Helena shook her head, turning to hold Jay by the shoulders. “Wait. Sasha’s with him, Jay. There’s no need to worry. Let’s let the doctors take care of him, okay?”
“What happened?” Jay asked.
“Got into a scuffle with someone, she says,” Helena replied. “Bullet grazed him. It’s okay, it’s okay! It drew some blood, but they’re disinfecting it. He’s also just really exhausted. Hey, look at me, Jay. The doctors will handle it. And you were right. Dojo saved her life, tonight. Said she’d be a goner without him.”
“See? What did I tell you,” the detective grumbled. “Magical.”
“Sasha will be by his side all night,” Helena soothed. “Might even take him home and adopt him as her own the next morning.”
“Very funny,” Jay heaved a great sigh. The unease abated, if only a little bit. His stomach remained unwell. There were some pills in the medicine cabinet, he remembered. “Well. If there’s nothing to be done. Do you want to...come indoors?”
“Were you going to leave me on the sidewalk to wait for a bus?”
“No, I just don’t want you to get too excited about coming over,” Jay shrugged. He unlocked the front door and motioned her inside. “I still need to finish Thomas Miyamoto’s Quest for the Lost Grove.”
“Do you still have that one book I lent you?” she asked. “Remember that one I showed you? It has that poem about the vampire.”
“Oh yeah. It’s on my nightstand,” Jay blushed. “But I never read it.”
“Alright, well,” Helena shook her head. “Give it back then. Just for tonight at least.”
That night, a singular window was lit in the Sakamoto household. At one point, the light faded and died as the bulb of the antique lamp gave out. When Jay replaced it, the lamp shined a renewed clarion brightness like morning on a summers day.
Jay and Helena read together under warm linen covers. No more words were exchanged between them. Jay fell asleep first, no doubt his worries for Dojo weighing on him still. Helena grinned and plucked the half opened book from Jay’s resting fingers. Stroking his hair gently, she took note of where he left off. Eventually, she set aside the book in her lap and continued reading his. She leaned on his shoulder as she read. They stayed that way for a long time.
The Cloud Empress and Cleo walked within the grove. Grape vineyards lined the southern wall. Cypress trees flourished to the north. They passed by a garden of wild strawberries. Further down the path lined with smooth cobblestone, children played with the emperor’s many maids.
The empress's face was taped with elegiac concern. “Outside my direct intervention,” the empress said to Cleo. “The empire grows dark. Cynicism wracks the heart, and people of faith resign themselves to destitute marshes where crops refuse to grow, half-deserted villages of the sick and elderly, and cities sinking in endless dunes, buried by furious wind and rain. Even now, it is clear. Soon, only the City of Clouds will remain, and then this grove will wither and die.”
Cleo paused for a moment, then responded to her despair.
“Empress, your words confound me. In my backpack lies a map from a dead cartographer, who was once a dear friend of mine. You will see there the marshes that you speak of, but you will see no trace of attempted farmland. You can trace the length of the mountain ranges to the east, where nomadic raiders rarely settle for more than half a season. In the dunes, there are no sinking cities. There are no cities at all! Empress, in all the world, in all my travels throughout your lands, I have only seen the City of Clouds. Your empire simply does not exist.”
The door to his room creaked open, and Traveler stepped outside his room for the first time in what felt like a lifetime. But leaving his bedroom felt strangely routine, because he had done it so many times in the last week leading up to the festival. Claudia never shook off her laziness in the mornings. Someone needed to pick up groceries.
Traveler made his way downstairs. His fingers traced the unfamiliar round wooden bannisters and he thought about Claudia. He also noticed there was no sign that his caretaker or her visitors had returned. Perhaps they would come home in the morning.
Down in the living room, however, Traveler spotted a lone man just stirring from a long slumber. The man rubbed his eyes with his right hand, because his mechanical left had been broken nearly beyond repair. The man spotted Traveler.
“She’s not home,” Traveler said quickly.
“Right. I figured,” the man chuckled. “Sorry for intruding. Don’t mind me. I’ll just rest here until Helena comes back.”
Traveler remembered that it was important to be cordial to guests. He and Claudia hosted many over the course of so many years.
“What’s your name?” Traveler asked.
“Ryu Fukuyama,” the man answered.
“That’s a nice name,” Traveler responded. He thought of his own name and decided to steer the conversation elsewhere. “Would you like something to eat? Maybe some tea or something?”
“Tea sounds lovely,” Ryu said.
Traveler made his way to the kitchen. He hadn’t been here in years, but the motions came naturally to him. Nine hundred years of watching James Windmere prepare tea in dozens of different ways managed to stick with him. He hummed an old folksong and picked out a bag of fermented leaves Claudia would have loved. Next, he filled a water kettle to the brim and turned on the stove.
Behind him, Ryu shuffled around in search of his missing phone. When he found it, he groaned at the long list of missed calls. Ryu dialed the repeated number, immediately and profusely apologizing to an old man’s shouting on the other line. The kettle began to screech loudly, and Traveler sprinkled tea leaves into a clay pot. Ryu switched his phone to speaker mode.
The cries of a newborn baby girl overpowered the whistling kettle.