Entering the door, Clarence stepped into a different world.

He had expected just a private tea room like the one he had met Ariel Fitzroy in, elegant and tastefully furnished with an excellent view but still just any private room opened for customers at the tea shop.

Instead, the door opened to an open courtyard, but different from the one he had passed by upon first entering through the main doors of the Mirror Flower Pavilion. A winding pebbled pathway carpeted with pink peach blossoms from the copse of peach blossom trees that lined the path on both sides led towards a small man-made pond filled with clear water.

From his place on this side of the peach blossom covered pathway he could hear the gentle and continuous melody of a string instrument coming from the stone pavilion.

Following the sound he made his way through the pathway and stopped at the edge of the copse of peach blossom trees. Now at a closer distance, Clarence could make out Koi carps in bold red and gold, black and white swimming lazily around the stone legs of the pavilion and attached bridge that sat elevated in the middle. A wooden sign inscribed with ‘Water Moon Pavilion’ hung from the arch pavilion roof.

At the only stone table placed in the center of the pavilion sat a young man dressed in a white brocade robe, the typical fashion of the Sky Dynasty, and playing a plucked seven string instrument made of fine dark wood.

He could not make out the man’s features from this distance but he could feel the melody to be ingenious and peerless. Both melody and person transported their audience to the immortal dream lands as if the one playing such melodies was not just a mere mortal and the location was not just in the middle of a loud and bustling metropolis.

Clarence had heard many kinds of music in the past, including Sylva music which was universally held in unsurpassed esteem since ancient times. But this gentle and soft melodic tune had its own unique charm. But he did not stay in its thrall for long, clear mercury blue eyes gazed at the lone figure in the pavilion.

Suddenly, Clarence stepped onto the stone bridge and walked into the pavilion.

The moment he stepped into the pavilion the music also stopped.

The young man had the appearance of having been carved from warm jade with ink black eyes bright like the starry night sky. His features were too fine and delicate but yet not the least androgynous, his aura ascetic and cultured. 

But unlike the self-discipline and abstention that came from a military background that Ariel possessed, his was one of natural disposition and the influence of scholarly pursuits. Indeed, there was a strong air of a literati background. That and the unmistakeable energy of a Magus.

The young Magus looked up and gazed quietly in his direction, slender hands pressed down on the still fluctuating strings. Long, enviously glossy jet black hair was pulled back from the face with a oblong jade hairpin intricately carved with clouds and cranes. The white brocade robe looked simple at first glance but upon closer examination, the sleeves and collars were hand embroidered with silver threads, every stitch hinting at the work of the finest tailors in the trade.

The two of them looked at each other for a silent moment.

The other suddenly smiled and said in a melodic voice, “Clancy Light?”

Clarence’s lips involuntarily twitched and his previous composure cracked.

“You must be Mr. Wang Zifeng. Hello, I’m Clarence Light.” Clarence couldn’t help stressing his full, proper first name. Refusing to address that horrid nickname that seem to follow him everywhere. Still, he politely greeted the other in Sky Dynasty style, cupped hands raised forward and at chest height.

“A pleasure. Though I was sure Miss Fairchild told me her little brother was named Clancy.” Wang Zifeng stood up and returned the greeting, appearing much more pleasing to look at than Clarence doing so, dressed as he was in Sky Dynasty brocade robes with wide sweeping sleeves that hung down to mid-thigh.

“Hehe. Yes well, I must advise you to not believe anything Dawn says about me. It’s all untrue!” Clarence let out a dry chuckle as he sat on one of the stone benches that lined the pavilion while Wang Zifeng sat back down behind the stone table.

Wang Zifeng’s jet black eyes flickered and he replied with a tone that hinted at amusement, “Of course.”

Silence again.

This time Clarence was the one to break it, scratching under his chin in awkwardness and silently wishing broccoli flavored lipgloss on Dawn.

“I heard from Dawn that you are in need of a city guide?”

The other nodded slightly. “I will be staying in New Apple for 2 weeks or so, for a visit to the Fitzroy clan and others on the Fera Council. The remaining time is enough for a brief tour of the city.”

“Fitzroy? What a coincidence, I was just in a meeting with Major Fitzroy.” Clarence’s brows raised in surprise.

“Oh? That is indeed a coincidence.” Wang Zifeng replied without much inflection, seeming not too surprised.

Changing the subject he asked with greater curiosity, “I heard from Miss Fairchild that you run a shop in downtown New Apple. I hope that is not untrue?”

Clarence blinked and smiled, “Yes, that you can believe Dawn for.”

“Then I would love that for my first sight seeing stop if Mr. Light is agreeable? It’s only fair, that I pay a visit to Mr. Light’s establishment when you have done so for mine.”

“Sure, no problem.” Clarence then added in Sky Dynasty social etiquette, “Your presence will bring light to my humble dwelling.”

The smile on the young Magus widened and returned, “No, it is my honor.”

❂❂❂

Zifeng looked on, a pleasant half smile playing on petal like lips as Clarence’s slender figure gradually became concealed by the peach blossom trees.

A gush of wind blew by, rustling the peach blossoms and causing them to rain down onto the pebbled pathway, and the young man standing on it.

“Master.” “Master, is he the one?”

Two voices sounded, one cool and composed while the other was high and lively.

Zifeng did not turn around but nevertheless he knew who had appeared.

Two identical young women dressed in the waitress attire of narrow sleeved pale green robes with long jet black hair pulled back with matching silk ribbons and decorated with beaded flowers appeared a few steps behind him.

If Clarence was present he would have recognized the one who spoke in a cool and composed tone to be the same waittress who led him to the Water Moon Pavilion. Identical though their appearance may be, their different manner of speech and bearing allowed for easy differentiation.

Zifeng raised a slender pale hand and a soft jade green light rose from it and swept towards the fallen peach blossom petals. At the same moment, intricate pale jade green markings spread like ink across his forehead and on the sides of his neck to disappear into the collar of his brocade robes. 

The moment the light touched the petals they seem to explode, the petals floated up into midair and rapidly spun in a whirlwind of pink petals.

One’s whole vision was taken up by the dancing petals that looked like thousands of pink fluttering butterflies. The beauty of the scene even stunned the two young women who were used to their master’s talent.

With another raise of a slender hand the petals flew toward him, layer by layer the petals gathered themselves in a sphere that spun in midair a few inches above his palm where a small round cinnabar red mark stood out in the paleness of the rest of his skin.

Even the deep pinks of the peach blossom petals lost their splendor in the face of the vermillion mark.

“Wan er, Yan er. Today’s a good day to brew peach blossom wine.”

“Yes, master.” “Master! Are we celebrating?!”

❂❂❂

Clarence left down the peach blossom pathway without looking back.

He could clearly feel the gaze to be something almost tangible, staring at him with scorching heat. It remained on him without moving and watched until the peach blossom trees completely swallowed up his figure.

Exiting the front doors of the Mirror Flower Pavilion, Clarence looked up at the sky.

It was currently sunset and dusk was already upon them. Light from the setting sun casted the streets under a golden halo.

“So late already?” Clarence grumbled with discontent. It had been just past noon when he had seen Ariel Fitzroy and was still in the afternoon when he had met Wang Zifeng.

He comforted himself over the wasted afternoon. Wasted over socializing. Though he had to admit, it wasn’t nearly as dull or awkward as he had thought.

A strange noise suddenly broke into his thoughts and he looked up towards the source a short distance ahead of him.

The side street he was in had always been quiet this time of day, the residential houses housing mainly the elderly who had retired early for the night. Just past this block was where The Magpie was located in a much more livelier area.

But who knew that just so close to reaching home he would come across trouble?

Clarence watched impassively as the figures engaged in a strangely quiet conflict. Well, quiet but for harsh breathing and pained grunts.

Visually, it was more interesting as he watched a dark hooded figure manipulate a wall of flames to pen in a lone figure. Two other dark hooded figures had their palms raised and facing forwards the trapped figure. Blood red viscocity poured from gashes on their palms and formed arrows that rained down on him.

And while trapped, the figure within the fire walls still gave as good as he got. A large bone white bow was raised horizontally in one hand while the other continuously pulled on the string letting fly obsidian arrows that managed to negate the blood arrows. Ocassionally, when the fire walls got too close he would swing the enormous bow and oddly the fire would shy away. 

Faintly, he could make out the pointed eartips of Sylvas sticking out from long silvery pale strands.

But what caught Clarence’s attention however, was the silent and still hooded figure standing a distance away from the fray, as if observing a playground brawl.

There was just an air of contempt and boredom around the hooded figure that brought the image to Clarence’s mind.

Likewise, Clarence also wanted to mind his own business and not get involved in what was definitely trouble. He had the experience to tell that they were no ordinary hoodlums.

Unfortunately, it was at this moment that the still hooded figure turned in his direction and caught sight of Clarence who was just about to turn around.

At the same moment, from the corner of his eye and by the light of the fire walls, Clarence also glimpsed something that had him pausing, mercury blue eyes going flinty.

With barely any pause, both sprang into motion.

The hooded figure held up a metallic two barrel revolver inscribed with elaborate alchemist runes in pure gold. 

Clarence raised his right wrist and touched the gold watchpiece with a round crystal face strapped there.

Instaneously, two bullets inscribed with gold runes fired his way, one met with a large spinning gear while the second one met with another smaller spinning gear in a competely opposite direction.

Both bullets paused for a split second upon contact with the gleaming gold edged gears where they vibrated a teeth rattling screech of metal on metal before exploding in a cloud of metallic dust.

The hooded figure seemed to have been stunned at the outcome.

“Alchemist.”

A low voice that seem incongruous in the quiet alley rang out and immediately the two Cruors flung a spray of blood drops Clarence’s way which turned into blood red needles that flew at a breaknecking speed no less than the two bullets before.

A few made it past the spaces in between the spinning gears.

Furrowing inky brows, Clarence made a few hasty steps back, fingers deftly twisting another knob.

Immediately three connected arrow hands appeared magnified in size like that of the spinning gears. They were all of different width but similarily tapering in design. The three hands spun rapidly in midair, shredding and scattering the blood needles like the mere liquid they should be.

At the same moment, the trapped Sylva took advantage of the distraction Clarence provided and aimed a gleaming obsidian arrow at the fire Magus who shifted at the last possible second so that the arrow missed the heart.

Still, the other immediately swayed, and his flame walls dissipated in smoke.

Curiously, though they were strangers Clarence and the trapped Sylva came to a tacit understanding.

Obsidian arrows rained down on the hooded figures while large metallic gears rotated horizontally and flew at the hooded figures like deadly spinning discs.

Both the fire Magus and one of the Cruors were struck by an obsidian arrow while the other Cruor was cut by a spinning gear which left a large gash on the side of his torso, nearly having been sliced in half.

The Alchemist was also not spared and a large bloody gash appeared on the left side of where his cheek should be under the hood. The tear in the hood gaped open to reveal a bloody stubled cheek and a glaring eye.

“Donahue’s replacement, more than just a shopkeeper it seems.”

A low, rough voice spoke and the glaring eye seem to burn a hole with its intensity.

Clarence didn’t react to the sudden and incongruous comment but made one of his own.

“The Athanatos Society should have been wiped out decades ago.”

A low chuckle responded. “You would make an excellent addition.”

Clarence furrowed inky brows and distaste colored his tone, “Immortality is not as desirable as one might think.”

Without waiting for a response, Clarence manipulated the spinning gears to attack again.

But before he could resume the fight, the other Alchemist had thrown a glass vial onto the ground and instantly grey mist clouded his vision.

“Careful!”

Clarence was forced to fall back in a painful sprawl, a heavy weight crushing him down.

At the same time a gold inscribed bullet whizzed over his head while the second one collided with an obsidian arrow, the arrow shattering on impact but enough to change the bullet’s course.

Clarence knew the chance for eliminating them completely was passed and he waited as the mist subsided.

When it did, the first thing that came into vision was a pair of heterochromatic eyes in amber and turquoise, just a couple inches away from his own mercury blue.

Inky brows knitted up and Clarence immediately pushed the other away.

“Aiyo!”

Standing up Clarence looked down at a sorry figure sprawled face up and giving him an accusing look with those oddly colored eyes. A ripped and burnt windreaker and jeans only added to his disheveled state.

Thinking about it for a split second, Clarence soon turned away to leave, only to feel a hand grasping at his left ankle.

Clarence looked down expressionlessly at the young man partially propped up on one hand while the other held tightly onto his ankle.

“Hehe.” The Sylva scooched up to sit upright, all the while grimacing, freeing a hand to comb back the long silvery pale strands to reveal a classically handsome face with high cheekbones and strong angular jaw. Full pouty red lips stretched into a wide fawning smile and those different colored eyes tried their best to give an innocent wide eyed look.

“You’re not just going to leave me here, right.”

“Yes, I was actually.” Clarence raised a questioning brow.

The other gave him an exaggerated look of disbelief and betrayal, “I just saved your life back there!”

“My interruption also helped you escape entrapment.” Clarence looked at the young Sylva, unimpressed.

“Then you’re my savior! I need to repay you!”

“We’re even.”

“I thought we have a mutual understanding! A soul connection!”

“…..”

Clarence sighed. He looked up and around. Expectedly, they were the only ones left in the alley. But that doesn’t mean he wanted to continue this ridiculous deadlock.

“Let go.”

“No way.”

Seeing Clarence’s eyes go flinty, the young Sylva immediately grimaced in pain, “I think a blood arrow got me somewhere serious. It hurts to move.”

Silence.

One amber gold and one turquoise took turns peeking up at him.

“Alright, fine.”

Clarence twisted a knob and the spinning gears disappeared but for one large one that remained horizontal.

The satisfied grin on the young Sylva’s face dropped when Clarence dragged him onto the gear which wobbled slightly with the heavy load before stabilizing and floated after Clarence as he made his way back home.

“Uh. Are you sure this won’t drop me?”

“Take it or leave it.”

“…..How cold. I’m your soulmate.”

“……”

“Sorry, sorry.”

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