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Spotted Bamboo
SpottedBamboo

Her touch feels like the warmth of a sunrise.

I gulp as my hands stroke across the hem of her white dress, my fingers quivering under her light. Her visage, painted in red and gold, is a mere inches away from mine, and her dark eyes are permeated with such passion it feels like they're piercing through me. I reach out to her kasa, gently uncovering her long black hair and letting the giant hat drop between the bamboo shoots, the cloth fluttering behind it. My heart falters at her beauty. She is smiling - confident, gentle, teasing. Like spirits ought to smile. I find myself stray to the edges of her clothing and even beyond, pushing her slender form up against a stalk. "Shun..." She whispers softly. She can make a peasant's name sound like poetry.

As her cream gown joins her kasa, I discover her red markings stretch further than merely her face and shoulders. Her entourage of fog slowly wraps itself around us, obscuring the lofty sight for any eager eyes. A few meters further, the river ripples and whirs, contracting to the every beat of her heart. Her fingernails dig into my back and any minuscule distance that was still left between us is erased spontaneously. Her image dances within my imagination as I close my eyes and surrender myself to her whims. Even though she is in a physical state, her body feels lighter than air, softer than silk, as if it could disperse in the gentle breeze at any moment. I try not to question the how and what of our actions, nor do I want to think about any consequences. As the greatest experience of my life reaches culmination, I only remember.

It was during the time when the village was divided. The fish seemed to avoid certain parts of the Jang Hui river for some reason, and the grounds became more valuable than gold. During wartime, a single fish more or less could decide on the upkeep of your home, the payment of your taxes, the life of your children. We began to fight among ourselves. Many were injured, some even killed. I had enough of it. It really only took a bit of determination and proper allocation for everyone to receive their fair share, but it was enough for the hostilities to cease. That's when she approached me. The perfect woman. She thanked me for halting the strife and the blood from polluting her river. She gave me a single wish, which she would fulfill. It was a wondrous opportunity for a low-born like me. Riches, fame, power, influence,... All of them where within my reach. Yet the only thing I asked of the Painted Lady that day, was her name.

"Nuying."

I snap back to reality. As light as she is, her embrace is relentless. I clinch her passionately myself, savoring the moment. My heart is full of fear for the instant my hands will only hold on to naught and she slowly vanishes into the morning light. But even as dawn comes, she doesn't go. Our entwinement persists, her chest throbbing against mine. Is she even... alive? It's a riddle I don't dare to present to her, dreading the possibility of her leaving. I slowly comb her hair with fascination, the silence that is still between us only there as to not shatter this moment. Her throat rustles in the prelude of her words, and I cringe at the potential goodbye. Carefully, she distances herself so our eyes can meet. "Shun, will you come with me? To the end of time?"

Emotions gag my mouth. Me? To her world? At her side? I'm not educated enough to convey my excitement in words, so I close the gap once more and meet her. A response sufficient enough. The fog lifts, the robes I threw on the ground are covering her again. She floats over to the river, lingering at the shore for a second to bend over and press a last feather on my lips. I watch her and the mist melt away in the sunlight, unable to do anything about the smile on my face or the storm in my stomach. I can still taste her contact, sweeter than the blueberry peaches from the south, smoother than the skin of an octopike. The grace of a goddess, truly.

And utterly contrasting to the feeling of having your chest pierced by a 7 feet long spear.

The exhilaration of her presence, still lingering, almost is enough to override the excruciating pain. Almost. Blood wells up from my mouth as I try to scream, and I can feel the prongs of the tip ripping my lungs apart when it is retracted. The ground is soft and damp from the river, and smells like her. When I try to breath, more of my precious red comes flowing out of all kinds of orifices and even though being able to see your own organs is quite interesting, it's not particularly enticing. I can hear them argue about something – apparently one of the soldiers thought I was conspiring with a water spirit. Acting before thinking always has been a forte of the Fire Nation military, so it seems. As my body feels like it's being torn apart by hungry wolves and my sight gradually lessens, I wonder where I still find the power to make such bad jokes.

They kick me into the river and leave. I'm amazed at the fact that I'm still alive, let alone conscious. The water is cold, crushing and merciless. It stings in my open wound, seeps between my exposed organs and tortures me. But then, suddenly, the feeling changes. The current twirls around me, more loving than my mother's arms ever were. I can see the limpid image of her face within the darkness, somehow with a single tear differentiating itself from all of the surrounding liquid. If it were possible, I would like to touch that face before-

Behind the Scenes

The kasa is a traditional Japanese hat, which I used in this work to describe the hat the Painted Lady wore. I don't know if I've actually used the term correctly, but it looked similar enough to me. The story was inspired by the legend of the Xiang River goddess Nuying and her lover, emperor Shun. Shun was also said to have resolved a conflict within a fishing village about fishing grounds, which also appears in the story.

A few subtle references to Sin City and the Kurozuka series, along with a few miscellaneous others, have crept into this article, with no real motivation but the author's fondness of the two behind them.

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For the collective works of the author, go here.

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