I... I can't fight anymore. Like autumn leaves cast to the wind...

Surely it can't end like this...

A story about the persistence of sadness.

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Even since the declaration of the new dynasty, Beijing remains an extraordinary city. Beautiful, and unparalleled in size.

It's nothing like the country; it's a city you can get lost in, a city where you could search your whole life and not ever find who you were searching for.

My name is Xiu-Li Sun, and I am the daughter of a merchant. Not having yet been given away in marriage, I have responsibility for running our ink shop.

It's unusual, but I enjoy it, actually. Most days I even get to meet at least one new person.

Out of all the strangers who come by the shop, though, I would never meet one who took me away more than her.

She stands in the doorway, uncertainly, and I get the strongest feeling that I've met her somewhere. But that can't be right. I'd remember someone who looks like her, for sure.

Long hair as thin as silk and as black as any ink, with eyes like the ocean; a deep blue that reflects the heavens themselves.

Her skin is as pale and as soft looking as any cloud; never in my life have I ever seen a more delicate looking soul.

She walks inside with a careful, innocent spring in her stride. I smile, and try to snap myself out of the spell.

"Hello, miss," I say. "How can I help you?"

"Hi," she doesn't so much say as she does croon, in an uncertain, yet beautifully melodic voice.

"My mother-in-law sent me out to buy a calligraphy set. I don't really know anything about that, I've never been involved..." she says, trailing off, an expectant look in her eyes.

"I can certainly help. We have a significant and varied stock of inksticks, and...," I start to give a speech much like I usually give, but I can't get over my distraction.

"I'm sorry," I cut myself off. "I was just wondering, haven't we met before?"

"Oh, hm," she murmurs in the sweetest voice. "I wonder... well, you're the first woman stranger I've ever met, so I don't suppose so. Maybe we met in a previous life."

I smile; I just must be crazy, then. "Maybe we did," I say. "Sorry, I was explaining about ink...."

She listens to me as I give her the whole usual song and dance about the finer inksticks and inkstones and the proper brushes and so on and so forth.

A fairly dull affair by my standards, but it's a good sales pitch and she is seemingly enraptured; I am, after all, a merchant's daughter. Or perhaps there's some other reason...?

Eventually I finish, and she makes her decision, gently placing her coins in my hand in exchange for a neatly wrapped parcel. She thanks me for my help, and turns to leave.

"Wait!" I call out.

"You never told me your name," I say.

She turns, and smiles. "It's Xi-Ren," she says, telling only her given name. But it's fitting; of course it is.

"Have a wonderful day, Xi-Ren," I say, and she leaves, with the same innocent stride she came in with.

The next few days are uneventful. I deal with customers, as per usual, and let my family keep their distance, also as per usual.

But I just can't seem to get Xi-Ren out of my head. I'd just like to see her again. I'd like to get to know her. I'd like... I'd like... well, I'd like to get to know her.

Nearly a week passes before I manage to get my wish.

She walks in, with the same careful stride, but the smile is gone from her face, a tempest roaring in her eyes. She looks around with a nervous uncertainty.

Before I can say anything, before she so much as says a word of greeting, she simply says "Sorry," and turns to flee.

"Xi-Ren, wait!" I call out, before she can. "What's wrong?"

"It's nothing, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have come. I have no money to part with, I don't know why I even came... sorry."

"Wait, please," I beg. "Come in, tell me what's wrong. It pains me to see someone so sad. I'm sure I can help anyway."

I see a flash of hope in her eyes, before the sadness returns, but she comes back in all the same. I offer her my chair, and convince her to explain.

"It's hard, I just, um, don't want to say too much," she says quietly. "My mother-in-law, was, um, I need to, rather..."

"Easy," I say. "It's okay, Xi-Ren. Take your time."

"Okay," she says, and takes a deep breath. "Do you know anything about calligraphy, Miss Sun?"

I nod. Of course I do, it's an important part of my trade, after all.

After a little more coaxing, I manage to get the important parts of the story out of her:

Her mother-in-law, happy to have an excuse to berate her son's poor wife, berated her mercilessly for her sloppy writing for... some function or other that I don't quite understand the particulars of.

"Your husband's no help?" I ask, surprised.

"Oh. No, I'm a widow, I'm afraid," she says. I try to profusely apologize, but she hurries to shrug it off.

"In that case, why don't I at least teach you the basics?" I offer. And more importantly, give her an excuse to stay here.

"Would you, really? I'd love that...," she says.

Gladly, I walk her through the steps of preparing the ink, and I can't help but smile as she watches with rapt attention.

"Here," I say, "now I'll show you what your brush strokes should look like."


I lay out a page carefully. "I'll start with something simple: this is the character for 'sword.' Watch carefully, the stroke order is very important."

And I have to remind myself: I can always press SPACE BAR to pull out my reference if I ever forget.

"See? Just like that. Always make sure to use exactly the right number of strokes," I tell her. She nods along.

"Let me show you another," I say. "This is a little more complicated: it's the character for 'fire.'"

"Ah," she says, impressed.

"It's just a matter of being honest with your brush, and knowing the order of things," I tell her. "Here's one that looks tricky, but isn't: 'heaven.'"

She looks happy, so I continue, starting to show off a little. I take out a fresh page.

"Even with the most complicated, it's just a matter of doing one stroke after another," I say. This time, I'm going to show her 'love.'

"Wow... that's amazing, Xiu-Li, I could never do that."

"Don't be silly, of course you can," I say. "Here, you take the brush, and I'll help walk you through it."

I hand it over to her, and give her fresh paper to practice on.

Her mood improves as well as her handwriting, as she works on the same few characters over and over again.

"Aw, I can't get that last one right, it keeps smudging...," she grumbles.

"Here, it's like this," I say, and taking her by the wrist, I guide her through doing it properly.

"Ahhh...," she says, but when I turn to look at her, she's blushing. Quickly, I let go of her.

"Uh, sorry," I say.

"Oh, ah, it's fine, thanks...," she says, shaking her head. "Now I get it."

I smile. But... why is she blushing?

She continues for a while after that, but eventually, when it's starting to get late, she decides that it's time to return home.

I tell her that she's always welcome to come back, and, truthfully, that I really hope she does. She needs a friend desperately, I hope she's okay.

But... why was she blushing?

As the days pass, surely enough, I continue to see her again.

At first, I teach her only more calligraphy, but things gradually start to become more casual, and more friendly.

She starts to confide in me more without even any prodding, and I gladly listen to her tell the sad story of her life.

One evening, over tea, she tells me the story of her wedding; how much she detested her husband, and she misses her village, and how awful it is to have nobody there for her...

"That's not true," I say, clasping her hand and holding it tightly. "That's not true."

"Oh, Xiu-Li," she says quietly, those deep blue eyes of her damp with tears. "I just wish..."

"It's okay," I say, and I stroke her hair. "You're not alone, Xi-Ren. I'm here."

"I...," she starts to say, but then she stops. Instead, she leans in close, her lip quivering, and suddenly, I understand why she was blushing before.

It's strange, every rational part of me tells me it's wrong, that it's not possible for a woman to want what she obviously does, that I shouldn't...

...but my soul tells me something completely different, and so I close my eyes and let the blushing girl kiss me.

Her body is warm, like the embers of a fire that should have never gone out, and I can smell her, feeling her breathe against my mouth.

Suddenly, the feeling of perfect warmth is replaced by a horrible cold, as an unnatural feeling chill goes through my bones, a horrible wind blasting through the shop.

I open my eyes just in time to see poor Xi-Ren staring in fear, and all the lamps suddenly go out, leaving us in perfect darkness.

"Xiu-Li...," she cries softly, and I squeeze her hand.

"Don't worry," I say. "I'm going to let go, but just so I can relight the lamps, okay?"

"Okay," she says quietly.

I get up, stumbling in the dark for my desk, and take out a loose match from the drawer. I stumble over her, but manage to find my way back to the lamp, and strike it lit again.

But when the room lights up again, we're no longer alone: a horrible, half-tranluscent monster of a man is standing in front of us.

A look of terror crosses Xi-Ren's face, and I force myself to be brave for her sake, staring down the ghost.

"What do you want?" I demand, trying to stop my hands from shaking. "What are you doing here?!"


I take a step forward, putting myself between the ghost and poor Xi-Ren. Terrifying or not, perhaps naively, I glare at the spirit.

"You would return to our world for that?!" I ask with a righteous fury. "To terrorize an innocent girl into loneliness and suffering?!"

"Xiu-Li...," she cries.

"I'll protect you," I promise. "Stay away from her! If you don't..."

"NO," is all the ghost says.

I grab my brush, and prepare for its attack...

The ghost attacks with a ghastly air!

"Be gone! Stop haunting her!" I shout, as I banish the ghost back to where it came.

"YOU... BRING SHAME...," it hisses, fading away. With a flicker, all the lamps that had gone out return to normal, and the chill leaves the air.

And yet...

"I... I...," Xi-Ren sobs.

"It's okay," I say, "he's gone now. You don't have to worry."

"No...," she says, crying, as she stands up. "He's right... I... I shouldn't have..."

Before I can say anything to comfort her, she runs away, off into the night. I chase after her, trying to convince her otherwise, but by the time I make it through the door...

...she's nowhere to be seen.

I spend the whole evening searching for that poor, hurt girl, but to no avail. I can't find her.

Days pass by, but I never give up on searching for her. I ask around, I keep looking, desperate to find her, just to see her once more.

But... even since the declaration of the new dynasty, Beijing remains an extraordinary city. Beautiful...

...and unparalleled in size.

It's nothing like the country. It's a city you can get lost in.

A city where you could search your whole life and never find who you were looking for.

And believe me... I'd know.

The wind howls fiercely, as it is wont to do at this time of year. The shrine is empty but for me, and I have many preparations to make if I am to make it through the night.

I am Fumiko Ito, the priestess of my shrine; and it is the tenth month–the godless month.

It's not easy work, preparing for this time of the year. When the gods leave, all sorts of spirits and monsters that would normally stay away come looking for trouble.

I have spent most of the hours of the day putting everything in its place. The prayers are said, the lanterns are lit, the boughs are laid, the dances are done...

...now all I can do is wait.

To pass the time, I idly work on my calligraphy. The practice will help, should any spirits come by, anyhow.

First, I start with something simple: 'bow.'

Then I move onto 'life.' That always trips me up; I keep trying to use the stroke order they taught me in school rather than the traditional one.

Next, I try 'rain.'

Finally, I work on 'light.'

Beneath the howling of the wind I hear a knock coming from by the door. At first I dismiss it, but the knocking sound continues at a steady pace; it can't just be the wind.

It's strange, though. I'm certainly not aware of any spirits that come politely knocking.

Reluctantly, I stand up. Could there be someone stuck outside on this terrible night? I go open the door, to see two foreigners standing out in the storm!

"Hey, can we use your telephone? Our truck broke down a while along the road." the man asks.

I'm taken aback that anyone would be crazy enough to go outside on a night like this... both of the two are soaking wet, but my attention is grabbed by his companion.

Long hair as thin as silk and as black as any ink, with eyes like the ocean; a deep blue that reflects the heavens themselves.

Her skin is as pale and as soft looking as any cloud; never in my life have I ever seen a more delicate looking soul.

...or a soul more desperately in need to get out of the pouring rain.

"Please, please, come in! You're going to get hypothermia standing out there!" I say, and hurriedly get the two inside and close the door.

"I'm sorry, the telephone won't work in this weather, but please, you should stay the night. It's not safe out there, and it's many miles to the next town."

"I'd like to try anyway," the man insists. How polite of him. But I don't care to argue.

"It's over there," I say, waving. "Go ahead and try, it won't work."

He walks off, and only after I clear my throat rather loudly does he remember to take off his shoes first.

"I'm sorry," the beautiful girl says quietly, with a bow. "You'll have to forgive my brother."

"It's fine," I say, and lead her in. I can't help but stare; somehow, I feel like I know her from somewhere. That can't be right, but...

"I'm sorry," I say. "Have we met before? I get the feeling..."

She shrugs and shakes her head, saying "This is my first time in your country, so probably not. Maybe in a previous life."

"Maybe," I say, and shrug too. I must just be crazy, then. "Here, let me go get you a towel and some dry clothes."

"Well, er, thanks for the hospitality, Miss Priestess," she says with a smile.

"Please," I say, "it's Fumiko."

"Oh, well, it's nice to meet you, Miss Fumiko. Thank you. My name's Elizabeth, and my brother's Jun." she says with a bow.

I return the gesture, and head off to go fetch what I said I would. I pass by her brother on the way, who is still spinning the phone's dial futilely.

"You're right," he says, finally giving up. "I guess the infrastructure in this country still really sucks. This wouldn't be a problem back home."

"Yes," I say, rolling my eyes. "I'm sure."

"Hey, do you have anything to eat around here? I know it's a shrine, but...," he says.

"There's plenty of rice and miso in the kitchen. You're welcome to use it, just clean up when you're done," I say.

I'm sure he won't, but anything to get this rude man out of the way. Mercifully, he disappears into the kitchen.

I return to bring Elizabeth the towel and fresh clothes, and hand them over to her.

"Thanks," she says, and starts to dry herself off. "Hey, are you sure it's okay for me to wear these? Aren't they priestess clothes?"

I laugh a little. "The gods aren't around at this time of year, so I don't think they'll mind. Go right ahead."

"Okay," she says.

She disappears behind a screen, and starts to change. I know this scene; it's such a cliche, the silhouette of the beautiful woman behind a paper screen.

I've read this poem, heard this song, seen this movie before, and I always found it so silly, and yet... I can't stop staring. I can't help but imagine her... well...

...well, I can't help but imagine.

Focus, I tell myself, stop being distracted by the thought of her hair resting on her smooth, soft-looking b– argh, focus, Fumiko! Focus!

I force myself to stop looking by going back to the calligraphy. Brush strokes will keep my mind on track.

I go through half a dozen characters before she walks out, looking unsurprisingly gorgeous even in the simple red and white clothes.

"Thanks," she says again, walking over to examine the paper. "Wow, that's beautiful writing. Do you mind if I join you?"

"No, of course not!" I say, and I get her an extra brush. "I was just preparing when you came, in case any spirits come..."

"Ah," she says.

Kneeling side-by-side, in identical dress, we both write together.

She writes in a more plain style, but with perfect handwriting, making it seem like the most natural thing in the world.

I can't help but keep stealing glances at her. Not just because she's pretty, no, it's something else. There's something about her.

I can see a distant sadness in her eyes as she writes... what could that possibly be?

She's holding back something, something serious, I can tell, but what? How could such a beautiful, innocent woman have such sadness in her eyes?

I wish I could just ask.

It wouldn't be right, and I doubt she'd say anything, but I wish I could all the same.

I sigh at the thought that there's nothing I can do for her.

As we continue to write, the wind's howling starts to become fiercer. The horrible whistle is louder than the biggest thunderclap, and surrounds us.

And then suddenly, a knock on the door.

"Another...?" I ask, skeptically. But I go to open the door anyway; after all, I don't know of any spirits that come politely knocking.

I open the door, and standing in the rain is a man with a long nose wearing the robes of a priest.

"Ah, hello...," Elizabeth starts to greet him, but I just back away, shaking my head.

"Come with me," he says.

I just keep backing up. He's not this shrine's priest, nor is he any other. I realize I've made a terrible mistake in my earlier assumption.

"I know what you are... be gone from here!" I shout loudly.

"I'll be taking that priestess behind you," he says in a horrible, shrill voice. I just keep backing up.

"You won't lay a claw on her! Be gone now, beast!" I shout back, as Elizabeth looks on in shock.

Suddenly, he throws his robes open to reveal they were actually a pair of giant, horrible wings all along; with an awful shriek, he flies towards me.

I grab my ink brush, and charge... I'm not afraid to fight!

The horrible bird-man attacks with a monstrous shriek!

Wounded and defeated, he flees, flying erratically out the door and into the storm with injured wings. I quickly slam the door shut, and hurry back to Elizabeth.

"I'm sorry... are you okay?", I ask, crouching down.

"I... I...," she stammers in shock. "When you said you were preparing in case spirits come, I didn't believe..."

"It's okay, he's gone now," I say, comfortingly. "You're safe now."

"I...," is all she manages to say, starting to cry. Suddenly she grabs me, clinging to my robes, and I hug her tightly.

"It's okay," I say, patting her on the head. "It's okay."

And I just keep hugging the poor girl.

That's the moment when her brother walks back in, a bowl of rice in hand, making harsh eye contact.

"What's going on?" he demands.

"An evil spirit came in, and almost... she's okay now, though," I tell him flatly, still patting poor Elizabeth on the head.

"The hell I'm going to–" he starts to say with a nasty tone, but before he can finish whatever boorish accusation he's about to make...

...we're all interrupted by a tree smashing through the temple wall with a loud, violent crash.

The storm blows in with a terrible whistle... and through the giant hole in the wall left, we can all clearly see the giant red body of an ogre, holding the tree and snarling.

"What in God's name–," Jun stammers, interrupted by the ogre's sudden roar.

Forced to let go of poor cowering, crying Elizabeth, I stand up, brush in hand once more, staring the ogre down with a fury I never felt imaginable.

How dare this monster scare her like this? Hasn't she already been through enough?!

"Come on," Jun says, his voice cracking with fear, "we're... that's... we're getting the hell out of here!"

He grabs Elizabeth by the arm, and starts to run; the fool, the ignorant fool, starts to pull her out into the dangerous night, away from my protection.

I yell at him, to try to talk some sense into him, but just as I'm about to give chase... with a horrible snarl, the ogre charges in and swings the tree right at me!

I jump back just in time, but when I turn to look, they've both disappeared out the door.

I swear to myself, but... I can't turn my back on the ogre now, or he'll kill me...

"Die, monster!" I scream with a sudden fury, and run at the giant monster with my brush in hand.

The massive ogre attacks with an uprooted tree and a terrible roar!

With a terrible crash and an even more terrible death scream, the ogre falls back, shaking the entire building as it hits the ground.

But I don't have time to worry about that. I rush out into the storm, desperate to find Elizabeth and her idiot brother... desperate to save them from the monsters in the night.

The rain pours, the wind rages, and all the horrible things that could happen to her spring into my imagination. I have to find her... I have to!

But in the dark, I have no idea where they went, and with such a headstart, I know that my search is utterly hopeless.

I pray, knowing too just how hopeless it is. It's the tenth month–the godless month– and there's nobody to hear me.

But I try anyway.

The heavens should know... I sure try anyway.

I stagger back into the temple at sunrise, defeated, soaked, and barely strong enough to even stand.

I undress, throwing my sopping wet clothes away; it's all I can do to bring myself to even care about hypothermia.

I sit there, wrapped in a towel, pathetic and naked on the temple floor, staring out at the sun rising through the hole in the wall.

And I just think to myself... I've completely failed her.

I've completely failed.


I am drunk, but not nearly as much as my patron is.

I hold him by the arm as we walk through the night, partly as an act of false affection, but mostly just to help him walk in a straight line.

My name is Su-Dae, and I am a courtesan; property of the government, but if I play my cards right, I may be able to convince my patron to buy my freedom.

And at my age, it's really my last and only opportunity for that. I've long reached the point of extraordinary desperation.

And that is why I am letting him take me back to his home, where I can only pray his drunkenness will prevent anything too improper from happening.

"You know," he says, slurring his words, "I sure wish my wife was more like you."

Desperation beyond the extraordinary, to be more accurate. My patron is a vile, loathsome human being.

"Is that so, my lord?" I ask quaintly.

"You bet. You always say exactly the right things... you're learned enough to know your place, you've got more than just beauty," he says clumsily, groping my waist even more clumsily.

"Ah," I say, forcing myself to give a cute giggle. "But I hope I'm not lacking in the latter, my lord."

"You're just fine, woman," he says in a tone I can only assume is supposed to be reassuring. "You're just fine."

"Thank you," I respond, gripping his arm tighter.

While he truly is vile and loathsome, there are some nights where I'm not sure about the human being part.

But the worst part... the worst part of all...

...is that I know I've become extremely good at this awful act. I have spent a lifetime mastering playing the role of the passionate-yet-submissive idiot... and it shows.

Every day, every love song I write, and sing, I feel myself die a little more inside.

"This way, we're here," he tells me, leading across the path to his rather impressive looking home. It's late, but the lights are all lit inside when we enter.

"Ah, what a wonderful house, my lord," I say, marking the first honest thing I've said all evening to him.

He lets go of me, finally giving me a chance to breath properly again. "Make yourself comfortable, I'll fetch some wine," he promises, wandering off into the kitchen.

I take a seat kneeling, and sigh with relief. Yes, that's right, drink some more. Drink until you pass out, and I'll be able to go home clean in the morning.

He comes back out with a bottle and a pair of glasses, putting them down in front of me. I look at the writing on the bottle: it's black raspberry wine. How disgusting.

He starts to pour, but after finishing one, he stops suddenly.

"Hey, Su-Dae, what day is it today?" he asks worriedly, for reasons I can't fathom.

"It's the 15th, my lord," I say.

"Oh, shit," he curses. "I have to be somewhere. I have to go... deal with some business. Don't you worry your pretty little head, I'll be back."

"Maybe you can write another love poem while I'm gone," he says with a wink, and pats me on the head, to complete the horrible patronization.

Right, that's not going to happen.

"Please, hurry back, my lord," I say disappointedly. "My longing only deepens with each hour of the night."

"I'll try to be back in a few hours," he responds, and staggers out the door.

Deepens with each hour of the night? Does that even make sense? I'm fairly certain it doesn't. Well, he's not smart enough to figure that out, so I suppose it works.

I get up, stretching. I wonder dimly what business he could possibly have in the middle of the night; certainly nothing legitimate, that's for sure.

Well, I don't particularly care. I wander off, in search of writing tools. I don't plan on writing any poems, but I should at least make it look like I was going to.

I wander from one room, to the next, to another, until...

I accidentally stumble into a room that isn't as empty as the rest of the house: a very young woman sits there, looking up at me, not quite surprised.

But I'm taken aback. Completely taken aback.

Long hair as thin as silk and as black as any ink, with eyes like the ocean; a deep blue that reflects the heavens themselves.

Her skin is as pale and as soft looking as any cloud; never in my life have I ever seen a more delicate looking soul.

Never in my life before have I ever truly understood love poetry. I have studied it, I understand how to manipulate emotions... but love? I've never felt that.

And yet just one look at her, and I'm completely smitten. Suddenly, I understand. Rationally, it makes no sense, none at all, but...

Here I stand, her husband's courtesan, having positioned myself to spend the night. The feeling of love disappears in an instant, replaced with guilt.

"I... I'm sorry. Your husband brought me here," I try to explain. "Do you know who I am?"

"Yes," is all she says, but it's not cold; it's with a distant sadness, that I can't quite place.

"I'm really... you probably resent me. I'm sorry. I'll leave you alone," I say.

She shrugs.

"Resent you? If he's sleeping with you, then he won't be with me, and that's... well...," she has trouble putting it into words, and just shrugs. "I can't resent that."

"That bad, really?" I ask, at the same time shocked and yet completely unsurprised by the sentiment.

"It's... I shouldn't say," she says meekly. I'm filled with a sense of utter pity; being married to that man must be an awful existence.

I walk in, crouching down to her.

"I won't repeat anything, I promise," I say. "I know what he's like. Let's... let's just be honest with each other. I certainly can't be with that vile man."

She lets out a sad laugh.

"I wonder which one of us is more pitiable," she says quietly. "I'm Min-Hee."

"Su-Dae," I tell her. "I wish we could have met under better circumstances."

"That's... that's a pretty name," she says.

Deep in my heart, an odd urge comes to surface; I feel compelled to flirt, to say that it's not as pretty as her, or something like that. I don't understand.

But instead, I can't bring myself to do it.

"Thanks," is all I say instead. "Um, say, I was looking for some ink. I want to look busy for when your husband returns. Do you know where any is?"

"Yeah. I'll show you," she says, and gets up. We walk off together, going into one of the rooms I thought I'd looked in before, getting ink, paper, and a brush.

I take it back to the main room, and as I put them down, I realize that Min-Hee is still there.

"Um, Su-Dae... do you mind if I stay with you?"

I shake my head. I've never wanted to be with anyone more in my life; certainly not more than this beautiful, sad girl who understands my suffering perfectly.

We sit, kneeling with each other, and it doesn't take long for her to open up completely.

"If you cry, it helps him get... ready quicker," she offers as a piece of horrifying advice.

"Oh, Min-Hee," I say sadly, realizing that I do know who is the more pitiable; her, by far.

She tells me all about everything she has to suffer through, and confesses how much she longs for real affection, and how she wishes she could stop him from hurting her.

She tells me everything. Everything.

Somehow, in that moment of shared misery, we manage to move closer, until we're eventually touching knees together.

I'm almost tempted to tell her the story of my life; to tell her all about slavery, but somehow, it just doesn't feel right. I feel like... I feel like...

For the first time in my life, I feel like I should be strong, not for my sake, but for her's.

"I just... I just dream of someone showing any sort of love," she says, staring into my eyes, as I gaze back into hers.


Something comes over me; it all come back to that desire to help her, however I can... to do something right.

I grab her hands, and I lean in, and I kiss her gently on the lips.

"Is that...?" I ask, my voice filled with genuine uncertainty.

Her cheeks turning bright red, she nods. Filled with a new passion, I lean in close again.

And it's at that exact moment, as I hold the poor girl's hands and kiss her tenderly, as I give her the affection she so desperately deserves...

...it's at that exact moment, a chill goes down my spine as I hear it, I hear the worst thing I possibly could: the door opening.

And standing in the doorway, her husband. The kiss, the moment broken, we look at him in horror. Why is he back so soon?

For a minute, no one says anything. The intimacy of the silence violated, and nobody says a word. Nobody knows what to say.

Then, at the exact same point, Min-Hee starts to cry, and the husband starts to curse violently.

"What the hell are you doing?! Get the fuck away from my wife! How could...", he stammers, practically frothing at the mouth.

I cannot panic. I will not panic. He takes a step towards me, fury in his eyes, and I have every reason to be afraid; but I will not panic.

"I'm sorry," I whisper to Min-Hee.

"You... fucking... you...," he shouts, quivering pathetically with rage. I see it now: I see the face that's hurt her so much, left her like that...

"You vulgar dog... you... you WOMAN! How dare you... my fucking wife!"

He storms out, and I turn back to Min-Hee. "I'm sorry," I say again, quietly. I just wanted to help, I just wanted to show some kindness...

"It's... not your fault," she says as she cries. "I'm sorry. I should... I should have said nothing."

"No," I start to insist, but before I can say any more, I'm interrupted by her husband returning.

This time, he's no longer quivering. He looks calm... but he doesn't fool me. His eyes still burn with rage. And in his right hand, a giant carving knife reflects the light.

"I'll put this right," he says with a terrifying lucidity, and starts to walk towards us. I fear for my life. I fear for her's.

"My lord, be reasonable," I say, futilely. "Cast me out, but put the knife down... put it down!"

He just shakes his head, and keeps walking towards us. What else can I do? I put myself between him and Min-Hee... I have to protect her, I have to.

"No... this is the only way. I have to teach her..."

He lunges forward, knife in hand, and I do the only thing I can do: I grab my brush.

The husband charges, fury in his eyes, attacking with a knife.

He stabs me right through the breast.

I feel... I feel... nothing. Blood sprays in front of my increasingly blurry vision. I watch as he grabs her by the hair, and then... and then...

And then I die.

My consciousness leaves my body, and as it fades from this world, I can see everything with perfect clarity.

He makes her help him bury me in a shallow grave, forces that innocent woman to clean up my blood, threatens her with the same knife that took my life...

That innocent woman that I could've helped, but instead only made things worse for...

I feel nature itself pulling at me, dragging me away from her... but I refuse!

My dead, lingering consciousness is filled with a whole new purpose...

I failed, but I won't in the next life! I'll be there for her, for sure... in my next incarnation... I promise, I'll protect her, I'll show her happiness...

When I'm reborn, I'll be there for her. I promise.

Written by Christine Love

With art by Debi-Chiru

Font by El Stinger

Stroke order diagrams from MediaWiki Commons (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

And thanks to YOU

I sit alone in the crowded cafe, ignoring all the noise to enjoy my tea. I'm supposed to be doing homework, but instead, I just stare at the window at the cars flying overhead.

My whole life, I've felt like I've been missing something. As if I was here for some purpose... but I don't know what it is. Brooding over tea is a common pastime for me.

But this time, my aimless thoughts are interrupted by the sound of a girl's voice.

"Excuse me... do you mind if I sit here?" she asks. "All the other seats are taken."

I start to shrug, but then I look up at her.

Long hair as thin as silk and as black as any ink, with eyes like the ocean; a deep blue that reflects the heavens themselves.

Her skin is as pale and as soft looking as any cloud; never in my life have I ever seen a more delicate looking soul.

Somehow... somehow, for a reason I can't explain...

"Of course, go right ahead."

For some reason, I feel like...

"Say... have we ever met before?"

We haven't, I know we haven't, I'm probably just crazy, but I just can't shake the feeling...

"Maybe in a previous life," she says with a smile.

"Must be," I say. Must be.

We take to talking, and she tells me all about her life, and somehow, she trusts me enough to tell me about her abusive ex-boyfriend... and how she was able to get away.

I smile at her, and I know, there's something special about her, about that beautiful girl with those strong eyes...

And as we make plans to meet again, I find myself absent-mindedly writing in the margins of my notebook. Just a single word...


13 strokes
A word far too pure to be invoked in violence.

8 strokes
A word which rains forth damage indiscriminately.

6 strokes
A word which imbdues your next brush stroke with a powerful light.

5 strokes
A word with the power to restore a little bit of life to the wounded.

4 strokes
A word which imbdues your next brush strokes with fiery damage.

4 strokes
A word which humbly asks the heavens for more ink to fight with.

3 strokes
A word which pierces the heart and deals a little more damage directly.

2 strokes
A word with a sharp edge that deals damage directly in two cutting strokes.
Click to see stroke order.
Sword - 2 strokes
Bow - 3 strokes
Heaven - 4 strokes
Fire - 4 strokes
Life - 5 strokes
Light - 6 strokes
Rain - 8 strokes
Love - 13 strokes