This popped up in my head, so I decided to write it down before the thought faded away forever.

Chapter 1

Jinyung watched the newest member to the Hongmoon clan wear his new uniform, wondering why the yet-to-be-student's expression seemed so weary.

It hadn't been hard to notice the various details throughout the person's stay in their residence. Cricket always sleeps on time and wakes up several hours earlier than their normal schedule like clockwork, and by the time she gets up he is already in the kitchen helping them make breakfast, comprised normally of foods such as dumplings and noodles and stuffed chicken soup with ginseng. Usually they rotate the schedule, but it seems that Cricket was willing to do the morning work.

There was a strange way in which he enjoyed doing mundane things. He watched all of them train often, sitting on the side because while he was staying here upon the floating islands of Heaven's Reach he was not yet a full student of their school. The simple chores he completed with vigor and once he was done he observed them at the Duel Hall with terrifying scrutiny.

The way he checked over the training dummies after they vacated the premises were to heft a weapon of his own - a kitchen knife, sometimes a wood axe, sometimes only his fists in one-on-one combat - and aim for debilitating blows, not like an assassin but not like a warrior, either. Jinyung wondered who he had learned from originally.

And then when Hajoon challenged him later to a bout while Master Hong wasn't looking he respectfully declined. He wasn't allowed to practice with them until he was fully deemed to be a student. Jinyung could respect both his patience and attitude.

Normally Jinyung wouldn't be so nervous especially since Cricket was a decent fighter already, and honestly he seemed to hold back whenever one of them let out anything louder than a yelp in pain, but his assessment made her want to perform better. She was here longer than him, so she should be a role model that he could look up to! The others seemed to have picked up that mindset as well, whether they noticed the difference or not.

He had showed up out of nowhere one day. Apparently a fisherman from Bamboo Village had found him drowning in the oceans and tried taking him back to heal his grievous injuries, but instead had been surprised when the man awoke and chose to ascend to their esteemed training grounds.

They all worked harder when he arrived, one-upping each other in an attempt to please Master Hong and knowing that while the seasons passed their newest student would eventually complete his trial. Their progress improved exponentially. Gilhong was even becoming less apt to laze around, much to her surprise.

Jinyung's own technique had been honed, to her joy and delight. She had not expected how much concentrating would actually improve her efforts, but now that she did the fruits of her labor were there for them to see. In the summers after their sessions under Master Hong's supervision they went on their separate ways and slept or cooled themselves down using water from the river streams. Jinyung turned to take a peek at what Cricket was doing one day, wondering if he had noticed any of them specifically.

(Hajoon, probably, or maybe Lusung. Both of them were far better in their training than her or Gilhong, and even with years under her belt Cricket was an incredibly good sparring partner in hand to hand combat. His reflexes even surpassed Yungmuk's.)

But to her surprise, he was looking right at her as if waiting for her to respond. She waved reflexively, looking down at where she had removed both her shoes and stockings and was currently knee-deep in the waters.

When she glanced up again, Cricket had lessened the distance between them and was looking over at where Hajoon was playing around, splashing water in Gilhong's direction. The other let out a battle cry and began wrestling the young Lyn to the ground.

"How are you feeling?" She asked eagerly, stepping out and into the sun next to him so that she could dry out. The grass felt soft underneath her feet, and she stretched leisurely as the winds stretching miles moved through her, letting her sway in the breeze. "Are the chores beating you up? I can help out sometimes."

Cricket merely shook his head. I'm fine, his expression said. She settled.

"Good. I know Master Hong may be a bit strict, but he really is a good teacher."

He smiled then, and Jinyung was struck by how fond it was. He seemed to agree wholeheartedly with her. He silently gave her a nod and directed his gaze towards Yungmuk, who had heard the commotion and was now scolding the two for fooling around while Master Hong was away. Jinyung blinked.

"You're so quiet, I can barely tell what you're thinking," she admitted to him. "And that's fine! It's just..."

He signed to her this time. I'm alright, he told her. Thank you.

Her gaze tracked him as he disappeared into the room where he read and slept, the lone bed apart from where the others slept. Jinyung also had a similar room due to the male and female ratio difference, but she could not shake the unmistakable feeling that Cricket was different.

She wondered what the problem was about.

Hajoon had similar thoughts. However, the predicament he was in at the moment and the kickass beating he'd gotten made it hard to focus. His eyes shuttered as he slept off his aches and bruises, and judging by how many stinging pains there were in various places he was pretty beat up.

Hajoon had gone against Lusung today. The guy really didn't hold back.

Cricket often came by to drop off certain items, and so Hajoon immediately brightened when he saw that there was a present left for him in the form of bandages and ointment. He quickly put some of it on and wrapped them, making sure to stow them away for future use. He really was a kind person, Hajoon thought dimly as he stepped back into the open sky. Dinner was probably ready soon.

Cricket was the first one to be declared a Hongmoon student in such a short period of time, and the others were slightly envious. Their probation period washing dishes and fetching firewood had taken much longer than his, although based on the meeting Master Hong had earlier he could understand. His teacher was not infallible, and nor was he immortal. However, the way the young Jin moved during the training stunned him - he seemed to read Yungmuk better than Hajoon ever could, striking hard and leaving little movement to waste.

Even Lusung seemed appalled.

"Had he learned that much, just from watching us..?" He murmured, chin covered with one hand. Lusung seemed to be contemplating something as he turned away, likely to go do whatever he did alone. Hajoon was always curious about what he did at the Overlook, but maybe Lusung just really enjoyed meditating there.

There were little things that Hajoon noticed sometimes. Cricket took his first weapon as if it were a treasure to be held. He carried it like it was a weight he had known all along, wielding it with the ease of a blade master. He stared into fires often, entranced. He liked to help make food and retrieve the well water, as if that was his sole purpose in life.

Hajoon caught him often looking over into the distance, the islands chained together by lines of wood and rope, peaks in the distance that towered even over their high realm overhead. He often looked pensive, not like Lusung but in a more melancholy way. Hajoon was concerned. Cricket never opened up about his feelings, but whenever he looked at any of them a nostalgic regard seemed to come over him, as if he were looking at a particularly pleasant memory.

He seemed glad to just watch them, even if he was not actively participating.

Embarrassed and with the back of his neck heating up at the thought, Hajoon shook his head violently. His ears twitched. He was overthinking it, surely, and Cricket was probably just anticipating the moment he would become another person training under their kind master.

His thoughts strayed from Cricket and onto more important matters. He had seen Yungmuk talking with him over their recent match earlier, and judging by the rare face of astonishment Yungmuk seemed to be enthralled about something. Hajoon had unabashedly peeked over to see what was in Cricket's hands.

It had been the Martial Tome. Hajoon's eyes widened. It was the greatest honor to receive the book, which contained all of the Hongmoon martial arts techniques and was only given to the most exceptional of students. He had not expected Cricket, out of all people, to be the one to receive it. Even Yungmuk hadn't gotten his to himself.

It was passed down from generation to generation, supposedly, written recordings of all the possible training paths to head towards and how to counter or support those with other methods of fighting. The reading contained valuable information that was guarded quite closely, and although Hajoon wasn't much of an avid reader he would jump at the chance of learning what his master so treasured.

Master Hong must have seen great potential in him. Hajoon's respect for Cricket's fighting skills grew tenfold. He would make sure to help him out whenever he could, even if they had been here for varying amounts of time. The respect thing only mattered for some people.

Slowly but surely, he gathered more and more information about what Cricket did in his pastime, his likes and dislikes: he always faced the wind, turning his head toward its direction as if it were his friend and dear companion. He was a critical thinker. He disliked when other people stood too close. He enjoyed cooking often.

He stared into fires often. His eyes ventured towards the outcrop if he became agitated, as if waiting for a bad premonition. He looked up into the sky for hawks. He ate little but slept a lot.

Hajoon wondered if he was beginning to get a little too personal. And if he was looking at their newest student a bit too closely.

Cricket seemed to go still whenever Lusung passed by. Whether the older student greeted him or not, Cricket did not reply but often looked back with an - upset? - complicated look, and Lusung seemed less and less inclined to talk with the man. Hajoon wondered if something was wrong and decided to ask Lusung about it.

"I have rarely interacted with him, and whenever I do it is always distant. I have no reason to earn his ire."

Hajoon frowned. Lusung really hadn't gone out of his way to speak to him, Hajoon knew that, and personal matters between students usually remained just that unless it affected everyone else negatively.

All of them had kept at least some interest about Cricket's past. Hajoon remembered the day he had arrived a year ago, younger but more closed off than anyone he'd ever met. He had wondered what sort of life would lead him here, but Master Hong invited him in graciously. Cricket was a good cook and they all liked him. He didn't talk much.

He still wondered, though.

He and Gilhong didn't go out of their way to include them in their escapades. To be completely honest, Cricket seemed like more of the kind to go and read books or follow Master Hong around, helping him out with various tasks that were not to Hajoon's taste. His focus then was primarily on keeping out of Master Hong's sight and to make sure that nobody caught him doing abnormal things such as throwing smoke bombs into the kitchen and pretending there was a fire to scare everyone.

It was a great stress reliever for him personally. He had never been much of a prankster before, but with Gilhong's happy-go-lucky attitude and his own penchant for causing comedic effects Hajoon went at it with a fervor that even he had not expected. He didn't know if Cricket's encouraging side-eye while he was pretending that he hadn't just seen Hajoon slip foul-smelling Rotroot Bulbari leaves into the fire was fueling his urges or not, but it was certainly not hindering him from doing so.

Of course Hajoon got caught in the end, but what could he do? He certainly didn't want to blame someone else for it, so as he valiantly tried to explain how he just 'wanted to spice up the meal a little' he caught Lusung rolling his eyes and stuck his tongue out at the man waspishly.

"You cause more trouble than a Dusk Adder," he could hear Lusung mutter under his breath, and although Hajoon didn't know what that meant he scrunched his face up anyway. He would know better than to complain the next time he found a good enough rat to shove into his pillow tonight.

'Cricket', he had been called before. Then 'Jyan', and 'Jyansei'. He was called many things - warrior, soldier, human, but lastly, there was 'the player.'

He did not understand what it meant, at first. He didn't understand why there were suddenly blaring messages in his head, the clicking sounds and mechanical voice of a woman speaking to him in strange, uneven, halting tones. He didn't understand and he didn't want to hear them, but they appeared anyways as lines of text marred his vision.

There were tasks that he was required to fulfill, tidbits of information in case he forgot what had been asked of him - as if it weren't his own life Cricket was leading, and if he had somehow gotten amnesia and had to be reminded of his quest every thirty seconds. He had never spoken aloud before and he wasn't going to do so now, but he had the sudden urge to start screaming into his hands and kick at something.

Make it stop, he thought. Nothing happened.

Sometimes his vision changed, and he had to lean backward for a second because his eyes were still functioning but at the same time he felt as if he were hallucinating, because there was a woman dressed in white who had come down from the sky to meet him at the ocean floor. There were more memories - pirates dressed in black and carrying anchors on their belts, a young woman dressed in pink frills from head to toe, a large and imposing man whose expression turned kindly as it focused in his direction. Air bubbles escaped his mouth when he breathed even as his lungs still expanded, and Cricket was having the worst time of his life as he experienced one moment through his eyes while his four other senses told otherwise.

And then he blinked and he was sitting on his bed while Jinyung looked down at him in confusion, shaking him by the shoulder. "Hey, are you alrig-"

Cricket leapt out of bed only to begin vomiting in the closest pot in his room, heaving loudly while Jinyung's face turned at the sight of bile. She rushed out of the room to get something for him while he attempted to scrub at his eyes furiously, ignoring Gilhong's concerned shouting.

He didn't question anything, but he did accept Jinyung's cold towel and bowl of fresh water as offering as he spit into the nearby bushes. He would have to clean out the large jar later, but he told Jinyung that he was feeling sick and that he needed to be alone for a while. Jinyung accepted this without a moment's notice.

There were very little things left in his mind when he came out of his room again as he stared at nothing with the eyes of a dead man.

The Hongmoon School is built upon the biggest island of Heaven's Reach. Trees and small streams are scattered throughout the school, creating an isolated environment suitable for martial arts training. The student dormitories are separated entirely from the master's abode, and because Cricket is not yet a student his dormitory also remains separate. The two living areas have one well sitting in between them, and further back are the kitchen quarters for cooking.

In the North was a place called the Overlook, a rocky outcrop that served as a place of meditation. South of the dormitories was the Proving Grounds, a deep cave that served as part of an initiation ritual for any newly accepted students.

The painful feeling finally stopped cutting into him as the memories overlapped and then the world stopped feeling brand new. He had only lived here for three months, but now he knew he had known this place for far longer than that.

He remembered Hajoon's smile and his line of shuriken and his wily laughter. He saw Yungmuk's stern but considerate stares that turned gentle when they faced him, and he saw Jinyung's angry half-tantrums that always turned into ear-tugging when Gilhong decided to wake up later in the day and skipped his work. He remembered them and then he categorized them in the box of things-I'll-never-forget, because this time they would be here to stay.

"I like your determination. Within the world of warriors, 'Jyan' who have attained greatness are known as 'Jyansei'. I'd like to think I bear witness to a Jyansei in the making."

Cricket swallowed his heart back down against his throat and let his gaze wander to the outcrop where Lusung often stood, his familiar and menacing cut stilting his vision far too easily. He had never known the man's reasoning, but he had guessed at it - the terrible village upbringing, the yearning for power, the hatred for the Yonkai Brigade - and he had seen that while forgiveness would likely be impossible Cricket could at least attempt.

He did not know all of the memories. Bits and pieces of important parts fell through so that Cricket could have a few pieces added to the puzzle, and although it was meager it was enough to gain a sense of the future. Cricket felt for the phantom weapon on his back that was no longer there, fingers grasping at the space where his blade should have been. He did not have the weapon he'd cherished for years now, but that did not mean that he couldn't start again.

Cricket slowly drew in a breath. He did not have that much time left - not much time at all, in fact. He would do his part, though, and he has suffered time limits far worse than the one given to him now.

End to part 1! I have been keeping this in the works for a while now, as usual, and while it turned out more compact than I wanted it to be it is a very good start in the direction I want it to go. I'll update this whenever my brain tells me to work on it again.

See you later!