The morning air was crisp and cool with hints of humidity that clung to Ruarc’s skin. Sunlight had since begun to brighten the sky, but the sun itself had yet to crest the low ridgeline to the East. Per his typical jogging schedule, he was taking his Saturday jog off campus, and the winding road running down the mountain felt particularly serene today. Rounding a bend, he shielded his eyes from the exposed sunlight as his sight adjusted. In the morning light the clammy shade whisked away leaving behind an invigorating and soothing warmth, and the sounds of ambient wildlife became focused on one side. Off to the other side Ruarc now had a good view of Osaka as the city sprawled outwards around Osaka Bay.
Over the years he had become more accustomed to living near such a relatively large metropolis, and indeed had begun to make it a point to jog down the hillside during the weekend to see it a bit closer. Doing the jog on the weekend also typically meant less foot and vehicle traffic on his jog, and that sat just fine with him given that he liked to use these runs as personal time to think. Following his normal route, Ruarc passed along a few residential streets with the occasional housewife beginning chores, a few office workers on their way in for weekend overtime, and a few groups of students on their way in to early club activities and optional classes; a handful of which had since begun greeting him as Senotagaijin, or Tall Foreigner he had figured out.
Back up at the cottage, Ruarc had left a slumbering fey as well as a bundle of fur that was roughly dog shaped sleeping in his bed. It was… nice; cozy. It was also drastically different from what he had grown accustomed to. There was nothing he would complain about, but at the same time it was giving him a lot to contemplate. Compounding on top of his personal life matters were added stresses from work, giving him an odd comradery with the students and office workers he passed by. Realistically, he should be as happy as could be, but it was mired somehow.
This year so far had drastically shaken up his status quo, all starting when Caoranach showed him her dream last December. From there, he and Jane had gone on their excursion abroad to try and reclaim lost Druidic tomes only to be blindsided by Alexei. The rogue Druid had intercepted them and forced them into close quarters, and in the end had managed to take the better part of the prize Ruarc had sought.
Then there was the matter with Percy; between their fight, and the return to the Elementia to save him Ruarc had come away with new scars and a heavier heart. While he had reclaimed his lost soul fragment, he had contended with gods and felt his familiar die for the first time. It was a difficult fight that had almost killed him a couple of times were it not for the aid of outside forces.
A bright note was that Safeholme was doing well. After taking on a couple of apprentices, something he’d determined he’d likely never do, he had even gotten back into teaching; in a limited capacity at least. The students were doing well; Johann was working as a part of a group, Katerina was gaining experience in applying her magic even if she needed to work on pacing, Vrey… was being a good nugget of a kid, Drysi was coming out of her shell, and Willow had even discovered her own magic.
Following that, Ruarc had the foundation altering visit from the leader of his Order. Truthfully, he was still reeling from the encounter. Alexei had been working for the Order all this time, and Ruarc himself was practically being groomed. For what, he still wasn’t certain. Ard Rhys Silas Grey had sounded viscerally serious in his assertions that something was going to be happening in the coming days, but Ruarc still wasn’t sure how to process the thought that the Druids might attempt something as foolish as inciting a magical civil war. Even then, Grey had also seemed deathly firm in his veiled threat towards his pupils.
Which made it all the harder for Ruarc to stomach what he’d allowed to happen. In a moment of weakness he had taken a vacation to collect himself, and in that time the worst had almost come to pass. Alexei had managed to enter the school grounds, and his students had been injured with the very real possibility that they could have been killed. Willow seemed to have taken the worst of it, at least physically. Her arm had been tended to, and aside from anxiously wanting to practice her magic some more there were no setbacks for her. Johann had come away from it as a bundle of nerves, likely to receive some extra counseling from Lady. As for Drysi, he wasn’t quite sure. She seemed alright, but different; even aside from her physical alterations. Sighing, Ruarc jogged on.
Before long, Ruarc came to the halfway point of the jog. A quaint market strip a couple miles down the road. The sun was decently above the horizon and the shops were beginning to open. Meandering down the small side street, he greeted a couple of the shop owners bustling about their stalls as they handled last minute set up. Finally, most of the way down on the left was the stall he was looking for.
“Aah, Mornin’ Mister Flynn,” called the rough but warm voice of an elderly man. “That must mean it’s Saturday. How does the day find ya?”
“Morning, Mister Sano,” Ruarc responded as he walked up to the shop. It was a cozy hole in the wall bakery that Mr. Sano had owned for a few decades now, and Ruarc’s preferred stop for the last few years or so. The air around the shop smelled of fresh baked bread and faint cigarette smoke mixed with seafood wafting over from the vendor next door. “I’m doin’ alrigh’, yourself?”
“Ah, can’t complain any,” Sano chimed from his seat on a folding chair next to the entrance. “You sure though? You’re looking like ya got a lot on your mind today.”
Blinking a bit, Ruarc was caught off balance for a moment before regaining himself. “Nothing gets by you, do it?”
“Perks of having worked as a bartender in my younger days,” the older man said with a toothy grin. “It’s a bit early for sake, but pull up a chair, how about? Masako brewed me up some barley tea, help yourself to a cup.”
Never one to turn down a friendly invite, Ruarc sat down to rest and chat with the old man while enjoying some tea.
“Ah, it’s pretty good isn’t it?” Sano asked about the tea as he lounged back, greeting an elderly woman with a cordial wave as she entered the shop.
“Delicious as always,” Ruarc grumbled contentedly as he sipped on the tea.
“I’ll be sure ta let the missus know,” the old man’s smile had relaxed. A young girl came jogging out of the shop holding a small loaf of bread and wearing the local high school uniform. She gave Mr. Sano a quick hug before continuing on. A few paces out she turned around and waved to Ruarc. “Mornin’, Senotagaijin-san!”
“Not her too… Morning to you, Yukina,” Senotagaijin-san called back.
Laughing to himself, Mr. Sano relaxed back in his chair and looked up towards the clear morning sky. “So, Mister Flynn, what’s got ya lookin’ so worried?”
“It’s…” Ruarc started to say, but stopped short and sighed. “Where to even begin? Personal life has been going great; new relationship, new dog, great proteges, and I’ve never felt better. Then there is work. It’s been a part of my life since I was born. Gramps, Da’, me, and figured any kid I’d ‘ave would carry it on. But… I’m realizing that the group isn’t what I thought it was… or rather, the leadership has plans that I don’ agree with. Now I’m figuring what I’m gonna do about it, but also whether I want to bring others into it right now.”
Sano sat quietly as he listened to Ruarc vent. Once it was clear the Irishman had said his piece, the older man waved the younger closer so he could whisper something.
“Been wonderin’, you aren’t with the mob or anything, right?” Sano asked in hushed tones.
Ruarc stared blankly for a moment before a laugh slipped past him. “No. I’m not with the mob.”
“Won that bet,” Sano smiled as he waved pointedly to the old woman tending the stall across the way. Settling back again with a rattling sigh, Sano set in to offer his take on the matter. “Work to make the organization the way you want it to be. You’re mentoring too, so train the next generation to run things better.”
“That sounds like a good way to do it, I figure,” Ruarc agreed with a tired looking smile. Looking up, he gauged the time. “I outta be gettin’ on though.”
“Other half wakin’ up soon?” Sano asked.
“Probably still be sleepin’ by the time I’m back, but gives me a chance to get some breakfast rolling.”
“In that case, take an extra loaf back with ya.”
“Appreciated, Mr. Sano.”
With that, Ruarc stood up and went into the bakery.
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