384 – Life Counseling – Suzume
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4:55 PM.

After telling Shu an abridged version of the time when he cross-dressed to save Zhaojun, she left to go grab a dinner... and probably share the story with the other girls based on how excited she seemed.

That was mildly embarrassing. But considering it wasn't the worst of the incidents that John went through in the past, he didn't mind.

Although he did need to talk with Alphy about her habit of casually dropping stories about him.

John was touched that Alphy was comfortable enough with everyone to tell stories about their past like that, but it made things a bit difficult.

Which made John reaffirm that he should really start up that movie company to make wuxia and xianxia films to slowly introduce everyone to the idea of the Three Realms.

Maybe by going on a private jet to a 'deserted island' set piece that was really a place in the Three Realms.

Food for thought.

In any case, it was also time for Aurora's nap.

John dropped his daughter off back at home with Yue for a proper nap before heading back to the office and rearranging things again.

It was dinner time now, and the sun had started to set. Because of that, John closed the curtains and put up some lamps instead.

The two lounge chairs stayed, along with the coffee table. But instead of various snacks, John laid out some proper food instead.

Well, more proper food.

Fresh sashimi from fish that John quickly grabbed in the nearby seas. Pickled greens and radishes. Fresh tuna and salmon hand rolls. A few deep fried rolls that were an abomination and disgrace to Japanese cuisine, but that John missed eating...

Yeah, he should never let Yuri know about the deep fried sushi rolls.

Not that she wouldn't enjoy it, but John had a feeling that she might instinctively chuck a knife at him for the blasphemy.

Anyway, there was sashimi, sushi, greens, some baked fish, shrimp tempura, miso soup, veggie tempura... Oh, and a pot of freshly brewed Jasmine tea.

John originally planned to make chrysanthemum tea, but he had a feeling his lovely wife would be furious, so he changed it last minute.

Anyway, considering that Suzume was more traditional in her upbringing, John hoped that she would appreciate the selection of food.

After looking over everything again and making sure it was the right temperature to enjoy, John sat back and glanced through the notes he had on Suzume while he waited.

Suzume Akairo. A name that could also mean red-colored sparrow, especially with the characters she used to spell that name.

John tapped his fingers on the arm rest of his chair and muttered, "Zhuque... She's the same, but not at the same time."

A beautiful woman who would rather consign herself to the cycle of reincarnation instead of live knowing that she hadn't been chosen. And one for whom that meant oblivion instead of simple reincarnation due to her undying nature as the Vermillion Bird.

A situation where everyone could only lose.

But also one that happened in the past.

Although Zhuque as she was had vanished, that didn't mean her traces had disappeared.

Her personality and at least parts of her memories had reemerged in Amadeus, who was now happily(?) married to Titor.

But as for her physical reincarnation...

The elevator chimed, arriving at John's office. Shortly after that, Suzume walked out. "Pardon my delay." She adjusted her white blouse and then smoothed the hem of her blue dress. "I was not sure what attire was appropriate, so it took me a while to change."

John set his tablet aside and said, "Don't worry about it, Suzume." He gestured towards his clothes, a plain black tee and matching pants (because his previous clothes got stained when making the sashimi... stupid bloody fish) and said, "It's just a casual conversation."

Suzume walked forward and then sweeped the seat of the chair before gently sitting down. After that, she looked at John and said, "Truly? I heard from the others that this was a life counseling session, so I did not wish to be rude..."

"Well." John thought back to his conversations with Yuri, Asako, and Rin. "...You can't be much ruder than everyone else has been."

"Pardon?" Suzume tilted her head and frowned. "The others have been rude to Mister John?"

"Well, it's not really 'rude', more like just casual. But that's what we're going for here. Just a simple chat to get to know each other more, as well as future ambitions, career plans, etc."

"I see." Suzume nodded and then started helping herself to the tea, pouring out a cup for herself and then John. After handing it over, she said, "You will have to forgive me if I am a bit awkward. I did not have much chance to interact with others growing up, so I do not quite know what a casual conversation is like."

John took the cup of tea and said, "That's fine. I'm sure you'll learn soon enough with how your genmates are. Especially with Shu around."

Suzume smiled and said, "Yes. Shu is an excellent talking companion. That exuberance is something I strive to match one day."

John smiled back, remembering how Zhuque used to chatter and follow him around. "I'm sure you will. Now." He beckoned towards the food and then pulled out a pair of plates and a pair of white jade chopsticks from beneath the table. After setting one of each pairs on his side, he handed the others to Suzume and said, "Please, help yourself. I prepared all of this for you to snack on, so enjoy."

Suzume held out her hand and shook her head. "I couldn't. The tea is enough for me, Mister John."

Seeing that she wasn't going to do it herself, John started putting food on her plate and said, "I insist. It's only going to go to waste otherwise."

Well. That was a lie. John would just chuck the leftovers into a time bubble to save for some other occasion... but he wasn't about to tell that to Suzume.

Suzume still hesitated a bit, but then nodded and gratefully took the plate of food from John. "If you insist, Mister John. Then... I will be a bit impolite."

John started serving himself food and said, "No need to worry about being impolite, Suzume. And you can relax a bit with the formalities." He set his plate on his lap after filling it with the fried sushi rolls and said, "I might be the CEO and owner of Myth Incorporated, but I'd like to think of myself more like a supportive uncle or big brother to you girls."

Suzume frowned and said, "Manager-san says we should avoid people who speak like that. He says they tend to be shady individuals who just want to trap girls into situations where they cannot escape and have to spend their life, youth, and potentially bodies fulfilling a debt they naively entered into."

John blinked and said, "Well. In general, that's true. And I guess I would agree. But..." He shoved a fried sushi piece into his mouth and chewed on it for a bit before saying, "What the heck is Kai teaching you guys?"

Suzume delicately lifted a piece of sashimi with her chopsticks before eating it. Her eyes wrinkled with happiness as she smiled. But then she realized that John had asked a question and said, "M-My apologies. It had been so long since I had fresh sashimi... What was it that you asked?"

John waved his hand. "It's not that important anyway."

He could find that out from Kai directly. They were due for a staff meeting to plan the first Prodigy live concert anyway using the IDOL bodies, so he could bug the guy about it then.

John sipped on his tea and said, "Could you tell me a bit about yourself, Suzume? I know from your interview that you were a shrine maiden previously and have adoptive parents, but I don't know much else." He set his cup down and said, "Likes, dislikes... favorite color. Things like that."

Suzume paused.

John noticed and said, "If it's too personal, I can tell you a bit about myself first-"

"I adore the clear blue sky as well as the color it turns at dawn. For me, it has always represented freedom and independence. And I vehemently despise sakura, although I do my best in tolerating it. Both the color and the flowers."

John blinked. "Wait. But shouldn't you like sakura blossoms if you're a shrine maiden?"

Suzume sipped on her tea and said, "Yes. I should. And consequently, I despise them. But again, I understand the importance and tolerate them accordingly."

John felt a sheen of sweat form, remembering her debut video and trailer. "O-Okay. Duly noted-"

"I also despise immature adults." Suzume picked up a shrimp tempura piece and crunched down on it, chewing like she wanted to crush it out of existence. After finishing it, she took a swig of tea, almost like it was sake, and said, "My adoptive parents are wonderful people. But they are not fit to raise children. Even after all these years, they continue to act like a young newlywed couple and fornicate all over the onsen when there are no guests reserving it. Moreover, I was not able to enjoy a normal childhood or experience the amenities of the modern era until recently."

"G-Got it. I'm sorry that you had to-"

Suzume poured herself more tea and said, "Then there was the strict training that I underwent as a shrine maiden." She drained the cup of tea and then looked at John. "Do you know how early and how routine that sort of life is? As well as the mannerisms that you must uphold even to disrespectful foreign tourists? A 'yes, esteemed visitor', or 'it is over here, esteemed visitor.' And then there is the speech training! Selecting particular words and phrasings, refraining from expressing too much desire or emotions... And that accursed head priest was found to be a hidden pervert despite saying that it was necessary to rid one of all worldly desires! Moreover...!"

Ah. There was the fiery temper that John remembered. So nurture could reign it back, but nature found a way...

"Are you listening to me?"

John nodded and said, "Of course, Suzume. It's terrible that you had to go through all of that."

Suzume gave a curt nod and said, "It is! And moreover, I thought nothing of it until I arrived here and began interacting with the others and broadened my horizons. The nerve! Simply because the 'ideal' shrine maiden is a meek and demure beauty, they go out of their way to shut down self-expression and force inhibitions. A polite smile, 'refined' gestures... And then there is the lack of education! Did you know that there is schooling available beyond the primary school level? Because I was told that it was all that I would be able to accomplish as a shrine maiden!"

John put on a sympathetic expression and then poured himself some more tea.

...This would take a while...

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