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This would have been the first project she’d have been a part of, the first report her name would be printed in full, not her brother’s, not Dr. Mark Kiryu, no, but somehow the object was proving harder to track than expected.

SCP designation still pending, it would have been a Safe object, seeing as it was just an ordinary book at first glance.

The book had been discovered by a curio collector who had become a self-proclaimed miracle doctor overnight; he'd set up a successful clinic and made a notable profit, so said the town gossip. A few Foundation agents were sent to look into the small clinic, and had planted some surveillance devices without the man's noticing. The secret to his knowledge was revealed: the man constantly consulted a flaking, ivory-bound tome with pages made of what seemed to be thick black bark. Apparently the book mentioned the blending of certain miraculous herbal remedies.

The agents had later reported back with data regarding the cures. The new “doctor” kept a strange hodgepodge garden in the back of the clinic, and could treat everything from a sore back to dementia. Some who visited only suffered curiosity, but despite the man having no prior medical experience, he was able to quickly tell the sick from the nosy, and turn away the untruthful.

Researcher Kiryu irritably scratched out an entry in her planner. The first anomalous object she was invited to investigate, and this happens.

The curio collector had naturally attracted further Foundation attention afterwards, but not because of anything he’d accomplished—he’d died within three weeks of his new-found fame and fortune. After the usual interviews and inquiries had been made and the book’s usual location discovered, the task force team had broken down the door to an attic, and discovered a smashed window, and a bluebird sitting atop a safe. The bird was native to the local area, but the folded piece of paper it dropped at their feet and the speed of its escape through the broken window convinced them that it was no ordinary bird.

The message was retrieved. They’d pried open the safe too, just in case. Nothing was found but dust and scraps of blackened bark.

Seek me out if you desire, jailers.

I am headed to a land where mountains shelter dragons and phoenixes hold their court in splendor, you’re welcome to follow, and if you can catch me, perhaps we will discuss a deal.

Researcher Kiryu groaned inwardly, rereading the memo she had been sent, which contained the text of the message and a pair of coordinates that had been dug up by an overseas Foundation operative. No original messages given to newer researchers, Mark had mentioned. No originals because we don’t know if the paper has anomalous qualities either. She tossed the memo onto the ever-growing stack of paperwork on her desk, wondering if she should have taken her brother’s advice and replaced the tray with a garbage can labeled “inbox”. She spun around on her swivel chair and kicked at the floor to propel herself towards the filing cabinet in the tiny room.

“Well, are you going to follow up?” Kiryu, startled, almost slammed into the filing cabinet. Her brother’s assistant Riven was standing about a foot away from her.

“No. I don’t have time to—”

“Sure you do. Your brother’s been keeping a careful eye on your vacation time, after all. I’ll check the coordinates, Mark can book a flight, and maybe an agent or two can be spared.” Riven grinned, leaning against a nearby wall and squashing the leaves of a large potted plant. “You’ve been busy enough, feeding the butterflies and keeping the records straight.”

“But—” too late, Riven snatched the memo off her desk. Researcher Kiryu watched in stunned silence as he began typing on her laptop.

She sighed, went to rummage through the filing cabinet, and looked up only when Riven spoke a few minutes later, “You’re going to China.”

An exceptionally bright star shines in the sky, twinkling just like you, love. Its shimmering reminds me of you, struggling to shine against the others. As surely as the shadows shift, you know you will fade to dust and darkness eventually, why not live in the light you believe in? Stay vigilant, more to follow. ~S

Swatting at a wayward mosquito, Researcher Kiryu narrowed her eyes as she read over the newest note from the cryptic taunt-writing individual. She must have been crazy to agree to the vacation, must have been straight-up insane to think that anything would come of chasing this paper trail, even if an agent and Riven had been sent to accompany her (plainclothes, from a distance, same tour group and that’s all, nothing suspicious). It wasn’t much of a lead anyway, and if some other group was involved, it could be dangerous, but she’d been hoping for a chance like this for some time. She’d wanted to follow her brother’s footsteps a little further, into the world beyond the testing chambers, beyond her small shared office and the white lighted labs.

Most of her insecurities faded when she received the second note.

She’d found the paper after Riven had been attacked by some little yellow bird while they’d walked through a bamboo thicket. They’d been headed towards the old-fashioned inn that their book thief was reputedly staying at.

It was nice that Riven was allowed to travel with her, Kiryu thought to herself. She had been uncomfortably wary of meeting the Foundation field agent at the airport, before the departure (she’d introduced herself with her surname and title, and after an awkward silence Riven had laughed and mentioned to the agent, “Researcher Kiryu doesn’t like giving her first name. Just a habit. You don’t mind, do you?”). The agent had shrugged off the introduction noncommittally, extended his hand for a handshake, muttered a general greeting with a bit of a bored expression, and glanced over his shoulder.

The atmosphere on the plane flight had been strained, at best. She’d once been worried about how to act around such people. Secrets were the highest code of the Foundation. It was sometimes difficult to know exactly what one couldn’t share with others, even colleagues.

Now here she was, in her first leadership position. She wasn’t familiar with ranks, but Riven was an easygoing fellow researcher and the agent was just here to keep an eye on her while following, so it couldn’t be too bad to imagine for a moment that she was like her older brother, at the head of a Foundation investigation or maybe even an intervention.

She and her colleagues strode on, over the uneven road of broken stones, towards the inn.

Cursing under her breath as she paced through the inner courtyard a second time, Researcher Kiryu mentally berated herself for letting the man she’d been tailing out of her sight. Her group had found the inn without catastrophe striking. But then, if the Foundation had expected something dangerous, they’d have sent an entire team of agents, maybe a task force, at least those with experience in these matters, never any researchers.

Kiryu, Riven, and the agent had followed a questionable-looking individual into the inn’s gardens. Said individual was wearing a long hooded robe; his face was obscured, and a chirping bird was perched on his shoulder.

Neither Riven nor the agent could figure out exactly where to or how he disappeared. Kiryu retraced her thoughts; the memory of the songbird on the man’s shoulder gave her some pause. It seemed almost too obvious. He had attracted her attention the moment the three had entered the inn’s grounds. It could have been a ruse. But surely the data the overseas informants had collected was reliable, it had to have been this inn—

Kiryu thought back to the map of the inn she had attempted to commit to memory earlier. The gardens occupied most of the grounds, the rest of the place was only rooms and a dining hall…

She stopped her pacing. “Let’s go to the dining area.”

There was some commotion going on. From what little could be discerned from the chaos, a man had collapsed onto his table, spilling his tea. His top garment looked a little too large for him.

Researcher Kiryu stopped just short of the entrance and stared as two of the inn’s workers dragged the man in the direction of the rooms. Something fell from the man’s open shirt; the agent stepped over and picked it up, showing it to her in the palm of his gloved hand.

A piece of thin paper, wrapped around a scrap of blackened bark.

“The pearl-rounded bridge, at sunset.” The agent had said, after inspecting the paper, sealing it in a plastic bag, and pocketing it. “Also what looks like some poetry too, but I’ll look into it just in case. It could be—”

“…memetic or something.” Kiryu finished with a small smile. She remembered what her brother had told her, after his first experience with the psychic butterfly, “it’s prudent to be careful in this line of work.”

The sun seemed to crawl through the sky as Kiryu waited for the appointed time to arrive. She scribbled notes in a databook, Riven retreated to his own room for a nap, and the agent ran some tests on the new message using a field kit. The three left the inn just as the sun began to dip below the horizon, Researcher Kiryu cautiously leading the way.

There was a strange, spindly-legged figure waiting for her in the distance. “Red-crowned crane,” Riven had whispered to her, half in suspicion, half in awe. The agent said nothing, only watched the bird’s movements.

The three approached the curved bridge, the one that led across a small pond on the grounds separating the inn from the lotus ponds in the distance, bordering the rural farmlands. In the feathery dusk of the summer evening, the crane’s feathers held an ethereal glow.

“It doesn’t look natural.” Kiryu stated flatly.

At the sound of her voice, the crane, though still a substantial distance away, spread its wings and flapped off. “There’s something on the bridge railing,” Riven pointed. The three cautiously approached the bridge, the agent plucking the folded piece of paper from the worn stone of the bridge. He smoothed out the creases, read the words, frowned, and passed it on.

You believe you protect the ordinary from the extraordinary, as if those who have special abilities have none of the emotions of those without. There was a time when mankind respected the extraordinary, reveled in it, revered it. Do you truly believe the common man fears the extraordinary more than you, Jailers? I leave you now, without what you seek. Keep an open mind, and perhaps someone will pity you.

When she returned, Researcher Kiryu dutifully clocked the field hours ("your first ever hours outside a Foundation facility, congrats!" Riven had said) and wrote up the requisite reports. She had wondered if it really made sense, sending two researchers, one without any field experience, instead of a team made entirely of agents.

It seemed the trip had been a waste of time after all; the Foundation had known all along that there wasn’t much chance of success. Nor did anyone seem to think there would have been an actual retrieval.

Mark welcomed her back with a smile and a new stack of paperwork, filling her in on what had happened in Site-19 while she was gone (not much, really). He made the usual polite inquiries about the time spent abroad (how was the weather?) and spoke nothing of the recovery mission, if it could be considered a mission at all.

She didn’t think it’d be wise to tell Doctor Mark Kiryu more than he asked about. If he didn’t ask, it probably wasn’t necessary to discuss. He knew more than she did, and in this line of work, she never felt truly certain she knew exactly what to remember, what to push away and never dwell on again.

This was all something better off forgotten, she sighed. Really, Researcher, what did you think you’d find?

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