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Timpeni

The Cracks We Find; (Fic focusing on Japanese Belles)

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(Note: This is not a happy story.)

 

Chapter 1: The Beauty of Impermanence

 

 

Kitakami breaks Hiryū's tea cup.

 

It wasn't intentional, at least. Kitakami and Hiryū are on amicable terms, as far as things go, but the two have never quite meshed together. They both have energy for completely different things, and while Hiryū devotes herself to pursuing the warrior ideals of days long past, Kitakami would much rather go outside to play volleyball. It's a little difficult for anyone who isn't on the same wavelength as Hiryū to become good friends, really. She's severe, severe in a way that many can find overwhelming. And yet, somehow, she's found a way to become the captain's favourite. She has her own room, is always escorted by dozens into battle... in fact, this has only had her even more frightening.

 

The tea cup tumbles from Kitakami's hands while she's washing the dishes. The soap is slippery, and her long sleeves get in the way, not to mention the fact that Kitakami was never quite careful with her hands in the first place. She doesn't even notice she's dropped it until there's a pitter-patter of porcelain against the floor, and it drains the blood from her face faster than any Morgana can.

 

Everyone else in the kitchen turns and stares. All the Japanese Belles are gathered for dish-washing duty, and with so many Belles who go through so many dishes every day, it's inevitable that someone's gonna slip up eventually. Though, if it had to be anything, at least it could've been a nondescript plate or an ugly teapot, and not a personal item.

 

There's a moment of abject silence for Kitakami when everyone recognizes the tea cup. Hiryū's is different compared to the standard tea set-- it's a dark black and slightly misshapen. Hand-made, she used to brag, in a way that made her bragging sound like a declaration of duty. Of course it was hand-made. Of course it has been passed down the family line of captains for decades, of course--

 

Kitakami's breath hitches in her throat when Hiryū walks over. "I heard something break! What was it?"

 

"Uh-oh," Nenohi whispers, before she grabs Chiyoda and they both quickly leave the scene. Kitakami quickly wipes her hands on her skirt instead of washing the soap off and turns to face Hiryū head-on. There's no use in lying, and no use in hiding the grievous crime.

But she isn't quite sure how to apologize. So when Hiryū steps in front of her and lets her eyes flit down to the broken tea cup, Kitakami does the first thing that comes to her mind.

 

She falls to her knees and kowtows. "I'm sooooorry--!"

 

"Ah! Kitakami, you needn't grovel..." Kumano is a little lost on what to do in this precarious situation, but if anything, she isn't intent on ditching Kitakami. Fubuki looks away from the dishes for a moment, finally wondering what the commotion is all about.

 

Hiryū gets on one knee, and even in casual wear without her armor, she's imposing enough for Kitakami to not dare looking up.

 

"Kitakami," Hiryū begins. "Are you hurt?"

 

Kitakami pauses, and ceases her overcompensation for a moment, barely lifting her head. "Eh? No, I'm fine."

 

"That's good," Hiryū says, and she collects the broken pieces in her hands. If this was anyone else, Kumano would stop her and tell her to use a dustpan instead. But Hiryū handles the sharpened edges with care, cradling them in her palms as if they were made of gold. "Please, be more careful next time! Roll up your sleeves before washing anything."

 

And when Hiryū turns away, seemingly not at all bothered by the fact her personal tea cup was just shattered, Kitakami gets back up on her feet. "Wait-- you're not mad?"

 

"Who said I was not angry? I am absolutely livid," Hiryū replies coolly. Everyone feels a shiver crawling up their spine. "But all objects will break one day. It is pointless to cry over what has already happened. Just remember to learn from this, Kitakami. In fact, let me quote a poem from Shōtetsu--"

 

Everyone zones out for a moment. After she's done, she doesn't say good-bye, only turns on her heels and leaves the kitchen without another sound. After a moment, Kumano lets go of a breath she didn't know she was holding, before she turns around and realizes that only three of them are left to wash another ninety-so dishes.

 

"I suppose it is time for us to pull our weight," Kumano hums. Just like any refined Japanese lady, she is a professional at keeping her annoyance a secret. "Come, Fubuki, let's split the work. Kitakami, try not to break anything else."

 

~*~

When asked who was the greatest naval captain of all time, Fubuki does not answer Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō. She does not even say Horatio Nelson. The name Mahan hears is one she isn't familiar with, and a name not written in Fubuki's native language. "Admiral Yi Sun-sin," she answers without a hint of hesitation. "Without a doubt, he has no equal, not in this century and not in the last four since his death."

 

"Wow, that's a really confident answer!" Mahan isn't surprised at Fubuki's unwavering focus. But she knows enough about the language to realize the name that rolls off Fubuki's tongue is not Japanese. As she puts on mittens to take a batch of cookies out of the oven, she decides to ask further. "Who was he? I'm afraid I don't know much about 16th century history."

 

"He was a naval commander during the Japanese invasion of Korea in the late 16th century," Fubuki continues. "He is the man who prevented the Japanese conquest of Korea, delaying it till 1910. Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō himself praised Admiral Yi Sun-sin, saying that while it is apt to compare him to Admiral Nelson, Admiral Yi was in a league of his own."

 

The way she says it makes it sound like the conquest of Korea was bound to happen, sooner or later. Mahan chooses not to comment on it, knowing it to be something she shouldn't touch on, especially not when she's trying to endear herself to Fubuki. She pulls the cookies out of the even, smile stretched from ear to ear. "That's incredible! What did he do?"

 

"...I apologize. I am not well-versed in this area of history as well," Fubuki says. "However, Hiryū-san is an expert on Sengoku era history. On another peaceful day like this, we should invite her to day. I am sure she'll be delighted to tell you everything she knows."

 

Mahan pales a little. Fubuki pretends not to notice. "Ri...ght! I'd hate to take up her free time, though."

 

"Do not fret, Mahan-san. I am sure Hiryū-san would be excited to talk about it." She looks at the cookies Mahan puts on the table, still steaming hot.

 

As of yet, she's still not smiling.

 

Mahan feels a little flustered, and hurriedly tries to find another excuse to not see Hiryū. It's not that Mahan doesn't like her, it's just... well, neither of them have yet to address the fact that Mahan left a crack on the glass of one beloved plane. Not to mention the open secret that Hiryū is the captain's favourite. If their captain ever knew someone hurt her...

 

Well.

 

"I sure appreciate it, Fubuki, but... oh, well, I guess talking about history for too long isn't really my style! I'm sure Hiryū must love it, but I just like to focus on the present."

 

Fubuki blinks, looking down at the cookies. She reaches out to take one. "Oh, Fubuki, it's hot--!" She doesn't heed the warning, and seemingly doesn't need to, because she picks up a steaming hot cookie and pinches it between her fingers unflinchingly before taking a bite.

 

Mahan stares at her for a moment, almost nervous about the potential rejection she'll get. Instead, Fubuki nods her head slightly at Mahan, and cracks a slight smile. "You sound like Nenohi." She takes another bite. "...It's good."

 

"You like it? Great! I put my all into it to make sure it was 100% perfect," Mahan chirps back.

 

"...100% perfect... you are very hard-working, Mahan-san. I appreciate it very much," Fubuki says, and she somehow manages to add a bow despite the fact that she's sitting down. "Though, perhaps I should have Hiryū-san tell you an anecdote about Sen no Rikyū."

 

"Now you sound like Nenohi," Mahan replies.

 

"Hm?"

 

"Nenohi said that, too. Who's this guy you're talking about?"

 

"Well..." Fubuki tilts her head. "Perhaps we should arrange a meeting with Hiryū-san after all."

 

~*~

"The battle is at its height... beat my war drums... do not announce my death."

 

~*~

One morning, Fubuki wakes up, looks outside, and the entire world is white. For a moment, she thinks that she's died in her sleep, or gone blind. But then she blinks again, noticing the glimmer of the sun reflected upon the whitened ground, and realizes that it's snowing.

 

This is the first time Fubuki has seen snow-- that is, up front and through a pair of eyes, like a normal human would. Her life has begun long before that fateful day on September 1939, but it is only now that she has taken a less ethereal form, graduating from the collective spirit of a battleship to a Belle. It's funny, to have always been wearing winter clothes, and yet this is the first time she would touch snow with her own two hands.

 

Their captain is busy making arrangements for the next foray into Morgana territory, so for now, they rest and await orders. Hiryū invites all the Japanese Belles over for a chat over tea-- with the naval force growing with more and more Belles every day, it becomes a little difficult to catch up with each other. Even if every country is united against the Morgana threat, it's good to maintain close relations between fellow countrymen. And besides, on a snowy day, hot tea is always good.

 

Kumano is the first one there, still dressed for a hot summer's day even in the eve of winter. When Fubuki walks into the room, she's greeted with the wonderful scent of tea, along with Kumano's rather excited expression. "Look, Fubuki. Hiryū has done such a wonderful job fixing this tea cup." Fubuki sits on her knees, feeling the tatami mat beneath her. Truly, Hiryū is their captain's favourite-- no one else could dream of having the luxury of their own room, designed to feel 'just like home'. The captain must be very crafty, framing their favoritism as rewards for excellent service, or something to that extent. Hiryū would have too much pride to accept all this without such an excuse.

 

Really, no one else would have the luxury of somehow getting powdered gold to meld their broken tea cup together. "It's beautiful," Fubuki compliments, and she means it. The cracks are completely filled with lacquer dusted in fine gold, and the broken patterns created by Kitakami have become a beautiful spiderweb of colour splashed across an otherwise ordinary black tea cup. Kintsugi is the art of fixing broken objects with gold, emphasizing their breakage as part of their history rather than something to hide.

 

"It is, isn't it?" Kumano smiles. Hiryū brings down a big, steaming teapot, putting it in the middle of the three of them. "You would expect Hiryū to be a purely devoted warrior, from the way she speaks, but in truth, she is a high-class lady with an eye for art."

 

Hiryū chokes. "I would like to say that I can be both at the same time!"

 

"Of course, Hiryū. It's no wonder the captain likes you so much," Kumano teases. Hiryū tries to retort, but though she can talk for hours upon hours about poetry or battle technique, when it comes to these matters, she's completely speechless.

 

Fubuki tries to hide her amusement when a very obvious blush passes across Hiryū's face. "Kumano! I would expect that you of all people would know not to joke about such... crude matters! Fraternization in the military is a grave offense that could break down the chain of command. It is a serious accusation you are making when you imply--"

 

"Oh, I never meant it that way, Hiryū. I have full confidence that you and the captain can maintain a professional relationship at all times," Kumano corrects. Hiryū seems to calm down for a moment, before Kumano adds on: "Though, if that is how you interpret my words, then that's what you think, Hiryū, not me--"

 

Fubuki decides to intervene before Hiryū literally explodes, either from anger or embarrassment. Most likely both at once. "Recently, Mahan asked me a question I feel it would be best for you to answer, Hiryū. Sen no Rikyū has long rejected the idea of man as the creator of perfection. However, I'm afraid I am not well-versed in his philosophies... I believe you would be better in explaining to her the importance of imperfection."

 

It would seem like a strange question to ask, when Hiryū has loudly declared, several times, that she is in constant pursuit of perfection. But Hiryū, who is grateful for the change in topic, answers it easily. "Perfection is, of course, the ideal of every man! However, it is just that-- an ideal. In truth, perfection is an unrealistic expectation. Though we should all strive for the best, it is also wise to embrace imperfection when it cannot be avoided. Tell Mahan that the Japanese world view of wabi-sabi is one that celebrates the imperfections and impermanence of life, finding beauty in these failings rather than lusting for an impossible ideal. That is what Sen no Rikyū taught."

 

To illustrate it further, Hiryū picks up her personal tea cup, tracing her fingers over the uneven rim of the cup. "When made by hand, this cup will definitely never be completely symmetrical. But that gives this cup a sense of uniqueness that mass-produced ones can never have. Not only that! Notice that is cup is glazed."

 

Hiryū pours herself a cup of tea. Instead of enjoying it, in order to illustrate her point, she dunks it into her mouth in one go. Kumano looks mildly concerned. "Now-- if you look into this cup, you can see that the color inside it is different than the colour on the outside. That is because glazed cups will eventually change colour as hot tea is poured into it over and over. This imperfect discolouration only proves that this tea cup has been well-utilized. A proof of its life, if you will!"

 

Finally, she touches the golden lines where the tea cup's cracks used to be. "These cracks that it has developed from being broken by Kitakami is another proof of life. Anything that lives, no matter what, will be damaged or broken one day. Nothing alive can remain perfect. This should not be a point of shame, but rather, something we accept and show proudly!"

 

Kumano decides to take the liberty of pouring her own cup of tea, seeing that Hiryū will probably continue on this ramble for a while longer. "Though, Hiryū, there are some things in life that cannot be described as anything but perfect. The sunset over a mountain, for example, or the way a blooming lotus can rise from a swamp while remaining perfectly pristine. Is there any flaw in natural beauty?"

 

Hiryū blinks for a moment, before she unties the flower crown she normally weaves into her hair. "All real flowers wilt," she begins. "These flowers that I wear are fake. The effort of getting real flowers every few days would be unrealistic. Eventually, a real lotus would wilt. As for the sunset... that is a beautiful phenomenon, I agree, but I do not think the idea of 'life' would apply to it. Is the sunset alive?"

 

Kumano tilts her head. "So, you mean...?"

 

"Anything that is perfect," Hiryū declares, "is dead."

 

Hiryū turns back to Fubuki. "If Mahan would like me to speak with her about the art of impermanence in person, it would be my pleasure!" In truth, she has forgotten completely about the whole 'Chiyoda hits a golf ball right at her' situation.

 

"I will carry your message to her," Fubuki replies. At that moment, Nenohi and Kitakami finally enter the room, and soon, everyone else starts to stream in one after another. The other Japanese Belles are a little less interested in philosophy than these three, so the topic easily shifts to other matters, and Nenohi takes much pleasure in joining Kumano as they tease Hiryū about the captain.

 

Absolutely nothing productive is achieved. In other words, it is a good day.

 

~*~

(And yet, she dreams:

 

Fubuki dreams of lightning, carrying with it the scent of crisp coldness and blood. The screens shake, the banners snap nervously, and the ground slips beneath her feet, as if the Earth itself was collapsing. The lightning roars, not in menace but in outright horror, and with its cries it brings a storm. Fubuki dreams of dust; the wind rips metal tiles off the hull, like pillars from great halls being uprooted by a hurricane, and just like that, the edifice of a warship, of Japan's pride, it goes down, sinking, sinking, colder and colder--

 

This is not Fubuki's memory. It was spring, when this happened. And yet, as Miyuki seems to descend into the sea, it feels like being buried in deep, deep snow. It feels like winter.

 

Fubuki is always dressed for the cold, because she brings the winter with her, hidden inside her heart.

 

The storm dissipates. Fubuki opens her eyes, and she does not think she ever closed them in the first place. Miyuki never lived long enough to be a Belle, and one could say she died before she could be born. But Fubuki knows better. They were sisters. They are sisters.

 

Miyuki would have been perfect, if she had lived. Loosened hair, lightweight kimono, gorgeous obi. Fubuki was born with lofty expectation placed upon her, as with many of her sisters-- she was named after an older warship, the Fubuki of 1905, one that braved the famed Battle of Tsushima. But 'Miyuki' was the first. She would have been the first. The sensation of deep, deep snow, covering the battlefield, and nothing else would be quite like her. Fubuki can see her, whatever she used to be. There is a blanket wrapped across her waist, the only thing that remains. It looks so perfect, here, still not a decade old and well-loved as it was in Miyuki's lifetime. Miyuki looks so perfect.

 

But anything that is perfect, is dead.)

 

~*~

The next day, Hiryū dies.

 

 

Hello! My first post on the forum and it's of me writing this. What a way to go.

 

Anyway, I'm a big fan of Kancolle and a gigantic reki-jo (Japanese history otaku), so I absolutely had to write something when I saw Sen no Rikyū being mentioned in Nenohi's interview! I always liked to write fic, but Kancolle's general happy-go-lucky atmosphere didn't really fit me, so I am here to unleash my devastation onto these poor Belles instead. RIP. (Also, a note: I didn't bother with suffixes when the Japanese Belles are the only Belles in the scene, since I'm assuming they're speaking Japanese anyway. It's italicized in the scene with Mahan since Fubuki's primarily speaking English.)

 

Thank you to everyone who took their time to read through Chapter 1! My writing style tends to go on and on and on, so I'm in awe of anyone who can sit through a single paragraph. This is projected to be around 15k words long in total when I finish it (hopefully, I must do Fubuki justice). The next chapters after 2 may take a while, though (if anyone is actually interested in seeing the rest), because I'm still not confident in my characterization of Western Belles (I don't know much history on them, as compared to the Japanese Belles, and even then I don't really focus much on WW2 and more on pre-Meiji era stuff). Also I have no idea how the science of naval battles work, so I'll need to research that too because I can write epic battle scenes or whatever.

 

I welcome all critiques and criticism! Being a native Chinese speaker (even though my English has somehow become the better language) means there can be some parts where my English is hilariously off, or just goes on for way too long. Thanks again for reading!

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I liked it quite a bit. The syntax was great, and the story was interesting with quite the surprise ending. I so far like the characters. Personally, I believe the prose is good, but drags on a bit. You were right about having quite long paragraphs. I would love to see more dialogue in the story as well.

 

As for Combat mechanics and western belles, you can ask me for both. I know a lot about many ships, and would love to help you learn about the ones you want to. I also have a battle scene written in my Mahan fic, which I suggest you read (for reasons of shameless self-promotion). If you want tips on writing battles, be sure to ask me as well.

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Thanks a ton! I'm glad you enjoyed it! I checked out your one-shot, it's super good (and I've got a lot of terms to look up, it seems!). Can I PM you? Or do you guys have a Discord (from what I've seen, there seems to be, but I haven't found an invite code yet)?

 

I would love to chat about almost every ship already announced so I'll definitely hit you up in the future. Thanks again!

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That was an awesome read! I can't wait for the next to see what had happened. If you need help for anything just let me know. I may not be as historically knowledgeable as NinjaPacman but I like to think I know my way around literature especially characters of the West. Hope to see you on the discord!

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I'll PM you the discord Timpeni. There you can share your ideas in the writer's channel, and I can help you.

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