PROLOGUE






At the ends of the earth, there is a sea called the Kyokai. On both sides of this sea, one can find two countries: one in the East, and the other in the West. Never have these countries exchanged words, and never have their people met. Nevertheless, when night falls, the people tell the same legend.
Beyond the sea, there is a marvelous kingdom. Only the chosen can find their way to its shores. There, the earth is fertile, riches flow like fountains, and age, death, and pain are unknown.

Those who live in the West of the Kyokai call this kingdom "Hourai." Those who live in the East call this kingdom "Tokoyo." In the West and East, the people dream of the marvelous kingdom, dreaming of living another life.

One day, in the two countries brought together by a single dream, two children awoke; one in Hourai, and the other in Tokoyo. It was the middle of the night...

*


He awoke to voices. The murmurs crept through the darkness and into his awareness -- he recognized them as those of his father and mother, speaking outside of their house.

He called it a house, but really, it was nothing more than a shabby hut. The walls and roof were made from woven straw, held up by sticks, and he lay upon the soil for his bed. It was the season for the crickets' songs, but he had no blankets -- he shivered with the first breaths of winter. The warmth from the bodies sleeping next to him were his only bedclothes. They used to have a much nicer house, before... but that house didn't exist anymore. When the village was burnt to the ground, their house became nothing more than cinders.

"We don't have a choice..."

His father's voice was grave.

"But all the same..." said his mother.

"It's true that he's the youngest. But he's so smart that it scares me."

Lying in the darkness, the child was wrecked with shivers. They were talking about him, there was no doubt. Now, he was very, very awake.

"But..."

"At his age, the other children barely know how to speak, and him, he's already talking, thinking. Sometimes, I tell myself that he couldn't be our child; like he's been given to us from somewhere..."

"But he's still so young. He can't understand what's happening here."

"That's not the problem. It's the only choice; but I fear that I'll be cursed if I abandon such a blessed child..."

The child froze. He tightened his collar with one hand, and turned onto his side to cower into his knees. He didn't want to hear any more. Despite his short four years of life, he understood very well the meaning of their words.

The voices echoed still, but he curled up and forced his thoughts away. He tried to get back to sleep.


Two days later, his father, looking right into his eyes, asked him,

"I need to leave on an errand, do you want to come with me?"

The child didn't ask any questions. Neither where they were going, nor why he needed to come. He simply responded,

"Yes, I'll come."

"Good..." said his father. His voice was strange.

And he took his father's hand.

The boy clasped the large, rough hand very tightly as they left the house. They passed the burnt village, passing deep into Mt. Kinugasa; climbing through the mountains for a long while. Eventually, the boy could no longer remember where they had come from. His father let go of his hand.

"You can rest here, little one. I'll be right back. Wait for me."

The boy nodded.

"You hear me good, yeah? Don't move an inch from here."

He nodded again. He watched the retreating form of his father as he left through the trees, looking back a few times.

...I won't move. I'll stay here forever, I promise.

He sat, unmoving, his hands squeezed into fists. He gazed in the direction where his father had disappeared.

I will never return home.

As he promised, he stayed there, where his father had left him. At nightfall, he laid down on the ground. When hunger pangs took him, he pulled up grasses from where his hands could reach. To quench his thirst, he drank dew. By the third day, he couldn't move even if he wanted to. He had no more strength.

...Don't worry, I'll never come back. He knew that if he went back home, he would only cause his parents more difficulty. To again have such a burden to care for... he didn't want to make them feel guilty.

The whole village had been burnt to the ground, and the corpses lay buried under the rubble. Ruin and desolation raged, spreading over one long day. Their house disappeared, and his father's employer had been killed. They had no money, and no home -- to survive, the family needed to become smaller. Children were only more mouths to feed. He was only another mouth to feed.


He closed his eyes and succumbed to exhaustion. Before sinking into sleep, he heard a noise, like a beast rustling in the grasses.

I'll wait here. I'll wait until our family's life gets easier, until they're happy again. And one day, maybe, they'll remember me, and they'll come here to pray for me.

...I'll wait as long as it takes.


*


He awoke to voices. He was still so sleepy, he couldn't hear what they were saying very well. But he knew that they were yelling at his mother. He thought of how he should go to help her, but sleep soon took him once more.

The next day, his mother took him for a walk. They left the village. His mother wept as she walked, holding him tightly by the hand. It was the first time he had seen his mother's tears.

He had no father. His mother explained to him that he had left for a far-off country. When the village they had lived in before burnt to the ground, he and his mother left to live in the neighboring village. Only, many of the people there had also come for refuge. At the beginning, they had to sleep on the ground, in the corner of the village. As the days went on, many of the people began to disappear. Among all the people staying there, he was the only child.

Life was difficult. The grownups treated him very harshly; with cruel words, cruel actions. And they only became harsher when he was hungry.

His mother, trying to hold back tears, clutched his hand tightly and choked back her sobs. They walked now on a path bordered by rice fields burnt and ravaged, in the midst of a countryside struck with misery. After a while, they reached the mountains and entered the surrounding forest. He had never been so far away from home before.

Under the trees, in the middle of the woods, his mother let go of his hand.

"We're going to rest a little here, alright? ...Do you want some water to drink?"

He was thirsty. He nodded.

"I'll go find some. Wait for me here."

Though he was exhausted from the walk, he was afraid of being separated from her. But, he nodded anyway. She stroked his head for a long time, then stopped suddenly and left with small steps into the trees. He sat in the grass and waited for her to return.

After a while, he began to worry that his mother wasn't coming back. She had asked him to wait, but he couldn't stay put any longer. He decided to search for her. He stood and began to search for the road that he and his mother had walked before she disappeared. Pushing through the woods, he wandered through the trees, calling for his mother, stumbling over stones, neither knowing where to search nor what path would lead him home. He was cold now, and hungry. But the thirst was the most unbearable of all. He wanted so badly to drink the water that his mother had promised him.

The tears rolled down his cheeks. He was exhausted and began to doubt that he would ever find her. But what could he do? He didn't know how to get back to the place where his mother had left him. He wiped his eyes on the back of his hand and took up the search once more. At the edge of the forest, he emerged from the trees to find a beach. She had abandoned him. Alone on the shore, he examined his surroundings, hoping to catch sight of a familiar silhouette. But, there wasn't a single person on the horizon. He began to walk along the road.

Finally, at sunset, he caught sight of the gleam of a village. He raced for it with the hope that he would find his mother there. But he knew none of the people there, and none of them had seen her. He knew that he was no longer in his own village, and gave in to tears. A man approached him and asked how he had gotten here, and the child told him his story. The man listened attentively and nodded his head. He stroked his hand through the child's hair and went to find him water and food.

The other villagers began to mass around them. Standing next to the man who held his hand, he examined the faces turned toward him, but could not read the thoughts running through their minds. Lifting his eyes to the man, he tried to read his intentions, when the man -- as if under a silent order from the crowd -- gripped his tiny hand too tightly and ushered him along with him. Leaving the village, they arrived at the edge of a cliff that overhung the sea. Behind them, the child caught a glimpse of the mountains; towering like a castle. The man approached the edge of the cliff, and, gazing at the child that clung to him tightly, ran his hand once more through his hair.

"Forgive me," he said softly, and pushed the child off the edge.


When he reopened his eyes, he found himself at the bottom of a dark, damp grotto. The strong smell of the sea rose into his nostrils. The rotting scent of decay blended with it. It was a smell he knew well: the smell of corpses. It was a smell that he was so used to, he wasn't even afraid.

He was cold. His clothes were soaking wet and glued to his skin, and his numb muscles were stiff with the freezing air. Shivering in the darkness, he felt alone; hopeless. Suddenly, something moved next to him. Whipping his head around, he scanned the direction the noise had come from. A shadow with a strange outline seemed to detach itself from the glistening rock wall of the grotto.

He began to sob. Because he was afraid, of course, but above all because he was now struck with all the weight of his abandonment. But even through the cold spreading through his limbs, he sensed warm breath on his skin, and then the touch of a gentle, silky something against his arm. It felt like the touch of a feather. A massive head turned toward him. In this strange place, cold and alone, something like a giant bird watched him intently.

Frozen in surprise, he felt two wings enfold him gently. The warmth they gave was so wonderful that he nestled in deeper, nuzzling into the soft feathers.

"Mama..."

He began to sob, crying out his mother's name.

*


Was happiness not to be found on either side of that empty sea?

Hourai and Tokoyo were nothing but the materialization of the hopes of those bearing up under misery and destruction. One day, the paths of these two boys abandoned by their countries -- one in the East, and the other in the West of the Kyokai -- will cross. Both these children, bearing on their backs the weight of the desolation, will seek the marvelous kingdom.




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