By Christopher Orr

Note: Okaasan - mother (hon.)
Otoosan - father (hon.)
Oneechan - older sister

The soft glow of dawn warmed Miyu's graceful form. Her eyes fluttered open, focus coming slowly as she gazed out the window onto the emergence of a brightening sky. It bode well for another beautiful day.

Miyu reached over the tatami mat, but her slender arm fell softly onto the floor covering. As usual, her beloved Nikkan was already awake and teaching his students. With a playful smile, she rose to her feet and shook out her lengthy hair slightly.

With care, Miyu dressed, tied her hair back, and tossed it over her shoulder. Miyu allowed herself a short moment of selfishness as she admired her hair; it was her best feature, she thought, and she worked hard to maintain it. Of course, among the monastic Dragon hair of any length was a wonder.

With a short, petite chuckle Miyu shook herself out of her reverie. There was enough meditation and introspection happening in the Dragon Mountains without her adding to it. Carefully, she slid the rice-paper door open and walked softly down the hall. There was not much need for stealth, but the little ones would still be sleeping, and there was no need to bother them.

She stepped out of the modest home and strode over to the edge of the peak, admiring the way the brilliant sun slowly burned away the encroaching fog. The wind whipped around her body playfully, tugging at her. Without provocation, a single thought bubbled forth.

Okaasan…did you ever look out over these mountains? Okaasan…

With a slight pang in her heart, Miyu closed her eyes and allowed the willing breeze to take away that sense of place. As the gentle wind danced in her hair, the day broke around her.

*     *     *

Miyu crept, wide-eyed, over to the doorway of the kitchen, not wanting to disturb Okaasan. She could just make out her mother's back, accented softly by the hushed blue tint of the kimono. Miyu squinted, thinking that the ivory carp were swimming along the pastel sapphire dye. However, for all of the beautiful material and delicate colors Okaasan still looked so thin.

Although she could not see, little Miyu could still hear the chopping sounds from beyond Okaasan. Miyu wanted to know what Okaasan was doing. She wanted to be with Okaasan, but the kitchen was a sacred place where neither she nor Airei were allowed.

The sound of chopping stopped and Miyu's heart leapt into her throat. Okaasan turned toward Miyu. Miyu knew a moment of fear - Okaasan was going to reprimand her for spying and send her away. But the warm, loving smile that Miyu cherished came over Okaasan's face and calmed her even as the tears came to Miyu's large eyes.

"Miyu-chan, would you like to help?" Okaasan asked as she lifted the sobbing child form her feet.

Even though Okaasan seemed pale and tired, Miyu had heard stories that her Okaasan was once a great duelist like Otoosan. Unlike Otoosan, though, Okaasan had been a Dragon. Miyu, however, could never see Okaasan as anything other than a Crane.

With a final gasp of breath, Miyu looked at Okaasan's lean face. Eyes and lip trembling, she finally managed to nod vigorously. Being allowed to help Okaasan was a wonderful adventure.

Okaasan laughed softly. She took an apron of the hook near the entrance and handed it to Miyu. With a surge of pride, Miyu thrust the apron over her head. Then, she fumbled with the apron strings. Not knowing what to do, she looked up to Okaasan for help; Miyu's eyes were silently pleading. Tears welling again, she held the offending bits of cloth out to Okaasan.

The older woman knelt, taking the apron strings in hand. Reaching around Miyu, she deftly tied them into a beautiful bow. Wiping the tears from Miyu's eyes before they could fall, Okaasan whispered to her daughter.

Miyu looked up into Okaasan's glowing eyes and gave her a smile that contained unabashed love and devotion.

"There is no need to cry, Miyu-chan. I am always here…"

*     *     *

The sensation of hair tickling Miyu's face brought her back to herself. The light wind dried the lonely tears that had fallen down her fair cheek. Miyu was surprised to discover that she was not crying, but she could not control the water that spilled of her face without heed. The chill from her tears bit hard.

Okaasan had taught Miyu that she had strength. Miyu had held onto that for support the rest of her life. The ride into the Shadowlands, the slaughter of the Imperial Court, moving to the Dragon lands…Miyu had even believed that it was true. Why then did the tears come so easily?

Miyu's fragile body shook as the sun hid behind a pale cloud. Why did the memories return? Miyu had lived with her dearly loved Mirumoto for years. She had always been astonished that the Fortunes could have such a sense of humor. It amused her that Okaasan was a Mirumoto married into the lands of the Crane, while Miyu a Kakita that found love with a Mirumoto. They were both living in lands that were not those of their birth, yet unable to conceive a life anywhere else.

These peaks had become home to her, and Miyu had stared over them countless times in those years. She always missed Okaasan, but the pain had faded with time. Or so Miyu wished to believe.

With a seductive mildness, the wind whispered in Miyu's ear. Once more, Miyu's eyes quivered shut. Banishing the shadows from her soul, the gentle breeze brought forth another memory.

*     *     *

Miyu quickly strode the halls of her home, her young mind desperately attempting to make sense of everything that had happened in the past few days. First, Otoosan had told her to stay away from Okaasan's room. Then, the two Dragon men came to the house. The taller Dragon had no hair, but he had a pretty tattoo of a Crane on his back. Miyu very much wanted to ask where she could get a pretty tattoo, but the Dragon was scary.

Most recently, Otoosan had summoned Miyu to Okaasan. Miyu was confused; still she obediently hurried to the small, sparse room. Miyu reached up and pulled the rice-paper door open. The pungent scent of sandalwood incense stung her eyes. She was startled to see Airei in the room, already kneeling beside Okaasan's tatami mat.

Miyu's throat tightened when she looked at Okaasan. Okaasan's face was the color of ash, contrasting dreadfully with the soft white of Okaasan's new kimono. Her skin looked as if it was stretched far too tightly, giving Miyu the appalling impression of a new drum.

The tears threatened to engulf Miyu as she dutifully knelt beside Airei. She heard the door slide to a close as Otoosan left the room. Even now, Okaasan managed a smile for her daughters. She looked at Miyu and Airei tenderly.

"Soon I will join the ancestors, my loves."

Okaasan's voice sounded so far away…

"Each of you has a beautiful future ahead of you. My strong Airei-chan, your intensity will be a prize for the Clan." The dying woman looked at her eldest daughter. A glimmer of pride flashed in Airei's eyes as she stared deeply into Okaasan's own eyes. Okaasan said nothing more to Airei, but that single moment of loving praise was enough for a warrior like Airei.

"And my tender Miyu-chan…whose tears remind me of my own. Perhaps it is best, as you take my name. I only wish that my little Miyu-chan could see the mountains…they are more beautiful than anything else in the Empire."

A weak, uneven hand rose from the mat to steal the tears form Miyu's cheeks. Okaasan's breathing became more difficult after that slight effort.

"Perhaps, some day…"

The sallow, ailing woman said nothing for long moments. Quietly, the door slid open and Otoosan bid them to leave. Airei held her younger sister close as they waited for Otoosan to return to them. The two sisters huddled together outside the door. Both shivered, although neither felt the least bit cold.

The soft light of the moon fell over the two sleeping figures. Slowly, the door opened and a lone, weary man stepped out. Airei stared up at Otoosan, gauging his expression and finding no hope. Shaking slightly, Airei woke her sister.

"Oneechan?" Miyu asked sleepily, uncurling herself and rubbing the sleep from her eyes. When no answer came, save for Airei's shaking, Miyu grew more frantic.

"Oneechan?" Miyu stared wide-eyed at her sister's tightly scrunched face.

Still Airei said nothing, simply clutching her baby sister even more tightly to her breast. Perhaps this was Airei's way of holding back her own tears…but that left nothing to assuage the growing heartache inside Miyu.

The pale light from Lord Moon did nothing but make the tears shimmer as they fell to the floor.

*     *     *

A sharp gasp escaped Miyu's mouth as a pair of strong arms encircled her from behind. There was no need to turn around, the embrace was too familiar to mistake. But this embrace was not one of passion, or of worry. Her husband's embrace was one of simple, quiet understanding.

The wind died down as Miyu quieted her soul. She had a loving husband, if an odd one, and three gifted children. Now Miyu understood how pleased her Okaasan had been with her own family. Miyu felt a warming in her heart at the thought.

Miyu nestled in Nikkan's arms, allowing the warmth of his body to envelop her. She knew that Nikkan would defend her, and that her children would be dutiful…was this how Okaasan had felt after leaving these very mountains to live with the Crane?

Could a simple Crane need anything greater?

…Okaasan is always proud of her little Miyu-chan…

Miyu paused in her reflection. Where had that thought come from? Miyu closed her eyes and listened, but the only sound was the wind whirling through the mountaintops. She had almost expected to hear Okaasan there.

Perhaps, Miyu thought, staring at the distant mountaintops, she is here.

Smiling, Miyu allowed Nikkan hold her for a while longer.