He didn't know when he had fallen asleep. But when Chirin opened his eyes again, he was no longer in the mountains, the wind no longer howled around him and he felt no cold wracking his flank, no rock beneath his hooves.
It was warm. Sunlight shone from above, and there was emerald green grass beneath him. A cool breeze rippled through the space.
Chirin didn't understand. How had he gotten here? He was miles away from any kind of environment he knew and he purposely stayed away from them for obvious reasons.
He walked along the grass, feeling the soft ground beneath his hooves until he grew used to it. He had grown so accustomed to feeling rock beneath him that it felt odd to be beneath grass once more.
He continued walking. Chirin felt strange, though. He felt no sign of hunger, thirst, exhaustion or even boredom. Eventually, he began to see mountains, tall and proud, in front and around him. They didn't block off the plains around him, but overlooked them.
Just where is this? Chirin wondered, How did I get here?
As he continued walking, he came across some animals; some mountain lions, a bear, a buck, and some dogs. He soon came across the first tree in the area and a mother bird was tending to her children.
Chirin kept walking. He saw a few sheep but he paid them little attention; he had nothing left for his kind but apathy.
Eventually, he came to a patch of flowers. An orange butterfly flitted about and landed on Chirin's nose. The wings tickled his nose and he sneezed a moment later, making it fly off his snout. The action brought a wave of nostalgia over Chirin and he remembered so long ago, when he was only a naive child and knew nothing of the world.
Back then, everything had been so simple; all he needed was food, sleep, some playmates... and his mother.
He shook his head but the damage had already been done. His mother's face was on his eyes, her gentle voice in his ears.
"Mama..." he whispered, the name he had called her in his youth slipping from his tongue for the first time in so long.
At that, memories of Wolf came to him; his stern and unwavering tone, even in death, his cool and calm gaze.
Chirin wondered vaguely if there was something wrong with looking up to Wolf in such a way. Throughout the years, he never forgot how Wolf killed his mother, never forgot how he had snuffed out her life when she had shielded him the first time.
Yet, even when he got the chance to kill him, Chirin found he couldn't.
Chirin never knew or met his father. His mother told him that once the male lambs grew to become rams, they would be separated from the female sheep until it was time to choose a mate. Of course his mother didn't tell him the reason why, he learned that during his training with Wolf.
But... he had a feeling that whoever his father was, that he'd be like Wolf.
Perhaps there really was something wrong with him.
But the damage had already been done. He was already wrong to begin with; he wasn't content to stay cooped up like the other sheep, he had to have a bell around his neck just so his mother could find him. Chirin didn't even look remotely like a ram now; his legs were longer and stronger than a ram's, his horns stood tall and proud instead of coiling around at his ears.
He was no ram, but he wasn't a wolf either. He didn't think like either as well. Perhaps it was because of what his kind was, that sheep were not meant to become like wolves, or else they'd become what Chirin was.
His heart ached for both of them now. He knew what Wolf thought of him already. But what made him bristle with shame was his mother's thoughts. What would she think of him if she knew how he felt toward Wolf, how he had said he'd follow him into hell if need be, how he had actually dared call her murderer "father"?
He flinched at the voice. It couldn't be. It absolutely couldn't.
His head jerked up. Before him was a sheep with kind eyes and a gentle expression. Now Chirin knew he was dreaming, but it didn't stop the tears that had already started trickle down his face and drip onto his wool and the grass.
"Enough, Chirin," his mother said softly, regarding her son with a solemn expression, "You've suffered more than anyone should have to in a single lifetime. It's over now."
"Wh- what do you mean?" Chirin asked, confused.
His mother's expression became saddened. "Chirin, do you not know where you are? Have you not seen the others you have encountered so far?"
The animals he came across? What did that have to do with-
Chirin's eyes widened as the revelation dawned on him. A hapless smile spread on his face as he slumped down into his haunches.
"Of course," he whispered, "That could be the only explanation for something like this to happen."
His mother gently nuzzled her face against his, brushing away the tears. "It's all right now, Chirin. It's over. You don't have to suffer or be alone anymore."
At that, the dam burst. The tears trickled down Chirin's face faster and he sobbed into his mother's warmth, his heart aching with so much emotion; for his mother, for Wolf, for the mistakes and choices he made, for the loneliness and despair he felt. His mother didn't say a word but stayed by his side until the tears dried up and Chirin started to catch his breath.
"Chirin, will you follow me?" his mother asked gently.
"Of course!" the words burst from Chirin's mouth almost excitedly, "I'll do anything you ask, mother; I swear!"
She gave a soft chuckle. "You needn't go that far."
She led him towards the mountains, through a rocky pass, until Chirin saw a cave. He heard some playful yelps and laughter. His mother brought him closer and Chirin could see two wolf pups playing and jumping about. One was a female with a sleek dark grey coat and pale amber eyes, and the other was a slightly younger male with a messy pale silver coat and grey-blue eyes.
What made Chirin stare in shock was who they were playing with. What made his mouth drop open like a trapdoor was how happy he looked.
His mentor looked up at him from where he had nuzzled the silver pup, startled surprise on his face and his pale blue eyes wide. "Chirin, you're...!"
The two wolf pups stopped playing at his voice and looked at Chirin curiously. The pup with the dark grey coat eyed him suspiciously before they went forward and sniffed at him before they, or rather she, said, "You look weird."
"Da, who is that?" the silver pup, a male, asked as he cocked his head.
Chirin's eyes widened almost comically.
His voice made the two pups jump in surprise before the dark grey pup glanced at his mother and said, "Auntie, is there something the matter with him?"
"'Auntie'?!" Chirin repeated incredulously, looking back and forth between his mother and the three wolves, "Wha- But-How did- What?!"
"Um... huh," the male pup said, quirking a slight eyebrow.
"I think we broke him, da," the dark grey pup said to wolf, giggling mischievously.
"Gin. Kageko. Enough."
The two cubs immediately stiffened at Wolf's stern voice and their bodies became straighter.
"Yes sir," they both said, tones respectful.
Chirin just stared at the scene, not even able to talk. Wolf actually looked a bit embarrassed.
"... do you two want to play by the meadow?" Chirin's mother asked the two pups gently.
"The meadow?!" they both exclaimed, Kageko looking excited and Gin smiling happily before they turned back to Wolf and both said at the same time, "Can we, da?!"
Wolf nodded, his mouth curved into the slightest of smiles. The pups ran past Chirin and over to his mother, who gave him a knowing look before she led the two away. At the last second, Gin turned back to Chirin and called, "Bye, Da and auntie's friend!"
Chirin would stare after the three of them for a minute in total bewilderment and confusion before he turned back to Wolf. The atmosphere was nothing short of ridiculously awkward and Chirin never imagined he'd think of the other's presence in such a way.
Chirin couldn't wrap his mind around it. Those two pups were Wolf's children? Wolf had a family?!
"It's been a long time, eh Chirin," Wolf said in a low voice from where he now laid on the rock floor.
"You... you never told me you had a family," Chirin got out, not sure if he was still shell-shocked at the revelation or betrayed that Wolf hadn't told him.
"There wasn't any need to," Wolf replied, "What purpose would it have served either of us?"
The not-ram, not-wolf knew that Wolf made a valid point; what would it have done for either of them? But if this place was really what his mother said it was then-
"They died of starvation," Wolf said in a low tone.
"... what?" Chirin said in a soft, shocked tone before he nearly shouted at him incredulously, "I've seen you hunt! I've seen you kill! How could you not provide food for them?!"
"I did not wish to be a wolf."
Chirin stared in utter disbelief. "What do you...?"
"In my earlier days, I was timid, gentle, and complacent; the very antithesis to yourself when you were only a lamb. I didn't understand why wolves had to hunt others to survive, why we had to eat flesh and not plants like many other gentle creatures."
If the creature didn't think he couldn't have been flabbergasted, Chirin was proven wrong. The mere thought of Wolf acting like any of those things was laughably absurd.
Wolf's expression became wearier. "I eventually took a mate, and had pups. I tried to make them act gentler and to eat other things besides flesh. I didn't understand that for wolves, going against their nature was deadly, for themselves and those around."
"During an especially harsh winter, any kind of food and drink was scarce. I had refused to hunt with the others in my pack before the snow came. My mate had already died from the cold, begging me with her dying breath to do whatever it took to keep our pups alive. Gin and Kageko both... they were already weak from lack of food and water."
"That's when I realized what a fool I had been. I went out in the snow and searched for hours for any sign of prey, until I came near the farmer's shed. A lone lamb had wandered out during the snow. How they had managed such a feat I still don't know. But I didn't care. It was a quick death, the little one didn't even know what had snuffed it's life out. I took the lamb back to the cave to feed my pups. But..."
At that, Wolf's teeth bared together tightly and his frame shook before his head bowed lowly. Chirin couldn't believe what he was seeing; he had never seen Wolf ever show any weakness in all the time he knew him. He never would have imagined that Wolf had gone through such a horrible tragedy; it made his mother's death look almost cheerful.
He actively destroyed his entire family's lives because he wished to go against his own nature...!
"Chirin, do you understand now why I told you to return to your meadow?" Wolf said, looking at the taller creature with an almost saddened expression, "There are few who can go against their true nature and achieve anything remotely resembling any semblance of peace. You and I are not among them."
The creature said nothing but looked back at Wolf, perhaps understanding him for the first time since he met him.
"That's why you always killed so much; you didn't want to meet the same fate you put them through," Chirin realized before an unbelievable thought entered his mind.
"You... you were-!"
"I was afraid," Wolf finished softly, "So afraid I'd waste away and like I had forced them to. It wasn't too late; I was still young, I was still alive. I became a wolf, and I followed the Wolven credo set by all wolf packs with my very being from that day on."
Chirin's expression became sterner as he looked down at Wolf. "I may understand you better, but you still killed my mother, and it hadn't been for food. You had already gotten your fill from the first sheep you killed there. She died for nothing in the end, except for protecting me."
"I know," Wolf said solemnly, "and nothing will change that."
"How did mother even meet you?"
"It was some time after I came here. She was in the meadow with my pups," Wolf explained, "They had referred to her as 'auntie' long before I arrived. She recognized me... she forgave me."
Chirin's eyes widened. "She forgave you for killing her? But how? Why?"
"Your mother is wise; she understood that she would die by another's fangs, whether it be mine or the human that looked after them," Wolf stated, "That's why she held no regrets in saving your life."
"Does... does she know about how...?"
"Yes. Why do you think she offered to take my children with her? She knows, she understands, Chirin."
His mother didn't hate him. His mother didn't find him disgusting. She still loved him even though he had followed Wolf, first out of revenge, then devotion.
"Were you able to find your mate yet?" Chirin couldn't help asking.
Wolf hook his head. "My pups don't want to leave their auntie behind. And I refuse to leave them behind ever again."
Chirin and Wolf both looked up to see his mother, Gin and Kageko come back over to them. Kageko pounced upon her father's back Gin nuzzled against his leg happily.
"Da, come with us next time, okay?" Gin said, "The meadow's really pretty and auntie's really fun, but it's not the same if you're not with us."
"Yeah!" Kageko agreed, "You can't just hang around this dumb ol' cave all the time! You can't either, mister!"
Chirin stiffened when the dark grey pup addressed him, a slight pout on her face. "Er- what?"
"You have to come with us, too," Gin said to Chirin before smiling, "Auntie and da both like you, so we like you too!"
Chirin couldn't help the warm pain deep in his chest as he looked at the two pups and how they regarded him. Never had he been subject to such unconditional love from anyone except his mother.
"Da! He's gotta come with us, please?" Kageko said to Wolf, a determined and pleading look on her face.
"... of course," Wolf said as if it were obvious before giving the dark grey pup a lick behind her ears, making her pout again.
"Da! That tickles!"
Chirin didn't know if seconds, hours, or years had passed since he played with the two pups. Right now, Gin was leading him on one of his favorite games to play; it involved saving his sister from a terrible place so they could be together again.
"Next time, you get to play the 'princess'!" Kageko groused as Gin broke the circle of flowers that encircled his sister.
"Well, at least the hero and princess can still play together, right?" the silver pup said, smiling.
Kageko's pout softened. "Yeah..." she said before she looked at Chirin with a mischievous gleam in her eyes as she said, "And at least I've got a handsome ram here too"
"Aw come on! I'm right here, y'know!" Gin whined as he pounced on his older sister's back playfully, "Aren't I handsome?"
"No way!" Kageko retorted playfully before she threw him off her back into a patch of flowers.
Chirin couldn't help the soft chuckle that escaped his mouth. It was truly endearing to watch the two pups interact. It wasn't at all like how the sheep from his childhood behaved at all. Both of them were as adventurous and curious as Chirin had been in his youth, perhaps even more so.
He glanced back at Gin as he looked up from where he got up before shaking his head to get some flower petals out of his ear before the pup said, "I've been meaning to ask you: what's it like having a mum?"
Chirin nearly stopped at that. "But... you have a mother."
Gin shook his head. "Mum died when I was very young. I don't remember her very well. Da was the one I remember raising me and my sis until..."
The silver pup went silent, his expression solemn and weary before he shook his head and laughed a little.
"I'm sorry," he said, smiling sadly, "We were all having fun but I brought up something so depressing..."
"Having a mother... is like having someone by your side, who loves you with all their heart, and is willing risk everything to protect you."
Gin's eyes widened at Chirin's words. "Is that so...?"
Chirin nodded. The silver pup smiled softly at that.
"Auntie acts like that," he said, "She's so kind to Kageko and da and everyone. I..."
Gin's voice seemed to break at that as his grey-blue eyes filled with tears. "I really, really love her."
Suddenly, he shook his head wildly as he faced Chirin and blurted out as some of the tears trickled down his muzzle, "But I really love Kageko, and da, and you too, Chirin! Honestly, I do!"
Chirin looked at Gin with a soft expression before he simply leaned down to the pup and gently nuzzled the top of his head. "There's no need to cry. I love you and the others as well."
"... even him."
So, I saw Chirin no Suzu.
Both Japanese and English versions.
And both were heartbreaking.
I can see this happening all too well in real life as well, and it's tragic as well because we, the viewers, had seen Wolf as a monster at first, then around the middle we thought Wolf as a cool guy until he tried to break into the shed at the end and the fact that he killed Chirin's mother is thrown right back into our faces. But at the end, we're as confused as Chirin about the characters around.
This tale of revenge and lost innocence was truly incredible.
Also, I understand why some people might not like the English dubbed, but I thought it was all right and even better in some places.