Shivered Timbers
by Kaline Reine

Disclaimer: I do not own One Piece or any of the characters/settings. This is just a fanfiction story. I do own Shiori, she is my character. I also own a few other original characters in this story (not affiliated with One Piece), which will be introduced as they are needed. c;

WARNINGS: This story contains (or may contain) graphic adult content and language, explicit sex scenes, possible violence, cursing, adult themes, etc. I do not censor my writing, but I do my best to warn people about the subject matter and potential subject matter. So if you don't like that kind of thing or can't handle it, then I suggest not reading this story. You have been warned. Also, I know this doesn't follow canon but it doesn't have to, that's why it's a fanfic. xD

This is, first and foremost, being written to make myself happy. I've been wanting to work on this story for a very long time, I think it's been nearly two years since I first started gathering ideas for it. I'm putting everything I have into this story. That being said, I hope you enjoy it also. c:

Also! All credit for the art used for the cover image for this story goes to EzariaUmiko on DeviantArt. (She's my senpai, and she drew Ace x Shiori for me, and I have permission to use it.) ;D


Small specks of snow descended from above, to cover his freckles in little white spots. He missed the endless summer sun and the freedom he felt when the wind blew through his hair, catching in the sails and reverberating. It wasn't like here, where it was freezing. Not even his own powers could save him from it. The elements were simply too much. He was only mortal, after all.

All of his hopes and dreams died, on this day... They were lost, like echoes across the tender, fickle sea. He missed the way the waves swayed beneath his boots, each surge melting across the edges of long forgotten shores. He'd known true freedom, once. Before he'd been lured here by his own madness. Life was funny like that, he supposed.

Right now, all he felt was numbness. He was feeling-less, a thing less than satisfied, as a derivative of his eternal woe; of his suffering. Down... Where nothing but darkness seems to dwell. That was where his heart was, at the moment.

Weighed down with guilt, Ace trudged onward through the deep snow. It was so cold that little ice flurries were getting caught in his hair each time he exhaled, frosting over the ink black locks with clear crystals. They glinted a faint blue in the useless light of the sun. It was truly a sight to behold. But he couldn't focus on the stark beauty all around him right now. He had more important things to worry about. Yet, he could feel his mind, like his pace, slowing...

There was nothing more that he could do. The long journey had gotten the better of him, and he fell onto the ground. It was even colder there. Being topless, he was unshielded from the frigid crystals, the numbing daggers piercing him everywhere they met his skin. His body was shaking, but he couldn't feel it. He just felt nothing at all, as the freezing temperatures overtook his entire being.

He began to feel very sleepy, drifting in and out of a soothing, dream-like state. He loved everything about this beautiful world he was in... Freezing to death like this was not beauty, it was the most ugly... thing he'd ever...

And the thoughts were gone, vanished, pulled from his head without a moment's reprieve. He was here for something, there was a reason... Whatever it was, he'd long forgotten it. He was unable to move. Ace knew he couldn't go onward. He'd been so determined, and then... All at once it seemed to leave him, until his soul lay barren like this frosted wilderness, and he was completely empty.

There was no more guilt, no sorrow; he no longer felt remorse for anything, nor regret. All of that had left him. There were no more rain clouds hanging over his head. Nothing left behind that needed to be done. It was all over... All was being left as it was, as he felt it should have been all along.

'I've been nothing... Nothing but a blight upon the world!' The Pirate thought, a wave of bitter acceptance washing over him, cleansing him of his numerous sins. 'Now I will return to nothing...'

He lied there, on the ground, staring up at the blue, blue sky... And all the world before him ceased to exist.

Exhaling one last warm breath, he closed his eyes for good...

Chapter 1: Snow White's Requiem

Her toes and fingers were completely numb. Everything stung, as she made her way through the snow-covered mountains. The feeling of not being able to feel anything was rapidly spreading throughout her arms and legs. All of her extremities ached, due to lack of blood flow. She wanted to give up and turn back many times, but she remembered what she was here to do.

Each step she forced herself to take was now a challenge. She could barely move, yet still she pressed on... She had to. She was almost there.

Every time the small bundle in her arms would make even the faintest sound, it gave her courage. And when it moved, she felt a new piece of her heart melt. Bits of ice touched her nose and the tips of her ears occasionally, despite the hood and cloak she was wearing. She knew she didn't have enough protection from the elements. She'd known that when she'd decided to come. It's not like she had any choice in the matter. This was her sworn duty, and there was no other way.

"Oh little one..." She spoke with soothing words, responding to the very faint movement near her chest. "I'm so sorry... I don't know... if we'll make it..." She was tired and out of breath. "But... I'm... going to... try..."

Determination in her eyes, the cloaked woman clutched her bundle even closer to her chest, holding it as tightly as she could without damaging it. This was precious cargo. She couldn't let anything happen to it. In a vain effort to shield herself a little, she let her hair fall to the front of her hood. The onyx strands fell all around her face, offering only slight protection. The storm raged on, and still she stood her ground... Pressing onward, even if it meant having to sacrifice herself in the process.

Right now, it felt as if every part of her, both within and without, was frozen solid. She knew she couldn't go on much longer. She had to make it to her destination though. She wasn't certain as to its exact location, but she felt confident that she was on the right track. She'd been telling herself this in her mind for many hours now... Back before the blizzard had even started. Her snow-riddled trek across this dangerous tundra had not been an easy one.

That was when she saw it... Her deep brown eyes widened considerably, despite the frigid cold that was everywhere. She could feel the freezing pain, right down to her bones. It was hard to see what was up ahead. The constant sleet made it impossible to see, it was blinding... She noticed there was something on the ground, directly in her path. The stepping stone pathway that led to the large stone building that was rumored to stand in the distance. Even in this snowstorm, it stood out to her like a beacon of hope.

Her breathing was rapid and shallow... She could just barely see the frost before her that came with each painfully cold breath. She knew that she was not long for this world. But she had to make it; she had to keep trying. She would not allow the elements to win. There was just one last desperate push left within her. She could feel it...

Yet, in spite of everything she'd been through, she dared not get her hopes up. Her heart rate had slowed down, and her body was trying to keep up, but it was to no avail. She felt incredibly sleepy. She had to lie down. If she fainted, she might risk damaging the bundle she'd carried all this way. Her thoughts were hazy and incoherent, at this point. All she could do was to follow her most basic urges. And her body was urging her to lie down.

"Al... most... Almost there..." Her knees met with the icy kiss of the ground first, followed by her elbows, where she clutched her precious parcel as tightly as she could. She collapsed on the frost covered ground, finally falling completely.

Everything around her spun madly. The world went dark, as she gasped what was probably her last breath.

"I've... failed."

Her face twisted into a calm kind of horror, and her eyes closed to the harsh reality of the world, as she drifted into a frozen slumber...

"That was one heck of a snowstorm, wasn't it?"

Michiko rushed around the Monastery, nearly tripping over a large golden cat statue that was placed by the doorway. She held it up and steadied it, before racing off again. The long strip of black fabric that descended from her veil flowed behind her, as she dashed about. She was trying to see out the window, and in her excitement, she just couldn't keep still.

"It's a beautiful day, Michiko-tan," Her superior said to her, dully. Lady Chiaki's slightly wrinkled face was stuck in a book. "Shame to waste it indoors. Why don't you go out and see if it's really through? We wouldn't want to risk sending anyone out, unless the storm is entirely finished."

"Right! I'm on it!" With a brief curtsy, the young brunette disappeared outside. She was still new to everything, and therefore, easily excitable.

Chiaki paid it no mind. She was used to this... All of the new Nuns would always enter into their order with an overzealous attitude. She knew that eventually the newness of it all would wear off and things would go back to normal. This one just so happened to be her birth sister's daughter, her Niece. But she didn't get any special treatment because of it. All of the Sisters here were treated equally.

The Elder was seated behind her desk, in front of the large window in her study, waiting for the sun to finish rising so she could more easily read the printed words on the pages in front of her. The first rays of the dawn cast colorful shadows along her wavey silver tresses. The others knew she didn't like to be disturbed when reading, but they were also pretty sure that she would not be able to neglect any of her duties for long. She always had a lot to do. She was simply not a morning person.

Michiko, on the other hand, was usually the first one to venture outside every morning. The other Nuns had labeled her their unofficial weather woman. She didn't mind the sound of that, really. She was happy to do anything she could to help everyone. If it would make her Sisters' lives a little less painful and bleak, then she would do whatever was within her power, even if it meant venturing out in the freezing cold. She was always eager to greet each new day. She knew that often, the little things in life were the most important.

She ran outside, hoping that she would be able to predict whether the blizzard had truly passed or not. She was nervous to even be outside. Many lives had been lost in this isolated area. It was incredible how fast a storm could spring up. And it was like this year round...

On this particular morning, she shielded her gaze from the sun, and smiled when she didn't see any dark clouds in the distance. That was a good sign. A few lighter ones still lingered around the skyline. It was hard to tell if the blizzard was really over, given that her view of nearly half the sky was obscured by the towering mountains of Drum Island, but she did the best she could.

Her emerald eyes fell on quite an unusual sight that day. There was a large lump lying in the middle of the stone pathway, in the distance. She could just barely make it out.

"What... What is that?" She muttered to herself, going over to investigate.

"Chiaki-sama! There's someone outside!" One of the Nuns exclaimed.

The Elder's eyes shot open, her head jerked upward, and she jolted out of her reading-induced daydream. Chiaki leapt up from her desk and immediately followed the other Nun, who had sounded panicked. She rushed outside, where she saw a small gathering of her Sisters toward the end of the stone path. When she got closer, she saw that there was what looked to be a woman collapsed in the snow. Snowflakes fell all around them, lightly coating everything in sight. Frost had settled in around her and was sticking to her clothing and hair, contrasting with the dark colors.

There had just been a terrible snowstorm sweeping through, and no one had been outside for a while. There was no telling how long she'd been there. She was partially covered in recently fallen snow. Her eyes were closed and it looked like she was sleeping...

"My lady, can I help you? Are you alright?" She knelt down and tried to shake her by her shoulder, but it was no use. The woman did not respond.

Chiaki's long fingernails firmly grasped her robes and moved the hood away from her face. Her head rolled over a bit, before falling back where it had been previously. She still didn't move.

A feeling of dread washed over her, filling all of her senses. She knew instinctively that the woman was done for. She wasn't even breathing. No movement could stir her, no words could awaken her... It looked like she was already beginning to develop frostbite in certain places. Her skin had turned dark around her nose, ears, and fingers. Her full lips were stained a frightening shade of blue.

There was a tightness that shot through her own chest, right then. Chiaki began to panic even more when she saw that the woman had been carrying something. She'd fallen onto one side, and there was a small bundle still tucked away in her arms. She could have sworn that she saw the faintest bit of movement... There was a strange sound. Maybe by some miracle, the woman was still alive, after all? Some of the other Nuns who lived and worked at the monastery had rushed over to lend their aide, but she paid them no mind.

Soft hoarse cries could be heard. 'Could it be...?' Chiaki swiftly dismissed the idea of her still being alive. 'No. Not in this cold.'

"Oh no... It cannot be. It... It cannot be!" She gasped.

Who in their right mind would expose a child so small to the elements like this? Sister Michiko hurriedly attempted to comfort her, before she also gasped in surprise. Chiaki picked up the tiny bundle from the still woman's arms and cradled it. It looked like she'd lost the little one too. But there it was again... The faintest little sound. A baby's soft coo could be heard, in the dreaded stillness of the tundra. All of the Nuns fell silent.

She pulled back the swaddling cloth and padding to reveal a young infant, probably no more than a few scarce months old, if that. What little hair she had was pure stark white and her cheeks were rosy from the cold. Her lips had also begun to turn blue. The baby stopped crying and looked up at her. She cooed again, showing that she was definitely alert. But her movements were scarce and her cries very hoarse and faint.

Chiaki did the only thing she could do, right then. She took off running, clutching the bundle against her own chest to help shield it from the biting cold. She rushed to bring her inside, frantic with worry for the baby's safety. She carried her through the large metal doors, and all the way up the steps that led into a tall tower. The spiral staircase felt longer than usual, as she hurried to take the little one to safety.

'I'll figure out what to do... I have to.'

The whole way up, she sensed that Michiko was close on her heels. Some of the other Nuns had followed them too, while others had stayed behind to tend to the fallen woman or to gawk at the whole scene.

"Huh? What's that you have there?" Concern showed on one of the Sisters' face, as she watched the other woman rush over in a panic.

Another woman sat in a chair in the middle of a cluttered room. She was dressed the same as the others, but there appeared to be something different about her. She had fiery orange hair that fell from below her veil, and intense washed gray eyes. Despite noticing the distress on everyone's faces, she smiled calmly amid all the chaos and waited to see what all the fuss was about.

"Ruhi-san, please help! It's urgent!" As soon as she'd spotted the woman, Chiaki crossed the room and placed the infant into her arms. "We found this little one, and we think she's sick. We found her outside in the snow! Her pulse seems weak."

"What makes you so sure it's a girl?" Michiko asked, coming up behind her.

"Oh, I don't know! Just a feeling. What a question to ask at a time like this!" Her Aunt scolded her.

The redheaded woman took the little one from her and removed the cloth to examine it. The baby whimpered as she did so, but didn't put up much of a fight.

"Looks like a girl..." She muttered, taking out a stethoscope and pressing it against the struggling child's chest. She also grabbed a thermometer from a small black bag and placed it under her arm for several minutes, before removing it. "Her heartbeat is very slow and her body temperature is incredibly low as well. I think you're right, she is sick. Can someone get me some formula? And a warm blanket! Hurry!"

The other Nuns rushed around to do as she'd instructed. Chiaki stood nearby, clearly expressing her concern. Her face was twisted with worry and she was fidgeting with her hands. She'd brought her to their order's doctor, a medicine woman who was trained to deal with these types of emergency situations.

"Will she be alright?" She finally asked.

"I don't know... If we can get her to eat something, she might stand a fighting chance. But she's sick and she will need medicine. Can someone get me my medical books? They're on the table down by the temple."

"I'll go and fetch them right now!" Michiko lent her assistance and rushed down the stairs, the moment she nodded in approval. Her boots clunked against the wooden floorboards down below, and the sound faded into the distance.

Chiaki knew the baby should be fine, if they could get her the correct herbs in time and get her to eat. She was a very motherly person, and she wasn't High Priestess of this order for nothing. She knew their doctor would know what to do to help her. Ruhi was very good at healing; she had a gift for it. Even being in her very presence had a soothing effect on people. Her voice was very soft and light.

She turned to some other Nuns who were walking nearby. "There is a woman outside collapsed in the snow. She has passed on, and needs a proper burial. This little one was found with her and we're trying to save it. Can someone get things organized and have the Sisters begin to prepare her for funeral rites? We need to do this at once."

"Yes, Chiaki-sama!"

They all scrambled to do as they were told. As for Michiko, she was already at the top of the stairs by the time Chiaki was done informing the others about the situation. She'd brought the medical books Ruhi had asked for. The baby's life was at stake, and she knew she would have to do everything she could to help.

"Thank you..." The doctor took a small green book from the stack she held and began frantically flipping through it. Then she pointed to something on a page. "Let's see... I think this is the right one. If I mix it with some other ingredients I have, it should warm her back up in no time. It does grow around here, but it's not so easy to find."

She'd looked very sad when she said the last part. Michiko and Chiaki both looked at it. There was a picture of some plant. It had long straight green leaves that tapered to points at the end, and there was a spiky pink flower growing from the center. There was a description beside it, but there was no time for that. If their medic knew they needed it, then they needed it.

"I'll go." Michiko said firmly.

"Why you, child?" Chiaki's tone took on a motherly quality. "I should be the one to go. Right now, she's my responsibility, and so are you. It's not safe to go out right after a blizzard and-"

"But you can't! You're the High Priestess!" Her Niece was quick to argue. She then gestured to the baby. "Besides, you're needed here. Someone's got to make sure she's okay and oversee her care. Everyone knows you have the entire Monastery's best interests at heart. They trust your judgment, not mine. I should be the one to go."

Chiaki had never heard her talk like that before. Taken aback, she blinked a few times to make sure that she was really seeing this. Was she putting someone else before herself? That was truly a noble trait in one so young. But it was to be expected, in their order. It was nice to see that she was adapting to her life as a Nun so well. In the end, she'd made a valid point. And she was probably a lot more capable of finding the correct plants than Chiaki herself would be, due to her age.

"Dear child... You speak with wisdom beyond your years. Go and gather the herbs."

"Here, take this with you!" Ruhi gave her the book. The two plants she needed had been circled. "You'll need it out there a lot more than I'll need it here. Good luck!"

Several Nuns had come back in, with formula already mixed up and warmed. Some of them carried some old baby bottles that had recently been washed. And others held clean blankets and cloth folded into triangles to fashion some diapers.

"Alright... Okay, I'm going!" Michiko nodded, knowing it was her sworn duty to do anything she could to help anyone under the protection of their Monastery.

"Good luck! And be safe! May the great Goddess guide you! May her wisdom, grace, and cunning watch over you!" Chiaki called after her, but she was already gone.

The Elder's voice echoed down the spiral staircase, as if following her. Michiko was panicked. She knew they didn't have any time to waste. That baby needed the herbs and she needed them very soon. She made sure she didn't drop the book, holding it as close to her as she could. She was glad the Nuns in their order always wore clothing specifically designed to protect them from the cold. Way out here, one couldn't be too careful. She ran off into the foreboding woods, not daring to look back.

Chiaki wasn't sure what to do with herself. She'd watched over Ruhi with the baby for as long as she could stand. Each time a new symptom appeared and Ruhi cured it, she grew more nervous. Every time the medic would take something out to do a new test, she would begin to panic a little bit inside. And she was worried about Michiko too. She didn't know what was going on or why it was taking her so long to return, but she didn't like it. The entire situation was driving her mad with worry...

"You look pale," Ruhi pointed out. "Stop your fussing. I promise, it will be okay..." She returned to her task of trying to rock the baby to sleep in her arms. She'd been crying ever since they'd tried, unsuccessfully, to feed her. She'd only managed to drink a tiny bit.

"I can't help but worry. You know that." The High Priestess waved a dismissive hand.

"It won't do her any good to have people fussing over her. You should see if they need any help with her mother or tend to your other duties. I'm sure you're very busy, Chiaki-sama. Don't worry over it. If she makes it, then we've done our job well. If she doesn't, then we've done all that we can. It will be fine."

"You're right. I'll trust you to that, then. I'll return soon."

Chiaki finally ventured back outside, and watched the other Nuns that were scurrying over to the fallen woman. Some had been there, already trying to fix her hair and face the best they could. They were making preparations to move her into the mortuary soon. They had a stretcher laid out beside her. There was a large commotion all around her.

"She froze to death." One of the Nuns grimly remarked, glumly.

"Poor thing... And with a baby too." Another added.

"Who is she, anyway? Does anyone recognize her?"

"No clue. Could she be from Drum Kingdom?"

"Do you think she was the baby's mother?"

"Who knows? Probably."

"In any case, it can't be helped. We should do away with her..."

"I'll start preparations for the ceremony," The first woman said. "Let's take her to the mortuary so we can begin her last rites."

"Come one, everyone help lift her up!" One of them commanded.

The others obeyed, a flurry of Nuns, in black and white, moving to either side of her stiff body. They all lifted her with ease, working as a team to get her onto the stretcher. It was obvious that she was done for. There was no hope for someone to survive way out here on the tundra. It was too isolated, for one thing, and far too dangerous. It was a wonder that she'd even made it this far, during a blizzard. One Nun sprinkled some holy water onto her from a small glass vial, as they made their way to the mortuary.

The Monastery was equipped with several smaller buildings surrounding it on either side. To the left were the living quarters, where the Nuns lived and slept. To the right was the mortuary, and beside it, a mausoleum where they entombed their dead. Everything was done right there on the premises.

It was on extremely rare occasion that they ever had any visitors. Their Monastery was situated on a large snow-covered island on the Grand Line, known as Drum Island, but few people even knew that such a place existed. They were actually connected by a land bridge consisting of snow, ice, and other frozen debris. It was very isolated and they were far from any sort of civilization. And their order was charged with protecting many secrets. They rarely allowed outsiders in, but it was common courtesy for them to at least go out and greet guests. If they were in danger, the Nuns would invite them in for a bit. They wouldn't be allowed to join their order, but they could wait out storms there, if necessary.

This woman would never have that luxury, however...

There didn't seem to be anything more that she could do here. The other Sisters had already handled it. She went back in to tend to her various duties and chores. She knew she would need to finish everything early today. There was so much to do.

Chiaki eventually returned to the tower, where the medic was still trying to get the baby to sleep. Even she looked very tired and exasperated already.

"How is she doing?"

"Not good," Ruhi sighed, plopping down into a chair, still holding the little one. "Well, it's certainly one of the most peculiar things I've ever witnessed..."

The fireplace crackled behind her. It had been lit in order to help warm the room, and it seemed to be doing a great job of it. The baby's lips were no longer blue, her cheeks weren't rosy, and she was getting her normal color back. That looked like it was a good sign. She didn't understand.

"How so?" Worry crossed Chiaki's facial features again, and she began wringing her hands nervously.

"It appears that her heart rate is still a little slow, but otherwise she seems to be doing just fine. And she's eating like any normal healthy infant should. I see no visible problems, and not a sign of frostbite on her... The other Nuns have informed me of what happened. I believe the fallen woman's remaining body heat might have kept her safe from the cold."

"Wow..." Chiaki was debating what to do about this. They had the occasional child brought to them, and they usually found homes for them or sent them to the orphanage in Drum Kingdom. They couldn't afford to take in outsiders, not even children. But this one was so young and small. "She really got lucky, didn't she?"

"Yes, but there's just one thing... We can't seem to bring up her internal temperature. No matter what I do, it remains the same. I'm worried that it might approach critical levels soon. I'm really glad Michiko went to fetch those herbs..."

"As am I..."

"What do you think we should do with her, Chiaki-sama? You're the one who found her."

"Actually, it was Michiko who found her. She came to get me afterward... I don't think there's any way we can know what that woman wanted. It's painfully obvious that she was definitely on her way here, though I know not why..."

"Do you think it's possible she mistook us for an ordinary Monastery, one with an orphanage, and was preparing to drop her child off with us?"

"Perhaps," The Elder nodded, lost in thought. "I think it would be best if we care for her. We have no way to reach any family that she might have, and no way of knowing who they might be. But we'll wait and see if they find anything on her mother's body."

She felt mildly uncomfortable talking of such things... Death was a grim topic, but it was not to be feared by one of their order. However, it still was not a pleasant experience. Chiaki wondered if she really was doing the right thing. She wore a worried frown the entire time. The fate of this child rested in her hands, and she had no idea what to do with her.

"That sounds like a good plan," Ruhi offered her a sweet smile. "Would you like to hold her? Maybe you can get her to sleep. She certainly isn't sleeping for me..."

Chiaki cradled the baby in her arms. She felt the weight of her head, and instinctively knew to support it with the palm of one hand. The little one seemed to be more alert than she had been a few hours ago. Nervously, she sat in an old rocking chair that had been brought into the room, and began trying to calm her.

"I'm going to go mix her another batch of formula. She's taken to that first bottle nicely, and she'll be hungry again when she wakes."

Chiaki watched Ruhi rush off to do that. She was probably in dire need of a break by now. Having to care for a baby was enough to tire anyone out quickly. It was amazing that they even had things that a baby would need in their quaint little castle. They always tried to keep a few supplies on hand, just in case. The several hundred miles of barren icy wilderness stretched between the Monastery and Drum Kingdom, which was located on the far side of the island, often posed a severe problem. So they could only go for supplies a few times per year.

"Shhh..." She whispered to the infant. "It'll be alright. You've made quite the fuss around here, but things are already starting to calm down." Her smile widened when those little eyes looked up at her. "See?"

Chiaki began to hum a light melody. She had no designated rhythm, it was just a melody that had seemingly come to her at random. She made it up as she went along. It was not long before the baby's eyes closed and she actually fell asleep. They were worried about her health, but they knew that most newborns needed to sleep a lot. If they couldn't get her to sleep at all, it could be a sign of a serious problem. Luckily, she'd solved that problem, and the little one seemed to be doing just fine now.

But something was still wrong... Chiaki could feel the infant's body pressed against her shoulder, and it was much colder than hers. She knew this was going to be a problem.

'There's no way that's right... No living thing should ever be this cold... Not this long after being indoors, warmed by the fire.'

It just didn't add up. But the baby seemed to be sleeping soundly, so she laid her in the small bassinet some of the Nuns had fashioned for her. There were some who were very good at weaving and they'd fixed it up with several layers of white cloth. It had rows of ribbons and lace adorning it too.

"How sweet... She's gone to sleep already." Ruhi whispered to her superior in a hushed tone, once she'd returned.

"Yes... I don't know how I did it, but she fell right to sleep."

"I guess she likes you."

Chiaki said nothing, she just looked out the window. "I wonder when Michiko will be back... Do you think she's okay?"

"I'm sure she'll be fine. She's no little girl anymore, you know. We've trained her in our ways, and I'm confident that she can handle anything that forest throws at her."

"I hope you're ri-"

Before she could even get her sentence out, they were interrupted by the brash clang of footsteps ascending the stairs. The sleeping infant stirred in her crib, but did not wake. She did make a few faint sounds, but that was all.

"I'm back!" A familiar voice called.

"Michiko-chan?" Chiaki turned with an enormous smile. Her Niece ran over and hugged her, warmly. "I'm so glad you've made it back safely. I was so worried..."

It had taken several hours of wading through the wilderness to find what she was looking for. She'd found some witch hazel growing near the base of a tree and obtained it with no problem. Then she'd noticed some of the wispy green plants with red flowers growing from a ledge. She checked the book, and they were exactly what she needed. It was high above her and she wasn't sure she could reach it... She tried finding some way around, but it would have taken longer than normal because she would've been forced to walk all the way around a massive boulder to get to them.

It had been a while since she'd been able to put her training to good use. Summoning all of her inner strength, she'd wound her energy up into a tight ball within herself... And let it go. When it released, she felt a surge of adrenaline. She tried to cut it with her hand, producing a series of rapid chopping movements. Michiko had smashed the rock formation into tiny pieces. They rained down around her, and in the midst of all the chaos, she'd managed to swiftly grab all of the herbs she needed.

It hadn't been easy, but she'd done it, and returned home shortly after... She knew better than to lurk within the forest for too long.

"I got the herbs!" She held them up proudly, still speaking in that excited sing-song tone she always seemed to have. Chiaki didn't know where she got so much energy from. "Do you wanna know how I did it? Where's the-"

"Shhh..." Ruhi put a finger to her lips. "She's sleeping. Here, see?" She showed her the bassinet.

"Oh, how pretty..." Michiko whispered, her fingers lightly trailing along the edge of the cradle. She noticed how much better the baby looked already, and turned toward them with an optimistic smile.

Chiaki gestured for both of the others to come away from the area where the baby was sleeping. She had other things on her mind right now... There were many things they would need to take care of. The new arrivals were unexpected and had caught them all by surprise. For the next few days, she was certain that their little Monastery would be shaken up. Everyone was on edge right now.

"One of us will need to sit with the baby in case she wakes up. But we should get going to the mortuary soon. I'm sure they'll have things ready for the funeral by now. Our Sisters work fast... So who wants to stay?"

"With all due respect, I'd much rather focus on helping the living to stay that way." It was a well-known fact that Ruhi despised funerals. She'd lost her family several years ago and had not been taking it well.

"I wouldn't mind going or staying, I'll help in any way I can!" Michiko said, still having difficulties with being quiet.

"Michiko-tan, shhh..." Chiaki reminded her, before turning to the doctor. "If that's what you want... Please keep her safe. And try to figure out why she's so cold, if you can?"

"Of course," Ruhi smiled warmly, clearly relieved that she wouldn't have to attend the woman's funeral. "I'm sure these herbs will warm her up in no time. I'll crush them, along with some other ingredients, and add it to her formula."

"Alright then. We'll be in the mausoleum if you have need of us."

Chiaki led her Niece outside to view the funeral proceedings. They went around to the side of the large Monastery, where a smaller building seemed to contain most of their population.

The Nuns were arranged in neat rows just outside, waiting for the procession to begin. The Nuns who studied music had already begun playing their funeral song on harps, violins, and flutes. It was a very low, and grim melody... Everyone was serious. There was no joy to be found on anyone's faces. They were mourning, even for the loss of a stranger which none of them had known.

The group of women walked past all of them and went into the mortuary, to speak with the one who had acted as undertaker for this matter. The woman who died had been placed upon an altar, for everyone to come in and pay their respects. Ornately carved statues in the shape of felines adorned the altar. Some of them were baring their teeth, others seemed to be weeping. A large image of a brown cat surrounded by a halo bowing it's head was etched into a large, multi-colored stained glass mural behind it.

Most of the women who stood in the neat rows outside had already given their respects. It was their tradition for the Elder to go last. She waited for Michiko to approach the deceased and give her respects as well.

"Have you found out anything about her?" She asked the others nervously, when they approached the altar together.

"We found this on her person," One of the Nuns, a short young blonde girl with bangs falling in her eyes, presented Lady Chiaki with a small amulet made from some sort of transparent stone. It was blue in color, and contained what appeared to be a peacock feather... It hung from a silver necklace. "But we could find nothing else of value. Only the robes. But it was odd, because she had only one layer of clothing, while the baby was swaddled with many layers. And... We've come to the conclusion that she died from exposure, as we'd thought."

"I see..." Chiaki examined the amulet closely for a moment, her long nails tapping across the smooth polished surface. "I've never seen anything like this. I don't think it holds much value, perhaps other than sentimental. But it leaves us with no clues as to where she might be from."

"I'm afraid not."

"Has everyone given this woman their respects?"

"Yes, Chiaki-sama. We have."

"Very well... Then we shall begin the proceedings now."

Acting as High Priestess, Chiaki also went up to pay her final respects. She chanted a long mantra, in some fabled forgotten tongue, before turning around to see the masses that had gathered behind her. She made the handsigns that were also a part of their funeral rites, before sprinkling a handful of holy water onto the woman's face. Candles and flowers had been placed all around the altar. She chanted one of their hymns and the other Nuns followed along, having memorized it word for word. Michiko joined in with them, before a somber silence settled over the crowd.

Having successfully performed their funeral rites, Chiaki nodded for the woman to be taken to the mausoleum, next door. Several of them lifted her into a casket, carrying her. Each of the Nuns accompanied them, as they all walked the deceased to her final resting place.

After the burial, no one said anything for a long time. The Nuns normally waited a period of time after the dead had passed on, before speaking. It was out of respect, like a moment of silence that stretched onward for a bit longer than was normal. Even Michiko didn't mind waiting to speak. She knew that anything she said could not bring that woman back. It wasn't the first time she'd witnessed a funeral like this, but it was the first time in her lifetime that one was held for a stranger.

The silence was broken however, right before they went back into the Monastery. All of the Nuns waited for their Priestess to address them. This part was also tradition.

"We've just said our last farewells to the cloaked woman, a stranger who once showed up at our doorstep. We know not the reasons why she was here, nor do we know for certain how she died. We believe it was due to exposure to the elements. But we do know that she's passed on. And she left us behind with a gift that we will certainly always treasure..."

At this point, the silence was broken with many hushed whispers and murmurs. This was definitely not how things were supposed to go.

But Lady Chiaki continued...

"We have no way of knowing her identity, nor do we know of the nature of her business with us. We do not know what type of person she was. But rest assured that we have done the right thing, and given her a proper burial.

"For those of you who don't already know, she's left behind a child. She is very small, only an infant. We've been unable to find any clues about where she could have come from. And we did not receive any word of her arrival from Drum Kingdom, as we usually do when they send someone. Given these circumstances, we have decided to take in that child and raise her as one of our own... I've decided to name her... Shiori. For her snow white hair. I find it only fitting. I hope that you'll all be kind to her, and when the time comes, teach her of our ways with patience and tolerance."

She then curtsied to them in their traditional fashion. Everyone clapped once, in unison, to signify they had given their approval. Their High Priestess' word was always absolute. There was no arguing with Lady Chiaki. It was forbidden under the strict guidelines which they all had sworn to adhere to. The child was now one of them.

All of the Nuns filed into the Monastery after their Priestess had gone in. They were all going back to their normal daily routines. It was certain that speculations about what had happened here today would spread around their order like wildfire... These women did love to gossip. But Chiaki paid it no more mind, and went back up to the tower where she'd left Ruhi with the baby.

Once they had climbed back up the stairs that led to the infirmary that had been fashioned into a temporary nursery, Chiaki reminded her Niece to be quiet.

"Remember, the baby is sleeping. She needs to rest..." She waggled a stern finger in Michiko's face, who only blinked.

"I understand. I get it. I'll be quiet."

"Michiko... You should keep this." Chiaki gave the blue amulet to her. "Wear it under your habit."

"Under my uniform?"

"Yes," She nodded. "Keep it with you always... For there may come a day when the little one may need it."

"I understand, Chiaki-sama..."

Michiko took the shiny amulet and did as she was told. Her Aunt went to check on the baby, and she was left to linger in the doorway. She kept looking at the pretty blue stone that contained a single peacock feather. She wondered why a person would have something like this... She kind of liked it. At least it was pretty.

"How is she?" Were the first words that left Chiaki's mouth.

Ruhi was holding her, frowning, and feeding her with a bottle. Her expression caused her to look for more somber than any of the women who had been at the funeral procession earlier. She looked as if she'd lost a piece of herself that she could never get back. For lack of a better term, she looked absolutely worried sick.

"She woke up during all of the commotion. She was hungry, so I'm feeding her now. I have the medicine mixed in. It should be raising her temperature, but it's still the same..."

"What's the matter then? She seems to be doing just fine," Michiko pointed out, ignoring Chiaki's swatting motion to get her to be quiet.

They watched the baby entertain a snowflake that had somehow gotten in. Her eyes followed it around the room, and her stubby little fingers reached out for it, but she didn't touch it. She seemed to almost hold her breath, staring at the white crystal that floated in front of her. It seemed to follow every motion the little one made, before it landed perfectly, right on the tip of her nose.

"I..." Ruhi seemed to think for a moment, carefully considering her next words. "I don't think this is a normal child."

A/N: I really hope you enjoyed reading this chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it! So this is a story that I've had in the works for a long time. I've told most of my friends about it. It's very dear to my heart... So needless to say, I really want this to be a good story. I know this dealt with religious stuff, kind of, and I'm not even religious myself but... Please remember that it is a -fictional- religion and not meant to make any statement about any real ones. I'm not mocking anyone, it's just part of her story. Okay then...

The first chapter was mainly about Shiori's backstory and introducing her as a character. I think it's important to know these things. In the next chapter, she will be a few years older. I have many fun adventures planned for her. I hope you'll enjoy reading about them. This story will be very long, and probably very weird too. The plans along were over 50,000 words before I started. So yeah. xD

Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. Thanks for reading! c: