A.N.: Written a while ago, and edited and re-edited until it started to look anything but a proper story. Still not too happy with it, but couldn't stand to have it sit any longer on my harddrive.

Disclaimer: Petshop of Horrors and its characters are property of Akino Matsuri.

World to Come

This one, says the child, holding out the book.

The man reaches for it, fingers the aged parchment carefully. Are you sure, Chris? This is a bit of a sad story.

The child nods, because he likes the feel of the book. Because it had ricepaper-thin pages filled with entwining calligraphy – that he could certainly never read for himself, if the Count was not there – and a tiny bird inked in on the spine.

The man understands this, and agrees. He knows that books can be silent but unfathomable, just like children.

And so – on a windy evening, in a city by the sea – he finds himself sitting at the child's bedside, reading in a lilting ghostly-velvet voice that reached out and flickered with the candlelight on the walls –

A long, long time ago, the earth had its youth, the thunderstorms their voices, and flowers bloomed in the desert and drew men to the wild. And at that time – in that time – a young girl lived by the water, in a village at the edge of the sea. She was –

– she was beautiful, the voice continues, a ghostly galleon upon the waves. And clever, and, mostly of all, in her own way wild; so that many saw who her thought, secretly but surely, that she must have been the progeny of the sun god himself.

And the child looks at him – with one eye golden, just like the sun – and smiles, because grandfather is a good storyteller, and because he likes the combination of calm and candlelight and warm blankets.

They were there and forever and soft; soft, subdued, unlike the sun.

She cared deeply for her fellow men, but at the same time was drawn to the fields, the mountains, the shoreline, in search of something more. She followed wolves into the forest, to read stories written in the leaves; she spoke with gulls, and lamented the breaking of the waves. She ran with unicorns, in a time when there was not yet need for kings.

And the child smiles even more – Grandfather, she sounds a bit like you.

The reader raises his eyebrows, smiles, but reads on.

In the days that the world was wild, the sea, too, was treacherous. It was a vast crystalline expanse polished with jealousy; unspoiled, untamed, a jewel shining with such fervor that it could not stand the thought of any brighter.

And it felt nothing but the deepest hatred for any creature so beautiful, so wild, so revered in the world of men, but equally worthy of reverence in its world – the world of the wild, the People – as well.

The child's eyes are wide but silently accepting, already sensing, bracing themselves, for the tragedy sure to come. The man takes note, and for a brief moment wishes that it did not have to, that he could find some excuse and skip a page –

– but of course, does not.

And so the sea watched, and waited. Until, that is, one calm evening, when the girl took her own small wooden vessel out onto the water, and – innocent, carefree – trailed her hand along the surface of the water, severing the image of the setting sun.

And so it conjured a great wave that swept the entire length of shoreline. It overturned her small vessel so quickly – unforgivingly – that not even the gulls had time to cry out a warning.

Thus, she vanished below the churning water, beneath a blood-red setting sun.

The child stares. He stares down at the crisp pages at the striking watercolor images stare back at him. In the candlelit room, within his one bright, mismatched eye – they are churning blue waves among a sea of gold.

And whereas moments ago, on the page, there had been flat strings of words, esoteric patterns of ink, there was now something larger, more tangible, hovering just beyond his understanding.

But, even so, not all was at an end.

(And grandfather's voice is no longer ghostly, but suddenly very real, a part of the book itself.)

Not all hope had been lost.

Because when the Gods saw what had passed, they were angry with the sea. They took pity upon the maiden's wandering soul, and changed her into a strange, sharp-winged bird with a shrill cry, free to soar through sharp evergreen forests and upon mountain winds, away from the treacherous sea.

But although the bird did not dwell on her sorrow, nor could she ignore it, and so not for a moment did she even consider leaving the coast. And – and the man pauses, and asks – do you know why that is?

And the child shakes his head. No, I don't, Count.

And the child shakes his head. No, I don't, grandfather.

Well, says the storyteller, his voice even softer. Every day, at dawn and dusk, the people from the village would see the bird gliding along the shoreline, and at first they would wonder and call her an avatar of the sun god, or of dawn itself. But then they would see her swooping down to pick up one tiny pebble after another and carrying it out over the water –

And then, surely, methodically, like a grain of sand teetering at the junction of an hourglass, she would let it drop.

And before it had even vanished –before it had a chance to become another ripple amongst the waves – she would be gone; back to the shore, in search of another.

And the people wondered even more after that, at a creature who desired justice so much as to wish to – through sundering it with an eternity's worth of pebbles – conqueor the sea.

The storyteller pauses to glance at the child – sleepy, still riveted, trying hard to decide whether such an ending should be called triumph or tragedy.

(Just as he'd himself wondered, every time he thought of the legend.)

When the sea laughs at her its laugh is cruel, unpoised, derision as raw and unfocused as the winds that tug at her fragile wings. When she laughs back her laugh is calmer, confident – a promise of greater deeds to come.

And, even in this time and age, should one find an expanse of seashore that hearkens back to those days – when the earth had its youth, the thunderstorms their voices, and flowers bloomed in the desert and drew men to the wild – should one walk along it, one still might see that strange little bird. Pebble by pebble, issuing a challenge to the sea.

And when all that is treacherous in the world is gone, and the sun rises only over pure dark earth. She will be there, victorious.

Still laughing; still wild.

Ricepaper-thin pages close in ricepaper-pale hands, just as the child's eyes flicker and close as well.

The storyteller rises silently, puts away the book, and draws up the blankets. For a moment his expression suggests that he would like to say something further, but soon that gives way to only relief.

– and although the child doesn't remember in the morning, he does lie there, thinking – thinks that in the candlelight, grandfather's eyes are not warm like gold. Because behind them was something timeless – something so very sharp – that would never budge, never flow like colors did.

(…because they tell me, grandfather, that you're going to tell me another story like this someday.)

But that is a sad story, Count, murmurs the child, drifting off to sleep. I don't – I don't think – I'd want to be like her.

The man watches the thoughtful blue eyes swing shut, and he thinks of just how much the child resembles his brother, and of how neither of them could ever – would ever – be like her.

(…and maybe, just maybe, grandfather, I don't want to be like you, either.)

His voice – their voice – still echoes in the room; there and forever, but no longer soft.

End Notes: The story that D read is actually based off a real Chinese legend, a summary which can be found at It was given here, though, in a slightly modified and greatly dragged-out form.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read/review. :D