Wow, thanks guys! I loved the feedback, it was so exhilarating!

I want to thank Arika.D, Nighthawk, Iyanna, and Ritsa-chan!

Most especially Iyanna and Nighthawk for their critique! The only thing I could think was how much I wished that you guys had left signed reviews so I could thank you personally.

Iyanna: Thank you so much! I thought something felt wrong about the water thing, but I will fix that as soon as I can. And as for Waka's veil, YOU ARE SO RIGHT! I WILL FIX THAT, TOO! I can't wait to hear what you have to say after this chapter.

But--! Thank you all for your kind reviews! And as a reward, here is the next chapter!

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Echigo: Behind the Mountains

Chapter Three

Afternoon Stoll

PT 2

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Recap:

"Sure," Yuki said and held out her hand for the wolf to sniff. "Otherwise, they wouldn't let it in the city."

She handed the wolf the rest of her rice ball. The wolf ate the rice ball and licked her hand. She giggled, "Hi there, wolf. My name's Yuki."

"Hiya babe, I'm Issun," the wolf responded.

Yuki screamed. Mizu yelled in surprise and jumped up at the same time Yuki did. She pushed against him and he teetered over the edge of the rail. He grabbed onto her as he fell and pulled her into the water.

--

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Yuki had never been a strong swimmer. The most she was able to do was keep her head out of the water, and that was where her aquatic abilities ended. Mizu could swim circles around her any day. Except today.

The clothes of the two cousins dragged them under the water. Even though Mizu fell in first, Yuki was sinking faster than him.

'It's because of the backpack!' she realized. Mizu wasn't much better off than her, men's kimono were often heavy.

Yuki's body began to flail of its own accord, desperate for air. Black dots swam in and out of her vision, growing bigger every time. She felt light headed and her body started to slow its movements. She jerked her head to try to find Mizu.

She saw him through the black dots. His eyes were closed and he wasn't moving. Yuki tried to swim to him, but her body moved painfully sluggish.

Her arm reached out to him, but he was too far away and she wasn't strong enough to move anymore. Yuki watched in a daze as a large white figure swam over to her cousin. She was so tired. Her body screamed and burned from the lack of oxygen so she closed her eyes and felt no more.

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"Wake up, mà chèrie."

"I don't want to." Yuki grumbled.

She heard soft chuckling. "You have to, mà chèrie."

Yuki opened her eyes slowly. Waka was leaning over body. His veil-like wig was askew and his clothes were soaked, clinging to his well-sculpted body. He had a small, relieved smile on his face. Yuki closed her eyes and groaned, "Oh gods. I'm dead. And this is heaven."

"What makes you say that?" Waka asked, amusement in his voice.

"Because you're here, duh," she replied crossly, eyes still closed.

She heard him laugh and she blushed. "Well, I don't mean to disappoint you, mà chèrie, but you are very much alive."

"Okay, the babe's alive but what about this guy?" asked a new voice. It was tiny and it sounded crabby. "He's not moving and Ammy can't get him to breathe."

"Mizu!" Yuki exclaimed, sitting up suddenly. Her body felt heavy and weird, as if her limbs were tied down. Her vision wavered but she managed to find Mizu's wet body not far from hers. The white wolf stood over him, whining softly.

She set her head over his heart and listened. She couldn't hear his heart.

Feeling energy pulse through her veins, she put her hands over his stomach and thrust into his abdomen. She then pinched his nose when his body didn't respond and put her mouth over his. She breathed hot air into his mouth and forced it down into his lungs. She repeated the process until he started to cough.

She sat him up and he threw up water, groaned, and leaned back in her arms limply.

Yuki laid him on the ground and checked his pulse. It was beating slowly but then it began to beat steady and strong.

"Is he dead?" asked the tiny voice.

"No," she said, pushing his hair out of his face. "He's just unconscious."

"Promise me that if I ever stop breathing, you'll do the same for me," said the voice.

Yuki looked around for the voice. Her eyes rested on the wolf, "You can talk?" she asked, the memory of the reason she fell off the bridge coming back.

A small…thing hopped onto the wolf's nose and bounced. "This fur ball? No way, it was me. I'm Issun the Wandering Artist and this mutt here is Ammy!"

"Are you some kind of bug?" Yuki asked, squinting at the thing.

It glowed red and bounced up and down angrily, "No! No, no, no, no! I'm no bug!"

Yuki leaned away, her eyes wide. "My apologies."

"Maybe you'll see how handsome I am if you lean closer," Issun suggested, finally calming down.

Yuki leaned forward and stared hard at Issun. Her eyes focused and—"Awww! You're so cute!" she squealed.

"Told ya."

Issun was indeed no bug. He was a very, very small little person. He had black hair and cute little clothes. He was tan and he looked young. He grinned up at her.

"Are you some kind of little man under a spell?" Yuki asked gently, leaning back a little incase he was offended.

He frowned, "No. Why does everybody think that? I'm a Poncle."

"I've never heard of Poncles, Issun-san." Yuki explained softly, her vision wavering again.

She suddenly felt very dizzy. She started to fall back until a strong arm held her still.

"You must rest now, mà chèrie," Waka muttered in her ear. She obeyed and closed her eyes.

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In her dream, she was underwater again, only this time it was different. There was no struggle for air. She could breathe freely.

Yuki looked around. The water plants were just as beautiful and numerous as the plants above water. She bent down to pick one. Her body moved sluggishly in the water, but the slowed movements made her feel graceful.

She picked a pale white flower that was bigger than her head. She tried to smell it but it gave off no fragrance. Disappointed, she settled for examining it instead. She almost dropped it in surprise.

It had a face.

The eyes were closed, but there was no mistaking it. Its nose was in the middle of the flower and its mouth was set in a thin frown, as if its dreams were unpleasant.

"How could a flower have nightmares?" Yuki wondered out loud. The water made her voice strange to her ears, it sounded distorted and strange, as if it was someone else's voice.

"It is because I am troubled," whispered the flower, eyes still closed. Unlike her voice, the flower's sounded normal, masculine, distressed.

"Oh?" Yuki replied unfazed. She was getting used to these strange happenings. "What troubles you so, Flower-san?"

With its eyes remaining closed, the flower told her a tragic story of a person. The flower hadn't said what sex the person was. The flower hadn't described them. The flower hadn't told her much about them, except of a terrible thing the person had done.

Unintentionally, the person had destroyed the Celestial Plains, home to the gods. The person and their clan had brought an ark containing terrible monsters. The gods had no warning. The occupants of the ship had no warning.

The person was the only one to survive.

Without the gods to control them, the monsters wreaked havoc among the humans. Now the person had to bear the deaths of the gods and humans. The person told no one, not wishing to burden anyone else. Not wanting to be trusted, not wanting to harm anyone else, the person had lived in solitude for one hundred years. The person had lived with the burden of the gods' deaths over their head for hundreds of years by the time they began to mingle with humans.

"This person…are they still alive?" Yuki asked the huge flower in a small voice.

"Yes. The person still lives. He is immortal." The flower answered, finally hinting that the person male.

"What a terrible burden to carry," even though she was underwater, she still found tears running down her face.

The flower stayed quiet, not opening his eyes, not saying a word.

Yuki finally stopped crying and gripped the petals firmly, but not hard.

"Where is this person? How dare they?" She said, suddenly angry. The flower's eyes opened slightly, curious. Yuki still couldn't see his eyes.

"Maybe he has the right to be sad. Maybe he has the right to not want to burden anyone. But he doesn't have the right to shut himself away," Yuki told the flower angrily. "It wasn't his fault. Surely the gods know that. And as for the humans, well, he could've helped protect them, couldn't he? If he's immortal then-"

"Perhaps he's not quite immortal." The flower suggested, eyes opening even further.

Yuki's brows furrowed, "Well either way, if he's that damned remorseful, then maybe he could've repaid his debt by helping humans. And if he's not immortal, then what is he?"

"A member of the Moon Tribe." The flower whispered.

"Never heard of them," Yuki said shortly. "Anyway, where is this guy? I'll pound some sense into him. He has no right to mope around like that. He lived, didn't he? It was for a reason, wasn't it?"

"Perhaps," the flower mused, "fate works in strange ways. He is still looking for his purpose, this person."

"Tell me where to find him," Yuki demanded, shaking the flower slightly. "I'll help him find his purpose. I'll kick his ass all the way to that purpose. Where is he?"

"Right here…" the flower said softly, eyes opening all the way. Yuki almost dropped the flower again. With dark purple eyes that looked up at her pitifully, Yuki saw that the flower was Waka.

He smiled at her sorrowfully and then disappeared. Yuki heard his voice as the scenery was fading. "Even if you do not mean it, ma chèrie, your words are kind."

"I meant it, hey-! Did you hear me, I said I meant it!" Yuki yelled in the quickly fading scenery. Waka's voice chuckled wryly, as if he did not believe it. "I meant it!" She screamed into growing abyss.

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"I meant it!" Yuki shouted as she sat up.

"Meant what, Yuki-chan?"

Yuki looked to her left and saw Tsuki sitting next to her. She looked worried but also slightly curious.

"Oh—nothing. I…it was just a dream, that's all." Yuki explained shakily. She gulped and changed the subject quickly, "What time is it?"

"It is near sunset. Your cousin is fine, by the way. He is eating with the others. Its dinner time now, would you like to wash up and join the others?"

Yuki felt a cold chill spill down her spine, "Near sunset?" she repeated numbly. She and Abe were supposed to be fishing now.

Tsuki nodded in confirmation. "Yes, are you feeling well? I could get one of the palace healers to look at you."

Yuki flung the covers off, and stood unsteadily. Someone, Tsuki, she assumed, had changed her clothes and dressed her in her yukata.

"No time to change," Yuki muttered. A yukata was fine anyway; they were outer clothes, too.

"What do you mean? Do you plan on going somewhere?" Tsuki asked as she stood and helped steady Yuki.

"I'm late. I promised Abe-kun that I would go fishing with him this evening. I have to go now," Yuki said, heading to the door of her room. She grabbed a pair of short geta and opened her door.

"As your maid and friend, I insist that you lay back down!" Tsuki said as she followed Yuki. "Abe-san will understand."

"No. I'm perfectly fine, anyway. A promise is a promise and if I feel light-headed," she said quickly, noticed Tsuki was about to protest. "He'll help me back inside."

"What about your bindings?"

Yuki stopped and groped her chest. "Damn it. Well, I can't go back. I'll be fine. It's not a necessity. I just like to be modest." She muttered as she walked in a brisk pace. They were now in the main hall.

"What-what about your family, then?"

"Tell them. It's okay. They'll understand. I have to go now, I'm sorry." Yuki apologized. She passed the guards and broke into a run down the stairs, leaving poor Tsuki at the top.

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'What did Abe-kun say? To the right of the palace?' Yuki thought. She was now in the entrance of the palace, looking at the bridges to her left and right in confusion.

"No, to the left." She murmured and ran to her left.

She ran to the bridge with her shoes still in her hands.

"Abe-kun!" she called as she jogged across the bridge.

She paused at the base of the bridge, peering around for her friend. She finally spotted a figure to her left on a dock. It was slumping, as if it was depressed and holding a fishing pole half-heartedly over the water. A small fishing box lay next to the figure, along with another pole.

Yuki realized who it was and cried out joyfully. "Abe-kun!" she exclaimed and ran over to the figure.

Startled, Abe looked over his shoulder. Yuki threw her shoes to the ground and opened her arms and tackled him off the dock and into the water.

She clung to Abe tightly, not only for her inability to swim, but also because she was so glad to see him.

Abe managed to get over his initial shock at her surprising tackle and straightened himself in the water. She held on to him like a monkey.

"Yuki-san! You scared me!" he said finally, returning what he thought was a hug.

"Um…" he said when she didn't let go.

"I can't swim," she said sheepishly.

"Um…this part is shallow."

Yuki, still holding on tightly, tentatively let a foot reach down to feel the bottom. Finding what he said to be true, Yuki let go and stood back slightly. The water came up to her collarbone.

"I'm so sorry, Abe-kun. I didn't forget, I swear. I drowned earlier and I just woke up."

He looked at her uneasily. "Are you feeling well, then, Yuki-san? Should you go back inside?"

Yuki gave him a playful push, "I told you to call me Yuki-chan. And I'm fine, okay?"

"Going for another swim, babe?"

Yuki and Abe turned to the dock. The white wolf was sitting on the dock, wagging its tail. Issun the Poncle bounced on its nose.

"Issun-kun!" Yuki greeted. She grabbed Abe's hand and wadded toward the dock. With the help of the wolf, Yuki heaved her body onto the dock. Abe deftly swung his body on the dock, landing on it with far more grace then she.

"Show off," Yuki muttered darkly.

She turned her attention to the wolf and scratched it behind its ears. "Issun-kun, what did you say the wolf's name was?"

The Poncle was unnervingly quiet and unmoving on the wolf's nose.

"Issun-kun?" Yuki poked him gently with her pinky.

"Huh?" he said.

"Are you okay? I asked you what the wolf's name was and you didn't answer."

The Poncle resumed his bouncing, "Oh, sorry. Her name's Amaterasu."

"Are you okay?" Yuki repeated, her eyes following his movements.

"Oh, yeah. I'm fine. You are too," he added. "You got some big friends there."

Yuki, having hung around boys for all her life, knew what he was talking about right away.

She blushed scarlet, "You pervert!" she said accusingly and struck him. The Poncle flew off the dock and landed in a patch of grass somewhere.

"I think I knocked him unconscious." Yuki said unemotionally, folding her arms. She stuck her nose in the air and glanced at a baffled Abe.

Her anger vanished as suddenly as it had come and she turned to Abe. "So are we still gonna fish?"

The wolf barked and wagged its tail. She didn't seem affected or angry about her little companion being hit.

"Amaterasu, wasn't it?" Yuki asked the wolf.

The wolf barked again and its tail thumped against the dock.

"I'll take that as a yes," Yuki smiled and pet the wolf affectionately.

She looked at Abe, "See? Amaterasu's all for it."

Abe returned her smile with his crooked one, "Okay."

Yuki scooted over to the edge of the dock and grabbed a pole. The fishing box lay in the middle of the two friends. She opened the fishing box and found a smaller box inside. She opened the smaller box and found a worm. Yuki used her nails to slice the worm in half. She baited the hook with one hand while the other dropped the other half of the worm in the box.

"You really know what you're doing," Abe commented as he picked up the other half and baited his own hook, using both hands.

"I told you earlier, I love fishing." Yuki said. She expertly cast one with one hand while the other pet Amaterasu, who snuck up beside her.

Abe cast his pole. Yuki watched her bobber, a small piece of bright yellow wood, and thought about her dream.

"Abe-kun?"

"Hm?" he said absentmindedly.

"Is Waka-san human?"

"What?" he laughed.

Yuki glanced at him, realizing he didn't know what she knew. Or rather, what she suspected.

"Nothing." She muttered and looked back at her cork.

"What makes you ask that?" Abe asked, his laughter chuckles now.

"Oh, well, he's too beautiful to be human so I figured that he was sort of demon," she half lied. 'Well he is beautiful,' she said to herself.

"Hey I got a bite!" Abe exclaimed, yanking on his pole.

Yuki watched him reel his line in. This was her favorite part of fishing, when someone caught something.

She could have saved her excitement, though, because there was no fish on the hook.

"Damn, it got away," Abe said crossly.

Yuki smiled, she hadn't heard him cuss before.

"You're cute, you know." She told him, turning her attention to her own line.

"Oh-I-um…"

"You're even cuter when you're flustered," she teased.

"You…you're cute, too," he said softly.

Before Yuki could turn to see his face, she felt a tug on her pole.

"I got a bite!" she exclaimed as she stood up. She pulled, trying to get the hook to stick in the fish's mouth. The pole nearly flew out of grasp as the fish retaliated.

"Shit--!" she cursed. She pulled harder and the fish returned her yank with by fighting harder. Yuki felt her body moving slightly. The fish was pulling her in.

"Damn it—Abe-kun, help me!" she cried as she was towed to the edge of the dock.

Abe dropped his pole, jumped up, and grabbed her waist.

"Okay, lean back!" Yuki ordered, gripping the pole tightly.

Yuki and Abe leaned back, the two of them fusing together because of their wet clothes. The fish pulled harder and Yuki felt the combined weight of her and Abe slipping to the edge.

Amaterasu joined in and bit onto Abe's butt and yanked them back. Abe almost lost his grip on Yuki from the pain.

"Okay guys, PULL!" Yuki commanded. The trio heaved in one big yank and the fish flew out of the water. The sudden loss of opposing force caused them to fall back. Amaterasu let go of Abe quickly and ran over to the fish, sniffing at it curiously.

Yuki and Abe sat up, Yuki on Abe's lap. Yuki peered over his shoulder to look at her catch.

"That is one big ass mountain trout," she said with bated breath, leaning against Abe's chest and looking up at him.

He looked down at her with pink tinged on his cheeks. He opened his mouth to say something when he was interrupted.

"That's quite a catch, ma chèrie."

Yuki and Abe looked over to the source of the voice. Waka stood off next to the bridge, Mizu standing next to him.

"Mizuki!" Yuki said and got off of Abe to run over to her cousin. She hugged him tightly and spun him around, "Oh Mizuki, I'm so glad you're okay!"

"Me…too…" he said weakly.

She loosed her embrace, "Uncle would've killed me if you had died."

She stepped back and took her cousin in, looking at his new clothes and his face. He had a large bruise on his cheek.

"You have a bruise," she said softly and touched his bruise gently. It was dark purple and about the size of her fist.

"Yeah," he cringed. "I think it happened on the dock."

"I don't think I have any bruises, but I didn't look," she said thoughtfully, putting a finger underneath her chin.

"What do you mean, you don't know?" Mizu asked angrily while putting his haori over her shoulders.

Yuki immediately understood the reason why he put his jacket over her and she blushed, clinging to it and pulling it closer to her body.

"Master Waka," Abe greeted and bowed low. "It is good to see you."

Waka nodded at Abe stiffly. Abe looked ashamed and turned his attention away from the Tao master, not knowing the reason for the curt reply but understanding that he was not pleased.

"Um, hello Waka-kun." Yuki said uncomfortably, unsure if her dream was an actual conversation between them or not.

He looked over her, eyes cold, but he replied with a curt nod, as he did with Abe. An awkward silence followed. Yuki felt embarrassed, as if she and Abe had been caught doing something perverted.

Thankfully, Amaterasu tugged on her sleeve and barked. Yuki looked away from Waka's unfeeling gaze and over to the now motionless fish.

"Oh my god, the fish!" she exclaimed and ran over to it. Its fins moved half-heartedly and its eyes were beginning to glaze over.

"Quick, Abe-kun! Get it off the hook!" Yuki cried, waving her arms.

He came over quickly, as did Mizu. Waka walked over with a sort of calm arrogance.

"Get it off and throw it in the water!" Yuki demanded, pointing to the poor fish.

"Why don't you do it?" Abe asked blankly.

Yuki blushed, "I don't touch the fish."

Abe bent down and grabbed the fish's mouth and unhooked the hook. "You love to fish, yet you don't touch the fish?"

"Yeah!" Mizu answered for her. "Get this—she doesn't eat fish either!"

Even Waka chuckled at that; Abe laughed loudly. Yuki stamped her foot angrily, "Yeah, yeah, very funny. Put that fish back in the water." She said bossily.

Abe tried to pick up the fish but it was too big. Mizu helped lift the fish but suddenly, life flowed back into its eyes and it smacked the two with its huge tail. Mizu yelled in pain and alarm and dropped the fish.

Abe had to let go, he hadn't before, even though he too was surprised. The fish, now free of the hook in its mouth, flopped all over the place. Unfortunately for Yuki, it flopped over to her.

She screamed a bone-chilling, high pitched squeal and hid behind Waka, "Get it away from me!" she screeched, pushing him forward.

He picked up the fish effortlessly and tossed it in the water as if it were a small pebble. The fish landed in the water with a gigantic splash and disappeared under the surface.

Yuki glared at Mizu, "You were useless, you big baby, for gods sake, it was only a fish!"

He glared back just as vehemently, "If it was only a fish, then why didn't you take care of it?"

A light pink brushed her cheeks and she jutted her chin forward defiantly, "You know how I feel about fish!"

He was about to open his mouth with a smart comeback, but the wolf bit his hand gently, as if scolding him.

Yuki smirked triumphantly and helped Abe pick up his fishing gear. She insisted on carrying the tackle box when they were done and Abe, knowing it would be useless to argue, let her without protest.

The five, including the wolf, ambled slowly across the bridge. "What about Issun?" Yuki asked Amaterasu, not bothering with any honorifics.

The wolf seemed to shrug and grin at her. Yuki grinned and looked over at Abe, her smile dropping instantly.

"Abe-kun, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for our evening to be ruined."

He smiled crookedly at her, "I had a wonderful time, Yuki-chan. Honestly."

She watched him carefully, looking for any sign of regret or lies. Finding none, she sighed happily. "I'm glad, then. But I will make it up to you, I swear."

"How're you gonna do that?" Mizu asked, folding his arms at her.

"I dunno. Maybe you will come with us to Echigo?" Yuki suggested to Abe. "If you do, I will give you the best tour in the world. You'll have a ton of, I can promise you that."

Mizu burst in excitedly, "We can take him to the haunted cave! And old lady Tora's house!"

"Don't forget our secret place," Yuki reminded with a yawn. She began to walk slower than the other two.

She listened tiredly while Mizu explained their favorite places. Waka had walked behind the three quietly, but now he picked her up and held her gently, as one does to a baby. She was too tired to protest, and put her head on his firm chest. She held onto the poles tightly and closed her eyes.

Her head was underneath his chin so she leaned up and whispered softly in his ear, "I meant what I said."

He murmured something back, but she couldn't hear, for she had already fallen asleep in his reassuring arms.

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How was it? I'm still trying to decide whether or not to include the business/politics between Haru and Himiko or not.

Please, please, PLEASE review! It encourages me so much, even if its just a 'good job'!

April 27, 2008

Tahoma size 10, 12 pages, 4,508 words

oKaMi iS nOt mInE

Again, I encourage you to correct me! So please, if you spot any mistakes, major or minor, please be kind and tell me!

Doomo arigatoo gozaimasu!

--dani

PS: I have a picture of Yukiko in her formal kimono.

dani-s-random-fox./gallery/#scrapbook ((deviant art)) just add the www the dot then that and then a dot and then a com. Simple, right?

Please tell me what you think!