Disclaimer: Yoshitoshi ABe owns Haibane Renmei; I do not. I make no profit off of this story. Please don't sue. ;)
This short story caught me by surprise. I don't know where it came from; I was working when it suddenly sprang to mind...including the final twist at the end. I hope you enjoy it...and I would hope things never come about in Haibane Renmei like this 'for real', as in canon reality...
Also...religious zealouts tread carefully. This is not meant to be a reflection of my private beliefs but my theories on why Glie exists the way it does, seemingly on Earth and yet cut off from the outside world. No insult or innuendo is intended towards any religion.
The Last Haibane?
The room was still as dark as ever. Black paint, even after ten years, was still as firmly on the walls as the very day Reki had painted it there. The painted images of the iron rail could still be seen, the rocky path...and overhead, a blood moon still glowed omniously throughout the room, broken only by the window...echoes of a terrifying, incomplete cocoon dream that once upon a time had haunted a teenage Haibane for seven years.
A dream dimmed by the passage of another decade, and softened by the layer of dust coating the walls.
A set of footsteps had broken the long-undisturbed dust, and from the window one item shone in the bleakness of this forbidden room--a lovely halo settled over the head of a young woman whose pulled-back hair could not quite hide the fact it was rather messy.
This forbidden room, where so much drama had taken place...this room with the door shut on this particular memory, never again to be revisted, for ten long years. Reki's long-hidden tears, Reki's pain and despair...Reki's whisper of help that finally led to her freedom from her inner private demons when she'd dared to reach out and take the hand of another.
Rakka sighed quietly to herself, clutching the key tightly in her fist. It had been her hand, her desire, her drive to save the one she had loved and looked up to. Reki's Day of Flight had been a beautiful sight to behold, the memory of her existence was safely in Rakka's mind, and this room and cocoon dream could be safely forgotten. It was no longer needed.
Without a sound, the occupant of the room turned and headed back the way she came. Yes, now. It was doing her good to walk down the path of ten years' worth of memories. A full decade of images in her mind and the images of Reki, of Kuu, those she'd loved the most. They were no longer here to remind her daily of their existence, but Rakka still remembered. She had to. It was now her sole responsibility in the name of all Haibane.
After all, there was nobody else to do so.
A key turned in the lock once more, and the key, no longer needed, and, Rakka wondered, perhaps never to be touched by a single pair of hands again. Perhaps, long in the future, she mused, a pair of curious human hands would find that key, and turn the lock, and stare agape at the treasures revealed...for except for that room and the painting Rakka carefully tended, of a young woman with wings and glasses...the passage of time had ensured that there was no remaining stamp evident in this room that Reki had even existed.
Soft foosteps carried Rakka down a set of stairs, and paused once more in front of a door--the door to what had been the Guest Room.
It was now her room once more, the way it had been in those early days...
She had not been able to help herself. As Old Home had emptied, the life inside the walls gradually receding, she had needed to.
The Guest Room alone had retained its spark of life. Too many voices had laughed happily in here for it to lose its joy and its warmth.
She pushed through the cheerful-looking room and went out onto the veranda.
What had happened? Where had they all gone?
The joy of finding new cocoons had long since died. seven years had passed since the last one had been found...and to a Haibane, seven years was a lifetime.
Nemu...sleeping...had finally awoken from her slumber...she had been sleeping, in a sense, even when she was awake, sleeping because there had been no further reason for her to stay. There had not been for a long period of time even before Rakka had hatched from her cocoon. Nemu had hung on for her stubborn, quiet desire to see Reki attain her flight first and finally, she had.
Nemu had departed later into the New Year, the last link to a very different past than what Rakka had known.
It had been just the beginning. One by one, those Rakka knew and loved had found peace within themselves and departed, like all good Haibanes should. The walls had called to them, telling them that it was time; they could depart.
Even though none of them had ever said a word, Rakka had always known. She'd gotten good at that, and always tried to greet the occassion with a smile...saving her tears for night. She had long since come to believe that tears of grief would not disturb the departing Haibane. Where they were now they could sense her heart, and though she might miss them, they would also understand that underneath those tears was a deep joy that they had found their departure without problems.
One day, she would join them all again, and feel their love once more.
After all, like Nemu, some part of her was simply sleeping...and waiting. Like Nemu, and perhaps like Kuramori, she'd held out as long as she could, until just a few months prior when the very last Young Feather born, seven years ago, had been picked up by the Haibane Renmei and never returned...for if a young feather reached readiness before a certain age, it was the Haibane Renmei who led them along the final steps of their existence in Glie.
Not for much longer.
The glowing halo above Rakka's head dimmed as it spun on her head. Rakka was only vaguely aware of it. A powerful pull had taken ahold of her, and she knew today would be the day.
Come, Charcoal Feather. Come into the Western Woods. It is time. Time to start a journey...
Yes, it was time. The elderly Communicator must have known, too, for he had not reminded her of tomorrow's schedule. His unusual departing phrase to her, "May your journey home be a peaceful one," had been intensely emotional for the old man.
Her hand gestures to the Renmei members, gestures of farewell, had been returned with unusual fervor by all of them. Rakka had long since learned their secret language by working in the temple and their gratitude was great.
So soon...soon she'd surely be encircled by the love of those gone before, wouldn't she? She no longer feared the walls, and now they called to her with a force she could no longer ignore.
She hoped the Communicator could handle everything once she was gone. She did not know if it had ever happened before that Glie's reason for existence, the Haibane, had gone so totally without any to exist for. Would it descend into oblivion? Did the outside world even have a need for Haibane any longer?
With the walls and the Veil seperating them from the outside world...nobody could tell for sure.
Rakka had never even spoken to the Communicator of the deepest secrets she had learned...after all, Reki had known the walls were seperated by death and yet...Glie was still on Earth. Nobody got in because of not just the walls, but the Veil. The Toga were the only ones who moved from the towns that existed on this side of the Veil, and that side, like silent, penitent angels.
Anyone from the outside world even standing and looking at the walls would never even see a town there...who could, with the Veil seperating them.
Even newborn babies had the veil close on them at birth, to not reopen until death...the Haibane had this close back on them with their Cocoon Dream.
And now...Rakka felt it, everything the others had surely felt. Her portal past the Veil surrounding Glie had opened up, and she had a journey she must fulfill.
Kuu...I've always felt that cup in my heart too. It has been full for so long...I never knew how much before now that a Haibane can resist it for a time. You had no reason to resist it...I'm waking up, at long last. I have no reason to sleep any more...and with that cup so full I never got lonely even when I was alone...because I'm never really alone.
After that...she could do nothing. She could do nothing about Glie's isolation and with no more Haibane for them to protect.
The spring breeze ruffled Rakka's hair further. It was a beautiful day; perfect for a walk. She knew the Western Woods very well by now. The trip to the ruins would not be the hazardous event it had been in her youth.
Remembering Kuu, she quietly packed a breakfast of pancakes and a water bottle, before cleaning up one last time, putting everything away neatly.
For the last time, she turned and looked at the bright, cheerful large Guest Room.
It would still hold its warmth for years to come. She hoped so...just in case...
And if that "just in case" happened...she prayed everything would be okay, and a guiding hand extended. She could no longer do so.
A burning pain started in her eyes as she descended the stairs. Why did they smart so? Was it because her vision seemed filled with light?
There was nothing. Nothing holding her back. Rakka felt so light, as if her wings had grown in size and were carrying her just above the grass. Then why, when she turned and gave one last look at the West Wing, did her eyes well up and run over, and so many tears pour down her cheeks? And this flood of memories...
Your cup, Rakka. Your cup. Your sleep was so long, your cup ran over from being too full. Your heart is full, said that inner voice. There is no shame. Your tears are rivers of plenty, of bounty.
Rakka smiled, a beautiful smile reflecting that beautiful cup she'd always known about in her heart, ever since Kuu had told her about it.
The light, the pearlesque glow that now surrounded everything...it seemed to pulse, pulling her gently towards the western woods, an invisible guiding hand.
Once Rakka walked past her beloved Hill of Winds...she stopped looking back. She could only move forwards.
The bright sunlight filtered down through the trees of the dense woods. Even the trees seemed to sparkle and glow with a lifeforce that could not be seen on this side of the Veil. The wall's strength on this side, usually strongest...when had it dimmed so? The very air seemed to shimmer invitingly...so much seemed to go on just past it...
The halo on her head dimmed again...the wall reacting to it...weakening.
These halos...they keep a Haibane here...they don't let them leave before their Day of Flight...they make sure the Haibane has every chance they can get to find peace within themselves...just like the wall themselves...that same force right over our heads instead.
So it had said in the ancient writings, Rakka thought absently. A sudden startling image appeared...she remembered a shimmering reflection on the ceiling, the day she woke up after hatching. It was as if a bowl of water had been placed in sunlight, reflecting it on the ceiling...but there had been no bowl.
Rakka smiled with new understanding of what it had been. The last remaining aura of the Veil, of Rakka's last tenacious link with it, had stayed until the Halo had been applied, leaving Rakka fully within the town of Glie to start her new life as a Haibane.
How strange...how was she getting all these answers? She'd not even found these in her secret research over the years...yet deep in her heart these answers flared to life.
Soon you will know all, came that inner voice. Soon...
There was the stepping stone...glowing so invitingly...
Reki, Kuu, Nemu...everyone...I am coming.
All around her, the sky darkened in color.
Not with rain, but to the deepest blue hues possible for nature to create.
All around her was silence. Not even the wind rustled the grass.
Rakka cast one last glance around her. A bird...a single crow...was in evidence.
Rakka knew...she knew the look in that bird's eyes. The joy there matched her own.
Thank you, she called out silently to it. Thank you for saving me.
She stepped upon the stone.
For just a second, the silence seemed hollow, like the pause between heartbeats.
A glow enveloped Rakka's body, and a shimmering wave of gold came over her wings as they grew...and grew.
Painlessly they became these full-fledged beautiful wings, wings that still glittered with a shower of golden sparkles when Rakka stretched them wide.
Rakka, I believe we can fly someday.
Kuu's voice came back to her. Kuu's wish had been granted and now...hers was too.
The glowing column of light that enveloped her and stretched skyward caught the glitter of two more tears that had crept down her face. Even as Rakka felt her body merge with the light, she stretched forth her wings in flight.
The glowing column took her skyward, past the portal in the Veil...the portal to her journey.
With her body now one with the light, the burned-out halo fell to the ground, clanking faintly as it went.
Only a few gray feathers settled over it.
All around Glie, activity stopped, and all heads turned and looked up at the beautiful light display. It was a very visual light dance even in the middle of the day.
Many people choked up, swallowed, and only nervously went about their business. The stories had always said that the Haibane were their good luck, and that the town really existed for them...but the last one left in Glie was no more.
The story of the Haibane seemed to be over. The last one had recieved the blessing.
The mists surrounding Rakka were great. It was a thick fog, although she could see. Rakka had been flying. She could sense the wellwishes of those humans she had known, and was grateful for them, and she understood their sadness at realizing the last Haibane had left them.
I will always remember you all...
So much fog...so much mist!
Still Rakka kept flying on, guided by instinct...there was strong love emanated along that link that pulled her along. She was not afraid.
Finally, small islands of grass seemed to poke out through the mist.
Rakka did not try to land, for she no longer had to worry about being tired.
Gradually the fog receded, and the skies began to clear once more, until Rakka found herself flying over the most beautiful garden she could have ever imagined. Lush rivers flowed below, trees heavy with fruit dotted the landscape...and darting merrily over paths in the grass were many winged beings, all laughing happily.
Only then did Rakka land. Who could stay in the air amidst such splendor?
Or who could stay up there when she so clearly sensed the love now waiting to claim her?
"Rakka! You're here! I knew it...I'm so glad!"
For the first person she enfolded into her embrace, as in her dreams, was little Kuu. Somehow deep down she knew Kuu would find her first, and when she was hugged hard from behind, she knew it instantly.
In a flash Rakka was kneeling and hugging Kuu as if she'd never let go...she'd dreamed of this moment too often in the last years.
"Kuu! Oh, Kuu..."
"I'm so happy!" cried Kuu. Blue eyes sparkled with joy out of a face unchanged since the day she left...for Kuu still looked like a child. "When I had to leave, I knew it would be hard for you...but I was always there, Rakka!"
"Oh, Kuu, I know..." Rakka sighed, feeling almost complete now. "I know..."
One by one Rakka was found and quickly surrounded by many laughing, happy faces...Hikari, Nemu, Kana.
Where was Reki?
"Reki is around here," answered Nemu placidly. "Knowing her..." She seemed to think a moment. "Come on, ladies, let's leave Rakka alone for a while. Let her absorb the beauty in peace..."
"We're always around," said Kuu with a deep wisdom in her blue eyes. "All we have to do is spread our wings..."
She flapped her full-fledged wings as she did so, and everyone around her laughed as they walked off, leaving Rakka standing alone beneath a beautiful tree.
Reki, where are you? Don't you know I'm here, and I waited and yearned to be able to be around you again for ten long years?
A slight sting went through her heart, and despite herself, Rakka felt her eyes shimmer once more with pent up emotion.
Reki, don't you know even now how much I loved you, friend, sister?
With a sigh Rakka spread her wings once more, and headed towards a lake she spied in the far distance...such a beautiful lake, and moss-draped trees...so vibrant, so lively.
The area was completely deserted.
Who could ignore beauty like this? Rakka wondered.
It didn't feel ignored, and yet nobody was here.
Rakka walked over to it, and landed with her bare feet lightly in the waters, along the shore, only now realizing her clothing had changed to the same seamless white, fluffy garment that had marked her birth as a Haibane.
The water was so warm, and it calmed Rakka's turbulent emotions.
Suddenly Rakka heard a faint humming.
Startled, she looked up. She heard the humming again, and realized that further down the lake shore was a small rocky outcrop that could very well hide somone from view.
Extending her wings once more, Rakka flew to the outcrop and landed lightly inside.
It was like a large room, private, with a perfect view of the lake.
And even in a place like this, paints were scattered around.
The person painting the lake was so intent on her work that she hadn't even noticed she was no longer alone.
Rakka's eyes widened in total astonishment...then she leaned against the rocky wall and began to laugh.
"Reki really was Reki to the very end," she mused aloud.
"Rakka!" the painter whispered, her painting immediately forgotten.
"Reki..." Rakka breathed, drinking in the sight of her hungrily.
"Rakka!" Reki stared for several seconds. Her dark eyes shimmered and welled with bright tears that sparkled their way down her face.
She stood up, still looking at Rakka disbelievingly, as Rakka, the girl who had saved her, been her bird when she'd had none, the one she'd dared to trust...stood before her now.
"Rakka!" Reki cried again, taking a step towards Rakka. "Oh, Rakka!"
"I've come home, Reki," said Rakka softly as she felt Reki's arms close around her in an embrace she'd long dreamed of, alive with the love her heart had hungered for those last days in Glie. "Home is where those you love are and...yes...I'm home."
"Yes..." Reki breathed. She was crying so her voice was only a whisper. "Rakka...welcome home."
Two weeks later
Glie felt deflated. Even the Renmei had not lost their nervousness now that the last Haibane had gone. Nobody could remember a time when there had been absolutely none.
Only the elderly Communicator remained calm, and one day he took his assistants out into the gardens in front of the building.
"This is why you need not worry about Glie's future," he said gently.
A green streak was visible against the yellow dawn.
A green sparkly streak heading towards the western part of Glie...heading towards Old Home.
That green streak found a room, a dusty, abandoned room...and buried itself into the floor.
A few seconds later, the floor cracked and two leaves sprouted.
Glie was keeping its purpose after all.