This chapter gave me a lot of grief... Stupid dialogue XP Sorry for the huge delay
天明 – Tem'mei – Dawn; Daybreak; Temmei Era
As y'can see, I love to play with words ^^ You should recognize the first kanji: 天; it is a quite purposeful theme, thank you. The second kanji means "bright; light". Then there's the translation of "dawn" and "daybreak", this being the chappy's opening scene (plus worlds of symbolism). And then there's the Temmei Era in and of itself. The Temmei Era lasted between 1781 and 1789, of which correlates to a certain character of whom's past will begin to be elaborated in this chapter set, during which era a volcano erupts and there is a great famine
Oh, yes, and there will be at least one more chapter on this subject, thus the Ⅰ. Again lol
Requiem for Ether
A paradise in the clouds—Hell in the Heavens
Dawn. A Boushitsutengoku morn, at that. The morrow, as others might yet say.
A Boushitsutengoku night was one fraught with darkness and chilling winds and howls and death. Last eve had been a monochrome dream of snow flurries; dragon's breath had sent a mist to disguise one villain's presence, and then even he was driven out by the blizzard brought on by an overwhelming cold which would have otherwise held no impact upon his deadened soul.
His presence had seemed to crystallize the water vapor—creating deadly flakes which sparkled with beauty and mirth. Alluring. Just like the Nobility.
He was a rose. Hm, most certainly. Son-Gyoukumo was of the Noble class, his skin tone putting Luna to shame, his lips a brighter red than should be appropriate. His beauty was eternal and so inhumanly perfect, were one to stare into those emerald orbs, they'd find themselves caught in a thrall, and ever too happy for it.
Son-Gyoukumo was a materialized Boushitsutengoku night.
What of the morn?
This Boushitsutengoku morn was far different from those preceding.
A feather-dusting blanketed the land. Diamonds hung in glittering veils from conifers and eaves, throwing tangible rainbows across the Haiame-gawa, of which rested with a quartz sleeve and ink dress snaking through the ancient village. The sky had begun veiled, demure against the reigning whiteout, shifts of blackness between whitened puffballs. As the morn approached, the flurries had lessened, coming to a total cessation just as the sun appeared on the horizon, albeit masked behind the clouds. Its light, however diluted, furtively slicked through the vapor to sparkle and refract in a glorious tumult off the ice, off the snow, off the black sansui. Overhead, the ceiling was higher than usual, clouds distant and ash-gray. Dragon spires' ice-capped peaks were visible for once, their treasures alight with monochrome-turned-opalescent mirth. Boushitsutengoku had become an iridescent paradise.
With this flutter of glittering delight, one could almost imagine the sun peeking through to dance right alongside Yuki-Onna, the pair throwing rays of lively light this way and that, swirling in an updraft of webbed diamond amidst laughter and smiles.
The snow was simply that glorious.
Yet the sun did not peek through the village's ever present light-tyrant. Nor did laughter paint the air.
Amidst the monochrome and superfluous phantasm of color, the village was preternaturally still and quiet. Not a flake or frost-encrusted paper lantern stirred.
This was unusual.
Citizens of Boushitsutengoku were supposed to rise and fall with the sun. They were supposed to wake and get to work the moment the dangers of darkness had retreated into the deeper shadows of the citadel ever hovering in the distance, a hunk of jet and obsidian looming above the juxtaposed alpine forest less than a quarter mile from the edge of town. They were supposed to slave away in the rice fields, rain or sleet, no matter how dark the clouds made the day appear. They were supposed to work for their lives to feed not only themselves but every other living being within the village.
And they did not.
The silence resulting was eerie and oppressive. It pressed down with an iron weight, smothering like the ocean depths in how it blurred the senses and somehow retained a supernatural clarity resulting from its weighted stillness.
Come the blizzard of the previous eve, Noble and villager alike had little choice but to seek shelter. The only being willingly caught in the onslaught of crystal had been Hakugin. Considering the child's name, the concept seemed to feign rationale—however, it was logicality which made it irrational, as well.
As had since been implied, the child was most certainly sired by Son-Gyoukumo. And, considering that there were no female Nobles anywhere near the region, not to mention circumstantial evidence, Yama Kaiden was undoubtedly...
In other words: Hakugin should have been entirely unable to handle the whiteout. She was far too young, and her Noble blood held a strong abhorrence for moving water. Frozen or not, the snow had rained down with such fervor, it was practically liquid. Yet Hakugin had flounced on through, kicking up fantastic clouds of glittering white, spinning 'round and 'round to catch so many six-spire flakes as she could on hands which did not melt them. Her eyes were of a deeper black than that of the Boushitsutengoku night, endlessly unreadable, with a barely visible tint of emerald, reminiscent of the shadow of an evergreen; and they stood in stark contrast to her deathly pallor and blood-red lips. Oh! how she had pranced through the snow with a pixie-like cheer, smile maddened, eyes wide and frosty, movements armed with an inhuman grace.
Such had been the scene painting the kokeniwa. And such was the scene now.
Although the sun did not shine through the ever pervasive cloud cover, the sky did in indeed lighten to a less oppressive shade of gray, illuminating shadows, warming the frozen air. Light casts exaggerated shadows when coupled with a lingering darkness, so proven by the malicious fingers grasping at the village edge. It was somehow possessive, maddeningly so. Seemed to send the message You'll never escape me, try as you might.
And these shadows and this filtered light reflected off the now frozen ike. Reflected the ether above as a mirror would, only the ice was thin and frail, cracks splicing through its pristine clarity to refract the reflection into something no longer pleasant or benign—but menacingly beguiling. It seemed to call out in an enchanting siren, whispering a tune which blanked the mind and wiped rationality. Those cracks slivered across the mirror, distorting the clouds above just as Son-Gyoukumo's shadow had. It was with this menacing distortion that a new image was formed within that icy edifice: a face. This time, it was not that of Setsu-kisaki. Nor was it of Gyoukumo Kousui. No. It was the countenance of this shackled village's true captor. The true menace of the people's dreams, of life itself. It was of one whose very idea sent a shiver down one's spine, glazed one's eyes with death before having ever been taken, stopped breath and heart with but a blink. It was of one who was too great to be spoken of by mere name. Who was so elusive, should one see this face, they would not recognize it for its true identity, only the all-consuming fear induced.
Only the preternatural being gazing upon the scene from the chashitsu window recognized the mirror for the image it revealed. All was still for a long moment as he contemplated how to answer Kaiden's question, let alone give a reply, at all.
"What was Hunter-sama's childhood like?" she had asked.
He had not replied. D had simply hidden beneath the shadow of his traveler's hat.
During this seemingly endless pause, Kaiden had since removed herself from the blankets, folding each neatly before replacing them in the closet, and thrown on a nagajuban. Strangely, her hands were still blue, but at least some color had returned to paint the girl's lips a deep red. She then settled into seiza, as well, facing the silent Hunter 'til the light of dawn graced the ether above and beyond. The sun soon reached its late-summer zenith, the village still deathly quiet, the Hunter equally so. Kaiden fidgeted uncomfortably, her patience finally wearing thin.
She repeated her question. "What was Hunter-sama's childhood like? Was it such as this? We both exist for the same reason, Hunter-sama and I." The sentence was demurely phrased, polite in every way, yet appallingly blunt. It reflected her in the same mannerism as the ike—Kaiden, yet not.
Her words seeming to wake him from an enraptured sleep, the Hunter raised his head. No longer masked by unnatural shadow, as it had been every meeting previous, Kaiden gazed upon his preternatural resplendency. D's visage was one of ethereal beauty, an impossible youth marred neither by hardship nor expression; and it was porcelain smooth with a complexion paler than that of the snow limning the niwa without. His lips were a deep red, eyes a steely ice blue which seemed to radiate inexorability, piercing yet withdrawn.
The sight of that face should have rendered the girl as paralyzed with either fear or desire. Kaiden gazed upon the Hunter with neither emotion. She was as blank as he.
"Why is Gyoukumo killing everyone off?" So he was ignoring her previous question. Yet...somehow a tension hung in the air which seemed to twinge, to whisper that D had not strayed from the subject.
"Son-Gyoukumo? He is angry with we of Boushitsutengoku for hiring Hunters to—"
"..." Kaiden's expression remained void as the pair gazed unblinking at one another. An eternity seemed to pass, although it couldn't have been more than ten seconds. "It appears Hunter-sama is more aware of the situation than originally let on. If Hunter-sama is so omnipotent on this subject, then why save me? Why even allow me to breathe another breath?" The humble Yama Kaiden of but two days previous no longer sat before the Hunter. This personage was of an entirely different—
"That is exactly the question."
When the stillness of Boushitsutengoku began to crack, it started with the children.
Children were curious creatures by nature, ever inquisitive as to not only the reality but the unreality. They wanted to know, to understand, and they wanted to have fun doing it. When a child was "broken", this delightful curio ceased to exist, instead replaced by an expression of deadness, of apathy and indifference and an entire lack of awareness as to the world around them. When a child was "broken", they stared ahead with unseeing eyes, not a thought or emotion flashing through their mind. No curiosity. No life, overall. It was the greatest tragedy of which could occur.
This was what made Boushitsutengoku so odd.
The children of this paper town had witnessed a sight which should have been impossible to recover from, even for the most inured human. Child and adult alike should have been in this tragic state. Yet they weren't. So far as could be seen—no one was.
What of that time? When the Hunter had first entered the village, then as the Rider, there had been people screaming, wailing, and raging. Grievous. And there had been an overwhelming number staring blankly at the corpses, unmoving and unseeing, unfeeling, not taking in the situation as they drowned within themselves.
However late they might have been, the villagers were coming back to life like a wind-up music box. A twinkling melody of habit lilted through the streets.
Wait, this wasn't right.
The people should have been deadened. Or at least a bit grievous, wrought with low spirits. Granted, they weren't prancing about with ditsy grins painting their faces, but they were not as they should have been.
It started with the children.
Where the parents were, there was no telling. One could only watch as halfling-sized heads poked from doorways, onyx locks swinging; on tiptoes, they crept from their homes, jikatabi silently carrying them overtop the snow bank. They left no footprints. And gradually, one by one, the children of Boushitsutengoku collected on the bank of the Haiame-gawa, gazing into her black waters with indecipherable expressions. A gale swept through the village, whipping the children's yukata maddeningly, even as they themselves remained stiller than death. The snow surround was stirred into a whirlwind of frenzy, swirling into tornadoes which snaked around the younglings. Another gust—! It forewarned those caught in its path with a low-frequency boom, sending bones a-thrumming, ears echoing. It hit like a mountain, knocking several children to the ground. The flurries grew even more desperately tumultuous in their frenzied dance. No longer circling the younglings. Instead ramming into them, a spinning top composed of ice and solid air. Small Lycoris blossoms bloomed in the air, the contrast of red and white such a stun that even the wind slowed to gaze upon it. As the last child collapsed in a heap, Boushitsutengoku returned to peace, the shattering of which could only have been reminded of ever happening... with the children. Children of whom were now buried beneath a sifting dune of snow. A single out-of-place poppy bloomed at the hillock's peak.
This single dune which had before not existed did not stand out.
Overnight, Boushitsutengoku had been draped in crystal tulle. Icicles hung from every eave and torii. The whole village was layered with three feet of snow, piled high on rooftops, rolling in sifting dunes through the streets.
Snow has this strange ability to still. Hail causes chaos. Rain causes motion. But snow causes stillness. A stillness which stifles sound, and even though thunder might echo further than it would've otherwise, the sound is so hollow, the fact that it's a boom is unrecognizable. The sound is so captured, so contained. Caged in this crystalline wonderland. This white mirage where a person's every step betrays them, where they sink into the ground and disappear beneath the artificial horizon. Where a haze hovers overtop the snow bank, blurring the reality. Where the light is so bright, a person might go blind.
As the sun began to set behind its vapor veil, movement stirred the village once more.
It was the children's parents, now.
Each family compound was composed of an inner residence where the family slept and lived in; a stone courtyard sat between this house and the outer dwelling which housed the servants, although these secondary structures were generally empty; and both were encased in a ten foot wall of black granite. Through the wall was a full moon gate, barred shut with steel poles fashioned to look like kuretake (black bamboo), leaves and all. These gates swung open in silence to reveal villagers in but their twenties and teens. The parents were children themselves, however these villagers' countenances were marred with a darkness attributed to those of far greater years. And although these people could be considered as little more than forcibly matured children, their suffering was far too blatant to ignore, giving the appearance of ancients, of ghosts. They belonged in these compounds barred with kuretake. They belonged in this city of silence, whorl of stillness, ghostly whiteness. Shimmering visages of the dead.
The whole of Boushitsutengoku was shrouded in a snow-mist as the "adults" shuffled their way overtop the snow bank. Granted, they were not as nimble as to leave to no footprints like the children, but the people still crept atop walls and gates, leaping across the treetops. Who were these people who moved like ninja? And why did they all ferry towards the forests, where werewolves roamed?
This was a city of questions. A city of mysteries. The people... made no sense. The sky... made no sense. The situation... made no sense. Nothing made no sense.
It made no sense why a face watched them with such scrutiny. Why the children had collected by the Haiame-gawa, only to die without a single cry or spurt of fear. Why Son-Gyoukumo held such a tight grip over the people, when they quite obviously did not fear him as previously believed. Disgusted, yes. But not feared. They did not fear him taking their daughters. They feared their daughters' return. Her being unchanged. It made no sense.
Or... perhaps it did make sense. Were one to hold all the pieces to the puzzle, that is.
The next gust did not break the silence holding Boushitsutengoku in its icy grip. It only stirred the snow.
I hope I didn't confuse anyone with this sentence: "Overhead, the ceiling was higher than usual, clouds distant and ash-gray." The aeronautic terminology was implied as the clouds being the "ceiling"
Nagajuban is the second layer of kimono underwear
Seiza is the word I couldn't remember earlier: "D was currently sitting by the now closed window in the same manner as would any citizen of Boushitsutengoku." Just look it up on GoogleImages. Also concerning seiza: It can be a form of punishment. Don't believe me? Try sitting like that for hours on end -_- And, technically, women don't sit in seiza, at least not like that; but I decided to get rid of at least a bit of the sexism so prevalent in Japanese society. It's the future! Some things have to have changed by now
Jikatabi are rubber tabi. In cities, the rickshaw-pullers wore them; ninjas, too. Look 'em up
Just type in torii on GoogleImages, and you'll immediately know what I'm talking about. Also, torii are considered spiritual gateways, and there is always a torii at the entrance of a Shinto shrine. They mark the gateway between the sacred and the profane (*cough, cough* Pilgrimage of the Sacred and the Profane! *cough, cough*)
As for this sentence: "Where the light is so bright, a person might go blind." It's called Photokeratitis, and it is a very painful eye injury resulting from too much direct UV rays to the eyes. Snow reflects a lot of light, and the eye funnels light, so... you do the math. It's also called "snow blindness"
And I've recalled something I probably should've explained before. An ishidoro is a stone lantern, by the way, and there are differing styles. The ishidoro in my kokeniwa are of a yukimi style, which means "snow-viewing". The ones noted in my description in... ch 2, I believe, are placed beside iwajima. The ishidoro represent temples, and they are lanterns, thus being positions of illumination and enlightenment—shima in a sea of frozen sansui which remains still as death even when not feathered with ice crystals. But the ishidoro are not on the iwajima, so as to imply that peace can be found even in the harshest of environments, far from oases. And when one gazes upon ishidoro and iwajima alike, their gaze is brought to the ariso surround, bringing back the idea of Kusen Hakkai Ishi. ^^' I'm sorry; I tend to get caught up in the details
Finally posted my concept art for the OC characters of this story on DeviantART. Plus some other stuff. And while my drawing skills are most certainly not the best of the best, I honestly believe they represent what I find myself unable to articulate in words... Here's the link to my DeviantART (remove spaces): Aldedron. deviantART. com
There are 10 VHD pics posted, thus far. And all the Requiem for Ether pictures are placed specifically in a folder in my gallery titled as such
Any guesses as to whose face was in the ike? (Psst, it's probably exactly who you think it is ;D) Reviews make me smile!