On the Wings of the Wind by Takato's Dreamer (rainytears)

a/n: I just finished watching Princess Mononoke last week... and I was thoroughly amazed by the animation and plot. I also realized that it was one of my all-time favorite animes! The art is great, I haven't seen anything as good, except for maybe Fantasia 2000 with the sprite and deer at the end.... those two remind me of each other, seriously (Princess mononoke and the last segment of fantasia 2000) because both are very nature-like and have a deer as guardian of the wood. Eh, maybe I'm imagining things.

Disclaimer: Hayao Miyazaki owns the masterpiece known as Mononoke-hime.

Enjoy my first Princess Mononoke fic!

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Ashitaka flopped down under a large oak tree, leaning back against the massive trunk. "I wonder how long you've been here," he wondered to himself before dozing off.

The tree's ample shade provided the young man with a temporary place to rest, if even for a little while. He was no longer a teen but a thirty-five-year old tradesman, and breaks like this were few and far between in his busy job.

He lay there for what seemed like minutes, and not long after he had first closed his eyes he heard a voice....

"Ashitaka! Come on! Break-time was over three hours ago, and we've got to get these crates of gun powder to Edo by seven!" barked Watanabe, a friend of Ashitaka and head of the traveling trade caravan he belonged to.

"Yeah, yeah, Watanabe," Ashitaka grumbled, pulling on a type of poncho as he whistled for Yakul. Yakul was reaching old age very quickly, but the healing it had received from the forest spirit long ago had improved its health and longevity.

The gazelle bounded up, and Ashitaka climbed onto its back in one leap. They galloped towards the slowly moving caravan of horses and other gazelle, as well as horse-drawn carts.

"So, you decided to join us, Ashitaka?" Watanabe joked, laughter in his green eyes. He was three years older than Ashitaka, and often joked about being superion in age and therefore importance.

Ashitaka smiled a little under the bandana wrapped around his nose and mouth. This covering was part of a hat he had had for a very long time, ever since he had left the Emishu people and met... The Princess Mononoke.

Whenever they rode through the forest, Ashitaka took care to make sure that none of the men did so much as trample a small animal underfoot or knock over a sapling. He was very close to the forest and environment after the events of fifteen years ago.

Now they were traveling through the mountains and down towards the port of Edo (a/n: modern-day Tokyo). Several crates of gunpowder, ordered by the emperor's army itself, were being carted there by way of Watanabe's self-made business.

Watanabe had been in Iron Town and left one day to find himself some kind of adventure. Ashitaka had wanted to leave also, so they took a few other able-bodied men and bid the colony and Lady Eboshi good-bye.

"That was so long ago," Ashitaka thought with little sentiment. He did miss the good people in that town, but now his future was decided... he would be a tradesman. Ashitaka did, however, miss those distant days of adventure in the forest, of the lush green solitude around him as he finally saw the forest spirit for the first time....

The brunette man snapped back to reality and focused on reaching Edo. He knew Yakul was capable of it, so why did he have such a strange feeling in his mind?

Ashitaka narrowed his deep almond eyes and nudged Yakul to go faster. "We'll make it to Edo by sundown," he assured himself as the caravan rode away from the setting sun.

They were heading east to the port city, and of course south. These verdant, mountainous regions of Japan were nowhere near as warm as the low-lying coasts of the nation.

Two hours later, the caravan slowed to a stop. Ashitaka looked around to see streets full of people, bustling about by lantern-light and looking at various artisans' products. He smiled to himself, enjoying the familiar bustle of the marketplace and the life of bartering.

Watanabe and Ashitaka unloaded the gunpowder and dragged it into the military's storage area. "Arigatou," one guard quickly mumbled, acting as though Ashitaka was lower than him.

Ashitaka frowned to himself, realizing that this was one of the things he hated about humans: they all thought that they were "higher" than others simply by birth.

"I need to go on a long, relaxing trip after this," Ashitaka decided to himself as signaled for Yakul. The gazelle came up to him, allowing its master to climb swiftly onto its back before they trotted away.

Ashitaka told Watanabe that he didn't want to stay at Edo long; he planned to go back to the mountains for a while. "Maybe I'll visit Iron Town, like the old times," he smiled, but considered that highly unlikely. "I'll probably get called back to the caravan just as I sit down under a tree," he thought, smirking at the reality of this proposal.

Ashitaka made his way to the huts he and the caravan would be staying at for the next few nights. On the outskirts of Edo, he could see the distant lanterns begin to go out, one by one. "It must be getting late... somewhere near midnight," he mused, feeling the natural urge to throw himself down somewhere and sleep.

"Ashitaka, come to this hut! We're going to tell stories tonight," Watanabe shrieked with joy. Ashitaka shook his head but went to join his black-haired friend and the others for a long night of story-sharing.

Watanabe began the night by telling of how he'd seen a beautiful mermaid once. "She had these amethyst-colored eyes and pure white hair," he droned in a dream-like voice.

"He must have been drunk or something," Benjiro, another member, whispered. A few of them laughed, and Watanabe, having keen ears, picked up on the comment.

"Hey, I'm telling the truth! Come on, don't any of you believe me?" he asked desperately, searching around the room. He spotted Ashitaka going off to sleep.

"Ashitaka, don't you believe that I saw a mermaid once? I'm honest, aren't I?" Watanabe cried frantically, knowing that the laughter was in pure fun but wanting to prove a point.

"Now that's something I wouldn't believe," the messy-haired young man said, cracking a rare but subtle smile. All of the other guys in the hut laughed, calling Watanabe a liar and a drunk. It was all in good fun, of course.

When he found his straw mat in the corner, Ashitaka took off his sweaty tunic to better adapt to the heat of the room. "Well, I guess that I deserve this after traveling for so long," he thought as he lay down on the uncomfortable mattress. Before closing his eyes, Ashitaka looked at his right forearm, seeing a faint red scar.

"The great war..." he mumbled, memories of the unforgettable battle between the humans and the forest gods. For some reason, he longed to go back to those days right after the war.

"It was so peaceful after the forest spirit was finally at peace... when the people of Iron Town finally stopped waging war on the forest and Mononoke...." he caught himself, realizing that if he let the past rule his life then he'd never have a future.

"It's not like I'm going back to those mountain forests again," Ashitaka convinced himself when he fell asleep at long last.

When the sun filtered through the slits in the thatched hut's walls, Ashitaka was the first one awake. "I'm going back to Iron Town," he told Watanabe with confidence, taking sparse supplies for the three-hour journey and turning his back towards the door.

"Why do you want to leave so soon? We just arrived here in Edo yesterday, and there's so much to see in the city. Come on, don't you want a break from all of this work with the trade caravan?" Watanabe invited, wonder in his eyes.

Ashitaka smiled slightly but shook his head. "I need a break from the caravan, it's true, but I want to visit Iron Town. We just left from our last encampment , but I want to check out um.... a place next to the town," he explained quickly.

"I can't wait to return to the forest," Ashitaka thought, excited at a return to his past.

"Whatever you say, kid," Watanabe joked, shaking Ashitaka's hand and opening the door for him.

Ashitaka nodded. "I'll be back someday, probably in a week," he yelled as he and Yakul headed into the distant north. Ashitaka set his mouth in a firm line, concentrating on riding Yakul.

The wind blew through Ashitaka's slightly long hair as his mouth turned up into a brief smile.

"San...," the name escaped his lips.

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Ashitaka reached Iron Town before noon. Dismounting Yakul, the tawny-haired man approached the outer gate of Iron Town.

Knocking three times, the young man awaited someone to open the gate. From deep within one of the buildings of Iron Town, Lady Eboshi quickly lifted her head.

"Ashitaka," she murmured, understanding his traditional knock of three raps. It had to be him.

"Men, open the gates! Ashitaka has arrived!" barked Lady Eboshi, striding out of the log house to meet the town's old friend.

The guards heaved the heavy doors open, and sure enough, Ashitaka was standing there. Several men whom he had rescued ran up to him, as did a few women who used to fawn over him.

"Fifteen years and he's still so fit and handsome," one whispered to another.

Ashitaka smiled at the attention and the joy of reuniting with old friends. "Welcome to our village again, Ashitaka," Lady Eboshi said. She extended a hand which Ashitaka took and kissed out of respect.

"I see you came to visit," she observed, looking the traveler up and down.

"Yes, Lady Eboshi, I left Watanabe and his caravan for a while. I haven't been here in fifteen years," he said in a formal yet somewhat familiar tone.

"Well, you are welcome back. Your noble actions in the past have lead to a reformed village," she admitted, extending her hand in a sweeping motion over the village.

"Yes, I guess that the forest hasn't given you any more trouble," Ashitaka asked with hope in his voice, smiling.

"No it hasn't," Lady Eboshi agreed. She turned, motioning for Ashitaka and several helpers to follow her. "Come show Ashitaka his room. He'll be staying here for a while," she commanded.

Four girls smiled warmly as they all took Ashitaka's arms and giggled, "You'll love it here at Iron Town. Lady Eboshi is great, she'll let you stay forever if you want," one commented. She didn't know Ashitaka had already visited Iron Town.

"You know, Lady Eboshi often talks about a handsome young man from long ago who changed the way Iron Town was run. She admires his spirit a lot. You remind me of him, kinda," another girl stated thoughtfully.

Lady Eboshi looked back at the girls and Ashitaka from the corner of her eye when they said that comment. Her back was to them, but if they had seen her, her face would have seemed ever so slightly rosy in the midday sun.

"Come girls, don't drag Ashitaka along with you. He is dependent on himself, you know," the woman reminded.

"Yes, Lady Eboshi. We're sorry if we kept Ashitaka so long," the blonde-haired one said.

Ashitaka thanked them politely as they lead him to a log cabin in the back of Iron Town. They left him alone for a while, closing the door to his small abode.

"This is the closest cabin to the forest," Ashitaka noticed, looking around the room and finding a snug cottage with a wash basin, cot with a warm blanket, and a low table and sitting mat.

He did not stay in this cottage for long and soon left for a short walk around the walls of Iron Town. Taking in all of the familiar scenery, Ashitaka breathed in the sweet, clean mountain air. Trees and grass were a vibrant green color, just as he remembered.

Because it was still spring, several cherry blossoms were still on the trees. Ashitaka admired the delicate beauty of the simple, pale pink blossoms.

Yakul was grazing on a nearby patch of bright green grass. A gentle breeze played through the branches and Ashitaka's hair, and for a moment everything seemed perfect.

"Ashitaka!" a voice broke the silence. A woman ran over to him, motioning for him to return to the village. "Come on! It's almost time for the feast!" she shouted, glee in her shrill voice.

Ashitaka whistled for Yakul who dashed up to the young man. He leapt onto the gazelle's back and rode all the way over to the girl and offered her a ride back to the village.

Blushing foolishly, she accepted and let Ashitaka help her onto Yakul. He didn't talk much on the way back, but the young girl did.

"Oh, so you must be this Ashitaka that Lady Eboshi always talks about. You're like a legend around here; she reveres your actions so much but I don't think she really shows it," she rattled on without noticing if Ashitaka was listening or not.

"Huh, you don't say," he mumbled, interest not in her words but at the flash of white he thought he saw at the edge of the wood.

"Hey, girl, have you heard anything about a wolf princess? A human raised by wolves?" Ashitaka inquired suddenly. The girl turned her head towards Ashitaka's voice in front of her and her eyes widened.

"Actually, the Lady also talks of some reckless wolf princess who our village later made peace with," she managed. "Why do you ask?"

"No reason, I guess I'm seeing things," Ashitaka convinced himself. The girl raised an eyebrow and shook her head.

"He sure is cute but he's kind of weird," she thought.

When they arrived back at the village, it was late afternoon. The sun was beginning to set over the mountains of Japan, and the inky dusk of evening was creeping over the land.

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"Good people of Iron Town, we are gathered here tonight to feast in honor of a local hero. Iron Town was once a prosperous village, like it is now, but we made several mistakes in the past. A young man whom we'd never met rose above all others and stopped the eternal warring between Iron Town and the forest; he made an exception to the rule of man vs. nature. He is Ashitaka. Tonight is his night; we honor this brave young man," Lady Eboshi declared with pride for Ashitaka, not smiling but inwardly beaming.

Ashitaka's eyes widened at the praise he was receiving from someone of such prestige. He made his way to the head of the banquet table and shook Lady Eboshi's hand. Her jet-black hair was now streaked with silver lines of age, but they further made her a powerful-looking person.

"Thank you for such an honor," Ashitaka said quietly. He sat down at a table next to several men and women he used to know, and spent an evening basking in the glory of his honor, though he did not become egotistical.

"It was nothing. If anyone, we should thank someone else. A toast to Lady Eboshi, for forming Iron Town and taking in everyone here, for accepting everyone, for changing the way she fought against the animals just because a nobody said it was wrong," Ashitaka declared triumphantly, raising his glass of wine towards the roof.

Everyone in Iron Town did the same, and Lady Eboshi felt a strong pride not only in herself but the people she'd taken in and how they'd been able to work together. During the hard times and times of need, they'd become a close-knit group under one woman. They'd become a prosperous, reformed colony nestle deep in the mountain forests of Japan.

"I thank you, Iron Town, for banding together and supporting not only me but each other. I am your leader and founder, but you make Iron Town what it truly is," Lady Eboshi's voice rang over the vast room.

The entire town cheered with deafening approval, stomping their feet as well. Lady Eboshi and Ashitaka both smiled, knowing in their hearts that the night was a success.

Ashitaka bid farewell to his friends before going off to sleep. He made his way through the village, gravel crunching underfoot as he finally reached his log-cabin.

Walking to his cot in the corner, Ashitaka lay back, folding his arms behind his head. The silvery moonlight shone through a crack in the ceiling of the log-cabin, creating a small pool of light on the earthy floor of the cabin.

"I'm finally back," Ashitaka thought, content and ready for a wonderful day tomorrow. He was just about to close his eyes when a distant noise jolted him back awake...

A lone wolf howled at the moon; it was a few miles away, at least. Wolves were not uncommon in these parts of Japan, but something struck Ashitaka as being very odd. The voice of the wolf was lonely and full of emotion too great for an animal; the howling was nearly human.

"A forest god?" Ashitaka wondered suddenly. "No, there's something human-like about that howling," Ashitaka convinced himself.

"My mind is playing tricks on me. It's probably not even a human. I want it to be though...." Ashitaka argued to himself. He rolled over and buried his face into the makeshift pillow, his cloak. The crying of the wolf was muffled and Ashitaka didn't hear it again that night.

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The sunrise was at normal time, the rays of new beginning flooding into Ashitaka's room. The young Japanese man stirred and rose quickly.

"That wolf...." he murmured, still perturbed a bit by the humanness of the baying. "I'll probably never know," the man decided, shrugging off all former suspicion and getting dressed.

Ashitaka arrived at one man's house, Kyoichi, and his wife Sumi. They had agreed to let an old friend eat there, especially if he was held in high regard by Lady Eboshi.

" 'Morning, Ashitaka," Kyoichi bellowed heartily, pulling out a chair for Ashitaka to sit on. The earthen floor was cool to Ashitaka's bare feet although a warm fire was burning in the nearby fireplace.

"So, how are you on this fine morning, young man?" Kyoichi asked Ashitaka in a friendly manner, trying to get the traveler to carry on a decent conversation.

"I'm just fine, thank you," Ashitaka said politely and without effort, as if his words were rehearsed.

"Do you like the living quarters that Lady Eboshi has prepared for you?" Sumi asked the guest, a smile on her elderly face.

"Yes, they are suitable," Ashitaka replied simply, quietly eating the rice he had been handed a few moments earlier.

"You seem to like it here at Iron Town. We've come a long way since you left, you know. Lady Eboshi is now near to forty-five years old. She is no longer the young woman she once was, of course, but she is still a dynamic and effective leader," Kyoichi commented, watching Ashitaka.

"She seems to lead the colony in an effective manner. I once did not agree with Lady Eboshi's slaughtering, but now we are one agreeable terms," Ashitaka answered, standing up.

"Thank you for the breakfast. If you don't mind, I'm going outside for a while," he said blandly, walking out of the door.

"Your welcome,dear," Sumi called out after Ashitaka.

Sumi turned to Kyoichi after Ashitaka had left. "He's the most polite boy you'll meet, but he's so quiet. I wonder what his secret is..." she whispered, full of wonder.

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Ashitaka walked down the main avenue of Iron Town, waving to several individuals and taking in the sunshine. However, he was not out for a petty walk.

When at last the chocolate-brown-haired man reached the main gate, he was full of confidence at his undertaking. "I know that what I seek will be found in due time," he assured himself with confidence.

Eventually the young man reached the massive log gates of Iron Town. "I'd like to go out, if you please," he said simply, waiting for the guards to hoist the structure open. Ashitaka could no longer lift the gate *himself* now that he had been healed.

After the gate had been lowered behind him and he had walked out, Ashitaka smiled up at the guards. "Thank you," he said in a silent tone.

Shifting his countenance to a determined, set mouth, Ashitaka found Yakul grazing outside of the town, a few hundred meters away.

"Yakul," he hissed, and the gazelle responded to his command and bent down for a moment so Ashitaka could climb onto its back.

They rushed off into the nearby forest, slowing down to a trot once they were some distance in. "The forest..." Ashitaka murmured with admiration, an old and familiar feeling flooding his senses.

The sunlight slanted into the bright green forest, basking the shrubs and ancient trees in a filtered golden radiance. Yakul was at peace, as well as Ashitaka, as they looked around and took in the beautiful scenery.

An indigo butterfly fluttered next to a cherry tree, landing softly on one of the sakura blossoms. Ashitaka had never seen such a peaceful sight; its simply serenity drew Ashitaka's eyes to it and would not let them turn away.

Trotting along, Yakul stopped at a clear mountain stream to take a quick drink. Ashitaka did the same, dipping his hands in the cool water and splashing his youthful face with the sparkling drops. He turned to mount Yakul again when something caught his eye.

It was the flash of white.

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Ashitaka jumped onto Yakul and signaled for it to speed up. They had to catch up with this mysterious flash of white, this enigma of the forest.

On and on they chased the distant flash, until they finally stopped along with it. They had reached a familiar place....

The center of the wood.

The flash of white seemed to have materialized. It was small, smaller than Ashitaka. It was a human.

"Could it be..." Ashitaka whispered, dumbfounded. At the hiss of his voice, the figure turned around. It was a young woman, either a little older or a little younger than him.

She had piercing hazel eyes and choppy light brown hair, as if she cut it with a knife and not a proper tool. She looked distressed, overcome by anguish.... but not from Ashitaka's sudden arrival.

"You! What are you doing in this forest? Have the humans decided to attempt to destroy it again?" she spat with impatience, stepping towards Ashitaka.

"No. I merely came for a walk in the forest, and then I saw a flash of white... your shirt, I suppose. So I followed you here to see who or what you were. Maybe I should ask you what you are doing here," Ashitaka quipped, his eyebrow lifted.

"It's none of your business, but I am the Princess Mononoke. I am one of the wolf tribe..." she trailed off, a sudden look of grief coming over her face.

"What's the matter?" Ashitaka wondered, this change in attitude so strange for his old friend.

"N-nothing. Why should I tell you? I don't even know you," she spat sharply, looking deep into Ashitaka's eyes.

"San..." he whispered, edging closer to her. San nearly jumped a mile.

"How? What? You- you know my name..... Ashitaka!" she exclaimed, but still keeping her distance.

Eventually giving into her feelings, San ran into Ashitaka's open arms. "Oh... Ashitaka... it is truly fate that you came here... and at such a time..." she whispered into his ear.

"What do you mean by that?" Ashitaka worried, looking into San's eyes. They were downcast as she managed, "It's Mother. Last week, the forest spirit finally let her come to her final rest..."

Ashitaka could not see San's eyes but he noticed a few tears hit the earth below.

"San.... I'm so sorry that your mother died. I don't know what to say... or do..." Ashitaka whispered.

Something in San's eyes flared up as she stepped back from Ashitaka. "I know what to do..." her voice rang crazily. She grabbed the sharp stone from around her neck and held it menacingly (but fearlessly) over her heart. "I'm not afraid to die," she hissed in a sepulchral tone.

"San, no!" Ashitaka yelled. San didn't change position for a moment. Then she dropped the knife, trembling. "Ashitaka... why do you care? What does it matter if I die and become part of the forest with my mother?" she queried in a daunting manner, eyes mad like a crazy horse.

"San, it would matter everything to me," he confessed quietly, for the first time saying his true feelings. San looked at Ashitaka, a bit calmer.

"Ashitaka.... but you're just one person. A human.... you don't love me. Only the animals could," she shouted defiantly, becoming a fool quickly.

"SAN! Calm down! It doesn't matter if I am a human or not, the thing that matters is that I can't live without you and that I.... love you," he admitted, eyes downcast with the realization of his words.

San whirled towards him, not knowing what to say. "Ashitaka.... this is all so fast.... I can't handle so many emotions.... my head!" she shouted, collapsing to the ground unconscious.

Ashitaka rushed over to San, holding her in his arms. "San, you have suffered a great loss. So have I, leaving you for so many years. Now I return during such a time, and I don't know if I can fully relieve the pain. I probably can't. But what I want to do is to stay here in the forest with you, to live forever amongst the green and in complete bliss. That's all I can say..." he ended, head bowed over the injured girl.

Slowly San came to. "In my dream, I heard the most beautiful speech. It sounded like you, Ashitaka. It made me want to stay by your side forever... but what about the past?" she asked.

"San, listen to me. We'll go back to the center of the woods, and all will be fine after that," he assured her. After they arrived back there, Ashitaka and San looked at the great tree in the middle of the island. It curved towards the sky, ancient and powerful, invincible and lasting a lifetime.

"San, look at that tree," Ashitaka commanded. San did so, and tears quickly came into her eyes.

Mora's voice said into her ears, "San, my child. You come here for comfort, and you shall receive it. I am fine.... finally asleep but never so much alive. San, someday we'll see each other again, and you'll have to await that day with hope. I know that I'll never forget you and will wait until that day," she whispered gently to her daughter.

San was crying, but with a mixture of comfort, joy, and sadness. "I'll see you someday, mother," she whispered, and Mora's voice was gone.

"San, look!" Ashitaka hissed, motioning towards the distant side of the lake. A great deer drank from the pond, silent and dignified. He looked towards them, and a smile seemed to light his sage face. He seemed to reassure San....

"Oh, Ashitaka...." she whispered, crying one final tear.

They headed towards Yakul, mounting the gazelle. Riding towards the opening of the forest, Ashitaka climbed off of the animal to bid San good-bye. She would not look him in the eye, neither he. It was too hard for both of them....

A sakura blossom floated down from a nearby tree. Ashitaka picked it up and handed it to San. It represented everything: memories, love, pain, adventures, and good-bye.

She accepted it and turned her back to Ashitaka, her past. She turned towards the forest, her life. Ashitaka also went to leave when something clicked in their minds. They could be together....

"San!" "Ashitaka!" They called, running towards each other. They embraced tightly for what seemed like forever, never wanting to let go.

No words were exchanged. They could each read the other's mind, they could both sense their eternal bond.

San lead Ashitaka to the mountain-side overlooking all of Japan. The dusk setting over the land was nothing in comparison to the beautiful sunset decorating the sky. Lavendars and corals mixed softly with oranges and indigos as they circled the setting, fiery orange and warm sun.

A cool evening breeze swept around the Japanese couple, and they knew that from this moment on, they'd be together. They'd ride on the wings of the wind until they, too, joined Mora in the final place of peace.



End.

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End notes: whew, that took a long time. I enjoyed writing it, and I hope you liked it. If you wish, leave constructive criticism and other comments in a review. This was my first Princess Mononoke fic, and should I write others? Tell me!