Disclaimer: Azure Dreams is a product of Konami Co. Ltd. I am making no profit from this story.
I decided to use the Japanese honorifics instead of substituting for the English because "Mr. Koh" sounds weird.
For those of you unfamiliar with familial terms in Japanese:
Otousan = Father
Oniisan = Brother (older)
Okaasan = Mother
On Otousan's deathbed, he charged Oniisan with my safety. Since Okaasan had passed away giving birth to us, and we had no extended relatives to speak of, Oniisan took that directive very seriously. In fact, looking after me may have been the only thing he did take seriously; in the years following his assumption of the headship of the Rode house, he seemed to busy himself with his pipe dream of becoming a master swordsman and flattering the young women around town, spending far too much of Otousan's inheritance on them.
He wasn't home often, but what he lacked in presence he more than made up with gifts and adoration. I'm not sure what his profession was, to make that kind of money, but I do know I wasn't interested so long as he continued bringing back large packages and boxes covered in glossy paper, wrapped in a large bow, bearing my name. Looking back now, he probably had a lover in another city; no man picks out jewelry and clothing for a noble young lady that well.
Which would also explain the matronly figure in all black toward the rear of the temple the day we memorialized him… I don't think I'll ever be able to forget that day. That cramped, run-down temple should have been overflowing with bereaved mourners, but it was more than enough room for the few who came to pay their respects. The emptiness in the room left a bitter taste in my mouth as I realized that our family must not have held the same honor I imagined we did; apparently Otousan wasn't as generous with his wealth towards Monsbaiya as he had been towards us, and the townsfolk had resented that. Jealous peasants.
Even more than the disrespectful emptiness and the nameless woman in black, though, I remember the temple bells. Their chiming, the old and stunted priest explained, helped a soul find its way back towards the heavens. I remember worrying that the small, cracked bells might not be loud enough and that eventually Otousan would lose his way and be forced to wander the skies for all eternity. The look on my face must have given away my thoughts because our kindly governess leaned over to whisper that I needn't worry; the departed have exceptional hearing.
Believing her without hesitation, I turned my tear-streaked face to the rafters with gratitude for that crummy temple and its shoddy bells, watching them swing to and fro like dancing flowers and imagining their resounding peals escorting Otousan's soul upward. They would glide one way at first, never synchronized but in a certain choreographed movement nonetheless, and as they switched direction they would begin to sing. I remember a sudden warmth spreading through my heart at the sound… something of an appreciation for both their purpose and their beauty.
As the ceremony ended and the bells went silent, I reluctantly left the temple carrying Otousan's urn. Something felt so final as the bamboo-slatted door clattered shut behind us- as if Oniisan and I were abandoning Otousan to the otherworld for good. And I was much too preoccupied with my guilt and grief to notice the tangled bird's nest and bright, fiery eyes peeking over the edge of his barrel to watch me trudge back to our empty mansion.