W A R X
A...L I F E...O N C E...B O U N D
Kuroi Namida - Anna Tsuchiya
“What are roots, brother?”
“They are a sustenance for life.
They are what help big things stand tall.
They are what binds a friendship.
They are even what keeps everyone together.”
“So…if mama is to die…”
“Yes. Our roots would be severed.”
It was the eve of their mother’s birthday, and Kyou had long wanted to give her his present. Every year it was the same thing; a vase full of handpicked lilies – her favourite flower. But this year he wanted to do something different, something that would truly make her know how special she was to him.
Especially now that she had been feeling ill lately. So he consulted his older brother.
Kyou looked up to Seiji like there was no one else in the world. He did everything to help Kyou, and even sacrificed his own time for him. If his slice of a Pecha berry was bigger, he gave it to Kyou. If there was a little spare money after they had done the shopping, it was given to Kyou. If he heard a scream in the middle of the night, when Kyou had a bad dream, he would always hold him close and tell him that there was nothing to be afraid of, because he would always protect him. Both him and his mother. It was their love that made Kyou shine the way he did. Without them, he would be lost.
It was with determination that the young Riolu stepped into his brother’s room. Seiji was situated on his bed, eyes half closed, gazing longingly outside the window at the sunset. He glanced up when Kyou entered the room and smiled.
“Look, Kyou. Isn’t it beautiful? All the blues, purples, pinks… They look so harmonious together.” Kyou watched as Seiji’s smile widened. “Have you picked mother her lilies yet? I know she’s going to love them.”
But Kyou merely shook his head at his brother’s question. “I don’t want to give mama lilies this year. I want to give her something special!” He clenched his fists in that way he always did when he was determined.
Seiji frowned. “But mother always loves your lilies, Kyou. I can’t think of anything she loves more.”
“No,” Kyou replied defiantly. “Please, Seiji, help me. I want to go into the forest. There’s supposed to be a little waterfall there, but it’s further in than I’m allowed to go. Can’t you come with me? I want to plant flowers all around the area for mama. When it’s her birthday tomorrow we can show her. She’ll be so happy! It was her favourite place to visit with father.” The little Riolu bounced in excitement. “I know mama will love it.”
Seiji stared at his brother. “You want to decorate the waterfall with flowers? That’s a brilliant idea, Kyou. Mother loves places like that. We can all have a picnic for her birthday.” The older Riolu jumped off his bed, placing his paws on Kyou’s shoulders. “I can help. If you gather the flowers then I can find the waterfall for you. It’s dark, but don’t worry. The light father gave us wards off bad spirits. I’ll be alright.”
Kyou nodded. He still found it hard to swallow at the mention of their father, who passed away when he was barely old enough to talk. He had no memory of what he looked like, or how he used to be. But Seiji always assured him that their father was the best of all. He said he always used to play with them, and treated them as equals. He would have given anything for his sons. And he gave his own life to protect them.
“Come on, Kyou.” Seiji held his paw out to his little brother who grabbed it eagerly. "It’s time you and I go pick some flowers. We’ll let mother rest in peace.”
The forest was pitch black when Seiji entered, but he promised Kyou he’d find the waterfall. He had found it once when exploring with his father many years ago, but he did not remember the exact location. The lantern grasped within Seiji’s paw shook violently as a gust of wind blew past, and he shielded his eyes, raising it higher into the air. Hopefully the lantern was enough to hold off the spirits rumoured to stalk the forest at night. It was a special light passed through the generations of their family, said to protect those pure of heart. Seiji put all his faith in this lantern, not because of what it did, but because it was the only reminder he had left of his father. He was not going to let that go. Not ever.
The Riolu took a few hesitant steps forward, glancing around anxiously. The dirt path felt cool underneath his feet, but there was an eerie feeling in the air he was worried about more. Hopefully Kyou would be all right gathering the flowers back home. He would not allow his brother to follow him into the forest at night, no matter the cost. Both his mother and father would not have allowed it, and Seiji would not forgive himself if Kyou was ever hurt because of his foolishness.
Taking a deep breath, Seiji continued down winding path, going further into the forest than he had ever been before. The trees danced in the wind as another gust blew by. The sounds they made when passing through the leaves made the Riolu’s fur stand on end. He wasn’t used to being out so late at night. He was not scared of the spirits that haunted the forest, but he had always been a little afraid of the dark, something that no one but Kyou could quell. But he was safely back at the house where he belonged, and Kyou was relying on him to do this.
The Riolu clenched his fists and glared up at the roof of the forest. “I’m not afraid of you ghosts! You hear me?! I’m going to do this, for both mother and Kyou!” Without another word he dashed off into the dense foliage, following the rocky path. The repetitive thud of his footsteps was the only sound in the Riolu’s ears, echoing off the trunks of the trees. All was silent, not even a ghost.
Seiji halted at the small clearing where they used to play during the day as children. He knew there was a path that spiked off here leading to the waterfall. He remembered it as though it were yesterday, but he was unsure which it was. Four separate paths greeted his gaze and seemed to mock him. The Riolu hitched up his lantern to get a better look at the surroundings. He stepped up to the nearest path to his right and knelt down, placing his paw gently on the bark of the tree. Trees were special because they held memories deep within their roots; the memories of times that had passed. Maybe they could show him where he was to go.
Seiji closed his eyes and focused, a dim blue aura emanating from his body. The forest became lighter almost instantly, the sun greeting him through the trees. Enveloped in the memory, Seiji stood and peered around. There were three blue silhouettes advancing towards him. Two, he could just make out, were Riolu. But the third was a Lucario. It stood tall and proud, each one of its paws gently guiding the Riolu beside him. Seiji gasped, his own paw reaching up to cover his mouth. Tears began to well in his eyes, and he found he could not stop them, not even as the first hit the ground. It was his father. His father.
“Father!” Seiji cried out to him, but he seemed not to hear. Of course, it was merely a memory; it would be foolish of him to think he could be heard. All the same, the Lucario glanced briefly in his direction for moment. Seiji froze, his father’s gaze upon him. But in an instant the Lucario shook his head and turned it to his sons.
Seiji fell to the ground, his paws barely able to hold him up. His eyes were wide with fear. He was afraid; he didn’t want to lose his father again. And here he was in plain view…gone within an instant. He raised his shaking head just enough to see the three figures veer off down a path towards the left. The one that held the beauty of the waterfall. In a few seconds, they would all vanish. He couldn’t let it.
He pushed himself off the ground and broke into a run, stretching his arms out in front of him. “Father, please, don’t go! Don’t leave me again!” He made to dive at the figure as it turned, but his body went straight through. At that moment the memory vanished, the sky turning dark once more. The lantern flew from Seiji’s paw and the Riolu crashed into the ground, rolling until he hit another tree. The lantern smashed into a million shards upon impact and the breeze instantly blew the light out.
It was pitch black and Seiji was alone and hurt. He cowered back against the tree, drawing his knees up to his chin. It was all he could do to cry, to force himself to breathe against the lump in his throat. His father was gone forever, and he could not bring him back. The only remnant of him was now scattered across the forest floor.
Madly, the Riolu tried to gather the pieces before him, but only succeeded in cutting his paw. He gasped and drew it up to his face, the blood glinting in the tiny sliver of moonlight that shone through the branches. From the corner of his eye, Seiji caught movement. He cringed as a figure emerged from the trees, unable to move even an inch.
No…it couldn’t be… Not now.
“KYOU!” Seiji let out a wail that pierced the stillness of the air. “What are you doing here, go back to the house! Go back to-”
But he was cut off as warm arms slid around his neck, holding the remains of his body together. Kyou. Seiji pressed his head into his brother’s shoulder, allowing fresh tears to slide down his cheeks once more. “K-Kyou…I’m so sorry. I couldn’t…I…”
But the Riolu only hugged him harder, shaking his head, motioning for him to be quiet. “Seiji…it’s mama,” he said in a bare whisper, holding tighter still. Seiji felt his brother’s paws dig into his back. He was tense, but he didn’t know why. “Mama’s ill…she won’t wake up…”
And just like that Seiji’s resolve vanished. The only thing that held him together now were Kyou’s arms. He was too afraid the Riolu would let go. If he did…he might never be whole again. When he spoke, his voice was raspy. He tasted the salt of tears on his tongue, and hated it with a passion.
“Mother…won’t wake up?” His words were distant. What little he could see swam in and out of focus. “Mother won’t…”
Kyou raised his head to stare at him. “Please, Seiji, we have to find that waterfall for mother.” Seiji noted the small Riolu’s eyes were red and bloodshot. Just like him, he’d been crying. He never liked to see Kyou cry.
He used his paws to push himself off from the ground, grasping onto the small Riolu’s paw. His brother needed him, and he needed Kyou. Right now he needed Kyou more than anything. He glanced with sorrow at the shards of the lantern scattered across the ground. Rest in piece…
He spoke the words within his mind and led Kyou silently down the path to his left when he’d seen the three figures disappear, swallowed into darkness.
The waterfall wasn’t too far from the path after all; it seemed the vision had been right. Seiji looked down at his brother, who was now beginning to rub his eyes. Of course he’d be tired, it was very late. Without a word he bent down and picked the tiny Riolu up within his arms.
“Kyou,” he let a small smile spread across his face, nudging him gently with a paw. “Look, Kyou. It’s the waterfall. We found it.”
Kyou raised his head to glance at the water, his eyes widening and lighting up in awe. The trees did not cover the sky in this clearing, allowing the moonlight to shine down in bucket loads. The fresh, crisp water that flowed into the stream glimmered like the millions of stars in the night sky, shining hope throughout the darkness. Ferns aligned the edges of the stream, water lapping at them like a playful puppy. A light buzzing sounded to their left and Kyou watched as a swarm of Ledian fluttered about the fall, flashing their taillights in a synchronised pattern.
“Seiji…” Kyou muttered the word with awe, rubbing his eyes once again. “Mother is going to love it here.”
The Riolu tightened his grip on his brother and smiled. “Yes, she is. You’ve done a great job, Kyou. Mother will be very happy.” He hugged his brother into his chest, not letting him see the tears that flowed down his face. Deep within his heart he knew…he just knew their mother wasn’t going to make it. This way they could at least give her the love she deserved…on her birthday.
Seiji had used what little aura he had within to guide them back to the house, where he laid his sleeping brother gently in bed, watching him breathe peacefully through his tear-stained face. He ran a paw gently over the fur and knelt to kiss his forehead. It took most of his strength to draw himself away and climb the stairs to his mother’s room.
He stopped just outside the door, unable to enter. In the silence that laced the house, the laboured breathing within was as clear as crystal. His whole body was numb. Ever since Kyou had uttered those words to him he had become consciously catatonic. It was as if walking into a living nightmare. If their mother were to die, he would be left alone to care for Kyou. He didn’t know if he could do it. He wanted nothing more than to care for his brother, but he was only a few years older than he was. What could he do?
Seiji shook his head, clearing away the thoughts that nagged within his mind. It wouldn’t do any good to think about that now. Building up his courage, he wrapped his paw gently around the doorknob and pushed it inwards. The slight creak that greeted him he was accustomed to, as the house was fairly rundown. It was nearing sunrise now, and the windows were starting to glow a dull gold. They cast shadows upon his mother’s face, which was as pale as a Vanillite.
He held his breath as he walked over to her side and raised a paw. He stopped, however, and let it hover barely an inch above her face. Her face was laced in sweat. Kyou had most likely placed a cool towel over her forehead before he had left, but in her sleep it had been tossed aside. The laboured breathing grew heavier, and Seiji found his chest growing tighter every moment he was in the room. He couldn’t stay here. The Riolu turned to leave, but a paw caught at his fur, causing him to jump and yelp in fear. He whirled, the dull green eyes of his mother peering up at him.
Seiji shuddered at the sound, so weak and fragile. But it was the word that pierced him straight to the core. Juhiro was the name of their father. The Riolu willed himself to pick up the towel within his shaking paws and place it back against his mother’s forehead.
“No…it’s me, Seiji. Mother, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…” He knelt beside her bed, distraught.
“…Seiji?” Her eyes sparked with recognition, and for a moment, a brief smile lit her face. “My son…” She raised a paw to the air and Seiji caught it in both his own. “I’m so sorry…I won’t be able to spend my birthday with you both…”
“No, mother!” Seiji cried, widening his eyes in fear. “You’ll be okay, you have to!” He shook his head in pain. “This can’t happen, not again. First father and now…”
A light touch graced his cheek, wiping away the tears that clung to his fur. “My son…don’t cry. Be strong…”
“I-I can get medicine!” He spoke the words in a hurry, rising fluently with a smile. “I can go into town and they can-”
Heart pounding wildly in his chest, he turned to his mother, smile fading.
“Seiji…be a good brother to Kyou. You need each other more than you need me. And Juhiro…he would have wanted it this way.”
Seiji lowered himself to his mother’s side once more, resting his head against the edge of the bed. He wept silently, but soft words echoed through the night, spreading through him like a calm. He fought against it for so long, but finally sleep welcomed him as he wrapped himself in the lullaby his mother hummed so gently in his ear.
Kyou and Seiji held one paw each, tight in their tiny grasps. With heavy hearts they led their mother through the forest, as their father had done many years before. The sun stretched across the sky in a warming glow, lighting the clouds with a golden radiance. But the forest was silent.
They halted at the small clearing that branched off into four paths and Seiji turned to his mother with a faint smile. “Close your eyes,” he whispered.
She merely blinked, but obeyed, allowing her sons to steer her down the path ahead. A moment later, Seiji released his hold on her paw.
“Mother!” Kyou ran out in front with a grin, pointing at the waterfall ahead. “Look! We found it, yours and father’s favourite place!”
The two Riolu watched in silence as their mother took in the surroundings. The water, the ferns, the wildlife that made the place so special. She stepped forward, raising her paws to her mouth to catch the tears that fell to the ground. “This is…I…” She closed her eyes briefly, lowering a paw to her heart.
Seiji smiled as Kyou ran over to his mother and held her tight. “Just like father promised,” he heard his muffled whisper through her fur. “For us all to be here for your birthday.”
The two Riolu spent the day with their mother, talking, laughing, and resting. When it was time for the sun to say goodbye, for the moon to light the sky, they leant against the bark of a soft fir tree, gazing up at the stars. No words were said that night, but their feelings combined as one, sifting through the roots of the tree.
And so it remained, until the very last breath escaped from their mother’s body, her heart finally at peace. Seiji ran a paw gently over her eyes and held tightly onto Kyou. As he closed his own, sobbing silently, he knew their parents had finally been reunited.
To this day, when Seiji and Kyou return to the tree each year, placing lilies at the base, they catch a glimpse of a time that was. And smile. As their mother and father had been the roots to their family, this tree was now the roots to their love.
Seiji lowered his paw to the base of the tree, a lily held gently within. As it fell to the ground, a breeze caught the petals and carried them through the sky. He watched as Kyou caught one and held it to his face.
“I know, mother,” the Riolu spoke quietly to the tree.