He cried, it is both
a blessing and a curse to
know the awful truth…
–Tsuru no Megumi
The bird man flew low beneath stars that crackled like ice chips in the moonless sky. Expanding his wings, he glided on the jet stream, directing his flight a kilometer short of where the sandy embankment stretched on either side of the “Sea of Japan“. Dreading what he would find there, he closed his eyes and drew in a ragged breath while a single wish filled his thoughts.
Tonight, things will be different from all the nights before. Back the way they should be.
His greatest hope sprang from his greatest horror that the terrible revelations he remembered from previous journeys would turn out to be mere dreams dredged up from nightmares. Not a horrific foretelling of the future, as all of his most vivid visions always turned out to be.
Megumi Tsuru landed soft as a leaf blown by the wind. The current blew strong near the ground so it pulled his outstretched wings, snowy white with jet-black tips. The next instant, the fetid stench of dead fish, matted with decayed seaweed, assaulted his senses.
So it remains the same. He shook my head while anxiety washed over him like a dull film.
The voice of the sea thrummed in his ears. The gulls that chattered overhead seemed too loud. Still, he swallowed his sorrow, letting the crash of the waves soothe instead of annoy him while a different, yet familiar sensation burned deep inside his bones. It quickly blazed over and through him to the deepest regions beneath his feathers to the very tips of his claws and beak.
Moments later when he opened his eyes, he peered out from the smooth face–of a man. The warmth of a summer‘s night caressed his human body while an inner chill made him shiver.
He dug his toes into the sand, dry where it should be wet, next to a notched branch shoved into the sand when snow had covered the ground–over six months ago. He had put it there himself to mark the place where high tide used to hit the shoreline.
Now dried seaweed stuck cracked and black to the upper nodes of the branch severed from the sacred Sakai, the same tree that once hung with brightly colored cloth and a mirror to lure Sun from her cave hiding place millennia before.
From the defiled branch, Megumi made his way on foot toward the edge of the sea, his gaze focused on the sand near his feet. He could have flown, but he wanted to feel the tremors when they rumbled beneath him, shooting like a spear up his spine. The terrible sensation reminded him that this was more than a dream.
Megumi shook his head. The quakes grew in intensity each time he ventured to the devastated shore. Nothing could deny that.
He had read about a time, lost in the distant past, when the moon came so close to the Earth that it seemed the two colossal spheres would collide. From the account he had heard, the terrible phenomena caused cascading tons of ocean to eat away the shorelines, drowning everything that stood in the towering water’s path.
Most saw this event as pure mythology. But not Megumi.
The visions he saw now told of a time in the near future when the moon would take an opposite sojourn and slowly pull away from the Earth causing low tides to yank the oceans farther and farther away from the present shoreline. If this happened, the creatures of the sea would lie gasping for breath, helpless on dry land.
A grim smile tugged at Megumi’s lips. The meat eaters would find themselves stalking the shorelines for a mere glimpse of fresh food.
He shook his head in dismay. If things did not change for the better and soon, all of creation would face a slow agonizing death of starvation and worse. The Tribe of Crane included. But that was not the worst to come.
His chest ached with frustration. The weight of what he knew, of what he must do squeezed like an invisible hand trying to crush out his existence–before the coming atrocities ever could.
He stopped at the edge of the sea, staring into the endless darkness beyond while cool salted water lapped around his ankles. Like a cold slap in his face, he could not get the image of the dried branch he had stuck in the ground or the heaps of dead fish piled up on the sand, reminding him that he must never give up his search for a way to stop it any of it from happening.
Megumi spun toward a mound of sand littered with decayed seaweed and fish carcasses. For one night, this bird had seen enough to make him miserable for eternity.
Head ducked low in determination; he trudged to the top of one rotten heap. Lifting his arms a wingspan apart the wind beat against his back, whipping his white hair, with jet black tips, into stiff, damp swirls. Nose tilted eastward toward the Brother Mountains, he took a running start. By the time he reached the edge of the dune his arms became wings spread open in flight…
In the Northern Province of Yamagata Japan, Mount Haguro stood the smallest of the three Brother Mountains. Nestled atop the summit the monastery slept. Tsuru no Megumi woke drenched in sweat. He felt the chill in the room as he slipped from beneath the covered sleeping mat.
Soft snoring drifted toward him. He paused, watching the sleeper beneath the colorful quilt. He wanted to wake his friend and tell him about the latest, terrible dream. Shojika would know how to ease the ache in Megumi’s heart even in the dark, cold hours before dawn. But courtesy would not allow him to disturb his friend’s precious sleep.
Head bowed in deep concentration, he turned and made his way through the darkened corridor of the living quarters. In his human form, man‘s feet pattered softly against the rice rush floors.
Situated at the backside of the monastery, Megumi stepped into the library where he spent long hours poring over ancient manuscripts of Nippon history and what others would call folklore. A place of profound peace, Megumi knew the library as a refuge from the insanity and chaos that the visions brought. Today, he went to there, desperate to find answers.
Tsuru no Megumi, “Crane of Mercy”, was the meaning of his name. And for the most part, he lived up to the title. With the abilities of a powerful seer since a very young age, he had grown accustom to knowing the future before it happened.
The outside world held in great demand one with such a “talent” as he possessed. But the over stimulation of attention he received in the past had almost driven him mad. It was the reason he now hid in the Mountains of Dewa where he had lived a quiet life—until the recent visions came to bombard his peace of mind.
He made his way toward cubbyholes that covered every wall, filled with rice paper scrolls. He stopped at a familiar niche.
A gentle slick gave way as he pulled a paper scroll loose from its slot and then made his way to a low-standing tea table. He knelt on a floor pillow tucked beside a tea table that sat beneath a round skylight, like a perfect full moon, that hung near the top of the high-beamed ceiling. Outside the window, the branches of a towering cryptomeria spruce scritch-scratched against the glass pane where the sun’s light had yet to rise.