There is wind in the trees: listen. Shhhhhh. Shhhhhh.
There is a young man walking the road by himself. He carries a large box upon his back and walks upright. If he leaves footprints in the dust, they are blown away. Overhead the moon hangs round and full; tonight the rabbit is hard at work.
It is almost summer. The air smells like greenery and warmth; the grass is littered with brown and pink blossoms from the cherry trees. Sometimes the wind changes and the moonlight ribboning through the new leaves looks more like the edge of a woman’s sleeve. The young man never turns his head, though sometimes he smiles.
At the edge of the forest, the path diverges. One leads down to the city, where the lights are now electric and are bright enough to challenge the stars. Even here, the earth groans and flinches from the unnatural weight upon her, buildings and cars and so many *people* all compressed together.
The other path is overgrown and weed-choked. No one has gone that way a long time; none of the people in the city below knows it exists. The young man does not look at the city, but continues his own way.
There is wind in the grass: listen. Hush. Hush.
He walks looking straight ahead. There is a hill that once upon a time had stone steps carved into its face; now everything is covered in moss. His feet don’t slip in the dark as he steadily climbs his way upward, to where a single grandmother tree stands tall against the sky. At a certain angle, it stabs right into the moon.
She is an old, old tree. Her roots go deep. In the shadow of her roots is a weathered stone statue of a wolf. Moss grows deep in its stone eyes and fills its open jaws. Mostly, though, it remains solidly intact. He touches the stone cheek, the ears bent forward, the point of a fang. It is reverent, almost like worship.
When he finishes, he kneels in the damp dark earth before the statue.
The young man takes off his pack and sets it on naked ground. From it he pulls out a sword with a leering face, a packet of incense blended by a dragon-king’s daughter, and matches tipped with fragments of jade taken from the sun-god’s mirror.
He lights the incense and prays. Outside of the tree roots, the wind rises to a howl, like a wolf’s cry: shhhhhhhhhhhhh.
“Mother,” he says, and the wind falls silent to listen. He pulls out the sword, forged from pieces of his father’s broken blade. His shape is this, his reason is that, and his regret is now. He cuts his palm and lets his blood fall upon the earth, in a circle around the incense.
“Mother, I am ready to come home.”