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Haru woke from the same dream, the same dream that he had been having for two weeks straight. It wasn't a dream that frightened him or intimidated him or even left him with a lingering feeling of contentment, it was more of a dream that Haru found curious and intriguing. It seemed to bring forth a distant memory that was barely out of his grasp, playing at the back of his head. In his dream he was floating, suspended above a green earth in a sapphire sky. Below he could see with crystal clarity a deserted Chinese village, the smell of a freshly plowed field wafted up to him, making his nose tingle with the smell of fresh earth and the new growth of plants. He was unsure of how he knew with such certainty that is was a Chinese village, but he knew, none the less. All round him billowing cumulus twisted and contorted as an unseen force blew them across the skies. Each time a wisp of cloud kissed his skin he shivered with the iciness of it. With the slightest thought they would spin to his will almost as if he could control them with his mind's eye. Then, at the very end of the dream, right before he would awake, a distant familiar sound would fill his ears and an isolated dark shape would appear through the dancing clouds.
After Haru woke he pondered his recurring dream as he dresses in a clean plain t-shirt and dark wash jeans--comfortable but stylish--rubbed some musky scented styling jell through his black hair to make it standup then made his way to the kitchen for breakfast.
Haru had lived with him grandmother--Grandmother Asmita--for as long as he could remember. He knew the bare minimum about his parents and that seemed all that Grandmother Asmita was willing to tell. Haru supposed that the minimum would have to be enough for now.
Grandmother Asmita was a small woman that was hunched with age. Her chocolate eyes peered wisely through small slits and the eye brows that once arched elegantly over them were all but gone. Her thick black hair was pulled into a large bun at the top of her head and her hands were curled in on themselves with arthritics. She wore no makeup accept for a soft powder of peach blush across her thin but prominent cheekbones and it made her face glow with long forgotten youth. Her skin, though old and thin, was still tight across her frame. She always smelled like flowers and fresh air, a comforting smell that Haru loved. All together she still resembled the beautiful woman that graced the frames in the hall.
For breakfast Grandmother Asmita had crunchy toast, succulent orange slices, and soy milk laid out on the antique mahogany table. The smell of it mingled together and made his stomach growl with anticipation.
"More dreams?" she asked Haru with her thick native accent. Haru was second generation American. His grandmother had come from a countryside farm in some distant corner of China. She moved to California when she first became pregnant with Haru's mother and was disowned by her family.
"The same one. But this time something was different. After I heard the strange roaring sound I saw something, a dark shape coming to me through the clouds." Haru walked over and lay a soft kiss on her cheek, breathing in her familiar scent.
"How long have they come to you?" She sat across from him and sucked on an orange slice. When she bit into the fruit the sweet smell of the orange filled the air.
"Two weeks exactly." Haru helped himself to everything.
"How long until you become a man?" Haru let a smile play at his lips as as she spoke with her strange vocabulary.
"I turn eighteen in two days," Haru responded.
"It is time for you to know." She nodded slowly.
"Know what, Grandma?" Haru rolled his eyes, deciding to bite. He took a sip of the soy milk, feeling the cold liquid slide down his throat and settle in his stomach.
"The story of your people," Grandma Asmita was a sucker for old stories about working hard on the land. "No, this is history, you listen, your time is close." Haru straightened up in the hard chair and focused his eyes on his grandmother, ready to endure another long winded story. And so it was told:
Once in the beginning of time, before man roamed all of the earth, the tear of an innocent child and the tear of a wicked man met as they ran down a river of blood. When the river ran into the ocean the two tears were swallowed by a fish iron and the fish was hunted by a golden falcon and consumed. That fish nourished the falcon and the great bird laid three eggs. One was of pure jade, the second of pure sapphire, and the third was precious opal. When the eggs hatched they brought forth the first dragons. The tear of the child gave the dragons the attribute of peace and kindness, and the tear of the wicked gave them knowledge of and wisdom. The river of blood tainted the tears however, and caused the dragons to be short tempered, but gave them amazing abilities.
The Jade dragon was a manipulator of the earth. But the blood river had corrupted the Jade dragon beyond the safety of the young world and the mother falcon was forced to consume her first young offspring.
The Sapphire dragon was born with the ability to manipulate water. She was beautiful and wise beyond her years. Before the Sapphire dragon was known, the world was barren and dry of all water. But the Sapphire dragon heard the wails the earth dwellers and she cried great tears of sadness, for she was born of tears and knew great despair. The tears wet the earth and created great oceans, rivers and lakes. It moistened the dry barren earth and the once parched world became fruitful. Because of her grace and gift she bestowed upon the earth the people named her Ame, meaning rain, for she brought the first rain.
The Opal dragon was gifted with the ability to manipulate air. He was hot blooded and fierce, but knew his boundaries. After Ame, the Sapphire dragon who was known for bringing rain, the Opal dragon was still hidden to the world. Now the earth was wetted and water flowed, but the harsh sun was barbaric and offered no rest. The thought that the people below were unhappy enraged the Opal dragon and he created a massive whirl wind and made the waters of the earth fly into the air and a mist covered the land, shielding it from the barbaric rays of the sun. But soon the rays penetrated the mist and the water fell back to earth, exposing the land once more. The Opal dragon continued blessing the people of the earth with the mist and wind. Because of this he was bestowed the name Feng, meaning wind.
The people were happy for many years, but generations passed and the people forgot how fortunate they had become, and soon they grew restless. They missed the beauty of the sun and cried for it to return and make their lands flourish to its fullest. Ame, out of her kindness, and Feng, out of his want for the people to know him once more decided to work together and create a solution. This solution was the first cloud. Feng created a wind that would suspend the tears of Ame and when the two great forces came together, just as the tear of the child and man came together, it created something great. The cloud provided for the people, and the people were happy.
From the first cloud down rained a multitude of dragon eggs and when they hatched they ruled the skies. Controlling the elements the dragons brought forth years of prosperity and good will. The most beautiful of the dragons was a silver dragon, she protected the people with her fierceness and her just, because of the peace she brought to the land she was named An. One day when An was walking on the earth she met a human named Akio. They fell in love and had a child in the form of a human, but when he reached the age of man hood he had the ability to change form into that of a dragon. He was viewed as a god by his people and was precious to them, earning the name Bo.
After Bo more sky people graced the earth, and many of the sky walkers were bestowed with the power to control the elements, but very few had the ability to make the clouds bend at their feet. As the world expanded, so did the awareness of the sky people. But the Europeans feared them, and made game of hunting them as trophies of greatness. The sky people were forced to go into hiding, guarding their secrets forever from their own kind until they come to adult hood. The dragons have all died and only live in the memories of the people. But the sky people are still roaming the earth this day, waiting until they can walk the earth, and fly the skies without fear.
"Neat story grandma," Haru smiled and swallowed the last of his breakfast. "But I have to go to school." He shouldered his heavy striped backpack and started across the hardwood floor and to the door.
"No Haru, I am not done." She stood, causing her chair to squeak across the floor, and gave him a look that instantly made a cold chill run down his back and he stood still. He had live too many years with strict Grandma Asmita not to obey the look. The look was a crooked one. It came mostly from the right side of her face as she arched where one eye brow use to be and glared out of the corner of her eye. All this happened as her mouth puckered slightly, causing her delicate skin to wrinkle.
She shuffled forward, her face softening and shifting back into its original form as she put a piece of folded, worn and lined paper into Haru's hand.
"What's this?" He started to unfold it but Grandma Asmita closed his hand firmly back around it back.
"Before you read it know this, you have made me proud, but this was her wish." Haru felt her small hands slip off his as she ambled away and started to clear the kitchen, dishes clinked as she put them in the sink.
"Who's wish?" Haru's curiosity had peaked, first a strange story and now this. His brain was a swirl of thoughts. So many thought crashed through his head it made him dizzy.
"Your mothers," When Grandma Asmita saw the look of confusion that had settled on Haru's face didn't lift she continued. "She knew her life style was not a place she should raise a child, so she put you into my care until you became a man. Then she said, and only then, will I be allowed to tell you where she is." When Haru said nothing Grandma Asmita straightened and put a stern look in her eye. "Now, that perfect attendance isn't going to keep itself," and shoved him with surprising strength out the door.
Haru unfolded and refolded that small piece of paper until it was soft in his palm and smelled of his body spray. He had memorized the address and was surprised to find the location was only an hour away. Now all he had to do was wait the three days until the weekend. As Grandma had said, that perfect attendance wasn't going to keep itself.
One day after Haru's eighteenth birthday he barrowed the family car-a beat up '93 Geo Prism-and made his way to the address provided. He didn't know why he was going or even if his mother was still there. Even if she was, what would he say to her? He didn't quite know what to make of the story about the dragons either. He had run it over in his head a thousand times, and something about it seemed familiar to him, he just couldn't quite put his finger on it.
He didn't stop once on his long trek and even the beautiful weather didn't make him less nervous. The glowing sun was too bright and the warm air made the back of his neck sticky with sweat, although none of this impacted his mood or surprised him more then when he reached his final destination. It was a touristy part of California set on the golden beach. But the building he was looking for was slightly inland and was a medium size with a magnificent wooden arch in the front. The wood was dark and polished with a clear finish so the grain of the wood stood out and was visible as it swirled and twisted, as if it was trying to hold in thousands of years of age and secrets. On it written in scrolling script was the name 'Anomalies.' Below that was a smaller sign that read: fire breathers, magicians, dancers, sword swallowers and more.
Haru wasn't quite sure what he was looking for, or what he thought he would find, but this was most defiantly not it. This had to be wrong. Haru put the car into gear but didn't move. He sat there for some time, the air conditioner blowing cold air into his face making his eyes feel dry. All he could think was, 'what if, what if she was there, what if he had finally found her and all this was true, and what if it was all a lie? Some life lesson Grandmother Asmita wanted him to learn?'
With a heavy sight he turned off the car and stepped out onto the sandy walk in front of the building. You couldn't quite see the ocean, but the salty smell was lingering in the air along with the millions of smells that came with it: fish, food and sunscreen. The building looked as if it was made of concrete blocks, but the entire front was covered in beautiful polished wood, Chinese symbols circling the windows and door. Haru was about to knock on the door but thought better of it. This was a public building and the last thing he wanted was to bring attention to himself.
The lobby of the building was normal enough for a building housing a sideshow. There was a desk made of the same wood that decorated the arch of the front of the building, and off to the side was a small room that had an assortment of shinning truncates and objects that would catch a tourist's eye. A mammoth coy fish tank was mounted onto one wall and a grinning skull was sunk to the bottom. The front desk was neatly arranged with pamphlet and fliers, all decorated with Chinese symbols and pictures of beautiful women and men all bending themselves in unnatural positions. Some had fire spilling from their lips and others showed people with sword hilts protruding out of their mouths. The air conditioner banged as it turned on. Shooting a cold blast at Haru causing his heart to skip a beat and tickle his skin as it washed over him.
No one was behind the desk so he walked into the souvenir shop and started looking around. He picked up a surprisingly heavy snow globe that had red sparkles and a statue of a white dragon. Haru shook it and watched the sparkles churn and settle at the bottom.
"Can I help you?" Haru slammed down the globe with alarm as a voice spoke behind him. Haru, his heart racing, turned to see a man in his early twenties with shoulder length hair and thin eyes. He was wearing black silk high waist, loose trousers that gathered just below the knee with a gold sash around his waist and an open vest baring a well sculpted chest. No shoes or shirt.
"Uh," he stumbled over his words as he tried to recollect his thoughts. "Yeah, I'm looking for..." what was he going to say? His mom, answers, the truth? Instead he just settled lamely for "a job."
"Awesome, we can always use a fresh face and new talent. What can you do?" The scantily clad man asked Haru, pulling a small gold and red pendant out of a chest pocket. He twirled it around his pointer finger before dropping it back into his pocket with a soft clink.
"Actually," this was it, his big chance to either make a fool of himself or connect the dots that made up his life. Haru took a deep breath and closed his eyes as he said, "My name is Haru Hiko, and I was hoping you could tell me."
A light smile spread over the strangers face and he touched his pocket with the pendant again. "Hiko, huh? Follow me," he started to turn on his heel but spoke over his shoulder, "My name is Alex by the way." Haru walked after him, his stomach twisted with a weird feeling. Not quite excitement and not quite nervousness.
"So how old are you Haru?" Alex asked as he led Haru through a heavy golden velvet curtain that needed some force to be moved.
"Few days past eighteen," Haru pushed past the curtain and stopped in his tracks, star struck by what was laid before him. The room was filled with random troughs of water, and open fires, the air was filled with the smell of smoke, sweat and perfume. All around him were beautiful woman twirling on silks high in the air, men swallowing swords, and both breathing fire without any obvious ignition. A woman around her late thirties was performing amazing and spectacular stunts on a tight rope; she was wearing light and dark blue silks with dashes of silver and hints of green, making herself look as if she was robed in currents of living water. Her thick black hair was pulled into a tight bun on top of her head and fastened with elaborate silver chop sticks.
"Mizu!" Alex called, and the woman dressed in water slid down a support pole with unbelievable grace. She strode over lightly, walking with carefully placed steps like a cat not making a sound on the padded ground with her bare feet. She was even more beautiful up close, her cheek bones, collar bones, and eyes dusted with silver powder, and bracelets of bells around her wrists that emitted the softest of tinkle. She said nothing for the longest of time and Haru could feel a bead of sweat run down his back that made his skin erupt in goose bumps.
"Do you know who I am?" Mizu asked, her voice light and feminine but it held a firm undertone.
"I am hoping." His breath was labored now, and his stomach was in knots and all the other performers were on the ground, watching. Haru could feel their eyes boring into him from all directions as if they were lasers of fire. Everyone seemed to hold their breath, unwilling to make a sound and interrupt the sight before them.
"I am so glad you found me." She reached forward and hugged him with surprising strength. He stood there awkwardly for a few second, her silks cool against him, thoughts racing through his head at dizzying speeds. This is the woman who left me, never sent me a letter, a birthday card or a message to tell me her name. I should be furious, I should hate her. But he couldn't bring himself to hate her and in turn held her back, surprised by how her warmth comforted him. The warmth filled a spot in him; a spot he didn't know was empty before. Her smell engulfed him, the smell of mint tooth paste and the same perfume that Grandmother Asmita wore.
All around, the room erupted in cheers, claps and shouts of joy. It thundered in the room that made the air alive with electricity. Haru felt tears prickle his eyes but he fought them back with furious blinks as Alex clapped him on the back, which left him gasping for air.
"Welcome to the family cuz!" Alex shouted near his ear with hot breath so he could be heard over all the noise, causing Haru to reluctantly pull away from him mother and the cheering to subside.
"Cuz, what do you mean cuz?" Haru asked confused, his skin was finally gaining back its normal feeling.
"This is your family Haru, not just me, all of them. We are all descendents of the same blood line. We are the sky people." Mizu smiled sweetly at him, her silks rippling with each movement she made.
"You mean Grandmother Asmita isn't just a crazy old bat? She was serious?" Haru felt him stomach sink as the weight of the situation settled. Mizu held his hand in her rough and calloused one and led him over to one of the troughs of water and smiled at him before taking a medallion (similar to Alex's) off from around her neck and dropping it on the ground. She then turned to the still water, placing her hands over it, and closing her eyes. Haru watched on with awe as the water first rippled, then slowly, droplets of water raised from the surface and come to meet her palms. When both hands were filled with the lukewarm water she started to point around the room and sent the liquid in a spectacular dance. Each shimmering drop was either then caught by someone else and held suspended in air, or was met by a blast of fire-that mostly the men seemed to control-and sizzled into oblivion with a vicious hiss and puff of hot steam.
Haru watched on in amazement as the show came to an end. His mother picked up the medallion, rubbed it thoughtfully between her fingers and placed it back around her neck, letting it drop beneath her silks.
"That medallion, what is it?" Haru looked into Mizu's eyes.
"It helps you control your powers, with it on they are almost completely shut off, and hard to access. But with it on you can use your full force and might." He heard a ruffle of clothing, almost like a ripple, as everyone in the room touched a pocket, wrist or neck, as they instinctively felt for their medallion. "We wear them because sometimes our powers are hard to control. This helps up put up a wall to protect us from any undesired outbursts of energy."
Haru stood deep in thought for a few moments, hyper aware of all the eyes on him, before speaking. "Who don't I have one?" A chuckle erupted and he felt a hot blush rise from his toes to the tip of his ears making his skin hot.
"Because your powers, if you have them, only become prominent after you eighteenth birthday, the day you become a man."
"If?" Haru felt like he had lost something greatly important, even though he never had it in the first place.
"Yup," Alex stepped forward, a painfully bright smile on his face, "Some of us are just graced with beauty instead of powers, but" his face fell a little, "It's not all that bad. I can swallow a mean sword."
"But you have a medallion." Haru was confused.
"It's from the gift shop; I just like how it looks." Alex shrugged before walking off with heavy steps, his hand hovering over his chest pocket.
"Well how do I find if I have 'powers'?" Haru put air quotations around the word. All of this was still so strange to him; he tried to take a humorous approach so that he wouldn't lose his sanity-if he hadn't lost it already.
"We bring you to Kenja." She grabbed his hand and hurried across the performance room and through another heavy velvet flap, leaving everyone whispering in small cliques. Instantly Haru was suffocated by the over powering smell of incense and smoke. The room he was in now was too hot, dark, and claustrophobic for his taste. Long sheets of gold, red, blue and green fabric hung from the ceilings and hundreds of soft pillows littered the ground. A dangerous open fire was in the middle of the room, the dry wood popped and crackled, sending sparks into a brilliant dance above the flickering flames. Behind the fire sat a man so old his eyes were drooped closed and his skin resembled soft, worn leather. He was dressed in white silk robes that pooled around him and he fiddled with a medallion so old it was almost worn completely smooth.
"Kenja, this is my son, Haru," She stepped behind Haru and pushed him around the fire so he was standing a few feet away from Kenja. Kenja froze completely still, and for the longest time both did nothing. Finally after an eternity Kenja grunted and peeled open his eyes to look at Haru with clouded eyes. He ruffled around with his hands, flipping pillows until he found what he was looking for and threw it at Haru's feet with a clinking of metal.
"Pick one." His voice come out in a wheeze and was scratchy. He closed his eyes once more and fiddled with his hands. Haru was unsure of how he so carefully twirled the medallion in his hand as his fingers were curled and bent.
Haru sat down and looked to see a pile of medallions in front of him. He picked up each one, rubbed the pattered surface with his soft fingertips and looked it over, not quite sure what he was looking for. He spent hours in that room bent over and hardly able to see. He was hot and sweat beaded on his brow and back, neither his mother nor Kenja spoke a word. Was this some sort of trick or game? He couldn't be sure so he looked at them all again and again until his hands were sore and he had everyone memorized, the shape size and symbol it bared.
All of a sudden Kenja dropped his medal and it rolled in front of Haru. Instinctively he reached to pick it up for him but stopped when his mother gasped and clasped her hands over her mouth, her eyes popped and she stumbled back a few noisy steps, her bells jingling. Haru's hand hovered over the object, not sure what to do, looking from the ground to him mother.
"Pick...it...up." Each word was spaced and airy. He slowly extended his hand and closed his fingers around the smooth surface, warm from being in contact with skin so often.
Instantly images flooded his head, images of flying and small villages below him, clouds whirling and twisting to his will.
"Gah!" Haru gasped and dropped it, instantly he felt cold despite the surroundings. "What was that? It was just like my dreams." He looked at Mizu who was beaming and Kenja who had opened his eyes once more.
"Haru, the great dragon has bestowed upon you the ability to control the skies. The rarest of gifts. You have been crowned as the next great protector of our people and you will lead them in this ever changing world and work to keep our secret safe."
"Me? Are you sure?" Haru's day had gone from unbelievable to inconceivable. Haru didn't get an answer but instead watched Kenja slowly rise to his feet with popping joints, shuffle across the room and throw open the curtain with strength Haru was astonished he possessed. Blinding light and cool, fresh air streamed in. Haru staggered to the light and followed his mother.
Everyone, who had now returned to practice, had stopped and gone eerily quiet. They all stared at him as he stood next to Kenja, who reached for his hand and lifted it, placed the worn medallion into his hand and said, "I know pass on all the wisdom of the past to you, so they you may know our ways and guide us fearlessly." Instantly he had more flash backs that seemed almost like déjà vu, almost as if he was there but inside someone else's body and the cold feeling lifted, replaced with that of comfort. He felt his other hand being raised into the air and Kenja proclaimed.
"Haru, our next Cloud Whisperer!"