In the weeks that passed, the former humans now turned into animals searched all the buildings in the oceanside vacation town. Supplies were gathered, organized, and stored accordingly. The rest house had been purposed as the emperor’s new home, as well as served as the budding town’s central planning office. In the absence of electrical power, computers, cell phones, and modern distractions: the productivity of the animals was greatly increased. Work was steady, and everyone for the most part was happy by the time it was time to rest. Hard work has a side of effect of making it easier to sleep, which was on full display.
It was a race against time though, as soon as the animals could clear a building of its contents, the structure would collapse and disintegrate before their eyes. Most of the human buildings were gone by this point, save for a cluster around the rest house. For reasons that were unclear, the shops that they chose to take up residence in seemed to be immune from the destruction. Each day as they set about their tasks, they encountered concrete roads and parking lots cracking and turning into gravel. Plants grew up from beneath at an accelerated pace, and it was not long until the sea grass that once covered the area had once more reclaimed the land.
To the north of the rest house was a small rocky island, that had a tall light house in the center. The power had long since gone out, so at night, there was no visible light coming from the structure. In the day, various flocks of sea birds would gather there to rest and discuss the matters of the day. Princess Chinatsu had learned how to fly, and would make a trip each day out to the island and back. The sea birds were full of gossip, and it did not take much prodding to get them to talk. The offering of a processed food snack also made her arrival more pleasant. They really liked American style salted potato chips for some reason, and would devour the bags as soon as they were opened.
The birds spoke of widespread devastation, with the massive cities falling apart. Towering skyscrapers were on fire, and fell onto the roads below them. The cities were dark, and full of predators scavenging around. Packs of black and brown bears were taking full advantage of the lack of humans, and had come out of the mountains to raid the buildings. Wild boar had escaped from their various enclosures, and were devastating the farmlands that were teeming with fruits and vegetables. In Kobe, the prized cattle were wandering aimlessly, and starting to pass away. Their enclosures were so secure, no one could free them. They had never grazed, and were held in cages, so that they would not build up to tough of muscle mass. As such, a horrendous smell was starting to come from the human farms.
The birds quickly changed the subject, despite gentle prodding from the Princess. The offering of snacks had yielded important information, which she would share with her father and the rest of the town council each night upon her return. The term council was perhaps too formal of a term, as there was no actual agreement in terms of governance. Everyone generally deferred to the emperor to make decisions, which the formerly elderly human did on a frequent basis. It was a role he had been groomed for his entire life, though it had been greatly diminished at the conclusion of the second world war. Still, the experience of actual power was exhilarating, and each day he started to act more like an authority. The animals took notice, and reacted in kind.
Night was truly dark once again, with not a single man-made source of light present. When the weather cooperated, the stars were on full display, and sparkled so clearly, that they seemed close enough to touch. The moon could clearly be seen, with all its craters visible. At one of the council meetings, a former school teacher arrived wanting to go over his research findings. The emperor nodded, and motioned with his wing tip to proceed. The former human, now turned into a beaver, pointed up and explained that the stars were moving positions in the skies. He had been tracking the star movements, as was his hobby prior to their current situation. Every night the teacher kept track of their positions in the sky. The council did not know what to do with the information, and the emperor nodded while asking to continue the research. If the stars were moving, that meant the planet was starting to tilt.
At the conclusion of the meeting, and as the animals started to leave the rest house, they scampered down the concrete stairs to start to head across the street where the convenience store was located. It was customary to head there for a yummy snack before bed. Both the emperor and the princess exited as well, since it would be good to be seen mingling with the rest of their subjects. As they reached the brick pathway that stretched around the landing of the rest house, the school teacher pointed up into the sky sounding an alarm call that beaver would make in a danger situation. The animals stopped, and started to look up as well. As the two cranes looked upwards, they watched as the skies went pure black. The stars and moon faded away, and soon fiery feathers started to cross the skies above. A terrible, deafening sound filled the air, and echoed in all directions. It sounded like a bird, but unlike any that was ever heard.
The animals started to flee in terror, and ran as fast as their legs could carry them into the convenience store. Chinatsu pointed with her wing tip at the sky, “father! What in heaven’s name is that?” The emperor’s beak had dropped open, and for the first time in his life, felt very small and insignificant. He did not run, nor fly, only stared at the sky as what clearly was a wing moved overhead. There was no corresponding creature in either the Shinto or Buddhist religions he could think of that matched what he was clearly observing. The display lasted for an hour, before finally the wing disappeared and the stars returned. The emperor honked out in a calm, loud voice, “everyone may come out now. Whatever was going on has passed.” The various animals timidly looked out from the store, but did not exit. Emperor Akio turned and started to head back up the steps to the rest house’s second floor. The princess followed behind, and for the first time in a long time, no one could sleep very well.
The following days were exceptionally quiet, and the sea birds did not gather at the lighthouse. The town had also reacted in kind, with hurried movements between buildings. While still plentiful, their gathered supplies were starting to dwindle. That meant that further exploration of the surrounding area was in order. Princess Chinatsu offered to fly around and scout the area, and started to head south. There was a wide swath of marshlands to their south, as well as fertile farmlands. The crane gracefully flew until the sun was directly overhead in the sky, which meant she had flown a considerable distance to reach the base of a series of tall tree covered mountains. As she started to bank to the left to start the return trip, she saw a group of black bears emerging from the tree line. They numbered at least twenty, and were following a slightly larger and meaner looking male alpha.
Increasing her speed as best she could manage, she flew back to the north and tried to memorize the locations of the roads that were in various states of disrepair. Even demolished roadways, would be easier to traverse, than the swamplands for their ground based new friends. It was not until just about sunset that she returned, and was swarmed by the various animals of the town. After a quick meal, the entire town gathered around the steps of the rest house, to listen to the princess’s exploration account. The animals nodded, and pondered as she explained about the various roads, swamps, farms, shops, and farmlands to their south. However, the pack of bears heading to the north was of concern. The emperor nodded, and had a concerned look in his eyes.
Many decades ago, he went on a hunt with his father, and the prime minister. They headed to a place called Honshu to hunt Asiatic black bears. While they were slightly smaller than their American counterparts, they were quick and fierce. Sharp claws and teeth, shaggy coats of black fur, and an almost cone shaped face meant that they could insert themselves into places a normal predator would have trouble reaching. A memory of one bear jamming his head between a fence only inches away from him still was burned into his memories. While he missed the shot with his rifle, the noise was enough to scare the predator away. Later-on that day, the prime minster was able to take down that bear. It was turned into a rug, which adorned the office of the government official for many years. The meat was harvested, and distributed to several food pantries in the area.
Security became more of a concern, and the animals headed off to their various residences to secure the buildings. While some doors could not be closed, there were ways to make it difficult to gain entry. Conversely, there were places above and below the areas humans would frequent, allowing places to hide. The food and supplies began to be moved, and by the time the next evening had arrived, the buildings were as ready as they ever could be. The town council was held, and the animals headed to the convenience store for a yummy snack as always. As the two cranes entered the shop, they noticed a mouse standing guard at the door. He had a little bell, and what looked like a thimble on his head. He would alert the room if he saw something.
Princess Chinatsu giggled a bit, and patted the guard on his head with her white feathery wing tip. The selves were now empty, and an line had formed across the front of the store, and made a right to head down the darkened freezer cases. The emperor was last in line, by choice, and waited patiently his turn. The other animals offered to let him cut in line, but their offers were politely declined. Yes, he could choose to assert that element of his position, but it may result in hurt feelings. Building trust and good will was of the utmost importance in their developing town. The line moved quick, and by the time his daughter turned the corner, he was able to bend his neck around to the corner to see a little table had been set up. The school teacher beaver was taking orders, and calling through a broken case to animals in the back bringing out the supplies.
The sound of a little bell started to fill the air, and the animals froze in position. Emperor Akio turned towards the door, watching as a black bear was standing outside of the door. In a quick movement, he snatched the field mouse from the ground and tossed it into his mouth. The bear swallowed the mouse in one gulp, and sneered at the crane. Reaching up with his front paws, he pulled the glass doors apart causing the door motors to whine in protest. Several more bears could be seen milling about outside, and all were speaking in deep guttural voices. But what was of note, they were speaking Japanese. A fact which all the former humans learned, was that animals could generally understand each other. Most chose to speak the natural language, but these predators were making a conscious effort to speak the native human language of the area.
The bear’s black insidious eyes locked onto the emperor’s eyes, and he began to speak in Japanese. “Well …well …what do we have here? Food living in a store which sells human foods, we will be eating well tonight shatei.” Princess Chinatsu turned around and recognized the bear at the door as the mean looking alpha that was leading the rest out of the trees. She also remembered that word from a rather boring speech by a gathering of police officers she had attended as an official function. That was a term used by the yakuza, a criminal organization arranged around specific families. The bears standing outside on the street spoke in the natural language, “come on Shateigashira … let us inside. Maybe they have beer … or sake … oh sake would be so nice …”
The emperor spoke in Japanese, and started to fluff his wings to make himself look bigger than he was. Also, this was to block view of his daughter, and the animals behind him. “Leave this place, we are of no concern to you.” The bear cocked his eyes in such a way to make one bigger than the other, “ohh … a former human that turned as well? I never ate a human before, though i did thoroughly enjoy killing them for the Oyabun.” The bear moved closer, and opened the doorway behind him so the others could begin to enter. As the lower ranked bears entered, they immediately started to ransack the place and pushing the shelves over. “WHERE IS ALL THE FOOD? WHERE IS THE BEER? WHERE IS THE SAKE?” They started to shout angrily.
Both cranes were backing up slowly, though the princess was trying to buy time for their friends to escape. As she turned around, she could see the terrified animals trying to dash through the broken case and into the back. There was a bottle neck of animals trying to jam through at the same time. She wanted to speak, but had to remain silent, otherwise she would attract the attention of the predators. It was not long until she saw a massive claw adorned paw quickly reach out and grab a former seamstress that had turned into a rabbit. The rabbit screamed in terror, until her voice became muffled and ceased. The bears started to charge, pushing each other out of the way to hunt the animals within the shop. One smashed through the cooler cases, and reached the back storage room. A muffled call came out, “I found the beer boys! And … beavers …”
Emperor Akio spoke with his eyes narrowed, “why are you doing this?” The Shateigashira sneered, “why? Because we are clearly at the top of the food chain, the strong prey upon the weak. Now be quiet, I am in the mood for chicken.” The bear lunged forward, with teeth bared and claws stretched out. The male crane honked loudly, and quickly flapped his wings to fly over the bear. “CHINATSU WE ARE LEAVING NOW!” The princess nodded while crying, and quickly took flight. The alpha bear ran straight into a cement block wall, and knocked himself out. The two craned were able to fly through the opening of the doorway, and quickly ascended into the sky above. Several bears outside tried to jump and grab the escaping birds, but were unable to do so.
The royal family once at a safe altitude circled the rest house, and watched as the bears were ransacking the surrounding buildings. In a matter of minutes, weeks’ worth of effort had been wiped away in an instant. Chinatsu was honking sadly, as all their human friends were devoured. Akio honked sadly as well, before calling out in a shaking voice tone. “Chinatsu, we are heading south, follow me.” The two birds flew through the night, and did not land until the break of dawn. They had flown a considerable distance, to the fishing port town of Yokohama. Landing on top of a metal shipping container that was rusting badly, the two birds tiredly made themselves as comfortable as they could and rested. The terrible images of the bears ran over and over in their dreams, resulting in nightmares of varying degrees in each of the cranes. They awoke mid-afternoon, and did not speak. Nether were hungry, as the events of the prior evening rendered their need for sustenance moot.
Weeks passed, with not a single word spoken between the pair. They settled into a routine: sleep, feed, fly. Their homeland was mountainous, with dense forests of trees that covered the land. In many ways it was hard to tell where they were heading, but the vivid images of death in their minds, made the trip seem to go quicker than either realized. It was almost a month later when Chinatsu spoke the first words, “Father …where are we going?” The emperor adjusted his wings to fly beside his daughter, “Tokyo … to the imperial palace. The palace compound is surrounded by water, and fortified stone bridges. We will be able to regroup there, and perhaps gather our forces to resist the predators. Undoubtedly there are more former humans that are in hiding within the city. We will rebuild our society, against the tyranny of the bears.” The princess nodded and honked in agreement. She had her doubts about her father’s plan, but kept those to herself, as this was the best course of action.
The imperial palace had always felt to be a gilded prison to her. She was kept hidden away from the world, and her movements restricted. But now, it would offer protection from the world. As the days passed, they continued to fly to the south east, and navigated the mountains and valleys of the land. They followed their routine, and ate whatever they could find. While neither preferred the taste of the local plants, it did satisfy their hunger. Cranes were omnivores, and would eat whatever they could find. Having grown up for many years eating sushi, the concept of raw fish was not a factor at all in their dietary choices. However, the thought of their former friends screaming, made them hesitant at first to eat fish. The need for proper diet outstripped any mental concerns, as their strenuous flights was taxing both of their bodies.
Many more weeks passed, and as they crested over a series of derelict steel mill buildings, the skies turned black once more with nary a feature to be seen. The thunderous bird noise boomed overhead once more, as fiery wings passed above them. The pair ignored their instincts to land and hide, and pressed on with their flight. Keeping one eye forward, while the other at the display in the heavens above. During their extended travels, the two learned from the local birds of the existence of the Great Spirit. The names varied, but all agreed it appeared as a great bird in the sky above. He created the world, and brought all animals here to live upon it both above the water and below it. The first appearance which they had seen at the rest house, was the first any could remember seeing him. They only had the oral tradition, passed down through the generations. Now he appeared for a second time, which meant something was occurring far away from their nation.
Just as before, the spirit disappeared from the skies above, and the light of day returned. Pressing on despite their exhaustion, the two birds made it to the outskirts of Tokyo. They landed, rested, and fed while contemplating the meaning of the second appearance of the spirit bird? They slept through the day, and well into the night on the top of a former human apartment building that was collapsing on one side. Both stared with eyes wide, at the city of Tokyo pitch black. There was no sound, other than the wind and an occasional owl or bat. Before either could speak, the building below them started to shake hard. The sound of collapsing debris from the building started to fill the air. It was not uncommon for earthquakes to arrive unexpectedly in Tokyo. The geologists had developed early warning systems, and the buildings were designed to resist the ill effects of the quakes.
So as the light of dawn started to crest over the horizon, both cranes’ beaks dropped open when they saw the utter devastation of their city. The tall skyscrapers had all fallen, and gaping voids opened deep within the earth. The ocean was rushing inland, filling the voids created from the subsidence of the land. “Father … I wonder if the palace is still safe?” Chinatsu said, watching her father nod and take flight. She leapt from her perch, and started to flap her wings hard to gain altitude. They were flying in the daylight this time, so it would be easier to navigate. The city of Tokyo was gigantic, covering almost 13,452 square kilometers. Before the disappearances of its human residents, almost 14 million people called the city and its neighborhoods their home. Its history dated back hundreds of years, and was studied by people worldwide. Visitors would flock to the city to experience its magic, see the sights, and eat many marvelous exotic foods.
Now, it was a ruined desolate wasteland of crumbling concrete. The gas transmission lines were either exploded in varying states, or still on fire sending gigantic jets of flame into the air. The various bridges had fallen, rusted, and deteriorated to the extent that huge sections of the city were no longer able to be reached by foot. The imperial palace was at the center of the city, ringed by water, and connected to the surrounding city by eight bridges of stone. To be accurate, it was two islands, with the residence on the larger island. The smaller island held many government buildings, as well as police and security forces. Hours passed, and in the distance, they could see the outline of the waterway that surrounded the smaller island. Honking happily, the two cranes glided on the wind as they rode an updraft. As they started to cross over the water, to their horror, they saw the first island had been destroyed as well.
The various buildings looked as if they had been attacked by military forces. Gaping holes could be seen though the buildings, and the island bridges had all fallen into the water. The finely manicured gardens had overgrown, and many of the various security and maintenance vehicles were exploded or laying upside down and on fire. The smell of tires burning filled the air, causing their eyes to water. As they crossed over the water way onto the main island, the trees had grown in considerably. The plants had reclaimed the area, and were growing through the buildings. In the distance, they could see the rectangular buildings that comprised the Chowaden reception hall, which once was the official receiving area for heads of state to meet with the emperor. As they flew closer, the building had been gutted by fire, and a huge crack was through the courtyard. The ground looked like it was sinking into a gigantic sink hole.
It was not far from the reception hall to their home, the imperial residence. For the air, it looked like four parallel rectangular buildings, with a connecting front rectangle. The roof of each building was curved, and was a pale green color. Coming in for a landing, the two folded back their tired wings as they crossed under the rounded roof of the covered front of the main building. This was where they would get into and out of the vehicle, back when they were humans. The bullet proof front doors were sealed shut, meaning entry through the front was not going to be an option.
Prince Chinatsu sighed, “they are not making this easy on us, are they? Well good news, I know of all the ways to sneak out of this place. Follow me,” the female crane saw as she fluffed her pearly gray tail feathers for effect. Her father laughed, “oh you do … Chinatsu?” The male bird laughed, and looked around the area. The buildings seemed to be in a better state of repair here. The grounds were overgrown, but that made sense since there were no teams of men working to maintain the grounds. The trees were hanging low, as their branches had fully spread out and were loaded with leaves or pine needles. It was not long, until he watched his daughter disappear around the corner of the building, and quickened his pace to keep up with her.
“There is a side door which the maintenance workers use. It is not usually locked, and can be pushed both ways. It is the interior door that I am not sure about, perhaps it is open?” The emperor honked happily, “oh, and how do you know so much about this side entrance?” The princess laughed in a way only a crane could, and sure enough there was a door labeled maintenance in kanji letters. It took both of their strength to push the wooden door open. But in time they were able to push the door open enough so they could quickly dart inside. There was a metal security door several strides inside, but thankfully it was wide open. As the father and daughter walked inside the building, they noticed it was very stuffy inside. The windows and doors had not been opened for a long time, nor was the climate control systems operational.
It was a short distance through a very plain white painted hallway, to reach the main concourse within the structure. Their actual home was still a distance away, but the surrounding buildings held a series of meeting areas as well as areas to house visiting guests. The rooms were not as ornate as one might expect, mainly because of the existence of the more formal receiving areas. The floors were polished marble, and the walls were designed to withstand the nasties typhoon or the strongest of earthquakes. There were various cream-colored painted walls, and heavy wooden doors painted in such a way to appear like a traditional paper door. Some doors even had lights on the inside, to mimic a real paper door. This was to give the effect, while maintain safety. Though, there was also a series of actual paper doors as well. Those were the historical areas, which was on the rare guided tour given to various heads of state.
A whimper could be heard coming from a hallway nearby, causing both birds to lengthen their strides. Heading down a long white hallway with skylights, they made a right turn to see that the ceiling had collapsed. The entire wing of the building that led to the actual imperial residence had started to sink into the ground. There was a huge pile or rubble, and a white rabbit trapped underneath a steel beam. “Father, we have to free that rabbit,” Chinatsu cried out. The emperor nodded, “you are right Chinatsu.” As they reached the beam, the rabbit was breathing shallow, and his eyes were glazed. “Stay with us friend …tell us your name.” The male crane said, as he looked around trying to see the extent of the wreckage. He could feel the floor sloping downwards slightly, and there was the occasional vibration that shuddered through the building.
“Akira … I was … a human once … worked for … the emperor,” the rabbit stammered out in a weak tone. Emperor Akio looked sad at his injured subordinate, “and I have returned Akira, along with my daughter Princess Chinatsu.” The rabbit looked up at both cranes, and sighed happily. “I am glad I was here to see your glorious return, Emperor. Though, I did not expect a crane … The others … are looking for you.” Chinatsu honked sadly, “father, there is no way to move this beam. We need tools … men … wait ..what others?” The rabbit coughed up blood, and spat it to the side of him. “Touma, the head of security took several security forces to the west of here. They are heading to the imperial palace in Kyoto. I was assigned to remain here, in case you returned. I was ……” The rabbit trailed off, and stopped breathing. The emperor smelled the scent of death, and honked sadly. Chinatsu looked at her father, and honked sadly as well.
The building started to shake violently, and more steel beams began to collapse further down the hallway towards the residence. “Daughter, move it!” Akio called out, and the two started to run as fast as their legs could carry them. The sink hole that was wallowing up the side of the building was beginning to expand. Occasionally they would sneak a peak backwards, and watched as the building cracked open like an egg, and started to be swallowed by the earth. They made the left, and once again reached the grand concourse. Chinatsu took flight, and started to fly as fast as she could down towards the maintenance hallway they entered through. Her father did the same, finding it easy to fly inside. Though as the ground continued to open underneath, the building started to rain down debris from the ceiling.
They banked hard, and landed inside the maintenance hallway, and started to run again. The walls were too close for outstretched wings. However, as they ran, they could feel the violent tremors underneath their claws. Once again in little time, they reached the swinging maintenance door, and both birds pushed hard to allow it to open. Darting quickly through, they started to flap their wings and take flight once more. They had departed just in time, when as they started to bank and circle while gaining altitude, they could see the residence being sucked violently into the earth in various places. Sections were descending almost vertically into the ground. The once finely manicured grounds started to sizzle, as noxious gasses started to be belched up from deep within the earth. Chinatsu cried out, “father these gasses almost smell like a volcano!”
Taking note of his daughter’s observation, they no longer circled, and started to hear in a westerly direction. Kyoto was only an hour away by human planes, so that meant it would take longer to reach there in their bird bodies. But more importantly, the existence of Touma filled the emperor’s heart with glee. His family had been faithful to both his father and himself throughout the decades. He was loyal to a fault, and extremely good at doing his sob. Having served in the self defense forces, as well as the Japanese air force during the war, he was an extremely capable bodyguard. The line from Akira, that Touma took the others, meant there was more than one. Whether they be large animals or small, it would be extremely helpful to have former humans he could trust.
“Father, I think it should only take a day or two to reach Kyoto if we push ourselves. Are you up for another long flight?” The emperor honked happily, and settled in for a long flight. With a little luck, and the right updraft, they might make it there in a day? Time would tell how long they would need to reach the ancestral home to the royal family. As he said silent prayers for all the animals who perished along the way during his journey, the former human wondered if the spirit he prayed to was a man or that large bird he keeps seeing in the skies? He did not know, but hoped whomever it was could help either way. “I bet I can make it there in a day Chinatsu, you up for a race?” The princess honked back, “you are on old man!”