Fifty years of a mortal's life
Would be but a fleeting moment
Contrast with the life of Geten
It is nothing but a very dream and illusion
But once they are given life from God
There is no such thing that do not perish
Unless we consider this very seed of awakening
It is a grievous truth indeed
The flight back to the mountain ended much faster than he thought, even though he could have sworn that he took a few detours along the way. Or did he? Jack had been so caught in his thoughts on the princess and how he would face the others that he basically flew on instinct. In truth, he wasn't sure which way he took to begin with.
Jack descended slowly to the dirt pathway that leads to the temple which was now just a few bounds away. Slinging his wooden staff on his shoulder, he absentmindedly hummed a tune as he walked. The tune was a famous children's song, associated with the game that was played along with it. Little did those children know, the song was actually a chant used to call a real demon, and playing the game at night would actually summon one. It was a clever trick. Not that tricks among demons were uncommon, but clever nonetheless. It was catchy, and memorable.
He reached the temple in a few minutes, minutes he used to compartmentalize his thoughts and emotions. Lowering his staff to his side, he stopped just before the front of the offering altar and donation box; he could smell one of Toothiana's specially made incense. It was somewhat peculiar for a Shinto temple to light incenses, but she insisted on it as an additional service for the people who pay their respects to Lord Tsukuyomi. The smokes that wafted from the burning sticks had the same healing properties as Bunnymund's ointment. She wanted those people to be well and in good health. Jack took a deep whiff; almost immediately when the smokes entered his systems, he felt his nerves considerably relax. After all, being calm is something he desperately needed for what he prepared to do.
"About time you showed up, Snow Brat."
Ah, right on cue.
He looked towards where the familiar voice came from, tilting up his head. Up above, he saw Bunnymund perched on an evergreen tree's branch, not far from where he was standing. He grinned smugly, looking down on Jack in more ways than one. Jack simply rolled his eyes in response.
"Welcome back, Jack." Toothiana said as she stepped into the temple's patio, overhearing Bunnymund's 'announcement' of his arrival. Jack could see North—now smoking his pipe—and Sandy sitting just behind her.
They were really waiting for me, huh? Jack noted. They must be either curious, or simply have nothing else to do.
"So how was the trip?" Bunnymund inquired as he jumped down from the branch. "It ain't too late to learn about manners now, y'know?" he offered with a sneer.
Jack swore he could barely resist the intense urge to cackle like a maniac right there and then. Oh, if only he knew. But no, he mustn't. He had already made up his mind. There was no turning back. He couldn't allow himself to fail. He needed to be calm. There was reward to this risk.
Biting his lower lip, he swallowed his pride akin to swallowing burning coals. He even fought back a wince just so Bunnymund wouldn't have the satisfaction of witnessing Jack's true degree of resignation.
Jack declared; voice loud and clear. His expression was as stoic and still as a lake at midnight. Giving away nothing but what lay on the surface.
Bunnymund only blinked, visibly stunned. "What?"
The other guardians did the same. North nearly choked on smoke from his pipe. Toothiana tilted her head as if she was unable to comprehend, while Sandy tried to lean as far as he could to look at Jack without toppling out of balance.
"I said you won your bet. I will get your prize later. Also..." Jack sighed, "I'm sorry for taunting you."
He shrugged nonchalantly, trying to feign indifference, but his knuckles paled as he gripped his staff harder. In reality, every word of his admittance of defeat scalded his insides as if he guzzled boiling oil. His pride and confidence was one of his favorite assets against Bunnymund, or anything for that matter. Watching Bunnymund smirk with triumph before him gave him no relief from the burning feeling in his chest. His eyebrow twitched just the slightest fraction. The memory of his encounter with the Princess quickly reminded him why he needed to do this. The thought of her strengthened his resolve.
Jack observed Bunnymund's astonished expression closely. Though Bunnymund had offered him to surrender, it seemed that Bunnymund didn't actually expect Jack to comply. Looks like even Bunnymund knew just as well as Jack, that Jack wasn't the type of person to admit he was wrong. It wasn't beyond the possibility, but no one expected it to be happening either.
Bunnymund chuckled, "I would've given you another day if you just asked, lad. I was looking forward to seeing you try and convince me of the impossible. But this? Much bigger surprise that I never thought was possible either. Didn't expect you actually had it in you."
As amused as he looked, Bunnymund still eyed Jack suspiciously, making Jack shift uneasily. Bunnymund was quite sharp and cautious; the fact that Jack (being a horrible liar) seemed way too calm about his defeat didn't escape him.
"Unless..." Bunnymund leaned in close to look Jack in the eye, "You just want me to think you gave up. You aren't up to something, are you?"
Jack felt his palms begin to sweat. Jack himself aware that he was acting fishy, but he was hoping that Bunnymund would let it slide. He gulped, casting his gaze downwards. Gripping his staff, he prayed to the Heavens above to help him for once despite all kind of mischiefs he had done.
"...I'm really sorry, okay?" He muttered an apology, but it was actually a silent plea; hoping Bunnymund would drop the issue.
Fortunately for Jack, Bunnymund took it as something genuine; he actually looked a little guilty that he doubted him. It just takes a few mistakes to learn from, right? Bunnymund seemed to think he did learn his lesson and finally started acting his age. After all; kids grew up.
The particular moment gave Bunnymund a flash reminiscence of something he used to have.
He awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck and sighed, shaking his head. "...Fine, lad. I should say sorry too, for using my sickle and all."
Upon his words, Jack let out breath of relief. He was safe... for now, at least.
Not wanting to spend any second longer on the subject, he turned his back and walked away from the temple. He felt humiliated and furious, having to reduce himself to an ashamed child in front of everyone; especially in front of Bunnymund. This wasn't like him at all; it left an awful taste in his mouth that he couldn't wash off. This was really one hell of a night, Jack thought. He silently mumbled under his breath, telling himself to keep his cool.
Bunnymund's voice behind him called him. With an irritated scowl, he turned his head around.
"What now?" he said with a huff, itching to fly away.
"You ain't needed to get me that hotpot." He sighed, scratching the back of his long ear. "It was just a foolish bet, anyway."
Jack raised both his eyebrows, mouth gaping in disbelief. Did he just make stoic, cynical Bunnymund actually feel sorry for him, with his sad excuse of acting? Perhaps Heavens themselves actually gave him their blessing for once, or he wasn't really that bad of a thespian like he thought he was. Well, either way it didn't matter much.
"I'm sure the lot wouldn't want that, though." He smiled subtly. "We don't get much treats on this mountain, after all."
"Does that mean you'll do it anyway?" Bunnymund raised an eyebrow.
"We'll see." Jack grinned, as the wind picked up, circulating through the temple.
"Where are you going now? Off to the wilderness?" Bunnymund said as the wind began to howl.
"Off to dream."
It wasn't like Jack to be cryptic either, and they all wanted some clarification, but that was all they managed to get him to say before he flew off into the forest, accelerating at blinding speeds as dawn's light slowly began to leak into the sky.
"...What was that all about?" Toothiana asked to no one in particular, still unable to understand the peculiar situation that just transpired before them.
"No clue." Bunnymund huffed as he walked back inside the temple.
"Well, I'll be!" North laughed heartily. "Whatever that was, Toothiana, was a jolly good thing! See? You two could actually get along just fine after all!" The heavenly demon rejoiced, his Noshu dialect was thick on his tongue as he spoke.
Bunnymund simply flopped his body on the temple's creaky wooden floor, refusing to give a response He had enough excitements for the night.
"I didn't expect Jack to actually be that docile, you know? He's usually more... stubborn." Toothiana noted, twirling the loose strands of her hair absentmindedly.
"Well, maybe something happened during his search for the phantasmal Snow Princess?" North inquired, savouring the taste of tobaccos that warmed his body. "What do you think, Sandy?"
Sandy flinched from his spot, as if being awoken from a deep thought.
For a while now, Sandy had been very quiet (though not because he was mute). Throughout the whole scene with Jack and Bunnymund, like the others, he was astounded.
But it was for entirely different reason.
"Uhmm... Not sure." He said sheepishly through his telepathy as he got up onto his feet. "Although I think I'm in the mood for some night breeze. So if you all would excuse me, I'll take my leave."
"Oh? Wherever to? Morning is almost here." Toothiana asked.
"Just a small walk. I'll be back before then."
"I see, take care then." She gave him a small wave.
Bunnymund and North bowed their heads, a simple glance at Sandy was all he needed to know that they both wished him well.
With a small nod, he made his way to exit the temple; heading towards the forest. His small figure disappeared when he made agile hops to climb the trees that rustled as he swung and leaped. Satori was after all, a monkey ayakashi in origin. He liked to be himself and let his wild side show every now and again.
"My, my... What's the matter with everyone tonight?" Toothiana pondered as she went to change the incense outside the temple.
"Quite a night it has been, hasn't it? A rather nice change, but not one I would like to frequent often." North remarked with another puff of his smoke.
"Word." Bunnymund mumbled after his long silence, draping an arm over his eyes before he slowly falling asleep.
All the guardian deities of Mount Joshou slept throughout the day inside the temple (as rundown as it is, at least they got roof and floorboard to shelter themselves), except for Jack. Since his deployment 5 years ago, he always spent the day outdoors. Like those children who would stay up through the night, Jack wouldn't consider sleeping until high noon. There were few places that he was quite fond of; like the frozen cave near the waterfall, or the oldest evergreen tree in the forest located south of the temple. Tonight, he had chosen the evergreen to sleep. He was already perched comfortably against the sturdiest, biggest branch; laying on his back with both of his hands behind his nape, yawning widely. Dawn was just a couple hours away.
"Am I disturbing you?"
The sudden familiar voice rang in his head, jolting him from his drowsiness. He snapped his eyes open, only to find Sandy a few branches below him, climbing up to his level.
"Nah, but you do caught me off guard there." Jack chortled as he sit up straight, waiting for Sandy to reach his branch.
When he finally reached him, he grinned apologetically. "Oh, sorry about that."
Between the older guardians, Jack got along with Sandy the most. Unlike North; who was a little pushy (and somewhat intimidating) to Jack, or Toothiana; who was too cheery, an attitude he had difficulty keeping up with (and all she would talk about was her previous human host). And Jack didn't even want to start with Bunnymund.
Sandy was different. He was even-tempered and understanding. Sure, there were times when Jack felt insecure, knowing that Sandy was aware of all of his thoughts. But Sandy was very tight-lipped and respected others' privacy. Knowing that his secrets were safe with him and that there was nothing he could hide, Jack's felt very... open. He talked to Sandy every time he felt troubled, and Sandy always gave the best advice to overcome them. He never judged Jack for his weaknesses or his shortcomings. It was why Jack was never afraid of what Sandy thought of him. Sandy always chose to share wisdom along with his opinion. Considering how Satori meant "Enlightenment", Jack could see where he got his name from.
Throughout his lonely life as a wandering ayakashi, Sandy was the closest person he could regard as a true friend.
"So, what brings you here, Sandy?" Jack asked a bit groggily, taking the effort to sit up.
Sandy's expression was serious, with a hint of puzzlement. He fidgeted on his branch, unsure.
"Why didn't you tell them the truth?"
There were a few moments of silence between them, Jack's shoulders drooping, his ever present smile settling into a slight frown.
"So you knew, huh?" Jack laid his head against the trunk in resign.
Sandy spread his arms; a gesture of peace with an apologetic looks on his face as if to say that he meant no harm, but Jack should not have expected anything less.
Jack merely sighed. He had expected this from the very start. He might have barely fooled the other guardians, but there was no way he could hide the truth from the mind-reading ayakashi. Jack had hoped he wouldn't take a peek, but he figured Sandy would be too curious resist. But Jack believed that Sandy would never just expose his secret to his comrades.
Even though the secret involved how Jack just broke one of the rules of guardian deity.
"Well, I don't really want to get thrown into Yomi, y'know." He smiled uneasily, his eyes avoiding the gaze of the monkey spirit in front of him. Sandy noticed his discomfort; so he merely shrugged. Gesturing him that it's not that big of a problem.
"I understand." He said, curling his long tail on the branch. "Do not fret too much. After all, she doesn't even know that you're a guardian deity in the first place."
"Haha, yeah..." Jack replied nervously.
There was another silence between them. A full half minute filled in with the sounds of the coming day. Birds waking up. Insects beginning to buzz. It reminded Jack how his awkward encounter with the princess also involved brief pauses like this. He almost chuckled at the memory.
"Gosh, she really is lovely, Jack. You're so lucky..." Sandy noted with quite a dreamy look; tucking his hand in-between his knees. "I was stunned almost as strongly as you. A human with ice power! I never heard of such a thing before!"
He laughed, Sandy joining him. "I know, right?"
Sandy pointed at Jack with the tip of his tail. "You still have not answered my question."
Jack finally turned to look at Sandy, raising one of his brows at him. "What question?"
"About why you did not choose to tell them the truth." Sandy shrugged. "If it is about how you broke the rules, you could just omit how you actually managed to reveal yourself, embarrassing as it was."
The snow spirit breathed in deeply, his eyes drifting from Sandy to the horizon of Mount Joshou. The sky was shifting from black to navy blue; a sign that morning was approaching. Jack closed his eyes, opening up his mind to his silent friend.
"You already know the answer, don't you?"
Sandy nodded sadly. Jack's actions spoke louder than his thoughts. It was plain to see, but Sandy had hoped for Jack to admit it.
"You want to see her again." Sandy stated solemnly.
"If I told the others, they would most probably forbid me from doing it." Jack continued. "North would preach, Bunnymund would criticize, and Toothiana would do that... thing with her eyes." Jack shook his head, his hands lacing behind his neck. "But you... You would listen."
An empathetic smile formed upon Sandy's lips. He crossed his arms as his brows furrowed in concern.
"Where does this longing come from, Jack? Is it really worth the risk of being exiled to Yomi?" He continued. "Is it because of her beauty? Her ability?"
Jack scoffed. "If she was just a pretty face, then I would have just gone up to the temple claimed my rightful triumph from Bunnymund." He yawned before continuing, remembering how exhausted he was. "And her ability... Well, maybe so, but—there's... something else."
As if contagious, Sandy also yawned; considering how they were nocturnal creatures, it was only natural to feel sleepy when morning was at the edge of the horizon.
"And that is...?" Sandy's tail curiously twitched.
Jack shifted from his sitting position to lying down on the branch; back to before Sandy came. He closed his eyes and murmured tiredly.
"That lonely look doesn't suit her in the slightest."
No longer than a few minutes, Jack started to snore lightly; no longer bearing to stay up. Sandy just sighed; he's also shifted to lay his small body on the wider part of his own side of branch.
"Neither do you." He sent one last voice to Jack's mind before falling asleep himself.
Jack chuckled tiredly in his slumber, a faint smile on his lips.
Under the branches of the largest evergreen tree on Mount Joshou, two of the Guardian Deities of Joshou slept soundly; shaded from the daylight thanks to the ancient tree's thick foliage.
Jack hardly ever dreamed, but that day he did.
For the record, Sandy did not return from his "small walk", but it was not an uncommon occurrence amongst the Guardians.
1. The song Jack was talking about is called "Kagome Kagome". One player is chosen as the oni (literally demon or ogre, but similar to the concept of "it" in tag) and sits blindfolded (or with their eyes covered). The other children join hands and walk in circles around the oni while chanting the song for the game. When the song stops, the oni tries to name the person standing directly behind them.
2. On this story, foreign accents like North's and Bunnymund's were replaced by dialects (Japanese equivalent of accents). North's Russian accent is replaced with Gifu-Aichi dialect, which is called Noshu back in 1600s. Bunnymund's Australian accent is replaced with Touhoku dialect, which is called Ezo back in the days, or Hokkaido in the modern times.
3. Apparently, lighting incenses was supposed to be Buddhist temple custom; not Shinto.
Undiscovered-Muse for co-writing, editing, and proofreading EVERY single chapter!
Visit her Tumblr! Her url is: the-undiscovered-muse
Aelfeth for all the inspirations and pretty, pretty artworks and AUs of Jelsa!
Visit her Tumblr! Her url is: aelfethart
Allaynia as my favorite Jelsa author. This fanfic is dedicated to her!
She's on FF! Just search for: Allaynia
Life's been pretty much a topsy turvy for me right now, and I don't want to say it here.
Long story short, I'm struggling to write this chapter. I think I'm already ran out both of ideas and motivations to continue writing this story.
So once again, the update schedule is set somewhere between indefinite amount of time.
Other than writing, I also draw their designs for this Edo AU! Visit my Tumblr url: storm-studio
Some reviews would be nice!