The Yellow Chrysanthemum, Part I
"—In the name of Take-Minakata, the great patron god of Suwa, I have come to destroy you, demon!"
She gave the man a look over, and concluded that he bored her. That pointless sense of justice or loyalty or whatever it was—nothing new. Maybe he'll pull out a new technique or something?
"Prepare to die by my spear!" Ah, never mind then.
Yuuka got up from her seated position. "That is more than enough." She waved her hand dismissively. "I'm sure you and I both know we're wasting our time here."
"Your confidence will—!" The man shouted again, but he was cut off by a sudden blow from her parasol.
"—Yes, I've heard it all before. Now," She stepped forward and grabbed the man by the jaw. "I'll give you two options." She held up two fingers with her other hand for emphasis. "One, you go back where you came and you tell that 'god' of yours to find some other scapegoat for once, or two…" She pulled him closer to where he could feel her every breath on his face. "…I kill you right now like all the others. What's it going to be?" Ordinarily she would show him her best threatening smile, but even that has grown old.
The man laughed weakly. She frowned. This again.
Still keeping one hand firmly gripping his jaw, she turned around to the nearest, most obvious hiding spot. A large bush was situated directly behind her, covered in flowers blooming out of season. Even if it provided good concealment, the surprised yelp from behind the bush left few options as to where the man's friend could be hiding.
Rather than even bother to use her ability, she just threw her parasol through the bush. Another, more anguished, shout confirmed her hit, so she turned back towards the first man.
"Now, your answer?"
The man had the face of someone who only just realized just what sort of situation they're in. And yet… "I'm not… afraid of death! I—" She didn't care to hear the rest of his speech, she'd heard it all before. So, she snapped.
Or rather, she tried to snap. As it turned out, there was a man's face between her fingers. Was.
The man fell to the ground, paralyzed both physically and mentally. He was still alive, but that fact was hardly comforting. His eyes, just about the only recognizable part of his face left, looked up at her in pain and horror.
"Yes, you are afraid. Just like all the other idiots who came before you." She turned around and walked around the bush, pulled her parasol from his friend's chest, and returned to stand above the man. "You're afraid of death." The man's panicked eyes, watching while unable to do anything, made that fact as clear as day. "You're afraid of pain. You're afraid of me." As she spoke, she drove her 'weapon' into his heart, and she saw the life drain from his eyes. Then, once she was once again alone amongst the plants and corpses, she shouted to the skies. "And I'm sick of it!"
She had long since lost track of how many ill-fated men of justice had come after her in the past years. Far too many, at any rate. Over that time, those men haven't changed at all.
How much time has passed anyways? Who knows. At first it was days, then seasons, then years. Things changed, trees grew and men died, but far more things stayed the same. The sun would rise and set, winter would give way to spring, and hunters would chase their prey.
All this sameness was slowly starting to take its toll on Yuuka. Sure, she got her meals, her respect, her power, and every once in a while, she raids a village to keep things interesting, but all of this seemed wholly unsatisfying. She doesn't know when it started happening, but at some point she noticed village elders adding the word 'old' into their tales of her. Was it ever her intent to be the 'old' youkai? Perhaps, but only because that means she survived where others didn't.
Somehow, she suspected that was not quite the case.
Regardless, that damned god didn't seem to tire in the slightest. As confident and annoying as the day they met. More so, even. Time after time, some bright-eyed young man fancies himself an 'exterminator' and shows up on her doorstep. Surely, such a great god would realize by now that these were suicide missions. The only thing they've accomplished so far is driving her mad.
At this rate, she'd probably end up killing herself of frustration long before the crusaders ever get to her.
Suddenly, she laughed. Her laugh was loud, cackling, and altogether unsettling. Also, she continued to laugh for just longer than was comfortable. "Me? Killing myself?" In between laughs, she shouted. Not at anyone—she shouted for herself alone. "It makes sense, doesn't it? The only thing that can kill me is myself!" She cackled and shouted at the top of her lungs. After all, what reason does a youkai in the woods have to conceal her presence?
She savored the moment for a long while, but in time the laughter died down. She gathered her parasol and made her way back to her nearby residence. Her current summer home was an eclectic mix of traditional construction and magical plant growth. The trees and vines that made up much of the house covered enough that a passerby might have trouble noticing the structure on first glance, while the rest of the walls were made of bundles of straw and thatch stolen from some unfortunate villagers.
She pushed aside the mats that formed her 'door.' Inside was a cozy space with a small kitchen on one side and her best attempt at building a bed on the other. A comfortable place, all things considered. She may be a demon, but hiding in a damp cave just wasn't her style.
She walked over to the kitchen and cleared off the bamboo slats she used as a 'counter.' Once there was enough space, she placed parts of her latest 'catch' down and began preparing her 'dinner.' She sliced the meat with a stone knife and tossed the slices into a clay pot along with a few assorted vegetables. Next, she added just enough broth to cover the ingredients, and finally, put a lid on the pot and brought it outside. Outside, she had laid out a fire pit, onto which she tossed fuel and placed the pot in once the fire was manageable.
If someone were to happen upon this scene, they would see a woman waiting for her stew to boil. Discounting the circumstances, what she was doing could almost be considered normal. So normal, if a man were to get lost in the woods, they might run towards her rather than away.
"Heh, normal…" She half-laughed. There was once a time when this would have been an outrageous thought to her. Now, however, one can only laugh so much at an absurd thought before it loses everything that made it amusing in the first place. "Normal is what I am now, huh? Beh." She leaned her head back, and her face formed a disgusted expression. "I'm a demon; there should be nothing normal about me! And yet…"
When smoke started to rise from the seams of the pot lid, she reached over and picked the pot off of the fire, still covered in coals. Then, she brought it back inside, set it down, and used a wooden spoon to transfer some of the contents to a smaller bowl she had prepared. The bowl, a plain and misshapen clay dish, filled to the brim with the stew's contents. The meat was cooked to the pinkish rare consistency she had grown to enjoy, while the other ingredients worked together to bring out the unique flavor of the dish. It took only one spoonful for her to fall in love once again. In her mind, this stew was the pinnacle of her life's work to this point. After all, Yuuka specialized in two things: killing and botany. Those skills over the years have allowed her to perfect the mix of meat and vegetables to a downright blissful level.
That, and the strange supernatural satisfaction a youkai feels when they eat humans.
"I can't believe I used to eat this raw. Is it terrifying? Yes, but we're youkai, not barbarians." She sighed happily between bites. "It's a waste of perfectly good meat!" She stopped talking to herself briefly to take another gulp. "I swear, the next time I see some upstart ayakashi tearing apart a carcass like that, I am going to rip its arms off!" When was finished with her declaration, she shoveled another spoonful into her mouth.
"My, you sure are a rambunctious bunch."
She spat that spoonful right out, and immediately lamented its loss. "Who's there!" She shouted, although the voice alone was enough for the demand to be unnecessary. There were not a lot of people who were both willing and able to waltz into her home, even less who actually felt the need to do it.
"Since you asked, I am the great patron god of these lands! The venerable—!"
"Did you come here to die, Minakata? I'm sure you know that's the only service I can offer you." She set her spoon down and slowly turned to face the god in the eye. However many years passed, and the hag has hardly changed a bit. The only change has been in her outfit—these days she covered herself with so many ritual shimenawa ropes it was like her deal with the thunder god had been a fashion choice.
"Still using that old name?" Minakata—or rather, Kanako, as she called herself now, faked being hurt. Still, she let the matter drop. "You kill things, yes, I am aware. That's actually why I am here." She smiled in a way that irritated the youkai to no end. "I just came to say thanks. You do not know how long those two have been a pain in my side. I am surprised they even agreed to go after you."
Yuuka stood up from her seat and walked towards the god. "Look lady, I don't do anything for you. Stop acting like we have some sort of friendly relationship here!" She pointed a finger directly into Kanako's face. "And I am not your garbage disposal!"
"Gar—? Never mind." Kanako was confused by the bit of modern terminology that Yuuka somehow had managed not to drop before. "Regardless, it was a pleasure doing business with you!"
"Hold on." Just as Kanako turned to leave, Yuuka reached out to stop her from leaving. Rather than grab her by the shirt as was usual, Yuuka decided to cut to the chase and put a hand around the god's neck. "If you're so convinced we're doing business, do you really think a 'thanks' is enough payment for a hit?"
Lady Yasaka seemed rather unfazed by the hand around her neck, and laughed. "The way I saw you eating it, I would have thought that stew is payment enough." Yuuka didn't seem to take to her joke very well, but she didn't much mind. "Or perhaps you are holding out for something else? Then how about information?"
"Information? What information could you possibly have?" Yuuka scowled at her.
"I'm a god. Of course I know everything." Once again, Kanako chuckled. "Do you remember the Amatsukami, the gods of heaven, from when we first met?"
"Much more respectable gods than you'll ever be." Yuuka quipped. "You lost, and now they rule the country."
"So you do. And I'm sure you would love to prove yourself stronger than Take-Mikazuchi, am I right?" The question was met with silence. A silence that gave Kanako all the answers she needed. "Of course you do. Well," Kanako leaned in and smiled. "I just heard news that one of them is running around out west, trying to make good on that old promise. And I would imagine that heaven's strongest is going to be helping him."
"…Tch, what a load of shit." Yuuka thrust her arm forwards while letting go of Kanako's neck, sending the god stumbling back out of the house. "Get lost." She tried to make her contempt show, but what came out was an unimpassioned request more than a demand.
Surprisingly, Kanako did exactly that. She turned around, and with a hint of a smile, walked back towards her village.
"Why does she always assume I'll do whatever she wants? The nerve of that woman!" When Yuuka was sure she was once again alone, she turned back to the half-empty bowl of stew and sat back down.
She stared at the bowl for a few seconds, idly picking at the floating bits of meat and vegetables. Sure, it was great, but her mind was elsewhere. Once a good idea gets into one's mind, that one would be remiss to ignore it. A chance to prove herself on a stage greater than this backwater hole; a chance to show once and for all who was the strongest. A little vacation wouldn't hurt, anyways.
Before long, she was treading down a forest path with her parasol slung over her shoulder. Behind her was the patch of sunflowers she enjoyed visiting in the summer, while in front of her shone the light of the setting sun. West. Away from the village, away from Lake Suwa and everything that had defined her life to this point. Even in her 'previous life,' she never managed to go farther west than the mountains that stood before her now.
"They say the gods live out West." She stared up at the mountains that marked the edge of Shinano Province. "…The real gods, that is."
In the modern day, her journey would have been done in a matter of hours, but here there were no roads, no trains, no tunnels, nothing but mountains and dense wilderness between her and wherever she was going. So difficult was the terrain it took her a whole day just to make her way across this one range. Granted, she committed herself to walking as slowly and leisurely as possible; with her anachronistic parasol and complete lack of other supplies, her trip seemed more like a casual day hike than a motivated journey.
Her travelling clothes were light—a simple red tunic she had taken off one of the villagers—and remained in perfect shape as she climbed the mountain. Any plants that came close to her could be willed out of the way, and the animals kept their distance.
The same could not be said on the way down. From the moment she crossed the ridge and entered Mino Province, she felt suddenly on edge, as if her bottomless confidence suddenly ran out. She tried to will the plants out of her way as she was doing, and while it worked, it took far more concentration than she was comfortable with. In absolute terms, the mountains of Mino were easier to cross than the ones she had passed to get there, but nature seemed determined to prove that statement wrong. On her first day in Mino alone, three wolves tried to attack her.
Each one did the same thing, coming at her from the front, alone. She dealt with each of them easily, but couldn't help but be annoyed and perplexed at the sudden attacks. Still, she kept walking.
It took three days of slowly walking for her to make her way across Mino, and soon after crossing the last crest, she found herself confronted with a large body of water. One on hand, it resembled Lake Suwa in that she could make out another shore on the other side of the horizon. However, when she looked to the left and the right, the water continued on as far as the eye could see. A narrow straight, perhaps? Or maybe a very long lake? From what she heard, there wasn't supposed to be anything like this in Mino.
What was beyond Mino, anyways?
She knew once. Once was a long time ago. The old name—or was it the new name?—for Mino was… will be… well… it started with a 'g.' And next to that was… Kyoto? No, no, not quite… There was something in between… But did it have this? A large body of water? Had she gone of track? It had been a long walk, maybe she had completely missed Kyoto and ended up on the other side of the island? Surely it couldn't have been that long…
"People do not typically get more lost when they see this." An unfamiliar voice called out to her.
She spun around, checking all around her, but she could see no one else standing on the shore with her. "Who was that? Where are you!?" She demanded, while spinning around wildly.
"Over here. In the lake."
She whipped around again towards the lake, where she saw the unadorned torso of a woman poking out from the water. 'She must be bathing… but then where are her clothes? … Ah, what does it matter?' Yuuka walked up to the water's edge and addressed the woman directly. "So it's a lake, then? Which lake? And you didn't answer my first question." She narrowed her eyes into what amounted to a demonic 'do-it-now' expression.
"Oh, you're ayakashi, are you?" Slowly, the woman waded closer to the shore. She made her way towards a large rock that sat above the water line. "Then I have nothing to hide. This is the freshwater sea—Awaumi. And I…" Using her arms, she lifted herself up and took a seat on top of the rock. With her whole body exposed, it was easy to see what was so off about her. Rather than legs, the tail of a great salmon dangled off of the rock, and even on the torso that had been exposed before, her features looked far more fish than woman. There was no mistaking it— "I am what you might call a fish-person. A mermaid."
"Oh~? A mermaid, you say? I've heard quite a bit about you." She hadn't, but she had a vague feeling there was a trope of sailors encountering them on the ocean. "What's a fish like you doing in a lake like this?"
"There are fish in lakes too, you know." The mermaid spoke as if the land-bound Yuuka was inherently boring to her. "And that means fishermen." She laid herself out on the rock, propping her head up with an unusually scaly hand.
"What, and you try to seduce these fishermen? Sounds like a waste of time." That was something mermaids did. Probably. It sounded right, so she assumed it must be true, all the while scoffing at this creature for such behavior. "Sure, it's fun to play games and lure your prey in sometimes, but I assure you it is much more fun if you cut to the chase."
"Hah." The mermaid laughed, but refused to give the comment the distinction of a proper laugh. "All I want is to stay away from them." She sighed loud enough it could be heard over the gentle washing of the tide. "And no, there is no 'cutting to the chase.' I may be ayakashi, but I'm not a brute like some of you."
"You're telling me you run away from the villagers?" Yuuka put her hands on her hips and leaned back, reveling in her self-ordained superiority. "You're a disgrace to youkai everywhere."
"Look," The mermaid swung her tail around so she was sitting up and the tail hung off the front of the rock. "I don't know what that word means, but I can guess." She leaned in slightly, folding her scaly arms on her 'lap.' "My kind… it's like we're some prized commodity. When a fisherman finds one of us in his net, he thinks it's the best day of his life. They pay the price, but that hasn't stopped anyone from trying."
"… I refuse to believe you're that pathetic."
"It's not pathetic, it's pragmatic. Surely you have been hunted by humans as well." Scaled hands gestured in the air calmly, but the mermaid's calculated motions and voice could not hide the impression she was starting to get a bit defensive.
"I've been hunted because I'm a threat. People fear me, and that is why I'm strong." She pointed a stern finger at the mermaid. "Youkai are not tasty. How can you survive when no man fears you? You're no demon! If you keep running, then you're nothing more than a big fish!" Perhaps it was pent up frustration from being looked down at all these years, or maybe just exhaustion, but whatever it was, her composure was long since lost.
"You do not understand a single thing about us, miss 'yo-kai.'" The mermaid arched over to emphasize her beastlier features. "I would love more than anything to tear those men apart and see their villages washed away by the sea, but that simply isn't something we can do anymore."
"What do you mean 'anymore'!? What era do you think it is? Don't tell me the progress of society has stopped us from doing what we want!"
"Progress of society? Since when has something so human stopped us?" The mermaid scoffed at her remark. "You do not seem to understand, but we as people of the sea are subject only to the God of the Sea—Wadatsumi-no-kami." She paused, and suddenly let cracks show in her calm demeanor. "And it just so happens that Wadatsumi decided to marry off his daughters to some of Amaterasu's little runts!"
"Amaterasu? The Goddess of the Sun? What does that have to do with anything? You're not attacking the sun, are you?"
"It's her kids. They have been getting cozy with kami all over the land, and now one of them is calling himself the ruler of all humans!" The mermaid sighed and slipped off her rock back into the water. "So you can see why Wadatsumi suddenly thinks humans are the best thing ever."
Somehow all of this seemed vaguely familiar, but she couldn't quite remember why. So she scoffed. "Why would anyone care about some brat from heaven that has a soft spot for humans? Another one of the Amatsukami that thinks they can rule the land..." She trailed off, connecting the dots as the words came out of her mouth. Yes, that was it. The reason she had come here in the first place. "…This kid— Take-Mikazuchi is with him, isn't he?"
The mermaid laughed. "You act like I have seen him. No, no, I'm just a normal ayakashi now. All I know is rumors." She floated in the shallow water without effort, using her limbs to punctuate her speech instead of treading water. "Although, I do not doubt it. He is probably on his way down from heaven right now."
"He is!? Where!?" She barked at the poor fish woman who winced at the intensity of her voice. When no response came, Yuuka continued to shout. "Tell me where is right now! "
"Surely you have ears on that thick head of yours, you brute." The mermaid continued at the same volume as before while nursing her pained ears with her hands. "I told you: all I know is rumors."
"Then tell me what those rumors say or I'll—!"
She cut Yuuka off with a dismissive wave of her hand. "Look. I don't know anything, but if you really want to know, I heard rumors of something weird going on down in Kii. To the south, by the ocean. Something about boats… or was it turtles?" The mermaid spoke of these rumors with a hint of contempt. "If I were you, I wouldn't believe a word of it."
"Oh really? If you're so smart, then where would you go?"
She sighed in frustration. "Would it kill you to think for once? You're looking for a god. Where in Japan are you going to find one?" She didn't wait for an answer before continuing. "Izumo. Obviously, that is where I would go if I were you. Now, if you'll excuse me, you're wasting my time." With those as her parting words, the mermaid left the conversation and swam away.
"Don't you swim away on me!" She forced herself to take a deep breath instead of chasing the mermaid into the water. She had a lead now, that was good. Besides, surely mermaids didn't taste that good anyway.
'Hah. That fish thinks she got me. I'll show her.' Yuuka laughed. Perhaps too loudly, but that was hardly a concern.
Before she knew it, Yuuka found herself nestled between a pair of bushes on an unfamiliar hill. At the foot of this hill, only a narrow strip of land separated her from the sea—and it was the sea she was interested in.
When given a choice between Kii and Izumo, she chose neither. Instead she made her way towards the sea near the village of Kumano, in Ise Province. It took a fair amount of asking around to figure out where any of those places actually were, but at least she made sure no one lived to tell about her geographic ineptitude. Kumano, unlike the other two locations, was located on the east coast, facing the rising sun—something about those words just sounded right. After all, the rumored conquerors were sons of Amaterasu, the sun goddess. If they were to invade the heartland of Japan, they would likely do so with the sun's power at their back.
If she was right, over this hill a massive army should be forming. An army built to conquer. Before her stands the army favored by the gods, and at its center is the man behind it all. The one and only—
She crested the ridgeline, and at the base of the hill lay an army.
Yes. That was undoubtedly an army.
This was the army of the gods? The son of heaven that was destined to rule the land? All she saw was a pile of bodies. Lifeless, unmoving bodies strewn all across the beach. These were no gods. These were men. Foolish, mortal men.
The gods, in all their arrogance, sent this to conquer the land. How weak do they think the Earth is?
Was this what she wanted? To see the gods humbled? To stand before the bodies of these men without a scratch on her body, screaming a challenge to those who dared to lord over her? No. Not like this. This proves nothing. Where was the battle? The competition? The chance to show decisively why she is the strongest? This was no victory. This was a disgrace.
In a half-hearted attempt to console herself, Yuuka made her way down the hillside towards the shore. As she drew closer, it became clear that who—or what—ever took down this army made no effort to clean the battlefield. A weapon lay beside every man, and clothes, however torn, remained on their backs. Even the jewelry and rations carried by some of the men lay untouched. The men lied undisturbed, and looked as if they could awaken at any time and march off to battle once more.
At the very least, the state of the bodies made it easy to identify the one that stood out. One man looked to stand a head taller than the rest, with long, jet-black hair that seemed entirely too well-kept for this era. When she got close enough, she could see that beneath this hair, the man wore a robe far nicer than any of those around him. A pristine silk robe—with no tears. Even in the heat of battle; even in the face of whatever killed this man; the robe remained untainted.
On that note—what did kill this man? He has no wounds, and the ground around his body remains untouched by blood. An island of purity in a sea of death. Somehow, it unnerves her.
Curious, she set her parasol on the ground and reached down to turn the man over.
"Ah—!" It burns. It felt like a fire was lit upon her very soul. Every part of her body was assailed by this sensation of sheer pain that only let up when she retracted her hand. She's been on the receiving end of many attacks, but few compare to the feeling of simply touching this one man.
Convinced that such a thing was impossible, she brought her hand to his shoulder once more.
"Damn it!" The reward for her curiosity was another burning sensation that shot through her entire body. This time, however, it felt even more intense as whatever was protecting this man attacked the vile demon that dared lay its hands on his body twice. The jolt of energy forced her muscles to seize up and knocked her to the ground. She sat there for a long moment. She had landed on the tip an awfully conveniently-placed spear, but that, at least, was an injury she knew how to handle. The gash in her back would soon heal, but that man…
"Ngh… Who are you!?" How could there be a man—a human, from what she could tell—that was so pure? A man so perfect the world itself bent over backwards to ensure he stayed that way? Such a thing seemed to be the antithesis of everything she stood for. This cannot be allowed. Kazami Yuuka does not answer to the forces of the world. She will not let the gods make a fool of her; much less a man!
Once more invigorated, she stood up and removed the spear from her back. The fresh wound stung, but she could worry about that later. The spear, on the other hand…
She lifted the spear in one hand to get a better look at it. The tip of the spear was made of iron, hammered into shape by what must have been an extremely skilled craftsman for his time. Somehow, this tip had a feeling about it that reminded her of… a new year's visit to the shrine when she was a kid?
Pushing that thought aside, she examined the rest of the spear. Contrary to the tip, its shaft was made of simple, ordinary wood that had no special feeling about it whatsoever.
'I wonder…' She looked back at the man whose corpse had so offended her. 'How can I make this man bleed?' She thrust the spear into his side and this time, there was no burning sensation. As it should, the spear stuck into his body with a satisfying sound of tearing flesh. This was pleasing. The man was not invulnerable after all!
And yet, there was no blood.
Her brief moment of celebration over, she removed the spear from his body. As she did so, the wound began to close around the spearhead so that by the time it was fully removed, his body looked just as pristine as before. His clothes, too, had mended themselves just as fast. The intricately-woven patterns on the silk seemed to laugh at her futility.
"You-! Just die already!" Furiously, she stabbed the man over and over. With each swing, he recovered just as before, and even a hundred wounds could do nothing to ruin his perfect form. "What is with you!? I want you to BLEED!" She stabbed once more with all her strength. The spear made its way through his body, tearing organs and breaking bones until it stuck into the ground beneath him. Then, she used her power.
It had been said once that she could control life and death with her power, and for flowering plants that was certainly true. She had brought dead plants back to life many a time, and equally many times had she grown flora from a single leaf or petal from another. An ordinary piece of wood, then, should be just as viable. It mattered not how the wood grew, only that it did, and fast. In accordance with her wishes, the shaft of her spear came to life in her hands. Wood twisted and grew in all directions. It was as if an explosion went off in the man's body, only wood grew where one would expect flames and debris. The roots tore apart every part of the corpse, from the head to the feet, until the remains were no longer identifiable as human.
And yet, he still did not bleed.
She stepped back, withdrawing her influence. The moment she took her hand off of the spear's shaft, the roots shrunk and shriveled, returning themselves to the spear. In a matter of seconds, the weapon was laying on the ground, and this man once again lay unmolested upon the sand.
This was an insult above all others. Dodging or overpowering her abilities was one thing, but no man, no god—no one should be able to take the full force of her power and spit it back out with such disrespect. Kazami Yuuka was strong! Kazami Yuuka was unstoppable! And yet this man—! This man—!
This man brushed her off like an insolent child! While unconscious! The pain be damned; this would not stand! She was strong. Stronger than this coward! She was the strongest, and nothing could stand in her way!
With newfound fury, she pounced onto the man. She weathered yet another jolt of supernatural pain as she lowered her weight onto his form. The attack on her senses did not falter, but neither did hers. She pressed further into him, grasping his shoulders tightly enough to bury her nails in his flesh. Once she was close enough, she brought her face to his neck, and opened her jaw.
Her movements were slow—or at least the incessant pain made it feel that way. It was as if her mind had become so numbed by the effects it went full circle and made her more aware instead. In what felt like hours, her teeth came into contact with his skin, and minute by minute delved deeper through the layers.
The moment her fangs found his artery, the atmosphere shifted. The next thing she knew, there was a hand grasping her own neck from behind.
"BEGONE!" A voice boomed close to her hears, presumably belonging to the owner of this hand. The voice was loud, angry, and familiar. Oh so familiar.
Thus, she was hardly even mad when this person overcame her strength and lifted her off of the man's body. How could she be mad when challenged by the one she considered as her only worthy contender? "Why, if it isn't Take-Mikazuchi! What brings you to interrupt my meal?" She quipped, heedless of her disadvantaged position several feet off the ground.
"I have no need to converse with filth like you." The god jerked his hand, tossing Yuuka into the sand like one would toss old furniture into a landfill—as if he wants nothing more than to be rid of this disgusting thing.
She landed roughly on her shoulder, but that was nothing compared to the pain he just pulled her away from. "Rich words to say about the filth that's about to beat you!" She got up quickly and assumed a fighting stance—or whatever she considered to pass for one at least.
At this point, she could finally get a good view of the god of thunder. He cut the same imposing figure he had before, but this time he seemed more… faint? As if he was not entirely there. The only thing that felt one-hundred-percent present was the sword he held in his right hand—the same sword he used on young Kanako long ago. "No. I will not fight you."
"Huh!?" He won't fight? Isn't he supposed to be the strongest? This is Take-Mikazuchi! The man she has waited how many years just to get the chance to fight, and he just blows her off? "So you're just as much of a coward as all the other so-called 'gods' then!" She charged towards him, but as she neared his figure it became fainter and fainter until only the sword remained, clattering to the ground. She stared at the sword indignantly, then turned to shout towards the heavens. "Fight me you coward! If you call yourself a god, fight me!"
"I won't fight you" Mikazuchi's voice replied out of the ether, "But he will."
She spun in circles, searching for the origin of his voice. "He will? What bullshit is that! Don't you 'gods' love fighting demons? If you want people to worship you, then COME AT ME!" In her impassioned shouting, she had long since tuned out her surroundings—it was nothing but dead people after all—which is why it came as no small surprise when she opened her mouth to shout again, and nothing but gurgling blood came out.
"You ayakashi are truly disgusting creatures. Perhaps if you had respect for your superiors, you might have been someone worth fighting."
She tried to turn around to refute this mysterious one-liner, but the unexpected sword in her chest kept her from moving anything but her head. The very same sword that Take-Mikazuchi had brought.
"These are your final moments, demon." The voice spoke once again. It definitely was not Mikazuchi's voice, but whose was it? "Soon you will descend to Yomi like the rest of your ilk. When you arrive, bring word of my name; I am Kamu-Yamato Iwarebiko-no-Mikoto, descendant of Amaterasu!" He drew his sword back, allowing her to fall to the ground. Fortunately, she managed to land facing upwards so she could get a glimpse of this man's face.
Long black hair, imposing features, and an impossibly clean silk robe. Him.
If he noticed the surprise on her face, he did not show it, and instead continued his monologue stoically. "I am the son of the land and the sea! All will respect the name of me and my descendants! I have been granted this sword, Futo-no-mitama, by the god of thunder, and with the guidance of the Yatagarasu I will make this land whole and purge impurities like you!" The man stood proudly above her, surrounded by his army. That army that she had assumed dead now assembled before her eyes. All standing, all ready to fight, and more importantly, all alive.
'As if you will, you bastard!' She wanted nothing more than to get up and tear this man's face off, and yet her muscles would not obey.
"I am the force of the heavens! Jinmu, the weapon of the gods! Soon I will be the one to guide this land! As Emperor!"
'Not if I have anything to say about it—!' She tried to shout, and failed. Not only was her throat filled with the uncomfortable sensation of her own blood, this man radiated a presence that felt as if the air around her had solidified and was pushing her into the ground.
Perhaps she didn't have anything to say about it. The sword pierced her heart once more, and the world began to fade.
'You can't… kill… me…'
Or could he?
'I… won't… let...'
If a poet heard of her situation, he might have described a sensation of eternal falling, or perhaps the feeling of floating in a sea of nothing. She, however, would feel inclined to disagree. Writers, she had concluded long ago, could only describe the world in terms of things they have experienced, and even the most vivid imagination would fail to envision the sheer nothingness that surrounded her.
Perhaps that writer was sitting in his home right now, reflecting on the sheer irony of it all. A man who made his living describing all things imaginable with his words has no words to describe something so simple as nothing.
Calling it a vacuum would be giving it too much credit. Even in the emptiness of space, one could still sense light and feel the pull of gravity, however faint.
A black hole, maybe?
No. That was much too exciting.
Then what was it, if the emptiness of space could not describe it?
That, precisely, was the problem. The word "space," itself, implies a where—a physical place that one could travel to and from. This void, however, appeared to go from nowhere to nowhere. In between was a sheer nothingness so total it was impossible to even call it "here."
A dream, then?
If so, it was quite the unexciting dream.
Frankly, it felt like a miracle she could even be conscious in something like this. Even if only for a limited definition of consciousness. With no perception of time or space, and no body to interact with, these winding thoughts provided her only company. No matter how much she didn't want to think about it, then, it was only natural that her thoughts would eventually make their way to the question of how she got here—.
That man! That accursed man! After all her plans and preparation, her fated battle with the strongest god was ruined by this arrogant little mortal! Calling himself "Emperor" and all that—
—That was actually the Emperor, wasn't it?
The son of Amaterasu, supported by the gods, who tried to unite the land under his name. Historically, or pseudo-historically at least, that had to be Emperor Jinmu. His ascension must have been assured by the course of history itself. In the face of a forgone conclusion like that, what was she supposed to do?
"History? Bah!" Surprisingly, it took a significant manifestation of her supernatural power to even manifest a voice in this environment. The fact that it worked, though, was more than encouraging. "I bet that bastard thinks he killed me! I'll show him!" It was hard to define exactly how she knew her power was involved—after all, she had no body to feel the effects. However, she had a feeling that if she applied her mind just right, she could have an influence on this environment.
With another flex of her power, she was able to create a facsimile of her own body as well as a small platform to stand on. She felt entirely drained, but that wouldn't stop her from standing tall with a smirk on her artificial face. It felt like the world itself was trying to reject her action and tell her that people don't have bodies when suspended in the void, but when did the world's rejection ever stop her?
"I've fought gods! Who does the fabric of reality think it is to stand in my way!?" She doesn't even belong to this world, so it seemed awfully rude of it to decide whether she'll live or die without her approval. She, and she alone was the master of her fate, and nothing—no man, no god, no law of physics—would change that.
Now if only she could find a way out of this… thing.
A door would be nice.
Yuuka thinks she finally has it... only for it to slip from her grasp.
Regardless, I hope you enjoyed this chapter. It's a little short and… anti-climactic to say the least, but after so long without an update I felt I had to at least give you guys something. If I have to be honest, though, this is perhaps the most uncertain I've been about a chapter. This entire fic is about developing Yuuka's character bit-by-bit, but I worry that I might be going too fast, too slow, or (god forbid) backwards with her characterization.
I'd like to hear what you think. Do you like the direction her character is going? Can you see what I'm going for?
On another note, this chapter deals with what is perhaps the most controversial part of Japanese mythology: the founding myths. These particular myths have had very real implications and political ramifications to this day, but while I'm tentative about turning this into somewhat of a nationalist piece, I can hardly ignore the most well-known portion of my source material. Thus, we have immune-to-impurities Emperor Jinmu.
And yes, I know it's almost always pronounced Futsu-no-Mitama. There's a particular reason I spelled it Futo, but it'll be a while before that connection shows up.
Geographically, the provinces of Shinano, Mino, Kii, Izumo, and Ise refer to the modern prefectures of Nagano, Gifu, Wakayama, Shimane, and Mie, respectively. Also, Awaumi is what we call Lake Biwa today.
Also, you might notice the complete lack of flowers here—I would hope a conspicuous lack of symbolism carries just as much meaning its presence.
I don't want to make this author's note as long as some of the earlier ones, so on to reviews:
I'm glad you're still enjoying it! In regard to her gaining strength, I've been thinking about it and come to the conclusion that while the whole idea of fear/faith-energy is certainly a central and universal element of supernatural power in this world, what separates the strong from the unstoppable should be something else. That something is unique to each individual. Yuuka, however, has only heard of the former approach and has not yet considered any other options. That, however, will change in time.
As for the PC-98 elements, rest assured that I do have a plan for that.
Thanks! I hope you stick around!