A/N: Wow. Has it really been over a year since I updated this? I never meant to make anyone wait this long, but I had a lot of crises come up in real life that have kept me occupied for the past year or so. Couple that with schoolwork and... well, you get the idea. I haven't written anything besides essays since the last chapter, so I was a little hesitant to come back and finish this, but then the music for Ryoshima Coast came on on iTunes and things just kind of went from there. Hopefully I can get back into a normal routine, but I honestly don't know. I do have the final chapters and plot points written and stored though. Anyway, to those of you still reading, thank you for your patience, and here's the next chapter!
Chapter 13: Power
The darkness wrapped in and around the cottage, snuffing out the light that dared to poke its way through the shuttered blinds. I tensed. "Keep the light out, if for only another minute," I whispered to the darkness. It obliged, blocking the light completely. Beside me, another form shifted, opening one bleary eye to look at me.
"Shinryu?" came her sleepy voice, silver and smooth in the darkness.
"Hurry and kill Amaterasu, will you? I'm beginning to tire of sunlight sneaking through the darkness to us."
I grunted and turned to look at the fox beside me with annoyance. Despite being Yami's right hand, which by all rights should have kept her busy - and away from me - she somehow found time to spare. There never seemed to be a day where she hadn't napped near me or struck up a conversation. It was strangely endearing. So endearing, in fact, that it left me feeling nauseated more often than not. Harbingers of Darkness were not supposed to feel anything; relentless killing machines were all we were. What use were feelings when everything turned to ash beneath your feet? It was only when she turned to head to look at me, head cocked to one side, that I realized I hadn't responded yet.
I rolled my eyes. "I'm working on it. She's much tougher than I had anticipated; never before have I faced someone as powerful as her."
She sniffed, batting me with one of her tails. I glared at her.
"Never do that again, Ninetails, or you will find that you should change your name to Eighttails."
She snorted. "Please, Shinryu, respect my intelligence. We both know neither Yami nor Verel would allow infighting among their ranks."
I ground my teeth, but said nothing. What could I say? She was correct. Any action other than threats toward allies was met with punishment, and a punishment from Verel was something we all strove to avoid. The prospect of soul torturing was a brilliant deterrent.
"Enough of the threats. Why do you sound as if you respect that petty goddess?"
I blinked. Did I? She was powerful, yes, and where power was, so was my respect… no matter what side that power chose to align herself with. "I do."
"What?" she growled. "Her? Why? She's your antithesis, Shinryu! She's everything that we abhor, that we strive to ruin!" Ninetails bristled.
"That doesn't mean I don't respect her as a fellow warrior. Her strength is impressive. As is yours," I replied.
She huffed, but said nothing. I stared at her.
"Are you… jealous, Ninetails?"
"Never," she spat, and turned away from me. I laughed in wonderment.
"Yami's right hand is jealous of a useless goddess! How can this be?" I grinned as she swatted me with one of her tails.
"Shut up, Shinryu."
"So that's how it is," I said, and frowned. First Ninetails wanted to spend time to me, and now she was jealous of Amaterasu. I could see the dots, but the line connecting them was missing, and I was determined to find out what it was. "What is it you want exactly? Lately you've taken to spend time around me. Let me make this very clear: no one spends time with me unless they want something from me. So what is it? Power? Glory? I can't give you those, and you've plenty of both."
"No." The fox stood and began to pace. "Understand that this situation is far from ideal. I despise attachments of any sort," she began. "This was never supposed to happen."
"Wait, what?" I stared at her in puzzlement. She was making no sense. Though a brilliant tactician on the battlefield, her explanations off it left something to be desired. "What are you talking about?"
"Don't you toy with me," she growled. "You know exactly what I mean. Don't force me to say the words or I will make you regret it, Shinryu."
I blinked, dismissing the threat with an absent flick of my tail. "So you mean -" I stopped, the seeds of realization bursting to life. "That would explain why you sought me out. I don't do relationships, Ninetails." I paused. "And even if I wanted to, Verel would never permit it."
"Do you think I would bring this up if he hadn't permitted it?" She swallowed and turned to face me once more. "So. Now we are at an impasse."
"No. We are at an end. This conversation is over." As I turned to leave, the fox's tails branched out, forming a living cage that trapped me inside.
"This conversation is over when I say it is over, and not a moment before," she snapped. I growled, but stepped away from the exit.
"I suppose there's no harm in hearing you ramble about feelings. Feelings that we were never supposed to have in the first place."
"Shinryu, so help me -" Ninetails cut herself off and took a deep breath, letting it out in slow amounts. "You can be so aggravating at times. If you're done with your smart remarks?"
I remained silent.
"Well then. Are you willing to at least consider this? Or try?" she asked.
I regarded her with careful dispassion. It wasn't as if I didn't find her attractive; after all, the power she wielded was second only to mine and Verel's, and she displayed a cruelty on the battlefield that was quite appealing. Of course, she was attractive in other ways as well, but those were trivial. Only power mattered, and in terms of power, she would be a good match. At last, I nodded. "Very well, so long as you refrain from dramatics."
"I was hoping you'd say that." Ninetails got to her feet, her tails retracting from their places to brush against me. I shivered at her touch, wary of the hungry look in her coal eyes.
"And why would that be?" I asked, but already the answer danced in my mind.
"There's something I've been wanting to do for a very long time."
"Well then." I grinned. "I'm not one to keep a lady waiting."
I awoke with a start, bolting upright before I realized where I was. Amaterasu slept next to me, the sun only a sliver above the horizon. I sighed. My first night of actual sleep, uninterrupted by the jarring transition between two worlds, with a goddess as company, and it had been plagued by a nightmare. Or was it a memory? I frowned and wandered into the village to sit by the river. Orochi had said that Ninetails would be angry that I traveled with Amaterasu. Now I knew why. Ninetails and I had been together, once. I strained to remember more, but to no end; the memories I wanted were always out of reach, it seemed. Then again, it wasn't as if I had expected them to come flooding back at once. My soul, essence, whatever one wished to call it, had only just united. It would take time for the halves to merge, to redo the seams that had been torn apart at my death. Until then, I'd have to make do with what little I remembered. Not that there's anything good to remember, I thought. Oh yes, there were my memories of combat and of Verel's servants, my once-allies turned enemies we now faced; those were useful. But along with those were memories of nothing but death and destruction, of strife and bloodlust, and some twisted version of a relationship. I shook my head. There was nothing more to say here; I'd already come to terms with what I'd done in the past.
If nothing else, I had Will's - my - memories from Earth. I could feel that part of me stirring, itching for a conversation, but I forced it back down. While part of me never belonged on Earth, the other half was already mourning its former life there. There would be time for consolation and banter later; now, I had to focus on the journey ahead. According to the original game, Amaterasu and I would be heading to Ryoshima Coast… and Ninetails. I grimaced. Not exactly who I'd hoped to be fighting next, but it's not like I can choose here. My thoughts were broken by the sight of a glowing green nimbus of light bouncing towards me.
"Man, there's nothin' like a good festival," yawned Issun. "I used to go to festivals all the time back home…" He sighed and looked over at me. "Oh, uh... I wasn't thinking about my mommy or anything like that!"
I blinked. Sure, Issun. I bet you weren't thinking of any of the pretty girls at those festivals either.
As always, Issun continued on, oblivious to my thoughts. "Anyway, why don't we go wake Ammy?" The Poncle hopped onto my nose as I nodded in agreement. There was no point in loitering in the village anymore; other provinces called for our help.
Sounds like a good idea. I loped back up the path to the goddess' sleeping form, nudging her with my snout. Rise and shine. The sun seemed to flare, blanketing the area with light as Amaterasu woke from her slumber. I didn't mean that literally, I grumbled, and suppressed a small chuckle. The goddess got to her feet, regarding me with mischief in her eyes.
Then you should say as such next time, she said.
But 'rise and shine, but not literally shine' is a mouthful, don't you think? I replied.
Not at all.
I rolled my eyes and started down the path that led out of the village, Amaterasu by my side. I didn't know you had a sarcastic side.
I didn't, until I met you, she admitted. However, it's not something I would wish to use every day.
So you're saying I'm a bad influence?
What? No, I simply - she stopped as I burst into a fit of laughter.
Relax, I was joking. Shall we get going? At Amaterasu's nod, we set off down the road as Kamiki's inhabitants began to stir, shaking off the post-festival sluggishness to return to their daily routines. I snorted as I spotted Susano, still sound asleep near what served as his training area. Then again, after what he'd been through recently, I couldn't blame him for wanting some rest. I let out a sigh. In truth, I was envious. As far as I knew, Susano's role was over; there would be no more challenges for him to face other than keeping Kushi and Kamiki safe from the stray band of imps. He could live a normal life, without fear of what lay ahead for him. My own future, and possibly Amaterasu's, was still uncertain, the frayed edges of fate's tapestry slowly weaving themselves together as we ventured into the unknown. I shook my head. Too much introspection is bad, I reminded myself, and turned to Amaterasu as we passed into Shinshu Field. So, where are we going now? I asked, already knowing the answer.
We must go past Agata to reach Ryoshima Coast, answered Amaterasu. With my strength returning I can feel the faint presences of three Brush Gods… and something else.
I blinked. What do you mean by 'something else?'
If it were possible for a wolf to frown, Amaterasu would have done so. There is something on the wind; it reeks of ash and fire, and the strength behind it… It has been many years since I have last felt power of this magnitude. Those amber eyes fixed themselves squarely on me. The last being yours, of course.
I… see. Ash and fire were Ninetails' realm, but so many things had deviated from Will's knowledge of the events that had already transpired that I had to wonder if it would even be Ninetails waiting for us at Ryoshima. We will have to be careful, then. There's no telling what Verel and Yami have waiting for us on the road ahead.
She nodded, her eyes sweeping the area for any stray bands of roaming demons. But as she'd predicted last night, not a single group dared to show their pallid faces in the daylight. My paws twitched and my ears drooped in slight disappointment at the lack of enemies to test my abilities on. With both halves of my soul united, the power coursing through me demanded some sort of release. The tendrils on either side of my form whipped back and forth through the air, lightning arcing from one to the other as I strode forward, holding in the urge to run laps around the field with some difficulty. Amaterasu watched this display, concern etched on her features, but followed me in silence as I made my way to Agata Forest at breakneck pace. It was only when we'd entered the forest that my patience frayed, the call to do something becoming too much to bear, and my tail whipped forward, calling forth the Abyssal Brush on the mountainside. Destruction erased the ledge that supported several boulders, sending them hurtling toward the ground, and us. Less than a second later, two of the boulders had been sliced into thin geodes by Wicked Claw. Before any of the falling shards had touched the ground I'd sprung into the air and split the last one in two with Fleeting Spirit. I landed on all fours amid the sprinkling of rock shards, letting out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. I turned to Amaterasu — and jumped backwards as Divine Retribution tore through the earth where my paws had stood only seconds earlier.
What are you doing? I yelled as the goddess advanced, her reflector clanging off of my scythe as I parried the incoming blow. Before I could react she was spinning in the air, the divine flames dancing around her weapon searing the air around me. I involuntarily stepped back and spun my scythe in front of me, creating a chilling gust to ward off the oppressive heat.
It's clear you're relearning the extent of your abilities, said Amaterasu as she soared over me to land on all fours, flowers sprouting fully bloomed around her. And the only way you can do that is through battle. I will not have you fighting demons when you cannot restrain yourself from using your full power.
And how exactly is that a bad thing? I growled, leaping into the air to unleash a blast of Destruction that glanced off the goddess and tore through several saplings. Mikaboshi's power smashed into the rocks behind them, pulverizing them into fine grains of dust.
If there are innocents around, do you truly believe yourself capable of leaving them unharmed? countered Amaterasu as her Power Slash knocked me out of the air and sent me sprawling across the forest floor. I rolled to one side, staying just outside the reach of the enchanted vines the Celestial Brush had conjured to snare me. With a single Wicked Claw, the vines exploded into torrents of ink that rained down onto the otherworldly canvas. Dozens upon dozens of rose petals fell from the sky, obscuring the white wolf from view. I spun in every direction, waiting for her to strike as I pondered her words. With a swipe of the Abyssal Brush, Silverwisp propelled me into the air and into the canopy of one of the many ancient trees of Agata. As I landed on a branch, the trail of webbing exploded, forming thick spiderwebs that wrapped themselves between the branches. I blanched. Silverwisp had never done that before, and Destruction had never continued through its intended target. Maybe Amaterasu had a point. My power was manifesting itself stronger than I knew it could.
You may be right, I conceded, even as a gust from Galestorm knocked me off my perch and sent me spiraling toward the ground. I could use the workout, and it will reacquaint us with each other's fighting styles. I spun in the air, twisting my body this way and that to dodge the rosary beads that flew past my snout.
Ah, began Amaterasu, and I groaned, the amusement in her voice all too apparent.
Why do I get the strange feeling that you know what I can do better than I can? I groused as her rosary beads smacked into me on a return trip I hadn't been expecting.
That would be because I still remember your abilities, she replied. I rolled onto my feet and followed the beads through the rose petals that continued to flutter downward, trusting that they knew where their mistress was. The instant a glaive came arcing down at me, I bolted out of the way, calling on the North Wind to blast both the petals and the goddess back. As the petals withered and died underneath the frigid gusts, Amaterasu pressed forward, the flames radiating from her reflector flaring to counteract the chilly air that attempted to bind her to the ground. A towering Inferno snaked its way towards me from the embers of a nearby campfire, weaving around the tree trunks to strike at me. Another blast from the North Wind and the flames dissipated to reveal a glaive poised to strike. With a yelp, I flipped over the outstretched blade. Before she could raise her glaive to strike at me once more, I gathered the remnants of the North Wind, shielding myself with its cooling power, and tackled the goddess. With a fizzle, the gusts of frigid air and heat clashed and vanished, leaving nothing between us as I slammed into the white wolf. We tumbled on the ground, grappling for control, until at last I pinned her to the ground, Fleeting Spirit and my jaws leveled at her throat.
We're done, I panted, and stepped off of Amaterasu, letting her get to her feet. To my surprise, she appeared to be out of breath as well.
I retract my previous statement, came her tired voice. Padding over to the edge of the lake, she lay down, those golden eyes appraising me. At last, she nodded. You… fight much differently now, are more creative with how you use your powers. She paused. Do you mind if we rest for a moment?
Of course not, I replied, and lay down beside her. You think I'm not tired as well? I wasn't holding back.
Neither was I. She sighed and turned to me. Your strength has surpassed my own, for the moment.
I blinked. Wait, what? That can't be right. You're stronger than I am…
But the goddess was already shaking her head. Your power has always come from you, Shinryu, while mine comes from the faith of the people. And as the people's faith wanes…
So does your power, I finished. Don't worry. People will begin to believe in you again… just give them time.
One golden orb peered at me. Time is something I fear we do not have… but enough of this. Do you have a better grasp of your limits now?
I closed my eyes, assessing the energies that coursed through my veins. Though much of it had been burned to battle Amaterasu, what remained was calmer, more obedient to my own whims. I opened my eyes. I think so. We'll know for certain in a little while, I guess -
"What's the holdup, furballs?" I nearly leapt up in surprise as Issun wormed his way out of Amaterasu's fur and let out a yawn. I stared at him. How we'd forgotten about the Poncle while we'd fought was beyond me, but even more mystifying was the fact that he appeared to have no idea what had transpired since we'd entered the forest. A sudden thought occurred to me.
Has he been sleeping this whole time?
I believe so.
Unbelievable. I shook my head. As much as I'd like to know how he managed to stay sleeping, he does have a point; if we want to reach Ryoshima by nightfall, we should get moving. I moved to get up, when a flash of yellow and white movement caught my eye. A strange tingling sensation ran down my spine as I spun to find the offending source. The tingling intensified as I scanned the treetops for any sign of the mysterious visitor. Amaterasu got to her feet, her eyes narrowing as she too began to search her surroundings.
Something is here, Shinryu, and it is building up its power, warned Amaterasu. I nodded, about to reply, when the scent of ash and scorched earth wafted past my nostrils. My memory screamed at me even as I felt the discharge of energy. With no time to shout a warning to Amaterasu, I slammed the side of Fleeting Spirit into her, shoving both her and a very surprised Poncle into the water. A suffocating, oppressive heat pinned me to the ground not seconds later. I struggled to lift my tail even as a cold, angry voice shouted words that chilled me to the bone.
"Breathe your last, Shinryu, and turn to ash!"
And the world around me exploded into flame.
A/N: I'll just leave this button down here.