Hello! Welcome to the first of a series of oneshots drawn from the game Okami! They will vary in length and subject, and are mostly me having fun with the things they don't tell you or are different in perspective from the game. This first one features how it all got started, a little over two hundred years prior to the beginning of Okami.
Disclaimer: I don't own Okami except for merchandise. If I did, I'd still be writing fanfiction, except I'd be making money off of it and it would be canon.
That's all it had taken for a quiet, peaceful land to become a place of fear and danger. To the residents of a tiny village at the northern end of the main trade routes, it had only taken four days for their lives to be taken over.
Four days ago, a monster had come tumbling out of the sky, roaring hatred and vengeance and defiance to the gods. It had landed with a resounding splash near the edge of the great Lake Harami, sending up a huge wall of water that had eaten away large chunks of the cliff-sides and flooded a large feeder stream all the way to its' source in Hana Valley. Upon recovering whatever shreds it had of dignity, the monster had proceeded to take up residence in the nearby Moon Caves. Immediately following, imps had begun appearing all over the bordering Shinshu Field and amongst the sakura trees of Kamiki Village.
There was already signs that the monster would demand of the poor villagers some sort of sacrifice. The darker ones whispered that it would be a sacrifice of blood and flesh.
It had taken four days for all the nearby heroes and warriors out to make names for themselves to arrive—only to fall to the beast's eight heads and ravenous appetite. There was no word of another brave or insane enough to try.
It had been four days since some witnesses had told of a white brilliance that had fallen to earth along with the dreaded Orochi, howling its' own defiance as it ripped into the mountainous body of its' foe. No one knew what it was, nor had it been seen it since.
What news that could be passed from the ice-locked northern lands told even grimmer tales. A great metal ship had crashed into the lake at the foot of Mount Ezofuji, and those who had fled from those lands had spoken in hushed tones of the flood of demons that had come pouring out. The northern lands were already sealing themselves off, determined to keep the plague of trouble from killing the rest of Nippon.
To the man staggering out of a door of a passage leading from the frozen North, those four days had been an eternity. One that he'd paid every dawn for in his own blood and the blood of his foes.
Not that he could even see the sun. Storm clouds had shrouded the skies in robes of mourning for all that had been lost in the last four days, tongues of lightning the shouts of the grief-torn kami. The skies wept for them—and for himself, who had had no time to shed tears for those who'd fallen around him.
He hurt. Oh, gods, he hurt. What small part of his mind that wasn't numb or hyper-focused on the two instincts of 'fight' and 'flee' catalogued several cracked ribs, pulled muscles in every limb and in his shoulders, what was probably a concussion, and scores of bleeding wounds all over his body. In one hand, clenched in a death-grip, was a hilt and two inches of blade that had, until yesterday, been one of his swords. The other had been left sunk into the ground on the shores of Laochi Lake as a seal to the ship he'd barely managed to escape from.
And he was the lucky one. He alone, of all the people on board, had survived. The rest had been devoured by the hordes upon hordes of demons that had been lurking in the bowels of his ship, waiting. They'd attacked when it had been too late for him to turn the ship around or to do much of anything but fight to save the refugees he'd meant to take to safety.
In the end, he'd been driven from his ship into the cold and the dark. Why, why hadn't any of his tribe told him what that ship was? Why had they let him pilot it to the Celestial Plain, knowing as he did now that the depths of it had been filled with monsters?
Lightning spat from the storm above him, nipping at his heels as he passed from earthen-work tunnel to open air. He yelped, dove forward, and heard a rather final-sounding rasp as the door he'd emerged from ground shut.
No returning then. Not that he'd really wanted to.
His feet took him downslope from the sealed door—and then informed him that he was walking on empty air and should turn his ass back around right now. The ground cheerfully informed his abused body a moment later that he was too late and that resting was probably a good idea.
But he couldn't rest. Not until he found her. The reason he hadn't just laid down and died back in Kamui. The one who deserved to know that everything had been his fault.
The problem was, at the moment, was that his body was agreeing with the ground and was refusing to move. He couldn't even raise his head more than an inch or two. And either the fall or pure exhaustion was making it impossible for him to focus on anything past his nose…which, now that he was thinking about it, was smack-dab in the middle of a bunch of flowers. Did not moving include not sneezing?
Kami, he hoped so. Sneezing would really hurt right now.
There came the sounds of footsteps—several pairs of them—and shadows fell across the fallen man. Any hope for help died at the croaking tones of a gaggle of imps. "Wow, that was a pretty good fall. Wasn't it, guys?" At least half a dozen sounds of agreement echoed around him; sheer contrariness forced him to at least try to make an effort to rise. He'd killed hundreds of these things in the past ninety-six hours and he absolutely refused to be killed lying down.
Pain shot up his arm when he stuck what was left of his only sword into the ground and levered himself up. He ignored it. The world spun as he at last attained his footing. He ignored that too. But he couldn't ignore the way that his vision kept fogging into a strange grayness from the edges inwards. Not when everything went gray the second he moved to take a step forward.
Amidst mocking laughter, a clawed foot planted itself on his chest and pushed. He strangled a cry as his balance was lost and once again his body met the ground.
"Look, pal," said the imp from before—though damned if the man could focus that far—while it leaned on the foot it had on the fighter's bloodied chest. "Me'n the guys can see you're tired. You look like someone dragged you through every circle of Hell and took a trip through Master Orochi's teeth for the fun of it. We respect that. So you see, it's nothing personal that we're gonna eat you."
His throat was too sore from screaming during battles he barely remembered to do more than squeak, but even so, he had pride enough to curve his lips into a faint smile and whisper, "Of course not, mon amí. I feel I should warn you, though…"
The imp leaned closer, too distracted by the smell of blood to notice what had made the man smile. "'Bout what?"
A heavy gust of wind slapped the faces of the imps with the scents of a sun-drenched field of wildflowers as a battle-howl filled the air. The man's smile managed to grow a little. "That I'm not the one you should be wary of."
The weight on the fallen man's chest disappeared with a whoosh and the sound of flesh meeting flesh. Snarls rang out, accompanied by frenzied shouts of 'Crap! It's that crazy wolf! Run for it!' And though the warrior couldn't see, the sounds he heard following could only be described as imps being booted off the mortal coil at warp speed.
Exhaustion pried at his tenuous grip on awareness; will-power alone was keeping his eyes open, for all the good it did him. All he could see when the noises of the fight died away was a pure white shape that moved into his field of view on silent feet. The scent of flowers was all around him now as the shape approached. It brought to mind moments of safety and comfort, of days spent doing nothing but cloud-gazing.
And it undid him.
The drive that had kept him going shuddered at the completion of its' goal. He had found her. He could rest now. Without a moment's hesitation oblivion swept him under.
Waka awoke with a jolt and a hiss of pain that the movement had brought. And now he really couldn't see anything. Just black. The only thing that saved him from panic was the rich aroma of hundreds of flowers that kept wafting past his nose to the beat of a dog's tail.
Something moved nearby; Waka felt a presence come closer, but the smell that came from whoever it was wasn't of flowers, but of fish. The fighter felt his nose wrinkle at the pungency of it. "I'll be damned," a rough, gnarled voice said from less than three feet away. "Yer still alive. Thought fer sure ye'd croak when the mutt brought ye home. Ne'er seed anyone that bad hurt afore."
Kindness was obvious despite the gruff tone, easing a little of the tension that had strung Waka's body at the approach of a stranger. He moved his head, still seeking. "Amaterasu?" he asked again.
:I am here. You are safe, Waka.:
"You sound strange, ma chērie."
Amusement tinged with sadness filled that beloved voice. :I was wondering if you were going to insist calling me by name. There's nothing wrong with your ears, dear one. It is only that I cannot speak as I did back home.:
"It's dark, ma petite. Am I blind?"
The stranger snorted in unison with Amaterasu. "No."
:No more so than anyone who has bandages around their eyes: elaborated Amaterasu, :who is also in a fisherman's hut with no windows. The man's name is Genji. He has helped me take care of you.:
Waka heard Genji move, this time away from him and back towards the crackling of a fire. "Huh. I figgered ye weren't no ordinary beastie when I found ye," the fisherman said casually. Waka felt himself bristle at the insult to Amaterasu. "Guess I was right, if'n yer stray c'n hear ye."
"Don't call her that," hissed Waka, groping for a sword he knew perfectly well was no longer anywhere within reach. "I'll gut you where you stand for calling her a beast!"
Something heavy and warm abruptly weighed him down and licked at his cheek with a wet tongue. :Oh, yes. Because you're in wonderful shape right now: huffed Amaterasu's voice, now much closer than before. The dog's tail thumped the floor by his leg. The aroma of flowers surrounded him.
"Boy, ye can't e'en gut a fish right now, shape yer in," Genji replied with perfect calm. "I meant no insult. Ye know that, don't ye, lass?" The dog's tail thumped again. Waka tried to wriggle and found that he'd already spent what strength he had; the dog wasn't going to be getting off his chest unless it chose to. "Now, why don't ye tell me who ye think she is afore ye get all fired up."
Waka took a deep breath through his nose and let it out slowly. "She is Amaterasu-o-kami, origin of all that is good and mother to us all."
"Funny ye should call her 'o-kami'," Genji's voice mused. "'Cause from where I'm sittin', and it ain't very far away, all I see is a wolf."
Waka's world screeched to a halt for the second time in a week. Had it been a week? "Amaterasu?" he squeaked, raising a hand that weighed a million pounds.
:Here: came that precious voice again as a broad, furry head insinuated itself beneath shaking fingers. :I am here. It's alright, Waka. Breathe.:
Right. Breathing. Breathing was important. He couldn't have a proper fit if he asphyxiated. His fingers buried themselves in thick fur on their own accord as his friend moved from lying atop him to curled beside him. The movement nudged his fingers to a spot just behind one silk-furred ear. Hysteria threatened to rise when he realized that he was giving the goddess of the sun an ear-scratching.
"I would like the bandages off. Now."
Her tail thumped him reprovingly in the leg. :Waka.:
He clenched his teeth. "Please."
The broad head beneath his hand moved up, sliding his limb back onto his chest with a tiny, weak thud. :Genji?:
Although the fisherman had admitted that he couldn't hear Amaterasu, his presence came near anyway, and Waka felt fingers rough from hard work begin to unwind his blindfold. A hand, surprisingly gentle, cradled the base of his skull as loop after loop was taken away.
The firelight made bright blue eyes blink when they were revealed. Waka turned his head slightly to look up into the wind-seamed, weather-burned face of the man who must be Genji. Black eyes studied him back with equal intensity—but no, Waka realized a breath later, he was checking the state of the injuries Waka must have had inflicted upon his face and head. "Bonjour," Waka greeted him softly. "I am Waka. Once of the Tribe of the Moon."
:Once?: inquired Amaterasu from her place beside him. Her canine head moved into view, a crimson circle marked by two straight flares running from it up towards her ears and down between her golden eyes. More crimson marked her eyelids and the edges of the sockets beneath them. For all the fur, it was quite easy for Waka to decipher the worry in her expression.
As Genji moved away again, Amaterasu rose until she was sitting, her head leaning over him to stare down into his face. Waka nodded. "Oui. Was. They had to have known, ma chērie. They had to have known what the ship carried, there was no way they didn't. They let me bring the ship to your home. I cannot be a part of a race so callous that they sentenced you to this."
Beyond them, Genji took in the scene of goddess and warrior and deemed the conversation to be too personal for a pair of old ears like his. He quietly took himself outside with a muttered excuse that he needed to check on his nets, giving the two much-welcomed privacy.
With a flick of a silken ear, Amaterasu began washing the few lingering scrapes and cuts with her tongue, an indignity that Waka bore without complaint. For all he knew, she still had the ability to 'kiss hurts and make them better' that she'd had when they'd romped on the Celestial Plain. :Waka, what happened?: she asked him, voice unaffected by her ministrations. :I know what happened to me when that over-grown eel and I splashed down, but what happened to you? Where are the others?:
Tears pricked at his eyes and began sliding down into his hair; the goddess licked them away too as her friend drew a shaky breath. "Gone, great mother. All of them."
The tongue froze mid-lick.
Waka went on, the dam of his thoughts broken by those words. "We were halfway between the Plain and Nippon when the demons poured out of the bowels of the ship. I didn't know what was going on until I heard the screaming. When I rushed from the control room I found thousands of them flooding the corridors, the halls, everywhere. The Celestials were screaming, trying to fight back." Waka closed his eyes, the tears falling faster as his body began to wrack itself with the sobs he would not free. Not yet. "But your people were no fighters, beloved. I tried. I tried. I lost count of how many demons I have slain these past few days. I got a few of the Celestials behind me, against a wall, but we were overwhelmed. The demons pulled me away. The ship crashed into a lake and, I swear to you, more of them came out of nowhere. I don't know how the ship ever held them all."
Unnoticed, Amaterasu's tongue began its' slow strokes again.
"I found others of your children. They were beset on all sides. I went in, pulled them, drove them in front of me for the exit hatch. We…we almost made it before another wave took them all. I…I think…I fell, then, or the rainbow bridge managed to drop me near the shore. The next thing I knew I was knee-deep in icy water and still fighting for my life."
The sobs were starting to break through. He heaved a breath and got the rest out as fast as he could. "I locked the ship to keep the worst ones contained. Went south. Followed roads covered in snow. So cold. Demons at every step. My sword broke. I fought. Had to find you, had to know. Know you, at least, were safe. Great mother. I am so sorry."
A nose black as a night without stars nudged his cheek gently in an attempt to comfort. And it did, a little, but not enough to hold back the grief that had finally been loosed. Waka's arms curled around him to try and protect his ribs from the force of his sobs, Amaterasu a patient warmth where his body had curved around her.
And so Waka wept.
It took what felt like hours before he collapsed back into unconsciousness, the exhaustion of fighting for four days straight still taking their toll. Amaterasu made sure that he was well and truly out of it before she unwound herself from her place beside him and padded outside. Genji sat on a rock on the beach just yards away, smoking a pipe and looking out over the water. The Moon Cave was a dark lump towards their right, the sounds of the great monster within carrying faintly over the lake to them.
Genji looked over at her. Tapped his pipe against his foot and nodded. "I'll watch."
Bowing her head for a moment to her newfound friend, Amaterasu slipped away, a drift of moonlight on mist, until she was well out of sight. A minute or so later a disconsolate howl rose in heartbroken song over night-cloaked Shinshu Field.
Waka hobbled out into the sunlight, squinting at the brightness of it as Genji helped him sit down on the crude wooden bench just outside of the fisherman's hut. His body had been slow in recovery the past two weeks, but it had picked up remarkable speed when Amaterasu had started bringing home bones wrapped in bits of paper folded like lightning bolts. She'd insisted that they be added to the nightly soup, and neither man had had the heart to deny her.
The wolf and the warrior had been very subdued, and with good reason, Genji had thought to himself. It wasn't every day that your world was brought crumbling down. He'd go to sleep, sometimes, hearing the strange, one-sided conversations that Waka would have with Amaterasu.
The fisherman could see, sometimes, if he squinted right and trusted hard, the crimson markings that the blond man had told him were there. And sometimes he could see the great disc the wolf carried on her back, trailing green-licked flames, if the light was good and he wasn't thinking about much. He couldn't see the tendrils of power that Waka swore to him were always trailing from Amaterasu's back. His faith in the gods wasn't strong enough, Genji supposed.
Still. It was hard not to believe in gods when he'd see animals—everything from mice, to rabbits, to deer with kingly racks of antlers—come up to the huge wolf without the faintest trace of fear. If she held still enough, sparrows and little green birds Waka had said were called nightingales would land on her and chirp whole conversations before flitting off again.
She was faster than anything he'd ever seen, too. If he stood on the bridge that spanned the waterfall and gorge between the beach and the path that led past the Moon Cave to the ferry, he could watch her blaze from one end of Shinshu to another, rending Demon Scrolls and the evils within them as fast as they formed.
Speak of the goddess…Genji watched her bolt down the wooden steps that led to his modest spit of beach and his hut, claws making far less racket than they should until she came to a four-point landing in front of them.
"Ma chērie?" Waka inquired, breathless from the effort the brief walk had taken. "What…?" And then she lifted her great head, revealing an ordinary flute caught gently in her teeth. She placed it in Waka's lap and danced sideways until she could press against him, head resting against his side with his arm draped across her shoulders.
Waka hadn't known where Amaterasu had gone this morning. She'd only promised that she'd return as soon as she could and had raced off, in higher spirits than he'd seen her in since their fall. Now his beloved goddess had snuggled herself against him and was watching him take a look at her present. It was made of some light wood, polished and carved with a simple motif of sakura near the mouthpiece. And yet…somehow it purred under his touch with a feeling of hidden power.
:I had Kabe, Tachi, and Yumi help me make it: Amaterasu told him eagerly, :to replace the sword you broke.:
Waka blinked. He'd met the lesser gods known as the Brush gods during his visits to the mourned Celestial Plain. His precious Amaterasu had just referred to the gods of the techniques that allowed Amaterasu to leap up walls, slash through enemies, and change the skies from day to night, respectively. They'd tolerated him as someone from the Moon Tribe, but he'd earned their respect as time had passed. He was glad that they were unharmed. But he didn't understand what he was being given. "Amaterasu?"
:Pass your hand along it. Will it to bite: he was instructed. When he did so, the flute changed. As his hand moved along its length, the flute grew heavy and solid in his grasp, a glowing blade following his hand until he held a thrumming sword. :Kabegami made its' nature hidden, a claw that sheathes in velvet. Tachigami gave it its' bite. And Yumigami made it able to change itself to be what you need.: Her tail whacked against the foot of the bench. :Gekigami and Moegami wanted to add in a few surprises for the demons, too, but the Hanagami trio and Yomigami yelled them down. I don't remember the last time I saw those two sulk.:
Despite his blanket of grief and the ache of healing wounds, Waka found himself laughing as he moved the arm across her shoulders until he held her in a half-hug. "Thank you, ma chērie," he told her, his first smile in weeks stretching across his face. "I will treasure this. And thank the others for me, will you? Even Gekigami and Moegami, for I am sure that their ideas would have been useful."
"Hmph," echoed a masculine voice from above them. "We added one thing between us, anyway." Looking up, the three on the ground discovered Moegami the phoenix perched on the edge of the roof, in a much smaller form but with his pipe still roiling smoke in his beak. "That sword will fling a copy of itself, glowing hot, when you will it to. You need something long range to keep your fragile skin more intact."
Nettled a bit by the slur to two-leggers, Waka nevertheless bowed as best as he could to the Brush god of flames. "That makes good hearing, mon amí. You and the others have my deepest thanks."
Moegami rustled his wings, pleased, and vanished, leaving Genji to stare at the place he'd been. Waka changed his new sword back into the shape of a flute and blew softly across the mouthpiece. A low, quiet note rewarded him, letting him know that, for all intents and purposes, it really was a flute until the blade was needed.
He hugged Amaterasu again, both arms this time. "Thank you, Amaterasu. I was uneasy with no sword at hand."
The white wolf leaned harder into him, tail thumping the dirt. :I know. And when you are well, you and I will go to Orochi and finish what we started.:
Waka started to agree when foresight, the ability he'd cursed and blessed the gods for all his life, slammed into him for the first time in weeks. He clung now to Amaterasu, dizzy with the images being flung at him until they released him, gasping, back to the present. The sun goddess merely waited with her infinite patience as he gathered himself back together and straightened. Genji was watching them both warily—it was obvious that he'd never seen a prophet go into a vision before. Probably thought Waka had had some kind of fit.
One hand clenching his new sword, Waka took a deep breath. "I will not be the one fighting beside you, Amaterasu." He felt her stiffen against him. "Orochi can only be defeated with the power of the Chosen One. I don't know when he'll be born, but you will find him one day in the village of Kamiki. It will be his destiny to bring down the serpent with your aid. It may be a long time," he finished in a hushed voice, "but our enemy will fall."
Placing one paw on the sliver of bench beside Waka's hip, Amaterasu rose until she could lick his cheek. :Then you and I will wait and watch. No matter how long it takes.:
The healing warrior tangled his fingers in the long fur of her ruff, silken hair that made snow look gray casting a faint glow across his skin. "Yes. I will wait with you. However long it takes."
Genji looked at them both and flung up hands gnarled from years of working nets. "Yer both crazy," he declared. "To e'en go against that thing once is suicide! But to want to go twice?" They only looked at him steadily, the goddess-as-a-wolf and the self-declared-exile, and didn't say a word. Genji flung his hands up again and stomped off, muttering about crazy people and the things they'd do.
Watching him leave, Amaterasu's tail stirred the dust once, then fell still.
The wolf and the warrior settled into their new lives in Nippon. Waka was no longer the light-hearted creature that he had been, though he tried to keep his cheer up around Amaterasu, at least. The goddess, while she missed the use of her hands as a maiden, seemed to prefer her shape as a wolf. She told Waka sometimes that it made approaching people easier. They weren't nearly so wary of an ordinary white wolf as they would be a maiden of unearthly beauty.
Don't let anyone tell you that wolves don't have expressions. Waka nearly laughed himself sick at the moue of distaste Amaterasu had worn when she'd said that.
Deprived of their simple lives, Amaterasu took to exploring while Waka learned the trade of fishing from Genji. The prophet's companion would sometimes spend days away, coming back brimming with tales of the folk that she'd met and the help that she'd given them. She was still mourning the loss of her children, the Celestials, but the goddess had always taken a deep pleasure in simply living, so her spirits grew high far faster than Waka's.
Then, one day, while Waka was mending nets while Genji was at the market in Kamiki, Amaterasu came back from one of her journeys with unexpected news and a new companion. The prophet's first warning of her approach were the sounds of her rapid pawsteps in her blazing sprint. Just before she appeared at the tops of the stairs leading to the tops of the cliffs, a tiny voice was heard yelling in exhilaration.
Down Amaterasu came in a series of her flying leaps, landing with a puff of thistledown seeds. Her jaws were agape in her biggest smile. Her tail was up and wagging. And clinging to the red-touched fur between her ears was a glowing, golden mote no bigger than Waka's thumb.
"Geez," panted a squeaky voice that was distinctly male, and obviously young, "what a ride!"
"Ma chērie," greeted Waka calmly, though he itched to know about their guest, "back from Sei-an already?"
Amaterasu danced up to him, head held high. :It was amazing, Waka! A whole city built right on this enormous lake! I met so many people!:
"And brought home another, I see," Waka replied, looking at the tiny mote. It let go of Amaterasu's fur and bounced along her muzzle until it could leap onto the hand automatically held out to catch it. When the prophet brought it to his face, he could barely make out the form of a handsome youth, dressed in clothing and a beetle-shell rain-hat in the same colors as his glow. "Bonjour."
"Good afternoon," replied the tiny youth, bowing. He sounded a bit breathless, still, but Waka couldn't blame him. Amaterasu's speed truly was breathtaking at its height. "I'm Ishaku, a painter. I met your lady in Sei-an where I was working."
Waka felt a real smile stretch his lips at the polite exasperation emanating from their minute guest. Really, Ishaku could not be larger than Waka's thumb but he had all the manners of a properly-reared young lord. "Good afternoon, Ishaku. My name is Waka. Amaterasu rather has that effect on people, I'm afraid. What do you have in mind for him, ma chērie?"
The white wolf sat herself down beside the prophet, stretching until her head rested on his knee. :I thought he'd make a good Celestial Envoy: Amaterasu admitted. :His paintings are quite good, and people need to know that the gods haven't forgotten them. What do you think?:
"I bow ever to your wisdom, dear one. Ishaku, can you hear Amaterasu?"
The young man tilted his head a little to the side, hand resting on the handle of a paintbrush that was…Waka squinted a little…somehow the hilt of a katana. Interesting. The brush is as mighty as the sword, perhaps? "Not really," Ishaku replied after a moment's thought. "But I read her pretty well. She doesn't exactly hide her emotions."
The white plume of a tail whacked the dirt cheerfully. :He hears me: she told her friend. :He just doesn't realize that he's hearing me. His people are called 'Poncles' by the way. He told me that he's a traveling artist, but that his home is in Kamui, in a forest near Wep'keer. Can you imagine? A whole village that fits into a tree-stump!:
"Truly amazing, ma chērie," Waka agreed, feeling his heart thump crazily at the thought of those poor, plagued lands. How badly were they suffering beneath the flood of youkai unleashed from his accursed ship? Were the worst ones still imprisoned? Was he still caged? "Tell me, Ishaku, if you can. How fares Kamui? I was…rather incoherent, when I last saw it."
There was no mistaking: the tiny artist's glow dimmed. "It's bad," Ishaku stated. "There's been a lot of problems caused by the crash-landing of something they're calling the Ark of Yamato. I've heard stories from some people who saw the leading edge of the hordes of demons that came from it. They say that it could have been a lot worse if there hadn't been something that was going through the demons like a lightning bolt."
Waka's heart went from double-time to nearly stopping. He winced. All this excitement wasn't good for him. He was getting too old for this. As if sensing his thoughts, Amaterasu leaned harder against his leg until his free hand dropped to bury itself in her ruff.
Ishaku continued, barely noticing the silent exchange. "No one's agreeing on what it was, though. Popular opinion's tied at it being an amazing warrior or a god. But whatever or whoever it was, a good fifth of the invasion force we think was just plain out dropped in its' tracks. There's a sword that was left stuck in the ground in front of the Ark; no one's dared move it yet that I know of. There's been talk of building a little shrine for it and giving it a name."
The prophet smiled, a mirthless expression. So his sword was locking the more powerful creatures in, still? Good. "The sword's name is Kutone," he offered quietly, wanting to know how this new friend of Amaterasu's would react.
And it was worth it. Ishaku's body language spoke of utter shock for all that Waka couldn't quite make out his face. "You know it's name?" the Poncle gasped. Without waiting for an answer, he kept going. "Then that means…but…then you…are you a god?"
"No, mon amí. Merely the last member of a people now lost."
Ishaku was definitely puzzled, and no little awed. "Lost?" he repeated uncertainly.
Waka nodded, taking a deep breath against the pain of remembering. "Oui. I was once a member of the Tribe of the Moon. They are the ones who built that ship that those of Kamui are calling the Ark. My people, all that was left after an attack on the Celestial Plain, were with me on that ship as we fled a great darkness. The demons that had been hidden in my ship attacked us. I am the only one left."
Amaterasu was looking up at him intently, her tail for once still in the dust. She knew he wasn't telling the whole truth, but considering the vehemence with which he'd denied his clan when the two of them had come here, she wasn't going to contest. Besides, Waka was still one of her children. Even the Moon Tribe, for all their flightiness and cruelty, were still her children and she loved them. She was just going to give them a mighty spanking if she ever got the chance to.
So, if Waka wanted to call himself a child of the Celestial Plain, she would allow him to.
In the meantime, Waka had deftly steered the subject away from himself and was getting Ishaku going on the subject of painting. The Poncle was thrilled and completely awe-struck that the goddess of the sun was asking him to help her keep the faith in the kami strong. That she liked his art was, he claimed, the pickled plum in the rice ball. Within a few minutes, several of his best pieces were spread out on the empty side of the bench for their critique—though neither Amaterasu nor Waka could figure out where he'd been keeping such large pages.
The goddess-turned-wolf sighed to herself from her place at the prophet's side. She could feel Waka relaxing against her more with every moment, his pain for the moment forgotten. Even the wounds he'd gotten in his epic fight with the youkai invasion were sparking less to her senses as he talked with Ishaku. Her child really was a social creature; all this solitude, while helpful for his body, was no doubt starting to itch at his soul. He needed people almost as much as she did, if for different reasons.
Which made her quite pleased that she had something to dunk him back into an active life. Amaterasu waited until the conversation was winding down a little before she nibbled a little at Waka's sleeve to get his attention.
"Yes, ma chērie?" Waka inquired absently, most of his attention still on the pages now weighed down with bits of rock to keep them from flying away.
:I have a message for you from the queen of Sei-an.:
Waka nearly choked. The look he gave her was reproachful as all of his attention was brought onto his lady. "And you did not think to tell me this sooner."
:You looked like you were enjoying yourself for a change.: Amaterasu kept her 'voice' pleasant and cheerful. It wasn't very hard. :In any case, she invites you to the city for an audience at your convenience. She's curious to meet the man I kept talking to her about.:
"The queen of Sei-an can hear you?"
The white tail thumped the ground. :Oh, yes. Some people can, I've found. Those that still believe in the gods with all of their hearts have only a little trouble. I spent nearly a whole afternoon talking to her.:
Waka's sudden hug was unexpected, but hardly unwelcome. She leaned into it, happy that knowing others could speak to her made him happy. "If she meets with your approval so much, dear one," he whispered, "how can I possibly refuse?"
"We're going back to Sei-an?" piped up Ishaku, bouncing onto the end of Amaterasu's nose. "Good. I wanted to pick up some art supplies. When do we leave?"
The only way to get into Sei-an—if you didn't possess Brush powers, and were only a mere mortal—was by the trade road that wound from Shinshu Field through Agata Forest and from there to Taka Pass and the great bridge. If you were a mortal, you would follow that road along Ryoshima Coast until you reached the thick wooden palisade that guarded the entrance into Sei-an City, to walk down to the shores of Lake Beewa and across the sturdy little gated bridge into the Commoners' Quarters.
If you were a mortal, that is.
For Amaterasu—and thus, Waka and Ishaku, who were given the privilege of riding upon her back—it was a quick trip through the nearest mermaid spring and then the trio were in the heart of the city, the quiet, elegant section called the Aristocratic Quarters. Emerging from the tiny garden hidden in a far corner, Amaterasu pointed her nose at a massive structure that rose above a thick wall on their left. :That's the Emperor's palace: she told Waka. Turning her nose to their immediate right, she lifted her head to look towards the top of a soaring building, a pagoda on a huge scale. :That's Queen Kohane's palace. But before we go there, there's somewhere else we need to visit, first.:
Without letting Waka off her back, Amaterasu took off in her breath-stealing sprint down a ribbon-path of soft cream-colored sand. All the poor prophet was able to do was cling tightly to her fur much as Ishaku was while the landscape around them blurred.
Claws made faint scraping sounds as the goddess raced through a lecture hall that led out to an impressive wooden bridge, shouts of surprise and a few greetings barely reaching wind-filled ears. Waka's stomach lurched when Amaterasu vaulted some barrier in front of them—they were going too fast for the prophet to tell if it was a wall or something else—and bounced into his throat when they landed.
On a lily pad.
In the middle of a canal.
Waka let out a yelp and clung harder, his goddess' laughter filling his head as she gathered herself and leaped back onto solid ground. The wrench nearly sent Waka tumbling off her back, and for a moment he envied Ishaku and his diminutive size. After all, the fur the Poncle was clinging to was much easier to grab when it was the size of ropes to him. The painter himself let out a whoop of pleasure at their ride as they landed and took off again.
Waka did lose his grip when Amaterasu stopped as abruptly as she'd started, their apparent destination a shop whose front cried that here were fine robes and fabrics to be had. Skills that had gone unused since he'd arrived in Shinshu Field came rushing through his muscles again, sending him into a controlled tumble that brought him onto his feet in a rush.
"Dear one," he panted, straightening, "I would truly appreciate it if a little more warning was given before you applied the brakes."
:Admit it, you had fun.:
"I will admit no such thing." Trying very hard to ignore the canine pout from the goddess beside him, the prophet dusted himself off and looked at where they'd stopped. "Why are we here, anyway?"
Amaterasu's pout turned to a mischievous grin. :My vain peacock: she chided fondly, :I know I'm not skilled in fashion, but surely you didn't think I would make you visit royalty in fisherman's garb?:
To his shame, Waka had. Oh, the kimono and hakama that he was wearing were serviceable enough to do what was needed, truly, but they were so, so plain. And rather a bit damp from that trip through the mermaid springs. And made from rough cotton. Hardly what he considered appropriate for a royal court.
"Okay, Ammy!" Ishaku bounced onto the end of her muzzle and from there onto Waka's shoulder. "Let's get our friend decked out proper!"
Inside the shop the air was scented with the sharp flavors of silks and dyes, the bolts of fabric arrayed in attractive patterns along their shelves in proud display. A plump woman behind the counter brightened considerably when Amaterasu pranced in with Waka right behind her. "Snowy!" came the cheerful hail. "It's so wonderful to see you again! Thanks to you, my husband has his inspiration back and has been making patterns that are simply marvelous. We're becoming the talk of the whole city." Sharp black eyes took in the slender man standing warily behind the happily-panting wolf, from the long golden braid down to his straw sandals. "Is this the friend little Ishaku told us about?"
"Yep!" Ishaku replied, bouncing up on top of Waka's head. "Waka, this is Mrs. Honori. Mrs. Honori, allow me to introduce to you Waka."
"My deepest respects to you, ma'am," Waka said, folding himself into a polite bow. The mistress of the shop blushed and immediately replied that the honor was hers, and would it please him to come amongst her wares?
Amaterasu sighed, slightly forlorn, as she curled up in a patch of sunshine beneath a paper-lined window. Waka was already moving to go look at the fabrics and colors available, and if he was anything like the handmaidens that the goddess had had back home, then he was going to take at least two hours to browse everything before he even decided on what colors he'd get.
Fashion was something that Amaterasu had never understood. If you liked a color, why not wear it? What did the season and pattern matter? Or age? Or rank? The only reason that Amaterasu had not gone around in ordinary clothing like what Waka was wearing now was that she had been expressly forbidden by her handmaidens to leave her room until they considered her properly dressed. Which meant make-up, and hair ornaments, and jewelry, and heavy robes with way too much embroidery on them.
Of course, she'd always wiped off the make-up as soon as she could and the jewelry had usually gone as presents to the kami of crows. But the robes had always been a problem.
Waka looked up at the sigh and found Amaterasu watching him wistfully from her spot under a window. Even without words he had no problem understanding the reason for it, and smiled. He remembered the day he'd met her, when he'd had to fish her out of a stream after she'd fallen in while playing chase with the kami of rabbits. She had hardly looked the part of 'great mother to the gods' then, with her hair messily braided and wearing only a couple of inner-kimonos, soaked to the skin from her dunking.
But she had smiled so prettily at him, and had invited him to play, and before he'd known it he'd been playing chase with the goddess of the sun and the kami of rabbits, and had helped her back into her many brightly-colored robes afterwards so that her handmaidens wouldn't scold her for ruining or losing them.
"Tell me, sweetling," he asked of the maiden whose hair he was carefully rebraiding, "do you make a habit of letting the kami of crows steal all of your hair ornaments?"
"Oh, yes," was the earnest reply. She still hadn't given him her name, but then, she didn't need to. The golden eyes watching him twist her long, brilliant white tresses and the enameled Divine Instrument laid aside so trustingly by her knees told him exactly who she was. "My handmaidens always put in too many and the crows truly do love bright things. It makes them happy that I give them such pretty gifts. Of course," her lips curved into a lovely pout, "then my handmaidens get upset with me, so I have to let them dress me in heavy robes and wear makeup to make them happy again." She sighed. "Even though I never understand a word they're talking about. If you like a color, shouldn't you wear it? What should the season and the pattern matter?"
Oh yes, it had had the sound of an old complaint even then. Waka had only bitten his lip to keep from grinning, and had promised to meet her again the next day, silently making a note to himself to bring a brush.
The prophet paused with his hand hovering over the bolts of silk, and grinned. "Ma chērie?" Up came the broad head, forward came the delicately-pointed ears. "You said once that you do not understand the wonderful art that is fashion. Would you like me to teach you?"
The speed at which she came to his side was gratifying, to say the least.
It took an hour after that and much gentle, firm repeating that no, Waka did not want the elaborate, multi-layered robes that were the current style of the royal court before the merchant woman would listen. What he wanted was deceptively simple elegance. He wanted the luxury not to be in the bright colors or rich embroidery, he wanted it in the materials itself. Silk, preferably. High-quality cottons as the next best thing.
After her first lesson in the art that was Waka's third love (Amaterasu and socializing were the others, in that order) Amaterasu had helped to choose two colors that would, unbeknownst to either, be the main colors in the clothes he would wear for the next two hundred years. One was a soft, rich pink that matched the heart of a cherry blossom. The other was a purple rather similar to what one would get if they took the purple of an iris and mixed it with a dollop of cream. Vibrant, yet not overwhelming.
That sakura and irises were two of Amaterasu's favorite flowers and that both were colors in a sunrise, Waka left unsaid as a price was agreed upon for his new outfit and the trio left the shop. They would return tomorrow for the promised clothes and then Waka would pay his respects to the queen of the country he now called 'home'.
In the meantime, there was a city to explore.
Waka hugged his aching ribs and laughed. He was being treated to a sight that would have horrified the Celestials if any had been there; the goddess of the sun shamelessly begging for tummy-rubs.
They'd barely gotten away from the shop before a horde of children—if they weren't constantly moving, Waka figured there'd probably be nearly a dozen—had descended upon Amaterasu with shouts of glee. Far from being alarmed as Waka had been, Amaterasu had replied with eager barks and had waded into the middle of the pack with joyful abandon.
She was applying wet wolf-kisses to any bare skin that she could reach: arms, hands, sometimes legs, and any face left unguarded for a moment. The squeals and laughter rose over the noise of the crowds, making some smile and others to merely watch indulgently as the large white wolf was affectionately mauled by little hands.
Just as abruptly as they'd arrived, the children swirled off, presumably back to whatever game had been interrupted to pet Amaterasu. One young girl, no older than seven or eight, waited until the rest were gone before she presented Amaterasu with a package of rice-balls. "Thank you for catching my kite," she told the wolf solemnly. Amaterasu caught her with a quick lick to the cheek before the little girl ran off with a giggle.
Everywhere they went through the Commoners' Quarters, people hailed the goddess with nicknames similar to the one that Mrs. Honori had used. Or else they used a shortened version of her name and greeted Ishaku as well, letting Waka know where they had gotten it from. Many of those who called to Amaterasu also came over with little gifts, thanking her for the help she'd given them in any number of tasks.
After a sake vendor had gotten Amaterasu to promise that she and her friends would be back later to sample his newest wares, Waka drew her over to a wooden terrace built beside a small restaurant. Sitting down, he buried his hand in the fur at the nape of her neck and asked dryly, "Amaterasu, ma chērie, is there anyone in this city you have not helped? A bug, or possibly a fish?"
He half-groaned, half-laughed when she tilted her head and actually considered. :I know there are a few courtiers that I didn't visit before I went to see Queen Kohane: she replied after a moment. :And the streets in this district twist enough that I might have missed someone here.:
"Dear one, you are an unredeemable meddler."
Amaterasu leaned against him happily. :You love me anyway.:
"Always," Waka agreed fervently. "Always and forever. Right, Ishaku?"
But alas, their moment of idyllic peace was broken by the same luck that had pursued Waka from the Celestial Plain and the wreck of his ill-fortuned ship. Screams rose nearby, bringing the trio to their feet and racing for the source of the noise. People were running in panic from the square near the entrance to the city, away from a band of imps that had appeared in their midst.
"I'll just stay up here," Ishaku yelled over the tumult, bouncing several feet straight up and into the branches of a cherry tree. Amaterasu barked her acknowledgement and then she and Waka burst through the last of the crowd to stand before the cackling imps.
Apparently this lot had not gotten the news from their brethren at Shinshu Field, or they would not have stood there so calmly when the white wolf appeared from amongst the fleeing people. Nor did they fear when Waka brought out his enchanted sword that he'd named 'Pillowtalk' in the shape of an ordinary flute.
They learned their lesson quickly enough. Waka did not hesitate, drawing his hand along his weapon until a blade edged in cool blue-white light shone brightly in his grasp. Amaterasu leaped forward with a vicious snarl bubbling from her throat and swung her weapon, Solar Flare, into the nearest of her enemies.
Waka followed close in her footsteps, Pillowtalk slicing a humming blur through the air. True to Amaterasu's word, the power that Tachigami and Kabegami had laid into the sword let it bite deep into youkai flesh.
The imps were realizing that, hey, you know, maybe they might be outclassed a bit here, and were doing their best to wreak some bit of damage on their opponents before they were slain. One managed to land a solid blow with his samisen to Waka's head even as the prophet's sword sliced him in half. Stunned, Waka came back to himself a few moments later to find that the last imp was a vanishing stem of flowers and that Amaterasu was carefully licking his temple.
When had he sat down?
Ishaku came hopping from his tree to resume his place on Amaterasu's head. "Wow, and I thought Ammy here could do some damage," he whistled appreciatively.
:Waka, are you okay?: Amaterasu asked anxiously, whining as he raised a hand to pet her.
"Yes, beloved, I'm fine," Waka answered her, rising to his feet. His fingers gingerly felt at the place where he'd been struck, but not even a twinge of pain met his searching touch. Ah, Amaterasu's healing touch. Where would he be without it?
Probably still recuperating in Genji's hut, most likely.
The white wolf pressed herself against his leg, whining again. :You're sure? You aren't just saying that to keep me from worrying, are you?:
"No, Amaterasu. Truly, I'm fine."
"That's good," Ishaku said, hopping to Waka's shoulder and tugging on a strand of his hair that had escaped the braid. "Because we've got more company, and they have bows."
Both wolf and warrior turned to see a squad of the Royal Guard approaching from the direction of the Palaces. Waka sighed and put away his sword. "I'm fine," he said for the third time, reaching down and scratching behind Amaterasu's ears. "I'm just going to be severely under-dressed in about five minutes."
Sometimes, Waka sighed to himself, he really hated being right. And he hadn't even needed his gift of prophecy to see this coming, either. He and Amaterasu (with Ishaku a hidden, silent passenger in the white fur) had been…well…it wasn't precisely arrested, but the quick search the guards had performed on them had been quite thorough.
Pillowtalk was now residing in the care of one of the guards, the prophet having been just a hair too slow in returning it to flute form for it to go unnoticed. After the weapons search, the trio had been hustled through the streets and into the Queen's Palace.
Which, granted, had given Waka the opportunity to get a better look at the scenery he'd missed during his first trip through the city, but now he was being led between several ranks of guards and into the yawning cavern that was the Queen's throne room.
And he was still dressed in rough-spun kimono and hakama, damn it!
"The goddess Amaterasu and companion!" called a herald as the group passed them. Waka was a little unnerved when the guards peeled away from them and went to stand along the walls on either side of the door, the one who had his sword not even hesitating as he simply took his place.
Waka wanted Pillowtalk back, thank you. Queen's Palace or not, he did not like being without a weapon.
To the prophet's surprise, the room was empty of courtiers. Nor had they passed any on the way up, which was even stranger. Where was everyone?
"Welcome, honored guests," a sweet voice greeted. Waka brought his attention to the front of the massive room as he and Amaterasu approached the reed curtain that was slowly rising to reveal Queen Kohane herself. Hair black as a raven's wing was neatly combed so that two short strands of it fluttered at the edges of a face that practically required love poems be written to it. On her head sat a strange sort of crown that appeared to be a mini-shrine, topped with a small, round mirror with three bright tongues of flame dancing behind it.
In one dainty hand was a spray of mulberry, and hovering above her was a large, round crystal big enough for a grown person to sit in. It glowed faintly as it hung in the air, a ribbon of fabric curling around it.
Tapping her lips with the tip of her mulberry branch, Queen Kohane regarded them with no little mischief gleaming in night-dark eyes as she chided the wolf standing before her, "Great Amaterasu. You cannot seem to come to Sei-an without causing some sort of commotion, can you?"
Amaterasu's tail thumped as the goddess sat herself with total ease on the rug beneath her feet. :It does appear to be a failing of mine. I shall have to try harder; we were in the city for at several hours before trouble found us.:
Ishaku heaved a barely audible sigh when the Queen giggled softly. Her gaze shifted from cheerful wolf to uncomfortable man, and she tapped her lips again. "And this must be your Waka," she declared, rising to her feet amongst the rustle of many layers of silk. Waka tried not to let his growing discomfort show as he was given a careful, circling scrutiny by Queen Kohane, nor his surprise at a monarch stooping to actually stand in front of someone who was dressed as a commoner.
After a couple of laps the Queen stopped in front of him, head tilted to one side, close enough for him to smell the perfume combed into her hair as she looked up into his face. Several heartbeats went by before she smiled and returned to her seat. "Guards, return to him any weapons you have taken from him," she commanded, voice never changing from that gentle music she'd first spoken in.
Waka breathed a purely internal sigh of relief as he was allowed to once again tuck Pillowtalk into his sash. When it was secure, only then did he go to his knees in a full bow of greeting. "Your Majesty," he said into the quiet. "I am indeed Waka. It is an honor and a privilege to be here."
"Sir Waka, you are indeed welcome to Sei-an and in my presence," Queen Kohane replied. "My apologies for asking for you on such short notice, but I deemed the matter I wish to speak with you on one of great importance. It could not wait for a formal messenger."
Rising until he sat seiza, the formal kneeling position, Waka gazed steadily up at her. "I am yours to command, Your Majesty."
A graceful sweep of an arm clad in rainbow colors brought the crystal down until it floated mere inches off the ground between ruler and warrior. "You are aware, I am certain, of the events that are transpiring around Nippon and off our Northern coast." Inside the crystal, scenes formed that showcased the depredations of monsters, from the lowly green imps to greater demons like giant wheels and tengu. "Our lands are beset, without and within, by creatures of dark, evil intent. Our warriors have not been trained to fight them, and do not always emerge victorious against their attacks. Indeed, against the stronger demons, we are lucky when they emerge at all." Another gesture, and the crystal returned to its' place above the Queen's head. "The warriors I bless are proving to be less savory mouthfuls, but I am afraid that the forces that the Emperor and I can muster will not be enough to protect our people. Therefore, I must ask of you a favor."
"There are limits to the miracles I can perform," Waka told her in utter sincerity. "Even with the greatest goddess at my side. I cannot slay all of the fiends that plague these lands."
"No, but if you were to train an elite force whose sole purpose is to defeat them, there would be greater chance of success."
Waka blinked. "I'm sorry, Your Majesty, I believe I have misheard. You want me to teach your subjects how to fight demons?"
"Close, Sir Waka. I wish for you to teach my people how to defeat them. You will be paid, and funds will be provided to construct a headquarters for you and the men you choose. I would prefer that you build it in or near Sei-an for ease of communication and supply, but if you believe another location to be more suitable, do not hesitate to say so."
The prophet rubbed at the back of his neck and muttered to Amaterasu, "Just how hard did that imp hit me in the head?"
She butted him in the shoulder in reproof. :She's quite serious, and you are not dreaming. I think it's a marvelous idea. It would be nice to have someone find out where the bigger, meaner demons are hiding instead of having to sniff them out all the time. And just think. This would win you a high place in the court, the ear of Queen Kohane, and all you'd have to do is train eager men to do something they're already trying to do. Only you'd be teaching them how to do it better and with fewer fatalities.: She paused, tilted her head to the side, and added, :Not to mention you wouldn't have to complain about smelling like fish or mend nets.:
Waka laughed. "You are entirely too sharp, beloved!"
"Are we agreed, then, Sir Waka?" Queen Kohane inquired from her dais. In reply, Waka placed his hand over his heart and bowed until his braid thumped to the floor.
"I am at your service, Queen Kohane."
And so it began.
Note: I did actually use proper grammar, but Quickedit or whatever the site is using nowadays munches all commas placed next to colons. Also, my apologies for mangling any and all French used in this setting from here on out.
I'm also not entirely satisfied with the ending, but the darn thing threatened to keep on going. Thirteen pages is enough for a one-shot.