Standard Disclaimer: I own neither the intellectual property for Zero no Tsukaima nor Okami. If I did, would I be writing this? Actually, don't answer that.
Summoning the Sun
"Just as our magic is the divine providence of the Founder, there is no animal more sacred than the familiar of a mage, no matter how humble it's origins." - Bishop Lestrade, Treatises on Magic, page 84, chapter XII
Where do dead gods lie dreaming?
It was a place that was no place, a concept that did not hold to tenuous perceptions bound to physical reality. Light did not exist, nor did it's absence bring darkness in the infinite. In boundless time she waited in repose, not asleep, yet not awake, a being sustained only by the memories of an age long past to give shape and form of what she was and what she could be. Her name was once spoken by the souls of many, raised in praise, prayers of gratitude and petitions. Her name no longer passed through mortal lips, in neither prayer nor petition, her legacy made myth and forgotten.
What she was had become immaterial. Who she was no longer mattered. In the absence of light and darkness she drifted. A lone presence among a myriad of presences that flickered into being, some lingering, others flashing by, but all fading away to nothingness. But unlike them, she did not pass on from this state of being to begin anew. Hers, unlike the others, was not a presence permitted to continue on its own merit. The cycle of existence was denied to her, and it was here she waited forever, without awareness.
"You may begin the ceremony, Miss Valliere"
Louise took a deep breath to steady herself, not seeing but well aware of the numerous expectant looks behind her. Expecting the Zero to live up to her name, to produce another failure. Not one of those looks would bear any curiosity about what creature would answer her call, only the premature judgment of failure. And why not? It wasn't as if she could produce anything but an explosion. 'Louise the Zero' they called her. Zero for her success and zero for her magic even though her explosions were anything but mundane.
Her expression hardened as she lifted the wand.
She refused to give in to their teasing and thinly veiled insults, if at all they were ever veiled. She was Valliere, the daughter of the ancient noble line from which her name came from, her mother the powerful and famous (though some would say infamous, just not to her face) Duchess Karin Desiree. Her pedigree indisputably sprang from generations of brilliant mages and she would not shame them by giving in to weakness here. A Valliere would persevere in the face of difficulties; they would never admit defeat no matter what obstacles they faced.
She had studied every aspect of the summoning ritual, from the magical theories to the history of its creation by Founder Brimir himself. Everything there was to know about this ceremony, she knew by heart. She would not fail here, not now, not in anything.
With a sharp exhalation, she began to chant.
"I beg of you..."
Where once was stillness was now a ripple. A spark of light where once there was nothing, burning like a newborn star. In its wake, she drifted, a faint tugging that etched upon her entirety. And with its first feather touch came awareness, a simple curiosity at the call touching upon her presence. Who was this? Who had, at last, called upon her being? For it was her and her alone that the voice had beseeched.
"My servant who lives somewhere in the universe!"
A servant? Ancient pride from memory flared to the forefront of her awakened self as understanding was supplanted by offense at this one's impertinence. Many were the things she had been; a ruler, a guardian, a guide to many and a mother. But never once had she been begged to be a servant. And yet, she listened.
"Oh sacred, beautiful and strong familiar spirit!"
She drifted towards the light from where the voice had spoken, her passage slowly but inexorably crossing the void. Had she possessed the means to do so, she would have huffed in amusement. A sacred spirit she was, and yet was not. Her strength was but a fraction of what it truly had been, the price of her last sacrifice to save what could be preserved. All that remained was her identity, the one thing that all hardships could not strip away.
"I desire and here I plead from my heart!"
The words were heartfelt, an earnest plea that she could not deny. Once, in her memories, she could recall when such words were lifted in prayer, beseeching guidance and protection from the ills that afflicted those who called upon her. In those recollections, she had answered without fail, to shelter those who truly sought her aid. Such was their strength of conviction, and such was the desperation she heard now. Faster and faster she drifted, the presence of others touching upon her consciousness before parting, drifting away from their momentary contact as she approached the light of her petitioner.
For the briefest of instants, they touched.
"Answer to my guidance!"
Louise coughed, ignoring the stinging sensation from the smoke in her eyes as her latest attempt stared back at her. A flash of light, a deafening crack, and another pillar of smoke rising into the clear day sky. Already the catcalls were starting, the insulting voices mocking her with that oh-so-hated nickname, but she kept her back unbowed, her gaze levelled clearly forward and waited for the smoke to clear. She would not give into weakness, not now, no one could see into the summoning circle yet, and she refused to lose hope this easily.
Her excitement grew as a shape began to make itself visible in the rapidly dissipating smoke. Too small to be a dragon or manticore like she had secretly hoped for, the outline vaguely canine in appearance. But even if it was a dog, that was better than nothing, and she was not about to complain about her success. The Flood, after all, had a frog. She grinned, eager to proclaim her triumph.
The smoke cleared, and the grin turned sickly.
The shape was not that of a dog as she had first guessed, but displayed the smooth and lean lines of a wolf, with firmly bunched muscles in its haunches indicating that it was healthy one in its prime. It was almost as tall as she was, coming up to her chest with a coat of lustrous and fine fur, catching the sunlight in a way that almost made it shimmer. Watchful eyes peered out from its noble face, carrying the promise of wisdom and intelligence far beyond what could be expected in any member of the canine family. There was only one problem.
It was a statue.
She had to blink twice to make sure, even though it was in the marbled hue of stone. It was the most lifelike statue that she had ever seen in her entire life, as if it could simply get up and walk away if it chose to do so. From the tufts of fur in its ears to the way those eyes seemed to carry the spark of intelligence behind stone eyelids, she was certain that not even the most skilled earth mages would be able to recreate this work of art in all its detail.
But it was still an inanimate creation of marbled rock. A well-carved one, if one was feeling generous.
The laughter was almost instantaneous.
"A statue! Oh this is perfect, Zero! You summoned an oversized paperweight!"
She gritted her teeth, trying to rationalize her summon and silence the insults with a fiery objection as soon as one came to mind. She couldn't be a failure, she wouldn't accept it! Maybe it was a golem of some kind? It was a desperate thought, one she rejected almost as soon as it came to mind. She turned towards Colbert, hoping to beg for another try.
To her mild surprise, the teacher was willing to entertain her wild hopes much more than she had been. He was looking at the statue with a speculative gleam to his eyes, giving her an encouraging pat before she could even open her mouth.
"There are records in the libraries of certain elemental creatures. Earth elementals tend to stay very still when surprised," he began, giving her a congenial smile as he practically read her mind, "and it is certainly worthwhile to try binding it first. At least make the attempt before you think your summoning to be a failure."
She bit back her original protest, letting it die unspoken as she listened. So what if her peers were so willing to jump on her and proclaim her a Zero? If Colbert had born the same thoughts as she did and stayed with them, how could she do any less? She would be betraying her own convictions then. And if he was right, if she was right, then her familiar was there, waiting for her to prove that she truly was its master. She'd show all her detractors how wrong they were, everyone who'd thought she was just a Zero.
She'd show them then, she'd show them all!
Still, she felt remarkably silly as she brought her wand on the statue's forehead, chanting the final stages of the summoning spell. She ignored the jeers that came from the crowd when she bent down to kiss the wolf statue on the nose, surreptitiously praying that this would work. She would never live it down if word got around that she had kissed a statue for naught.
Straightening her back, she looked down at her possible familiar, harbouring the faint hopes that it would move on its own accord now. Nothing happened. But before the treacherous touch of despair could touch her, there was a loud cracking noise, sending her back a step.
A crack had run down the statue, spidering all across its surface as flakes of stone fell away to reveal veins of brilliant white light. The cracks increased in tempo to an avalanche of crackling sound, the light growing to blinding intensity that she barely raised a hand in time to shield herself from.
From somewhere very far away a wolf howled, an echoing, mournful sound that shook the Valliere scion to her bones.
Lowering her hands when the light faded moments later, Louise took one look at where the statue had been, and gasped.
What had been a statue of a wolf had transformed itself into a living one on its haunches. A noble face matched her gaze with watchful golden eyes that carried the promise of wisdom and intelligence far beyond what she had believed possible in a wolf. But what caught her attention was not its eyes. It was its coat.
White. She had once glimpsed bears claimed to have been caught in the northernmost parts of Helkeginia, where snow was a constant reality to those living there throughout the year. Their coats had been milky white, so much so that she could easily imagine them disappearing in a field of snow if one did not look closely. Comparing their fur to that of the wolf that stood before her was like comparing commoners to royalty. The wolf's coat was of the purest white, like untouched snow so pristine one hesitated to touch it for fear of marring its beauty.
"Beautiful," she breathed, drinking in the sight of her familiar. The only marking upon its coat was a swirl of burgundy upon its forehead, a singular oval shaped pattern that was not unlike the runes she had studied before, but far more curved and graceful. But even then, it only accented the otherworldly beauty of the wolf sitting before her.
She met its golden eyes with her own, and for a moment, she was transfixed by its gaze. The other familiars before hers had all been wary, watching their summoners with a cautious air as the ceremony was closed. But there was only the calm and watchful gaze here, matching her stare with a serene one. An epiphany struck her then, that it was weighing her, evaluating her worth as much as she was judging its own. But there was something else there, a wry warmth she had missed, not quite inviting, but there all the same. It reminded her a little of her oldest sister.
She was strongly tempted to reach down and stroke its pristine fur. It was a temptation she gave into, just for a little bit. Her familiar responded by tilting its head up, permitting her easier access to its chin.
It was a wolf, and yet, she knew with certainty that it was more than just a mere beast. It was not quite the dragon that she wished for, but she was more than pleased with the result. Not bothering to hide her triumphant expression as she turned back to the unusually silent crowd, including the shocked expressions on her more irritating tormentors. Even Kirche seemed at a loss for words for once. She wanted to jump for joy, had she been the sort of person who would give in to such undignified displays. She wanted to crow her success to all her detractors, to rub in their faces the proof that she was a proper mage no matter what they said.
But she wouldn't.
There was something about the wolf she had summoned, a quiet dignity only enhanced by the purity of its coat and the silence of her classmates. To openly declare her success with backbiting taunts like she had intended would only spoil it.
Besides, actions spoke louder than words.
Meeting Kirche's stupefied expression with a serenely victorious smile of her own, she turned and gave a brief gesture to her familiar. "Come along then, I'm sure we have a lot to learn about each other, but let's see about finding you a place to sleep tonight first."
There was a small huff of noise from her canine familiar, but it followed her, and that was all that mattered.
It was not the land of Nippon where she had awakened, that much was apparent to her in the first moments that she had awakened. Tsukuyomi's doppelganger hung in the sky, the blue orb flanked by a crimson brother she did not recognize. Even her hold over her own domain was but a weak and tenuous thing that would surely tax her to exert it, an experiment she did not wish to make in her frail state. The differences became so much more pronounced as her domain ebbed beyond the sky, allowing the night to come. The stars and constellations were different as well, where were the strings of tsuzumi boshi?
In contrast, the flows of magic were rich and stronger than any time she had remembered, the five elements so familiar to her that they could not have been from the distant western lands. And if she listened carefully, she could hear the distant murmurs of spirits who dwelled within the land, similar in form and purpose, yet different from those she had once known, their names a mystery to her.
She glanced back at the girl who had brought her here, padding over to the bed where she lay in sleep. Such a strange shade of hair she had, not the colour of ink as was proper, but a pale shade of pink like the cherry blossoms of home. She was not Nipponese and yet, filled with the spontaneity of the ku strong enough to match any spirit user of Nippon. She was young, this one, far too early in life to have mastered her potential yet. But for one such as her to be called from beyond that timeless void, the girl must be very strong indeed, and would only grow to greater heights with time and discipline.
She had been many things in her long existence; countless roles she had played to those who beseeched her presence and aid. At times she gave guidance or blessings that their tasks would become less daunting to accomplish.
But no one had ever called upon her presence in a manner such as this and to create a bond of spirit in the moments of her awakening. It was a ritual that connected the two of them in ways that went beyond the flesh, a yearning of soul that allowed her to feel the girl with means beyond her in born senses. Even with her reduced strength, she had been certain that she could have shaken the bonds settling upon her. But she had permitted it, for she was curious about the one whose voice had spoken from the heart and possessed the strength to reach beyond the auspices of the bridge keeper. She had allowed the touch of essence upon her soul, felt its lingering touch etch itself upon her being. It had brought with it the faintest trickle of her true essence, mingling with her being as it marked her body with renewed strength. It had also brought knowledge of the girl's true hopes. A champion, she had begged for, a guardian and companion to accompany her through her life.
To be called upon as a saviour was not an unfamiliar cry she had answered, but no one had ever called her to be a guardian before.
It was a strange feeling, but one she did not mind so very much.
She padded to the open window, where the soft breezes carried the scents of the night to her keen nose. A land she did not know, perhaps a world far beyond the light of the Celestial Plains. It was frighteningly different from all she had become accustomed to, and perhaps a little exciting.
With a light jump, she passed through the portal, feet finding purchase on the smooth stone of the castle tower as she navigated its steep slopes with an easy gait. She let the scents and senses guide her feet, feeling the dense tsuchi packed into the stones that she touched, the feather touch echoes of kaze, whispering from the slumbering forms of the other spirit users. It was like the ancestral dojos of lineages where spirit users flourished. But so many! She chuffed in surprise, descending from the tower annex to the courtyard below. Surely they could not all be from the same line?
Ah, but there was another in the courtyard, the presence of the human permitting her to still the wandering thoughts to confront the present. A woman who carried an empty basket in her hands as she made her way across the garden, a maidservant perhaps. She would have ignored the young woman dressed in black and white, but her scent, her spirit, they were different. Not a being or trickster in masquerade, undeniably human, she was still different from all of the other humans she had met earlier that day. But familiar. She smelled of Nippon.
"Ah!" the woman backed up in surprise as she spotted her canine form, almost dropping the basket of cloth that she had been carrying in her arms. The woman's surprise gave way to fear, itself quickly subliming to curiosity when the wolf she saw remained sitting. A minute passed in silence as they watched one another, the woman eventually cocking her head to the side as her curiosity turned speculative. "And how did you get in here?"
She cocked her head to the side rather than replying. A moment later, and the woman laughed softly as she answered her own question. "Through the summoning ceremony I wager. You must be that familiar I heard so much about. They said one of the students had summoned a wolf, but they never told me how pretty your coat is."
There was a chuff of amusement at that. She had borne many descriptions before, but nothing quite as simple as 'pretty'. It was, she decided, not a bad thing. She rose to approach, lifting her nose to look inquiringly at the woman who smelled of dust, soap and spices.
"You're a friendly one, aren't you?" The maidservant laughed softly, extending hand to stroke the white trimmed head. "Your master must be a very lucky person to have you."
She flicked her ears at that in annoyance; though they were bound together now, she was not certainly a shikigami to be bent to every whim of an onmyōdō summoner. But the maidservant knew no better, and she found little reason to correct the misconception, allowing the woman to run calloused fingers through her fur. For a brief moment, she entertained the thought that the woman of Nippon would remember her true name and nature. But no, it did not seem that it would be so.
The woman tittered, catching her attention. "You're really white all over. It's like you're made of snow-" She stopped suddenly, giving the wolf a speculative look, "You wouldn't happen to be named Shiranui as well wouldn't you?"
She could not help the inquisitive whine that escaped from her throat even as her ears pricked. It was a name she knew well, from an era that could truly be called a lifetime ago. Once she had worn the name while in this very form, bestowed upon her by grateful villagers when she had sealed away their anathema. Could this girl...?
"And you saved a village from an evil eight-headed dragon hundreds of years ago as well, didn't you?" The titter became a giggle as the maidservant saw her reaction, which was to suddenly bolt upright in surprise. The girl truly did know, or someone had told her the tale.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I shouldn't be laughing like that." The woman wiped her eyes with one hand, stroking the wolf's white mane with the other. "My grandfather used to tell me stories of a white wolf just like you with that name." Of its own accord, her tail wagged. "But that's just a fairy tale from a long ago time."
Disappointment filled the huff as she slumped to the floor, eliciting a questioning sound from the woman. She did not respond to it, not right away. To be forgotten and remembered only as a children's story, she did not want that fate. But she took heart in the knowledge that even if the woman had dismissed the tale of Orochi as myth, her forefather had kept it to heart well enough to pass it onto his descendants. If the choice was to be nameless or bear the name of her past self, then she would sooner the latter. If but only to keep that memory alive. Her other name, her true name, she would keep for her own until a time when it was wise for people to know. She let her intentions be known with a soft bark.
"Hmm? What's wrong?"
She barked again, nosing the woman's palm twice.
"You want to hear the whole story?
She huffed at that, turning her chin away disdainfully at the suggestion. She had lived the story herself, what need did she have for its retelling?
"No..." Puzzlement filled the maidservant's eyes as the wolf pawed once at the ground, but quickly grew to understanding as it barked twice in rapid succession, pawing her nose as it did so. "Oh... oh! You mean that's really your name?"
This time she dipped her head in imitation of the human way of assent, bringing a wide smile to the girl's face.
"I understand then, Shiranui. I'm Siesta by the way." The maidservant eyed her with an appraising look on her face. "You're a terribly clever wolf, aren't you? Just like in the stories." She giggled at her reaction, obviously seeing the wagging tail. Oh, if only this child knew. But such matters were beneath her; correcting the misconception would be unseemly pride she had no desire for. "And if a dragon threatens, you'll come to save me then won't you?" At the bark of approval, the girl rubbed her head fondly.
"Alright then, Shiranui, it's a secret promise between you and me."
The maidservant was long since gone from the courtyard, having returned to her duties while Shiranui raced along the cool night grass alongside the walls of the tower. It was good to be called by a name again, even if it was not her true name. She pondered on the possibility of teaching it to the child who had called upon her, but decided against it. Such things would come in time, she believed, with no prompting of her own.
A brief bunching of her muscles, and then she was alongside the wall, her paws finding easy purchase as she ascended to the roofs. A puzzle had been presented to her, in the form of a maidservant who knew her story, but not her true identity, and she wished the solitude of the roofs to think of what she, and this land, meant to her.
She arrived at the nexus of the roofs, connecting one wing of the building to another, where she paused to gaze at Tsukuyomi's doppelganger and its sibling. Such a wondrous land, to have two moons. Briefly, she thought if her honoured parents had a hand behind its creation, and if she had hitherto unknown brothers and sisters to provide guardianship over this land. Laying down on the sun warmed roof tiles, she let her thoughts drift to the events of the day.
But even then, to focus her mind on the woman of Nippon was not a simple task, her senses flooded with the richness of spirit from so many practitioners of the art. It was strange to her, that such a place was not besieged constantly by the beings who dwelled in the shadows, the youkai and other degenerate creatures who would consume those with power that they may bolster their own. Her ancient eight headed foe would have been delirious at the prospect of such a fine banquet for him to pick and choose from.
Unless they possessed the strength to banish such thoughts from the would be predators of course. Ah, she chuffed in amusement, but did mortals such as the humans truly need the abilities of spirit to defeat such beings? Her nemesis had not been truly slain, but sealed for all time, and with only the aid of a humble swordsman who's implacable dedication and sense of justice had helped them carry the day. Truly it was the willingness to strive for their goals, no matter how impossible, that held the core of their strength.
Her thoughts would have continued further on this path when she was interrupted by the brief swish of wind, the beat of wings too large to be a simple bird.
Instantly alert, she directed her gaze upwards, where a winged beast flew past to the tower, a diminutive figure on its back. It was but a moment to recognize the rider as one she had seen when she had first awakened. It was another girl child, one with hair the colour of sky and a face schooled to stillness when the others displayed their emotions with unseemly brashness. A few moments passed as she pondered the sight before she nodded in understanding, thinking back to her arrival in this land.
The winged beast was what the local people called a dragon, though it did not resemble the grand serpents she knew of except in the smallest of ways. Their bodies were wider than the slim forms, though not overly so, with batlike wings to give them flight when a true serpent king eschewed the necessity of such things, gliding across the clouds solely with their mastery of the elements and spirit. Instead of the short and narrow limbs she had expected, this one's were long and well muscled, like that of a hunting cat with scales the colour of the sea. This one had been summoned in the ritual that morning, she gathered that it was a coming of age ceremony for all the young ones she had seen there, to serve as a companion and guardian to the blue haired child.
Shiranui watched their flight towards the tower where the young ones slept with attentive silence, pondering what reason could compel the silent child to this nightly excursion. She did not have to ponder long, as the dragon dove suddenly at the child's direction, quickly accelerating to a blur before pulling out of a dive. A chance to see what her companion could do then, she decided as the pair continued through a series of acrobatic maneuvers. It was not the same as the graceful flight of a grand serpent, but of sharp turns and dives, often alternating between darting streaks and sudden stops with a snap of the wings. She flicked her tail at the display, understanding the true intent of the girl who rode upon the dragon's back.
A studious child who's spirit smelled of wind and winters chill, learning to fight with the support of her guardian. None of the other spirit users had attempted to do so with their bound guardians. It was something to ponder as she watched them fly. The child was a quick learner it seemed, or perhaps, one who already knew well the way of martial might and was adapting it to the air. Few were the humans she had glimpsed who could take to such quick flight easily. Yes, the more she saw, the more she was certain that this child was blooded, unlike the others who she had met this day.
It was easy to draw comparisons to the shikigami exorcists of her home. The militant families riding upon magical beings created from simple paper, ink and their own mastery of the spirits as they fought and bled as soon as they were able to give life to their creations.
It was not long before they stopped by an open window alongside the tower, the winged mount alighting upon the balcony only long enough for its rider to step off. There was an exchange of words too distant for her to be heard, even with her preternaturally sharp ears, but it seemed to be a dismissal as the creature bowed its serpentine head in acknowledgement before flying off. In the moonlight, she caught a glimpse of the girl turning her head to meet Shiranui's eyes. She flicked her ears in acknowledgement and the girl nodded in return, clearly catching the gesture despite the long distance between them.
Satisfied with her observations, she rose to her feet, prepared to return to the side of the slumbering form of the girl who had called her forth.
But the sudden change of pitch in wingbeats snatched at her attention. The dragon, devoid of its rider, was swooping down on her in a manner not unlike a predatory bird. The baser instinct of her form bayed in warning, willing her body low and feet splayed apart in preparation of a pounce. But she was the one in control, not her form, choosing instead to remain seated on her haunches as she watched the dragon's descending form. It's wings flared out with snap of rushing air, alighting upon the rooftop before her with the grace of a cat. Emerald eyes looked at her curiously as its head dipped this way and that.
She simply met her gaze in watchful silence.
It opened its mouth after satisfying its curiousity, revealing a fang filled maw to cry a "Kyuuuui" in greeting. At least, to a human and a simple wolf, that was all it would sound like.
But she had never been an ordinary wolf. Or a wolf for that matter.
All things possessed of spirit could speak, though few cultivated the ability to communicate beyond others of similar form. To many humans, it was simply meaningless noise, though she had indeed met a precious few of them who could converse with the spirit of beings. Beyond the simplicity of words, it was a communion between their spirits, conveying the truth of intent without chance of misunderstanding.
Such as it was.
Refraining from burying her face behind her paws, Shiranui dipped her head slightly in greeting to the dragon. A young female, the childish inflection within her spirit clear even had she not heard the meaning behind her words, but one with boundless energy. It seemed strangely fitting somehow, that the reticent young spirit user would be find companionship with such an enthusiastic being. But to be called a puppy by one of all things... she huffed. It was pride talking again, and it would not do to let it take hold of her. It was not as if human children had called her as such before. Ordering her thoughts, she directed them to the dragon, not needing to vocalize them to be heard.
The dragon reared back at her reply, wings snapping wide and tail twitching in what was clearly surprise. It crooned again, an excited pitch clearly discernible within its voice.
"You can talk without talking!"
She let out a startled whine at the exclamation. Young though she might be, but surely this dragon would have the experience of its elders speaking by spirit alone? But before she could puzzle on this further, the dragon recovered from its shock, head darting forward as it sniffed at her fur with exaggerated motions. She did so in return, though it was difficult not to with their proximity. The scents were strange and conflicting. There was a arid feel to her being and spirit, both cold of fleetness and warm of life intermingled with the wet dew collected in the night.
"No.. kyui, not a puppy." it took another sniff, and suddenly its half lidded eyes widened all the way. It's next cry carried a hushed undertone of fear. "Spirit!"
Shiranui lifted a paw to touch the dragon on the snout in a calming gesture before it could dart away. Even then she could not help but notice the way its muscles bunched, a hairs breadth from springing away. In truth, she was not a simple spirit, but it was the first any one had come this close to realizing her true nature and did not wish for the dragon to flee. Perhaps it thought she was an evil spirit, as preposterous as the notion could be.
"You are correct, child." She began simply, "but I-"
That was as far as she got before the dragon lunged forward, startling her back with a yipe to avoid colliding with the much larger head. She wasn't fast enough to entirely avoid the rushing creature, the snout connecting with her body hard enough to make her fall on her flanks. It didn't hurt, but all thoughts on that matter ended when her vision was suddenly filled with the eager face of the serpentine creature.
"A spirit! Kyui, kyui! Big sis told me about spirits before. She said you were all very strong, even stronger than big sis! And angry t- eek!" The dragon's half lidded eyes widened all the way in realization of her words and actions, jerking backwards and hunching down before the bewildered Shiranui, "don't hurt Irukukwu, kyui! Irukukwu didn't know. Irukukwu is sorry!"
Rising to her feet, she looked on with no small amount of confusion at the shivering dragon, who was doing its best to hide its face beneath feet wider than her whole body, 'kyui'-ing softly as she approached. For a creature who's lineage came from the great serpents of the skies, it was a display that would surely shame them. But as she observed the quivering being who nervously peeped out from between the claws of her feet, 'eep'-ing and hiding back beneath them at her gaze, she found it strangely... endearing.
Laughing to herself, she nuzzled the snout of the dragon with her nose, letting her thoughts carry the soothing tones she felt.
"It's alright. I'm not angry."
She was rewarded with an emerald eye peeking out from beneath a paw.
She chuffed in amusement, letting it show with a flick of her tail rather than putting it into words. Were that this dragon a human child, she would truly be a formidable person, easily twisting the hearts of men and women around her finger with such innocent mannerisms.
"Kyui." Still nervous, the dragon extricated itself from the ball it had curled into, her head bowed low in contrition to Shiranui. "Irukukwu is sorry. Irukukwu has never met a spirit before."
She placed a paw on the dragon's head in a placating gesture. "And now you have... Irukukwu."
"Kyui... you're a nice spirit. Not always mad like big sis says. But please don't tell her I told you that. Kyui!"
"I won't." It was an easy promise to give, as she knew of no other dragons like her in the time she had been here, much less one that could be Irukukwu's sibling.
"Kyui, really? Yay!" The nervous energy in the dragon fled at once, darting forward. Shiranui found herself yelping in surprise as she was drawn into a crushing hug with the dragons forepaws. "Thank you, big sis!" There was a moment of darkness before she found the side of her head utterly drenched. Still in the vice-like grip, it took a moment for her to realize what had actually transpired.
Irukukwu had licked her.
She remained catatonic for a few more seconds to internalize the sensations before she considered the implications of what Irukukwu had said. It took some squirming within its affectionately crushing hug, but she managed to level her gaze at the 'kyu'-ing dragon.
Irukukwu met her gaze with a gleeful one, flapping her wings excitedly. "Mmm! You're nice, and you're older than me, just like big sis. So you can be my big sis too. Kyui!"
Despite her normal restraint, she found her tail wagging in amused delight. Irukukwu's simplistic reasoning for adopting her as an elder sibling was so full of honest enthusiasm that she could not find the heart to deny it. Such an innocent child this one, almost deviously so. If she were to behave like this with most people, there would be little surprise if she were to end up with a string of adoptive and doting elder siblings. Idly, she pondered if the girl child who had bonded with this dragon was also a 'big sister'. With her paw, she batted the chest of the dragon, conveying her wish to be freed. It took a few tries before Irukukwu understood, but she immediately let go once she did. Pausing only long enough to bring a paw up to her head and give the wet fur a brief grooming, Shiranui touched her nose to the dragon's snout in a brief gesture of tentative affection.
"I do not know if I can be your elder sibling. But I would not mind being one" She stopped, considering her next step. She had not told the maidservant, for it had not been needed. Her gifted name had sufficed there. But for Irukukwu, who had already perceived a part of her nature, it did not seem appropriate to take up a name that was not truly hers. "And I would rather you call me by name. "
"My name is Amaterasu."
Irukukwu's head cocked left and right as she opened her mouth, testing the words on her tongue. It did... not go as well as she hoped.
"Amateri... Amitaro... kyuuu, your name is hard." The dragon gave itself a brief shake of its head. "Ammy is easier!"
Shiranui met Irukukwu's earnest gaze, letting her amusement show in a short chuff. In the space of a single night, she had regained the assumed name she once bore, but without the maidservant Siesta understanding the truth of the matter. To Irukukwu, she had given her true name, only for it to be cropped in her attempts to speak it. And yet, she didn't mind. Not really.
"That will suffice Irukukwu. That will suffice."
It was, she decided, an acceptable start to the first day of her new life.
A/N: Yes, I'm not dead. And just to show that I haven't been totally idle, here's something I've been writing of late, thanks in no small part to the sometimes ingenious, sometimes insane, suggestions and ideas produced by the people down in spacebattles.