.:Of Broken Bones and Forgotten Hearts:.
The vicious circle has begun.
As most believers know, the gods only survived so long as their subjects, mortals, believed in them. What most don't know is that, when deities start to weaken, so do their personalities. They become broken, apathetic, insane and cold-hearted. They no longer care.
It's been years since anyone took notice of the gods—even Amaterasu, Mother to all that is, Goddess of the Sun, has been forgotten.
Even so, Waka is surprised when he stands before her (a feat indeed, some might say) high in her mountain home, atop the highest point in the Celestial Plain.
Her eyes are listless as she taps her fingers against the cool white granite of her throne, one after another, one after another.
He thinks the tapping noise is irritating but is too frightened to say anything about it.
She sighs. "Ushiwaka, the Brush Gods and I have all come to a unanimous decision. But, first, I'd like to hear your side of the story. "
Waka winces at his childhood name, but doesn't say anything to deny the charges lain out before him: desertion, attacking the goddess herself, manslaughter. (How many counts of manslaughter? He doesn't know.)
Instead, he sets his jaw. "I have no more to say, Amaterasu."
He marvels at the change she's gone through: the once motherly, compassionate, vaguely tomboyish goddess has turned cold, ruthless and uncaring. She no longer wishes to help the mortals, who, in turn, lose faith. A vicious circle.
"So what do you plead, guilty or not guilty?" Amaterasu studies her nails, gaze unfocused.
Waka swallows. "Guilty."
He's changed as well, he realizes. Gone are the days where he could call her 'ma chèrie' or play the flute for endless hours while she listened and smiled—smiles, he hopes, that showed all the words they could not share but so desperately wanted to.
A man of the Moon Tribe and the Goddess of the Sun can't be together, he thought. But, thankfully, now he's not so sure.
He feels fear instead of that warm fuzzy feeling he can't quite describe because he guesses her next words.
"Then you are sentenced to death," she says, standing up from her throne.
The other Brush Gods get up as well, and the summit fills with light. A snarling white wolf, fur streaked with swirls of crimson and banners of light radiating from around it, stands where the goddess once was.
It bares its fangs in a wolfish, almost sadistic, grin. "Death, at the hands of the Goddess of the Sun."
Waka knows he won't last long.
Their arena is the battle-scarred ground of Tachigami's Domain. The land is torn up from the constant training of the rat god's new followers, brought into existence by the sun goddess herself.
The execution is to be nothing short of painful, bloody, and terrifying. Amaterasu spares him some things, though:
His death is not to be public.
He is allowed his weapons, including his Celestial Brush.
But Waka realizes this is not for fairness. Indeed, even with any weapons and all the health items he could need, he would always lose miserably, such is her power.
It is for the thrill of the hunt.
He has free roam of the Celestial Plain, is allowed to fight, but he knows he will not outrun the Wolf of Amaterasu.
He turns to her. Maybe, maybe he can remind her, remind her of before, so long ago... "Ma chèrie," he ventures, "Do you not remember the years we spent here, on the Celestial Plain, or down in the land of mortals—"
Amaterasu growls deeply in her chest, the sparking Reflector on her back flaring. "Do not call me that." She tosses her head, snarling. "Even if I remember that, why would that change anything?" For a second, he thinks he sees grief, pain, panic, uncertainty—love, dare he say it—in her lupine eyes, but is gone so quickly he thinks he might have imagined it.
"Je sais. But I told you of my transgressions so long ago, and yet you forgave me."
That look, again. "I was foolish, back then. Young, by the standards of the gods."
A curious Celestial peers into the clearing, and Waka is brought back to that night. He can still hear the growls of demons, the screams of the dying, the sound of flesh ripping, veins tearing, blood spilling...
Waka traces the long scar he now bears. He was lucky, he knows, to escape with only scars—more than physical ones, but scars nonetheless. He understands why Amaterasu has made this decision, for what he's done.
He was the one to lead the Celestials to their deaths, after all.
If only he'd known that the Ark of Yamato was not a barge for passengers, but for the transportation of demons. If only he'd been able to save more lives. If only he hadn't been the only survivor. If only, if only, if only.
Amaterasu shoos the Celestial away with a jerk of her head. "I tire of this, Ushiwaka. Shall we begin the chase?"
He nods, stiff from fear.
That look. She pauses, and the clearing fills with light. Amaterasu's human form shifts her footing on the rough ground.
Why would she do that?
Amaterasu notices Waka's incredulous stare with a sneer that he likes to believe is forced. "Do not think that I'm going soft. Even if it is an execution, I find fairness is needed."
He looks away, nodding. "Of course."
"You have five minutes. You may begin."
She looks at him in irritation. "A five minute head start," she says, as if it isn't completely unheard of. "Four minutes."
"But what if the other Brush Gods find this—"
"Three and a half."
With that, he shuts his mouth and runs.
Waka lasts hours. The sun is setting by the time she finds him.
Something knocks him to the ground. He scrambles around, drawing Pillow Talk and his katana, to find himself staring into the black eyes of Amaterasu.
A dry smirk twists her beautiful features. The cool metal of Thunder Edge presses to his neck, electrically charged and coursing with energy. "I'm afraid you're quite loud, Ushiwaka. I could find you quite easily."
Waka smiles, waiting for the strike of Thunder Edge, the cool bite of the Tundra Beads, or, most likely, the burn of Solar Flare. Instead, he sees Divine Retribution hovering over her shoulders. The weakest of her Divine Instruments.
"Why not use Solar Flare, ma chèrie? It would be easier, non? Or even the String of Beads."
Her eyes widen at his statement, and she drops Thunder Edge, which floats to rest on her back. "Do you mean Divine Retribution?" Amaterasu holds her hands out, palms up, and for a second Waka thinks she might want him to take her hand. But of course not—Divine Retribution, the flaming Reflector, floats to her hands, mirror side up.
She smiles ruefully. "This was my first Divine Instrument, the first of Chibiterasu, and the one the wood sprite Sakuya revived me with."
"Many firsts, it seems," Waka says, hoping to distract her until he can talk to her without her trying to kill him.
She laughs roughly. "Yes, I guess so. It was also my weapon I used to defeat you, in Agata Forest." Her sudden nostalgia lasts all of two seconds. She shakes her head as if just waking up, Divine Retribution returning to her back, and Tsumugari, her first Glaive, appears in her grip as she gets to her feet.
"Get up." Her voice is hard. "Now!"
Waka scrambles to his feet.
"Draw your swords."
She shifts into a balanced position; feet spread apart, Glaive at the ready. "Now, fight!"
Waka sees the chance she's giving him. He knows he is particularly good at swordplay. He learned from the True Tengus of the Lunar Ruins, and they are unrivaled in their prowess of the sword. He barely broke a sweat fighting Amaterasu after she had been awakened to save Nippon.
And he knows Tsumugari, with its gold details and blue-silver metal blade and hilt, is heavy. Slow, even in the best of hands.
And he knows he is quick.
Amaterasu attacks him with surprising viciousness. He parries the powerful strike she hits him with. And the battle ensues.
Waka doesn't remember much. He knows there is blood, both his and Amaterasu's, bones snapping that miraculously heal and fuse, and metal clashing against plasma.
He doesn't know when the fight turns to fists and kicks, when the sword strikes fail to land on flesh and bone. The right side of his face throbs and he thinks he's broken a rib or two.
But, somehow, he wins.
Pinning Amaterasu by the arms, he's able to hold her down, his shoulders shaking from the effort. "Just listen, please, Amaterasu!"
Her eyes are blank—more wolf than woman, dark and feral. "Let me go, Ushiwaka! This isn't how it's supposed to be!"
He knows he can't reason with her like this, so he does as she wishes, sprinting for the cover of the trees as soon as he gets to his feet. He hears her feet pounding behind him. He knows she's gaining, and he tells himself not to look back, not to even think about how close she is, how close she is to cutting him down for the last time.
But he does. And regrets it.
Amaterasu chases after him with a frightening intensity, eyes feverish. Even at this speed, her motions are loping, graceful, easy. Her hand grips the hilt of Tsumugari with such force he thinks she might break it.
Waka forces his eyes to look ahead of him, and he takes advantage of the tools he had salvaged from the wreckage of his home in the Lunar Realm, when he was but a young boy of the Moon Tribe and had only recently known the pain of losing those close to him. His family is dead. His entire race is dead, slaughtered by the same dark forces that attacked the Celestial Plain and made him take the desperate measures he did that ultimately lead to this moment.
The Water Tablet fragment is cool as it presses against his palm, and he jumps out onto the water of the ocean in Nuregami's Domain. He knows Amaterasu can't tread on water like he can, without a Water Tablet, and she's a slow swimmer.
When he turns around again, she's still sprinting after him, a shower of water droplets spraying up behind her. She smirks at his confused expression and brandishes the Water Tablet she carries.
He turns on her, water cascading around him. Pillow Talk's blade, turquoise and bright, returns to its hilt and the sword reverts to its dormant form—the non-frightening shape of his prized flute. He's not running anymore. He's done. Gone. Dead.
Amaterasu nearly trips when she sees he's stopped running. Confusion, anger and—that look—fright pass through her features. Her chest heaves with her breaths, and her eyes are wide as she takes in the wooden flute. Her mouth opens, and then closes, and she swallows heavily. "Ushiwaka, why have you sheathed your sword?"
Waka puts his hands up, shoulders slumping. "I give up, ma chèrie." He looks around, shrugging, before staring back at her. "No more running."
And yet she continues to stare at the flute. "I-I remember, when you would play..."
Waka's eyebrows pull down in confusion. Why did she change her mind so drastically? Then he sees the flecks of light floating in the air, all different colors—pink, yellow, green—and he nearly breathes a sigh of relief.
The lights grow in size, until they're vaguely the size of his fist, and have tails like the comets that he used to watch pass by every so often. They flit around Amaterasu like flies or bees drawn to honey, and her eyes widen even further as one hits her, absorbing into her skin and clothing in a flash of light.
That night on the Ark of Yamato comes back to him, but this time it is years later, perhaps a century, and in the Ark is the leader of the demons, the Emperor of Eternal Darkness, Yami. And it is not he who faces the demons, surrounded by the dying and the tortured and the doomed, but Amaterasu as she fought for what she strove for—peace, peace for the land she protected, peace for herself, peace for him and his heart he swore turned to stone along with her when she dragged Orochi down with her to the land of mortals all those years ago.
Waka had wished that she hadn't listened to him—he was crazy, a fool, unsafe—when he told her in that daze that his dreams always put him in. Only the chosen one can defeat Orochi. Wait for him.
What is his name? She had asked, just as breathless as he was, fighting along with her.
By then he had snapped out of it, had realized his mistake when he saw her bright eyes that always told him everything. But she wouldn't give in, would not stand down. Nagi, he had whispered. And then he watched as Amaterasu launched herself at the monstrous eight-headed beast with the crimson eyes that haunted his nightmares, dragging him down with her.
Only after, when he was scarred and broken and terrified—terrified what she would think, what Yami would do to track him down, what he could do to Amaterasu—did he find out what became of her: she had taken a mortal body to save a village. And lost it.
Her spirit was the only thing that could be alive.
And now he remembers when she did face the Emperor, when she remembered him as he tumbled off the edge of the arena, helmet gone and destroyed. That night, he heard her howl of victory, had laughed along with her until she was shot down by the deceiving Monster of the Moon.
He'd seen her lose her powers all over again, powerless to stop it from his vantage point from below.
But Issun—annoying, bug-sized Issun—had pulled through for her, had finally gotten his path straight and was making his way down it. He'd finally accepted he was to be the seventh Celestial Envoy, and was finally doing his duty.
That night, he'd seen Amaterasu as she was at her full strength.
Praise, orbs of light created by the faith and prayers of her believers, wafted into the darkness of the Ark and restored her broken body. She defeated the Emperor and returned home. With him. And forgave him all over again.
But, tonight, he sees her as she was when she understood him.
Faith restored her then and it restores her now. Issun had found a Celestial Envoy worthy enough to take his place, even in spirit.
Praise hits Amaterasu from every angle, exploding points of light, and when the smoke clears he sees her. Truly sees her. Her eyes widen when the Praise vanishes. "Waka...?"
She calls him Waka, not Ushiwaka, not some fool name he'd left behind him in those burning houses of his youth. And he feels like crying.
Tsumugari drops to the water, splashing but not sinking. "Waka, are you alright?"
He nods. "I think so."
She looks around, at the newly revitalized Plain, and looks back at him, then at his flute. "Are you sure? You aren't playing your flute like you usually are."
And he cracks a smile. "I'm fine." Better than fine, better than happy, better than ecstatic. "In fact, ma chèrie, I'm great."
Until her memory comes back, she is confused. "Then will you play for me? You know how much I like hearing you play your flute. Shall we go visit Konohana?"
He nearly laughs, because she wants to visit the sacred tree of the Plain, planted by his own hands and nursed by hers, named after the tree her stature stood under for the years her spirit drifted. "Of course."
As they walk, she takes his hand in hers, lily pads trailing behind her footprints, and he knows the Brush Gods will not remember the past day. But he's happy, because she remembers him, and the forgotten heart he left here when his second home burned to the ground finds its way back.
Maybe hearts can heal like bones can, with help and pain that he knows is needed, though nonetheless unwanted. That broken little house in the Lunar Realm toppled long ago in flames, but he's found and lost his home so many times after and refuses to repeat the mistakes he's made.
Perhaps, he can heal.
Amaterasu doesn't know why he cries under the boughs of Konohana that night, but he does.
Tempest Bound: just edited the whole thing. Have fun!