Even though I found the second brush, Tachigami, the Rat Brush God of the Power Slash Technique, it still grieved me to see Nagi's tomb. I remembered how bravely he had fought against Orochi, and how I had stepped in to save him at the cost of my own mortal form. The memory of pain did not grieve me, but I had been forced into hibernation after that battle and never saw what became of Nagi and his love Nami. I hope that they found happiness and peace together.

Armed with the Power Slash, I was able to cut free the fruit that housed the village of Kamiki. Sakuya's power was released in a wave of light, greenery, and cherry blossoms. It swept aside Orochi's stench…at least for the present. When the tide of power receded, I could still sense the presence of Orochi's curse and swarms of demons creeping closer to Kamiki. They had been temporarily frightened off by the burst of Sakuya's power, and a few of the weakest ones had been killed. But the curse remained and they persisted. I growled, hackles up, and loped down into the village.

I could tell that something was wrong. Everything looked…green, like I was observing the world through a green glass bottle. The sky was black as far as I could see, and not the natural black of night. There were no stars, no moon, and no sun. This was not normal. At a fork in the path, I saw something strange. It looked like the statue of a man playing a flute with a basket on his head. Issun claimed that he didn't remember a statue being here, but we should continue on to the village. I sniffed the statue. It was cold, but the scent of a human lingered around it. Uneasy, I continued into the village. Everything was tinted the same eerie green color and all of the villagers were statues. I did not know how this had happened; Sakuya's power should have protected the villagers. I could feel the power of the sun coursing through my veins and had an idea. I ran to the highest point in the village, a ceremonial stage, and called forth my power of the sun.

Light poured out of the sky, driving away the darkness. The land returned to a more normal hue and my keen ears could detect the sounds of humans moving, talking, returning to their daily lives. I doubt they were even aware of the time they had spent encased within the fruit. And even if they did remember, humans have a remarkable talent for self-deception.

Suddenly, an old, creaky voice spoke behind me. I turned…and felt another stab of familiarity mixed with grief. The old headman behind me was not the same as the one in Nagi's time (his scent was different) but they were probably of the same family. I remembered the previous headman's hand gently stroking me as Orochi's poison finished its work. But that hand had been so gentle and soothing…My nostalgia was broken by Mr. Orange's comment that I looked similar to Shiranui, but did not look as smart. Not as smart?! My gentle thoughts evaporated and I crouched growling. How dare this old man mock me, a god! Could he not see that I was Shiranui, reborn? Amaterasu the Sun Goddess, Mother of All Things, reborn? Insolence! I had returned from my slumber to aid these people and they returned my kindness by insulting my intelligence?!

I was unable to give Mr. Orange the thrashing he deserved. Several smaller demons had seen us and leapt down to attack. I grabbed Mr. Orange by the scruff of his kimono and tossed him out of the way. When I fought demons, it was best not to have anyone else within range of my beads and mirror. The demons were small, green, and carried flutes. Like all the lesser oni, they wore paper masks over their faces. I did not give them a chance to surround me. My Divine Instrument leapt forward, whirling. I slashed them to pieces before they had a chance to scream. Pitiful creatures…but an easy kill is not to be taken for granted. There would be more powerful and tougher demons later, I was sure.

I loped down the carved steps into the village. I passed leafless trees on my way down, but was unable to revive them. The brush technique I needed was missing. More frustration. Perhaps when I found the brush, I could come back and begin healing the land. I could at least feed the animals I passed. That was some small comfort. I had to remind them that their gods had not forsaken them and that better times would come. They accepted my gifts with gratitude.

The village had not really changed since the last time I walked its paths. Only the people in it had. New names, new faces. One of those was a little boy with his dog. Children have more faith than adults; he saw me as a white wolf, but knew that I was something more. He challenged me to dig up ten turnips from his mother's garden without being hit. Issun wasn't interested, but the idea amused me. (And I was still feeling a little resentful towards Mr. Orange.) Ah, it was a fun game! I could outrun the boy's mother easily. I dug up a turnip, ran around the garden until she was out of breath, then dig up another. Oh, how she huffed and puffed! The tenth turnip was of an unusual shape, so I pulled it out and took it to the boy as proof. He was utterly astonished, and didn't seem to mind that he and his dog had been beaten. Instead, it took it as a new challenge to beat me. I smiled, wished him luck with a bark, and went on my way. That was a good little game. It refreshed me, made me feel alive and real again.

I padded on through the village. A gentle humming caught my attention. I turned and there, crouched among the rice patties, was a young woman. She looked so much like Nami that I sprang over the fence and walked to her immediately. She looked up from her work and gave a little cry of joy. Utterly fearless, she began to stroke my fur. Ahhh…her hands felt nice, strong, but gentle, the hands of a kind person accustomed to hard work. Her name was Kushi. She was sweet like Nami, but her scent and youth showed her to be different. I felt a twinge of sadness similar to what I felt in Nagi's cave. So many mortals I had once known were dead. A god is supposed to be above such things, for becoming too entangled with mortals is dangerous. But I am Mother of All, and I cannot help but feel compassion for my tiny, short-lived, earth-bound children.

But then Kushi mentioned that a descendent of Nagi lived in the village. A man by the name of Susano. My ears pricked up. One of Nagi's and Nami's bloodline lived? That was good. Perhaps this Susano would be able to aid me in my quest. Issun was of little tangible help and it could be nice to have a real companion. I left Kushi to her rice-tending and ran to the house that she said belonged to Susano. It was easily the largest house in the village, as befitting the seed of a hero. While some parts of the house had been repaired over the years, I still recognized it. Nagi had once lived here. I walked in slowly, not sure of the reception I would receive.

To my surprise, the room was empty. There were some straw practice dummies and the ill-kept remnants of weapons, but no human occupant. The room smelled of sweat and sake, and there was a dreadful rumbling roaring noise coming from under a boulder. Curious, I slashed the boulder in two. It revealed a ladder going down into the underground portion of the house. The sound was louder now…it sounded like…snoring? Suddenly, I did not want to go down and find the source of the snores. Perhaps it would be better for me to go on my own for now. I do not think I wanted to admit to myself that I was afraid to see what the descendent of Nagi had descended to. I always hoped that each generation would be more noble than the previous, but human temperaments often run counter to that expectation. But at least I hope for better. Some gods only expect the worst of humanity.

However, my ability to explore was quickly curtailed. The narrow passage out of the valley that Kamiki village was nestled in was blocked by a massive boulder. A single fat merchant was trying to push the boulder out of the way. A futile effort; even I would be unable to budge this much rock. And it was far too large for my Power Slash Technique. I would need something to boost my power, a channel of some kind…then the merchant asked me to fetch Susano. But of course! As a descendant of Nagi, we would share a bond of blood. And if he was also a swordsman, then I would be able to channel my brush technique through him, magnifying the effect. Of course, that would mean going down into that sinking hole in the floor… I sighed and ran back into the village. I could not put this off. I needed to reach the Shinshu Fields and go on to the rest of Nippon. Kamiki Village had been restored, but I could feel Orochi's curse still festering throughout the land.

I returned to Susano's house and jumped down the ladder. The stink of sake mixed with the acrid smell of burning torches and the deep, damp odor of the earth. A man was lying on a bed. He was the source of the deafening snores. I held my breath and slammed my head into his as hard as I could. He bolted upright with a snorting cry of surprise. His hair stuck up on either side of his head, like a pair of horns or long ears. I sat down and cocked my head to one side.

So this was Susano. He reeked of sake, but underneath that was a scent that was familiar. Nagi. This brash drunkard really was a descent of Nagi. I wagged my tail, endeavoring to look friendly. It occurred to me that there was some advantage to being in a wolf's form. While humans might not respect me, they would be more honest. No one expects a dumb beast to understand them, even though some might speak to them in such a way, they do not believe in their hearts that the animal understands.

It took far longer than I anticipated to drag him from his hole. And then even longer to convince him to even attempt to attack the boulder. First a nap, then sake, then we both practiced our attacks when he cut down his straw targets and then a smaller rock. I tried channeling my power through his old wooden sword to slice through his targets. And it worked! He seemed stunned by the success of his attack on the smaller rock, so he immediately raced to the great boulder and attacked. I barely made it in time to add my own power to the attack, turning the once-impassable stone into powder. I hoped that this success would wake Susano up and send him back into Kamiki to get sober and straighten out the farce that was his current life. Instead, the boost of confidence sent him rushing through the pass and out of sight into Shinshu Field.

I was so stunned at his reaction that I did not think to follow him until he was out of sight. I shook my head, sighed, and padded forward through the pass at a more leisurely pace. Perhaps this was cruel, but Susano did exhibit enough fighting skill to deal with the smaller demons that might appear. If he touched the cursed zone, he would be turned to stone until I dispelled it, and I did not think him stupid enough to run deliberately into a group of demons or the cursed zone. He was a descendant of Nagi. If he ever wanted to live up to the name, he would have to earn at least part of it on his own, since he lacked the inherent skills of his ancestor.

Before I could walk very far, Sakuya appeared. She was fainter now than she was before. She pleaded with me to go and revive the Guardian Saplings spread throughout Nippon. They were part of her, roots that had sprung into the sunlight, spreading her power and protection throughout the land. Interesting…I had taken Sakuya for just another wood spirit, albeit an old one, but apparently she had more power and influence than I expected. I had not seen this at first due to her great weakness. Issun was making rude quips, so I put my paw on him to silence the little letch. Apparently he did not see how much power Sakuya had already spent protecting her home village. If something was not done soon, she would perish. As she faded, I released Issun and continued walking through the pass. It took him a little time to catch up, and when he did, he hopped right back onto my head, clinging to my fur like a flea and muttering to himself.