Murmurs ripple through the crowd; a few curses come from the group of candidates. The entire line in front of Shishi and Shisa moves.
Some simply shift over to the other lines of Amaterasu's Domain, while others frown and stomp off. Ammy is left to fidget and bite her lip.
Stares turn the heat up on her blood. Her face turns a bright crimson. She clears her throat, levels a cool gaze at the spectators, and tries her best to glide back to the table and only half-succeeding with her ankle.
Shisa grins at her. "Ammy, I'm guessing you will be the next Chief." She gets to her feet. "Please, follow me. Shishi, come on."
Shishi, silent, gets up and falls into step behind Ammy. Or should she be called Amaterasu now? No. Not until my Naming.
Mutters and venomous glares find their mark but all it takes is a glower from Shishi to turn their attentions elsewhere. Shishi, to be sure, is intimidating, not large but lean, with a dark stare that chills even the most hot-blooded. Shisa is pretty and shapely, though her strong arms show the truth.
She is like the deadly nightshade; beautiful and harmless and even sweet before you dare break the skin.
The small group pass through a torii gate, and Ammy feels her stomach stop twitching. A small speck of green light bounces up to them, and a high pitched voice—but distinctly masculine—sounds from within the glow. If she squints, Ammy can make out what looks like a beetle's shell and antennae.
"Who's the babe?" asks the speck (bug?), alighting upon Shisa's shoulder, pausing in its bouncing as if to peer at the new arrival. "What's yer name, toots?"
Ammy blinks, not at all impressed. She rolls her eyes and shakes her head, motioning to her throat. First being Chosen, then a talking perverted bug. Surely, this is all a dream.
"Ooh, charades!" the bug says, seeming a bit cheerier. "I hate charades. Can't you speak?"
Shisa cuts in. "No, actually, she can't. Like Shishi." Shishi's face grows a bit darker, and Shisa places a chaste kiss on his cheek, as if she means to apologize.
Everyone knows of the two Guards' relationship. Ammy might have found the moment heart-touching if she didn't swear the bug is ogling her non-existent bosoms.
"Really? What happened to ya? Had yer throat slit like big boy here?"
Ammy thinks the question insensitive, not only to her but to Shishi. She glances over at the Guard, who simply glares at the speck.
"Issun, don't ask such things," Shisa says. "Especially to the new Chief-in-training of Amaterasu's Domain."
The glow melts into a curious yellow. "Yeah? She's the new Chief? Imagine that. And don't answer for her, 'Shi. She can tell me her story fine."
Shisa makes an annoyed sound in her throat. "Did you not hear me? She can't speak. She just got out of the hospital."
"I heard you. I can hear her, too."
"Just think yer thoughts to me. Works wonders. Like this," and the words .:What's yer name?:. echo in her head, making her jump.
.:Ya heard me:.
Ammy nods to herself. Yes, she's dreaming. But why make her dream angry at her? .:Ammy:.
Shisa sighs in annoyance. "Stop bothering Amaterasu, Issun. We have to take her to the healers."
"I'm not botherin' 'Amaterasu'. I'm botherin' Ammy," Issun says simply, clearly satisfied with his handiwork. .:Too easy:.
.:How can you do this?:. Ammy asks, now worrying for her sanity. Why ask a dream for sense?
.:Long story short, I'm a Poncle:.
.:Any chance I'll hear this 'long story', bug?:.
Clearly, this is the wrong thing to say, because the next words are out loud. "I am not a bug! It's Issun, traveling artist! How long will it take to get some respect around here?"
Shisa sighs, though she smiles. "Ah. I see she's already found out your favorite nickname. But, isn't she mute?"
Ammy imagines Issun rolls his eyes. "Do I need to explain everything to you? I can understand her and that's all you need to know!"
Shisa sighs. "Very well, Issun. Let's go."
Ammy looks up. Where in the Celestial Plain are they going?
Amaterasu's Domain. Capitol of the Celestial Plain, ruling Domain of the land. And it is her homeland.
Shishi and Shisa shift into Animal form; giant komainu replace their Celestial bodies, graceful, liquid muscles moving beneath coppery fur. Shishi's scar isn't visible underneath his mane.
Ammy smiles. This is the way to travel, but it seems almost broken, as if seen from afar. She'll be glad to get her Animal.
They pass beneath a torii gate. .:It's great, ain't it?:. asks Issun.
.:Riding on Animals:.
Ammy can't help but smile at the thrill of it all. Sure, she might be dreaming, but this certainly makes up for the disappointment she'll undoubtedly face when she wakes. Absently, she runs her thumb over her fingertip and finds the cut gone. Odd. Not even those of Amaterasu's Domain should heal this fast.
Shishi and Shisa, whose back Ammy straddles awkwardly, begin the ascent of Amaterasu's Summit. The cool gray rocks underfoot—under paw, rather—hardly seem to deter them from their path. The trip is short, though Ammy swears that the mountain must be enormous.
The summit greets them. The sun is setting by the time they stop, and Ammy takes a few moments to take it all in. Though she doesn't recall ever seeing neither the summit nor the throne before now, which isn't saying much, she sees it clearly. How could her unconscious mind imagine it in such confident detail?
.:You aren't dreaming:.
Ammy ignores the prodding thought of Issun. Instead, she glances around the summit, which stands in its full glory under the reddening sky.
The ground upon which they stand is perfectly smooth, polished not paved. A lonely white throne hunches in the far center, towards the north, pale and unadorned, raised on a two step dais.
Similar but smaller thrones, fourteen others in total, dot the rim of the summit, on daises of only one step. Each bears a different insignia. The center throne has the symbol of the sun etched into the surface of the back.
Clouds and fog, cool and refreshing, cover the floor, parting enough to see but cloaking enough for anyone outside to not be able to see in. The work of Kasugami, quite obviously.
Shishi and Shisa shift back and Ammy winces anew at a glance at Shishi's scar. A person clearing their throat behind her, in the direction of the thrones, makes her turn back around.
As if by magic, there is now either a man or a woman standing before each throne, except for the center one. A familiar face stands in front of the throne right of it. Yomigami.
"Honorable Gods," Shisa says, bowing formally. Ammy follows suit when she sees Shishi bow, as well. "The Holy Ink has Chosen the next Chief of Amaterasu's Domain."
Yomigami is the one who speaks.
"Very well. As always, a Test of Heritage before the Council must be performed. Chosen, rise and step forward."
Ammy gets to her feet and walks over to Yomigami, who holds out one hand. His odd tattoos flicker and pulse, like veins delivering lifeblood. "Your hand."
Ammy places her hand in his, and he gestures to the young man beside him. "Tachigami, if you will." Then, to an older man, "Michigami."
Michigami, a man with a kind and weathered face that is tattooed with red and black like Yomigami, silently pulls out a Brush and draws something in the air. Ink trails wherever he leads it, staying long enough for Ammy to blink. Then it is gone, and again a small pot of Ink rests near her unblemished skin.
Tachigami, a younger man, perhaps only a year older than Ammy, pulls out a Brush, too, but simply draws a straight line. The Ink is gone in a flash and pain blossoms on Ammy's finger. When she looks down, a fresh cut scars her fingertip.
All the Chiefs watch as a drop of blood lands in the Ink. The same phenomena, the Ink lighted up as if by an inner sun, again happens. Yomigami drops her hand, nodding and smiling. He looks around at the others. "Fellow Gods, the Chosen's blood shines, deeming her suitable for the position. Do we side with this decision?"
As if rehearsed, all Brush Gods exclaim, "Yes!" Ammy notices Guards behind each God.
And so the decision is made.
Tempest Bound: No interest? No?