He woke on the dawn of every morning to pray to the Earthen Gods. On days of calm, it would be repaying grace, and on days of not, it would be pleading. Temperamental the child was, much like the other mortals of this Earth.
But to be compared to humans… it was sickening to Yasumi. This mortal was raised by gods, and only in name was he a ‘human.’ Beyond his fleshy construct, his dull, dark-brown eyes, and his matted, black hair, Yasumi was no more than a vessel—or a medium—for his gods. To be voided of all else was his duty—no, his honor.
His gods, nameless but many, were the Earthen Gods. In the days of yore, before Yasumi’s time, the shrine dedicated to their existence stood proudly on top of the rolling hillsides of Iwasetsu. Now, beaten and dilapidated, the shrine was then forgotten, left as an excerpt of history.
It was of no matter to Yasumi. To be with his gods was more than enough. The crops that Yasumi had gardened on the perimeter of the shrine filled his belly for most of the year, and non-mortals of similar faith would bring sustenance in the winter. He had no wants.
Though, for the Earthen Gods, the idle days that Yasumi wrought were not sufficient.
‘Yasumi’, said one, ‘It is time to go.’
The human nodded, asking not why but only, “When do you need me?”
[ ] ‘Now. Time is of the essence.’ [ ] ‘We can wait until the dawn of the next day.’ [ ] ‘Never.’
‘Now,’ said one. ‘When your gods call, you shall answer. And time is of the essence.
‘Never,’ hissed another. ‘We don’t need to do this. You dare abandon our domain?’
‘We can wait until the dawn of the next day. There is always tomorrow,’ said the third.
Yasumi waited. His gods were whimsical—though they were of the same shrine, the Earthen Gods would always find dispute amongst the lesser things. Rarely, and very, very rarely, would they find their decisions to be unanimous.
‘It must be now. Time is… of the essence, as one said. You all understand. For the sake of our follower.’
The gods deferred to the last one, concluding in quiet but reluctant agreement.
“Shall we go?” Yasumi finally asked.
“Where are we going?”
‘Another realm,’ said one. ‘And—’
‘Bring your nice clothes.’
‘Do not interrupt me.’
Silence rifted the two gods. If they had mortal forms, Yasumi would have seen them glaring at the other.
“I shall fetch my nice clothes,” responded Yasumi, if only to leave and ease the tension.
Yasumi left to his quarters. Besides the monochromatic sets of robes he had in his dresser, he had little in terms of “nice clothes.” Hidden away in the back, the vessel still had his grey hakama, its white undershirt, and a flowing, red top. Though its wide sleeves were fit for taller men, and the seams were slowly unraveling at the collar, it was in fine shape—at least, to the human, it was. The white flourish that accented the chest and the crimson floral patterns at its sleeves—it was elaborate enough to put attention away from the robe’s size and age.
He put it on in haste and left.
In the altar room, there was something there that should not have been. Not to this realm. Yasumi, intimate to the incorporeal, noticed upon entry. Warm winds escaped the void, brushing against the human’s cheeks. A spring draft, thought Yasumi. To Earth, it was currently autumn. But to—
‘To the other realm, it is spring,’ answered one. ‘You may enter when you are ready.’
“I am always ready,” declared the vessel. “As you will it.”
So the child of nature, responding to his gods’ wishes, entered the void and beyond.
Between the footsteps of the Moriya Shrine, there was a shimmer of light. It climbed the stairs towards the gate until it reached the torii, and then, exploding into incandescence, a human appeared.
So appeared Yasumi to Kochiya Sanae, who was busy pretending the sweep the pathway to the shrine.
“An intruder?” she yelped. “Who… who are you?”
Yasumi flicked his eyes briefly to the green-haired shrine maiden. Then, ignoring her, he knelt down and clasped his hands together.
“Hey! You can’t just—”
“O Earthen Gods, you have brought me to this realm, as promised. What do you will of me now?”
[ ] Acquaint Yasumi with Moriya’s priestess. [ ] Take Yasumi directly to Moriya. [ ] Yasumi should do as he prefers.
‘While we should talk to Moriya, he should first get acquainted with her priestess.’
‘Agreed. Get to know the locals, as they say.’
‘It would not hurt to know Suwako’s followers, no?’
The Earthen Gods settled, albeit in ambivalence, and so their voices faded. Disagreement was always the face of the gods, but their will was clear: Talk to the Moriya priestess. They watched over Yasumi in eager silence, waiting for their vessel to proceed.
“I am Yasumi, Disciple of the Earthen Gods.”
“Sorry?” The shrine maiden hadn’t a hint of recognition on her face. “The Earthen Gods?”
“The Earthen Gods,” Yasumi reiterated. “They who control Iwasetsu, the plains to the east, the mountainsides to the west, and all territory in between. They, the Earthen Gods, are aware of the soil that binds us, the fruits of nature, and the yields that all living things forage for. And today, like any day, we are humbled, for now we receive the benevolence of—”
“I get it, I get it,” she said, placing a delicate hand over Yasumi’s mouth.
He slapped her hand away, eyeing her with an ugly gaze. “Do not touch me, human.”
“Um?” The woman yanked her hand back in shock. “I, uh...”
Then Yasumi was flooded with shame. Not his, for he had no mind for humans, but his gods’. “I apologize. I was being rude,” he rectified. “I… do not enjoy contact with those who are not the Earthen Gods.”
“Right,” she said, nodding vehemently along. “Right, right. I’m like that too, but mostly because I get a bit squeamish—you know how it is in the sticks. Not much in the way of sanitation, y’know?” The priestess cleared her throat, pausing herself. “So… I’m guessing you’re not an intruder then?”
“The venerable Moriya of Suwa, the esteemed Toyoke of Maemiya lesser, all have ties with the olden, Earthen gods—even you, follower and descendant of the Moriya bloodline, share the same origin.”
“And that means?”
“My gods and I—we were… how do you say it?”
‘Invited to come for tea,’ said one.
“Invited to come for tea,” Yasumi blindly parroted back.
Then the conversation halted, and only the winds of spring spoke. Abruptly, the air found a lack of human words in between. The disciple, never one to deliver pleasantries, found himself at odds. Certainly, he was lacking in regard for human conversation. So Yasumi did as what any sane man did—he pleaded to the Earthen Gods for help.
What do I say, O Earthen Gods? he thought.
[ ] ‘Humans love talking about the weather.’ [ ] ‘Do humans not gossip about their intimate lives?’ [ ] ‘Refrain from helping, Earthen Gods. Yasumi will never learn otherwise.’
Voices stirred within Yasumi’s consciousness, but a low, guttural tongue hushed the other Earthen Gods.
It was the One who had saved Yasumi when he should have died a human’s death.
‘Refrain from helping, Earthen Gods. Yasumi will never learn otherwise.’
‘Silence, you. They are correct in their judgment.’
And so, the voices faded into oblivion, and Yasumi was left at the mercy of his own wits and the wind priestess.
His gods, despite their altruism and unending benevolence, had forsaken him on the path to human conversation. This was a road that the disciple would rather not tread, but here he was caged within the confines of an extremely displeasing path.
‘At least let me offer tiny advice for the child. A morsel, even,’ one pleaded.
“Priestess. You shall—no, no,” Yasumi said, rejecting his own command. “Would you be as so kind to escort me inside? I did not ready myself for hay fever.”
“Oh! Uh, right! I’ll see you in.” The girl hurriedly put away her broom, leaning it against the first stone pedestal to her left. “Not good with spring allergies?”
“In the first place, it was still autumnfall in Iwasetsu of the Earth.”
“You mean—!” The priestess gasped. “You’re an outsider too? My gosh, oh my gosh!” Sanae excitedly waved the man into the shrine. “I was just complaining about the harsh winter up here in the boonies. No electric kotatsu, no heated tatami, nothing. What I wouldn’t give for something, anything!”
Yasumi found himself at a dilemma. He followed the conversation—or so he thought. Up until the very last sentence she spoke, the man understood what she was saying. Then, at some point, she ceased speaking his language. “I’m sorry, but what’s a ‘kotatsu’? Heated tatami?”
“You know, like padded—wait.” The girl stopped in her tracks. “Do you know what electricity is?”
“I know of it.”
Her eyebrows dipped perilously low. “What year did you come from?”
“Ah,” Yasumi nodded. “I forgot that humans keep track of the trivial details.”
“So you don’t know.”
“It’s not that I do not know. It’s that I do not acknowledge it—there is a difference,” the disciple hotly defended himself.
“I get it,” she said with light laughter, not getting it at all. “You’re, um, what’s the word for it...”
‘Archaic,’ one offered.
‘Antediluvian,’ another suggested.
Yasumi remained silent, keeping his gods’ words to himself.
“Hmm.” She shrugged. “Well, whatever. I’ll bring the lady of the house.”
“Wait,” the disciple said. It was uncharacteristic of the man to call out to another, and especially so to another human, but he felt that something was awry, or out of place. Yasumi frequently felt these palpitations of the heart—and no, they were not the throes of romance. The Earthen Gods called them divinations, and they were proof that he was their disciple. Yasumi had often forecast the harvests of nature, or lack thereof, during his time in Iwasetsu. This time, however, it was divination not of nature but a person.
It was queer, but it was a familiar feeling.
[ ] Let Yasumi know what it was. [ ] Yasumi shall figure it out on his own time.
The Earthen Gods, though well-acquainted with their follower’s ordeal, agreed between themselves to keep mute about the matter. Yasumi shall figure it out on his own time. The disciple already had the gifts of the Earthen Gods to bless him. By his own will, Yasumi could find what tolled his divine sense—but only if he so wished for it.
The two mortals moved to the shrine’s common quarters where they met with the Moriya goddess.
Suwako Moriya stood a head shorter than Yasumi, so she had to look up to stare into the disciple’s eyes. As she leaned forward to inspect the man, the goddess idly smoothed out her indigo-blue dress and pulled on its white, flowing sleeves. Her gray eyes bore into the man, the goddess’s expression remaining blank all the while. Then a yellow eyebrow twitched, and she let a dry laugh escape her lips.
“Dare I say hello?” Suwako’s gaze flattened, giving Yasumi a pitying look. “What is your name, child?”
“Yasumi,” replied the man, “…Follower of the Earthen Gods,” he added when Suwako motioned for him to continue.
“So, Lady Suwako, who is he, really? Did you really invite him for tea, or was that just another excuse?”
“He is, ah, how to explain...” The goddess’s eyes dulled with weariness. Despite her youthful appearance, what with her childlike stature and build, all paired with a rounded face, a complex expression—what Yasumi might have described as “a turmoil of misery”—flashed across her face.
‘The Moriya Shrine and the Earthen Gods have crossed paths before, Descendant,’ interjected one.
“Oh!” gasped Sanae. “Was that Yasumi’s god?”
“One,” the disciple said, “of many, yes.”
“Indeed. The Earthen Gods.” Suwako softened her gaze and, with a more tender voice, she said, “It is good to hear you again, Elder.”
“And the others?” she said expectantly.
[ ] Greet Suwako. [ ] Ignore her. She is no Earthen God anymore.
‘Don’t speak to her,’ hissed another. ‘She is no Earthen God anymore.’
‘Now, now. She may have left us, but Moriya is still one of our own.’
‘It has been a while, Moriya.’
‘My, it seems like everybody wants to talk. Everybody, say, “Hi, Suwako!” on the count of three. One, two...’
‘All of you have no humor. I should join Suwako on the other side, too.’
‘Try, and I shall disregard you as I do the named one.’
Disorder was manifest in the common quarters. Nine of the myriad Earthen Gods found themselves squabbling at the table of Moriya, and the goddess of the shrine herself was smiling profoundly, though the emotions she displayed were vague and mixed.
Emotions oddly like a human’s, Yasumi thought at first, but he discarded the notion. I shouldn’t disparage the Moriya goddess like that.
“...It’s like I’m watching my grandparents fight about their daughter-in-law, except I have like ten of them,” the priestess groaned.
“Hush, Sanae,” Suwako said. “You’re being rude.”
“In any case, I presume you have a reason for all this, Elder? It’s been thousands since we’ve spoken to one another, and the first thing you tell me is to open a gate to Gensokyo. I have an inkling of why, but you’ll have to confirm it.”
‘Your wits are quick, Moriya.’
“And,” she said, eyeing the two mortals in the room. “I’ll hazard a guess and say that it’s because of… less corporeal affairs?”
‘You may trust your intuition.’
“I understand,” Suwako sighed. “Consider this a debt owed, then. The one of many I still need to repay.”
‘We all shall turn to dust before you finish “repaying” your debts, Suwako.’
“I already have my hands full trying to keep a certain White Wolf leashed. But I digress. That’s personal business.”
‘So he still lives.’
“And thriving,” the goddess said. “If I said that I’m guiding him to path of redemption, would you believe me?”
‘You are mad for even thinking that such a thing is possible. That thing would rather fester in its own malintent than to find absolution.’
“Well...” she trailed off, pausing for thought. “That too is true, in a sense. But no matter. What will the Earthen Gods do of their follower?”
‘In what respect?’
“Such as lodging, for starters.”
[ ] ‘Would you like to repay your second debt?’ [ ] ‘Do not worry. We shall take care of it.’
The Earthen Gods weighed their options, though not for long.
‘Would you like to repay your second debt?’ said one.
“If it’ll get the other Earthen Gods to hound me less, then I’d be more than happy to,” Suwako said. “We have more than enough room for a guest to join us, all the more so if it’s one of your followers.”
“I won’t impose on you for long, Goddess Moriya,” Yasumi said, dipping his head down to her.
‘As the child said. We intend to procure our own estate, so we do not plan on living at the Moriya Shrine for long.’
“You may take your time,” the goddess said, though her gaze and conversation was focused on Yasumi. “After all, Sanae was always complaining about how lonely it was at the shrine. Even though she has me and Kanako spoiling her all the time.”
“Lady Suwako!” she huffed, red-faced. Humiliation creased her eyebrows.
‘Humans do get rather lonesome.’
“As we do, too.” Suwako laughed, but her voice leaned wistful. “Sanae, we shall talk more with Yasumi later. For now, could you prepare the guest room?”
The wind priestess, eager to exit the conversation, nodded vehemently. “Yes, ma’am! Right on it,” she said and swiftly left the common quarters.
Yasumi turned to leave and help Sanae, but a voice halted him.
“I don’t suppose you’ll stop even if I asked you to?” Suwako asked, resigned in tone.
Yasumi kept silent. She was not asking the disciple but rather his gods.
‘We are not like the Wolf,’ said one, ‘for we are not doing anything of ill tact, nor plan to. Our fate—and Yasumi’s—it remains inevitable.’
“Then—” she started but then shook her head, cursing herself with a momentary loss for words. “I see.”
‘Do not fret, Moriya. We Earthen Gods shall trick fate. So we declare it.’
“You know that means nothing to me,” she said with a wry smile. “Anyway, that is all. You may leave.”
Yasumi left the chambers and into the hallway where he stood idly.
“What do I do now, O Earthen Gods?”
[ ] Yasumi should meet with the mountainkind people. The ones that pursue information. [ ] Yasumi should meet with the horned ones. The twin-horned one should know how to build a shrine.
‘Meet with the horned ones, child,’ one said. ‘The twin-horned one should know how to build a shrine.’
“And where do I meet the twin-horned one? Share your wisdom with me.”
‘She should be at the high-cliffs of the mountain. We shall guide your path.’
‘That is,’ another said, ‘only if that lass is sulking away, drunk and miserable.’
‘For better or worse, she shall be there. And if not, she shall return. As she always does.’
“Understood,” said Yasumi. “Be my arms and legs and lead me to passage.”
“Oh, are you going already?” Sanae called out from the end of the hallway, peeking out from an open door.
“Indeed,” the man curtly said.
“See you then.”
With a measured pause, the man replied, “If my gods so will it.”
Yasumi had no mind for directions. And for that, he was grateful that the Earthen Gods were his eyes and ears. As far as the disciple was aware, the only direction that he was going was eastbound, opposite of the falling sun. The forest that grew along the mountain’s back looked all the same, and even Yasumi had doubts that they were following anything but repetition of trees, but soonafter the Earthen Gods had found a village—or at least, the remains of one.
‘Keep going,’ whispered one, and Yasumi complied.
Far beyond the entrance to the tattered village houses, and past its center, was a lone but well-kept home. Lonely was what Yasumi would have described it as, and it was exactly that: an abode for one, and the only one standing in good faith without threatening collapse. The make was traditional, but Yasumi was no architect, and he called it as it is: A shack. A rather nice shack, but a shack nonetheless.
“A messenger, or a dead man,” rumbled a groggy voice from inside. “Choose which one you are.”
[ ] ‘Answer that you are a messenger.’ [ ] ‘Answer that you are a dead man.’ [ ] Say nothing. See how Yasumi will react.
‘The Earthen Gods,’ one answered. ‘Good evening, Ibuki Suika. Or should I say, good morning?’
“Oh.” A figure kicked a stray window open, and two horns and a mess of yellow-orange hair spilled out. Two half-closed, brown eyes drifted over to Yasumi, scanning him briefly before closing shut. She propped an arm up on the windowsill to rest her head on it. “I’m guessing you all didn’t drop by just to say hello?”
‘We have a request to ask of you,’ said one, ‘and others of your kind, but where are the other horned ones?’
“They left,” Suika said as she yawned. “To Hell. Or, Former Hell, technically.”
‘I see much has changed.’
“In some ways, yes. And in other ways, not at all.” The oni creaked an eye open, staring at the man. “And you?”
“I was not asking you, Earthen God,” she snapped. “I’m asking him directly.”
“I am Yasumi, Disciple and Follower of the Earthen Gods. I am their vessel and their will.”
“And?” the oni said.
“And that is all,” concluded the man.
“An honest fellow. But I cannot say that I do not like that. Color me partial, Yasumi.” Though she kept her eyes trained on the human, Suika moved her attention to the gods above. “If you all are meeting me here in Gensokyo, then you have not prepared your ‘vessel’ for what’s to come. I suppose that’s none of my business, though.”
‘Involve yourself if you so wish to help.’
“But you’ve come to tell me to do exactly that, hmm?”
‘Indeed you are right,’ said the elder. ‘But this is a request. A favor, if you’d so like.’
“A favor!” she said, laughing. “Not from you, but from Yasumi, correct?” Suika leveled herself to a more sober tone. “Or am I mistaken?”
‘You aren’t. And we shall say no more.’
“And what say you, Yasumi?”
“Whatever my gods will,” he said.
“Then maybe, as a ‘favor,’ I can take you for myself.”
Yasumi took an unsubtle step backward.
“Kidding. I am only kidding, disciple,” she said in dejection. “So what is your request?”
‘To build a shrine,’ said one.
“I can do that. How fast do you want it? A month? Maybe weeks?”
“The Earthen Gods are slave drivers. Days, they say!” howled the oni. She waved an arm up, clinking the chain cuffs that dangled from her wrist. “At least I can look the part when I waste away like chattel.”
‘Time is of concern.’
“I understand. But at this rate, you really will have to offer up your disciple to me.”
Silence stood in the air.
“At least humor me once,” she complained.
Yasumi shook his head. “Forgive me for making a hasty judgment of your character, but I feel like it’s in my best interests not to.”
“And what does that mean?”
[ ] ‘It means that he is not interested.’ [ ] ‘It means that he is embarrassed.’
Yasumi, though stone-faced, raised a few mental questions toward the Earthen Gods.
“Oh,” she said, scuffed. Suika smoothed out a lock of hair, stroking it between her index and middle finger skittish-like. Yasumi had thought that she would goad the disciple further with a pressing smile and ego-stroking words, but his expectations were subverted. And were it not for the edges of her mouth hinting upwards, he would have thought her to be displeased. “Hmm? That so? Embarrassed about this little oni? Human eyes, they do wander, I suppose. Even to someone like me.”
A twinge of guilt picked at the man’s skin. By his admission, or lack thereof, he allowed the oni to bask in her own delusion. Yet, the responsibility lay not with Yasumi, but to the his gods, the perpetrators. Still, a lie as benign as this would harm no one—or so reasoned the disciple to lessen his regrets.
“I…” Yasumi said, unable to continue.
Suika took his pause as further embarrassment. “You do well to flatter me, disciple. Even though your Earthen gods spoke such hollow words.”
Yasumi’s twinge moved to an ache, and he felt the need to speak up. “...Do not mistake my thoughts as lip service.”
Suika raised a golden-orange eyebrow. “And your thoughts of me, are?”
“You are charming,” he said without hesitation. And he did not lie: He found her striking, though not immediately so. After a moment’s glance, beyond the rough features and disheveled appearance, was a fascinating oni. Her long locks of amber hair which spilled behind blue and red ribbons, her soft, rounded eyes, and her slim figure—while Ibuki Suika did well to blunt such features, she could not hide them away completely. Honesty moved him to speak further. “At least, physically.”
“Had I not known any better, I would have thought your words to be spite,” the oni said.
“We are simply not acquainted well enough,” he replied, matter-of-fact. “But… ah, I believe I’m about to say something idiotic. May I?”
“This is just my own opinion but...” he trailed off. “A kimono. It would suit you.”
Suika stared blankly. “I’ve not heard that one before.”
“I’ve already admitted to my own stupidity,” Yasumi said, bowing slightly.
Suika stared directly at the disciple, her expression completely unreadable. “What color will suit me, you think?”
Yasumi mentally prayed to his gods, but no divine word was given. “...Blue. I think,” he answered, finally responding on his own.
“Really now? You know, I have—no, no. Anyway. I’m digressing.” Suika dropped her sentence. “All that aside, Earthen Gods, consider your request done. I can take care of everything. The only question I need answered is: Where do you want it?”
“Iwasetsu,” the disciple automatically replied. “Probably closer to the river banks, where civilization is closer.”
‘He means the path to the foothold of the mountain. Near the village of humans.’
“Sorry?” Yasumi said to his gods. “We’re building a shrine—in Gensokyo?”
‘Indeed. This was always the case.’
And for once, Yasumi and his gods were completely misaligned.
Time sallied forth, and it was three days past before Yasumi knew it. All the while, the disciple was subject to meditation, where the man would remain motionless at the footsteps of the Moriya Shrine. He would also not eat, drink, nor sleep during, much to the complaints of the wind priestess.
“At least have some water!” she had whined, hands indignantly at her waist.
Were he any other mortal, he may have accepted. But Yasumi found sustenance through the fruits of his divine labor, as meager as it was. It was no golden apple, but it sufficed… that is to say, he survived.
Exhaustion manifested itself as beads of sweat on the disciple’s brow. Yasumi did not think he was finished, but the Earthen Gods gave him an order to rest.
‘Any more, and you shall collapse. Sleep, child.’
“As you will,” rasped Yasumi. And in that instant, the duress that the man was subject to was placed all upon him at once. He willed himself to the common quarter chairs—he feared that he would not make it to the guest room before falling over himself.
Though Yasumi’s physical state was worn, the follower’s divine sense sharpened. No, it was no mere “sense” anymore—he had the ability to manifest his divinity in material form. From the land he trod to all lands connected, Yasumi could direct the earth’s will… to some degree.
Sanae passed through the living quarters, and upon sighting the man, she gave him a pitying smile. “So you’re alive!”
“In some sense,” the man replied. His gaze flicked to the wind priestess. In odd clarity, he understood the formerly unresolved feeling that he felt before from Sanae. She, much like Yasumi, was tethered between the boundaries of mortals and gods, stuck in the realm of both but acting like neither.
Sanae, however, was of natural descent, whereas Yasumi’s half-mortality was constructed artificially. In that moment, the man felt envy, fleeting as it was. The feeling calmed and after, the man was awash in contrition. To feel jealousy for Sanae, a person of similar likeness, was a dark emotion.
[ ] ‘It is fine to feel jealousy, Yasumi. Just do not act upon it in malevolence.’ [ ] ‘Do not feel jealous, Yasumi. Your divinity was a choice. Find pride in it.’
‘Do not feel jealous, Yasumi. Your divinity was a choice. Find pride in it.’
“Indeed, I should,” the disciple said, reaffirming his gods. He knew not Sanae’s disposition towards her own mortality, but Yasumi was well-acquainted with his own. He’d serve his gods and obey their will—that was his purpose.
‘But...’ one said, reading Yasumi, ‘do remember to fulfill your own aspirations. You are, even with your gods, a person of your own will, too.’
“Of course,” he replied. It just so happened that Yasumi’s objective was exactly that: fulfilling his gods’ desires. So it made sense, or at least to the disciple, that there would be an overlap of will and servitude.
“Here,” Sanae said, breaking Yasumi’s thoughts by offering a cup to the man. While he was muddled by his own thoughts, Yasumi did not notice that she slipped by to brew some tea. “After your… ordeal, I thought something warm would be nice.”
He took the cup into his hands and put it to his lips. “Thank you, priestess.”
Her thoughtfulness was not lost on Yasumi. Pettiness was his former envy’s name, and so his internal guilt enveloped him twofold. But had he not found out that she was not completely mortal, that she wasn’t just a human…
‘Yasumi,’ one chided. ‘You, too, should learn to respect humans in the same capacity.’
But after what they did to me, he thought in frustration, and to you Earthen Gods… I cannot. At least for now.’
“Sorry,” Sanae said, sheepishly smiling. “I’m not bothering you… am I?”
“Not at all,” he declared. “I am just thinking.”
“You’re the kinda guy to be lost in thought often, eh?” Sanae then fumbled over her own words. “Not that it’s a bad thing, yeah. Uh. Yeah.”
“Losing oneself in the mind spells inaction for the body. Or so it was writ.”
“Oh! Like Hamlet?”
“No, it’s nothing,” Sanae mumbled, blushing away her embarrassment. “Sorry. Just knowing you’re from the Outside like me gets me like this. Even if you have no idea what I’m talking about.”
“I understand that I do not know what you are talking about.”
She giggled. “Was that supposed to be a joke, or?”
Yasumi was about to reject the thought, but due to his gods’ insistence—and they did insist heavily—he begrudgingly responded instead with: “...Yes. It was. But banter aside, I have a request.”
“Could you help me to the guest space? The fatigue is settling, and I fear that I may collapse here in this room.”
“Ah, err,” she stammered in modesty. “Yeah. Here, I’ll help you up.”
Sanae put her shoulders underneath Yasumi’s arm and propped him up. He staggered forth once before reclaiming ground. He leaned closer to the wind priestess to secure his footing, and she yelped in surprise.
“Apologies,” the man said.
“No worries!” Though she said that, her voice was hitched in timbre.
The two made slow strides to the guestroom. Her uneasiness throughout was palpable. Perhaps, like him, she found his human self to be undesirable, or worse still, she found out about his complex mortality and was subsequently estranged by his unnatural divinity. Half-mortals had an uncanny ability to notice the particulars, after all.
“Thank you,” Yasumi said after the priestess escorted him.
“Um, no problem.” She offered him a nervous smile. “I’ll see you later then. Rest well.”
“I shall,” he said and closed the door.
‘I believe she—’ one started.
‘Do not say it,’ admonished another. ‘You are acting like a mortal.’
Yasumi did not ask about it, nor did he care. For now, he fell straight to the futon.
[ ] ‘Does this not remind you of the time we found you?’ [ ] ‘About that wind priestess...’ [ ] ‘Hush, now. Let the child sleep.’
‘Does this not remind you of the time we found you, Yasumi?’
‘Hush, now. Let the child sleep, else you shall goad him from it.’
‘Indeed. And what else would help his rest than a song from the gods? Sleep, with thine eyes closed,’ one sang, ‘and Find thyself in rest undisturbed. I, your god, do command you; this is my Word. Let thy holy ones preserve ye in this place thence, and rested ye shall notice hence!’
‘Quiet, you ruckus.’
‘As they said. Earthen youngest, calm yourself.’
‘So the Elder says. That is to say: Shut up, fool!’
‘But we still have much to talk about. Such as the wind priestess. She was acting rather peculiar, don’t you think, child?’
‘Do not ask Yasumi about her trifles,’ another snapped. ‘Not when we have more pressing matters to tend to.’
‘Should they not get along, at least?’
‘From your influence, I doubt your purpose is for them to… “get along,” as you might imply.’
‘Cease your bickering. The child shall rest.’
With the Elder’s final word, the Earthen Gods settled, and Yasumi was left in the quiet. While the man was too incapacitated to deliver words, he felt at ease under the Earthen Gods’ wing. Their presence soothed the disciple, and their squabbling served only to further lull him to sleep.
Rest, as Yasumi always knew, was a state of temporary being. At dawn, he woke to faint shuffling in the hallway. Curiosity took hold of him, and he rose from his futon and out the guestroom.
His curiosity was seldom rewarded, but this chance was perhaps an exception. Yasumi crossed paths of the forefront god of the Moriya Shrine, Kanako Yasaka. Her indigo hair was neatly swept behind a flowered ornament, and a braid looped to her back like an uncoiled snake. The red dress, matched with velvet trimmings and golden embroidery, shone brightly against the brown tapestry that hung on the shrine walls. Regal, she was, or so Yasumi thought to himself. Though she flashed a moment of fatigue, as she turned to the disciple, Kanako remained firm and sharpened her crimson eyes on the man.
“Hum. A guest of Suwako, perchance?” Her eyes flitted up and down the man’s figure. “I must admit, I was not expecting anyone at this hour, but I welcome you. And those around you, of course.”
“Thank you,” he said. The man preferred to speak gratitude first and any questions after. After, he waited for his gods to speak, but they had no words to offer to Kanako. So stood silence between Yasumi and the goddess of wind and rain.
“Would they answer if I ask them politely?” Kanako said with a wink.
‘If you know of us.’
“Those with ties to Suwako, I know that much. I’d wager you’re olden gods—like her.”
‘You are correct in your assumptions. You may call us the Earthen Gods, Yasaka.’
“And the boy?”
“Yasumi. Disciple of the Earthen Gods,” he answered back.
“Good. I am Kanako Yasaka of the Moriya Shrine. But I’m sure your gods already knew that. If you’ll excuse me, then,” she said, unmasking her weariness with a heavy voice. “You’ve caught me at an inopportune time, so I’ll be resting. Summon Suwako if you so need a Moriya goddess.”
And, rather unceremoniously, she left to her quarters.
“So?” asked Yasumi to his gods.
‘Go to the front of the shrine,’ one said.
“As you will.” Yasumi, not quite understanding his gods, was puzzled but otherwise complied.
‘The shrine maiden of the border is looking for you, child. I believe you shall find her at the shrine gates.’
Yasumi, who was a thoroughly punctual man, had not accounted for the fact that the shrine maiden of the border could have been late. He ended up sweeping the shrine entrance—it was, after all, untidy with leaves and dirt. And Yasumi, in good conscience, would not meet the shrine maiden unkempt, so he had picked up a broom and took his charity work in stride.
About an hour past, long after Yasumi had finished his work, the shrine maiden of the border, Reimu Hakurei, appeared at the gates. She floated down from the sky, touching foot at the base of the Moriya steps. Her red-and-white hakama fluttered alongside the spring wind. Against the green and brown of the mountainside, she stood out like prey. Though unlike prey, the shrine maiden had a commanding presence, even as unmotivated as she looked. Stifling a yawn, the miko took a brief glance at the disciple and nodded.
“I’m looking for an intruder, shrine assistant,” she said. Reimu had little need for introductions, so she moved immediately to her aims. “Anything you know?”
Yasumi thought to correct her, but it was unimportant. “Could you spare more details?”
“Several days ago, there was interference in the border, and it came from the Moriya Shrine. While I would have investigated immediately, I was preoccupied for the last couple of days,” Reimu said. “Anyway, I thought there was going to be an ‘incident’ soon, but nothing happened.”
“Understood. I know the person that you are searching for.”
“Take me to them.”
“No need. I believe I am the intruder.,” Yasumi said.
Reimu staggered. “Huh? And you didn’t do anything to cause an incident?”
“Why would anybody wish to cause an incident? We merely came to Gensokyo for refuge.”
“If only the last couple of idiots shared the same mindset.” She shook her head. “Usually, these ‘incidents’ involve me beating everyone up, but I’m glad to make an exception. Less work for me. I already have my hands full dealing with the latest rumors.”
“If you’d so like, we could aid you,” Yasumi offered.
“By ‘we’ you mean?”
‘The Earthen Gods,’ one replied. ‘A pleasure to meet you, Hakurei of Gensokyo.’
“The Earthen Gods,” Reimu repeated, scrunching up her eyebrows. “You wouldn’t be the ones that have been propagating the rumor about the demon, by any chance, right?”
“Demon?” Yasumi asked.
She sighed. “There have been talks about how there was an altar of curses being built by a demon in a blue kimono. People have seen it on the road to the mountaintop, apparently.”
[ ] ‘We shall go investigate in your stead. We already have an idea of what it may be.’ [ ] ‘It is naught but an oni with a favor to fulfill. And it is a shrine, not an altar of curses. Pay it no mind.’
[x] ‘We shall let you know post-haste. Our disciple shall pay you a visit at your shrine once it is done.’ I mean, she could just ask the goblin herself, but yeah. Gotta assert dominance by making your time more valuable.
‘We were just about to go to the twin-horned one and ascertain the date ourselves,’ said one.
“Right.” She nodded. “Well, just let me know whenever the shrine’s all done. Find me at the Hakurei Shrine, and I can get to work.”
“Understood,” Yasumi said, lowering his head to the miko. “We shall bring the word when it is complete.”
“And if you could,” the shrine maiden said sheepishly, “uh, would you mind telling her that she’s welcome to come back to the Hakurei Shrine?”
“We shall let her know as well. You may rely on it.”
Reimu gruffly acknowledged the man. “Yeah. Thanks.”
“If you’ll excuse us, then.”
“Alright, you’re free to go.” She shooed the disciple away, letting the man off.
Yasumi borrowed his sense of direction from the Earthen Gods. Prior to entering Gensokyo, he figured that he had no sense at all, but once the powers bestowed to him by his gods had manifested, the disciple did not lose himself at every twist and turn. He felt the tremors of the Earth, and they granted him knowledge—of the terrain, of those that had stepped on soil, and of all that lay on it.
While the disciple could have taken the ropeway down the mountain, he was a man of the Earthen Gods, so he would rather follow the path carved by his gods’ soil.
Down the mountain’s foot, past the forestry that touched the mountain’s base, and upon the uneven, paved road was a shrine. Rather, it was the shrine—of the Earthen Gods.
It was no mere coincidence that the shrine was constructed upon the path that travelers frequent. To get to the foothold of the Youkai Mountain, one must first cross the road to the shrine.
To Yasumi’s surprise, the shrine was complete—or at least, in structure. Paved cobblestone led perpendicular from the main road and ended at the stairs to the shrine. The shrine of the Earthen Gods stood at hillside. While it did not tower over the world, it hovered proudly above the mortals it watched over… like the shrine at Iwasetsu. But those were not the only similarities they shared. The gabled roofs were uneven toward the left side, the timbered floors were raised at the same locations, and even the offertory hall and the sanctuary that enshrined the representations of the Earthen Gods were the same.
The only difference was the furbish. A muddied oni stood, smiling triumphant in victory, at the footsteps of the shrine. Caked in dust and mortar, Suika Ibuki smelled no better than a heated kiln. The blue kimono she wore was splotched gray in adhesive.
“What do you think?”
“May I be honest?”
“Go for it.”
“You look like you require a long soak.”
“...I meant about the shrine,” she groaned. “I know I look like a mess.”
“My words would not do it justice,” the disciple said. “It is apt. No, more than apt. It is flawless. And to think you’ve finished this in only mere days.”
“It’s not done yet. While the foundation is sound, the interior still needs more work.” Taking a step back, the oni whistled in satisfaction. “It really is nice, looking at it from the outside, hmm?”
‘To think you still remember the shrine,’ one said.
“It was one of my first works. Though I don’t really do that kind of thing anymore. It’s hard not to remember every detail—mistakes included.”
‘You could have created a new shrine.’
“It would have taken longer. Besides,” she said, “we all find comfort in that which is familiar, Yasumi included.”
“And that means?”
Suika faced the man without humor. “However your gods wish to interpret it. Really, Earthen Gods, you should be honest with your disciple.”
“...About?” Yasumi, reluctant but curious, asked.
“About why the Earthen Gods came to Gensokyo,” she replied.
[ ] ‘The answer is a simple one, but out of our own selfishness, we shall omit saying it—for now.’ [ ] ‘It shall be revealed in due time, Yasumi.’ [ ] ‘Twin-horned one, this is of our own concern.’
‘The answer is a simple one, but out of our own selfishness, we shall omit saying it—for now.’
“You are not shielding Yasumi like that. Really, it’s the complete opposite.”
“Then, oni, we permit you to explain it to our disciple himself. But I am sure you know why we cannot. And, should you have a heart, you should know why you cannot, either.’
“...Really now.” Suika turned to face the man. “Are you not curious about what your gods are hiding from you?”
“No,” he said in obstinacy. “It matters not. I take heed and merely follow their word. The Earthen Gods are my judge, and I, their intercessor. It would take more than revelations to sway my conviction.”
She leaned in closer, placing a dusted finger to the man’s chest. “Even if it involves you?”
“All the more so.”
“You’re as stubborn as your gods, hmm?”
He bared a smile. “I shall take that as a compliment, Ibuki Suika.”
“However you like it,” she replied.
Suika, with nothing more to say, hopped onto one of the stone lanterns that lined the shrine entrance and stretched her arms, sitting back casually. With her small frame, she could have fit another two or three of her on top. Her legs dangled idly as their length barely reached the base.
‘Oni,’ one said.
‘This is a different matter altogether, but the Hakurei Miko said to tell you that you are welcome to come back to her shrine.’
“Is that right? Maybe I’ll pass by and go visit her on a less sober night.”
‘Would that not be every night?’
“Ill temper sours even alcohol.” Suika grumbled out the words. “And let’s just say that, at least for the past two weeks, I haven’t been in the most pleasant of moods.”
‘How rare an occasion.’
“About as rare as chancing upon a cursed wolf. It’s been happening too often lately.” She laughed dryly. “Maybe, though, some sake would be nice tonight. I’m expecting to finish the shrine before nightfall.”
[ ] ‘In that case, we would be more than happy to join you.’ [ ] ‘Go reconcile with the shrine maiden. We are sure that she shall be waiting for you.’
‘In that case, we would be more than happy to join you.’
Suika laughed. “Is that the case, now? Well, I won’t shoo you away—alcohol is best enjoyed in company. But who shall drink with me? You, the Earthen Gods? I’d bet my left horn that you gods are going to refuse to drink with me in physical form.”
‘You are right, in a sense,’ said one.
‘But we can do you one better. Yasumi, our disciple, is also our Vessel, our Incarnate. Should he drink in our stead, it is the equivalent of all the Earthen Gods taking drink,’ added another.
Yasumi was a man that expressed little in the way of emotion. However, that day, he looked to the gods above in wild, base fear.
Suika put a hand to her chin, leaning forward as much as she could without falling off the lantern. “How do you handle your liquor, disciple?”
“Well enough,” he said gravely. “But I fear I’m no match for an oni.”
“It’s no contest, Yasumi. Unless, that’s what you wanted?” She added a coy tilt of her head to her words. “Hmm?”
“Let’s enjoy liquor in moderation,” he replied, turning down her offer.
But to oni, and for Suika especially, others’ refusal was merely a suggestion. “Moderation?” She laughed with heartiness disparate from her size. “There is no such thing as moderation with oni and alcohol. And don’t fret with that face—I’ll go easy on you.”
Yasumi waited at the sanctuary of the Earthen Shrine. While Yasumi much preferred its predecessor’s title, the Shrine of the Earthen Gods, the owners themselves crowned the name of the new shrine, stating that it was ‘less demanding of the tongue.’
The oni had left to her residency during the disciple’s wait—she smelled more of building material than anything else, and the clothes she had brought were caked with fibers of the Earthen Shrine. Yasumi did not mind either way, but Suika had insisted. So out of simple courtesy, the man obliged her wants and let her leave.
Between the oni’s departure and her later arrival, Yasumi meditated before his gods. He gladly accepted his newfound divine power from the Earthen Gods, and in silent prayer, he resolved to exceed his gods’ expectations. With the shrine complete, the disciple now had responsibilities to nurture and faith to gather. He looked forward to the future.
The later future, that is. Dread was the catalyst that clenched his fists when the twin-horned oni returned with a single gourd, wrapped in talismans and red twine, and saucers to accompany it.
A cursed artifact, for certain, Yasumi assumed.
‘Your conjecture is not far off, child. The gourd finds itself with more sake once it empties. Meaning—’
‘You and the oni shall battle until one falls.’
“Are we?” the disciple asked the oni with nervous delay.
“We’re not,” she said, soothing the man. “We drink tonight in celebration of a job well done. Which may, honestly, produce similar effects, but don’t worry! I said I’ll go easy on you. Now sit—well, I guess you already are—and let’s drink. No, wait, I’ve another idea,” she said, pulling the man up. Despite her gentle force, the man was easily lifted to stand. She was indeed an oni. “Let’s move to the deck by the moonside.”
They sat by the deck’s hanging, watching the moon from underneath. The moon of that day waned, two slivers cut from full. Nevertheless, it was a sight for the disciple and company.
The first two cups were poured without a word from either party, though it was a silence that Yasumi could appreciate. The oni took considerate glances at the disciple and matched her pace with his. The unexpected kindness, coupled with the subdued light of the dim moon, humbled Yasumi.
As the oni offered Yasumi his second cup, he took a good look over to Suika. Though she still wore a blue kimono, Suika changed to one of silk, which glimmered faintly in the moonlight. It, however, was ill-fit. The sash was not fastened tight enough so the folds of the kimono slipped, particularly at the top, where her shoulder was left bare.
Suika winked, noticing the man’s gaze. “Thoughts?” was the first word to break the quiet.
“…The shrine is impeccable.”
“You know what I’m asking for, Yasumi,” she said with a laugh.
The man gathered his thoughts. “I was right about the blue kimono,” he finally said. Then, to shut his own mouth, he filled it with sake.
“Your own sober mouth confirmed it,” Suika said as she refilled her cup. “Now, why do you think that’s so? Is it my trailing, soft hair that fails to the waist of my kimono? Or my diminutive figure that accents the folds of the dress? Or?”
“Those are questions that may be answered later into the night,” he evaded. “I’m afraid I’m too sober to spill anything but sake.”
“Then I’ll defer until later. But don’t think I’ll forget. I have a good memory, after all.” The oni leaned back to bask in the moonlight. “I have questions to ask your sober gods, anyhow.”
“Firstly, where’d you get your disciple? I thought you gods were going to…” Suika eyed Yasumi warily. “Well, anyway. Color me surprised that you all still have a follower of your own accord.”
[ ] ‘It is a long story, but to summarize…’ [ ] ‘Perhaps the child could tell you the story himself.’
‘It is a long story, but to summarize…’ one said. ‘We found him in the forest.’
“Quite the abridgment.” Suika took the moment’s lull to refill her cup. “Or is it something that you gods don’t wish to share?”
‘Nothing of the sort. We take great pride in what we did that fateful night. But, to Yasumi…’ another paused. ‘Shall we indulge her?’
“The Earthen Gods need not ask permission,” so replied Yasumi.
‘There was a human child who had escaped into the mountainside of Iwasetsu. The boy fled from pursuers—fanatics perhaps. We gods do not know, nor do we trouble ourselves with who they were.’
“Human tradesmen,” the disciple curtly added before resuming his silence.
‘Indeed. And they mortally wounded the child who fled to our domain. Perhaps you could call our encounter as fate or divine providence, for we believe it was our destiny to save this child.’
“Oh?” She lowered her cup, fixing her brown eyes to the disciple with interest. “And why’s that?”
‘Even before we had indoctrinated him as our follower, Yasumi had considerable spiritual affinity. An impossibly rare case in the Outside World. Furthermore, he has a sense for the ethereal—a strength found by his own merit, not ours.’
“Is—Is that so?” The words came not from the mouth of the oni’s but the disciple’s. “Why divulge this information now? This was… unbeknownst to me prior.”
‘Because you may trust this one, Yasumi.’
“And what other reason?” Suika asked in accusation.
‘That is all.’
“If that’s what you claim.” The oni tipped her gourd slightly, urging Yasumi to bring his cup closer. “Now, continue.”
“Are you asking the Earthen Gods, or?”
“Both you and your gods,” she said with a shake of the gourd. “Yasumi, drink, and Earthen Gods, tell.”
‘We chased the other mortals away. It was no more complex than the sudden movements of the Earth to scare them off. And that is when we found the boy comatose. He could scarcely breathe; a sorry and miserable state he was in. We exchanged the boy’s lifespan with divinity so that he may be born again in our likeness.’
“So, a living god, then.”
“A disciple first, and living god apprentice second,” Yasumi corrected.
‘We own no apprentice,’ said the Elder. ‘Not anymore.’
“What? No,” Yasumi, with his fill of alcohol, choked out. “Are you abandoning this humble disciple?”
There was pause between the disciple and his gods. With hesitancy, one answered: ‘...We would never abandon you, child. But the shrine we stand on will not be ours, but yours.’
Uncertainty clouded the man’s heart, but he would not call it doubt. The Earthen Gods were his foundation, from the soil that he walked on to the carved stairway of the shrine that the oni built. Doubting his gods would only serve to estrange himself from the only connection he held dear. “As you will it, then.”
“If anything, you’ve earned the trust of your gods. Now see their will through and inherit the shrine,” soothed the oni, placing a firm hand on the man’s shoulder. She grinned. “This is a time to celebrate.”
“It is,” the man reaffirmed, finding temporary relief in alcohol. He lifted his cup in cheers. “To the Earthen Gods, then.”
The gods were silent but allowed themselves temporary respite, as relief joined them together. The oni proved to be more dependable than they had expected. But she held quick attention to the gods’ plans. And, while the Earthen Gods were reluctant to reveal this much to the disciple already, they had ill time to spare.
[ ] They relied on the oni to guide Yasumi. [ ] They relied on the Moriya goddess instead—her descendant followed the same path as Yasumi, so Moriya, too, would guide Yasumi.
[x] They relied on the oni to guide Yasumi. My reasoning is that he seems to jive with Suika, and his growth may be more interesting as something unique rather than "proper". I get this feeling that doing things oddly is part of the "goal" here, and it's more intriguing that way too
The Earthen Gods seldom spoke without Yasumi as their observer. But the nature of the conversation involved the disciple himself, so his gods left the man with the oni.
The gods had much to talk about.
‘This decision is too hasty. Do not impose on me a choice when we have yet to find foundation in Gensokyo,’ said one.
‘If you were to force a choice, then I would have to align myself with the oni,’ said another.
‘Ibuki is merely a force of nature. We cannot rely on her, for she comes and goes like spring winds. Should we not rely on Moriya instead? She was one of us. And her descendant draws similar parallels to our very own Yasumi. Perhaps she, too, can lead him to the path of righteousness when we inevitably—”
‘Do not say it, Earthen younger. And need I remind you that Suwako is not one of us anymore? Associating our disciple with one who chose to abandon her people does not sit well with me. And look at Yasumi. Even he, lost as he is, has opened up, even if but a little, to the oni. I fear that will never be the case with Moriya. She, like us, is still a god. And, should Yasumi wish to grow, he must discard his title as a follower and disciple.’
‘I trust Moriya to understand that. I cannot say the same for the oni. She is a free spirit. Yasumi is the complete opposite… living in shackles bound to us. Do you think that she would comply with us or even take notice of Yasumi’s plight?’
‘I second Moriya, though it is my personal opinion that either will guide Yasumi to the correct path. I trust both to see this through.’
‘...Ibuki is my opinion.’
‘All of you, fools!’
‘You are the fool here, youngest.’
‘Silence,’ boomed the Elder. ‘Do you all not remember the purpose of our trials? It is to let Yasumi grow. To deliver him more than just divinity. We must grant that child the freedom of will. To not bind him to us anymore. And yet, you all cannot even choose your allies? Stop running from fate, lesser Earthen Gods, and leave this decision to our disciple—after all, it is his choice to make, whether or not he wishes to. Now let us begone and rejoin Yasumi.’
So the Earthen Gods, pacified by the Elder, quieted and returned to their disciple’s side.
Yasumi, however, did not notice. Rather, he was unable to: The sake wrested control from his limbs and, while the man was still conscious, he lay sprawled on the deck flooring with his arm covering his eyes.
“I thought it wasn’t a competition?” the oni said, satisfaction lining her smile.
“It was not,” he agreed. “A competition implies there was a fair chance. Suppose I was testing my limits with an oni.”
“How do you think you fared?”
“…I’d wager I was not close.”
“Closer than most,” she giggled. “You’d outdrink the lower tengu, at the very least. Still an impressive feat, Yasumi.”
“Yet I do not feel accomplished. I wonder why that is.”
“Maybe because you drank yourself into a stupor?”
“Your sound logic only wracks at my alcohol-ridden head,” groaned Yasumi. He closed his eyes with a heavy sigh.
“Alcohol-ridden, hmm?” Suika nudged the disciple’s arm with a loose sandal. “Enough to illustrate your earlier thoughts about my kimono?”
“I can offer you no articulation as to why.” Yasumi’s statement would have concluded at that, were he sober. The man, however, was anything but. Still, his modesty was pronounced twofold during his insobriety. “I can only offer you my thoughts: The blue kimono is charming on you. It is cute. I’ll say no else.”
“Only the blue kimono is charming and cute?” She prodded him again with her foot. “And what of me?”
True to his word, he said nothing more.
“Mmm,” he replied, turning to his side. He lay senseless, escaping to the world of dreams with soft but drawn-out breaths.
“Well, that’s it for the night, then,” Suika said, corking her gourd with the stopper.
‘Consider your debts repaid,’ said one, ending their quiet. ‘You have no obligation to us anymore.’
“Oh? And I thought I still had many left to repay.”
‘We will not bind you to duty, oni.’
“It’s not like an oni to leave their promises unfulfilled, you know,” she said with a lowered voice.
[ ] ‘You shall have to live with that burden of knowledge, then.’ [ ] ‘If you so wish the Earthen Gods to prosper, then that will be entirely of your own volition.’
‘If you so wish the Earthen Gods to prosper, then that will be entirely of your own volition.’
Suika raised a wary eyebrow. “Who’s saying that I do?”
‘No one. That is… just our assumption, or maybe our own want.’
“Or your own premonitions. Though, ‘premonitions’ may be too heavy of a word.” Suika placed the gourd on her lap and inched toward the sleeping disciple. Alcohol playing its part, the oni brushed aside a lock of the man’s hair. “After all, I presume all this is for the sake of your follower.”
‘Yasumi is lost. In the Outside World, he had no place with the mortals. His only company were the Earthen Gods.’
‘He was abandoned, discarded by that realm.’
“Are you not abandoning your disciple, too? Or do the Earthen Gods not follow mortal standards?” Suika glared at the night sky. “I do not like it when you gods are indirect.”
‘We are transient beings, Suika. That much was predetermined the moment we saved the child. In the time we have left with him, we have decided to guide Yasumi as much as we can. But we implore you: Do not say that we are abandoning him. It was not of our own will.’
“Then you should give your disciple the courtesy he deserves and tell him.” The oni pulled at the sake gourd’s stopper, lifting the gourd up to her mouth, but ultimately yielded. “Otherwise, despite your own insistence, you are abandoning him all the same.”
‘We shall tell him in time.’
“Is time not of the essence?” the oni said icily. “Yasumi is hostage to your own permanence, or lack thereof. I may favor you Earthen Gods, but please, have a damned heart.”
[ ] ‘Tomorrow shall be the time, then. We indeed have delayed it for far too long.’ [ ] ‘Yasumi must prove that he is worthy of succeeding us first. And we know that time is soon.’
‘Tomorrow shall be the time, then. We indeed have delayed it for far too long.’
“It’s settled. And make sure you do, hear me? I know that you Earthen Gods have a long history of being untimely. May this one time be the exception.”
‘It will be the only time that we shall take care not to be inopportune. We know that it involves more than just us gods. Our fate is intertwined with our disciple’s, after all.’
“So long as you know.” The oni grasped her gourd and drank straight from its mouth. Without the human to chase away her moderation, she continued until her need for air eclipsed her wants. “And here, I thought I’d be drinking for celebration. But there are always strings attached, hmm?”
‘It is never so simple when dealing with gods, as you’d understand.’
“And how!” Suika cried, though she quickly quieted back down, stealing worried glances at the human. Yasumi, still bogged by alcohol, did nothing but stir. “I’ll drink to that, at least.”
Quiet was the end of the first night of the Earthen Shrine. Ibuki Suika, with no continued interest in pursuing conversation with the Earthen Gods, drank quietly into dawn, watching stars disappear into daybreak. In between the passage of the first day to the next, the oni had vanished, leaving as suddenly as she had appeared.
Yasumi woke, as he always did, when the sun tipped barely over the world’s horizon. His routine was not without casualty however, as his head remained half-clouded by the sins of alcohol. The floorboards were not kind to him that night, either—the result was a stiff back and a hitched neck.
Worse was the transpiring set of events that happened in the morning of that day: The disciple had no intention of bestowing blessings to the humans of Gensokyo, but intention and the man’s actions did not align. Several humans, feeling particularly adventurous, had decided to visit the new shrine that was built. Even before the Hakurei’s intervention, the darker rumors that had surrounded the shrine were quickly rectified.
Overnight, the rumor had changed the shrine from being a demonic altar to holding its rightful position as its dedication to the Earthen Gods. With the promise of prosperity, humans flocked to the shrine in interest on its first reception day. It was a miracle, artificial as it was, for the ill rumor to suddenly turn head.
Yasumi frankly did not want to give way to the humans in his current state, but should they ask for the blessing of the Earthen Gods, then, his gods willing, he would comply.
And they did exactly that.
Reluctant to open himself to humans, the disciple sought help from his gods. But all he received was a gentle chiding from the Earthen Gods and nothing further. To the man, it was chaos. The humans, they expected and asked for too much. But he would at least entertain them, if only for his gods.
It was not until afternoon had passed that Yasumi had time to commune. The first day of the shrine was, to Yasumi, a begrudging success.
“O Earthen Gods,” spoke Yasumi, “Prosperity has returned to your rightful domain. While this humble disciple was troubled, he knows of your combined wisdom and shall act accordingly to meet your expectations.”
‘You have not only met our expectations, but you have surpassed them. We do praise you for your continued devotion.’
“It is nothing,” the man said, blushing.
‘That is why I can trust you to act on our behalf.’
‘The child,’ one said, grave in tone, ‘is still too lacking. Yasumi is too naive. And far too mortal.’
‘But that mortal persistence is precisely why this Earthen God can trust him.’
“Am I to shoulder more responsibility? If so my gods will it, then I shall happily accept it,” Yasumi said.
‘In a sense. But what you will be shouldering is not only responsibility, but also burden.’
“Burden?” asked the disciple.
‘Burden,’ reemphasized the Elder. ‘Of knowledge and acceptance.’
‘Prepare yourself, once-disciple. For we shall reveal all to you henceforth.’
Preparation was not a common facet of the Earthen Gods, and Yasumi, as their follower, had inherited their habits. Though his beloved gods had told him to prepare, all the man could do was accept blindly what they would deliver onto him. And he knew, even without divine foresight, that what they would disclose was not information that Yasumi wished to hear. That much was obvious—why else would they be so reticent, even when the oni threatened to reveal their methods and reasons for their exodus to Gensokyo?
He kept silent for the moment. With slow, deliberate movements, he moved to the altar room and sat in seiza, closing his eyes. After a sharp breath, he declared, “I am ready, my gods.”
The Earthen Gods spared no moment.
‘We plan on returning to the Earth.’
“To the Outside? And I am to stay here?” The half-god faltered. “Forgive me, but my thoughts are in disarray. Are you… not abandoning me this way?”
‘You fail to understand,’ said one Earthen God. ‘The Outside World and Gensokyo—all that touches land is our Earth. And we Earthen Gods shall return to soil, as all nature does.’
Yasumi contained many thoughts, and he held onto them tightly. The disciple that he once was, he planned to accept his gods’ capriciousness. Yet raw, mortal emotion won over his mouth and, painstakingly, he was forced to ask by his human self, “Why?”
‘Not why, but when. We Earthen Gods had discarded our names with formal intent. A name holds history, power. The Earthen Gods did not need either. And those with forgotten names shall inevitably disappear from human memory.’
Yasumi, at risk of sounding broken, repeated himself with ill-tempered cadence. “Why must the Earthen Gods disappear?”
‘Simply because we had come to realize that this world did not need us anymore.’
“Then what of me!” the half-god yelled, clenching tightly the hems of his hakama. “I still need you, Earthen Gods! Please, and I beg you of this, please consider me, too!”
‘And we have. It was solely you that has kept us in this mortal realm. To spend another day with you, child, guiding you as we would one of our own. Those blessed days, we still remember fondly.’
“Then consider your disciple’s selfishness and stay for his sake,” he begged. “Please.”
‘You are no longer our disciple. And, as such, you do not need us. Not anymore. We have deemed you worthy, even before Gensokyo, of succeeding our title.’
“I have never wanted the title of the Earthen Gods. And I would gladly discard this mantle if it would mean that the Earthen Gods found purpose in this world.”
‘We have fulfilled our purpose long since—to nourish the world and its creatures so that it may survive. Now it is up to the Earth’s inhabitants to maintain her blessings. And part of those individuals is you, our new Earthen God. We entrust you this duty.’
“At the cost of my own faith!” Yasumi shouted, hiding his mounting tears behind a hand. “I am deprived of my own purpose should I lose you Earthen Gods!”
‘Then, as our last request of you, please find purpose anew. Live as Yasumi and not as an empty vessel.’
[ ] ‘Please. Do it for your once-gods.’ [ ] ‘If you so choose, you may reject it. But you must continue to live on.’
Yasumi halted. At odds with his own convictions, the half-god reevaluated his credence with the Earthen Gods. His faith, previously unshaken, was now threatening to collapse under heavy duress. But what could he do? Being a man of faith, Yasumi could not ignore his gods’ call—even when they told him to unconditionally discard his faith.
Still, while the Earthen Gods may allow it, no absolution would save Yasumi’s conscience.
The gods were his everything. And were Yasumi to abandon them, what would he have left?
Nothing, he presumed, nothing but an empty shell.
Yet his mouth was full of contradictions to his thoughts. “As… as you will it. I shall at least try.”
‘Good. So long as you accept, we shall bestow upon you our final gift. As Earthen Gods.’
The half-god was enveloped in an unnatural warmth, likened to summer winds. And, for a moment, he saw them: the Earthen Gods. They were many in body and mind, but, even without physical form, Yasumi knew that they were holding him close in an embrace.
‘Even if we are gone, we are still with you. From the soil that you tread, to the winds that gently caress your cheek, and even in the birds that sing to you, we are there. Do not miss us, as we shall still live on in nature—and now, in you.’
In finality, a brilliant flash shone over Yasumi, and with that, his gods vanished from his sight—like a mirage.
“...What did you do?” he asked.
‘We have granted you the very thing that you have always wished for. To not be mortal.’
‘So we entrust you all that we have: our complete godhood, our title, and our will.’
‘And as inheritor of our will, we also implore you: Do learn to love—or at least tolerate—humans, too. They are mortal, as you once were.’
“I will try,” he said. “So please, stay with me.”
‘Yasumi,’ the Elder softly said. ‘Need I remind you? We shall always be here. Within your soul is us. So, to ensure that we may survive, you must carry on our legacy.’
‘We are Earthen Gods no more.’
“Then!” he said desperately. “What should I call you?”
Yasumi’s first move, as a newfound god, was to run, and quickly so. It was not the most sound decision, but the new Earthen God had little time for solace or thought. He passed through the forest roadside that snaked down the mountain base and toward Eastern Gensokyo. Had he paid diligence, the god would have noticed that along the road was the path to the village of humans, but the detail was trivial to him—at least for now. His feet moved to the olden and venerable Hakurei Shrine. Without the Earthen Gods prior to guide him, Yasumi followed the winding roads only by intuition and divine fate.
Divine fate, as the god had realized, was a loyal guide. Yasumi arrived at the grand torii gate. From its entrance, all can see that it had stood through the ages. The roof, attractive as it was with its perfectly arched back, had shingles in varied colors, their uniform brown-red melting into crimson mutations that had stood the test of time. The asphalt that had paved the roads was gray on one end, and white on the other, with cracks lining the divide.
Details of the shrine aside, Yasumi hurried to its interior.
“The shrine maiden is not here,” rumbled a low voice. “Nor the other inhabitants. Come back when evening arrives if you want to see them.”
“I have come to see you, God of Hakurei,” Yasumi replied.
The Hakurei God’s voice quieted. Then, in a beat, it erupted into boisterous laughter, trickling off into hiccups of stifled chuckles.
“You’ve come? To see me? Is that so!” he gasped out. “Somehow, I doubt that. But maybe you can prove otherwise!”
“The wolf is your title,” Yasumi declared.
“It’s not like I was hiding it.”
“The White Wolf!” the once-disciple shouted, grasping at straws. “Of curses!”
“I’ll bite, but only if you know his name.”
Yasumi wracked his memory. But nothing of the god’s name came to mind. The Earthen Gods and the Goddess Moriya said little of the White Wolf. And to tie the wolf together as the current Hakurei God was an exaggeration of logic—Yasumi only knew this by divine vision and sparse words from the Moriya goddess.
“I kid. Besides, I know of your kind, fledgling god. I can hazard a guess, but I’d like for you to tell me who sent you.”
“...Nobody,” he said reluctantly. “I am Yasumi, the last of the Earthen Gods.”
“Well, I’ll be. My guess was completely wrong. Then you are Yasumi. As in, their successor?”
“That is so.”
Without pause, the Hakurei God revealed himself. He wore a gray hakama, similar to Yasumi’s own, but over its white top rested a scarlet haori, reminiscent of blood smeared over war-torn clothes. The lapels, however, were untouched: pure white stood out behind the other faded attire, accompanied by its gold trim and similarly gilded tassels.
A black haze surrounded the god, and then Yasumi couldn’t see anything, almost as if he were suffocating and couldn’t—
“Blink,” commanded the Hakurei, “and then breathe.”
Yasumi did so, and the haze that had surrounded the other god was gone. The wolf stood a head taller than Yasumi, more so when the Earthen God accounted for the white, wolfish ears that stood proudly on top of the Hakurei’s head. His crimson eyes fell to meet the Earthen God’s gaze.
“That was?” Yasumi said, taking another breath.
“Just a reminder that you’re new to the god business,” he said, baring his teeth. “So? What do you want from me?”
“My gods, they’ve disappeared. And… I’d like for you to save them.”
“Save?” The wolf snorted. “You lie.”
“It is the truth,” replied Yasumi hot-faced. “They granted me divinity before fading from this realm.”
“Then there’s no saving to be done. You obstinately refuse to see what had transpired.”
“You don’t know a single thing, whelp.” Contrary to Yasumi’s expectations, the wolf gave the Earthen God a look of pity. “Or maybe you’re unwilling to accept it. But the Earthen Gods of old, before your own time had even existed, already held plans to fade from our existence. Even I was privy to that information, many generations ago. Though, I am surprised that they had taken on a final follower. Regardless, you are asking to save those that do not need to be saved.”
“Then why did they desert me? To lift me up as an Earthen God, only to leave me behind. Am I not their kin now? If it’s like this, then I would have disappeared alongside my gods—to be one of them.”
“What a fool,” the wolf sighed. “You are still so sickeningly human.”
“Do not say that,” snapped the Earthen God. “I am no human. Not anymore.”
“Really now? Even though you still act so mortal? If you wish for others to stop calling you human, then stop acting like one first. If you were really born again as a god, then understand what your gods have bestowed upon you. Or have you come here to have your privilege revoked? Because I can arrange for that, your old gods be damned.” The wolf bent down slightly to look face-to-face with the Earthen God. “I do not have the patience to deal with your fits, so just tell me now. Do you wish to face the maw of emptiness like your gods, or will you run to your shrine with your tail tucked between your legs?”
There, Yasumi finally made a choice, and by his own volition, too.
[ ] Yasumi faced the maw. He refused to end his journey with his gods—not on this note. [ ] Yasumi left the Hakurei Shrine. The wolf, despite his abrasiveness, was right. He had to let his gods go.
Yasumi could have easily traded his life and divinity to see his gods once again. Were he not bound to his gods’ promise to live, then he would have easily chosen death.
No, thought Yasumi. I was not ‘bound’ to any promise. It was my choice to respect their wishes and succeed them.
“I would, God of Hakurei.” the Earthen God finally replied. “I really would. But I still have yet to prove myself worthy. Until I command the same respect that the Earthen Gods did, I cannot join them.”
“If only it were that simple,” the wolf said, laxing his cold stare. “The Earthen Gods found a promise worth an eternity for you.”
“For a mortal, maybe. But I’ll find ambition with the life that I was given.”
“Whatever pleases you.” The Hakurei God, dropping formalities, shooed the man away. “I won’t involve myself in it anymore. Just know this: If you ever need to disappear forever, I’m temporarily of service.”
“Temporarily?” Yasumi asked.
He smiled vaguely. “Like your gods, I, too, may disappear without a trace. Albeit for different reasons.”
“And those reasons are?”
“I’ll tell you the day you genuinely ask to face the maw.” The god, as if to demonstrate his earlier point, faded from sight. Though Yasumi could still feel his presence, the God of Hakurei removed himself from the eyes of the mortal realm. “Which, for both of our sakes, shall hopefully be never.”
“Then could I ask you this?” The Earthen God bowed. “What would I face if I were to enter the ‘maw’?”
“You?” Yasumi could not see the other god, but he was indeed smiling. “For a being with roots in both mortality and godhood, it would be a fate worse than death.”
Yasumi returned to his shrine, life intact and all. Not that the god was in any danger, but he would not stick his head into the jaws of the wolf twice. The Hakurei God, much like the once Earthen Gods, held onto olden tenets and would not be convinced by a fledgling god like Yasumi. Even more, he’d demonstrate unnaturally swift cruelty once his temper soured, so the new Earthen God left before the wolf’s impatience wore down.
The sun hailed his return to the Earthen Shrine, illuminating the pathway to the hillside. A glow rested over the footsteps and along the stone road, gently coaxing all those who entered. It was a calm noon, with only nature sounding the otherwise quiet day. To Yasumi, it was a reminder of his old gods.
We are here, said the rustling of leaves.
So do not fret, child, continued the tittering of birds.
He entered the offertory room and sat at its center. Lonely was the shrine, and even lonelier, its sole god. He abated his feelings by checking the contents of the donation bin. The Earthen Shrine was, no doubt, successful. One merely needed to drop a coin into the box, and sound would describe the shrine’s achievement, as it echoed frequently with loud clinks from within.
Yasumi was not a material god. But success meant that the shrine was prosperous, and what he required now was belief in the Earthen God—in himself. And quantifying that belief with the shrine’s wealth was only natural.
Translating his wealth to action, however, was an obstacle that the god hoped to overcome in the future. His knowledge of how or where to spend his assets, even when he was a mortal, was sparse. So the god decided to let the donations rest, if only for now.
The god moved to the altar room—or at least, that’s where he thought he had entered. Scattered throughout the room were furniture, fitments, and paraphernalia. And in the center, where the altar once stood tall, was a kotatsu. Inside, even more ridiculous still, was a twin-horned oni, blinking away her sleepiness.
“Oh. So you’re finally here,” she said, her low voice still shaking away its grogginess. “Good.”
The hilarity of the situation was not lost on the Earthen God. As high-strung as he was, Yasumi cracked a smile of parts joy and parts relief.
Suika noticed the Earthen God smiling at her. “What?”
“I just didn’t expect to see an oni tucked away so nicely within a kotatsu. And in the altar room, no less.”
“I did some repurposing. But don’t worry, you’ll have your altar room back soon enough.” She smiled back sympathetically. “Lonely?”
“A little,” he admitted without shame.
“It’s fine if you are.” The oni beckoned Yasumi toward the kotatsu. “But at least be lonely in good company.”
He took a moment to evaluate his surroundings. Décor replaced the prior dedications to the Earthen Gods. However haphazard it was, the oni must have fitted the room. It could have easily been an oni’s whim, but Yasumi preferred to assume that it was to take his mind off of his past gods. The oni, like the Hakurei God, was privy to the fact that his gods would not return. That much, she knew with keen foresight.
And because Yasumi was rather vulnerable, he would easily accept such kindness.
Yasumi sat down at the kotatsu with awkward hesitation. The god never made comfort his natural habitat, so he felt ill at ease when he was allowed to relax without direct supervision. During this idle time, he further studied the room. Stacked in the corner was a tower of chairs, all ready to fall at a moment’s notice. In the other corner was a table lying face down, with an assortment of vases, jars, and other ceramics piled on its underside.
“Ibuki Suika,” he called out to his guest.
“Just Suika is fine.”
“Suika, then. While I do appreciate the sentiment, could you not have moved all this to another room?”
“It’s messy, I know. And I was about to move everything, but then I realized I’d leave you alone. Can’t have that—not today, at least.”
“Don’t pity me,” Yasumi replied, his frailty showing. “Please.”
“It’s not pity,” she said, reaching her hand out to him. “Few people know how it feels to be truly alone in this world. You and I are two of them.”
“Is that right?”
“It is. No need to shy away from empathy.” Suika jerked her hand further forward. “Now hurry. Reciprocate, else you’ll know an oni’s temper.”
He took her hand and clasped it reluctantly. “We look foolish, joining hands over the kotatsu.”
“Good. Let us look foolish then. You could stand to act a little more silly.” She shook his hand vigorously, enough to make his arm tremble. Satisfied, she beamed at the god. “Until you can look back at this moment fondly, I’ll be here for you.”
And if I can’t? Such words were lost in his throat—for two reasons other than his own dithering. One, he was immediately hushed: Suika scrambled out of the kotatsu covers, slid over the table top, and covered Yasumi’s mouth with her other hand. And two, he ceased his thoughts. He had felt something. No, he sensed it. It was a former but familiar feeling. One that he thought that he had lost forever.
“Yasumi,” Suika whispered frantically. “They’re—”
“I know,” he said after removing the oni’s hands from his mouth.
The nameless ones, once known as the Earthen Gods, had returned. And so they spoke:
‘The one who had ripped apart the altar was you, Ibuki?’
“It was.” Ice tipped her voice.
‘We—or at least the ones that are still here—thought that the shrine had been attacked.’
“Good. So you do still care for Yasumi. I was hoping that you’d all return, whoever is still here in Gensokyo. Knowing you gods, I’d wager that you had left without so much as a farewell.”
The nameless ones kept silent.
“Am I wrong?”
‘...You aren’t,’ one said after deliberation. ‘But even we, the youngest of the former Earthen Gods, shall fade too—like the rest.’
“Then at least give Yasumi the opportunity to say goodbye. He deserves that much.” The rage in the oni’s eyes easily cooled to mild dislike. Releasing her hold on the current Earthen God, Suika stood up to say, “I’ll be waiting in the halls, Yasumi. Give them a piece of your mind,” and left the former altar room.
Silence hovered over the room.
Nervously, Yasumi spoke first. “Reverent ones, thank you for showing yourselves one last time. Admittedly, I had lost faith. Aimless, I was. But now, I can steel myself for what is to come. And I shall survive. So please, let us depart formally so that I may find closure.”
‘Even if our parting may be in passing?’
“It is fine. I acknowledge that you all do not much have time left in this mortal realm.”
‘Very well. The older gods already have left, but we younger gods shall say this in their stead.’
[x] ‘Goodbye’ -[X] "The ol' fogeys were always sticklers for formality. Although I know right now isn't a good time to play the song of our people. I can at least tell ya that you'd do well in our place. Remember how the older gods would tell you to wait 'Seven minutes'?."
‘Yasumi. You, first and foremost, are a fool.’ With a light chuckle, the god added, ‘Then again, so are we, the younger and the older gods alike. And, in similar likeness, we had found adequate company in each other. May I bless you, Yasumi, on this day.’
‘So long as there is love for the Earth and all its boundaries, we shall be with you in nature. Any prayer for the world is another for the Earthen Gods. And even after we are gone, we shall receive that honor.’
Yasumi did a sharp bow at the waist, resting his knees on the floor as his hands touched the ground. “I shall ensure your honor remains in perpetuity.”
‘Lift your head. There is no need nor time for respect. The older gods are not here; we will not reprimand you for your informality. So I shall say this: You will do well in our stead—perhaps even better. The olden ones would always err on the side of caution and wait and discuss, nauseatingly so, before making a decision. Do not fear swift judgment.’
“I will keep that in mind,” the man said, returning to sitting in seiza.
‘And make sure to… ground yourself properly. You do not know what the future awaits, after all.’
‘Were you to heir offspring, we gods would look the other way. Even should they be a human, youkai, or another god.’
Yasumi sighed. “Is now the time to tell me this?”
‘They jest—partially. But, one day, perhaps you shall find the opportunity to settle.’
‘Younger gods,’ a subdued voice called to the others. ‘It is now time to go.’
‘But I’ve yet to sing to the child one final time!’
‘Hush, second youngest. We all had so much to say to him. And yet, we hold onto little time. Now, let the true youngest one, Yasumi, speak. And quickly.’
Yasumi had much to say—too much, perhaps. But he commanded however little time that the gods former had left. While he wanted to reminisce about the past tales of Iwasetsu and the transient moments he shared with them, the man knew what he wished to say to them. Two words—if only they came so easily. The emotions he promised to hold back filled his heart like a well until they eventually spilled over. “Earthen Gods—no, I mean—former Earthen… I—”
‘Go on,’ one softly encouraged.
He breathed once in, then once out, and sorted the words that lay scrambled in his mouth. Yasumi still had enough to say that it would fill several full scrolls of prayer, but he discarded it all. He’d pray in their honor later. Instead, his sentiments guided him.
“Thank you,” he said. “For everything. And good bye.”
Quiet had snuck into the room. Yasumi’s fears resurfaced in a bout of trepidation, but it was quickly cast aside when one called to him.
‘Yasumi. May you always be well. And, as the last of the once Earthen Gods, we speak now,’ one said, voice wavering. ‘This is farewell.’
So marked the end of the gods as they returned to soil. All was silent within the Earthen Shrine, save for impatient footsteps encircling the hallway beside.
His darker thoughts tempted him to lie down on the tatami mats and brood in morbid reflection, but he brought himself to stand and moved to the altar hallway.
Yasumi, the final Earthen God, was not willing to keep a guest waiting.
Yasumi composed the difference between his wants, his thoughts, and his actions as he exited the former altar room. Conflict stiffened his shoulders, and, however much the god wished to acquiesce his mental contradictions, he stood at the hallway door without a resolution.
Hypocritical must have been the god’s other name.
Shameful as he was, Yasumi held stoic. That is, until he had met the oni’s gaze. Her two, light amber eyebrows sank lower, bridged by a crease above her nose. Worry darkened Suika’s face as she padded down the hall and towards him.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m alright,” he responded, stubbornly hanging onto his sliver of fortitude.
It was the truth. He was alright, to several degrees of the word, and he would continue to be. But to say that he was anything more than ‘alright’ would have been an overstatement: The Earthen God was vulnerable, and he coped with his weakness by attempting to reveal none of it. So he remained terse to shield himself from further inspection.
None was needed—the oni held many years over the young god, and she had already understood. She closed the distance between them, snatching Yasumi’s arm and jerking him toward her. He was pulled toward her without struggle, so Suika took the unwilling god into her arms. She then hugged him, silently, until Yasumi released the hitch in his shoulders and relaxed.
“What?” he said as a gesture.
“You know,” Suika said gently, “In ancient past, I, too, was once in despair. Much like you. I won’t bother you over my own infallibility, but I’ll tell you this: The snake that bites with the most venom is the one that sits alone. If you have to, brood about it. But don’t waste your time by hurling poisonous thoughts at yourself. It’ll only kill you.”
“I will not bite myself. All I am doing is licking my own wounds.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to have a companion during your… wound-licking, no?”
Yasumi only stared at the oni, but his unassuming face made the oni’s face hot with shame.
“What? Did I say something wrong? I didn’t mean it that way, if that is what you were trying to unravel. What I meant to say is that you just need a person to talk to.” Suika’s guard crumbled, and she broke off the embrace. “You understand what I mean.”
“I do,” he said out of courtesy. “If anything, I am rather curious about your unexplained empathy. Maybe it shall settle my own worries if you told me your own woven path towards despair.”
“I won’t bother you over an old tale of mine.” Suika, however, relented after seeing the weakness in the god’s eyes. “Then again, perhaps I might share after a night of sake. Maybe my lips will loosen. Who knows?”
After a brief mental dispute, Yasumi said, “Tonight, then?”
Suika smiled, her eyes alight with expectancy. “I was hoping you’d say that.”
The last of the Earthen youngest watched over their former disciple and his oni acquaintance in worry. They were the ethereal that stood at the gloom of twilight, the orange-red that reflected in the sake cups. And, most of all, they were the invisible shackles to their own departure.
‘Also, he is still so young—so easily hurt. What if we spoke—’
‘Do not. It is over, and our end has already come. But Yasumi is strong.’ The other’s confidence did not falter in voice. ‘He shall overcome.’
‘I do not want to say goodbye.’
‘Do not, then. Find yourself back in the Earth’s loving grasp and fade into the world—like the rest of the olden gods. Do not admit goodbye, and instead find strength in your devotion to your earthen kin.’
‘I shall silently accompany Yasumi to the end. Even as a remnant.’
‘Then… I as well. It would be pitiful to leave you alone.’
‘We are never alone. The world is our companion, after all.’
Unbeknownst to the inhabitants below, two Earthen kept watch over the shrine with their final moments. After chancing dawn, long after conversation dwindled to faint snores, two dimmed to one, and then one to none, until the only Earthen God left was the one that pursued alcoholic oblivion with the oni.
Like gentle slumber, two spirits faded into a final Earthen dream where they joined their own. So there they lay, deep within soil, turning their will into the world’s whimsy. Time had captured the wishes of mortals. And so, time had entrusted mankind the gods of the Earth. Once the Earthen served their purpose, time, duality of it all, would return them to Earth. Such was their final repose.
>>202164 Okay, but what was the story about? I mean, I get the whole meta gimmick thing with the voices and the votes, but was that it? What's Yasumi supposed to do after this? What's his deal with the goblin? What about Sanae? Why was Hakurou even there? I feel like there's stuff that didn't get expounded upon that could have done/could do(?)
I dunno. I'm just walking away not really knowing what to think.