The beast looked into the depths of Hell—and in it, he saw Fear itself: Its gaping maw gnashing, Its sea of teeth crashing against the souls of the damned. And what the beast caught sight of, laying beneath writhing flesh, was he himself—that which fell into the wolf's maw.
It was a pathetic creature, what with blood streaming down its cheeks like ruddy tears and skin tearing at its fleshy seams. Dread shook its hinds until it buckled to its muddied feet. A sorry being, to say the least. It whimpered in panic, yet it could not stop itself from clawing its face open. But what seeped from its wounds was not liquid blood. No, it was far more dastardly: A dark mist, poisonous as soot, crept outward with its ashy tentacles probing at the unknown.
Wretched creature. Most foul creature, Kagiyama Hina thought. But the goddess, with her tongue held, took the cursed being’s misfortune. The thing writhed—still, the mist held the being prisoner and pain, its warden. Black bubbles popped in its maw. The sounds that spewed from its mouth could have been rudimentary language, but Kagiyama held no leisure to decipher it. Instead, she placed forward a doll and, with a clap of her hands, she began.
The creature slammed to the ground, shrieking all the while. It cried—and kept crying—until blood filled its lungs and mouth, a frightened gurgle echoing through the woods. A faint glimmer of light cracked through the ground beneath until it encircled the being. The thing, with an expelled sigh, erupted into a billowy cloud. That which poisoned the air was swallowed into the doll until only youkai remained.
Kagiyama was prepared to bury the poor beast—that was, until the thing moved. It was only slight rasps, but it breathed and continued breathing.
Without pause, it took the goddess by her sleeve, and she recoiled in unabated horror. It looked into her eyes and said two words before it collapsed back to the soil.
[ ] Hina Kagiyama offered no words in response. It was not out of the grace of her heart that she cleansed him. [ ] Hina Kagiyama accepted his gratitude. It was the least she could do.
‘You’re welcome,’ the goddess replied in her head. But her words settled deep within her throat and, past a bout of self-loathing, she instead said, “It was nothing. But do not thank me—at least, not until I have finished purifying you.”
“Not? Done?” the creature said.
“No.” Kagiyama traced circles around the youkai with her eyes, following the faint trickle of light that etched the ground below. “That which houses your malady—” She knelt to the soil to pick up the doll. “—would be this. And the ground you settle on is consecrated ground. Do you understand?”
“No,” it said.
Kagiyama ignored the creature. “I shall continue this tomorrow. For the time being, do not step outside of the boundaries of light, lest you wish to return to your former state.”
“You… Tomorrow,” it said, nodding.
“Tomorrow,” Kagiyama confirmed.
Resigning itself to its post, the youkai curled up into a ball to rest.
And before the goddess left, she stared back at the being and the surrounding woods. Blight and filth, it was. An invisible darkness swathed the forest. Its presence, more forbidding than the mist that saturated the lands, watched the creature—and with it, Kagiyama Hina.
Good-bye, it said. See you tomorrow, child.
Kagiyama held her tongue.
[ ] She left to the rivers down the mountain-pass. The nagashi-bina must be sent downstream at once. [ ] She hurried back to her shrine. It would not chase her there.
She left to the rivers down the mountain-pass. The nagashi-bina must be sent downstream at once. A wicked force had already stained the doll with ink-like, blotchy grime, and it would only be but an hour’s passing until the straw that held the doll together would seep the same mist that plagued the creature prior.
Kagiyama stood before the riverway, and, with nary a doubt, the goddess slid the doll to the rushing waters. Then, she lifted one leg off the ground, and the other after, until she slipped through the air.
The forest, then, was silenced. The air, with its quiet murmurs and whispers of the wind, grew still. The woods, too petrified to move, stopped with its insistent swaying. Kagiyama could scarcely breathe—the fog—the mist!—it clotted her very being. Even the waters, gently lapping, balked and stood by idly.
Kagiyama looked to still water. The nagashi-bina, which should have been bobbing gently through the river, lay motionless at its surface. Sacred covenance was broken, and the goddess…
[ ] ...Nobly fled to holy ground. [ ] ...Remained as still as the surroundings.
...Nobly fled to holy ground. Briefly, Kagiyama was unmoving: Suspended in time, the goddess was, as she curled up into her dress. Stretching out her legs, Kagiyama kicked up into a crescent and made her way beyond the stream. Her movement did not go unnoticed—the sounds of the forest resumed. It was as if the woods breathed a sigh of relief in unison—as if something found better prey.
Kagiyama kept her head level and stared only in front of her as she flew. She feared that, if she were to turn around, what may or may not have been chasing her would find tangible form. And in her desperate retreat, she did not notice the dark tendrils wrapping themselves around the trees she passed, the crunching of invisible feet, and the creeping miasma that grew thicker than sludge.
Amidst her ignorance, however, she did spot an obstacle. No, she thought. An obstacle is far too kind of a word. Kagiyama slowed herself until she was several arms’ lengths from an ethereal wall, cased in smog. And it towered over her, as well as the lands, stretching beyond into the celestial realm.
Simply put, she was caught. Past the wretched darkness was her shrine. So long as she could enter, she would be fine. There was a very pointed ‘but’ to her solution: One that was a shadowy barrier to her answer, in many aspects. And it could have been nothing, but Kagiyama felt—or maybe sensed—that something was approaching.
[ ] Kagiyama walked into the darkness. [ ] Kagiyama closed her eyes. [ ] Kagiyama turned around.
Kagiyama closed her eyes. And slowly, meticulously, she dulled her senses, careful not to divine what she did not see, hear, or smell. No, not even the faint scent of putrid flesh, nor the whispers of the unfortunate, could awaken her. And, in spite of the ticklish voice in her ear—which fed her saccharine lies—the goddess did not waver.
The dark tendrils that tread her shadows took to her person and slowly crept up the dirtied fabric of her dress. But, as if being called away, they retreated sharply—back into the malevolent abyss. Still, Kagiyama did not entertain any thoughts. Rather, she couldn’t. Not until that which stalked her grew disinterested and left.
Time, indeterminate in form, passed. And with it, so did the darkness. Kagiyama roused. But as she reawakened, she heard its voice. And it seemed to say: “We shall meet again, so long as you carry those shackles of Burden. Until next time.”
The voice could have been manufactured from Kagiyama’s own delirium, spawned by her own comatose state, but she trusted her own judgment to believe otherwise.
She opened her eyes, and before her was her shrine, decrepit and dilapidated but still very much intact.
It was home.
[ ] And at home, one should rest. [ ] More importantly, it was a shrine. And she had obligations to take care of—namely, the creature she had chanced upon yesterday.
More importantly, it was a shrine. And she had obligations to take care of—namely, the creature she had chanced upon yesterday. Shame: Kagiyama finally had the opportunity to be held in the sun’s embrace, away from what plagued the forest. So soon that the goddess had returned to consecrated soil, she must depart from it—and back into the woods.
To the woods she went. It was nothing but darkness in the thicket, and what should have been light that slipped through the stream of trees was consumed. Instead, that which was filtered by miasma became an unholy gray haze, and Kagiyama’s earthly vision rapidly descended into monochrome. She tread lightly through the air. Though she did not touch the shadowed ground, she took great care not to make presence. In equal parts, Kagiyama was both grateful and ashamed that she had talent at making herself scarce. There were many futures she mulled over where she would never leave the forest. At the very least, she wished to make it to the creature in one piece.
Kagiyama traversed the inner pocket of hell. But who would have known that hell—aside from its lurking beasts and foul vapors—would be so calm? Surely not the goddess. The air was an odd form of tranquil that could only be found when the woods were void of life. Well, thought the goddess, not all life.
She returned to the beast. A ‘beast’ she called it, but its—no, his—face resembled a human’s. His dim eyes, stained amber, focused onto Kagiyama as she approached, and the youkai swished his tail, collecting mud in its bristles as it swayed side-to-side in inquiry.
“Tomorrow… now today?” he said.
“A day has passed, yes.”
“Understand.” The youkai paused. “Help?”
Kagiyama nodded slowly. “Yes, I’ll be helping you. I just need a moment to—”
“No,” he said but then shook his head shamefully. “You… help?”
“I am certainly trying, but please do not interrupt.”
“Need… help?” the youkai pleaded once more.
Kagiyama let the words settle themselves in her head. “Ah,” she said, having come to a realization.
[ ] She only required his cooperation, not his assistance. [ ] Albeit temporary, an ally, even one bereft of life, would be a welcome change.
Albeit temporary, an ally, even one bereft of life, would be a welcome change. Yet, Kagiyama was at qualms with extending a hand to the youkai. In her mind was a melting pot of emotions. Still, what faced her with its unassuming, auburn eyes was enough to stir feelings of disgust in her mental cauldron. Those sentiments, however, were not directed to the youkai. No, her misgivings were unambiguously pointed toward her own being.
Self-loathing aside, she relented. “Your help would be most appreciated, youkai.”
The youkai’s white ears lifted. Briefly, they stood to be at attention. “Do… what?” he said.
“When you are free from the grasp of this wretched curse… then perhaps you may assist me in taming this defiled forest. Heaven only knows how long it shall take to purify the area alone, so any additional hands—or eyes—would be a blessing.”
“Curse...” he trailed off. “When?”
Kagiyama failed to grasp his words. “Do explain, youkai,” she said, furrowing her eyebrows.
The youkai nodded.
[ ] Now was the time—before nightfall, Kagiyama should purify the youkai. [ ] It was not safe in the forest—Kagiyama should take him to her shrine.
Now was the time—before nightfall, Kagiyama should purify the youkai. The winds were settling, the sun, though waning gray in light, peeked out through the ensnaring fog within the forest. A calm spell was in the air: Kagiyama was sure of it. If the stars have not already aligned, then may they align now, prayed the goddess.
She startled herself when she turned back to the youkai, and he was still staring back at her patiently, if not also expectantly. There, she took the time to look at the creature. While she did note his beastly appendages before, they were but ears and a tail to a body—a cursed being. He was a small, youthly beast, though his amber-orange eyes were cut with a disconcerting amount of maturity, presumably tempered by suffering. Undoubtably, this youkai was canine, sporting grayed ears and a thick tail to match. Yet, the build that Kagiyama associated with the wolven creatures did not match with the youkai’s—he was more slender, and his shoulders were far narrower than the white wolves that led the mountains.
“Youkai,” she said, regaining her composure. “We shall purify you at once.”
“Purify...” he repeated, a pensive stare forming toward the ground. “Okay.”
“The doll from yesterday merely staved off the excess curse building up inside you. But to purify, or to eradicate it completely, requires more than just coaxing it out with the nagashi-bina. Instead, it shall require less subtle force.”
Kagiyama clasped her hands together. The gentle stream of light that illuminated the ground beneath the youkai flowed upward into the air, enveloping him in white. The sight itself was blinding—the rest of the forest held only dim gray, so the illumination was a flame in the darkness.
But Kagiyama did not recognize that, like a flame, the light would also burn.
“...Hurt,” the youkai whimpered. “Hurts. It… hurtsssss,” he continued, hissing.
“It shall sting for only a brief moment,” Kagiyama chided, but the youkai paid her little attention.
“Goddess… Help!” it pleaded, crying out at the top of its lungs. Kagiyama could not see the youkai underneath the light, but she was sure that he was writhing, desperately looking for his companion’s reassurance. “Please! GODDESS!” he repeated itself, screaming.
Agony echoed throughout the woods, with each cry for help more desperate than the last. Kagiyama looked on shamefully, waiting for the end.
But it did not come. The light was a cage for the poor youkai, and Kagiyama had trapped him. Unbearable was one word that came to her mind; gruesome was another. Every second that passed ticked at her conscience, and every scream that repeated took to her guilt. Kagiyama could not do it.
She stopped the ritual, and the light uncoiled from the youkai. But as the light dimmed, the shadowy tendrils recast themselves onto the canid. He received them, albeit without much consent, and fell to the soil.
Kagiyama hurried to the creature. He was still breathing, and even more of a surprise to the goddess, he was also conscious. Clumsily, the youkai lifted himself back up.
“Okay… me,” he panted.
“It is obvious that you are not,” Kagiyama said. “It is very obvious.”
She attempted to hold back her own tears. But she miserably failed, like she did with the purification, and droplets streamed down her flushed cheeks. Kagiyama refrained from wiping her tears, for doing so would acknowledge that they were there.
“Goddess… kind,” he said in encouragement.
She wilted. “No. My ineptitude is easily mistaken for kindness. It is you that is kind, youkai.”
[ ] Kagiyama wiped her tears and moved forward. [ ] Kagiyama said nothing and left. [ ] Kagiyama wallowed in despair.
Kagiyama wiped her tears and moved forward. Oh ego, how fragile and malleable you are, she thought. The pain that she wrought upon herself was no more than spices to the salt she placed in her own wounds. But she bore her burdens, however cumbersome they were, and picked herself up.
“A curse upon you, vile mist, loathsome mist, cruel and rotten darkness. You shall be conquered,” she muttered. “And I shall win.”
And what if you can’t? asked a darker voice in her head. What if you fail—as always? What shall you do then? Could you return to your shrine, with your head held high, after failing to deliver on your promises?
The youkai hobbled forward, uncertainty padding his uneven steps, and faced the goddess. Even with his back erect, he stood at several heads beneath Kagiyama—the youkai had to lift his head upward to match eyes with her. He took another step to reach out with his hand. But hesitation paralyzed him: He lowered his head to look at his extended hand and saw clots of dirt, congealed blood, and dark tendrils that snaked around his wrist. Doubt clouded the youkai’s golden eyes, and he retreated, ashamedly wiping his hand on the rags he wore.
“It is fine, youkai,” Kagiyama said with a wispy sigh. She took his dirtied hand into hers. “I understand your sentiment, but—you and I—we shall we fine.”
A sorrowful expression entered his face. It was a pitiful countenance to look at, as his features distorted in worry. “When… free?” he asked again.
“You shall be free soon,” she said, consciously filling her voice with certainty.
“Not… me,” he said with woe. “You.”
[ ] Kagiyama fulfilled her duties—for both his sake and hers. [ ] Kagiyama did this by her own volition. [ ] Kagiyama shall never be free.
This is a hard choice. I'll assume Hina isn't doing this because she wants to... I think she really wants to help the youkai though. I don't know why everyone is voting for the choice that Hina isn't every going to be free cause that sounds like an awful way to live...
Kagiyama fulfilled her duties—for both his sake and hers. He, too, was a victim of this curse, entangled together with her in a web of toxins. It was her duty to wrest this land from the hold of darkness, so how could she not try to save him from coming doom? Still, malediction touched the both of them, and they unwillingly wore their darkness like scars.
She did not answer him completely, but at the very least, she provided him with a conciliatory nod of her head. “Come,” she instead replied, pulling the youkai by the wrist. “We are far—much too far—from safety. For now, I shall take you to the shrine. Perhaps holy domain shall help placate the darkness that festers in your soul.”
“Wolf… no come?” he asked, worry lining his brows.
“Wolf?” asked the goddess. “Yes, you are coming. I am taking you there.”
“No… me.” He shook his head. “Other.”
“I’m afraid I do not understand, youkai.”
The canid hung his head in defeat and wordlessly let himself be pulled along.
As Kagiyama escorted the youkai to her shrine, she thought to visit the eastern temple of Tōwa-no-kami. While she found the olden goddess to be insufferable, Kagiyama must admit that ‘Tōwa’ had strength. Kagiyama’s own abilities failed her—she was lacking, and she herself knew it. The goddess was inexperienced, and to admit that was embarrassing in itself, but she understood what she did not have. Tōwa-no-kami, however brutish, was an asset. And unlike Kagiyama, Tōwa-no-kami could hold her own against her opponents.
The canid, though, would have to remain at the shrine. Kagiyama did not believe that the eastern god would find tolerance when dealing with the curse. Tōwa-no-kami, after all, was a touch overzealous. Purification and eradication went hand-in-hand with the god of the east, and the youkai was but a prospective corpse to Tōwa-no-kami.
Kagiyama was at odds—could she leave this wounded animal to fend for himself? Would he survive? And if she did leave to travel east, would Tōwa-no-kami oblige to helping her?
Fierce indecision stained her wit.
[ ] Kagiyama left east to find ‘Tōwa.’ [ ] Kagiyama protected her shrine, her writ, and her guest.
“Youkai,” Kagiyama said, “When we arrive at the shrine, I’d like for you to stay there until I return.”
“Where… go?” he asked.
“Eastbound.” The goddess waited patiently, anticipating a second question. But this time, the youkai held his tongue, and Kagiyama’s own broken expectations left her irritable. “To find Tōwa-no-kami,” she added, exorcising the silence herself. “I fear that purifying this curse is too much responsibility for one humble god to fulfill. Perhaps if I were stronger… but I am no goddess of the soil. Regardless, as I travel east-wise, you shall remain at the shrine. Do you understand?”
Immediately, he agreed. “Shrine… safe.” The canid nodded in acknowledgment.
Kagiyama had thought that she would be met with some resistance, but she was grateful for his utmost cooperation. It was for ultimate good—the shrine, however marred it might have been, was on holy grounds. Even the curse, with its ever-reaching grasp, did not dip its shadowy feet in consecrated waters. The youkai would be safe—so long as disaster did not befall Kagiyama. But she took great measures in her own safety: Above all else, she cared for herself.
She took the youkai as far as the gates of the shrine. Temporarily, they would part ways. While she preferred not to leave guests unattended, Kagiyama could trust in the youkai to treat the shrine with sincerity and respect. And, faithfully, he would wait until she returned. Like a dog awaiting its master, she rudely thought.
“You… luck,” he said.
“‘Good luck,’ you mean?”
Grimly, the youkai nodded. “Needed.”
The goddess dipped her head wearily. “Thank you. Luck does not exist for a god of misfortune like myself, but I do appreciate the sentiment.”
“Do not delve too freely into the Void, for it shall consume You. Do not take to its sweet Temptations, as it shall put You to eternal slumber. But should You fall in, what shall await You is a land that pretermits compassion and tolerance. Understand this, and You, too, shall find happiness.”
So said the Gods above, and so Kagiyama repeated to herself as she rode earthly tailwinds of a darkened sky. She declined to look down at the world until she reached the temple: Prior, the goddess took a glance underneath the clouds, and she only saw barren lands. What once was wildlife was then tamed by the curse—the province was flat canvas, painted in streaks of darkness in likeness of brush strokes.
Such a sight was a bitter reminder to Kagiyama’s own helplessness, so she had climbed upwards until the clouds covered her suffering.
Nearly half a sun’s passing later, she descended from the protection of the sky and reached the temple—or where she believed it should have been. Undoubtedly, as her feet reached soil, the goddess understood that she had touched consecrated ground. But, her knees buckled in distress, and her hands shook as they refused to listen. Miasma seeped through the cracks of the divine barrier: The temple’s power was eroding—and quickly so.
Two stood at the centerpiece of holy territory. First, a silver-haired, fair-skinned woman stood forefront at the rising steps of the temple grounds: Tōwa-no-kami. Her dark-cerulean eyes were battle-worn, a feral-like gaze taking the place of her customary disinterested look. Though, her flowing, white robes were unblemished, meaning that conflict had not happened—yet.
Whatever relief that had washed over Kagiyama was swept away when she turned to look at the other of the two. The being was nearly formless, aside from two gleaming, crimson eyes. It twisted shadows until it became a swirling ball of darkness. Whatever light that entered its space refracted back as dull gray. This was the curse incarnate. But if that were all, then Kagiyama wouldn’t have let fear surface in her actions. No, instead the curse did something that had left her momentarily paralyzed: It spoke.
“Do not disturb me, Tōwa,” it said. “Unless you are keen to incur my wrath.”
[ ] Kagiyama made herself known. [ ] Kagiyama spoke when spoken to, and she was certainly not spoken to.
Kagiyama spoke when spoken to, and she was certainly not spoken to. Clearly, this was no place for her to step in when she had nothing to say. So, she did as all voyeurs do and watched the two from afar. I shall demonstrate deference, Kagiyama reasoned to herself, though her quivering shoulders exhibited far less complicated motivations.
Tōwa-no-kami did not hide behind false pretense: Her frustrations were as clear as the crook etched in her brow. “Heed my warnings. It shall be you who would incur the wrath of the gods. There shall be bloodshed, should you trespass into Eastern territory.”
“‘There shall be bloodshed,’ so you say. Is this not status quo?” it asked with forbidding timbre. “Or was I mistaken?”
“You are,” she asserted.
Then, contrary to both the expectations of Tōwa-no-kami and Kagiyama Hina, it laughed. Its throatless laughter came softly at first, until its voice grew to a crescendo as a roar. In truth, the laughter itself carried little sound through the shrine, but what unnerved Kagiyama was that when it—that thing—was laughing, it was as if all other sounds were forcibly silenced.
“Do not think I am a fool, whelp. Or did you think that I do not know what you all have done to the lands? And Moriya? And Toyoke?”
Tōwa-no-kami’s face grew dark. “Toyoke is not one of us.”
Its shapeless body turned. “Then lay in waste, drowning in your own destitution. Hide in your own suffering’s shadow and go lick your wounds. Perhaps, in that peak of despair, you too shall feel an iota of what I had once felt.”
“We are at odds, then.” Tōwa-no-kami took out a charm and held it against her chest, readying it as she would a weapon.
The shadows shifted. In a more subdued voice, it spoke: “For your sake, do not.”
She took a step forward and lifted the charm to her face, the goddess glowing in a brilliant light. The endless night, for a moment, was bathed in color, painted in vibrance. But the moment was ephemeral: Tōwa-no-kami was interrupted by a piercing sound.
The temple—all of its residents included—was swallowed by darkness.
What Kagiyama first noticed was that, after being robbed of her vision, there was a pungent smell of earthliness. To Kagiyama, it was a familiar scent: Like her shrine, it had the smell of decomposing wood, but here, it was far more pervasive.
“I have already told you,” it said. “Do. Not. Or were you not listening?”
The dark veil was lifted over Kagiyama’s eyes just in time for her to see the temple and its wooden foundation turn to spoiled rot before her very eyes. The floor, now brittle from its weakened state, collapsed in on itself and took the temple with it. The roof turned to rubble and sediment, and the walls crumpled as they crushed themselves with their sudden inability to bear weight. Kagiyama had grimly expected the screams of several mortals alongside the collapse, but the temple—or what was left of it—was quiet, eerily so.
Tōwa-no-kami scowled. “What did you do?” she hissed as her voice grew shriller by several notches.
“Nothing. Your own incompetence resulted in this. But I shall ask the same of you: What did you do to your subjects?”
“...I did nothing.” She adopted a more humble disposition, lowering her head.
“Is that so,” it said coldly but said no more on the subject. Instead, it moved on. “If that is all, then you may leave.”
“Leave?” Tōwa-no-kami’s head resurfaced with indignation. “This is my temple.”
“No, it was your temple. Not anymore. If you so wish to claim the debris left, then do so. Otherwise, leave. Your holy ground does not exist anymore—and where the consecrated path ends, mine begins.”
“So you are extorting my lands,” Tōwa-no-kami wearily said, resignation clear in her voice.
“You may cry to the other Yamato gods. Do tell them that I shall be coming to take their lands, too.”
“May you be forever damned, Hakurō.”
“We’re of the same mind, then. May I be forever damned. Now leave.”
Tōwa-no-kami retreated, and then it was only Kagiyama and the curse left.
[ ] Kagiyama made her retreat and pursued Tōwa-no-kami. [ ] Kagiyama approached the curse.
It wasted no time addressing her. Perhaps it knew all along that she was here. “Witness—or should I say, the young goddess of the Deva Mountain—what brings you here?”
“Truthfully,” she began, “I was here to meet Tōwa-no-kami and convince her to help dispel the curse that plagued the mountainland forests, but it seems that my plans had gone completely astray.”
She was unsure whether to disclose this to the manifestation of the curse itself, but at the same time, she did not wish to lie. Her reason for coming was no complex puzzle—Kagiyama understood that the cursed being could piece it together.
“You say you wish to ‘dispel’ the curse in the forest, but is it not also for the sake of your caged wolf?”
“So you knew.”
“I see all in the miasma. I know all in the miasma. You should understand that clearly, since we have spoken before.”
“We...” the goddess trailed off, organizing her thoughts. “We have?”
“We have,” it asserted. “About that vicious force, Burden. Young goddess, you are chained to your duties, but you do not yet realize: You are a curse goddess. And, like me, you thrive on suffering.”
“That is not true,” Kagiyama gravely said.
“Then why is it that your shrine is in ruins? That you have nothing to your name but weak prayers?”
“Because you are too weak-minded.” It paused for a moment, and then it turned to face Kagiyama directly. Very briefly, she saw its less ethereal manifestation: It had two blood-red eyes and silver-white hair, but before she could take a further glimpse, the shadows returned to cover its form. “Soon, humans shall flock to your shrine to be purified, and you shall save them. Then, they shall depend on you, and you shall harness their faith to gather more power.”
“No, that is not right.” Against better judgment, Kagiyama argued against the curse. But her very principles were put into question, and she could not stop herself from voicing her opinion. “An artificial bond like that does not befit a god.”
“Right or wrong, it does not matter. Was it right for the humans to abandon you in times of good fortune, and forget about what you have done for them? No, they only care for themselves. Because, in times of peace, there is no place for gods like us—isn’t that right? Goddess of Misfortune?”
[ ] Surprisingly, Kagiyama found herself agreeing with the curse. [ ] Kagiyama disagreed: Whether the humans had forgotten her or not, she still had duties to fulfill.
[x] Surprisingly, Kagiyama found herself agreeing with the curse. It's the most aligned with the nature of kami; they tend to be rather polymorphic, capable of presenting a face of blessing and a face of wrath simultaneously. Granted, that's the human perspective, as kami themselves are more like amoral forces that manifest in nature. Et cetera, et cetera.
Kagiyama disagreed: Whether the humans had forgotten her or not, she still had duties to fulfill. Her voice, however, failed to convey those thoughts, so what had come out of her mouth was a hoarse, “N-No.”
The air chilled, and two eyes, however crimson they were, turned to ice. Kagiyama considered escaping at that moment, but her body refused to move. There is nowhere to escape regardless, thought the goddess.
Then the curse snorted, a guttural chuckle escaping the mist. “Your conviction is lacking, young goddess. Come now,” it coaxed, “do explain.”
“I… I shall,” Kagiyama replied, mentally stamping out her hesitation. “It does not matter whether or not the humans remember me. So long as I carry out the will of the gods, I have duty and purpose. Even if I am forgotten, even if I am discarded, I shall not stop until I have saved those cursed with misfortune.”
“Then rejoice: For as long as I exist in this world, there shall be misfortune, and you shall have Purpose. I will take back my words, however—You, young goddess, are not like me. We both thrive on suffering. But, I exist to create it, and you exist to mend it. Such duality is amusing, is it not?”
“Why must you create suffering?” Kagiyama asked.
“It is not because I must, but because I am able to.” There was no warmth or coldness in its voice—for the curse, it was fact. “Humans grow complacent without suffering. They foolishly believe that, without help, they are able. And they lie, they steal, they take from their own—because they are ‘able.’ They tread over the bodies of those that had helped them… because they are able. I exist to remind them of their place. Because I am able to.” It paused for a moment. “My own grievances serve as an eternal reminder of this. And should anything stand in my way, I shall devour them whole. Such as—you, Little Hina.”
Kagiyama took a step back. “You would not,” she said nervously.
“You are correct. I would not—at least, not to you, O Kind and Tender Goddess,” it agreed, a slight lilt in its voice. “Humorous, am I not?”
“Not in the slightest,” she said, expelling a fierce sigh.
“I shall work on it. Now, return to your shrine, young goddess. The East shall be awash in blood, soon.”
Kagiyama found it a fine moment to leave—she would rather not stay any longer with the curse’s manifestation—but she still had more on her mind, so she said:
[ ] “Why did you destroy the shrine of Tōwa?” [ ] “Hakurō. Was that your name?” [ ] “If this humble goddess were to ask you to save a wolf afflicted by curses...”
“If...” Kagiyama said, stuck on her own words. “If this humble goddess were to ask you to save a wolf afflicted by curses…”
Would you? she thought, unable to finish.
“I shall not,” it replied, answering the goddess’s incomplete question.
“I understand.” Kagiyama, truthfully, did not understand, not at all, but she did not wish to aggravate the curse. Yet her own self was fickle; though she recognized that, rationally, she should not pursue the matter any further, her heart—and words—said otherwise. “But that wolf—that youkai—he did not do anything to deserve illness. His affliction, it is unwarranted, and letting him suffer is unrighteous. It is—”
“Young goddess.” The curse’s tone was level, but its voice still emanated a harsh, non-mortal ruthlessness that immediately hushed the goddess. “Mind yourself, else your ignorance shall be the end of you. I exist to create suffering and misfortune. Misery and the path it treads—they are impartial. And should a stray wolf wander onto that path, it shall receive ill fate. Such is the nature of Misfortune. And such is my judgment.”
“And your wrath?” said Kagiyama.
“And such is my wrath,” it confirmed. “Do not shy away from it, Little Hina. It is your purpose to pacify the misfortunes I have wrought upon this land. Releasing the stray wolf from its ailments is but the first of many steps for you to take, young one.”
Kagiyama, as she realized, was alone in her pursuit of virtue, as aid would not be so readily given. For the goddess, her own inexperience sprouted roots of diffidence—it planted itself firmly within her own doubtful mind.
“If I fail?” she asked.
“Failure, too, is a trial of misfortune.”
Kagiyama was silent.
“Now, is that all?” it asked—though it was more of a statement.
She bowed. “Yes. Thank you, Curse, for your time.”
“Time is all that I have,” it said. As a measure of finality, it imparted onto Kagiyama both a promise and an omen: “We shall meet again.”
Then the goddess was alone.
[ ] Kagiyama returned to her shrine. [ ] Kagiyama sought guidance from the Oni. [ ] Kagiyama searched for Moriya—the curse mentioned her name.
Kagiyama returned to her shrine. While her endeavors to seek assistance did not bear any fruit, she found herself renewed—if only slightly—as she mulled over the curse’s words. Despite Kagiyama’s own weak self, the curse held high expectations for her. She would ‘pacify the misfortunes,’ or so it believed. So, it is Kagiyama’s duty as a goddess to fulfill the beliefs set upon her.
The goddess flew west with her back touching the clouds. Her encounter with the curse instilled rare bravery in Kagiyama’s soul, so she kept her eyes trained on the lands below. She traced the path of the spreading darkness and scribed to her memory the hell left in the wake of the curse. What remained of natural life had disappeared or was hidden away, replaced with a peculiar chain of existence. Insects and pestilence ran rampant, as they devoured the sedentary—even the trees, reduced to rot and wilt, were not spared. Then the insects would die, and scavengers would pilfer what was left, and so, the cycle continued.
It was an ugly world, but Kagiyama shall faithfully remember the image she saw, in the hopes to one day return the land below her to its former self.
But she took to her own priorities—and treating the youkai at her shrine was her first.
Kagiyama tread hallowed stairs, taking conscious steps past cobblestone. The torana gate that stood at the top had long since dulled: where the splotches of age spread was a faint trace of pearl-gray, revealing its once adolescent colors before it faded back into ancient brown.
The goddess, after walking through the shrine’s mortal passage, confirmed that she still was on holy ground. There was no reason to check, but Kagiyama wished to prove her safety—the sudden collapse of Tōwa-no-kami’s shrine had left a sour impression in her memory. However, Kagiyama’s shrine was left untouched—strikingly so. Worry clouded her thoughts as she called for the cursed youkai.
“Youkai. Show yourself, please,” she said.
Per her request, he did so. He had hidden himself behind the shrine and tucked himself out of visibility. “Here,” he said.
“What were you doing?”
“Hidden,” he said. “Humans… here.”
“Humans,” she repeated, thinking back to the curse. Like a prophecy, so came the humans, as was foretold by the curse’s manifestation. “I see.”
“Humans… pray. Here… tomorrow.”
“Are they returning, you mean?”
“Understood. In the meantime, come over,” she said, urging the youkai to approach her. Hesitantly, he stepped forward and away from cover.
Silently, Kagiyama examined the creature. Dark protrusions jutted out from the youkai’s body and face—his afflictions were resurfacing, though not in full force. The mist, which usually permeated from the curse’s victims, had not shown itself yet. It was only mere conjecture, but Kagiyama believed that keeping the youkai on holy ground had an effect on him.
Perhaps, she thought, trailing off into her own ruminations.
[ ] Kagiyama attempted purification. [ ] Kagiyama would wait until the humans would bless her with faith—and power.
From the convo between the curse manifest and the other goddess I thought something... I think gods are affected by their own self confidence. After all, faith in yourself is a kind of faith. Let's see how this goes.
Kagiyama would wait until the humans would bless her with faith—and power. The goddess so very desperately wished to be rid of the parasite that plagued her land, but at the very least, she would practice patience. As much as she wanted to purify the canid, she did not have the capacity to do anything—at least for the time being. The curse, indifferent to her worries, would not be going anywhere. And until she gathered enough power, it would continue to be that way. It was a sting to the goddess, but it would be only in passing.
Still, however brief, her exposed insecurities were wounds, and the youkai’s tainted visage was the salt.
“Youkai,” she said. “Are you fine?”
“Fine,” he nodded, straightening his back. Though he took long, rasping breaths, the wolf’s amber eyes were unmarred. He was not yet trapped within the curse’s embrace. “Kindness.”
Kagiyama was unsure whether he was expressing his gratitude or not, but to alleviate her own guilt, she did not ask him to clarify. Instead, she asked, “Did you see anything while I was away?”
The wolf wore a troubled look. It glanced left, then right, and then back to the goddess, silently searching for something. “Wolf… here.”
Kagiyama coaxed the youkai. “I understand. The shrine does not make for a good vantage point, obscured by the forest. I do not blame you.”
“No. No, no.” He shook his head. “No… me. Other. Saw… white wolf.”
“The tengu?” Kagiyama said. “Another youkai? A friend? Ally?”
He shook his head repeatedly. “Not… friend. But. Not… enemy.”
The youkai looked to the goddess, burning invisible words into her person. Alas, they were not conveyed, and he looked to the ground in defeat. “Words… hard.”
Nine wooden dolls stood at the forefront of the shrine—one for each human who had come to offer prayers. Kagiyama had promised respite to all those who would visit. For those afflicted with the curse, relief was a welcome change: The alternative, as the humans said, was a “fate akin to a slow death.” According to them, the curse was like a sickness—it ate away at its victims’ body until they coughed up darkness, caused living flesh to rot, and eventually consumed their minds until they became soulless husks.
Humans were fragile creatures, however, so Kagiyama took their words with skepticism. Their own fear made them unreliable, and the goddess understood this. She, too, was once a victim of their hysteria, after all. Even so, she could not help but wonder whether the same end awaited the wolf youkai. At least for the humans who paid her a visit, she could banish the curse from their souls.
It was vexing. She had purified nine humans that day, yet she could do so little for the wolf youkai—the goddess could only provide temporary relief for him. No better than false medicine, she was. Though, with enough faith from the humans, she could try again.
So she did.
Kagiyama’s face was dark with self-mistrust. How much failure could she—and the youkai—withstand? Was there another option? If there is, prayed Kagiyama, do give me a sign, Gods above.
The goddess encircled eight empty dolls around the youkai, who sat at the head of the shrine. Should Kagiyama render the purification incomplete, the dolls, like beacons, would receive the curse parted from the youkai. Else, what was purified would simply return back to its original vessel.
She lifted her hand to the youkai and pressed a palm to his forehead. Tender light surrounded the youkai. In contrast to the brilliant light from Kagiyama’s first purification attempt, this one scarcely lit its surroundings. Instead, it was soft, and it was warm. It gently nipped at the youkai’s shadows until the curse’s tendrils unlatched from the youkai, the mist dividing into eight streams as it flowed into the dolls.
Kagiyama could not hear anything. There was no wicked voice whispering in her ear, there was no infernal screaming that haunted her memories, there was nothing. Only—
“Stop!” A voice pierced the silence.
Quiet, you, Kagiyama thought in irritation. She must keep her focus. There was only—
“Stop!” The voice rang out once more. It was not one in pain. No, it was only pleading. And it came from the youkai.
[ ] Kagiyama continued the purification. [ ] Kagiyama stopped.
Kagiyama stopped. Frustration was etched on her face, and she took an attempt to chide the youkai from interrupting the ritual, but she could not speak. Rather, she could not even move—her vision teetered from side to side as her body refused to cooperate with her. The goddess had paid close attention—too much, really—to the purification ritual, but her efforts resulted in inadequate care for her own self. How naive she was. Unable to even recognize her own spiritual exhaustion.
And as her body crumpled to the ground, Kagiyama drowned in her own self-disdain. She watched idly as the nagashi-bina sealed away the fragmented curse, swallowing morsels of darkness until they could hold no more.
The youkai wrenched free from the light and hurried over to the goddess’s side. “Goddess!” it cried, worry dampening his amber eyes.
“...I am okay,” Kagiyama replied. Her joints moved violently, and it took the goddess considerable effort to kneel, but she was alive—and by extension, still okay.
“Goddess… rest.” The wolf insisted, pacing back and forth frantically. “Goddess… help? Need?”
“No, I don’t—” Kagiyama cut her sentence short with a sharp wince.
The youkai looked to her for guidance.
[ ] Perhaps he could lend Kagiyama a hand—she was having trouble standing back up. [ ] Kagiyama stubbornly refused to show weakness. Not to this youkai.
Perhaps he could lend Kagiyama a hand—she was having trouble standing back up.
“Your hand, youkai,” the goddess said.
“Ah.” The wolf looked down at his hand: While the curse still lingered, the darkness only reached to the youkai’s palms. Kagiyama thought he would hang his head again, but instead the wolf breathed a lengthy sigh of relief and reached out to the goddess. “Will… help.”
“Good.” Kagiyama took his hand and pulled herself up. As she did so, she could not help but look directly at the youkai’s eyes. Behind the amber eyes was curiosity—or was it naivety—amongst other emotions: worry, relief, weariness, and many others in between.
“What… now, do?” He asked.
The goddess rested her arm against the youkai’s shoulder, to his wordless discomfort. With a sigh, she said, “For now, I’ll take your advice and rest.”
Though she was a god, the day had taken its toll on the woman, and, even if Kagiyama did not deserve it, she was ready for repose.
When Kagiyama came to, she found herself most unsettled. She woke in her quarters, and never did she expect what met her eye’s notice. The venerable Moriya stood before Kagiyama, and, though small in stature, the frog levied uneasiness from the goddess younger.
Still, it was not Moriya’s marred visage, nor her swirling, golden eyes withholding greater wrath that frightened Kagiyama, but rather it was what stood behind Moriya: A thing with crimson eyes that pierced what they took to. It held in its arms a woman, whose dark hair spilled to the floor, and whose blood dripped through the whites of her robe and into the floorboards.
The curse had returned—in physical form. Its silver-white hair and sharpened ears were not unlike the tengu. But its eyes, that which embraced harm and terror, were of no mortal’s. The grayed robe it wore was stained in death—browned crimson colored its hems, like in accent.
Kagiyama turned her attention to the woman it held, though it would have been more apt to call her a corpse. Fierce gouges punctured her body, and a foul odor spread from her wounds. But the tears at her body were not inflicted by battle—no, they were produced from malefice.
The curse spoke. “Purify this one,” it demanded, pinning its red eyes onto Kagiyama.
The woman felt an unbelievable force placed onto her that all she could utter out was a feeble, “Understood,” while her body felt as if it were being crushed to the floor.
“Moriya,” said the curse. Though it was not Kagiyama who was addressed, she dipped her head to quell her fears. Moriya, however, remained motionless. “Those Yamato gods shall feel their contrition soon. I declare it.”
The golden-haired goddess shook her head. “Hakurō.”
“They shall be nothing more than echoes in the wind. No, they shall not survive. Until Hakurō is no more, this god shall vow to bring ruin and devastation to the gods of Yamato and the soil that they tread. They dare to incur my wrath, then so let them be consumed.” The curse paused in its vitriol to glance at the body he held. “Nothing. They shall be nothing,” he repeated. “They shall not even be a memory.”
“Revenge is the last thing that Toyoke would want,” Moriya retorted. “You know this.”
“It is not about what she wants,” it snapped. “She put her head to folly—and look where she is now. In the arms of revenge. I shall not skirt around the gods any more. Not when they ridicule me like this.”
“Then… at least leave the Yasaka,” said Moriya, relenting. “She and I—we have matters to sort out.”
“Do not think you can order me.”
She sharpened her gaze. “It is a request, you deranged wolf. Or is that too much to ask for?”
The curse, ignoring Moriya’s word, turned to Kagiyama and offered her the dark-haired woman he held. “Take her.”
The curse goddess, merely a spectator to the conversation, did not prepare herself to be spoken to. “Ah...”
Still, Kagiyama, despite her prior meekness, felt at odds with shouldering this sudden responsibility. What had afflicted the woman was no mild ailment. The perforations that riddled her body were all retributions: curses meant to harm—or kill. The curse goddess’s failures swirled within her mind, muddling her thoughts. Should she fail once more, Kagiyama would betray a life.
“Young one,” Moriya said, bringing Kagiyama out of her thoughts. Her yellowed eyes hinted at tenderness, despite her stern tone. However, whatever sympathy Kagiyama found was hidden away once the earthen god spoke once more. “We do not have much time.”
[ ] Failures be damned, Kagiyama would purify the woman with her own power. [ ] Kagiyama, humbled by the two gods before her, first sought guidance.
I wish I could sage because I done fucked up. Didn't mean to bump this thread, but uh...
Updates on the way... eventually. Not gonna lie, I've been working on other stuff, but I'll still try to update as usual (glacially, of course). In other news, I've been preparing some stuff for Nanowrimo. I highly doubt I'll participate this year since my schedule will probably not line up, but here's hoping.
Failures be damned, Kagiyama would purify the woman with her own power. Using the divinity bestowed upon her by the gods greater, she would supplant the will of the sanctified with her own and cleanse the woman from evil.
Exhaustion wore from her past efforts as she placed seven wooden dolls in a semi-circle around the woman’s body, which lay central in the purification altar. She placed a palm to the woman’s hand, and she almost gasped—the fingers, at the very tips, were cold. Traces of divine power also escaped the woman’s feeble hands—she was, to some extent, a god. Still, she continued, and soonafter, a gentle beam of light enveloped the woman. An ethereal, yet also so pungent, smoke escaped her mouth, nose, and eyes. It was different from the curse that Kagiyama was so familiar with: What had escaped the victim’s lips was more akin to a cloud of acid than the usual tendrils that consumed a man’s soul.
The goddess had half-expected a scream of instinct to jolt the woman awake, but there was no such thing. The body continued to lie motionless on the altar, with only a subdued, pained gasp to signify that she was not yet deceased.
Kagiyama maintained the ritual. She swathed the body in cleansing light, which would in turn expel the bubbles of acid. She then would chamber the curse into the nagashi-bina, which would seal it off into the doll. Managing the curse was a confrontation of divine power, but compared to the wolf’s curse, it seemed compliant in comparison.
The last of the acrid fumes escaped the woman’s lips, and the ritual was complete. Though, some wounds, like the ones inflicted by physical harm, remained.
She had succeeded… and yet, the woman was still not saved. Kagiyama’s purification would quell the curse that infested her body. But purification alone would not save the woman from multiple physical afflictions.
“Toyoke,” the curse boomed. “Are you not going to dignify us with a farewell? You were really that weak, Toyoke? Even after you were purified, you still won’t respond? Listen to me, and do as I say, Toyoke. Toyoke. TOYOKE,” the curse growled. “LISTEN TO ME NOW, OR I SHALL FOREVER DAMN YOU. TOYOKE.”
“...She shall not respond, Curse,” the goddess replied meekly.
“I know that,” it snapped. “Even now, my own naivety humbles me.”
Moriya settled her golden gaze upon the curse. “Will you consume her, then? Hakurō?”
“I shall not,” it said and turned its back to Kagiyama and Moriya.
“Again, leave Yasaka alone for now,” Moriya reminded the curse.
“I shall consider it, if I do not find her foremost. The unlucky Yamato that chances upon me first shall not live—no matter what. But know that Yasaka—and all others—have wronged me. They shall regret crossing my path, for this curse is the ultimate predator. He shall not sleep, He shall not falter, and He, without fail, shall hunt those who have wronged Him. This land is not worth saving. No shrine shall be left intact on the ground that I tread.” And, softly, he added to the curse goddess. “You, little goddess, shall be the close. But I shall spare you and those you shelter. And then, I shall leave this land.”
“...You are leaving?” Kagiyama said, in both parts gleeful and horrified.
“It is promised,” it said, and breathed a sigh of shadows. “Gods, humans, and youkai, despite being fundamentally intertwined, only serve to hurt each other. It is our differences that bring strife. And our cultures, our perspectives… they are all too different to coexist peacefully.”
So the curse, without delay, left. But for now, it was peace.
Or so Kagiyama thought. The Moriya goddess, who Kagiyama had thought would leave with the curse, remained, keeping her piercing stare chained to the curse goddess’s movements.
“...Would you happen to have rice wine, young one?”
[ ] Kagiyama did not… but she shall check nonetheless. [ ] Kagiyama had nothing, and alcohol was an unnecessary luxury.
Kagiyama did not… but she had checked nonetheless.
True to fate, or moreso divine purpose, she found rice wine in a gourd, sitting beneath trinkets, coinage, and prayers within her donation box. It was like a gift from the gods above—a coincidence, perhaps. But alcohol was hard to procure, and seldom did one find it wasting away as an offering to a goddess of curses.
Kagiyama found mortal charity to be unnecessary, but this time was the sole exception. With silent thanks, she ferried the rice wine back to the Moriya goddess.
“Rice wine,” Kagiyama said, presenting the gourd as if it were a gift.
“So it is.” Moriya folded her arms in impatience. “Well? So you have brought the vessel. Next is the cups.”
The curse goddess allowed the pause to fill the void.
“Cups,” emphasized the Moriya. “Or do you wish we take turns drinking from the gourd’s mouth? I will not belittle myself, nor you, like that.”
At last, Kagiyama gathers her deductions and concludes with: “...So we are drinking.”
“No, right now, we are merely talking about drinking. Let’s remedy that, please.”
[ ] Kagiyama brought the cups. [ ] Kagiyama had a promise to fulfill.
Kagiyama had many a reason to decline the Moriya’s request—if she could even call it that. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to refuse. The goddesses, they were volatile, and Kagiyama had no mind to say no to the frog when Moriya’s countenance was plagued with melancholia and bitterness.
“I’ll bring the cups,” she said.
And so she did. Kagiyama poured for the two of them. And before she could take a sip out of politeness, Moriya jutted out her empty cup, silently bidding for more. The young curse goddess obliged, pouring the blonde a second cup. In that time, Kagiyama had missed the opportunity to usher the other goddess away from the purification altar—and more so, the body. But she was too meek to point out the metaphorical corpse in the room… however literal it was. So instead, she put up with it.
Meanwhile, Suwako Moriya let her emotions fester, brooding silently with her third, fourth, and fifth cup. By the sixth, the anger that the frog goddess so willfully repressed came awash from her tongue.
“A fool,” she said. “you are a damned fool,” she repeated, spitting out the words.
The resident goddess wondered whether Moriya was referring to the woman, Moriya, or to Kagiyama herself, but she was too considerate, or scared, to ask her to clarify. Instead, Kagiyama just nodded vacantly, saying nary a word.
By fortune, Moriya clarified.
“Weak. She was so weak. If only her heart and bravery had matched her weakness. Then perhaps, she would have lived.” She looked to the purification altar in disgust. “A pitiful existence you are, Toyoke.”
Kagiyama took a sharp breath. Though her guest was the Moriya herself, the young curse goddess would not sit idly by and let her speak ill of a victim of needless conflict. And yet, as Kagiyama was about to rebuke Moriya for her verbal lashing, she lost her umbrage once she realized one thing.
“You are crying,” Kagiyama said.
“Your inebriation betrays your eyes, young one,” Moriya replied sternly as she put a sleeve to her eyes. “Perhaps you’ve had a cup too much?”
“...I’ve yet to finish my first.”
“Then you are laughable. To think that one pour would make you wobble at the knees.”
“I…” Kagiyama let her words wander. “I suppose I am,” she said, finally.
Kagiyama rose from her lapse in consciousness. She thought to hold last night’s tryst with alcohol accountable, but the young god knew her own transgressions: Her previous acts of purification still haunted her current self. Left spiritually exhausted, Kagiyama had collapsed under her emptiness. But by good fortune, she had done so only after the Moriya goddess retired for the night. Still, the memory of Moriya wetting her sleeves with tears remained at the forefront of young Kagiyama’s mind, and, were she allowed another chance, she would have tried to console the greater goddess.
The curse goddess lifted herself off the tatami, rose to her knees and, with a free hand, brushed aside strands of disheveled hair. She, however, set her gaze firmly to the floor. There was no need to ascertain who she was talking to—it would be none other than the curse itself… and in foul temperament. Kagiyama kept herself meek and humble, for the curse returned with ruddied vengeance that dripped from its cloak and fingertips.
“I have returned,” it said. Then, with a more subdued voice, it continued, “As promised. Now I shall deal with you, the final goddess of these lands. Bring the sheltered youkai here.”
Keeping her head low, Kagiyama whispered, “What shall you do, Curse?”
“Do not question me. Bring it here.”
With great reluctance, Kagiyama nodded to the curse before fetching the young wolf. As the goddess took the youkai by the hand, the wolf aimlessly let himself be dragged along, curiosity touching his eyes.
Kagiyama wondered whether she was leading him to his own sacrifice.
The goddess sat the youkai down first before taking a seat next to the young wolf. If anything, she shall be by his side.
“Be still,” said the curse. The youkai complied with diligence. “Now breathe,” the curse clarified, and the youkai allowed himself a sharp gasp. Kagiyama turned to watch over the wolf, but the curse snapped. “You too. Be still.”
She had wanted to ask why, but she stilled herself. Rather, she was made to be still. In that moment, Kagiyama’s world was enshrouded in darkness—in fear. Soundlessly, she screamed. But her body was not her own, if only briefly. Uneasiness settled within the very core of her being. Then, bloodcurdling screams ruptured the curse’s induced silence. A thousand voices rang through her ears, begging Kagiyama to save them. But she, too, was a victim to the curse’s malady.
“Now breathe,” the curse said. At that moment, Kagiyama understood: What it said was not a suggestion, but a command.
Kagiyama breathed, claiming air as she dropped to her hands and knees. She was bestowed with new afflictions—cold sweat, poison that coursed through her body, and shakiness. Yet, as she turned to face the wolf youkai, she could only gasp.
The darkness that plagued the wolf’s features were cleansed, and the sickening mist that permeated his body was no more.
But she could still sense its deathly coil—though, not on the wolf but on another. So she looked to herself and found that the mist now enveloped her own body intimately.
“The youkai’s curse is yours,” it said. “And with it, your shrine shall fall to ruin. In its sanctuary, all that spoils shall spoil, and rot shall replace food and drink. Your holy grounds shall become the mist that curses these lands, and the croplands that touch its borders shall remain fallow. And you, young goddess, will taste pestilence—in both your body and your soul.”
“But the wolf?” she asked, careful not to let her desperation manifest.
“I have freed you from that beast, Burden. Worry not about the little wolf. You now own the curse that it had, so its meager life lies not in your hands. But, alas…” the curse’s voice softened. “Such is your fate. You have disappointed me, resigning yourself to your indecision.”
Kagiyama’s curiosity fought, hopelessly, to ask why. However, her cowardice was ever the veteran, and so the goddess stayed her tongue.
Kagiyama was subject to the curse’s piercing gaze, sanguine and intemperate in strength. The young goddess remained motionless, careful not to move, lest the curse give into its whims of violence. Insufferable silence crossed the two, and, while the curse’s gaze held vague clemency, Kagiyama found no comfort in its presence. It was unbearable—that stare, that look of displeasure and pity.
She found herself snapping away from its eyes. Still, the curse did not say anything.
The first to break the vow of silence was the wolf youkai. In a growl, he said, “White wolf. Goddess… okay?”
The curse did not respond. Rather, it did not notice. As if in a trance, the curse kept its eyes locked to Kagiyama.
“White wolf!” the wolf snarled, jerking a hand forward to the curse.
It was to no avail. The god whipped backwards and pointed a hand at the wolf, black ichor erupting out of the its fingertips and towards the wolf. “Do not. Touch me,” it said. Roots tore the ground asunder, and in place of the tatami mats were weeds that wrestled through the split flooring like ill growth.
The tar that enveloped the youkai, however, did nothing but to send him into a coughing fit, as he reeled down to the floor, retching murky slime.
The curse took a step forward, revulsion reflecting off its eyes. It crouched, leveling itself closer to the youkai. “Know thy place. Humble thyself and abide by my grace. Were I to will it, this foolish wolf would be naught but red mist.” And, in unsettling fashion, the curse let out a hoarse chuckle, its guttural voice echoing in company with the walls. “But my will is fickle. I shall neither harm your goddess nor you, little creature. Though she bears a mark that will bring her pain and anguish, she shall only find demise should she willingly search for it. At the very least, she shall not meet an untimely death by my hands.”
“Then… okay?” the wolf said as he turned to the goddess, his voice settling down to a whine.
‘Okay’ was not quite the word that Kagiyama was looking for. But for the wolf’s sake, she nodded. “I’m okay. It’s… all okay.”
“...Good, very,” he said, breathing a sigh of relief.
“Then so let this dialogue die, wolf. And, as for you, goddess. Should you wish to avoid needless suffering, tread alone on the road you take.”
“Or do you believe that you are strong enough to protect those around you? You cannot even protect yourself.”
“…Yet I chose this way forward.”
“No, naive and little goddess. You did not choose anything. You simply let others dictate this ‘path’ you took. But I will not convince you. You may do as you wish. And if ruin befalls you and your loved ones… so be it. I care not anymore. You, like many others before you, have failed my expectations.”
Kagiyama knew better than to test the curse’s patience. And yet, a crack of defiance slipped past her meek shell. “Like Toyoke?” she said. As the words left her lips, however, she was immediately awash in regret and fear.
The world froze. Nothing breathed. Nary a thing, not even a single leaf that billowed in the air, dared to make a sound. Minutes—or it so felt to the goddess—passed before she was allowed to even blink. She thought she would dissolve into a pile of maggots, but nothing happened. Nothing at all.
“No,” Kagiyama scrambled to retract her words. “I just—that was not what I meant—I, no, that isn’t—I…”
It continued to do nothing. The curse merely stared, though what vestigial pity it demonstrated earlier was completely erased from its hardened gaze. Finally, the curse opened its mouth.
“You sicken me,” it said, before returning to its less corporeal form.
The last vestiges of the curse were wisps of black smoke, dissipating to the wind. Still, Kagiyama felt its coarse voice moving through the lands.
“I shall come again,” it decreed. “This I promise you. And when that day comes, I shall take this land and inhabitants as my own. All that lies under Yamato’s lands shall be devoured and repurposed in my name. So wills the Curse of Hakurō. And in that time...” It paused, respite in its voice. “Prepare yourself.”
With its final words, the lands quaked, soil trembling before its words. The world cracked at its ridges and flat earth split into several parts. Where solid ground once tread now stood crag and rifts between Kagiyama. Still, the shrine was mostly intact, save for rubble that painted the walkway—an act of temporary grace, so thought Kagiyama. But she shall be wise and part with her resting ground—it was hers no more.
“Gone,” said the wolf youkai.
“Indeed. It is gone… for the meantime.” But the curse was one to fulfill its promises, so it would inevitably return with grisly vengeance. “But worry little about the curse—we shall not meet it again.”
“Never,” she reaffirmed.
“Then?” he said, looking for direction.
“Then nothing. This shrine is no longer home—not to you, and certainly not to me. But I shall not mourn my loss—my duties have yet to be fulfilled, and I shall not let myself be bereft of will. Though…” she said wistfully, “the curse has indeed made the path murky and difficult to cross.”
“Wherever I am needed.”
“...With?” he asked, pleading with his widened, amber eyes.
Kagiyama knew the wolf’s intentions. Yet the curse’s words haunted her, allowing hesitation to seep into her thoughts. Would she take such a perilous path with company? But she did not bide her time.
So, in that moment, Kagiyama…
[ ] …left the desolate shrine unattended. [ ] …gently took his hand.
>>31709 I'm slowly getting together an update but don't expect anything until after this month, at the very least. I have a horrible deadline to meet before the end of September, so probably no writing's gonna get done until then.
The curse’s will be damned. Its prophecy was biting—but not predestined. Kagiyama wouldn’t face the world’s pessimism with a tolerant smile and a turned cheek. No, she would gnash her teeth and struggle against the despair that surrounded her, ignoring futility that whispered into her ear.
‘No matter where you escape, death will soon follow,’ it hissed. ‘How will you save others? You cannot even save one wolf.’
She had no answer to calm those furied thoughts. However far she tucked away the truth, she knew—she had always known—that the wolf would soon take his last breath. His very existence was a constant reminder that mortality was cruel and transient. Beneath those expectant eyes, below that sturdy, youthful exterior, there was only a flame that flickered with life, and faintly so. How quickly his vitality would be snuffed out with the winds of conflict.
Yet he clung desperately onto life, grasping at remnants of hope, and Kagiyama yearned for that same tenacity. With him, perhaps she could seek to do the same.
So, gently, Kagiyama took his hand, drawing the wolf closer with her arm. “Come along now.”
The wolf understood. He gave a bashful smile and, shyly, he squeezed the goddess’s hand. “Fate. With us.”
‘Our fates are intertwined,’ he meant, or so Kagiyama interpreted it. And so it shall be. She would be with him until the wolf took his final steps. That was the least that she could do for him: To be together as his companion at the end of his journey.
The goddess turned to face her former shrine. Tragic, was her initial thought as she laid eyes over its desolate state. Once, the sun shone over the arches of its sacred gates and blanketed the stoney path in a brilliant, golden glory. Now, and forevermore into the future, it would remain as rubble and ruin. The path to the shrine, once grand cobblestone, was then weather-torn gravel. Weeds stuck out amongst the neglected gardenway, and the faint stench of death permeated the grounds. And, in time, its dilapidation would only worsen—the curse decreed it.
To Kagiyama, brief nostalgia aside, the shrine was no longer anything but a lingering memory, and one that would grow only more distant with time past.
Turning away from her old home, she resolved herself and spoke to her companion. “Let’s go.”
“...To?” he responded, eyes glimmering with faint expectation.
“For now, anywhere but here.”
So, unceremoniously, the goddess and the wolf left, disappearing into the dark fog of curses.
While I had originally wanted to finish this over the course of 2020's March Nanowrimo, shit happened and kept happening, so my time and motivation to write was sporadic at best. Combine that with my already glacial writing pace, and you get a finished short story that took over a year instead of a month.
I don't regret starting this at all. I just wish I wasn't a fucking idiot and didn't stall multiple stories to finish this one. Cheers, and I'd sage this post if I could because I'm a bitch.