II. The Umbrella

“Father is secluded with the hiwau doing an esoteric ritual,” said Asuka. She stepped down from the platform around the altar. Funako watched her sister leave the remains of the ritual. 

Glancing at the chalk circles on the floor, Funako dimly remembered they marked the spheres of influence from two gods: the god of the bay to the south, and the spirit of a river. This shamanistic stuff overwhelmed her: geomancy and tantric circles, calculations, smoke, bones, and encyclopedias of rituals gave her headaches. “You can handle it."

Asuka can handle it is what Father would say. 

Father had chosen Asuka when the toddler turned three, when the family discovered she could breathe underwater. As supernatural signs went, it was not particularly subtle. 

As they crossed the pathway stones, and Funako smelled lightning on the air, she felt had not been meant for this apprenticeship. It had taken her years to accept it. Grinding the destiny under her fashionable heel. As the eldest, as the child who’s shaman training has already begun by the time Asuka was born, Funako had been the natural choice. 

That morning, Funako had been sleeping at home when the messenger came around, asking for Lord Shinrusu's location to help with an angry god. She was still nursing a hangover, still wearing layers of pink silks and some swishy white pants that had seemed terribly clever the night before, but now, terribly impractical. Funako looked down at her perfect nails, as a raindrop splattered the back of her hand. Terribly impractical. And now, she was ridiculously leading her little sister to battle in shades of peony and cream. 

It had been a whole week since the sisters had spoken last, as Funako did not come to the shrine; these days she was out late and did not get home until morning. Asuka left early to train in shamanism with their father. They had been, Funako realized in that moment as they left the shrine, slowly growing apart. 

Heirs to high shamanships trained their entire lives to lead the most powerful shrines in the world, commune with the most powerful gods. Asuka could not visit boys—or men—until she officially became high shaman herself. Funako could not follow her. And Asuka could not join her on her social escapades. Funako found herself focusing on the earthen wall around the shrine. 

“Where is the god?” Asuka asked.

“He's on the west side of the Capital threatening to poison the crops.” Funako glanced at her nervous servants. Her stupid palanquin bearers. "He's the Wildflower God."  

“The Wildflower God... Please tell me they didn't destroy his shrine. Father told them not to.”

"They did." Funako sneered at her servants and stopped Asuka from getting in the palanquin. Instead, she grabbed a wide-brimmed hat from her seat, gauze dangling from the rim to hide her face, and plopped it on her head. “It will be faster to run from here.” 

Asuka frowned at her sister as she opened the umbrella. “Fine.” Then she shoved the umbrella into Funako’s hands. “You carry it.”     

They ran out of the shrine, splashing their robes. Asuka held out her hands, sensing the changing boundaries of the angry god. “Where is the god’s shaman?”

"We don't know." 

Funako slipped on the wet path, and Asuka grabbed her arm as they skidded around a corner. Funako hoped too many courtiers did not see her running around like this.  

They were royalty, technically. Their uncle was the King of Umiguni, a country across the sea, and their father was the High Shaman. He served the God of Water and many lesser, water-related divinities. Their father had fallen hard, fallen in love with their mother who had been a brilliant number-smith and socialite in the Capital, and when he proposed, they agreed to raise their family here.  Funako and Asuka knew these streets, mansion, markets, and shrines. Frankly, ever since she had started getting the occasional pimple on the back of her hand, Funako actually knew the streets better than her hand.     

They turned onto the road running alongside the river. Those who lived by the river were mostly poor. Just to the north, Asuka could see the rice fields, a winding alluvial field where the peasants dug canals, ditches, and planted sprouts with the flush of summer. That was the north. On this western side of the city, there was a forest. A bridge connected the city to the forest here, and a dirt road led north towards the mountains. She reached up to keep holding the umbrella over her sister.