He did not look like a man, not at all. But the legs, arms, head and torso were in the right places. He towered, taller than any man Asuka had ever seen, with great cords of muscle that wound down his legs and arms. His skin was tinted gold from the pollen, and he had yellow hair so bright that it hurt to look at him, the yellow hair scraped back against his head. His eyes were spring green, and he was staring at her.
In his hand, he carried a weather-beaten branch as a staff, and the staff came from a mystical lemon tree, so heavy with lemons that the branches swung back and forth as he walked.
Most gods would acknowledge her claps of respect. He looked like a god. He walked like a god, barely felt like a god. Asuka shook her head; a twist in her gut told her that this was some illusion, some ruse. He is not a god.
And the strange lemon deity was not the immediate threat, so she turned to the Wildflower God. One threat at a time. Once again, she clapped twice to honor him.
Bumblebees droned in her ears, and the earth rolled, violent, and the Wildflower God charged towards her. She coughed on the pollen, on her own anger at those who caused this to happen.
He meant to kill her. He meant to kill everyone. Fine. Asuka nodded to herself—it can't be helped—and jumped from the bridge to the riverbank.
She ripped a pine branch from a tree, and interrupting the two shamans trying to erect the barrier, she dunked the branch in a bowl of the shaman’s oil. She waved it over a candle and lifted the blazing mass into the air, running back to guard the bridge.
The not-quite-a-lemon-god watched Asuka. He gripped his staff tight. His heart hurt. Spasmed in his chest. It was something in the noble lift of her chin—humans were stupid—or the delicate turn of her wrists. No, it was definitely the fire that made his breath catch. His kind always had an affinity for fire. Not for the fire in her eyes, but the way her eyes reflected the sparks she wielded. Something in the aching familiarity of her pained him. He remembered the first time he held fire in his hands as his mother watched. That fire had burned purple and gold, his mothers’ hands warm around his as he coaxed the flames to continue burning his spirit.
He should cross that bridge, he knew, and destroy that city. He wanted to do it, this Wildflower God just an excuse to wreck havoc. Instead of joining the lion on the bridge, as the girl stormed towards that Wildflower God, and he found himself rooted, his free hand clutching the front of his robe—why?—wondering at the pain in his chest.
Swaying, Asuka shook the burning branch, scattering pine needles. The Wildflower God reared up and smashed the railing of the bridge. “Go back to the forest,” she ordered.
As he lowered his hand from his heart, Asuka raises her hands and her sleeves fell back; he saw the ink on her wrists. A scholar, he realized. The pain came back with a vengeance. What am I doing?
He looked down at his trembling hands as if they were foreign appendages, half expecting to see fire glowing on his palms. No, it was just his disguised hands.
Asuka ran backwards as the people screamed. Tiny plants sprouted in the cracks in the boards, winding around the pillars. The Wildflower God dropped onto four legs right in front her.
Whirling smoke around her feet turn blue, and she hurled the branch on the bridge between them. “Cross that line, and I promise I will burn the riverbank.”
The lion stomped.
“You have been wronged,” Asuka tried again. “I understand that, but you ought not kill an entire—“
The lion pushed past her, hurling her into the water with vines wrapped around her throat.
The not-quite-a-lemon-god kept his feet rooted, watching the city He waited for her to come running of the city. She had always liked destruction and mischief—why aren't you coming out to meet me? As the moments ticked by and the sun sank lower in the sky, and no one new appeared from the city, his heart sank.
Asuka drew her dagger from her robes, tore the vines away and threw the dagger at the road. As it struck the ground, water burst at the god’s feet.
Asuka clenched her fists, then spread her hands. The water froze, locking him to the ground.
She looked over her shoulder to see how the shamans were coming. Their hands were shaking and they were still only halfway through erecting a barrier. How can you be so slow? She despaired.
The Wildflower God stood a short distance away from poisoning their entire food supply.
“I apologize,” she shouted. She tried an esoteric chant in two sacred languages.
The not-quite-a-lemon-god half-watched as she tried to drive it back to the bridge and seal it away, back to the forest, but the geomantic balances were off—human-made bridge, stone pathway plus forest—and then the lion’s mane grew out into long brambles, and he reached past her and tore down a roof. Shingles and gutters crashed in the street.
The not-god grinned, cruelly. "Come on," he whispered, watching the streets. Waiting or the similarities in the girl, but certainly the waiting hurt. He swayed on legs that should have been strong. He wanted to rip his own chest open and grow a new heart; he could do it, he thought. He could do it.
The shamans abandoned their tools and ran into the city, shouting for help.
Funako reached out and grabbed one of the young shamans, stopping him from escaping. "Finish the barrier!" she cried, and he shoved her.
In a frantic tumble, they fell backwards onto the riverbank.
Gasping and swearing, the shaman fumbled up the small slope, and he grabbed the edge of Funako’s robes. Asuka watched as he pulled her to the bottom of the bank, splashing in the water.
The shaman planted his foot on Funako’s shoulder and launched himself up from the bank onto the road to escape.
Frightened for Funako, Asuka had turned her back on the Wildflower God, who took the opportunity to knock her down, covering her with briars. The blow sent Asuka rolling down the bank into a cloud of pollen that burned her throat and eyes.
Furious, Asuka ripped them away and splashed water on her face, and just as the burning cleared, she brushed a spell over her eyes. Her vision pierced the pollen and the dust clouds rising from the smashed riverside dwellings.
Coughing, Funako dragged herself from the bank—between the God of Wildflowers and his goal—the rice paddies and the fields, their crops. The god smashed a window and swayed towards Funako, rearing up.
Asuka had never fancied herself a seer. But in that moment, she saw her life without Funako. Without late morning breakfasts when Funako stumbled in to detail her night’s romance. A life without constantly straightening her sister’s shoes by the door. Without makeup lessons. A life without rating unfortunate outfits at parties. She saw a furious god tearing Funako open by a river, and she saw an empty bedroom.
Asuka threw herself between the Wildflower God and her sister.