V. The Festival Proposal

From her first birthday when she swam into a pond and breathed water rather than drown, there had never been any doubt that Asuka would live and take their father’s place. But she couldn’t stand the idea of living with her sister gone. Despite the rumors. Despite the look she saw in Funako’s eyes when she walked through the shrine. 

Asuka shoved Funako back and took the blow instead. Water flew upwards like a curtain to protect her, and with a jerk of her hands, the water ripped the thorns aside. One of the branches tore open her leg, another her arm. Blood splattered the sand. Asuka held up her hands, her palms facing forward. 

The skies opened, and rain poured down as a strange laughter—like a white snake’s laughter—echoed in the clouds. 

The Wildflower God drew back its branches, preparing to strike her again. Asuka sank the rainwater into the ground, then wrenched the claw-like roots from the mud and threw him into the river.     

With the god submerged and the river’s spirit’s power flooding her veins, she stalked towards the lion.     

She heard Funako’s terrified breathing behind her. She looked beyond the Wildflower God and saw the not-god enter the river with his staff as if in a trance. 

Who are you? his bright eyes seemed to say. Asuka struggled to understand the pain in his expression, so unlike most deities she dealt with. Human. He looked human. 

Asuka could often predict what people would do, or at least the range of actions they might take. But she had always been terrible at influencing humans. Humans were not spirits. Humans were not gods. Breathless with clarity—impress him, pacify him—she gathered her strength and prepared to take down a god.

Asuka flexed her hands and stepped out into the river. In an agonizingly difficult piece of magic, she requested the river spirit to change the tensions in the water, and she stepped across the river’s surface.     

Asuka lowered herself onto one knee, the river rippling about her as the lion thrashed about. “I am Princess Asuka of the Shinrusu, and I—“    

“You are not a shaman,” said the Wildflower God, “and Shinrusu, you are a long way from home.”

Asuka had heard that a million times, a million ways. She found herself looking at the other being with the yellow hair on the opposite bank. 

This is my home.     

She raised her voice. “I am the heir to the High Shaman of Umiguni! I have come to announce that we are having a festival day in your honor.”

The Wildflower God drew back. “A festival?”    

“As you know, we are moving your shrine to a more auspicious location. But in the meantime, we will we—“    

“You tore down my shrine! My only shrine. We are so angry at these foreign things you are worshipping for no reason, and the Volcano Goddess—“

“I understand your feelings perfectly,” interrupted Asuka, “and I wish to reassure you that we are re-building your shrine in a more auspicious location. It has not been simply demolished.”

“Where is it being re-built?” demanded the Wildflower God. He puffed up, scattering dandelions.    

Asuka paused, picturing the, numerous shrines in the Capital and their intersecting points of power. “At the southwestern block, not too far from here. Wildflowers have sprouted in that location. Recent events have led us to believe that it ought to reclaimed as an auspicious place.” Asuka stood, her hands raised, and she hoped her blood wouldn’t fall into the river, for the river spirit would be offended, and surely let her sink to the bottom. “I want to talk about your festival.”     

The god leaned forward, intrigued now more than threatening.     

Asuka noticed the crowd gathering on the street by the river, watching her talk with a god as she stood on the water. She pictured the sort of parties Funako and her mother hosted at their home.     

“Imagine the streets filled with wildflowers,” began Asuka. She drew her palm in a straight line through the air, raising a wall of water between herself and the crowd. Puffs of water sprinkled out from the wall, like flowers. “Big armfuls of wildflowers hanging from every door and shutter. A heavy fragrance fills the air.”

The god sat down on the bank, rapt with attention.     

“And music strums down every street, because we love two things in the Capital: flowers and music. Imagine us carrying baskets of flowers, these very wildflowers,” she gestured at the riotous blooms filling the riverbank, and then she painted a picture with the water: baskets of flowers that collapsed into ritual dancers. “Then, we combine them.”    

“What? How?”

“In a great parade,” answered Asuka. “With floats decorated with gold and viridian paint. We will start with a grand banquet at the hiwau’s palace, then carry the floats in a circle around the entire Capital where we play music, and recite poetry, and celebrate the cycle of the seasons through your blossoms for days.”    

“That sounds wonderful,” said the Wildflower God. “I look forward to it, and seeing my new shrine.”

Asuka clapped twice in respect, then bowed. 

The not-quite-a-lemon-god waited for them to fight again, to shed blood.     

“I apologize for striking you.” Instead, the Wildflower God held out a bramble. “This should help you heal.”    

“You are generous.” She accepted the bramble with another bow. “Thank you.”     

The Wildflower turned to walk back into the forest, masses of flowers blooming in his wake. Asuka waited as long as was polite, then crept back across the water to the other side of the riverbank. 

The man with the yellow hair crossed through the river, his staff of a lemons leading the way through the current as he disappeared under the water. 

Against her better judgement, Asuka followed him underwater, prepared to deal with this next threat, whatever he was.