XXXII. The Crossroads God

Asuka was careful, but the moment Shaman Nichiwa departed, she hurried to unroll the scroll and began to translate the old text:

    In those days, Lord Tōshin Nichiwa was advisor to the hiwau. He was wise and good, and blessed with lands that provided him much wealth. His daughter married the hiwau. His son served as captain of the guard, and his wife managed the accounts of their lands.

    One evening Lady Sōjin, who was a rival of Tōshin, invited all the court to her palace and held a gaming tournament. At first, Tōshin refused. Then he played the hiwau, and as he was about to win, Lady Sōjin shouted that she saw Tōshin cheat. 

    The nobles began to shout. All the men and women who had ever been jealous of Tōshin sided with Sōjin. The hiwau did not intervene in the dispute. 

    The next morning, Tōshin left the Capital, humiliated. All who hated him claimed that this was an admission of guilt, and Tōshin was horrified to hear that he had been banished and could never return. His son was stripped of his post and left to join his father, but bandits killed him as he left the Capital. 

    The next week, his daughter died in childbirth. Then a Star Tribe crept down from the mountains and burned his home and conquered his lands. He wandered the wilderness with his wife. One evening, Tōshin was struck by lightning. 

    “The world is dark and chaotic,” Tōshin told his wife as he gained consciousness. “But we have been dealt a great injustice.”

    “Then we should seek to inform this injustice,” said his wife. 

    Despite their banishment, Tōshin and his wife walked to the Capital. On the road, Tōshin was struck by lightning a second time. When he awoke, he said he saw a nest of lightning snakes, which is the god of the Sōjin, hissing at him. His left leg hurt, so he had to limp. But they kept going. 

    When they approached the palace of the hiwau, Tōshin’s wife collapsed and said she could walk no further. Tōshin kept going.

    At the palace, the hiwau was hosting a great feast, and all the nobles had been invited. Tōshin strode into the hall with his tattered clothes and beard. The nobles, thinking he was a vagabond, laughed at him and mocked his limp. 

    “How quick you are to ridicule,” boomed Tōshin. “How little you know about the reversal of fortune... I was once one of you. I am Tōshin Nichiwa, and I have travelled and lost much at the transition points in life.  At every crossroad, you have sought to strike me down and make me lose hope.  I have kept walking because I know that the world has chaos, and fortunes can improve.”

    Lightning flashed, to the amazement of the nobles, hitting Tōshin. He fell and died without another word. 

    The hiwau took pity on the man and had him buried at the northwest intersection beside the palace. That evening, Lady Sōjin’s carriage crashed at an intersection, and she died before they could carry her from the road. 

    Five more nobles died on the road that night. All had mocked Tōshin. No one left their homes for the next week out of fear. 

    Tōshin’s wife told the hiwau she saw a glowing light on the place where they buried her husband. They agreed that something powerful was at work, and the hiwau had a shrine built at the intersection. The same evening the shrine was completed, Tōshin’s wife gave birth to twins, and a bright light shone on every road.

    Tōshin appeared beside his shrine, awash in spectral light, a dead snake draped around his shoulders. The shrine attendants watched as Tōshin approached the crib and he laid the lightning snake at his wife’s feet. 

    Ever since that night, Tōshin Nichiwa has been worshipped as the God of the Crossroads.  

By the time she finished translating the text, the sun had begun to set. Asuka was so absorbed in the text and its obvious implications that she had completely forgotten about the hiwau’s party. 

Asuka urged her palanquin bearers to take her to the Shinrusu shrine. 

“Stop here,” she commanded, and they paused a block from the shrine. “I’ll continue on foot.” 

Asuka bowed at the gate and crept inside. The shrine was empty, save for the crickets and the trickle of water. The clam flowers had long since turned brown, their petals raked to the sides of the path. Something in the precincts tingled her fingers. The aura grew clammy, and as she reached the inner shrine, a great fog rolled off the bay. 

Asuka whispered a purifying spell and touched her forefinger to her forehead. She bent over and opened one of the pits. Raw gold glittered in the muted candlelight. Asuka closed it.

The next contained rotten horseflesh. Asuka gagged and covered it, the spell candle flickering as she adjusted the lid. Another pit had barnacles and sea urchins, their spines flexing. As she slid the cover back over the pit, she heard the crunch of someone stepping on the dried flowers beside the path.