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.
The god 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.
Swaying, Asuka shook the burning branch, scattering pine needles. The Wildflower God reared up and smashed the railing of the bridge.
She raised her voice, shouting, “Go back to the forest!”
Asuka ran backwards as the people screamed. Tiny plants sprouted in the cracks in the boards, winding around the pillars.
Whirling smoke around her feet turned blue, and she hurled the branch on the bridge between them, where it burned. Her voice lowered in a threat. “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.
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 along. 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.
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 the lion’s mane grew out into long, thorny vines, and he reached past her and tore down a roof. Shingles and gutters crashed in the street.
The shamans abandoned their tools and ran into the city, shouting for help, but Funako reached out and grabbed one of them, stopping him from escaping. "Finish the barrier!" she cried.
He shoved her back, and in a frantic tumble, they both fell backwards.
Gasping and swearing, the shaman fumbled up the small slope of the riverbank, where Funako sat on the edge, but he was not tall enough to reach. He grabbed the edge of Funako’s robes, yanking her to the bottom of the bank.
The shaman planted his foot on Funako’s shoulder and launched himself up from the bank onto the road to escape.
Asuka saw them and froze.
In that second, the Wildflower God knocked her down into the water, covering her with thorn. Asuka rolled down into a cloud of pollen that burned her throat and eyes.
Furious, she ripped the vines away and splashed water on her face, brushing 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 her sister. 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. 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.
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 as the high shaman at the head of the shrine. But she couldn’t stand the idea of living with her sister gone.
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.
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 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, trapped. “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. This is my home. She found herself looking at the other being with the yellow hair on the opposite bank.
She raised her voice. “I am the heir to the High Shaman of Umiguni!”
“You tore down my shrine! My only shrine. We are so angry at these foreign things you are worshipping! 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 have come to announce that we are having a festival day in your honor.”
The Wildflower God drew back. “A festival?”
The god leaned forward.
Asuka noticed the crowd gathering on the street by the river, watching her talk with a god. 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.”
“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 Wildflower God held out a bramble.
“I apologize for striking you. This should help you heal.”
“You are generous.” She accepted the bramble with another bow. “Thank you.”
The Wildflower God 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.
She limped across the sand, acutely aware of the dumbfounded stares aimed at her. With a wave, she removed the water soaking her clothes and hair. Silence.
Funako started to clap. Asuka blinked tears from her eyes as the nobles and peasants joined the applause, and Funako ran forward to envelop her in a hug. Her mother burst from the crowd a moment later, followed by the golden palanquin of the hiwau. She touched her wound, wondering if any of them would come and help her.
Her father leapt from the hiwau’s palanquin, not even waiting for the servants to lower it. The crowd parted for him. The young hiwau in his golden robes emerged as well, and everyone bowed.
Asuka shakily bowed.
Lord Shinrusu embraced his daughter. “Are you all right?”
“Yes,” said Asuka. “It was a little messier than I expected, but I handled the situation.”
Lord Shinrusu shook with anger, his mind on something very different. “This would never have happened if those foreign frauds had not built their temple.”
“The Wildflower God gave me this,” said Asuka, trying to lighten his mood by holding up the bramble.
He smashed the bramble between his palms and applied it to her wounds. “That should never have happened. I will take care of the shrine and make sure the festival goes forward…”
Her mother hugged her, squishing her as her father finished his ministrations. “You were incredible.”
The gulf between the three of them and everyone else had saddened Asuka when she was younger. Now, she just stared over her mother’s shoulder at the crowd.
Because while everyone else stayed back, in that moment, the three of them were enough. Family was everything she had, and as much as Asuka treasured being a shaman, she treasured her sister, father, and mother more.
Asuka had sworn a lot of promises in her seventeen years, and she had always kept them. As she wiped away the blood and sand, she swore she would always be there to save them. Always.