With a quick wave, Asuka concealed her aura and ducked behind a lantern. She squinted, trying to make out their forms through the fog.
A leper, clad in white rags, hobbled towards the inner shrine, followed by her father. Asuka would have felt the sinking in her stomach if her heart was not already racing.
“I was supposed to be shaman.”
“I know,” said Lord Shinrusu. “They should not have cast you out, considering what you accomplished in investigating the secrets of the universe...”
“Sickness,” croaked the man, “gives one special powers.”
The leper rested against one of the columns in front of the shrine altar, and Asuka’s mind raced as she tried to recall any shamans that had contracted leprosy. A shaman had to be officially appointed in order to form a connection with a god at a shrine. A person would have to write their name on a tablet kept at the shrine altar, and if the god accepted the person, they would lend them magic. Asuka’s name was written on the tablet at the Grand Shrine back in Umiguni. She had a wonderful relationship with the various water deities, and her name was written on the plaque at the Grand Shrine, officially marking her covenant. People often thought of shamans as receiving from the gods. Asuka found herself more and more thinking that it was the other way around; humans offered the shaman up to the deity, and they had to spend their lives in a particular service, as a particular offering themselves. For some reason, Chirikai’s face floated to the forefront of her mind.
She did not know of a shaman disgraced, their name struck from a shrine tablet, their powers cut off. A new shaman chosen to replace them.
“I should have known better,” said the leper with a cough, as a thick, cold fog rolled in from the ocean. “All that training. They were so jealous...”
Asuka’s fist clenched as she remembered a disgraced shaman. Sanjun. A lunatic who had been banished from the capital two years ago. The details had been secret. Now, she had an idea why.
The leper, Sanjun, tore away his face mask, revealing mottled skin and milky eyes. “You’ll understand what I found.” He walked towards the stone lantern Asuka huddled behind, then stopped. “You promise to wait to kill me until it comes?”
“I promise to wait,” said Lord Shinrusu. He pulled a knife from his robes.
“It is unlike anything in this world, they say” whispered Sanjun, threading a finger through the fog. “Disorder. A reflection of a shadow of something not meant to be seen. Oh, Chaos Deity.”
Lord Shinrusu lit a torch with a flint and handed it to Sanjun. “Sasugamida.”
Sanjun hurled the torch into the inner shrine, and Asuka watched in horror as the altar went up in flames. The driftwood and ship pieces spun to ash, flames chewing away, and black smoke slunk from the shrine against the wind. The fog pulled away.
Tears streamed down Sanjun’s face as he raised his hands towards the smoke. More smoke than was possible, great hills of smoke, rolled over the shrine. Asuka coughed into her sleeve as the wave of power forced her to her knees.
Her father watching the inferno consume their shrine.
“It comes,” Sanjun said in breathless wonder. “Oh, primitive wilderness...”
Lord Shinrusu grasped Sanjun’s hair, the man screeching, and slit his throat. Blood spurted on the ground, the fire, and the smoke collapsed on itself. The fist of an invisible giant crushed her sense of space, her sense of time, and there was only the writhing mass of soundless lightning and the haze of fury.
It had taken a form, if only to defy the existence of form.
Lord Shinrusu threw the knife aside, trembling. “Sasugamida?”
It was faceless, voiceless. But still it flickered towards her father. Still it turned and spoke in a multitude of voices in foreign tongues, the scream of animals.
Lord Shinrusu fell to his knees, gasping.
“Do you know why I am here?”
Asuka covered her ears as her father responded. His face was ashen in terror. “I wish to know how godhood is achieved.”
“There are no rules.” The entity flickered in a circle around them, somehow in the trees and in the earth while filling the space. Asuka felt the breath forced from her lungs. Tears flowed down her face.
“Disorder is your ally.” A tendril of smoke curled around Lord Shinrusu’s body. “Disruption. Within you are many desires, none of which align. This pleases me...”
Asuka knew what evil spirits felt like—this was no evil spirit. It tugged the space around it as it moved, like a child wrinkling the bedding. Its voice reverberated, a cavern in the sky
“Nothing possesses me; I come when I wish and meddle when the whim strikes.”
Asuka would swear she saw something, half human and half beast in the mess of fog and smoke. The instant she thought so, pain shot through her skull.
I hate swearing and promises, lurker.
The vision vanished as cold flames spilled across the ground like water, and its presence returned to Lord Shinrusu.
“I wonder, how you shall fare when you are isolated from all you cherish, when impurities and purities become one, and the body goes to war without a skin to contain you because you are plagued by love. What is a god? But a glorious death. What is death—just a lie.”
The burning pieces of the shrine began to float, and the roots of the trees slithered up the trunk from the ground. Asuka felt its presence turn towards her like a hand clenching her heart. It was speaking to her. The power swelled, threatening to pull her apart at the seams.
“You will know when the possibility arises—watch for the signs.”
The air broke. When Asuka blinked away the sweat and tears, it vanished. The smoke was gone, and the shrine was perfectly normal. The pits were uncovered and filled with saltwater. Asuka resisted the urge to faint as the aftershock of the summon swept over her.
Her father, who had born the full brunt of the summon, fell over. Asuka wobbled to his side and checked his pulse, his breathing.
Spiritual exhaustion Asuka was familiar with, but she had never seen her father so much as take a rest, much less faint. She did not know what to do.
Asuka grunted and shifted her father onto her back. She slowly carried him to the shrine gate and called for her palanquin. They rode to his palace, and Asuka left her unconscious father with a bewildered manservant and no explanation.
Shock, she realized numbly. I must be in some form of shock.
She borrowed an ox carriage to go home. As Asuka stumbled in the front door, Funako stormed from the hallway. “Where have you been!”
Funako dragged her into the hall, grimacing at her clothes. Their mother burst into the hallway.
“You look awful! Go fix yourself up. We should have already left.”
“Funako,” Asuka managed. “I cannot go.”
“Asuka,” interrupted their mother, “this is not negotiable. The hiwau asked for you personally.” She glided over to her youngest daughter and smoothed down her hair. “You have had a tiring day, but you will go prepare and attend. That is what we do.”
Asuka stepped out of her shoes and picked them up. She hurled them at the entryway before storming down the hall towards her room. “I will need a few minutes.”
How can I tell them?
Asuka splashed some cold water on her face and took off her clothes. She washed the sweat and tears away in her bathing chamber, the water lukewarm. Her hands went through the motions as her mind remained trapped in a little room. She could not seem to stop them from shaking.
She wrapped herself in a towel, and Funako carried a dress and sparkling gray robe, laying it before her on the floor. Asuka lowered her gaze to the fabric, an amalgam of fog and birds.
“You will look resplendent,” Funako assured her.