Onajimi No

Chapter 1

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"Norubono," she whispers in fear like a fragile pup. "Don't…don't…" She falls down to her knees and cups her face.

"I'm sorry…Nanami," he rasps out, barely above a whisper. "…I had to do what was to be done."

He wraps a loving finger around a lock of her hair, and then releases it, his hand falling down to rest on his chest.

"But you had a choice!" Her hands were curled to fists on the ground, her hair a curtain to her face. "You could have saved yourself! I was there, and I was about to step in, and then you stupidly interceded—!"

"Stop."

He takes her hand in his. Her shimmering eyes rose. There was a sense of desperation in Norubono's eyes that Nanami couldn't fully comprehend. It was urgent. She remains breathless in the midst of his labored one.

"Please…" he begs lowly, "take care of my wife and son."

He erupts into a coughing fit, wheezing heavily afterward. His last request hung in the air like a thick fog, keeping her mind from thinking correctly. All she could do in response was to cry faster than before. Her tears were a trickling stream.

She whimpers. "Norubono—"

He gives a shuddering breath; his last, final breath.

"N-Norubono!" She shrieks frantically. Placing her hands upon his chest, she shakes him furiously and shouts. "Breathe, Norubono, breathe! Norubono!"

His body rolls from side to side from the exertion, his head quaking from left to right, but he doesn't respond. She continues to shake him.

"Norubono—" she wails. "Norubono!"

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"The wife and son…will you not care for them?"

The place is dark, dreary, other-worldly. Only black existed in the cave, and it instilled so thick a solemn aura that any mortal or immortal who should step in would feel its effects in an instant, the aura catching them, taking them on a miserable inner journey.

The kitsune is found here in the worst of condition and mood. Her once porcelain skin and hair that flowed like that of a soft ripple, now unrecognizable and insignificant with tears and red marks upon her skin that resulted from her endless night of careless fleeing. Before the being, she stays deathly silent in a kneeled position.

"There is no use in it…" her voice trembles. She gulps. "I do not think I have much longer."

"He has died, so therefore you shall die. Yes. It is what was written and sealed upon the contract."

She glances the other way. "I want to die," she says, gazing with an empty void to the oblivion ahead. "What's the use in waiting when he's not here?"

"Then go on," the voice booms. "It will be over soon, and I shall meet you at your destination—you and your mate."

She takes a step forward, and another, and another towards the blackness, until she sets up herself a sluggish pace that would only be described as the epitome of tell-tale death, her ruined kimono dragging behind her to follow her to the very end.

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The God of Marriage steps out to darkness that conceals her broken, mangled body.

"Kitsune. Please tell me what has happened to you," he says worriedly.

She doesn't dare stir for fear that moving her body will prohibit her against her dying. So she turns her cracked eyelids open towards the man's gentle, kind face searching and calculating. There was a sort of twinkle in his eyes.

"It's okay, I won't hurt you. Please, I can bandage you up inside my shrine. Will you let me handle you?"

She gazes at him longer until she feels her body has reached its last limit—its last pump of the heart. She could feel it: her blood being pushed one last time, her heart halting to a devastating stop, her blood remaining eerily still as ice, low temperatures enveloping her body's tissue and internals, her eyes beginning to dim. Death upon her has come at last—at long last. She will no longer suffer.

She will be with him.

But a voice emerges and fades with the devouring blackness.

"No, you're not leaving just yet. Stay a bit longer. I hope you will forgive me."

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"You can't save me. I'm under a curse," she manages to blatantly state before erupting into another fit of coughs. He looks attentively to her with concern at the harsh sounds. "You don't understand."

He shakes his head while leaning over from his kneeling position to pat her back gently.

"Now, that's not being very optimistic, is it? Anything is possible to go through with." The pats on the back only resonate through her body like a hollow log. She stares fixedly at the floor, feeling anything but optimistic and positive.

"What is your name given from birth?" he asks, switching the topic. Nanami quickly throws the advance away.

"Please let me die in peace," she whispers. "I don't want you to witness its effects upon my skin."

He leans back into his kneeling position with grace. "Oh, but it has already happened. Look at your skin now."

True to his word, as she glances up and down her limbs, swirling, dark tendrils of ink spiraled around her extremities like a hungry snake. She chokes at the sight, and suddenly, she is afraid of what is to happen. Shakily, she lowers down her arms from inspection and her breathing comes out in short, shallow bursts. She bows her head with her hands at lap, trembling.

"If death has come," she urges with a fake confidence, but slowly rising, "I will accept it. I will remain loyal to my lover."

The God of Marriage, hearing this admirable phrase, rises to his feet.

"There is no doubt you are a kindred, strong soul, kitsune. But do you truly wish to waste all that you are capable of? What if I told you that I was able to break your curse?"

She does not waver, staying in her loyal position. Her head was still bowed with a dignity and strength.

"Kitsune," he says, bending down to be level with her head. "I assume your lover was a great man. Would he have wanted this—for you to vanish from this world along with him? What was his wish to you?"

She blinks softly from behind her wall of hair.

He continues, "Will you not carry out that wish?"

"—I will not carry it out!" She yells with a hidden anger. "They were the ones who caused his death. I will not protect them if it is the last thing I do!"

After a brief moment, she clasps a palm to her mouth, disbelieved at her own words. Her eyes squeeze shut and she sobs tremendously.

"I deserve to die! I am going to the underground!"

"Now, now," the God cajoles with the gentlest of expressions and tones. "It's understandable for you to feel that way. It's an intrinsic part of a human soul. Have you not noticed that you have the potential to change?"

Her eyes open to reveal glittering, curious orbs. She removes her hand from her mouth, and wipes the moisture from her face with a sleeve, her throat still sobbing.

"The first step lies within this very shrine." He smiles, offering her his hand. And she takes it, too caught up in the moment's events to truly consider what was to transpire from this simple gesture of acceptance.

"Come. There is much to show you."

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The cloudy sky is a placid, wispy kind of blue. There lie an infinite number of forest tree-tops beneath it, the leaves of the trees rustling slightly in the warm, summer breeze. A sparkling river cuts through the forest of trees, and between the river and the forest lay a band of lush, voluminous grass on either side of the river, the grass following the snake of water wherever it went. A bridge made of the toughest wood allows access across this river, and this bridge is where the kitsune stands now, with her elbows steadied on its railing, her sorrowful face dipped down to watch the current rush by.

It is not known how long she has been there, but she comes there frequently to think—to ponder. She wonders about the thoughts roaming freely within the confines of her head.

Half an hour or so later, an outline of a figure's shadow reflects upon the river's current to her left. The interloper had appeared so unexpectedly, it catches her by surprise. Fearful, she leaps away to the tree-tops to land clumsily upon an uneven branch, scrambling to right herself. Agonizing moments pass as she mutters unconscious prayers.

But the figure hadn't seemed to notice as he pulls with tenuous effort at the full wagon behind him, his face coated with sweat and eyes squeezed together. She watches cautiously at the man going across the rickety bridge, his wagon reaching the apex of the bridge's curve.

The bridge crackles, and is followed by yet a couple more ear-splitting, breaking fibers until the man yells out in surprise and the bridge goes out from under the overloaded wagon, taking it and the man down to the river's perilous currents. They get swept down far in the river's grasp, the man spluttering and crying for help. Anyone! he says, Anyone that can help him!

But the day soon comes to an end with a pink sky overhead full of cawing, and the man had gone unnoticed, never have been helped as he lies unconscious on a riverbank beside numerous debris broken off from the wagon.

The soaked kitsune strolls to him with deft feet, holding a soggy item between her cold, trembling hands. The item was a box permeated with such water to the point it was disfigured and soft, but the message scrawled across the top was still legible: 'Family,' it read, 'To my dear family.'

She glares faintly at his pale, unmoving face. It was unclear whether or not he was dead.

"Your carelessness disgusts me," she says to him, placing the package to the ground next to his head.

She takes off back to the shrine.

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The scenery shifts around the God's shrine, becoming pure and essentially bare and white with hygiene. The seasons of nature transition with speed that goes unnoticed; like the revolving splashes of color on a canvas that cannot be contained within solid borders: Rich azure and deep green to blend easily to the warm colors; hearth-red and weathered orange over to the cool; textured white and solid brown merging with the sweet.

The transitions of this intrinsic nature go on for years, outnumbering a single mortal generation's life-span and even more. Nevertheless, however, the omniscient live on—spending each day to its fullest. The familiars diligently perform their duties, and the Gods do not self-indulge nor entertain, because with each year's closing quickly enters a beginning to look after, the cycle of work never-ending and the years needlessly dependent and long-lasting.

Though gradually, the kitsune dwindles in work ethic, slowly deteriorating in spirit and hope for a worthwhile future. Was she to live on for another millennium solely to aid this God? Was her opportunity of death worth passing up for? Why was she still here in this world, walking and bound with an invisible chain?

Silently, she pours the sake into the waiting dish upon his hand, pushing down on yet another internal sigh. He politely gives her a smile she pretends not to notice.

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Soon, the modern era comes, and yet another baby is born.