Onajimi No

Chapter 2

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The light touch of morning sunshine flutters across the side of her face like a butterfly of radiance and glow, carrying out a daily routine. Nanami yawns politely with a hand over her mouth despite no one else being in the room; it's become part of her nature. Sitting up from her bed, she brings her pale, smooth feet to dangle upon the wooden boards. She could practically feel its frighteningly low temperature, and she felt discouraged to get up. But with mechanical grace, she forces her leave of her warm bed to slip on her kimono, and then downs a cup of tepid water that has been filled the night before, sitting on her low tea table in front of her narrow slit of a window. The butterfly of dawn flies back out the window, leaving the room in a shadow gray.

Walking out of her dorm with the ends of her loose-fitting kimono trailing behind her, she heads for the front entrance of the shrine like a drifting soul. Once there, she plucks the broom off its place on the wall and begins to sweep the wooden boards of the elevated porch. She hums lightly, her expression quite blank. Clouds of dirt and fallen leaves fly from side to side with each stroke of the broom, the strokes becoming more menacing than the previous. Then the chase truly begins as she sweeps the steps, the walkways, the marble floor of the shrine well, the wall of the mantras, the rooms themselves. She replaces the broom with a duster and continues, waving the duster on the windows, the statues, the holy well, the holy necessities of décor, the sources of light upon sticks—lamps! Finally, one last substitution is made for a bucket of sudsy water and a pitiful rag, and she scrubs the shrine grounds until she is able see her very own bland and simple reflection.

She returns the utensils of cleaning, and retires to the edifice of little pledges.

The entrance to the edifice was completely flooded with pieces of paper that rustled in the wind, creating a noisy music to her ears. She gently slides the door closed, locking in her much-needed darkness, and floats silently to the back wall. It was that time to be as calm as a pure river, as eloquent as a young, virgin crane, and as patient as a precious cherry bud.

She closed her eyes, and placed herself in the world where nothing existed but her and this job. Bending down before the low table, she caresses the quill in her fingers, feeling its essence against her skin—the very skin of a god that was to take charge of numerous of lives at this very moment.

She opens her eyes to carefully absorb the prayer before her. She records the wishes. The voices enter in and out of her mind with each read and scribble.

Please let me see my son tonight…

Please allow my father to heal and regain his strength…

Please lend me the power to confront her…

She did not need to think of her responses—her hand seemed to move on its own, already having memorized the routine. A small feeling of dread falls to the pit of her stomach. Her eyes roam the prayers as she writes. They were typical once more. Has no thought been put into writing them, or did they—the writers in this world—all think the same? Briefly, after a number of prayers, she could feel herself closing her eyes once more. She reminded herself that this was a duty she must do. This was her life: waking, tending, cleaning, recording, heeding. She had no other life than this.

At sun-down she finishes, and returns to the main shrine. Onikiri and Kotetsu, the ever-so buoyant shrine sprites, bombard her and shower her with gratitude and praise upon her entry to the kitchen. They present to her the usual reward of dinner since she lacked the culinary skills necessary to cook her own, and so bowing her head and thanking them softly before they retired to their hobbies, she consumes the meal at the dinner table with no other, trapped in her own thoughts for the day, for the past, and for the morrow. And she still sat there once the box was empty, with parts of the rice and vegetables left untouched. But the meat was wholly consumed.

After a gesture of good-night to the sprites, she slips to her dorm for the next day to come, and the next.

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She was dusting the intricate, pastel shelves upon the wall of the main shrine when a light rapping occurred. Alarmed, she nearly drops the feather-duster. Never had this shrine had a daytime guest as bold as this.

So could it be…?

Turning and mustering up grace and propriety, she silently crosses the tatami floor with her chin held high and arms by her side. If the man was to finally show up, now was her chance to confront him. No more did she want to prolong this meager servitude of hers; no longer would she stand for this. It was surprising how quickly her mind raced to achieve this freedom at a time like this.

Without a second thought, she slides the door open with the blankest of expressions only to meet a man's dim, amethyst eyes about two feet above her own head. She blinks and hides a scowl.

"Mikage—"

She hesitates. She does not remember Mikage having such a lofty height, or even…eyes of that nature.

"You're not Mikage," she blatantly states, and couldn't help but blush at her blindness.

"No, I'm not. But I assume he's the owner of this shrine." The slim man says with not so much as a steady, taunting gaze that makes her feel as if she were naked in the dead night of a horrible winter.

She narrows her eyes, hating the effect.

"You need to leave, if you know what's best for you."

"Oh, I know what's best for me—" he says, shifting his weight and examining his nails. "—and it's being the owner of this shrine. Mikage handed over the reins to me." Smirking, he shows her a map of the shrine with a hand. Mikage's signature was scribbled (rather haphazardly) at the bottom of the page.

"A-A random human like you cannot just barge in and expect me to-to—!"

He straightens. "Ah, but to…what? Be coherent, please. The stutter does not suit you at all."

"Th-the nerve—!" A small sphere of fire formulates and expands in the palm of her hand. "Get out!"

He freezes at the sight of the ethereal fire, but recovers quick enough to dodge it as she flings it. He looks behind him, staring at the soft magenta fire licking at the ground near his foot. It was as if the fire was infinite in life; it wouldn't die out. He glances back at her.

"What are you?" He snaps angrily. Apparently the fire had really caught him off-guard.

"I will not answer any more of your rude queries. I bid you good-bye." She roughly slides the door shut with a slam, causing the door to bounce in its fragile frame. He waits, listening to her retreating steps. He's not even sure why he's waiting.

"Tch. Bothersome witch." He rolls up his parchment of a map and slides it under his ebony leather belt. A strange, malicious spark gleams from his eyes as he licks at his partially cracked lips, the only part of his body to ever be bothered by the frigid cold.

With a last glance at the shrine, he dashes into the woods.

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"But, Nanami! I really think you should keep an eye on that Tomoe! He speaks the truth of Mikage's seal!"

"Yes, it was bestowed upon him! We witnessed it, didn't we Onikiri?"

"Yes, yes we did! Nanami!"

"Alright, alright, I hear your pleas loud and clear!" Nanami shakes her head as the three of them stride quickly down the hallways. They needed to make sure the shrine was secure. "What do you think I'm doing right now?"

Kotetsu's arms go in a frenzy. "No! That is not what we mean. We mean you should consider Master Tomoe. Mikage even—"

"Master Tomoe? Have you sprites lost your mind? Do you have no faith for Mikage, our current master, mind you!" Though she wasn't sure why she was defending the shrine god. She was probably the one who least favored the man.

"But—"

"Enough. I need to deal with this."

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Once she was sure all the doors and windows and gates around the vicinities of the shrine were secure, she makes her way to the tallest tree to scout. For decades she hadn't utilized her advantageous senses, so her nose and sight were decent to the point that they were useless in the situation.

So she relied on her hearing instead. With the constant job of listening to prayers, her hearing remained well and tuned. Now if only that rouge would make the slightest noise—one preferably clumsy-like, like that of only a human could make as a blunder.

Minutes went by and there were no such noises, just the night noises of crickets and small creatures going about. Frustrated, she comes back down from the tree.

"What were you looking for up there?"

She whirls around to find none other than her prey—a very skilled, abnormally deft prey.

With a curt remark such as that, and his annoyingly deep smirk to top it off, Nanami found it hard to not trip over her words and shout incessantly. Her hazel colored tail flicks sharply to and fro. But she manages to maintain her grace.

"It is none of your business. Be gone with you, you misfit. This is holy ground you're treading upon," she says.

"You mean my holy ground?" His lips curve upward. He walks slowly forward with a strange elegance Nanami didn't know humans could have. His silver hair glared and flashed from the impending moonlight. "Do I really need to repeat what I told you earlier? You're not being very kind to your master," he purrs, licking at his bottom lip.

"S-Stay back!" She loses her ground quickly, and shoots rapidly at the young man's feet with her fire. He dodges each one without difficulty while still advancing. Nanami leaps back and upward to a branch, her claws digging deeply into the bark, and face, snarling.

He cocks his head. "Why are you running away? I can't even hurt you. I only have my bare hands, and you with your magic."

She gazes at him unsurely, biting her lip. Her confidence suddenly surges back, her duty as sheer protector rising within.

"I can kill you with two strokes of my hand, human, but not only is it morally wrong to kill the living, but also worthless. I have one master, and one master only. So leave." The word master leaves a bitter taste in her mouth and she bows her head.

"Well I don't know how to put this to you, you…'thing', but we have company. I suggest you get down."

Did he just refer to her as a nameless noun? But she had no time to dwell on it. As soon as he made his observation the shadows of the forest bent and stretched. Little demons scurried around in the tree-tops around her.

"Demons?!" She gasped. "But this is holy land!" She leaps down and stalks toward the silver-haired adolescent, pointing accusingly. "You! You brought these things! How dare you!?"

He flings her filthy hand away as if she were impossibly below him. "How could I have brought them?! You may as well be pointing that claw at yourself for being unaware of them in the first place! Do you know how many demons reside outside of your so-called shrine? You're the worst servant to have ever lived!"

"Be quiet and duck!"

They both duck, glaring at one another as a black sphere zooms past over their heads.

"You're absolutely unpleasant for a human being, aren't you? Having the audacity and nonexistent fear around divine beings!" She fires two shots of flaming balls at the two incoming demons behind him, evaporating them into thin air. As she keeps firing, he ducks underneath her extended arms, low-sweeping the demons that were too close and striking them with his fists.

He grunts. "Divine? You're anything but divine! From what I've seen you're just a mere servant to this Mikage God that doesn't even take care of his duties!"

"And that makes you an even better master for this shrine? A dirty little mortal couldn't possibly make this place any better knowing how such an arrogant, pitiful, jealous jerk he is!"

"Shut up! You don't know me!"

"You don't know me either! So you close your mouth!"

They whirl upon each other, panting and eyes narrowed from the exertion and intense concentration. Her flowing, pleasant-green silk robes were dirty here and there, and her brown hair loose from its elegant bun from before. His pitch black school uniform tampered and his silver strands of hair messy. He was tall, so very tall; it was strange. She notices his eyes were a unique violet-gray color, and for a moment the two of them examined each other, not saying a word, huffing and looking.

"You're weak," he says suddenly. "We're not of the same race and yet you're already tired as I am in that supposed superior status of yours."

She doesn't say anything. It was partly true. She was weak for a demon, but for some reason her mouth wouldn't open to rebut. She gawks at him.

"I'm going to go find the source of this. Do not follow me." He makes for the direction that led deeper into the forest, away from the shrine. She stumbles after him.

"No, don't go! Those beings will tear you apart!" She trips over a dense clump of weed, but uses her hands to flip herself back onto her feet. "Stop!"

She runs after him, deciding it would be faster and less of a hassle than summoning her fox fire to carry her above the trees to search. He's only running on two mortal feet, so he couldn't get that far, could he? A wall of swiping, gurgling masses emerges from the distance ahead of her, and she does a roundabout. Another wall of masses appear and she avoids that as well. Why was there so many?

She takes in a huge gulp of air in an attempt to even out her stress and achieve some sort of ancient zen. There were this many demons around the shrine, and yet she had never noticed them. She made a mental note to get rid of them later once the source and the human were to be dealt with.

"Behind you!" A voice yells, and she ducks in response, hugging the floor. A growling mass goes straight into the tree in front of her, dispersing itself. She looks up, easily spotting the adolescent's metallic-like hair against the darkness.

"Go back to where you came from; you shouldn't be here," she demands in her best commanding tone, picking herself up. "Leave this to me."

He circles the tree beside him, flicking off pieces of hanging bark as a nearby growling intensifies. The demons were nearing and she comes closer to him, sensing another fight, but with who, she wasn't sure.

"Will you drop the unnecessary persona?" He says, catching her eye and smirking. "It doesn't suit your weak physique."

She deflects the insult and watches as he licks quickly at a jagged wound on his forearm like some feral animal, utterly disgusted. "Here they come," he says. "Prepare yourself."

She didn't know exactly what he meant by that. Either he was being utterly sarcastic and snarky or sincere, she wasn't sure, but she gathers up her shredded silken sleeves and tears them away for better movement. She turns to face the oncoming clamoring horde who was quickly advancing. She fired up her palms.

Suddenly the adolescent picks leave.

"I'll leave this to you. Hope you can handle it." He says, and when she turns to exclaim, he's already gone.

She lets the first two spheres go, and it ensues.