At the property of Bishamon, a small procession of gods in white shrouds had gathered. Overhead, the sonorous boom of the cosmos ripping itself apart was audible across the plane. But the mortals remained ignorant of all this as usual, despite the fierce fight taking place. The anchors on the shores groaned and creaked as the eclipse hung high in the sky. The severed rensa wriggled like worms rising from the ground.
Just as the head of the scouts was about to knock down the door, he heard the Yatogami cry out as he approached.
Several other heads turn to see the beaten god land before them, hafuri in hand. The shrouds hide their expressions of revulsion against the delivery god.
"Yatogami?!" The head scout bites back his own scathing tone.
"Hold up, you need fighters, again right?"
"You're unseemly! Away with you! You god of..." The head scout scowls and refrains from finishing the insult, "... We were sent for Bishamon-ten! The goddess should be happy Heaven is still willing to seek her favor despite having turned against Amaterasu's will herself! And you have seen the last time we should be allowing you anywhere near the enemy after your own betrayal!"
They all knew by now, the results of that trial with Heaven. Yato was inextricably connected with the evil sorcerer. None of the other gods outside his circle of friends really trust him at this point, thinking the trial a poor sham of a show where he merely got lucky.
But right now, none of that mattered. He needed to get to Tesso.
With a slight growl, Yato strides up to the head scout. Yukine quivers slightly in his hold.
"Yato, don't do anything rash..."
With a gnash of his teeth, Yato grabs the head scout roughly by the collar of his robe. Shifting the shroud slightly, he sees the frightened face of the minor, nameless god. But it doesn't matter. He hisses his next words, a partial threat.
"You want me to prove I can still fight?"
The other scouts uneasily shift, weapons at the ready. Seeing the head scout sweat, Yato scoffs and lets go of him.
"Gimme a shroud. I need to get to Tesso," He eyes them all flatly, "It might be the only way to stop this eclipse."
Some of the others whisper in confusion. They were clearly daunted by his claims. Even though they wanted to shrug him off, they saw the urgency of the situation despite Heaven's seeming indifference to the dire nature of the event.
Just then, the door of the war god's fortress opens a crack. Kuraha steps out, a bit timidly in step. Karuha and his sister Kazuha peep out worriedly behind. The old man gruffly clears his throat and forces out a few words.
"What… do you lot want with her ladyship?"
The head scout recovers his tongue, ignoring Yato, "Heaven has issued a further mandate for all able deities to join the fray to protect the integrity of the rensa anchoring chains."
He takes out a sheaf of official looking papers and a lavish looking scroll with an embossed amulet, pointing it to Kuraha, "This is Bishamon's summon."
Kuraha seemed to pause a bit, looking toward the dark violet skies and the flash of magenta light where the fight was in the air. His expression was pensive, pained even. The head scout makes a slightly impatient noise. The shinki then bats away the papers and scroll violently, knocking them from the messenger's hand onto the ground. Yato is surprised along with the rest of them.
"Please… let her ladyship rest!" Kuraha said with a pleading roar as he dropped to his knees, "Heaven has punished her far enough…!"
"W-why you!" The head scout growls and raises his weapon, a totto blade, "You lowly shinki dare to defy He-"
The twins by the door gasp and scramble to the man's defense. But there is a strong clash of blades before it even reaches Kuraha. Yato's blade interlocks with the short sword in a small show of sparks. Once more, the other scouts are on guard. But a cold glare from Yato puts them in unease.
"I told you, I can do it," Yato says icily to the head scout, "Leave Bishamon."
The head scout clicks his tongue and withdraws hastily. He takes several moments to assess the situation. The others of Bishamon's entourage slowly trickle out amid the commotion. A few, like Yugiha, even take up the same pleading position on the floor with Kuraha. Kazuma is nowhere to be seen.
"Please… let Bishamon-sama rest…"
"She has yet to even wake from her wounds…"
"Tch…" The head scout clicks his tongue again, "Useless…"
Yato shoots him a look, which stops his words from exiting his dry throat. He gestures clumsily for the others. One comes forward with a board cuff, for securing criminals.
"Then you will submit to this, Yatogami?"
Yukine nervously swallows. Did they have a choice?
"Yeah," Yato says without hesitation, "But you don't do anything to my shinki, got it?"
"Hmf," The head scout gestures to cuff the delivery god.
Yukine reverts to his human form and Yato's arms are roughly cuffed behind his back. Two scouts flank the hafuri as the head scout gives a signal to ascend. He and Yato give a small glance back to the other shinki before Bishamon's gate. Then they were off to the high palace above.
The gates of Heaven's arsenal were modest and removed from the main hall. Yato glances around as one of the shrouds throws him a simple white kimono and a shroud.
"Make yourself decent."
"Mind uncuffing me then?" Yato frowns slightly.
"Maybe you can work some of that sorcerer's magic..."
Some of the shrouds chuckle. Then one shrugs and goes to release Yato. The delivery god gathers up the clothes and dons them to conceal his tattered jumpsuit underneath. Yukine looks with apprehension at the ones around them, who have now quieted.
"...Alright, you are now outfitted to go and fight."
"Not until I see the prisoner Tesso. He's here, right?"
"Oh, that ayakashi Takemikazuchi bought in? I'd be surprised if it wasn't executed already..."
"Is it here or not. The fate of the rensa could depend on it...!" Yato growls slightly.
"He's in the cells, I think. Heaven's holdings," One of the shrouds finally gives a straight answer with a tired sigh, "You wanna go join him maybe?"
Yato tosses a dismissive glance their way as he pulls on his shroud, "Take me to him."
The shrouds seem to look at each other before two of them seem to come to an agreement. They come forth and wordlessly flank Yato, "Hurry up then. We'll keep your hafuri here."
Yato flatly eyes them with displeasure. Yukine gives him a small nod and a resolute look despite his inner apprehension. Without another word of complaint, the delivery god is led by the two shrouds away from the blonde boy. Yukine suppresses a tremble when Yato leaves his sight.
Hiyori's life is... counting on this, Yato...
The cells in Heaven were located at a different section of the garrison yard. In a long house, Yato saw the many wood-barred cells along the corridor. The wood was plastered with charms, making it stronger than metal. Inside the dim cells, he didn't see too many prisoners. At the final, largest cell, he sees the familiar giant rat. Tesso had been stripped of his clothing, making him appear more feral and wilder. Charmed chains were snapped onto his neck, hands and feet.
When Yato came before the bars, Tesso was faced mostly away from him. The cell was barely large enough to house him. When he neared the bars too closely, they would spark with backlash.
The rat was silent. Yato glimpses one of those beady rodent eyes flicker at his direction.
"Not sure what you think this'll do," One of the escorting shrouds says with a huff, "He's just a hanyo."
"Maybe you guys're what's spooking him," Yato says lowly.
"Huh? Fat chance we're leaving you alone with an inmate."
"... Tesso, back there, in the mouse hole, you said we would meet again. Here we are," Yato says to the prisoner in as resolute a voice as he can muster, "You're meant to help us through this eclipse, right? That's what you meant... You know Fudou's weakness."
"..." There is a long silence before the mound of fur speaks in a raspy, dry voice, "Perhaps I do."
"He's got his hands on a shinki that's a hanyo so he can sever the rensa... I almost got cut in half too..." Yato lightly grips a wooden bar, "If you know any way to beat him...!"
The other two gods look in surprise as the delivery god gets down on his knees and bows his head to the floor before the cell.
The rat shifts in his cell, so his rodentlike face now can be better seen. His nose wrinkles a bit at the god kotowing before him, wiggling his whiskers.
"You are the only one I will speak to about this, Yatogami," Tesso rasps, metal teeth grinding with every word, "Even though you turned a blind eye to me, you still remain the only one to show me any decency."
"What a haughty beast," One of the shrouds says with a sigh, "Let's rejoin the others already. This is a waste of time."
"Then you guys get out," Yato looks to the two shrouds, "I need to talk to him alone anyway."
"Do you take us for fools?" The other shroud slams their staff down on the floor, "And let you release the wanted fugitive?!"
"I don't have my weapon anyway, so no worries there," Yato shrugs.
At the shrouds' insistence of standing their ground, he adds a pleading tone, "Come on guys, it's the end of the world on the line! Even if I let him out, he'll just be whiffled off once the Far Shore breaks off anyway!"
The other shroud with a blessing rod yawns and starts to walk out, "He does have a point..."
"H-hey!" The shroud with a staff gives a frightened yelp before running after the other, "We can't watch him alone!"
Yato takes a breath after the two leave the vicinity, "Alright. Whaddya got?"
Tesso bares his metallic fangs at the god, seemingly seething, "Do not address me so after you had said nothing in my defense!"
Yato stands his ground, still on his knees, "Yeah, I … couldn't risk Yukine maybe getting locked in a box again if I interfered... Sorry about that..."
"Just like Emperor Shirokawa..." Tesso gnashes his teeth, making sparks, "Opportunists who take and renege on their agreements, their allies! If not for the dire situation at hand, I ought to leave your hide out to tan!"
"H-hey, I said sorry!" Yato gripes, "And didja want me alone just t'yell at me?"
Tesso clicks his tongue with distaste, "I must know how far you are willing to go to defeat Fudou, Yatogami. If your resolve is insufficient, then I will not help you."
"Huh? What the hell's that supposed to mean? I already got nearly cut in half, arrested by those shady cloak guys, and now here I am...! What other resolve..."
"Would you be willing to resort to the same tactics as your opponent?"
"What? Same... you mean a hanyo shinki?"
Tesso nods and gives a metallic grimacing smile, "If you are willing to do it, then give me a name, Yatogami. Dip your hands into the corruption of the ayakashi."
"Y-you?! Yukine's my-"
His words catch in his throat. Yukine … can't fight Hiyori. To use the same methods as Fudou then... it wasn't the crime of using impurities like Tesso. It was abandoning Yukine?
"Using a hanyo as a god's weapon... it means the dissolution of your discernment between normal shinki and the ayakashi. You have used nora before... it is a similar concept, except that you sully your hands permanently and will not be able to hold another weapon again. That is the resolve Fudou has to accomplish his goal."
Yato became aware of the sudden sweat in his palm clenched on his knee. The rat watches him carefully as he came to the realization of the consequences.
"An enemy with nothing to lose... is a fearsome foe indeed," Tesso says after a while of silence, "I suppose you are not fit to rise to his level."
Hiyori... He had to get Hiyori back... if he did... would he be content seeing Yukine and Hiyori safe at least, even if he damned himself?
Of course, he was.
He promised Heaven after all, that he'd cut his own life line, his dad, by Ooharai.
Clenching his fist to steady it, he looks up to Tesso with light blazing in his eyes.
"How do I do it?"
Tesso blinks before giving a metallic, wry smile, "That's more like it."
Yukine can't help but fidget nervously. Some of the shrouds had left to join the battlefield, leaving one to watch him. Yato had not returned yet.
"Damn, that god is such trouble..." The shroud mutters and huffs, "Heaven should have just ended him honestly."
Yukine stays his tongue though he wanted to kick the god.
Suddenly, there is a burst of sound and a tremor which runs through the floor with fearsome force. Yukine wobbles a bit on his feet, as does the other god.
"Y-Yato?!" Yukine runs off despite the shaking and the shroud calling for him.
As he leaves the arsenal walls down to the east courtyard, there is a small explosion from the holding building roof. He runs past the shower of cascading tiles and dust to see the two shrouds there by the building opening, with a strange, opaque barrier erected.
"W-what happened?!" The boy looks to the two shrouds.
"We just took our eyes off the criminal for one second and-"
"What do you mean 'we'?!"
Yukine goes to touch the barrier. It zaps at his fingers with a small jolt, just enough to make him recoil. It was like a boundary.
"Yato... YATO!" Yukine cries out, bracing against the force field.
He feels the field suddenly shrink back under his hands. It draws away from them and the doorway more and more. The surface shimmers and becomes more translucent, showing a figure within. As the figure steps closer, Yukine recognizes it as Yato. But his relief is quickly displaced.
Yato steps out, clad in a new regalia. He has a long hunter's cape made of many small brown furs that drapes down to his knees from the front and back, and a dark blue kimono underneath. At his side is a sheathed katana with a hilt embossed with motifs of a rat.
Yukine, eyes wide with shock, steps back a little, as do the two shrouds. Yato's eyes seem strangely cold and distant as he looked past them. Yukine plucks up the courage quickly to stand back in front of him.
"Yato, what did you-?!"
"Let us make haste, Yatogami," Tesso grumbled in the boundary space, "Enough of the chains have already been severed now."
"I have to go... Yukine," Yato says quietly.
Before the boy can object, the delivery god leaps into the air with the blink of an eye and a burst of wind. Yukine gapes a bit as the horrible realization sets in. The get-up and that weapon...
I'm his hafuri... Yato... replaced me?!
His chest tightens up. He could barely hear the other shrouds barking orders to give chase. Purple lightning streaks across the sky. There is shouting about the delivery god leaving Heaven's boundary and going for the fray. Amid the chaos, the hafuri was forgotten.
Chains rattled despite being immersed in this strange fluid. This translucent liquid was an unnatural reddish magenta color. It felt heavy and crushing, though she could breathe at least. Her every breath came out in a small burst of bubbles from her lips. The chains were not attached to her, but they hung all around this place in long strands like a kelp forest.
Her arms are gathering her knees up against her chest. A short-haired, furry pelt now covered every inch of her otherwise naked body, and her hands and feet had clawed digits. In addition to her usual cord-tail, she now also sprouted those pointed bestial ears.
Her body would not move. Earlier, she had thrashed like a wild beast, only tiring herself out. Every now and then, she felt a sting of pain from something outside this place. Each liberated her briefly. She retaliated with a beastly rampage against those encroaching figures beyond the boundary, rending them with slashes from her sharp claws.
It felt good to fight and kill. She could practically feel the warmth from her prey's blood dripping down her body. Now she waited for next blows, the next impulse to move and attack.
She forgot all about that noise from before, whatever it was. She had been calling for "someone to save her..."
But who was it?
In the hospital, Masaomi kept vigilant watch over her sister. Grandmother had come by, against all insistence for her health. How the poor old woman paled at the sight of Hiyori hooked on all those machines, clinging to the cusp of life. She was pale, like a beautiful corpse. Her vitals remained low, but steady at the very least. She hadn't had another cardiac episode... yet. A nurse came by to check every hour or so.
Masaomi briefly buries his face in his hands, dragging his fingers down his face a bit. He hadn't gotten any sleep. Neither have his parents. He wanted to berate Hiyori for making their parents worry so.
There is another clap of lightning. It is unnatural, that other people didn't seem to see it. Must be those god-related things happening outside. But he could hardly focus on them outside this quiet room of encroaching death...
He sighs and stands to go get a drink. At the lobby, he sees a tall, thug-looking man with a petit young woman next to him, looking worried as hell. He puts in his change for the drink machine. He had just enough. When his coffee comes out, he shakes it before popping the tab and taking a long sip.
The caffeine was dulling a bit. If anything, he felt more anxious as he began walking back to the room. Before he leaves the lobby, he feels a hand tug on his arm. He turns to see the desperate face of the girl with pink hair as she clings to his arm.
"How is Hiyori?!"
Before he properly responds, the thug man comes to coax and pull her off.
"Sorry about that..." The man mutters and quietly scolds the girl, "You can't just talk to him like that..."
"But... but..." The girl blubbers, "H-Hiyorin is..."
"You guys know Hiyori?" Masaomi says before he can stop himself.
The thug looks to him with a slightly pained look and focuses back to soothing the girl, "We're sorry about what happened."
Before Masaomi could inquire further, the two hurried off to leave. Dumbfounded, he numbly returns to Hiyori's room. Returning, he feels a sudden wave of nausea. He hadn't eaten much of anything all day now.
He lurches a bit to Hiyori's bedside. With a trembling hand, he brushes her cold cheek and lightly grazes the holder for the endotracheal tube affixed to her face. He thought he saw her finger twitch.
With a heavy sigh, he starts to mutter quietly, seemingly in prayer.
"Hiyori... you get back here soon... So, I can properly yell at you... for causing mom... and dad, and grandma so much grief... Not to mention Yato... and who knows how many other friends you got I don't know, hah..."
Without his wanting to, his voice became brittle and choked up. His other hand pushes his glasses up from his eyes.
"Come on back already..."