A bit of a quick turnaround time on this chapter! When the inspiration flows, it flows.
The ancient, dull red of the Akamon stood in stark contrast to the sun's rays beating down on the surrounding landscape. Emerging under its protective cover was one of the students from the University of Tokyo, her hands instinctively rising to protect her eyes from the sudden burst of sunlight.
Recovering quickly from the shock, Hiyori let out a small sigh of relief that one of her most difficult exams was finally over. A few had already been graded, receiving high marks. She had spent countless nights studying for them, trying to get her mind to soak up as much of the information as possible.
She was making her way to the shrine of Tenjin, which was just a fifteen minute walk away. Hiyori was never one to pay attention to the gods. Outside of New Year's she never really thought about them. However, with a daunting exam schedule for this year, she had left a prayer at the god of learning's shrine.
As she walked down the path to the shrine, she could tell her only company was the wind as it rustled through the plum trees, some of the dead blossoms falling away. Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw a brief flash of white, like a robe flying in the wind. Turning to face that direction, she didn't see anything but one of the racks to hang prayers on.
The feeling made her shiver slightly. It felt as if she was being watched, but could tell no one was around. Quickly dropping her head to give thanks for her successful exam season. She stood there for a few moments, before turning around to leave. Taking one look back at the shrine she couldn't help but feel like something was there.
At that moment, a small chirp came from her bag. Retrieving her phone she read over the text message, a smile crept onto her face.
I'd love to spend more time with you guys.
She sent a message back while making her way out of the shrine, disappearing around a corner.
"Mayu! She almost saw you there!" A woman's voice hissed.
"I thought she was looking at me." Mayu responded, flattening out a crease in her robes.
"Now, now," An older man's voice chimed in, "There wouldn't be any reason for Hiyori-san to have remembered now."
"Master-" Mayu was cut off by the old man as he raised his brown shaku.
"We've all known that this was always going to be for the better. I know you have been trying to watch her studies, Mayu. And I know that you've been wondering if her memories are truly gone. It's best not to dwell on such matters, and not get attached in such a way. I had hoped the previous five years would have tempered such desires."
Mayu said nothing to the old man's words. She knew that her master, Tenjin, had a point. She just couldn't bring herself to fully accept the fact that after everything Hiyori had ended up forgetting about them. She also couldn't help but wonder about her former master, Yato.
"Yama-chan! Ami-chan!" Hiyori excitedly shouted as she saw her two best friends enjoying lunch at a sidewalk cafe.
"Hiyori-chan! Great timing! I was just talking to Yama about something and we wanted your opinion"
"Huh? Me?" Hiyori looked a little shocked.
"We've both been thinking, our university studies will be over soon. You'll be off to medical school, and we aren't going to have much time before we are all working full time. So we were wondering… would you want to come up to Hokkaido with us? My family has a home we can stay at during our break this summer."
"H-hu-" Hiyori looked to Ami, then to Yama, trying to find words to respond to the request before Yama cut in,
"It would be fun! The three of us have never actually done anything like this before. Plus it'll allow us to all experience something new together." Yama said, nodding at Ami.
"The home is actually really close to Sapporo too, so we wouldn't be stuck in the middle of nowhere" Ami laughed. The prospect of a holiday away from Tokyo was appealing. She knew Ami had a point about not having any free time soon, and what better way to have one of her last moments of freetime with her best friends.
"Yeah! Let's do it!" Hiyori responded with a smile.
The three friends spent nearly an hour talking about the holiday, with Ami making a couple phone calls to make sure the house would be empty for the time they were looking at. They spent hours conversing, laughing and recounting stories of days past. Hiyori felt at ease, happy to be with her friends. But she couldn't help a gnawing feeling in her head that something was wrong, something missing.
Maybe I really am just stressed out from these exams and university…I really do need to have this trip with them.
"Hiyori? Earth to Hiyori?" Yama waved her hands in front of Hiyori's face to get her attention. Entirely unknownst to her, her eyes had started to droop and she looked like she might fall asleep.
"Eh? Wha-Sorry." Hiyori managed, snapping awake.
"Phew, I thought maybe you would have passed out like you used to in High School. You haven't done that in a while." Yama smiled while Ami chuckled.
"N-no! No, I just had a tough exam season this year." Hiyori was glad it was just regular drowsiness, she hadn't had a sleeping spell for a long time.
"You really do need some time off."
Hiyori couldn't help but smile at her two friends shaking their heads at her.
"Plus…you could always finally find a boyfriend." Yama smiled with a devilish grin.
Hiyori could feel her face get slightly red at that remark. Both Yama and Ami had dated multiple people throughout High School and University. She wasn't entirely interested in dating, and the few dates she did end up going on never really clicked for her and always felt slightly off.
"E-I'm not- I don't want-" Hiyori managed to stammer out.
"Come on Hiyoriiii, you haven't dated anyone since that mystery guy in high school you always hid from us." Yama rolled her eyes.
"I still have no idea what you're talking about, I've never really dated anyone." Both of her friends looked at her, suppressing laughter. Hiyori couldn't help but be confused at the two of them.
"Listen Hiyori, you can't just focus on studying and med school while you're still so young."
"Yes I can! I need all the time I can get, these courses aren't anything easy." Hiyori said, somewhat unconvincingly. It did gnaw at her sometimes that school seemed to take up such a large part of her time.
"Oh, that reminds me, is Abe-san coming?" Yama turned to Ami inquisitively.
She frowned slightly and shook her head, "No, we had already discussed it a few days ago. He's going to be too busy this summer to do anything."
"I guess that means it really will be just us three." Yama said with a small smirk. Hiyori knew her well enough to know that she was planning on something, and made it her goal to try and stay as far away from her scheming as possible.
By the time the three of them had finished at the cafe, the sun had already begun to sink low over the horizon. The three parted, leaving Hiyori alone to her thoughts as she made her way home.
She knew that her parents wouldn't have much of an issue with it, and was excited to get away from the city for a bit. She was concerned that her friend's insistence at getting a boyfriend would lead to them trying to set something up for her, something that Yama had a habit of doing throughout High School for her.
Besides, I already love-
She stopped suddenly, blinking twice.
Her thoughts had become twisted and confused. She hadn't been in love with anyone, outside of her friends and family. Where did that thought come from? What was she thinking of? Her hands went to her head as she could feel the unmistakable pressure of a headache coming on.
Not wanting to dwell on it any further, she continued to the metro stop, hoping that sitting down would help her focus. The lights of the city began to flick on around her, bathing the area in a soft neon glow. Hiyori always loved to see the city lit up at night, it always reminded her of just how many people lived in the city, all living their own separate lives.
Over the years she grew to appreciate that everyone she passed on the streets had just as much depth and emotion as she did, all with their own thoughts and relationships. She knew she could never truly grasp the magnitude of it, but it didn't stop her from trying.
After a short wait for the train, she let herself relax into the seat. She was only a short ride away from her stop, but her headache was starting to get worse.
She tried to rummage in her bag for any sort of medicine, to no avail.
Of course the pre-med student doesn't even have any basic medications in her own bag. She shook her head at her situation.
"Otosan, Okasan, I'm home!"
"Hiyori, how were your exams?" Her mothers voice floated in from the living room as Hiyori took off her shoes.
"I finished the last one today. My lowest was an A, but I did manage to get an S on one of them!" Hiyori smiled as she entered the living room. Her parents looked back at her with broad smiles on their faces.
"Well that's some good news for tonight." Her father remarked, gesturing to the television which was playing the news.
"...a surge in violence across the country these past two weeks, with robberies doubling and murders increasing by nearly fourty percent. The government has promised that there will be strong action…" The newscaster droned on, as a news conference from the city government played silently behind him.
"I don't know what has gotten into people, sometimes I wonder…" Hiyori's father sighed, changing the channel away from the news.
"I'm just glad our Hiyori can take care of herself out there." Her mother smiled at her.
Hiyori excused herself to quickly run and get some medicine for her aching head. She splashed some cold water on her face, savouring the slight stinging feeling that washed over her. She remembered when she thought she saw something at the shrine to Tenjin out of the corner of her eye, while the newscaster's voice echoed in her head.
I'm sure it's fine. I just need to keep my guard up.
Her mother called to her as she walked back into the living room, "Is everything alright?"
"Yeah, I just got a headache earlier on my way home," Walking back into the living room, she continued, "I spent the time after my exam with Yama and Ami. Both of them suggested going up to Hokkaido during the break."
"Hokkaido? Awfully far away…" Her mother's voice trailed off, becoming lost in her thoughts.
"Ami's family has a house up there, and we'd only be going for two weeks."
"That sounds like it would be a refreshing change!" Her father chuckled at her, "It's good to enjoy it now, while you can! Before the long hours, the meetings, the patients, the lawsuits…" his voice dropping off at the end.
"I just know you three will have a good time." Her mother broke in.
Hiyori smiled. "Yeah!"
The soft moonlight of the warm May night washed over the surroundings, bathing it in its ghostly white glow. The air was still, the only movement in the trees coming from a momentarily frightened bird, or some other small animal scurrying in the underbrush.
The only thing betraying the tranquillity of the night was the hushed tones, sometimes rising to a quick shout or two, escaping from the closed doors of the building.
"Kofuku, we're going to need you to focus on this one. Things have been getting worse and worse down here, and there's only so much we can do. We need you to look outside the city and tell us where the vents will be opening." The stern voice cut through the air like a fine steel knife, aimed at the pink-haired girl sitting across from her.
"Mmm… I'm not sure I can…" She replied. Daikoku looked over at her, shocked at what she had said.
"I know this is likely going to be difficult for you. But you're our only hope at trying to get in front of this," A bespeckled man said, glancing over at the blond woman next to him. He pushed his glasses up on his nose, "Besides, we have much needed assistance this time." Looking over at the dark corner of the room, a sigh escaped.
"You know I don't like being back here," Yato stepped out of the shadow, his eyes narrowing at the man speaking to him, "Kazuma. You know that Yukine and I are just passing through. We can't stay here."
"I know," The woman cut in, "And we don't want you here." Her words were softer than Yato had expected.
"Yes. We came here tonight to ask Kofuku-sama for the vents opening outside of the city. We've arranged for this city to be taken care of in the meantime. We want to know where else the vents will open, and we'll tackle them separately. You and Yukine excel at this work. We need your help, Yato."
Yato let out a sigh, he knew that they were going to get him to agree.
"Fine. I'll help you out on this one."
"Oh Yatty! Thank you!~" Kofuku looked at him, her eyes wide. She looked at the map of Japan that Bishamon had laid on the table. Her eyes zoomed across it. She could feel the energy radiating it from it. Hand trembling, she carefully picked up the red marker and began to circle areas of the country. Bishamon was surprised by her unusual dedication to the task, normally she acted cheerful and happy while doing an augury.
"That… should be all of them for now." Kofuku stepped back from the table, with scribbles of red across the country. Everyone looked shocked as to how many there were, nearly every major city in the country was circled.
"Is… is this all of them, Kofuku?" Bishamon glanced up at her, afraid of her answer.
Kofuku gently shook her head, "These are just the biggest ones, which will all come with their associated storms. Something feels wrong, we've never really had such a massive outbreak before. Not since…" Her head moved slightly towards Yato, before dropping.
"We need to get on these as soon as possible. Yato? Do you have any preferences?" Kazuma looked at him.
Yato glanced to the other corner of the room, "Yukine?"
"Yato and I can take the biggest ones as they open. We are strong enough to take them on as they show up. You have better mobility, you could move around as the need arises."
"Yes, that could very well work," Kazuma bent over the map, studying it, "Veena and I could depart from here and move south. Yato and Yukine could move north, clearing the largest of them."
"I should go with Yato," all eyes turned to Kofuku. Daikoku nearly choked on his drink after hearing her say it.
"Kofuku! Do you have any idea how disastrous that would be for them?" Daikoku managed to say.
"If I go with Yato…the vents that open will be the strongest. This way Bisha can hop between cities in the south without having to worry where the largest ones are coming from."
"Kofuku-sama might just have a point."
"Kazuma?" Bishamon turned to him with a puzzled look on her face.
"Her aura, it causes misfortune and chaos, does it not? If there are going to be vents opening in these areas, they will be attracted to that aura. That would lead to bigger openings, especially if Daikoku is with her."
"Would Takamagahara take notice of this?" Bishamon responded.
Kazuma frowned. He knew that most of the gods in Takamagahara had much spare time to pay attention to the affairs down here, but he also knew that Kofuku and Yato were being more closely monitored for the relationship they shared several years ago.
"I don't know. They haven't paid attention to affairs down here for a few years now, no matter how bad it's gotten." Kazuma sighed. He felt that they were being monitored, not watched, but he also knew that if enough discord was caused on earth by these storms, then their eyes would be drawn more heavily downwards.
"Maybe they feel they solved the problem last time when…" Kofuku started, but stopped as Yato abruptly yanked the doors open and stepped outside.
"H-hey wait up!" Yukine yelled, stumbling to get up. Running out the door, he gave an apologetic glance towards the four stunned faces at the table.
Yato had walked down the pathway, reaching a small grove of trees just out of earshot of the building he had just left. He glanced up at the crescent moon hanging lower in the sky, almost as if he was trying to sever it with his glare.
"Yato! Hey!" Yukine came up to him, catching his breath, "What did you do that for?"
"Yukine, we can't stay here for long."
"Why? Just why is that? We've been here for two days, two days, Yato! We haven't seen Kofuku or Daikoku in over a year!"
"We have a job to do. Besides, Kofuku and Daikoku are going to be coming with us." Yato attempted a half smile at Yukine's direction.
"You've always run from your problems. Run from the things that cause you pain. I know how you feel being here, I know how you've felt being here for the past few years. But whatever this is, it has to stop." Yukine nearly shouted the last word at him. Yato looked him in the eyes before sighing.
"I know. I felt maybe, sometime coming back here wouldn't be so difficult."
"Difficult? You think it's only difficult for you? What about Kofuku and Daikoku, they live here! And the one time we do show up, you burst out and pull this crap!"
Yato looked surprised, but he knew that Yukine had a point. He watched as Yukine stared at him, not showing any signs of backing down.
"You're right. This is why I have such a good guidepost," Yato smiled at him, "Let's get back inside."
Yukine looked down and shook his head as Yato passed him, before turning around and following him back into the building.