Mizuchi wasn't sure she heard correctly.
Perhaps the man was still injured. Maybe he had gotten hit in the head during the fight. Perhaps it was her fault, for not being strong enough, for not being able to support her father's goals with all her strength. That must be why her father had this sudden…lapse in judgment.
"I mean what I said," Father's hand dropped from his brow, "I will make a god."
It was such an odd thing to suggest on such a nice spring day. Currently, Mizuchi and her beloved father sat on a grassy hill not too far from their home, resting. Mizuchi's mouth tightened slightly as she eyed her father. The man was haggard; ripped clothes, bruised skin, hair greasy and messy, purple shadowed under his eyes. They hadn't been home in ages, off fighting far-shore beings, and Father hadn't rested since arriving.
Four months ago, Father and Mizuchi infiltrated a local god and clan. Their attack should have been routine at best; pretend to be believers so they could learn about the target, then strike when they least expected. But they miscalculated, word of the recent string of gods meeting their end put the holy being on edge. What's more, the god was stronger than Father and Mizuchi anticipated. By the time liberation set in, the god was onto them and the fight was brutal. They barely managed to complete their kill and escape, only to learn the god reincarnated and was being raised by the few shinki who hid and survived. All and all, a pointless endeavor.
She could tell he wasn't really paying attention to her and the thought made her pout. Dark eyes that matched her own, stared off into a distance only he could see while his mouth parted and closed. It seemed Father himself was confused by his own thoughts. From under her tattered white kimono, Mizuchi's toes curled in the grass.
"...Is it my fault?" She asked. Mizuchi didn't get an answer right away and it ached her heart. She clenched her fists in her lap and considered not pressing the issue. Maybe if she left it alone he would forget the crazy idea. But she had to be sure.
"I will get stronger, Father," Mizuchi continued, "Soon I will master liberation, and I'll be able to stand up to-!"
"Enough." Father lazily held up a hand before her voice rose too high in volume. Mizuchi stopped short, breath catching in her throat. An uncomfortable warmth filled her cheeks. Since when did she question her father? Or raise her voice like some spoiled kid throwing a tantrum? If this was Father's decision, then it was her job to trust and support him as best she could. Even if he was probably just tired and speaking nonsense. Soon, Father stood. It was a slight struggle and the man let out a grunt as he straightened. Mizuchi took a deep breath and stood with him, sore. They were too cocky. Had it not been for the extra masks Father made, they would have never succeeded. They would have been killed for their hastiness.
"Erasing gods and their dogs has been fun. But it hasn't been addressing the main problem," Father spoke to the setting sun, "those minor gods ultimately amount to nothing, and their power pales in comparison to those that sit above them. Chasing the same no-names around and around won't do us any good."
With a sigh he turned to her, "we'll need to weaken them at their source, and unfortunately, it's harder for me to get away with killing my own kind." He watched Mizuchi frown at the ground, not wanting to admit a weakness in her seemingly invincible and crafty father. When she looked back at him, he was smiling so softly at her, and by the time his gentle hand rested on her hair, Mizuchi was smiling with him. His love was warmer than the wretched sun and made the emptiness inside her feel whole.
"Thankfully, gods happen to be experts at wiping away humanity on a whim, so why not use that?" He almost laughed, "We will get stronger, but our family will have to grow a bit bigger to do it. I know I can count on you."
Mizuchi smiled wider, overshadowing the doubt she felt, "yes, Father."
The man who commanded storms would create a god of calamity. One who would do everything it was supposed to. And Mizuchi would support him.
It - the god - would fulfill its most basic qualifications; it would answer every single one of Father's wishes, and butcher every human in its path like ants to be stepped on. This, of course, was contradictory. Why would it obey Father without killing him? And what would stop it from answering the prayers of others and gaining power? That was the conundrum that faced them. From her spot folding clothes, Mizuchi glanced at her father. The man was lounging along the wall of their house, papers surrounding him as he balanced an inked paintbrush on his upper lip. Mizuchi's eye twitched when some ink splattered on Father's cheek.
"Of course, if I'm its only believer, then logically it would have to only listen to me…and I would make sure it knew it would die without my wishes, cause I'm it's only follower…" Father mused quietly. He sat up and started writing on one of the papers.
"The only problem is that keeping it trapped here would hinder its skill level, plus, it would have to get out in order to do its job. It would be impossible for me to keep it locked away somewhere…and I wouldn't want to do that anyway…"
"Why not?" Mizuchi huffed, "it would obey you for sure that way."
"Yeah, but it wouldn't want to," Father sighed, "the best way to solve our worries with our safety, is for it to want to protect and serve us." Father crossed his arms and leaned back again.
"It will be a member of this family afterall, so theoretically, it should want to do all those things and not betray us," Father's nose crinkled, "I just cant be sure a god is capable of feeling such things."
Mizuchi frowned and picked up another piece of clothing, "well, isn't that a god's natural instinct? Shouldn't it want to serve us? Surely, if we give it enough things, food, shelter, protection, and your prayers, it wouldn't have any reason to betray that. It doesn't have to be considered part of our family to do so."
"It will be a member of the family, Mizuchi, you know that." Father corrected, "So long as it behaves and does what it's told." Frowning, Mizuchi glanced at the two masked wolves that slept in the corner. Mindless, loyal tools who obeyed father's wishes. A god will be more durable than those beasts, but hardly any different. There was no reason to give it special treatment like an actual person.
"At least we can take comfort in knowing it will be a small child," Father continued, "small children are easy to please."
Mizuchi shivered when the late fall breeze snuck in through the cracks of their hut and left a sour taste in her mouth. Such a tiny space. She didn't like the idea of another child in it, much less a god. Silence filled the home once more as Father mulled over the risks of inviting a murder into their safe haven from gods and heaven.
Eventually, Mizuchi cleared her throat, "perhaps the name will help dictate its personality? Or give it a connection to us?" Father didn't react to her words for a moment before he groaned in thought.
"Well in terms of personality, I did write down some traits that I would like it to have," he waved around a couple of papers with a laugh.
Reading it, Father recited, "quick-witted, obedient, creative, loyal, open-minded, has a fighting spirit but isn't argumentative, energetic, unique, particular, strong but not carelessly so the way gods are, hard-working, passionate, eager to please, and - er - lov- caring." Father finished with a huff and dropped the papers.
"I don't think that's how it works, but I figured if I can get a clearer picture in my head, I'll be less disappointed with the final product." He slowly sat up again and sorted through some other papers.
"...how does it work?" Mizuchi watched her father stare into space for a few moments.
"I don't know!" He threw his arms up.
"But we talked to enough gods and shinki during our travels and they all said the same thing: that gods come about through people's wishes," Father faced her, moving his hands like he was trying to crush a watermelon, "so maybe if I just wish hard enough? I don't know if I'll bow yet but if I just focus really, really hard and- and really, really want it. It might just…fall out of the sky? Or perhaps just…appear? You know, like gods do." Father was staring intently at her, smiling like a man that found gold. Mizuchi leaned back slightly. She wondered if one man's wish was enough for a god.
"Fall out of the sky?" She repeated.
"My wish should be more than enough," He said, almost like reading her mind, "I feel it strongly! …and if that doesn't work, I could always gather followers to pray to it then kill them all once it's born." Father huffed and leaned back again.
"I think the actual wish itself is what will do most of the work. Which is why I want to get the exact wording down," hunched forward, Father began scribbling again as he waved a hand, "besides…so long as it does what it's supposed to, the name's not important."
Mizuchi stared at the empty basket.
Another house would be built about a mile away, tucked in the shadows of a mountain.
Father went back and forth with tools and materials, larger masks helping to carry and work. The construction wouldn't take long, it would just be another one-roomed hut so that the small god could be properly observed by Father, nothing more.
"I'm sure it will be fine, I know we could handle erasing a child god and starting over if worse came to worse. I intend to have it stay with us in the end, but since we are inviting a murder into our home, better test its temper and obedience beforehand, hmm? If my wish makes him too unpredictable and aggressive, I'll have to start over." Father mused as he prepared for another day of labor.
"Him?" She parroted. It was too late to take the question back. Her muscles tightened when Father froze for a second.
"...Well we won't know it's…doesn't matter. So long as he- it- does it's job," Father flashed her a smile, "though I already have my little princess, so why not a boy?" His words gave her second-hand embarrassment and she failed to notice the deep disparity that fought in his eyes. Father hauled bundles of straw over his shoulders and set off without another word, dogs with similar backpacks yipping at his heels.
Mizuchi would start prepping dinner soon, but for now she sat in the quiet safety of being alone with her thoughts. Letting herself wonder if she would like another girl to practice makeup with, or a little boy who could take all of father's crass jokes and wouldn't threaten her spot as daddy's princess. Not that it mattered… it was just a god…what he -or it- might be like was just a whimsical thought to pass the time.
Mizuchi was starting to get a bad feeling about this.
"Oh look at that!" Father gasped joyfully.
"Fa-" Mizuchi reached empty air as her father scampered across the street to yet another vendor. She stepped to follow only for a horse and carriage to block her, then another, then a group of chattering people. With a glare, Mizuchi looked across the hustle and bustle of the street to see Father chattering happily with a young woman as she showed him winter fabrics. Children sized.
"Father?" Mizuchi huffed when she finally managed to dash across the street, "Father what is it?" It was hard to see what exactly Father was so excited about when his arms were already full of nonsense.
"Oh, Mizuhi!" Father said like he just noticed she was with him.
"Look at this!" he held up warm socks and a hat, "they're so small! Surely they will fit him!" In his attempt to show her his new find, a couple things tumbled out of his arms and onto the frozen ground. Mizuchi blinked.
"Whoops! Haha," Father chuckled. Mizuchi bent to pick up the toy, a doll, and held it.
"Father," Mizuchi didn't know what to say. Why would a war god need this? A boy no less, not when she didn't even-
"You like yours at home, right? I figured I'd make it fair… just so he -it- feels apart of the family." Father hastily explained as he plucked it out of her hands. She did have a doll at home, one of her favorites since it was from him, but it was worn and had ugly marks on its skin. She wondered if she could ask for a new-
"Another little one, hmm? How exciting! You must be thrilled!" The storewoman gushed.
"Ah, well, uh," Father struggled with his smile, "just preparing the basics, you know?" Father seemed bashful by his own statement as the woman agreed and held up more items for infants and toddlers. Her words were muted in Mizuchi's ears.
Perhaps Father was getting confused. This was a god. A being that Father himself said would have no real concept of family or human warmth. Not like they shared. So these things were wasted on it -him? - it. She understood, sort of, why Father wanted it to feel attached to them, to feel that it's only real ties were to them and their cause. She could relent and let Father treat them as equals. But she couldn't understand why the man looked so happy to do so. Why he seemed so excited to spend what little money they had on a god and gift it things? It was the opposite of everything they stood for. Then again, since Mizuchi couldn't ask for such things, it might be easier to wait for the god to reject them and Father to learn his lesson, so that Mizuchi could accept the leftovers and remind Father that she was the good child.
"I'll take it!" Father grinned. The women cheered and offered a simple cloth to wrap all Father's purchases in. Arms free, Father was able to carry all the useless trinkets.
"Let's head home," they took two steps only for another vendor to catch his attention.
"Oh but wait, he'll need-" Father's words were carried away with him as he weaved among the crowd. Mizuchi followed after him, hoping - knowing - that Father would remember their goal soon.
The day their family had anxiously waited for came and went. Father left at dusk, giddy with excitement, and Mizuchi promised once again to watch the house as she sat alone in the dark, filled with fear and dread. What if it didn't work? Would Father be furious? What if it worked too well and the god killed him? They both knew that a god - however young or small it may appear - could kill several men without tiring. Father wanted to leave her behind to not scare the new 'family member' but he made sure to bring the word with him.
Then, he did it. Father sent a small messenger mask back to her to explain that it was successful and that he would take the small child to the other house and ensure it would survive until morning. Mizuchi had breathed a sigh of relief but it did nothing to relax her tightened heart. They would be kept separate, she knew this, for the safety of the family and so the god wasn't overwhelmed by her and the masks in the household and lash out. Afterall, despite the danger the murdering god possessed, it wouldn't stand up against curious masks and blight. Still, what was the child like? What did Father think of it now that he was successful? She didn't realize she sat by the door all night until the crack of dawn showed through the edge of the trees. Shortly after, Father emerged with a tired smile on his face.
"Father!" Mizuchi rushed to greet him, relieved he left the other child behind, "how did it go?"
"A healthy baby boy!" Father beamed, "and very cute, I must say."
"O-oh," Mizuchi didn't know what to say to that.
"I'll have to return later in the morning and stay for a while, since he's much younger than I expected. Practically an infant. I had to leave the masks outside the hut so that he wouldn't get eaten." Father yawned and trudged into the house. Mizuchi stalled at the idea of it - him - being an infant but she shook it off.
"So soon? Shouldn't it be alright with food and such?"
"He's a little runt, Mizuchi, he won't be able to have food for a while. Agh, I'll have to go buy milk."
"Surely it can survive without food for a bit," Mizuchi pouted, "it's just a god." She stopped short when Father did.
He narrowed his eyes at her. "Now Mizuchi, don't be jealous. He's a member of the family and needs his father's love and care just as you do," Father started to gather his blankets and the last of their money.
"Besides, this is the easy part! He'll grow attached to me, then we won't have to worry so much when he gets bigger. I'll introduce you to him soon, once I'm sure, then we can test out my wish." Father was once again out the door and Mizuchi was left alone with her thoughts. Pondering the new member of their family, she remembered what the mask had said.
The child's name was Yaboku.
A year and half later, with the head of their family traveling back and forth between his two children, Father decided it was time for them to meet.
"He's harmless!" Father said that morning, "you'll love him!" Mizuchi frowned, skeptical. She found it hard to believe that a god of calamity Father made specifically to kill was 'harmless' but she was glad the god wasn't aggressive or temperamental like they feared.
So she kept her opinions to herself, like a good child, followed Father to the grassy field, like a good child, and waited on a rock for them to meet her half way. Like a good child. Eventually Father ran up to her, a smile touching his ears, as he breathlessly waved her forward.
"Today's the day! Now we get to test if my wish actually manifested like I hoped it would!" Father said. Mizuchi opened her mouth, a question on her tongue, only for Father to hold up a finger.
"Now remember Mizuchi, if things go poorly and start getting too out of control, I'll be right there with masks." Father explained seriously. Fear made her feel pale, but Mizuchi would be safe so long as she was at Father's side.
"Good girl," Father patted her nodding head.
"Where is he?"
"Oh he's-!" Father looked at their feet, then behind him, pulling on his clothes like the child was stuck to his rear.
"That-! Ugh that child is a slippery one, I swear, I should have wrote 'able to focus for longer than two seconds' as a trait if I knew how often he would wander." It was rather comical to watch Father spin in a circle a few times as he looked for the god. Mizuchi could see this being a problem in the future.
"Ah, there he is!" A few steps away, Father pointed down a small hill, "Yaboku!" She heard a very small voice give a response and tiny footsteps pad up the hill. Self conscious, Mizuchi held her hands in front of her and stood a little straighter. Whoever this child was, he was able to charge up a hill without struggle despite his age. He would be someone Mizuchi now had to get along with and accept as family. He would be a tool for mass destruction, heartache, and chaos. He was someone Father put all his hopes in. He was, well…
He was rather tiny.
Father introduced them and Mizuchi stepped a bit closer to Father, cautious. This was the closest she's been to a god without the intent to kill it. So she observed. On the surface he looked like a normal child. No wings or scales, he wasn't shooting fire or shaking the earth. If anything, Mizuchi realized he looked somewhat like them. Short and lean, in a kimono that matched hers with a blue tie, and hair the same style as Father's, only straight like hers. But what stuck out was his eyes. They held the same wisdom and sharpness as all gods, like a predator that knew more than their prey ever could, and glistening with the color of the sky. She didn't know eyes could be that color, no other god presented such, and it was startling. However, it was something she could get used to rather quickly.
That is, until Father nudged her forward and offered her up to the very thing they were supposed to despise, and the emptiness inside her suddenly swallowed her whole. Mizuchi was finally gripped to terms with just how serious Father was about truly considering this being as family. But she was still the good child, not the only child anymore, but still the one that wasn't a god. And that will always be worth more to Father, regardless of how well this tool performed. Silently, the good child stepped forward and allowed the new sibling to stake a claim on her power and loyalty to her - their - Father. It was the only way she could prove to Father how much she trusted his judgment, and how much she wanted to support his cause. Regardless of how empty and cold the dark emotions were.
Mizuchi let her consciousness wander far away as Father's words and the screams of townsfolk echoed around her. When her mind finally settled, she faded back into focus and watched her new 'brother' do his job. She didn't need to do much at all, in fact. Humans paled in comparison to gods and shinki, and the small god had more than enough energy to handle them without her help. So she watched, idly, stealing glances at Father at the edge of town now and again. The god performed Father's wish with childish glee and vigor. Finishing with much more efficiency and power than Father had on his own.
Just as Mizuchi was starting to collect herself, she was changed out of her weapon form. That was odd, Father usually liked to carry her around and only changed her back when he felt like it, or when she reminded him. Then, the god leaped on her. Mizuchi froze in place, tensing as her body searched for pain. For a moment, her heart broke at the thought of Father allowing this god to hurt her. Until suddenly, a wispy sense of warmth filled the darkness inside her as the god squeezed her close. He cheered her name - that's right she had a new name now - and praised her so sweetly she didn't know what to do. Out of a habit she didn't know she had, her hands came up to rest on his arms as his pudgy cheek nuzzled her own.
He was so warm.
And full of joy and energy. The god, Yaboku, took her hand like they've always been together and brought her to her - their - Father. The man was just as joyful, more so than Mizuchi had ever seen him, and Father scooped them up into his arms. He squeezed them just as tight as that child did, laughter just as carefree, as the blood was smeared between them. Mizuchi couldn't help but smile at the two. This wasn't just any god, this was Father's god, everything they wanted a god to be. He served Father's wishes and heartache, smiling as he did, and embodied Father's happiness through and through. A physical representation of all Father wanted.
Father carried them home, Yaboku never once taking his hands off either one of his new family members. And if the smile never left their faces, if Mizuchi was happy to share her bed with him, then maybe the empty feeling wouldn't be so bad.
As it turns out, having a god of calamity come to stay would bring some oddities. At his most basic, Yaboku was a hunter. He had heightened senses, curiosity, a high pain tolerance, and long-lasting energy. On top of the fact that he was just a child, it took both her and Father to keep him occupied. Father, for the most part, found it entertaining. Until the god got in the way of his daily work or cried over the masks that he could never seem to get along with, then Mizuchi would be asked to step in.
The boy was unlucky, that was for sure, so Hiiro took it upon herself to make sure he didn't break any more masks or trample through their garden. He was still too young to go out and play for long periods of time, so for a while Yaboku was mostly figuring out his new home. This included dashing back and forth in the morning and before bedtime, hating baths but wouldn't get out once inside, and pouncing on everything that moved and immediately trying to eat it.
"Yaboku!" Hiiro called from the porch, "Yaboku, no!" She watched the boy look over his shoulder and spit out a mushroom, then scamper off into a bush. With a sigh, she stood and followed.
"Let's play game!" Yaboku beamed when she left the house. Hiiro's lips quirked. The boy was very clever, Father was already teaching him how to write, but he was still so little that his vocabulary was new to himself and the world. Yet he would always come up with some creative new game to play, one that had them laughing till dinner.
"Let's play a game," Hiiro corrected, leading them back into the yard.
"Oh? Are we playing a game?" Father asked from his spot surrounded by whittled wood.
"Game!" Yaboku gasped when Father said the magic word, sprinting towards the man. Father already had all the tools set aside and stood as Yaboku charged into his legs and started climbing. It took a couple tries for Father to grab Yaboku before the boy managed to climb to the top of his Father's head - he liked to be up high for some reason - and Father set him back down. Father got ready, arms and hands open. With wide eyes, Yaboku got ready too, trying to bite down his laughter. Then, Yaboku ran. Around and around and around Father until Father lunged.
"Gotcha-!" Father missed, Yaboku ducked and tumbled with a squeal then ran the other way. Father twisted this way and that as the god ran at his feet. There were a few times Father managed to grab a tiny ankle or shoulder, but that didn't count. Besides, Yaboku may be smart but Father will always be smarter. The man crouched and swiped low at Yaboku. The god jumped and Father snatched him out of the air. Yaboku squealed and squirmed, dissolving into giggles as Father burst into triumphant laughter. Wanting to be lifted into the air too, Mizuchi stepped forward. Father noticed and set the boy down.
"Mizuchi, sweetheart, I'll need your help with dinner later." Father said.
"But what about Yaboku?"
"Yaboku can be by himself for just a bit. Since it's almost winter it'll be pitch black by the time we start and I need help carrying the fire to see. Plus, he needs to get used to the masks." As he spoke, Father's clothes began to tug around his frame. The man looked down only to see the floor at his feet empty. He did a courtesy spin only to reach both hands behind his back. Yaboku giggled.
"Why are you always crawling up my back?" Father bent forward as his hands tried to grab at the child clinging to his clothes. As he spun Mizuchi saw Yaboku almost made it up to Father's shoulder blades, his toes digging into Father's hip. She hid her smile as Father grunted and tried to pry the child off him, only to sigh when Yaboku's big blue eyes peaked from over one shoulder.
"Play?" Yaboku asked, nose brushing Father's ear. A dark brow raised as Father looked at the boy through the corners of his eyes.
"Down." Father replied. Yaboku knew that word very well but instead of sliding down or hopping off like a normal person, Yaboku catapulted off Father's back and caught onto the shelf, sending some of Father's scrolls to the floor.
"Aght, aght! No!" Father reached while Yaboku climbed higher. Thankfully, Father managed to grab Yaboku's waist and pull him off the wall.
"Little demon child," Father huffed. He dangled Yaboku for a moment, allowing the boy's limbs to straighten before he released the toddler. Yaboku landed easily on his hands and feet with a small thud. The wood shavings scattered around him and he watched them with interest before they made him sneeze.
"Anyway, I think tonight we should have- No!" Father's words covered up the rapid 'skrr skrr skrr' sound at their feet. Yaboku's pudgy little hands went back and forth with lightning speed, sweeping the wood shavings and sending it everywhere with a gleeful face.
"Stop!" Father scooped him back up again.
"Sand?" Yaboku grinned at Father only to see he was not amused.
"No, not sand. These are wood shavings and look," Father pointed, "you'll get them in our bed and clothes." Father faced Mizuchi again, ignoring the god that was now clasped in one arm. Father had Yaboku pinned, his arm tight across the boy's chest. Yaboku's arms stuck out straight and his cheeks were smooshed as he pouted. Yaboku squirmed in an attempt to get down, knees flexing. He tried to move his head side to side and grab at Father's arm. It did not release him.
"We won't start the fire until after we come back. I don't want to use the rice quite yet so we'll just have- ouch!" Father gasped as he fumbled the child. Father's fingers came to squeeze Yaboku's cheekbones and open the boy's mouth.
"No biting!" Father stomped towards the door and tossed Yaboku outside.
"Stay in the yard!"
"It's cold!" Yaboku objected.
"Too bad!" The door straw door was thrown shut and Father leaned back against the wall to rub his head.
Father sighed, "that kid will be the death of me." The small moment of silence was filled with taps along the outside wall. Father watched Mizuchi's eyes follow the sound of pattering feet all the way up to the roof. The masks set to guard the house didn't like this strange anomaly and felt Father and the whole world should know, barking and howling and scraping at the sides. Father stalled, glassy eyes staring off into the distance. He took a deep breath and came back to life.
"Leave it. We need to get started on dinner. He'll be okay up there for just a bit," Father continued to mutter, "and if he isn't then maybe he'll learn something."
They went out to the garden, Father holding the fire so Mizuchi wouldn't have to, and started collecting mountain yams and mitsuba. The night was eerie and whispered with untamed ayakashi. Mizuchi couldn't help but constantly look over her shoulder. By the time the two finished, the winter night was pitch black. Dark and cold, Mizuchi couldn't see past their little circle of light.
Yaboku probably could. In fact, she knew he could see and hear far better than her or Father. And while he did get cold, it didn't affect him as much until it was a deep winter freeze. He would still have the energy to move. To chase. She became all too aware of her and Father's breathing as their short walk to the house seemed to take forever. Mizuchi strained her ears to listen, whipping her head at every shift of grass or blow of leaves. Father was close next to her, calling out for Yaboku. Child responded from somewhere near the house and Father hissed with narrowed eyes. Mizuchi could practically hear Father's thoughts, actually concerned over the child's safety...or need for blood.
Something was off. Rather slowly, the two approached the door. It was too quiet, no loud-mouthed god running up to greet them, no dogs announcing their arrival. The house hadn't been quiet since Yaboku was brought home and Mizuchi was no longer used to that. Father tapped the curtain and nothing happened. Mizuchi pressed closer to his side. Biting her lip, Mizuchi refused to be the first to open the door, even when Father whispered at her to do so. Heart pounding in her ears, Mizuchi watched Father's hand slowly raise to the sheet of straw. He took a deep breath then pushed through the door and Mizuchi immediately felt like she was being watched. Inside the hut was darkness, their torch did nothing to illuminate the room. Mizuchi sucked in a gasp when several small eyes, glowing with demonic color, whipped around to look at them, silent. Something skittered on the far end of the house.
"Father," Mizuchi could barely get her voice out. Squinting, teeth bared, Father brought the torch up. They watched the hazy orange light flow up the empty wall, unable to stretch into the corner. It brought attention to two more glowing eyes, staring from the corner all the shadows seemed to cling too. Large and unblinking, the fire reflected unnaturally against light blue eyes. The fire shook in Father's hand as slitted pupils stayed trained on them. The two eyes flipped around each other and bobbed to get a better view, piercing through their very souls. While the rest of his body remained covered in the darkness, Mizuchi saw white fangs as he grinned.
From the shadows, a childish voice spoke, "is it time to eat now?"
There was a pause before Father breathed a weak laugh, "hahah...I'm about to pass out…" Father fell to the floor with a thud.
"Father!" Mizuchi exclaimed. She dumped a bucket of their clean water over the fire.
"Waah! Father, what's wrong?" Yaboku ran from the darkness with a fretful expression. The two huddled over him, Mizuchi trying to stop Yaboku from climbing on top of the dizzy man and dripping snot and tears on his face.
"Wah! Is he dead? Was he stabbed?"
"No, Yaboku! You scared him- get off!"
"I'm not completely dead yet, it's alright Yaboku," Father muttered incoherently, the delirious smile heard in his voice. Despite being the cause of so much destruction, Mizuchi and Father spent time comforting the crying boy and soothing his concern. How odd for a god to mourn over the possible death of a human believer, but that was a good thing. Besides, it made Yaboku more relatable to be just as easily frightened by them, as they were of him.
Yaboku had a lot in common with them but he had the most in common with Father. At least, that's what Father said. Mizuchi was shocked that something that came from Father's vision was so…noisy. So busy, annoying, playful, happy, and absolutely bursting with emotion. And clingy. Very clingy. Particularly to his creator. Which wasn't surprising. Mizuchi just assumed Father wouldn't allow a god to be around him, to touch him and follow him around, as often as Yaboku did. In fact, it seemed Father didn't mind at all.
Watching him cook dinner.
"How come all the leaves on the trees look the same?"
"Because it's that type of tree."
Following him around the house.
"Where does the sun go at the end of the day?"
Even whispering in the middle of the night.
"Why didn't you make me with claws or wings?"
"So you don't wreck the house. Now go to sleep."
Father said it was amusing and was quick to tell Yaboku to stop when it got too much. Mizuchi just didn't understand why he let it go on for so long. Why he let Yaboku test boundaries she was never allowed to. He said Yaboku - with all his boisterous emotions - breathed life into the home. Mizuchi wasn't sure how she felt about that, but she knew she didn't like always being the one to pull Yaboku away from their Father when the man's patience reached its limit. Of course there was something to be said about Yaboku sharing their father's blatant curiosity for the rules of the world. Especially when it was clear Yaboku had no concept of them.
"Dad?" Yaboku trotted up to the man writing out their next plan.
"Um, why do people get married?" Yaboku started to nudge Father's arm up.
"So that they stay together and for economic gain," Father's eyebrows pinched when Yaboku pushed under his arm and fell into his lap. Yaboku's hands reached across Father and his pudgy fists grabbed Father's clothes to pull.
"Why don't, umfph!" Yaboku's little feet kicked at the floor, moving back and forth in an attempt to get up the rest of the way.
"Why doesn't everyone get married so that it's all the same?" Yaboku was finally able to haul himself into Father's lap awkwardly.
"Excuse you," Father said.
Yaboku blinked up at him, confused, "did you toot?"
"Oh," Yaboku continued on his climb, "then you're not excused." The boy resumed his quest to sit up. Gaping, Father looked to Mizuchi to see if she just heard the same interaction he did. Thankfully, Father was amused so she just shrugged and watched her brother plop himself on Father's lap and try to read what he was writing.
Father leaned down, "Do I look like a seat cushion to you? And look at me when I talk to you." They watched Yaboku try to face Father only for his large head to be unable to turn completely around. He looked back and forth before spinning. Father grunted again when Yaboku stood on his thighs and held his shoulders for balance.
"No, I don't think you're a seat cushion? Do you want to be one?" Yaboku leaned in so that he was nose to nose with his dad. Father's brows rose and a disbelieving smile started to grow.
"Why are you so close?" Father asked, genuinely curious.
"So that you can hear me better."
Father blinked once, twice. He bit down his smile as best he could, but the way his eyes scrunched up, it was clear he was failing to keep his laughter in check as understanding dawned on him.
"...Yaboku…do you think the reason I ask you to look me in the eye when we talk…is so that I can hear you better?" Father guessed. Yaboku's tiny, pudgy hands came to squish Father's cheeks and he rested his little forehead against Father's. Mizuchi shivered at the way Father stared into large, unblinking, unnaturally bright blue eyes. Like holding your eye to the water's surface.
"Yes, is it working?" Yaboku was serious. And that finally broke Father and the man's head fell forward as he laughed. With a smile, Yaboku blinked - clearly unaware of the reason for his Father's happiness - and started playing with the curls of Father's hair. Eventually Yaboku was able to lay both his arms atop Father's head in a sort of hug, smiling. By the time Father looked up, his nose was buried in Yaboku's tummy, causing the boy to giggle. With a smile broader than Mizuchi's ever seen, Father gently removed Yaboku. Instead of sending the boy onto his next mission of destruction, Father spun him around and plopped him on his lap, slowly filling him in on their next plan. It was the type of information Mizuchi had to ask for and one that rarely got an answer. Father looked so happy to explain it to a child who clearly didn't understand nor care, holding the boy close as he did.
A dark hiss of jealousy shot through Mizuchi and for the first time, she felt like the other.
Mizuchi realized Father might actually care for Yaboku. More than a strange pet god.
"Come on, I didn't mean to," Father was trying, "it was an accident!" Unfortunately, his words couldn't pierce through Yaboku's sobs. Kneeling in the summer grass, covered in dirt and bruises, Yaboku struggled to breathe through his tears. Father crouched and tried to comfort him. Yaboku flinched away from his hands.
"I really didn't mean it. I forgot, okay?" Father continued.
Yaboku bawled, "you smashed Bug City!" At the child's feet was once a very elaborate area filled with unique buildings of all shapes and sizes made of sticks, mud, leaves, fabric, twine, flowers, and anything else the child could get his hands on. Bug City took about three weeks to build and was crushed by a man with a bucket of dirty bath water who couldn't see under his feet until it was too late. It was rather comical, Mizuchi thought from the outskirts of the fallen kingdom. In his attempt to stop crushing the town, Father had stepped this way and that, trying to find an empty spot only to keep stumbling over the buildings; until he finally fell, dropped the bucket, and it was all destroyed. It was the type of wild, unlucky coincidences that only befell humans who lived under the same roof as gods of depravity.
"I didn't do it on purpose, I just forgot you had it here." Father was starting to get exasperated with the noise, "maybe don't build it so close to the house next time, yeah? And not so big in the walkway."
"Okay, I'm sorry," Yaboku sniffed. Father gave him a little shake but Yaboku's blurry eyes remained on all his broken work. It really had been very well done, a nice step up from the doodles Yaboku made in the dirt. Bugs were actually starting to live there. Despite having no part in it - the project had been a distraction for Yaboku to give them peace and quiet - Hiiro felt some loss over the town. With hesitation, she slowly approached.
"Father, why don't I take Yaboku into town to play?" Hiiro tried, "maybe have some food or a new toy?"
Yaboku sniffed and looked at her, "you want to play with me?"
"Of course I do," Hiiro smiled and meant it.
"That's a wonderful idea. Yaboku, you love that! And maybe you can bring back another ball or two since you keep popping them." Father stood, "I'll finish the chores here. Go wash up."
Hiiro expected Yaboku's mood to flip on its head, as if Bug City never existed. Instead, Yaboku didn't quite smile, and looked sadly at the broken twigs before heading towards the spring.
"Father," Hiiro spoke, "do you think Yaboku was upset about the bugs? Their lives? Since he tried caring for them-"
"He's a god, Mizuchi," Father said, "they don't do that sort of thing." It was unclear who he was reminding. Eventually, Yaboku returned, face fresh, and they were on their way. As the two ran off, Yaboku happy and smiling, forgiving Father as easily as she did, Hiiro finally let out a laugh.
"Enjoy!" Father waved them goodbye and for once Hiiro waved back, it was just like a real family.
Bat bat bat. Bam! Bat bat bat. Bam!
The ball was quick to once again knock into her arm.
"Yaboku, quit it!" Hiiro pushed it away from her new items.
"Well sorry! You said we could play anyway!" Yaboku ran over. He was slightly taller now, his words clear with some thought and emotion, and his energy focused with more dexterity.
"Yes but we played your game last time! It's my turn, you promised!" Hiiro said. She narrowed her eyes when she realized little brother was hardly paying attention to her. With his toe he flicked the ball back up to his knee, bouncing it a few times before kicking it against a tree. He was able to play this game alone for a few more minutes until the ball once again rolled over to her.
"Keep it on your side!" She pushed it away.
"There are no sides! It's a yard!"
"Doesn't matter, I'm done anyway," Hiiro turned on her knees to pat next to her, "come, sit."
Yaboku groaned, "do I have too? Why am I the person you practice on, shouldn't you do that to yourself?" Despite his gripeing he trotted over and plopped in front of her.
"Yes, that's what little brothers are for," Hiiro answered easily, raising a brush painted with red, "though, I liked this better when you were smaller." Which was true, Yaboku's round, pudgy face was much easier to test with blush and eyeshadow. Plus he had no idea what was going on and just smiled because she was happy. Now she had to paint lipstick on a scowl which wasn't as easy.
"Fine…" Yaboku groaned.
They grew together. Both in power, mind, and body. Mizuchi could only 'grow' so much but soon they were the exact same height with the exact same baby face. The whispers that the humans spread about them called them demon children or twins of death and they would always giggle at the titles. There was once a time when Mizuchi hated the idea of another child, but now Hiiro couldn't imagine not being part of a pair. As siblings and as god and shinki, they fit like two halves of a whole. Complete opposites, yet they excelled at making their father's wishes come true. It seemed that for every town Yaboku managed to ravage, a new name inked her skin. Still, despite their many similarities, they had little in common. Like being two sides of the same coin.
"Hold still," Hiiro huffed as her brother squirmed.
"I told you the green would go better with the red." Yaboku pouted.
"Not with my new outfit it won't." Hiiro responded easily. The new fabric laid haphazardly across the floor, holding their recent prizes from attacking a wealthy carriage. Of course she didn't want to waste such an extravagant gift on her brother, but she had to test a certain look. And practice her technique since Yaboku was getting better.
"It will! Since the embroidery is-"
"Kids!" Their father greeted them as he stepped through the door.
"Father!" They said together, happily standing. Mizuchi ran to him, petting the dogs on the way, but Yaboku didn't follow until the wolves were waved away. Father licked his thumb and wiped it across Yaboku's face.
"Ugh! Dad! No! Gross!" Yaboku pushed the hand away and wiped all of Hiiro's hard work on his sleeve. Father huffed a smile.
"We're going to the southern city!" Father announced. Both children gasped.
"Yes!" Yaboku cheered. Hiiro rolled her eyes.
"To play with the humans!"
"Ah," Yaboku flinched while Hiiro smiled.
"And get Mizuchi some new names!"
"Ah," Mizuchi hummed while Yaboku eyed her.
"We will also do some shopping!"
"Ooh!" Yaboku's face lit up while Mizuchi deflated further.
"For more ancient texts!"
"Ooh," Mizuchi perked up while Yaboku groaned.
"...and learn to swim in the ocean?"
"Yes, please, Father," Mizuchi smiled. Beside her, Yaboku held his face in his hands. Their Father looked between them.
"Right…okay well, start packing."
As he walked away, Father sighed under his breath, "maybe I should have had three to break the tie…"
The two stood side by side for a moment.
"You upset Father," They said in unison. Hiiro turned away with a frown.
"D-did not!" Yaboku chased after her. He poked and prodded at her till she pushed him back. The house was empty so Father must have gone to the backyard. The wolves picked up their heads at the sound of their excitement.
"No running," one said.
"Too loud," growled the other. Yaboku stopped short and stared at them with fear.
Hiiro scoffed, "will you ever not be afraid of them? They're for Father's work just like us." She sat and started sifting through what little amounts of clothes she had to pick which ones would go on their journey. Yaboku said nothing- lips pressed and eyes down - as he started to stuff whatever he could get his hands on in a bag. One of the wolves, curious, got up and sniffed at their actions. Hiiro ignored it so it wouldn't cause a fuss, they were like bees in that way. Yaboku, on the other hand, tensed when it came near. He didn't call out to her or Father for help - Father wasn't big on helping him with the masks recently - but frowned and pushed the dog away. This happened a few more times until Yaboku gave it a large shove and it started to growl.
"No," Yaboku tried to deepen his voice, "no, bad." Untamed, the wolf bared its teeth and stepped towards her brother.
"Smells nice," it hissed. Hiiro watched her brother start to shake, ready to draw a line when he inevitably cuts and runs.
Only Yaboku didn't. The beast moved painfully slow but Yaboku still stared it down with quivering lips. He reached over his shoulder and pulled the dagger hidden under his clothes. Hiiro put her stuff down but otherwise didn't move. He couldn't harm the ayakashi in any way and trying would only hurt him. Yet another lesson this fool needed to learn. Until she noticed his eyes, sharp and focused rather than flighty, weren't meeting the ayakashi's gaze, but instead were focused at a certain point.
Mizuchi's whole body jolted. The mask! Yaboku was going to damage one of Father's works. Mizuchi wasn't sure if that would cause the wolf to vanish, but what did that matter if Father found out? That his god attacked his work and that he, as tiny as he was and without a shinki, could defeat their greatest protection? Yaboku tensed, ready, the mask crouched, starting forward on the attack. Mizuchi jumped up and drew a line between them quickly. The wolf knocked its head against it and took the hint. The barrier faded.
"Begone," Mizuchi commanded.
"Sorry." It didn't mean it, but padded away towards its partner. She glared at Yaboku who smiled.
"You saved me! Thanks Hiiro!" His eyes were bright like she was the god of his prayers. She bit her bottom lip to taper down the pride and relief she felt. Instead she crouched next to him and shoved the knife down.
"What are you doing? Do you want to anger Father?"
"No…" Yaboku looked away, guilty and confused. Hiiro watched him. Should she tell Father? Yaboku was going to get bigger and it wouldn't be hard for him to wipe away months of Father's work in seconds. If he started pushing back against the masks and Father, what would become of their family then? Of Yaboku? Nora looked to the floor with narrowed eyes then sighed. She had to be the guide and big sister. That was her job.
"I won't tell," she ignored his thankful look, "but don't do it again, alright? Just…don't start anything no matter what, don't fight back…struggling against it will make it worse." she advised. The god listened to her request quietly for a moment, then nodded sadly.
"Okay Hiiro, I promise," Yaboku said. She sat beside him, their shoulders pressed together, as they helped each other pack. They would have each other to rely on no matter what, and the secret parts of themselves they kept from the world would always bind them together.
Yaboku grew alongside Father's work. As Yaboku matured, so did his power, his skill, and his understanding of the world. Father's work grew sharper as well, the masks had their limits tested, their intelligence, their strength. Father was able to mold them and the masks themselves just as he was the god of calamity. Still, Yaboku was very ignorant of the world. Not in the academic sense, Father taught them rather well and Yaboku was quick to pick things up, but in the sense of still being so new to the world. This was both good and bad.
"Mizuchi," father said on a warm spring day. The masks had reported in and she had confirmed it with her own eyes.
"Go take care of it."
She knew it made the bubble of a fake family they lived in - one she often liked to indulge herself with - very real to Yaboku. He wasn't stupid, Father wouldn't allow that, he knew that he was a tool with certain expectations and that Father held his life in his hands. Only Mizuchi knew the charade, and Father liked to keep it that way. But to Yaboku, that was the whole world. That was all there was.
Until she came and he lost her.
"This is what happens when you disobey and try to be something you're not," Father spoke in plain truth. Watching Yaboku's back as he quivered on his knees, Father's advice fell on deaf ears. Before Yaboku laid nothing. The god of calamity was covered in his own tears and blood, vomit soon following. The sinking understanding of death weighing heavy on his small shoulders, Mizuchi almost pitied the disobedient child.
The event changed him. Yaboku was different now, caring still but in an aching sort of way. It almost made sense to her. The shinki hadn't attacked when her karma devoured her. No, instead when Father nudged the tiny god and he stumbled towards her, ready with the masks to put her down, the ayakashi reached out with such tenderness it made Mizuchi's heart squeeze. She didn't try to eat him, didn't blame him for all his wrong doings as her god, she only held Yabokus hands tight and bowed her head until he gathered the strength to free her.
It was the first time Yaboku was allowed to take a break from his playtime. And the last time it was considered as such. Yaboku was not to leave home for some time after that, not without Mizuchi or Father accompanying him. Father gave him the winter. They were stuck in a small hut together, silent, as the bitter cold battered their walls. A willfully-ignorant father, a quiet daughter, and a listless son.
It was soon after the next spring came and the first cherry blossom trees bloomed that Yaboku broke down. In private, of course, he waited until Father was gone for a few nights and cried into his tiny palms. Not wanting this to continue corrupting her brother, annoying her father, and ruining their family, Hiiro held him. Yaboku faced her in her lap, gripping her clothes and burying his snotty nose in her neck. He asked, so gently, like a human mourning a loved one, to call him by a nickname. Nora wasn't one to tell another what name to go by and she wanted to see her family smile again. The request was small and something she could do in secret. Their very first one.
Two more springs passed. Father refused to keep a god that wouldn't live up to its usefulness. So Yato was given new instruction. Fighting in various forms, with various weapons, in various circumstances. Killing was no longer a game and hunting was no longer fun. It didn't have to be that way, but something was taken from Yato, whisked away with any trace of that woman's soul. Father pushed him harder, expected more, and kept close tabs. Mizuchi was given higher expectations as well, being a powerful weapon wasn't enough. She was to be a guide. Yato's guide in kindling Father's wish and ensuring Yaboku's continued growth so he could one day outclass his own kind. He had a daily quota to fill, after all.
Despite her brother's growing obstinance, and Father's anger at his disobedience, Yato remained a part of their family. By now, her little brother was about two peaches taller than her and she was slightly miffed that she had to look up to him. It was also frustrating that she could no longer pick him up when he refused to follow her or do what she asked. But his strength was growing faster than Father originally planned, his skill honed much sharper, and the damage his tiny body produced was grander than Father's wildest dreams. Unfortunately, he was still growing, and his stubbornness was getting harder to deal with.
"Yato, please! Get down before you break your arm. Again." Mizuchi begged the god. Yato was already on the first branch, his toes white as he tried not to slip. He had the worst kind of luck.
"I'm not!" Yato grunted as he fought for his balance, "besides, I'm big now!"
Hirro pouted, then shouted at the river behind her, "Father!"
"Yaboku!" Father's voice boomed, startling the boy out of the tree, "what are you doing now? Stop bothering your sister!"
Smiling triumphantly, Hiiro turned to watch Yato roll onto his knees and rub his leaf-covered head with a groan.
He glared at her and shouted to their father, "I am not!"
"Yes you are!"
"You are-ah!" Hiiro was tackled to the ground. Her hands came up to fend her brother off, kicking him. Something gargled in Yato's throat and Hiiro snarled through her smooshed cheek.
"No spitting! That's cheating and gross!"
"You tried to drown me in the river last week!"
"Did not! You tripped!"
"Did too!" He was trying to rub her hair in the dirt so she grabbed a handful and shoved it in his eyes. Yato cried out in pain and she turned the tides, knees digging into his chest as he hit the dirt. Wiping his face, Yato smirked and quickly flipped her. They rolled around, hands in each other's hair and they fought. Eventually Yato's hand found her ribs and Hiiro snorted. She might not be ticklish but her brother certainly was.
"Would you two please stop…fighting…" By the time Father was jogging towards them, washed food in hand, Yato was in tears as Hiiro tickled him breathless.
"She-sh-she started it- haha!" Yato wheezed, eventually reaching to grab her hair bow and stuff it in his mouth.
"Ew! No!" Hiiro tried to grab it but Yato was starting to scramble away.
"Father!" She pleaded.
"Stop," Father held up his hand. He reached to pluck Mizuchi off her brother, allowing him to kick himself away. The two wolves at Father's side trotted to frighten the god back towards his family. One asked him to drop it and he did, Hiiro frowned at her hair piece covered in dirt.
"Honestly you two," Father sighed, "what am I going to do with you?"
"I didn't do anything," Mizuchi muttered.
"It's not my fault, she started it!"
"Enough!" Father's hands came up and they quieted at Father's command. He eventually sighed at their matching wide-eyed expressions.
"What is it this time?"
Mizuchi sprang first, "Father! Yaboku was trying to climb the tree but I told him no cause he broke his arm last time but he wouldn't listen!"
"I was trying to get us more fruit for dinner!" Yato spoke at the same time, looking between her and father.
Father sighed again, "Mizuchi, if Yaboku wants to break his arm, let him break his arm! Maybe then he'll learn! Besides, it took like a week or two to heal, who cares!" He waved the thought off. Mizuchi pouted, squinting at the way Yato frowned at the ground.
The boy picked his head up with large blue eyes, "Yes?"
"Don't be stupid."
"...sorry-" Yato looked back down again.
"If you're gonna pick peaches, you have to get the ones up high," Father put his own fruit down and stepped towards them, "come on, you can climb my shoulders."
"Father!" Mizuchi groaned. Yato shot up with excitement and Father was already crouched with his hands together. She was ignored as the boys grunted and swayed. Yato stood on Father's shoulders and reached for the ripest peaches.
"Mizuchi, come here and catch the fruit." Father asked. She did, eye twitching as she struggled to catch the ones that fell. It didn't take long for Father to grunt in pain as Yato stood on his tip toes. The tree groaned.
"Just- grab it!"
"I cant…reach…" Yato pushed harder on a branch. From high above, the tree let out a crunch.
"Hang on, Mizuhi- grab it Yaboku!"
"I'm trying-!" The branch cracked and Hiiro took a huge step back. Neither Father nor Yato seemed to hear or care. She watched them manage two more peaches before the branch let out a large snap and fell, toppling onto Yato who fell back and took Father down with him. They hit the ground hard and Mizuchi watched them squirm on the ground in pain. Truly, they were family, in every - stupid - way.
It all came to a head some years later.
Yato was Father's wish, his happiness, his vision. As time went on, this seemed harder and harder for Yaboku to do, which only antagonized Father more, but it was always alright in the end. Despite being a family composed of the ultimate taboos, Father treated them as much as children as one could with tools. Why didn't Yaboku see it? His job was to serve Father's happiness. When he stopped being himself, he ruined Father's happiness.
It irritated Nora.
Yato's brattiness irritated her. Yato's need for both distance and approval irritated her. Yato's growing change in both mind and spirit irritated her. Yato's constant arguments with Father and never learning the same simple lesson that has been their family's constant truth since the beginning. Yato's refusal to give in and let their family be happy. Yato's refusal to be the god he was supposed to be. All of it! But what irritated her the most…was seeing her own emotions - the ones she so carefully forced down - reflected so plainly in his face.
"Yato, what?" Part of Nora wasn't the least bit surprised, yet caught off guard. Perhaps he was just tired from the long journey, sore from the battle, and exasperated with himself and Father's constant lessons.
"I don't…want to do this anymore," Yato said again. It was a sight Nora would almost find heartbreaking if they weren't the ones who caused it, pitiful if her brother weren't a god of calamity. Around them laid the bodies and rubble of the largest city they've ever taken down. Smashed to pieces as if a larger power trampled all over it. Blood smeared the walls, the grass, their hands and clothes. Yaboku was on his knees again, fists curled against stone flooring, blood-matted hair blocking his dull eyes.
"I know- I- that I'm supposed to-" he hiccuped a sob, "I love you and dad…so much…but…I don't feel right. This doesn't feel like how you say it's supposed to, how it used to! I feel," Yato's lips pressed together as his arms slowly came up to hug himself. She watched his nails dig into his shoulders as he shuttered out tears.
She knew exactly what he was trying to say. Exactly what it felt like. It felt like you weren't comfortable in your own skin. Like your soul itched along its outside, scraping against a barbed cage. It was alright some days, when you found a spot you could maintain and hold so that it didn't hurt. Until something or someone jostled the cage and gave a harsh reminder. She knew wanting so desperately to avoid mirrors or water, cover yourself from head to toe, and not look yourself in the eye. Knowing that, the moment you did, you wouldn't be able to pretend like it was out of your control. Like you were okay with feeling like you inhabited a body that moved on its own. Instead, having to stare at yourself and know it was your hand, your words, and you alone all along.
"But when is this going to end? Isn't this too much? The heavens didn't even come down here and if they don't care then what's the point?"
"You'll get stronger, Yaboku, you're not fully grown yet," Nora tried to reassure, "Father says you're doing just fine. There's nothing to worry about."
Yaboku blinked with glassy eyes, "n-no that's not. That's not the issue."
"Father made you to answer his wishes."
"But why? Why all this? Why doesn't it feel-"
"Does it really matter why?"
"Does it…" Yaboku bared his teeth, "of course it matters! Look around! Look what we're doing! We're causing pain for no reason! We're not getting anything out of it!"
She flinched, "You're not seeing the big picture-"
"They're dead!" Yaboku's voice echoed around them. Nora froze.
Nora stepped forward with a scowl. "And what about me? I'm dead too. Yet you don't see me wondering about the reasons or asking some god to spare me." She narrowed her eyes as Yato's mouth opened and closed. The edges of her empty shell prickled.
"So what about Father then, huh?" Nora's voice raised, "Are you going to tell him his reasoning is pointless? You would put us both in danger just because you want to question all that Father gives us?"
"No I-! There has to be another way!"
"Well there isn't!" Nora stated, "you are a god. You're meant to answer Father's wish, for the rest of eternity, and slaughter the rest! That's all you were created to do so if you can't do that then there's no use for you existing!" She watched his expression crumble. Not because of what she said, but because he knew she was right.
Yaboku was smart. Yaboku was clever. Yaboku was created by Father to serve his wish and happiness. But Yaboku knew nothing of the world, nor his place in it. There was once a time when Yaboku was the light of their home, their joy, but after losing that woman, he broke. She watched the light leak from his cracks over the years, leaving him to grapple with a new feeling of emptiness. Sakura had taught him loss, what it was to grieve the dead, but he didn't make the connection to his purpose - Father's wish - until now.
She sighed, "Let me ask you this…do you want to keep living?"
The larger grand scheme of things didn't settle in until she spelled out what he already knew deep down. He was Father's tool, whatever feelings or reasons he used to justify that didn't matter, so long as he kept working he wouldn't be thrown away. Even if he wasn't the light of happiness anymore, it was his job to continually fan the flames and keep the spark lit by any means necessary. Whether it burned him to do so or not.
A weak laugh, "so that's it then?" Yaboku swallowed, "I'll just be killing…hurting people? That's my whole reason for existing? Or my dad will…that's all there is? Forever and ever? Eternity?"
"That's all there is," Nora agreed. She unclenched her fists slowly, smearing the blood from her palm and nail indents.
Her brother truly was the kindest person she knew.
"Father and I love you as you are," she tried, "and we will stay by your side no matter what." She watched her words - his situation - finally sink in. She watched him struggle only to finally accept everything he already knew.
"Hah…ha ha…haha haha…" Yaboku laughed through his sobs until his face contorted with pain. His hands flew to his head and he gripped his hair against the onslaught of shutters and wails that wracked his body.
Nora walked away. His cries were loud and jarring, like the screams of their victims. But they were heavy with a type of pain that only an immortal could understand. If the loss of Sakura broke him, then finally understanding his purpose shattered him. He met her on the outskirts of town some hours later, eyes red-rimmed and dull. Hopefully he wouldn't struggle with his purpose so much anymore, and the empty hole inside him that swallowed him whole wasn't as uncomfortable.
At least now they finally matched.
"Yato?" Hiiro looked down the hall. The hallway to their room was empty and quiet. With a huff she put her basket down and stared towards the door. Their new house was much larger than their childhood home and the chores needed to be started early. Father had already set out at daybreak, yet one family member was still in bed.
"Yato?" Hiiro peaked in to see her brother sprawled out on the floor. The Yaboku god was fully grown now, his appearance remaining unchanged for the past five decades. He snuck back in late last night, buzzed, so he was still face down in his black kimono. Drool pooled by his face while half his hair was out of its tie. Sighing through her nose, Hiiro set to work. She untied his broken shoes and tossed them aside, slipping on some socks. Then she plucked at his hair tie until his matted bangs fell against his cheeks. His face twitched but he didn't stir. She huffed again and stepped on his calf muscle, one foot then the other.
"Mmmgh," Yato grunted. His eye brows knit tighter and tighter as she walked up his leg and back.
"No," Yato whined, "off."
"It's time to get up now," she put all of her weight into his shoulders and base of his neck. Yato's breathing hissed but he refused to open his eyes, frowning. Hiiro knew he could feel her staring down at him. Losing her balance, she stood on his shoulder blades. Her little brother was so big now, his back was broad and strong enough to support her comfortably while he dozed.
"Wakey, wakey magatsukami," she pushed her feet back and forth, shaking him. He scowled deeper at the name and grunted loudly.
"Mmm! Get off!" He groaned again. Like a worm he tried wiggling, and when that only brought a smile to her face, he tried shaking his shoulders.
Hiiro giggled, "that won't work."
"Come on, I need your help carrying the wet clothes. It's too heavy for me. Father asked that you fix the roof and cut down more firewood. He'll hurt himself if he tries to climb or carry all that. And if you could go hunting later for dinner please, that would be great." Her little brother was their big, strong god now. The house ran much smoother when he was there, chores that took them months would be done in an afternoon. They relied on him for more than just answering wishes.
"Hmm?" Hiiro asked when he mumbled. Yato turned his mouth to the side.
"Tailbone." He requested. Hiiro huffed and walked up and down his spine, hearing it crackle like snow. When she was done, the soft ground beneath her rose slowly and fell as Yato sighed. With that, Hiiro hopped off and started towards the door.
"Come on then." Hiiro turned back to see her brother sitting up. His clothes were torn and sewn back together in some places, half of his kimono falling off his shoulder, his hair all out of place and greasy. Father had punished him yesterday and the bruises and scarring still showed against his pale skin. There was a pink cross on his chest, he must have taken a hit from an arrow at some point. Purple shadowed underneath dull eyes as he stared through her, off into a distance only he could see.
"Yeah…" Yato eventually stood with a grunt and followed his guide. The empty darkeness finally swallowed him whole, and while he was better at hiding it from others, he finally fit in. They were family after all, always would be no matter what. And the Yaboku god would always be their happiness. Whether he understood that or not.
And if that happiness came later that afternoon, when they watched Father yell for help while running from a swarm of bees, honeycombs in hand, and jump into a spring, well…Nora wouldn't comment on how hard they both laughed.