May 24th, 2024
It was about midnight in castle Arbessos. The sun was a distant memory and the moon hung high in the sky as Megame made her silent way out of the castle and into the dark forest surrounding it. The castle, if anything, seemed more active at night than it did during the day. All the candles and torches had been lit to fill the space with light, but none of Constantin’s servants had tried to stop her as she made her way out of the front gates and into the forests.
She was not entirely alone. Hachi had decided to join her, and the red fox jumped lightly around her feet as Megame picked her way through the forest, traveling further from the trail. The fox was always eager to be her companion and protection, and on many occasions Megame had sought her advice. Now, however, she needed the guidance of a higher power. And it would take some effort to reach out to them this far from home.
The Okami were powerful, but Megame was nearly nine thousand kilometers from the center of their power, and not even they could reach that far of their own accord. It would take work for her voice to reach them and for them to respond in kind. First and foremost, Megame would need to construct a rudimentary shrine, to act as a conduit and beacon for her prayer. It was not unlike establishing a phone connection, Megame thought with some amusement. Her divine coverage didn’t reach far outside of Japan, so she needed to erect a new cellphone tower in order to get a signal and make international calls.
Megame giggled lightly to herself as she searched the woods for an ideal location. It took an hour or so shambling through the dark underbrush before she came upon an adequate position. It was a large clearing in the woods, big enough for some of the moon and starlight to come down and bathe the bare earth in its light. She searched around the perimeter until she found two trees growing beside one another at the edge of the clearing, the branches between them intertwined in such a way that, if she looked at it in a certain light, the tree trunks and branches resembled a tori gate. She used this as her point of reference and began construction of the shrine. Aligned with the gate, she found the largest stone she could find and, grunting and griping with exertion, staggered with it to the center of the clearing before dropping it to the ground. She then took time to collect sticks and fallen leaves, wrapping and weaving them with grasses to create crude panels that could be carefully stacked to create and enclosed space upon the stone, all of it coming together to make a crude and rudimentary enclosure less than thirty centimeters on a side and with an open side facing the gate.
Carefully, Megame pulled from her pack the sacred object given to her by Inari, a polished circular silver mirror bedecked around the rim with rope dyed red and gohei streamers that she delicately placed inside the shrine. She then took a few steps back, walking the perimeter of the ad hoc shrine as she softly recited the sacred incantation to accompany the building of the shrine, sanctifying the land, clearing it of any residual spirits and making the crude open box into a suitable dwelling place for a kami.
When her ritual was complete, Megame retreated through the “Gate” then re-entered, this time stepping from the outside world into the sacred space of a Shinto shrine. The difference was like night and day, though perhaps not for the average person. All noises within the shrine ceased instantly; any of the night birds or insects that had filled the night with chatter could not be heard within the clearing the moment she passed through the gate. The light of the moon and stars seemed magnified, letting the clearing fill with soft white light. Even in the darkness of its enclosure, the mirror shone brightly, reflecting the moonlight and constellations, though a close observer could tell that the stars burning in the silver mirror were not the same as the ones above Romania.
Hachi took her place beside the shrine. Held in her vulpine mouth was a granary key, another sacred icon and one the fox kept with her for such occasions. It would take every possible effort to make this small Romanian clearing into a functional Shinto shrine, and Hachi’s presence as a fox added much. Silently, Megame fell to her knees and entered a state of praying meditation, quietly praying as her soul called out for divine presence, letting the silence grow around her as she hoped it would be enough.
The Okami’s arrival was not loud or dramatic. It came in gently like an autumn wind, quiet but distinct as it blew into the clearing and a presence entered the shrine. There was a flash of movement within the mirror that was not reflected in the world outside, and out of the clear night haze a figure formed atop the shrine enclosure.
She took the form of a beautiful young woman, wrapped in a long elegant kimono, styled in many layers and brocaded in imagery that seemed to shift and roil as Megame watched it, containing images of gems, flowers, and gold across a servant of brilliant vermillion. Her face was young but austere, framed by long straight hair of pure white color. Her eyes shone a brilliant gold that was clear even in the pale moonlight. Much of her nose and mouth was hidden behind a large red fan decorated with ornate depictions of foxes. She was perched weightlessly upon the enclosure for her mirror, legs hanging off one side as her torso turned to look down on Megame, almost seeming to float upon the panels of sticks and leaves that should have collapsed under a light breeze.
Megame found that the image of Inari Okami had changed the longer she knew her. When they had first met, the Okami seemed much more traditional, her face done in the older style of the Heian and Kamakura periods. As she and Megame had interacted, her face makeup and hair had become somewhat more restrained and modern. She had also taken on the ears and tails of a fox on more than one occasion, a depiction that, while common, Megame had often been told was inaccurate. Whatever the cause or reason to her mild shapeshifting, Inari always came with the same personality, if not the same face.
“It’s been some time since you called me directly, Kamigawa-kun.” Inari said, but there was a hollowness, a haze to her voice that made her somewhat indistinct. Clearly even with the shrine in place, the distance was having some effect.
Megame bowed until her forehead just barely touched the ground.
“Forgive me, Inari Okami-sama.” Megame said, still kneeling prostrate before her. “I needed your counsel in this time, in order to help me make a decision.”
“Speak quickly then, child. I doubt I have much time in such a crude shrine.”
As rapidly as she could while maintaining clarity Megame explained their situation, how she had come to the aid of a vampire if only to prevent what she felt was a needless death, as well as her confrontation with Kara and her belief that she needed to be stopped.
“I’m just not sure,” Megame concluded “If it really is fate, then should I even try? Is there anything I can do to help him? Or help Kara?”
She stayed kneeling in silence for some time, waiting for Inari’s eventual response.
“Rise, Kamigawa-kun. I would have you listen to my words and heed them carefully.”
Megame rose quickly to her feet, locking eyes with the piercing gaze of the fox goddess.
“I am the patron of luck, the bringer of fortune to those in need of salvation. I bring the rain and the despoilment dependent on my mood and my whim. I follow no divine plan, I may take advice from older and wiser kami but I find with my intuition they more often take advice from me. By following my own design and creating my own luck, I have become the most prolific kami in Japan, and soon in all the world. I did not reach this stage through fate or destiny; that is the excuse of the lazy or the insincere.”
“Then there is no such thing as fate, Inari-sama?” Megame couldn’t help but ask, having to know just who Kara’s employers were.
“There might very well be such a thing as Fate, Kamigawa-kun.” Inari said “But if so then it is not designed by an all-knowing force. Many times I have shaped the likelihood of circumstance and coincidence, I have brought fortune and ruin to those I felt needed it. Does this make me a master of fate? For surely I have changed the fates of those I interfered with. I believe it makes me nothing more than a kami of fortune, changing the likelihoods and probabilities as I see fit. Unless of course your friend suggests my own hands are bound by some yet greater force, which I find to be nothing more than revisionist nonsense, claiming the choices of an individual were guided by an unseen force after they happened.”
“I’m…not entirely sure I understand, Inari-sama,” Megame admitted, bowing her head.
“Forgive my rambling,” the goddess of fortune smiled “I suppose you desire a succinct answer. I believe that the future is only determined by the choices one makes. There is no grand plan, there is no design tugging at strings, there are only mortals and spirits who pull at one another as they guide themselves along roads forged one step ahead of their feet.”
“Then why does Kara believe that Constantin is fated to die? Where is she getting that from?”
Inari considered her words, eyes looking off into the distance as her fan hid most of her face.
“I believe that this new friend of yours, Kara, is merely the tool of something more powerful.”
“M-More powerful?” Megame asked “Like an Okami?”
“Something like one certainly,” Inari said “To be able to claim to be an arbiter of fate they must be very powerful indeed, or tremendously arrogant. The thing to remember, Kamigawa-kun, is that in matters of luck, destiny has little say. Spin the wheel of chance and I guarantee no force lurking on earth or in heaven can tell you where it might land. Even I can only make the outcome more or less likely. And if some western deity believes that they control my actions through some unseen plans, then I would like to see them try.”
Megame could see the distinct gleam of a smile in her eyes.
“So if I want to free Kara from her responsibilities,” she said “And to stop Constantin’s death…”
“Then you must strike at the source.” Inari nodded “Do not go to Kara, but go above her. Find the ones pulling her strings and confront them, then you might be able to change fortune in your favor.”
Even as a solution presented itself, Megame could only feel her stomach sink. How was she supposed to face whatever power had employed Kara, one strong enough to keep a leash on a powerful Valkyrie?
“Do not fear, kamigawa-kun,” The fox kami smiled as her appearance began to fade into the night air, the integrity of the foreign shrine beginning to collapse “Even if you cannot see or hear us, the kami are with you. When you decide to challenge the will of fate, you will not be alone.”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=48&sl=171