May 25th, 2024
The Romanian sun was rising in the east over the horizon. Megame watched it with no small amount of trepidation. She had twenty-four hours now, more or less, to find a way to save Constantin before Kara put an end to him for good. Part of her wasn’t even sure if she should. Constantin seemed a decent enough man, but he was a vampire and had already lived for centuries, how much difference would his death really make?
Megame shook the thoughts away. What if someone else thought that about her life? If one death didn’t matter in the grand scheme, then neither did one life. She was going to try her hardest up until the very last moment if she needed to. She was standing at the windowsill looking out over the countryside, lost in thought. The familiar feeling of fur rubbing against her legs alerted her that Hachi had decided to join her.
“She’s down the hall” The fox’s voice alerted her “now’s your chance to talk to her, though I doubt you’ll convince her of anything.”
“If I’m lucky” Megame said “Then I just need to go over her head.”
She turned away from the window and headed into the hall, Hachi in her bright red fox form at her heels.
“If there’s one thing you are” Hachi said “It’s lucky”
Kara was relaxing in one of innumerable small lounges that filled the maze-like castle. She was sprawled over a couch, her eyes closed, but it was clear to Megame at least that she wasn’t sleeping. Still, she looked peaceful, and Megame hesitated for a moment, not wanting to disturb her.
“What is it?” Kara didn’t open her eyes as she spoke “What do you want this time?”
“I wanted to talk…” Megame said
“I’m not changing my mind” Kara said “Twenty-four hours.”
“I’m not here to change your mind” Megame paused as she drummed up her courage “I’m here to…I want to talk to your boss.”
Kara opened her eyes and tilted her head to look at Megame, locking her cold blue gaze on her “No.”
“Yes.” Megame insisted.
“This isn’t some spirit or even a god” Kara said “There are some forces that are better left uncontacted.”
“You leave me no choice.” Megame said “You won’t do anything so I need to talk to your superior.”
“You still have a choice.” Kara said “Drop it and get over it, or better yet leave. This didn’t involve you, and there’s no reason you have to stay. What are you waiting for? Constantin? Me? We’re not going with you to Rome either way, so how about you just go?”
“No!” Megame raised her voice. “I’m not giving up, that’s not who I am. I’m going to find a way to contact your boss, whether you help me or not!”
“Well I won’t” Kara said “For your own good.”
Megame stormed out of the room as Kara rolled over to face away from the door.
“I take it things did not go well?” Hachi met her as Megame stormed down the hall in a huff.
“We’ll do it ourselves!” Megame said “We’ll go to the shrine I made and call them here ourselves.”
“Mmm” Hachi made a sound of concern “Not necessarily the safest prospect.”
“We’re doing it” Megame said.
“Well…if you insist” Hachi padded along beside her.
It took an hour for Megame to find her way back to the makeshift shrine she had built and make the necessary repairs. It was never meant to be permanent, so it took longer than she had expected to set things back up.
“Megame” hachi said “I just want to make sure you understand how dangerous this could be.”
“How is it dangerous?” Megame asked, trying to sound confident, but still apprehensive. Few things ever made Hachi this nervous.
“You’ve only ever summoned minor spirits or Okami you knew were on your side” Hachi said “Now you’re trying to call up a foreign power in a makeshift shrine, one we don’t entirely understand, and you intend to argue with it. There’s a rule with summoning spirits that you should never try to bring forth something you can’t control or unsummon, but we don’t have that luxury.”
“So we have no options if something goes wrong?” megame asked.
“I’m afraid not” Hachi nodded “It’s why there’s an old adage, ‘Do not call up that which you cannot put down.’”
“Well I don’t have any other options if I want to save Constantin!” Megame argued “So we…we’ll just have to make do.”
Hachi sighed but nodded “I’ll be at your side, Megame.”
Megame set to work, removing the central icon form the shrine and leaving ti empty. She didn’t know if Kara’s boss had any sacred symbol, but megame didn’t have any on hand even if she did. She would have to feel this one out.
“Now remember what I taught you” Hachi said “The icons help, but it’s your spirit that really matters at the end of the day. You have a unique spirit, Megame, one that calls other spirits to you. It’s why Inari chose you, and why I believe you can succeed here.”
“Thanks” Megame managed a small smile as she walked into the circle of the shrine and began to work.
It was a lot like breathing once you got used to it. A person had to feel the spiritual essence moving within them, flowing in and out in a magical respiration as it flowed through the environment. They had to feel their spirit grow and expand like fresh-filled lungs as it took in the energy of plants, trees, and tiny animals around them. She could even feel the stones and the fallen leaves around her as her essence filled the shrine. Once her spirit filled the shrine, her very soul at one with the world around her, she needed to send out a call. It didn’t need to be very loud, if Kara was to be believed then her superiors were almost omnipresent, but it needed to be direct.
It wasn’t a message or a cry, or any other thing she could put to words. It was more like an emotion that she sent out into the world, requesting the presence of a spirit she knew was out there. No doubt many would hear the call, but Megame tried to narrow the number of spirits who might heed it. She thought of Kara, of her duty, of the winding paths of fate that bound her to her work and to Constantin, and she worked those images and emotions into the call.
She was chanting softly, the words were irrelevant to the message, but they kept her focused, her mind unwavering as the call continued, her spirit pulsing through the world as she tried to summon the spirit she needed.
The air shifted. Something had arrived.
The shadows in the shrine grew long, the light grew dim and desaturated. In the stark light the great tree seemed almost to wither as the grass was robbed of color and vitality. The entire world seemed to grow cold and grey, indistinct and fading as light and shadow twisted and warped within the shrine.
Megame braced herself, eyes scanning for movement or the arrival of some great spirit. There was something terribly bleak about this vision, something that left her cold inside as warmth and color seemed to fade from everything. There was no howling wind or clap of thunder, instead sound seemed to fade to a soft whine. Megame’s body down to her bones began to ache, her joints stiffening as her vision blurred. In that moment, she felt as if she had aged decades.
It was from the shadow of the tree that the figure emerged, a bright apparition in a colorless world. She was young and beautiful, hair of golden curls and creamy skin that looked warm to the touched. She wore a dress of green and browns and had a smile on her face. The shadows seemed to slide off of her as she stepped into the shrine, leaving her a dazzling form to contrast against the cold and dying world around her. She turned to face Megame, and Megame shuddered as she looked back into her eyes.
There was something terrible in her eyes, something that sucked her in and threatened to leave her lost within them. Her eyes were not those of a young woman, or even an old woman. They were human-shaped, but so inhuman in their age that it made her dizzy just to look at them. There were the eyes that had watched stars and worlds form from the universe’s first spark, and they would be the eyes that watched as the very last lights went out.
Megame bowed stiffly at the waist, lowering her head and quietly grateful she could stare at the colorless grey ground.
“Rise” The voice chimed and tingled with laughter, but Megame found nothing comforting in it.
Megame did as she was told, looking again upon the apparition. She seemed barely taller than Megame herself, yet there was nothing relatable about her.
“W-who are you?” Megame asked, voice trembling more than she could suppress it.
The girl’s smile split into a wide grin.
“Ask not for whom the bell tolls” She said from behind that eerie smile.
“A-are you one of Kara’s bosses?” She asked nervously, not sure what to make of her enigmatic answer.
“Kara will continue to be employed by us, yes.” The woman’s smile never faltered, and Megame stuttered in confusion at her odd choice of wording.
“So…you are part of fate?” She asked.
“I shall be what shall be.” The spirit said “All that might be and all that will be shall exist within me. In the turning of the wheel I shall be that which has yet to turn, and in the threading of men’s souls I shall be she who cuts the cord.”
Megame could not say for certain she understood, but from her words and expression she took it to mean that Megame was correct.
She bowed again, figuring added formality could not hurt.
“I came to ask for the life of Constantin-san.” She said abruptly.
The spirit was silent for a moment before speaking again, the amusement clear in her voice.
“It may yet be possible” she said “For the contract to be removed. My sister Verdandi shall hold Kara’s leash for some time yet, but Constantin’s fate shall not be decided until its time, and that time shall be in my domain so long as it does not reach the present.
Megame was still trying to get used to the spirit’s unusual tenses. She was still bowed, and this time the spirit seemed to have no need for her to rise.
“S-so what you are saying” Megame spoke slowly “Is that because Constantin-san is still alive, and his execution hasn’t come, his fate can still be changed?”
“Fate, change, destiny” The spirit shrugged “These words you will use with so little understanding. That shall forever be your lot as mortals.”
“How” Megame asked, knowing she was risking rudeness “How can I change it?”
“The easiest choice before you” She said “Is a game of Fate” There was distinct amusement in her voice, and it was making Megame steadily more unsettled.
“A game?” She asked “I just need to win a game?”
“Why not?” The spirit asked with a giggle “It sounds like it shall be fun.”
“I don’t know how to play…” Megame admitted “Where can I learn?”
“Kara shall teach you.” The spirit said “And you shall play, so long as you wish to pay the stakes.”
“Stakes?” Megame asked “What are the stakes?”
“There is only one kind of currency I will accept” She said “I will have no desire for money, currency, or coin of the realm I will ask that you gamble with inches from the candle of your life, with the fire that burns dimmer every year. You shall play for Constantin’s future, and you shall pay with yours.”