There are moments when one suddenly steps back to take stock of how absurd their situation is, and here Hayato was, confronted by a talking stone lion. Hayato screamed, turned tail and ran from the Shrine. He heard the lion shout something, but he couldn’t hear it over the sound of blood pumping in his ears. He got as far as the riverbank in the park before a great force knocked him to the grass.
“Listen kid, I’ve just been woken up from a millennia-long sleep and was greeted by a duel with a long-time enemy of mine, so I’m pretty cranky right now,” the lion growled, “It really isn’t wise to test my patience.”
Hayato raised his hands in what he hoped looked like a surrender. It worked; the lion backed away, and Hayato sat up. Up close, he could see a long, thin scar running down one side of the lion’s face. Although it was made of stone: was a scar even the right thing to call it?
“I would’ve thought you smart enough not to run from a Kami, anyway,” the lion shook his head, “Especially after what you’ve just seen.”
“Wait…” Hayato rubbed his eyes, “You’re a…Kami? A real Kami?”
The lion puffed out its chest, “In the flesh. Well, so to speak.”
“Says the boy talking to an animal statue,” the lion rolled its head, “Holy Izanagi, not this again. I’ve woken up in one of those crummy ‘enlightened’ eras, haven’t I? Seriously, can we just skip this whole disbelief phase? I’ve done this all a dozen times before, and it’s achingly tedious.”
Hayato had to admit, he had nothing. He really had seen the powers of something otherworldly back there – and he still was, watching the lion itch its grey neck with a hind leg.
“So…if you’re a Kami –”
“I am,” it cut across, “Though I prefer to be called by name: Zennoh-no-kamisama Fujin. Or just Fujin, if you must. God of the winds.”
“…then, who was that you were fighting? Not a human?” Hayato finished.
The lion laughed. “As if! No offense, but mortals who can challenge the gods for power come once in an age. And I doubt humankind’s latest offering to that roster was a fat innkeeper. No, he too is a Kami. Raiden is his name, and lightning and fire is his game. Which brings me neatly onto my questions.”
The lion rounded on Hayato, eyes hard and intent.
“I may have been half-awake at the time, but I could tell that you weren’t at that Shrine by chance. What was going on?”
Hayato managed to put aside his shock at this mad situation and just talk. “I honestly don’t know for sure. But I know he was after the Kami Box.”
That took Fujin aback. It sat on it’s haunches, rubbing it’s chin with a paw. “My Kami Box? Yes, I saw it, snapped open on the floor. Well, Raiden wanting me exterminated is nothing new, but that’s still a pretty poor reason to wake up an all-powerful Kami – such as myself. I remember the days when I was called upon for truly epic quests and battles. Oh, the songs they sang and the tapestries they wove! But I have to say, boy: called upon to continue a playground squabble is a come down. Is that the only reason you called on me? I really hope not, or my crankiness might just double.”
“I didn’t call on you,” Hayato blurted out, “I didn’t even know I could do such a thing. The Box just broke and…here you are.”
“Yes, here I am,” Fujin looked over his body, “I must say I’m not too fond of this form. I’m a god of wind, and this rock feels so…cumbersome. But that’s by the by. This begs the question: what in the name of Izanagi are you doing out here with my Kami Box? Why are we so far from the Shrine I was stationed at, the…oh, what’s it called…”
“That’s the one,” Fujin pointed a claw at Hayato, “And that was not the Namerikawa Shrine back there.” The lion growled a low rumble crackling in it’s throat as though he were gargling gravel, “Speak quickly now: are you a thief? Are you an opportunist thinking I’m some kind of wish-granter? Because if that’s the case then the only wish you’ll be seeing is your own wishbone pulled from your –”
“I didn’t steal you!” Hayato said at last, “I’m…I’m on a mission. Your Shrine has been destroyed, and I need to take you to the abandoned Shrine atop Kasayama to beg for your forgiveness while your new Shrine is being built for you.”
“Oh.” The lion was silent for a while, staring out over the river. Hayato considered telling this Fujin that humans didn’t have wishbones, but thought better of it. Then: “And you? Why did the town send a boy on this mission?”
Uh oh. Hayato wished the ground would swallow him up again. After enduring the wrath of a whole town after destroying their treasures, how would a God take the news that they’d been made homeless? Hayato set his jaw. Well, might as well just come out clean. Better sooner than later.
“I destroyed the Shrine.”
“Not on purpose,” Hayato added quickly, “I mean, it was the festival, and I was drumming and –”
Fujin burst out laughing. “Oh, that is just fantastic!” it roared.
Hayato gulped. “It…it is?”
“Well…no, it isn’t really, and frankly you deserve to incur my immortal wrath, but it’s too early and I’m pretty groggy right now.” The lion shrugged, “But at least that means my summons has some semblance of importance, even if it is accidental.”
“I told you, I didn’t mean to summon you,” Hayato hastened to add, “The box broke open. I was supposed to put you in the abandoned shrine to pray for –”
“To pray for my forgiveness,” Fujin finished, “Yes, you said. That’s a very noble sentiment, boy, but pointless. I didn’t notice anything strange in my slumber, so you’d have been forgiving me for something I wasn’t even aware of.”
Hayato shrugged this time. He’d long since consigned his mission to being futile. Only now it was futile in a completely different way. Then an idea struck him.
“So…we don’t need to go to Kasayama?” he said, his voice rising hopefully, “We can go straight back?”
“What, with me like this?” Fujin looked over his body as though it were a dirty shirt, “Not likely. No, we’re going to Kasayama. Don’t look at me like that, boy: you have been served a punishment, and a punishment you shall serve. Besides, I’ll need an empty shrine and a human host to perform the ritual that will put me back in my Kami Box. Izanagi knows I need to get back to sleep.”
“So…you’re going to accompany me?”
“Then you can help me! With your powers we can –”
But the lion held up a stony paw. “Now what did I just say? This is a punishment. Bear in mind that it was my house you broke too, accident or no, so I’m a big advocate of it too. No shortcuts. No godly powers.”
“Oh, wonderful,” Hayato pouted, “So now I’ve got an overgrown stone cat for company.”
“Don’t push your luck, boy.” Fujin warned, “Be grateful that my victory over Raiden has put me in a generous mood, and I’m merely joining you. I could just as easily make it twice as difficult, and I think I’m well within my rights to do so.”
“Fine. But I have a name too, you know. It’s Hayato. Hayato Takei.”
“Well then, Hayato Takei. Where are we off to next?”
“Bed,” said Hayato, standing up and giving a great yawn and stretch, “I’ve been walking all day, been attacked by an innkeeper and interrogated by a stone lion. Sleep sounds perfect right now.”
“Ah yes, I forgot,” the lion gave a wry smile, “you humans have the stamina of a sloth in midwinter.”
“Says the God who just had a millennia-long sleep,” Hayato pointed out. It struck him just then that he’d just retorted at a God, and one in the form of a stone lion. He really, really needed a rest. He dragged his feet back to the inn, not caring if this Fujin was following or not. Judging by the thump of stone on stone and the low nattering, however, he was. He barely remembered taking his shoes off and climbing the stairs. The pillow and futon of his room embraced him, and he drifted off into a deep slumber.