Hayato stood facing a tree, and took a deep, calming breath. Some peace from that chatterbox at last! All of Fujin’s talk of being a Kami of air was true, that was for sure. Just not the way he meant it.
He listened to the calm swaying of the leaves, the trickling of water, and somewhere overhead a bird:
“Hey! Hayato! Where did you go?”
Hayato growled under his breath as the bird landed on a nearby branch.
“There you are! I thought I’d lost you for a moment…what are you doing?”
Hayato rolled his eyes. “What does it look like I’m doing?”
The bird titled it’s head to an impossible angle. “Well…you look like you’re leaking.”
Hayato gave the bird a meaningful look, and the birds eyes rounded.
“Oh! Oooh, I see. Wow. I’ve heard stories, but –”
“Stories? Stories about…about going to the toilet?”
“Well firstly, I know what a toilet is,” Fujin pointed out, “And that isn’t a toilet, that’s a tree. Secondly, when you’ve been around as long as I have, you hear stories about everything.”
“Then you’d know that I’d like a little privacy, thank you very much!”
“Because…because I just do, that’s why!”
“So why is that so embarrassing but eating isn’t? It’s the exact same thing really, only in reverse.”
Hayato finished, zipped up his jeans and walked away before he said something he’d regret. It didn’t stop Fujin, however.
“I find it all fascinating though, don’t get me wrong,” he said, his voice flickering all around Hayato as he followed the path deeper into the trees, “I mean, these human customs, they’re fascinating, I think. Bewildering, too. I mean, why are you wearing extra skin on your feet?”
I took a moment before Hayato understood what he meant. “You mean shoes?”
“Do I? I guess so.”
“Well…the ground is hard and rough, and these shoes protect my feet from being injured.”
“But if you went barefoot long enough, your feet would toughen up, wouldn’t they?”
Hayato stopped, and took another calming breath. “Look, Fujin. Another custom that we humans really love is peace and quiet. Please, give it a rest for a while. Otherwise I’ll be forced to show you another handy use for shoes and feet.”
Hayato didn’t care if he’d offended him: he walked on without looking back. It seemed to work though: the Kami remained mercifully quiet after that, flicking from tree to tree. The wilderness thickened, and the canopy overhead gradually shut out the sky. Slowly, the path gave way to grass, and narrowed. Trees and bushes closed in on both sides, and he had to force his way through the thick vines and branches. So lost in thought was he that, when he stopped for breath, he noticed he hadn’t been following any path at all, but just blundering on ahead.
He pulled out his map, but it was no good: it was too dark to read, and even if he could, he knew it would be no help. He looked around. Every direction looked the same, and there was no sunlight to be seen breaking through anywhere. With a pang he realised he’d forgotten which way he’d come from: he couldn’t backtrack.
“Fujin?” he whispered. His voice felt strangely quiet and closed in, the soft vegetation muffling the sound.
“Fujin?” he repeated, louder this time, “Fujin, I need your help.”
Still no answer. He squinted around. If there was movement, it was impossible to make out. Where was he? Then a thought struck him.
“You’re not sulking are you?” Hayato said, half-amused and half-exasperated, “For a millennia-old Kami you’re acting like a kid.”
“I’m not sulking,” said Fujin from somewhere nearby, “I’m just not meant to be helping you, remember?”
Hayato ran a hand over his face. “Look, Fujin, I’m lost. All I’m asking is for you to fly up and tell me which way Kasayama is, so I can keep going the right way. That’s all.”
“Ah, well that would be helping, would it?” Fujin said, a satisfied tone to his voice, “So no can do.”
“Fujin, if you don’t help me it’s going to take even longer to get to Kasayama, and you don’t want that, do you?”
“It’ll add a couple of days, perhaps,” Fujin mused, “It won’t make a difference to me.”
“Oh yeah?” Hayato sat on the soft soil, “Well, how about never? I can just sit here and we’ll never go anywhere.”
Fujin was silent for a moment. Then the bird perched on a low branch in front of him. It was no more than a silhouette in the dark undergrowth, but it’s eyes flashed. “You’re bluffing. You can’t stay here that long.”
“Then…then I’ll take the Kami Box from you!” The bird spread it’s little wings in what it hoped was an intimidating gesture, “I’ll find a new companion who will respect me and take me up Kasayama on their shoulders, singing my praises all the way!”
“Ha!” Hayato barked, “You really have lost touch with humanity haven’t you? If you try that while disguised as an animal, they’ve try to capture you or kill you. As a human, they’ll think you’re a madman.”
“Then I’ll go by myself.”
“Nice try,” Hayato wagged a finger, “But you’ve already told me that you need a human to perform the ritual.”
“You know, I’m feeling pretty awake now: how does that immortal wrath of mine sound to you?” Fujin’s voice was deep and resonated right through Hayato’s chest.
But Hayato wasn’t going to be intimidated. “I’ll take my chances.”
There was a long silence. The two stared at each other through the darkness. Then, in the distance, a rustle. They both turned.
“Did you hear that?” Fujin murmured.
“Yeah…” Hayato whispered, “It sounded…”
“Big?” Fujin finished. “I thought that too. Wait here.”
The bird shot up through the canopy faster than a bullet. Finally. Hayato took a deep breath. He was trembling. He never thought a stand-off with a bird would leave him shaken, but this sure did.
Then the bird fired back down onto the branch. “We’re being followed. We must get out of here. Quickly now. Follow me.”
A dozen questions popped in Hayato’s head, but the bird was already off. He leapt up and blundered after him, following the tiny flickering shadow through the darkness. Suddenly everything he did seemed loud and awkward, and behind him he could almost sense something shifting, leaping, lurching after him, as smooth and deadly as a knife. He didn’t dare look back.
“Stop!” the bird suddenly jumped up before him, fluttering before his face. Hayato skidded to a halt, which was just as well, because a ravine yawned open before him, black and unfathomably deep.
“Climb down, quick.”
“Are you kidding? Down there?”
“Do it! It’s coming!”
Hayato had no choice. The ravine stretched away in both directions, and there was no way he could jump across. He lowered himself down and, foot over hand, clambered into the ravine.
“Faster!” the bird urged in his ear.
“I’m going as fast as I – woah!”
His foothold crumbled, he lost his balance, and he fell – crash. Into a bush. The bottom had been mere inches away, but that still didn’t stop the fact that he’d landed in a bush of holly. He longed to cry out in pain, but the bird held a wing to his lips.
“Hush. It’s close now. Don’t move.”
Hayato only dared to move his eyes. He looked up to the top of the ravine, where the treetops swayed. Everything seemed so calm. Maybe it had been nothing, maybe they were just both wound up, or this was Fujin’s idea of putting this cheeky mortal in his place…
A dark show swelled on the ravine’s edge. It had the vague shape of something solid, but Hayato couldn’t make it out. He didn’t need to keep still: now he was frozen in terror.
The shadow scoured the edge of the ravine, moving closer, closer…it looked as though it were peering in. How much could it see?
When the shadow was nearly above them, it leapt across, as silent as a breath. It disappeared from view, but Hayato didn’t move for what felt like an hour. At last, Fujin whispered in his ear: “Okay. The coast is clear. But try to keep your voice down. Just in case.”
Hayato rolled out of the bush, and sucked air through his teeth as he picked the holly leaves out of his clothes and hair.
“What was that?” Hayato whispered.
“Another Kami,” Fujin replied, “Which one, I don’t know; it seemed to be shrouded in something…I sensed the same aura around Raiden, too. Something is going on. Why am I always left out of these kind of things?”
There was an awkward silence. Now the excitement was over, Hayato’s mind drifted back to their unfinished argument. Before either of them could speak, however, a strange hissing noise, low and distant, filled the air.
“What’s that?” Fujin flew higher up the ravine, looking both ways. The noise grew louder, and clearer. The sound of water, rushing, charging towards them. The stones under Hayato’s feet rattled. Uh-oh.
He leapt at the rock face, wincing as his sore hands protested. He scrambled up, searching feverishly for handholds.
“Faster!” Fujin had to yell over the noise now.
“It’s harder to climb than to fall, you now!” Hayato growled, “Why don’t you make yourself useful and help me?”
“Not this again!” Hayato wished he had an extra hand to swat this stupid bird out of the air, “Look, I’m pretty sure rockclimbing to avoid a flash flood wasn’t part of my punishment!”
“No, I mean – I can’t help you!” Fujin said again.
“What do you –” Too late. A blast of water struck Hayato like a huge hammer, and knocked him off the stone wall. He whirled in the water as it tossed him back and forth. He broke air, and he gasped, before he was pulled down the depths again. He had the vague sensation of plunging onwards and downwards at great speed, the darkness closing in on all sides. Which way is up? Where’s the air? I can’t breathe! Help me! I…can’t…