Author's Note: Inspired by a photograph and a joke, this short story took a little over three months to complete. Due to its length it will be released in seven installments over the course of the next few weeks. Writing this has been a real odyssey and I hope you enjoy it.
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Nayeon: Stolen by The Wind
Nayeon had tried her best to withstand it, but the blizzard had been raging for hours. She lay stubbornly curled in a ball, exhaling into numb fingers until her chest ached and fidgeted frozen toes. She heard nothing except her grinding of her teeth; everything else drowned in the howling wind. She never stopped asking herself why she endured MC’s punishment. It was a terrible existence, but she was too stubborn to give him the pleasure of defeat. She refused to die.
She was the equivalent of a leper. She knew that better than most. No one would offer a blind vagrant shelter, which was why she never asked for help. Tonight was different. With the temperature plummeting and the snow tightening its grasp on the city, she took a risk. She wouldn't be stuck out in the cold like this if it weren't for MC. She couldn't do anything about it, but maybe another god could.
Nayeon staggered out of the snow. The weighty door to the shrine slammed behind her with a dull clang. Instinctively she waited for the hissing of wicks but heard nothing. She teetered forward, dreading the moment when the keeper of the shrine would confront her. By all accounts she was an intruder and the residents would not be pleased to see her. But if she could play the role of a helpless wayward soul, they would have no choice but to offer their aid...and that of their god’s. Not that the people of Nippon knew how vindictive their deities could be.
“Hello?”, a welcoming, high pitched call broached the frost-bitten air. Nayeon heard light steps approaching from a passage off to the right. Judging from the fluid gate and the lilting tone, the girl couldn’t have been much older than Nayeon. Nayeon’s shoulders tensed as the priestess neared the central chamber.
“Who is it?”
Nayeon hesitated before turning in the priestess’ direction. Despite becoming accustomed to darkness, she knew how pathetic and feeble she must have looked. Her clothes were damp and her hair was knotted and slick. She felt sores aching on her arms and legs; occasionally she traced peeling skin, the texture like rice paper, surrounding the more painful ones. She smelled like a pig sty or so she thought. She couldn’t remember the last time she had a bath. Nayeon’s throat crackled as she cleared it. She finally spoke just as the footsteps came to rest.
“I’m sorry if I’m disturbing you. I just needed somewhere to rest,” Nayeon ventured piteously. She heard a gasp and a rush of movement. She withdrew into her dirt-riddled clothes as the priestess drew near.
“Of course not.” The priestess placed one hand on Nayeon’s shoulder, supporting Nayeon with the other. Nayeon shuddered at the stranger’s touch. Before she could protest she was swept along, past the mild heat of the candles, through whatever passage the young woman entered from, into another room. The echoes of their entrance suggested it was smaller than what they had left. The air brimmed with warmth. The savory aroma of incense and burning wood made it impossible not to calm down.
“Sit down here. I’ll get you some tea.” The priestess lowered Nayeon into a straight backed wooden chair. She felt the crackling heat of fire rippling only a few feet away. She leaned towards the hearth, sighing as the muscles in her face loosened. “How long have you been out there?”
“All day,” she coughed.
“It looks like it’s been far longer than that.” There was concern mixed with suspicion in her answer. Nayeon tilted her face towards the voice as she returned to her side. She accepted the porcelain cup, straining to bend her fingers around it. The steaming tea sent pin pricks through her palm but she eagerly raised it to her lips. She winced as the minty, herbal liquid reached her lips, but drank deeply without concern.
“What’s your name?”, the priestess asked softly. Nayeon caught her breath before responding.
She returned to the tea, drinking every last drop before raising the cup up. “More please. If you wouldn’t mind.” The priestess took it from her hands. The clinking of china met Nayeon’s ears as her gut began to unknot. She settled her hands into her laps as her shoulders relaxed. “What’s your name?
“My name is Sana,” the priestess replied dutifully.
“And, and where are I?” Nayeon again took the tea, gulping at it greedily. Her tongue blistered but she did not slow down. She hunched over her cup as the fire and the tea went to work at breaking winter’s cruel work.
“This is a shrine devoted to the thunder god, Raijin. I gather you’re not here to pray?” Unexpectedly, Sana broke out into a peal of laughter as she rose to her feet.
“Won’t he be mad if I don’t pray?”, Nayeon responded in puzzlement.
“He would not be much of a god if he did.” The tapping of wood and sharp crackling interrupted her words, probably from stoking the fire. “Rajin’s help is not bought, it is given freely to all Nippon.”
“Doesn’t sound like any god I’ve ever heard of,” Nayeon muttered. Her hand jerked back as Sana’s fingertips grazed hers. “You can’t see, can you?” Nayeon merely nodded. “How long has it been that way?” Nayeon didn’t reply. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to pry. I just can’t imagine how you managed out there as long as you did.”
“I had no choice,” Nayeon muttered as she set closed eyes towards the fire. Could she remember when it used to look like? She tried to visualize the flames, but could only summon blocky shades of dull red and muted orange.
“I’m sorry to hear that. You’re welcome to stay the night if you want. I can’t let you leave with the weather as it is.”
“Raijin won’t mind?”
“No. He won’t.” A trickle of laughter drew Nayeon’s attention from the flames.
“What is he like?” Nayeon asked before Sana could draw a breath. “If he’s everything you say he is, I don’t think I’ve ever met a god quite like him.”
“Met a god?”
“Forgive me. Heard about.”
“Raijin is sage and measured in word and deed. He is brave and benevolent. He loves us regardless of devotion and looks after our happiness.”
“He sounds very nice,” Nayeon remarked. She felt a nudge on her arm and gladly accepted the cloth from Sana. She wiped her face, savoring the fresh scent. “It’s hard to believe he’s all good, though.”
“Raijin is not without vices. His pride matches his consideration. He can be cunning and mischievous, even going as far to seek vengeance against those who wrong him.
“That’s more what I was expecting.” Nayeon sighed, her fingers tingling as the chill left them. “So if he’s so good to humans, who does he seek vengeance against.”
“Rajin has many rivals, but perhaps the most notable one is the wind god…”
The breath caught in Nayeon’s throat. She pitched forward, each cough sending tremors through her frame.
“Fujin,” she just barely whispered. She began to cough again as the words left her lips. Pain spiderwebbed through her ribs. Paper thin skin fought to contain bucking bones as her abdomen convulsed.
“Are you okay?” Sana’s hand settled firmly on Nayeon’s back, the other as light as a feather on her hip. Nayeon gritted her teeth and nodded.
“Tell me more about Raijin and Fujin.”
“They’ve been tied together since the very beginning. They rule the skies and as such often find themselves at odds with one another. Of course they are blood, but they war with each other whenever the mood strikes them.
“Only a god could ever stand a chance against a god,” Nayeon whispered.
“What?” She could sense from the pressure on her arm that Sana was hovering over her.
“Thank you so much for letting me stay the night. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll pray.”