Chapter 8:

To the Shrine

The God's Child

The gang found Yuki pacing nervously in the shadows while holding a sleeping Emi. As soon as Rika and Takuya approached, she gave a grateful sigh of relief that quickly changed to frustration. “Finally! What took you all so long?”

“Sorry!” Rika apologized, taking over holding the toddler. “We kind of got held up.” She tilted her head down, where Jesus stood at her feet.

Yuki’s eyes grew huge. Within a millisecond she had her arms wrapped around the gray feline, her head cuddling into his fur affectionately. “AWWW IT’S SO CUTE!” A huge blush appeared on Jesus as he was instantly squashed between Yuki’s very feminine breast

Takuya stared at the sight, his brow twitching slightly. “ your sister broken?”

Rika wore an amused smile. “Yuki….really likes cats.” She crouched down next to her twin, tapping her shoulder. “Umm Yuki….I don’t know how to say this but…”

“That cat you’re hugging is Jesus Christ.” Takuya finished in a deadpan voice.

Yuki blinked, pulling the cat away from her chest and staring at him. “He’s…. what now?” She asked. Jesus lifted his paw in greeting.

“Hi there! I’m Jesus!” He announced with his usual cheerful grin. Yuki dropped him unceremoniously. She stared down at her hands, as if grime covered them.

“I embraced a thirty-five year old man….I’ve been tainted.”

“I was twenty-five when I died!” Jesus exclaimed, rubbing his head painfully at the unexpected fall.

Rika looked at him questionably. “Doesn’t the Bible say you were in your thirties when you died?”

Jesus shifted his paws sheepishly. “Well technically it’s right...but only because God sort of fibbed about my age to his followers. He thought they would take my word more seriously if I was a few years older.”

“For a guy who proclaimed ‘thou shalt lie’, he does like to do a lot of fibbing of his own.” Takuya observed dryly.

“Okay, can we back up here?” Yuki asked, holding her hands up irritably. “Why did you two pick up a stray Jesus cat? Whatever happened to checking up on Yamamoto’s family?” Takuya turned away grimly, as Rika shook her head. Understanding dawned on Yuki. “Oh….I’m sorry.”

“Takuya’s little sister, Kikyo, is still missing.” Rika explained, as Takuya still brooded in silence. “We think she was kidnapped by whoever attacked Takuya’s family home. Jesus is here to help us look for her.”

“But….why Jesus?” Yuki asked, glancing at the feline uneasily. “Isn’t he….I don’t know… the most famous follower of God there is?”

“I’ll be happy to share my story with you!” Jesus volunteered with a raised paw.

“No time.” Takuya grabbed him by the scruff, cutting him off. “All you need to know is that God is a liar, Mary isn’t a virgin, and Jesus got resurrected as a cat when he died. Any questions?”

“Quite a few.” Yuki answered.

“Good, we can move on.” Takuya finished, ignoring her and dropping Jesus. The cat gave a surprised yelp as, for the second time that night, he landed on his head.

“Don’t worry, I’ll fill you in later.” Rika promised Yuki, as Takuya stood over the feline. He crossed his arms with a dark scowl.

“Okay Jesus, tell us what you know about what attacked my family’s home tonight.” Takuya interrogated sternly. “You said you were too late to save them, so obviously you knew this was going to happen.” He took out his gun, giving it a threatening twirl. “Spill the beans.”

“Umm you really don’t have to use that.” Jesus mentioned, watching the gun. “This body is immortal so it’s not really worth it.”

“Does it still hurt?”

“Of course!”

“Then it’s worth it.” Takuya answered, sending him a hateful glare. Rika fumed.

“Didn’t we talk about being more honest and nice?” Rika reminded him. Takuya rolled his eyes.

“You think I’m going to let my guard down just because Jesus has some sob story?” He remarked. “Until I find my sister and the person who murdered my mom, he’s still the number one suspect.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“Not really.” Yuki piped up, straightening her glasses. “Look I don’t know the whole story and I also wasn’t at the crime scene so my opinion may be a little shrewd. But just from a third person’s perspective, since Jesus was the only one there it does make him pretty suspicious.” Rika opened her mouth to argue, but Yuki raised a hand to cut her off. “And before you say anything like, “Oh how can a mere cat do something like that”, think for a second about everything that’s happened tonight. Look at yourself for that matter. It’s clear appearances are not always as they seem.”

“But!” Rika wanted to form an argument but really she couldn’t think of anything. Their points were valid and all Rika had was her gut feeling to go by.

“Rika.” Jesus said, smiling at her kindly. “It really doesn’t bother me. They’re both completely right. It’s okay to have to earn someone’s trust.” He stood up, facing Takuya determinedly. “You’re right, I did know something bad was going to happen. But I wasn’t aware of when or who it was going to happen to.”

“You see, when I first found out about there being other gods out there I knew I had to meet them for myself. So for decades I tracked down as many of the other Greek gods as I could. Some of them were friendly and some not so much. Either way, I tried to stay in contact with them so I would be better able to help their offspring in the future. One of the gods that I stayed in good companionship with was Aphrodite.”

Rika noticed Jesus’ eyes gleam affectionately as he spoke of the beautiful goddess. “Unlike many of the other gods, Aphrodite was always very sympathetic to my past and felt my intentions were pure in wanting to help humans. Because of this she passed on information about her offspring so I could watch over them.”

“Trusting bitch.” Takuya muttered under his breath.

“A year ago, she asked me to come here to Japan to deliver a life gem to Emilia. I decided to stay to watch over things here. I’m grateful I did because just a few days ago I got a message from Aphrodite that she was worried her kin here in Japan were about to be targeted. From then on I’ve been traveling between both Emilia and Takuya’s households, trying to catch something suspicious.”

“Question.” Yuki raised her hand. “By life gem, you mean these things?” She asked, holding up the sapphire pendant.

Jesus nodded. “Yep, those gems are really important! It’s because of them that many gods are able to protect their kin.”

“We got that much already…” Yuki stated impatiently. “But how exactly do these things work?”

Rika pulled out her own red gem. “Back at the station, Haruto mentioned these gems held spirits in them. These spirits are designed to protect anything holy, correct?”

Jesus’ ears perked up excitedly. “Correct! The creatures in these gems are all hand raised by Artemis, the goddess of wild animals and the hunt, back when the war between the gods first began. At first they were used merely as weapons to hunt and kill God’s followers. But Aphrodite saw the potential of the creatures of protectors rather than weapons. She collaborated with her fellow goddess and together they created a group of creatures that were destined to protect their kin. Though these creatures were powerful, they were still merely mortal. To help preserve their life spans through the generations, they sealed the creature's spirits into these life gems.”

Jesus pointed a paw at Yuki’s sapphire life gem. “These gems are special because they are able to hold the souls of any living thing. They are extremely rare and are only found in Hades’ domain.”

“So Hades is one of the gods still around then?” Yuki asked sarcastically.

“Of course!” Jesus replied. “But you know him today as Satan.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Was Yuki’s dry reply.

Rika looked closely at her gem. It glowed softly, flickering as if a small fire was within. “That’s your soul isn’t it?” She turned to Jesus, still full of questions. “I don’t understand. If the gems contain the souls of the protectors, why are we needed?

Jesus twitched his whiskers, green eyes glowing. “You have to realize these souls have been locked away for eons, even before I was born. A soul that isn’t used for that long is like a flower that’s been pressed in a book. It’s withered and doesn’t have the strength it once used to. It needs another life force to give it the will it needs to fight.”

His paw pointed to the writings around the gemstones. “Not only that, but it needs a host with certain criteria. Criterias the Greek gods who designed them thought would be important in protecting their kin. The writings here are all in ancient Greek script and explains this. For instance…” He pounced on Rika’s shoulder, his paw catching her pendant. “Your spirit, the white wolf, presents the passion that comes with love. Aphrodite wanted someone who was driven by passion to bear this gem.”

Rika blushed, fidgeting with her hair. “Uhhh...are you sure that’s right?”

“Of course!” Jesus replied, moving on to Yuki. “And this spirit here is the sapphire harpy who represents intellect. Aphrodite believed that love couldn’t always be driven by passion. Love can only survive when one uses their head along with the heart to make decisions. Whoever bears this gem, is someone who likes to think things through and gain understanding before making any decisions.”

“Sounds about right to me.” Yuki replied, sounding rather cheered with this explanation.

Takuya sighed impatiently. “Look I get this is all very interesting and all, but we need to focus on the task at hand. Finding my sister.” The two girls and cat all looked at him apologetically.

“Sorry, I guess we did get a little sidetracked.” Rika said, rubbing the back of her neck.

“Isn’t Haruto the one who attacked your house?” Yuki questioned. “Shouldn’t we just head back to the station and find him?”

Rika shook her head. “No, I didn’t catch his scent anywhere near their house.”

Yuki looked thoughtful. “Here.” She said, handing Rika a braided red and white collar. Attached was a bell and wooden tag with an ancient kanji written on it. “Was that scent anywhere near the house?”

Rika lifted the collar to her nose, sniffing. “Hmmm, I don’t think so.” Jesus was perched on his hind legs, sniffing also.

“Can I see the collar?” He asked politely.

“Sure.” Rika answered, setting it down. She turned to her twin. “Where did you get that anyway?”

“I snagged it off of one of the demon mice that attacked us earlier.” Yuki answered, peering down as Jesus examined the wooden tag. “Can you actually read that?”

“I can. It’s the name of a nearby shrine goddess.” Jesus replied, his usual cheerful demeanor faltering. “ Ugajin-sama, a goddess of harvest around these parts.” He faced both twins, bobbed tail wagging. “Tell me, you said tonight a white snake and a group of white mice were sent out tonight correct?”

“Correct.” The twins answered in unison.

“I thought so.” Jesus replied, sounding worried. “Those definitely came from her shrine.”

“So what you’re trying to say is that my sister could be there?” Takuya asked, glaring at the cat.

Jesus nodded. “It’s a possibility, especially since she’s been sending her spirit animals to Emi.”

“But I don’t understand. Why would this god be trying to hunt us down?” Rika asked, stroking the sleeping toddler’s head. “Does she also work with Zeus? I thought all the gods were against him?”

“That’s a very tricky answer.” Jesus admitted with a strained grin. “Most of the Greek gods are definitely threatened by him. But these smaller, more local gods are a different story. For a god, the more worshippers you have, the more powerful you become. Because of that it’s hard to fight against a god like Zeus who has an infinite amount of followers.

“For many of these gods, their existence is being held on by a tight string, one that could snap at any moment. The only thing that keeps them at bay is the shrines they reside in and the small number of humans who visit. It would only take one small fire or landslide for that fragile balance to tumble. These gods are aware of this and so when God summons them, they have no choice but to answer his call.”

“All I’m hearing is that this Ugajin-sama person is our enemy.” Takuya remarked, packing his gun into his holster. “And our only lead right now. Let’s move.”

Yuki sighed, getting up reluctantly. “Well I’m so glad we live in a democratic country.”

Rika stayed put, Takuya’s words bothering her. If what Jesus said is true, aren’t these gods just as much a victim to God’s wrath as they were? Does that really make Ugajin-sama their enemy? “Takuya is right though, Ugajin-sama did still send demons out to kill Emi. So I can't let my guard down.” She glanced down at Emi, another thought striking her.

“Hey wait a minute!” Both Yuki and Takuya turned around, looking back at her. Rika clutched the sleeping Emi protectively to her chest. “We can’t just walk into another dangerous situation with Emi. It’s too risky.”

“Well we don’t really have a choice.” Yuki replied, matter-of-factly. “Since she’s being hunted down, we can’t just leave her with just anyone.”

“Your sister’s right.” Takuya said. Though impatient to be off, he seemed to be trying to use a softer tone which Rika appreciated. “At this point the safest place for her is here with us.”

Rika glanced down, still unsure. “I wonder if I should just stay here and guard Emi?” But the thought didn’t sit well with her. She couldn’t let Yuki and Takuya face this goddess alone. She suddenly felt Jesus’ claw pulling at her jeans.

“Don’t worry Rika. If something happens and you need to fight, I promise I’ll look after Emi.” He put his paw on his cross tag. “I swear on the cross!”

“Thanks, I appreciate that.” Rika replied, truly feeling more relieved. She moved to join Yuki and completely missed the annoyed glare Takuya shot towards the small feline. Jesus tilted his head, confused.

The shrine turned out to be on the outskirts of the city, set in a wooded area at the bottom of one of the nearby mountains. Because of the extra cargo, the group had no choice but to take a taxi to their destination. Takuya sat uncomfortably between the two twins in the back seat, eyes darting around as if he expected someone to jump through the window at any second. Rika watched his hand hovering near his belt, ready to grab his gun at a moment's notice.

“Takuya calm down!” She whispered. “You’re acting really suspicious right now.”

“If you haven’t noticed we haven’t really had a stress free night.” Takuya whispered back.

“I know that but you’re making the driver nervous.” Rika argued, shielding her mouth with her hand as she spoke. “Especially when you keep glaring at him through the rear view mirror!”

“Well maybe he should stop watching me!”

“Maybe he would if you stop acting like you're about to do something drastic!”

Yuki glared at both of them from her squished position against the window. “So this has been bugging me for quite a bit, but when did you two get to first name basis?”

Takuya and Rika paused their whispered bickering and fell into an embarrassed silence. A blush lid Rika’s face. “No real reason…” she muttered. “I just got tired of using Police-kun...that’s all.”

“Yeah….what she said.” Takuya muttered, his own face reddening.

“Hmm-mm.” Yuki remarked, not impressed. Jesus’ head popped out her backpack, where she usually kept her sketchbook.

“Really, I thought it was because they were dating!”

Takuya and Rika wore similar expressions of shock and embarrassment at this statement. Takuya grabbed Jesus by the scruff of his neck, bringing them eye to eye. “Maybe you might want to keep your opinions to yourself?”

He cocked his head to the side. “Was I wrong?”

“YES!” Both Rika and Takuya yelled in unison.

“And you!” Takuya yelled, taking his gun out and pointing it at the terrified driver. “KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD AND MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!”

The car braked unceremoniously and the group was instantly kicked out of the car. The driver fled away before Yuki could hand him the cash. She glared at Takuya. “Great look what you did you moron!”

“Big deal!” Takuya grumbled, digging his hands into his pockets. “We’re already out of the city. We can walk from here.”

Yuki growled in annoyance. “Big deal, says the police officer. Some of us aren’t used to exercise.”

Jesus jumped out her bag, walking alongside her. “If your muscles start to hurt, I don’t mind healing them for you!”

“Oh, that’s convenient.” Yuki admitted, warming up to the eager feline. Both her and Jesus paused, glancing back at Rika who hadn’t yet moved from the side of the road.

“Everything okay?” Jesus asked.

“I’m not sure.” Rika answered, eyeing the woods warily. Her skin crawled as if something was watching from the darkness. She sniffed the air but found nothing unusual. “I guess I’m just a little anxious. It’s been a long night.”

“Tell me about it.” Yuki grumbled. “Once this is over I’m never stepping into a shrine or church ever again. I’m done with this religious crap.” She stretched her arms, yawning. “I just want to get back to our normal routine. Go to school, graduate and get the hell out of this dump.”

“Yeah…” Rika quietly agreed, but inside she wondered if that was even possible. Could she continue going to school and work, knowing what she knows now about the gods? About what Zeus is doing to humans like Emi. She shook her head, unsure. She looked up at Takuya’s back as he steadily marched up the mountain path ahead of them. “What will Takuya do?” Both his parents were killed by Zeus’ minions. She had a hard time believing the stubborn officer would let that go and continue his normal life.

“Uh oh.” Yuki remarked, glaring at her twin. Rika blinked, confused.

“Uh oh what?” Rika asked in a somewhat nervous tone. Her sister was looking at her like a teacher cross examining a naughty student.

Yuki scowled. “You have that look on your face!”

“What look?” Rika asked, becoming self conscious. “I have no idea what you’re talking about!”

Yuki sighed impatiently. “It’s the look you always get when you’re worried about someone other than yourself. I can already tell you’re trying to decide what to do about Takuya and Emi!”

So what's wrong about that? Both of them are being hunted down by an almighty god. Both Takuya’s parents were killed and who knows what will happen to Emi? How can I not worry?

“Rika...I know it’s tough but we have to move on with our own lives. What happened to Yamamoto is unfortunate, but he’s an adult. He’ll find a way to get through it. Us, we’re still in school. If we don’t focus now, we won’t have any future.” She hitched up her book bag, struggling slightly as the path elevated. “And as for Emi….Takuya already said he’ll take care of her until her mother comes.”

“But what about these?” Rika said, pulling out her ruby life gem. “These spirits chose us to protect them...we can’t just walk away from that can we?”

“I know it seems that way.” Yuki pulled out her own sapphire gem, with a pondering expression. “But maybe it just chose us because we were the only ones there? It’s not like there were a lot of choices available at the time. We can’t just assume these things.”

Rika listened, her fingers feeling the warmth of her gem as she held it close. “Was it really that simple?” She found her mind wandering towards Haruto. Was his gem destined for him or was he just randomly chosen? Did it even matter, since he chose to abandon his duties? Is it really that easy to just walk away? Truthfully, Rika just couldn’t think she could. She glanced at Yuki and found her twin watching her intently.

“You’re not going to give this up, are you?” She asked. Rika shrugged, averting her gaze.

“I don’t know Yuki. You know I’ve always found it hard to walk away from my responsibilities.”

An angry flush spread across her sister’s face. “That’s just it, Rika! This isn’t your responsibility!”

Before Rika could reply, Yuki rushed ahead, leaving her sister alone in the rear of the group.

“Yuki…” Rika murmured sadly, hating that she made her twin upset. Jesus appeared next to her side.

“You should try talking to her again.” He suggested, tilting his head towards the spectacled teen. “Her words are harsh, but it’s obvious she cares very much about you.”

Rika nodded, inching her way closer to her twin. Yuki gave her a sideways glance, but remained in a sulky silence. “I wonder if our mother is worried about us?” Rika wondered aloud, trying to start a conversation. “Surely she’s noticed we haven’t returned?”

Yuki scoffed, still staring to the side. “I doubt that. She probably hasn’t even stepped out of her room today.” Jesus watched her reaction, green eyes troubled.

“Are you not fond of your mother?” He asked curiously.

Yuki gave a scowl that Takuya would be proud of. “At this point she’s not our mom, just a broken person.”

“Our father passed away a few years back. Our mother...never really recovered from the shock.” Rika explained wearily. “She doesn’t leave her room much, much less the house. It’s just really…”

“Pathetic.” Yuki cut in.

Rika sighed. “I was going to say sad.”

“It was sad four years ago.” Yuki replied. “Now it’s annoying.”

Jesus stood between the two twins. “If I may? I think you both should take advice from someone who has been around for centuries.” He pointed a paw towards the back of Takuya, who was a good distance ahead. “You’ll only ever have one mother. You should try to make the most of the time you have together.”

Both girls glanced away uneasily. Jesus smiled encouragingly. “Remember this…Grief is a powerful emotion. One moment it can seem like it’s suffocating the life out of you. While sometimes it can give you the push you need to move forward. I’m sure your mother will find a way for your father’s memory to give her strength instead of binding her to the past.”

“I hope so.” Rika replied, smiling at Jesus gratefully. Yuki’s frown remained. Rika could see her bitterness over their mother wasn’t going to heal anytime soon. “Maybe bringing up our mother wasn’t the best way to change the topic.” At least Yuki’s anger seemed to be directed at someone else. Suddenly, she felt her hair stand up, a rustling sound making her whip around. Jesus paused, looking back at Rika as she scanned the shadows.

“Everything okay?” He asked.

“I think I saw red eyes….a lot of them watching.” Rika murmured, unsure if her eyes were playing tricks on her or not. Jesus followed her gaze, his green eyes glowing eerily in the dark.

“I don’t see anything, at least no normal animals.” Jesus whispered cautiously. “But we’re very close to the Ugajin-sama’s shrine. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the shrine spirits are spying on us from the shadows.”

Rika tightened her grip on the sleeping toddler. “Do you think they’ll attack?”

“I doubt it, at least not now.” Jesus replied, his eyes narrowing in the direction of the shrine. Already they could see the old wooden roof peeking out above the tree lines. “Since we’re in Ugajin-sama’s territory, they’ll wait until she gives the orders.”

“That’s good at least.” Rika muttered, feeling somewhat at ease. “But not for long.” She could already see the old torii gate that marked the entrance to the shrine. Both Takuya and Yuki were waiting as Rika caught up.

“Took you long enough.” Takuya complained.

“You know I am holding a toddler.” Rika retorted, ignoring him and taking a moment to examine the area. The stone steps across the torii led to a chozuya water stand, where the cleansing liquid reflected the light of the moon. Across from that stood a stand where wooden plaques hung with wishes written out in dark ink. At the far end of the stone platform stood a large, wooden oratory, it’s entrance guarded by two identical stone snakes. The shrine was completely silent.

Takuya took out his gun, getting himself prepped. But, before anyone could go forward, Jesus pounced on top of the old torii gate and halted them.

“Please wait a moment!” Jesus called out. “Once you step through this gate, Ugajin-sama will be signaled of your arrival.” He explained, sounding anxious. “I think it would be best for you to prepare yourselves now, in case things become aggressive.”

Takuya glanced back at the two girls. “You heard him.”

“Just one moment.” Rika carried Emi over to a toro stone lantern set near a massive tree. She laid the young girl down in a way to where the lantern blocked her from view. The moon’s rays broke through the tree’s foliage, casting light on her sleeping face. It was at that moment that Rika thought she really did look like a goddess, the moon’s glow creating a mysterious aura around the child. “We’ll be back soon.” Rika whispered, brushing Emi’s hair away from her face as she snored softly.

Jesus perched himself on top of the Toro lantern. “Don’t worry. I’ll be here watching out for her.”

Rika nodded, returning to Yuki’s side. “You ready for this?” Shooting her twin a rueful grin, taking out her ruby gem.

Yuki frowned, not looking eager. “Not particularly.” She answered, also pulling out her sapphire gem. “But it’s not like we have much of a choice.”

In unison the two gems glowed, filling the air with sparks of red and blue. Flames erupted from Rika’s gem, once again devouring her body. While next to her, shining blue ice entombed Yuki. With a splitting howl, the fire dissipated and a white wolf emerged from the embers. At the same time, the ice began to crack, breaking apart into thousands of sparkling ice crystals. A pair of beautiful wings unfolded, revealing the form of a vibrant blue harpy. The two creatures stood side by side, ready for battle.

Takuya stood under the torii gate, watching them with an unreadable expression. Rika wondered what thoughts were going through his head. Was he happy to have them at his side as he confronted a goddess? Was he wondering if his friend had discovered his parent’s body yet, having to piece together what happened and how to hide it from the rest of the world? Or was he just too overcome with worry for his sister to think of anything else? Either way, she knew she wanted to help him in any way she could.

She walked over, her massive paws hardly making a sound on the ancient stone steps as she paused next to Takuya’s side. She heard the sound of fluttering wings and knew Yuki had settled on his other side. The trio stood together, the torii bearing over them like a gateway to hell.

“Let’s go find your sister.” Rika said, as her paw took the first step forward beyond the gate. 

Real Aire