This story is written as part of THP's Nanowrimo 2022.
Spoilers for Unconnected Marketeers and 100th Black Market abound, for those who care.
It was the dream of gods. The unformed time.
The myriad of unformed divine spirits stirred and whirred in the wild places, the cold and distant emptiness. They swarmed in the darkness, without memory; solely driven by hope and lust for the one thing a would-be deity craves—belief.
Gods came into being, grew and flourished because they were believed in. Belief itself is the food of the gods. There probably had been millions of kami back when mankind lived in small primitive tribes. Over time, beliefs coalesced into a select number of divinities—local gods of rain and harvest, for example, tended to run together like rivers as the small primitive tribes joined up and became huge, sprawling towns. Any god could join. Any god could start small. Any god could grow in stature as faith in it increased... And dwindle to nothing as it waned.
The god stirred.
There was no place for medium-sized trees in the deep forest. There were only the towering ones, whose canopies covered the sky and blotted the moon. Below, in the gloom, there was light for nothing but mosses and ferns. But whenever a giant fell, leaving a little space... A mad race started hence—between the trees on either side, who wanted to spread out, and the seedlings below, who rushed to grow up.
The god drifted on the wind on the edge of the forest, trying to be heard among countless others, trying to avoid being pushed into the maelstrom at the center. It may have whirled for thousands of years—it had nothing with which to measure time. All it had was hope, and a vague sense of the value of things.
No, said the god. No, this isn’t right. Not like this. It had been more than this, once.
There was a town. No, not just a town. A land of towns. There was a river, and waterfalls. There was a mountain. They had a city on the mountain, the god recalled. And there were shrines. Such shrines as a small kami may dream of. Great towering shrines that reached to the sky. Thousands were sacrificed. To the greater glory. The glory of…
The glory of whom?
And there were temples. Great glory. Such glory temples as it may dream of. Great dream shrine that reached to the sky. Sacrificed. Dream. Thousands were sacrificed. To the greater sky glory—
This is not… This cannot be me. Could it?
The god felt sick. This was the dream of a small kami. No, not just a small kami. This was a small kami who had not always been small.
But it could have been me.
Being one of the myriad kami was a trying existence—if it could really be called that—though at least there was something that kept one going. A tiny seed of hope, the knowledge and belief that one day it might be more than it was now. But how much worse to have been a god, and to now be no more than a foggy cloud of memories, blown back and forth across the dust made from the rotten pedestals of your temples…?
This could be me.
Thunder boomed outside the god-dream. A cold chill blew over the forest, rustling the lead canopy above. The echo of a lost god blew away, tumbling over and over, until it vanished among the trees to join its countless peers.
Chimata jerked awake.
A torrent battered the roof she had been slumbering under, pouring rainwater through its cracks and into the rotten wooden floor. The excess leaked onto a shallow pool in front of what looked like the remains of an empty altar — the sculpture that had been enshrined there lost to time and decay. Moss-covered beams barely supported the ragged structure against the inclement weather.
“A god lived here,” Chimata ventured aloud, to nobody in particular. “So that dream must have been...”
It had been the dying dream of a once great god. Thousands had worshiped it. Mighty were his dominions and magnificent was his word. Armies went forth in his name and conquered and slew. That kind of god. But now no one, not her, and definitely not himself, even knew who the god was or his name or what he looked like.
“Who were you?” Asked Chimata to the empty sanctum.
There was no answer. No more whispering voices lied there. The forest had come and claimed the abandoned shrine for itself. Vines and moss had covered the walls; wild beasts drank in the holy places and insects crawled beneath the altar. Even small gods kept away from forsaken temples, for the same reason that humans kept away from graveyards.
So what did it mean for Chimata to have come here? There surely must have been a plethora of better places to seek shelter from the storm, and yet something had compelled the goddess to this forgotten god’s tomb. The mere implications sent a shiver down Chimata’s spine. She wrapped herself in her cape, ragged and muddied all over, and hugged her shaking knees close — whether from the cold or a deeper fear, she could not tell.
“I won’t let myself be forgotten like this,” the goddess muttered through gnashed teeth. “Not again. I had a close call once already. There won’t be a second time. I must…”
She could feel it. Her only hope to stave off the oblivion of gods lied beyond the Rainbow Dragon Cave and the Cliffs of Heaven. She had never ventured to the other side of the Mountain before — but whatever lied there, she knew it was calling her there, as sure as rainbow came after a storm.
And so Chimata waited for a while longer, for the rain to abate and the night skies to clear, until the bright crescent moon shone through the clouds and lighted her way to the final crossroads.
Lay, actually; simple past of intransitive lie. Laid would be simple past for transitive lay. Lighted is perfectly acceptable, though a little dated—it had the lead over lit two centuries ago, but then lost it within the last century. I think tonally and prosodically it works better here than lit.
Might be a bit scummy, but I'm gonna count this as my second update since I'm posting this at 0:15 AM
Also, I said this on the opening post, but as a reminder, in this post there will be spoilers for both Unconnected Marketeers and 100th Black Market. Read at your own risk.
The rain eventually stopped, and Chimata almost tripped over herself rushing out of that horrible, ghastly ruin. The trip around the western face of the Mountain was lonely, a little eerie even. The empty road, surrounded by thick woods from all sides and barely illuminated by the sparse moonlight, lend Chimata to somber introspection.
It hadn’t been long since her latest venture with Megumu Iizunamaru had come and gone. The business partnership with the Great Tengu had been a strained one from the get-go — a relationship where both took advantage of each other, rather than working towards a common goal. Chimata had always suspected Megumu’s ulterior motives, but faith-starved as she was back then, the goddess had been in no position to protest. It was ultimately of no consequence, however, as the local thieves incident solvers swiftly closed the burgeoning market — but by then Chimata had already achieved her goal. Faith in her had been restored, and perhaps most importantly, her name had spread all across the land of Gensokyo. And as any marketeer worth their inexplicably procured salt knew, connections are the most important commodity of all.
Over the course of the next few months, Chimata made good use of her new contacts, sponsoring markets all the way from the Moriya Shrine to the Scarlet Devil Mansion. The blessings she bestowed upon them ensured fair trades and growing profits, and for every successful transaction she received a small amount of the attendees’ faith in turn. She didn’t reach the heights she had achieved with Megumu’s Ability Cards, but it had been enough to tide her over until the next big event.
But the big event never came. Contrary to her predictions, the Ability Cards didn’t fall out of fashion — their value had in fact kept skyrocketing without her supervision. A Black Market had spawned beneath Chimata’s notice, eschewing the rituals and procedures that were meant to stabilize the Cards’ profit margins and, more importantly, were the source of Chimata’s faith. Suspecting foul play—and definitely not just because she felt she was owed a piece of the metaphorical cake,—the goddess recruited the aid of a kappa marketeer and a human magician to close the Black Market for good. In the end, the true culprit was found, and an agreement was made to regularize the Black Market under Chimata’s auspices. But as with all good things, the interest in the Ability Cards eventually waned, and the Market came to a slow end — and with it, Chimata’s stable flow of faith.
No new markets had taken place since then, and the goddess’ reserves were now starting to run thin. Such was the lot of a god so closely tied to the economy; the highs were high, but the lows were lethally dangerous. Which brought Chimata to her current situation. Pursuing rumors of a perennial market at the other side of the Youkai Mountain, the God of the Unowned made her way across the deserted Road of Liminality, not knowing what to expect when she got to whatever her destination was.
The fact that Chimata had yet to see a single living soul traveling the path didn’t bode well, however. No people meant no market, and no market meant no faith for her. Several times she was tempted to cut her losses and turn around, but each time there was that compulsion calling her back. It was not the familiar lure of a marketplace — this was more forceful than that, almost as if pulling her by an invisible string…
“Could it be… A summons?” Chimata wondered aloud, stopping in her tracks. “Is a priest soliciting my divine assistance? Oh! Or perhaps my name has fallen on the lips of some nefarious sorcerer?”
It was a novel experience for Chimata, who usually preferred to appear on her own volition to where she was needed. There had been that time when the Scarlet Vampire had painted a rainbow under her Mansion’s roof, but that’d been more akin to an invitation. No, this compulsion was the godly equivalent of a warrant. She could technically ignore it, but she would never get rid of that nagging feeling until the summoner gave up… Or decided to try an even more vehement method.
A part of Chimata thought it was a bit rude, insidious even. But she could not deny her curiosity. Who needed the help of a goddess of marketplaces, specifically? Besides, in her current situation, she could not afford to be picky.
“Ah, and just think of all the sweet, sweet faith I’ll get for bestowing my divine favor on a person in need!” Chimata sighed. “Really, there’s no reason not to see what’s this all about, is there?”
Thus, having sufficiently convinced herself that this prospective new venture was not a waste of time, the God of the Unowned resumed her lonesome walk—if not with pep in her steps, at least with a little less blue on her shoes.
When she finally arrived at the end of the Road of Liminality, Chimata had to make an amendment to an earlier statement: the absence of living souls wasn’t necessarily a good indicator of the (lack of) prosperity of a marketplace. As it turned out, dead souls could, and would, fulfill the role of clientele just fine under the right circumstances.
The marketplace at the end of the Road could be barely called that, in Chimata’s professional opinion. Even calling it a flea market was giving it too much credit, no less because insects didn’t dare buzz around there. The “market”, as it were, were just a handful of stands haphazardly set up along both sides of the road, peddling in bizarre artifacts and queer attractions the likes of which Chimata had never seen before. And yet it was enough to fill the dusty road with an astounding number of souls, excitedly flitting from shop to shop. It was not all populated by dead souls, however—the stands themselves were manned by individuals of flesh and bone, even if their flesh took on a quite reddish hue, and the bones were jutting out of their foreheads in a painfully spiky fashion; not to mention the ever-present gaggle of fairies squatting around and the odd youkai perusing the stands with muted curiosity.
It was, ironically enough, as lively a place as the Moriya Shrine during a festival, despite the shoddy quality of the locale. Chimata breathed in the chill air and extended her arms outwards, taking in the ambient energy of the place — the thrumming zest of a bustling marketplace, her raison d'être.
… But nothing came to her.
“Huh?” The goddess, dumbfounded, stood still in her outstretched pose for a few more moments, under the eyeless gaze of some nearby spirits. “Why am I not getting any faith? What’s going on here!?”
She could see it with her own two eyes! Trade was occurring all around her. Exchange of items happened at every stand in front of her — yet she felt nothing! The goddess felt dejected, cheated. She stomped around in a puff of righteous, divine fury, too insulted to notice the phantoms she was phasing through.
“This is weird. Very, very weird. Something’s definitely afoot here,” she grumbled, “and by my own name, I’ll get to the bottom of this! This is a matter of honor, life and death!”
Thus, with all she stood for on the line, the goddess of marketplace launched her survey, starting from:
The many phantoms crowding the road. The fearsome owners of the market stands. The mischievous fairies snickering behind the stands. The curious youkai visiting the attractions.
>>32090 Set after both UM and 100BM, actually. I should hope it's made clear in this update now.
>>32091 Since I'm rushing these updates for nanoreimu and have no proofreader available on speed dial, it might be best to assume any grammatical oddities are indeed mistakes on my part, rather than me attempting to use antiquated vocabulary as an stilistic choice.
It was the natural course of action. Who else would know the ebb and flow of a marketplace better than the very marketeers that participated in it? A good trader had to be skilled at ascertaining where the money comes and goes in order to make a profit. The shrewdest among them tended to keep their own estimations close to their chests, holding their perceived advantage over their competitors for as long as they could exploit it. But they were no secret for a goddess of marketplaces such as Chimata. What she could not ascertain with her divine senses, she would uncover by her charisma and acumen.
All that being said, however, the marketeers she now faced were nothing like she had ever seen before. It was obviously apparent that the people behind the stands were not human nor common youkai. Their prosaic kimonos did scant little to conceal their otherwordly complexion; their chiseled muscles were tinted in colors that ran the whole gamut of a jeweler’s exposition—from the muted blue of an amethyst to a bright jasper red,—and their ghastly horns and fangs could make even oni weep in envy. Towering above Chimata by a good two and even three heads, the ghastly creatures emanated a terrifying aura, perched behind their counters like gargoyles poised to swoop in and sweep her off so much as she looked at them wrong.
It was enough to make the petite goddess quake in her pink boots. Realizing she could not afford to lose her composure like this, Chimata took a few loud breaths and slapped her cheeks, mentally preparing herself to engage in mercantile dialogue with the nearest stand owner; a gruff-looking hunk of brawn and sinew silently serving ectoplasm candy to a group of phantoms. The goddess squared her shoulders and stomped her way towards the counter, cutting in front of the line.
“Hark, my fellow trader!” She exclaimed. “I am Chimata Tenkyuu, and I have come to— Eek!”
The goddess’s tirade turned into a shrill whimper under the fulminating glare of the trader’s black eyes, who hadn’t taken well to Chimata’s interruption. Her words got stuck behind the lump that had just appeared in her throat, and she started to sweat profusely, unable to stand the weight of the monster’s evil gaze.
“I-i-i-i, a-ah… Nevermind!” The goddess finally managed to stammer, and turned tail, her cape billowing behind her in abject defeat.
Whatever the marketeer had tried to tell her, it never reached the fleeing Chimata. She kept running in a panic well after she was out of his sight, and it took her no less than a few long minutes of ragged breathing and holding tears back before she managed to get some of her nerve back.
“This,” said Chimata blithely, “is going to be a bit harder than I thought.”
Several aborted introductions and hasty retreats later, the goddess found herself curling up in a ball at the furthest reach of the marketplace, away from the scary traders and the uncaring phantom bustle. No matter how boldly she tried to introduce herself or engage in conversation, every one of those accursed brutes shooed her away, by means of annoyed glares and swipes of trunk-like arms. And every single time, Chimata felt the sting of irrational fear and ran away like a coward.
The God of the Unowned hugged her knees close, and a defeated sigh escaped her lips. What kind of enterprising marketeer cowered just from a peeved scowl? She was a sorry excuse of a market goddess, unable to assert herself until the day she’d vanish in a puff of nonexistence.
“But the way their eyes glared through me…” Chimata muttered. “So chilling. So unnatural. Felt like I’d be dragged down to Hell if I dared talk back.”
“Sounds about right, yeah.”
Startled, Chimata’s head swiveled towards the voice that had addressed her, a few paces to her side. There, at the side of the road, sat a youkai woman wearing a loose, cow-spotted jacket over a yellow crop-top. Her hair was neatly divided in two distinct halves, one white and one black, crowned by a pair of bovine-like ears and reddish cow horns. In one arm, she held a weird stone wrapped in cloth, while with the other she wielded a stick with which she prodded at the small bonfire she was tending. Several fish—the likes of which Chimata had never seen before—were speared around the small pyre, sizzling in the gentle heat. The smell of grilled meat wafted towards Chimata’s nostrils, reminding her of the ravenous pit inside her stomach.
The cow youkai must have noticed the drooling expression forming in the goddess’ face, as she beckoned Chimata to come towards her with a wave of her stick.
“C’mere. I can’t stand watching someone mope around my spot. Kills my appetite as sure as rotten Coelacanths, it does,” she said. When Chimata kept looking at her with suspicion, the cowgirl shook her head and smiled ruefully. “Don’t worry, I’m not one of them. I don’t bite. Much. Here, this one’s on me.”
She swapped the branch in her hand for one of the fish sticks, and held it towards Chimata. The market goddess had no idea what a see-lah-kant was, but she recognized a free gift when she saw one—and it annoyed her so, right to her very divine core. Destitute and down-on-her-luck as she was, she still had some pride left. Her honor as a goddess of trade wouldn’t let her accept a free handout just like that, no matter the good intentions behind it.
And so, Chimata reached for her trusty purse on her belt, and rummaged through its insides. Her pouch had definitely seen better days, but she still had managed to hold onto a few precious items, for a good marketeer must always be ready to barter. Eventually, she fished, ahah, something suitable enough to trade for the cow youkai’s fish:
Her last coins of spare change; just a couple of mon. A tiny speck of magical ore; a memento from the Dragon Cave. The Blank Card—the rarest of all the Ability Cards!
/border/res/32088.html#32097" class="ref|border|32088|32097 Sorry mate, today's main dish is beef, not chicken. Stick around, though, there might be poultry on the menu down the line.
[x]Her last coins of spare change; just a couple of mon. I'm not sure what the best choice is and feel free to disregard this vote in case of a tie, I just find the vague idea of a penniless market goddess having to barter later on amusing.
[X]Her last coins of spare change; just a couple of mon.
Unlike humans, gods did not tend to hold many possessions, unless they were explicitly known for being legendary hoarders. Most of the times, it was enough for them to be seen with just enough iconic items on their personae for believers to know at a glance who they were—symbolism was name of the game; quantity was extraneous in the face of identity.
That being said, it didn’t stop some gods from keeping personal keepsakes, with significance known only to them alone. For Chimata, those were the small chunk of Dragon Gem and her own Ability Card—mementos from her brief association with her erstwhile partners in business. They carried the reminiscence of the nights under the starry skies, where the four of them spent hours after hours pouring their power, intellect and skills into the making of the Cards. The fateful first Market under the lunar rainbow, when they exchanged their Cards among themselves and experienced the thrill of the trade—and the potential the Cards exhibited. The bitter sting of betrayal, when Chimata learned of Megumu’s and her pet fox’s duplicitous scheme in the face of the thieves’ danmaku...
Even a god could hold important memories that marked and shaped them, beyond human belief in them. When Chimata held the weight of the gem and the Card in her palm, she found herself unable to let go. Not yet. Definitely not for just a simple grilled fish—and a freely given one, at that.
“Thank you,” said Chimata to the cow youkai, “but I cannot accept your offering without giving something in return.”
Luckily, she had managed to dig out a couple of small copper coins while she rummaged the depths of her pouch. Chimata breathed out in relief; what sorry sort of goddess of marketplaces would be found with not a single cent to her name? Two mon was hardly a fair price for the fish—which irked Chimata’s sensibilities—but it was better than literally nothing.
“I know it’s not much, but this is all I ha— it’s all I can part with at the moment.”
“It’s alright,” the cow girl replied, “I have no need for money.”
“No, please, I insist!” Chimata exclaimed, startling the bovine youkai. “It would… It would mean a lot to me if you accepted this meager coin.”
The woman titled her head, perplexed, and held Chimata’s pleading gaze with a bemused expression. After a moment that seemed to stretch for an uncomfortable time, she eventually relented with a shrug, and nonchalantly took the goddess’ money in exchange for the fish stick. Chimata’s lips melted into a relieved smile, and she eased herself besides the campfire, resting her buttocks on her already dirty cape.
The two of them ate in silence for a while; Chimata’s gaze and thoughts lost in the gentle warmth of the bonfire, not noticing the cow youkai’s crimson eyes studying her. The fish was tasty and filling, but to the goddess, it held no candle to the satisfaction of from having traded her coin, lopsided exchange as it had been. It had been weeks since she had last engaged in any kind of meaningful barter; this small trade was as sweet water for a goddess starved of divine validation.
“You’re really going at it, huh,” the cowgirl commented. “Did you like it that much? You’re practically beaming compared to earlier.”
“Hm? You think so?” Chimata looked at her clothes in confusion. Her patchwork dress, made out of multiple fabrics resembling the color of rainbows, did appear more muted than she remembered, but it probably had to be more due to the extensive travel and use it had seen lately—so she told herself. Maybe it was high time to give it a good wash one of these days. “It is a filling meal, after so long. In more ways than one.”
The youkai chuckled, laughing at a joke only she understood. “Well then, I’ve got fish to spare for days, so don’t go hungry on my account, miss…?”
“Ah! Hgm. Um,” caught off guard, the goddess hurried to swallow the meat she’d been chewing on. “Tenkyuu. Er, by which I mean, it is Tenkyuu. My name. Chimata Tenkyuu.”
“Oh, aren’t you just precious!” Now the cowgirl exploded into full, hearty guffawing. “Mine is Urumi Ushizaki, retired ushi-ona. I run a fishery thataway, near the river,” she waved her half-eaten fish stick towards the road leading away from the marketplace, where the horizon was hidden beneath a screen of mist. For some inexplicable reason, Chimata felt a cold shiver run down her spine when she tried to peek further. “So you could say I’m something of a local here. And you must be a tourist god, I assume.”
Chimata blinked in surprise. “You assume correctly. How did you…?”
“That’s easy. Gods always have some sort of bizarre, whatchamacallit, foibles? Foibles that make you stand out from a crowd. Because you gods need to be the center of attention, see? Else you’ll be forgotten and disappear. And you,” Urumi wagged a fish-greased finger at her, “are the most quirked up person I’ve seen around here for weeks, with your funny manners and your funny clothes… Or maybe the second most, come to think of it.”
“… I’m sorry?”
“Ah, pay no mind. I mean no offense by that,” Urumi said, her bovine tail swishing behind her languidly. “Anyhow, you don’t carry a scythe, or a rod, or a mirror, so you’re neither a shinigami nor a yama. And you’ve clearly never met a demon before, so you’re not from Hell either. That leaves only one possible option,” the ushi-ona twirled her stick between her fingers in a finishing flourish, “you’ve come from Gensokyo to visit our humble market, couldn’t handle the culture shock from experiencing our fabled demonic ‘hospitality’, and ran away in a panic. That about right?”
“Er...” Chimata struggled to keep a grimace from showing in her face. “I… would not put it in those terms exactly, but it is more or less as you say, yes. Clever reasoning indeed, miss Ushizaki.”
“Oh please, call me Urumi. But let’s not beat around the bush,” the ushi-ona threw her finished stick to the fire. The flames flared up for an instant from the grease stuck to it, and for a second, the bright reddish light somehow made her look more imposing than she had seemed up until then. “The gods of the living have no business sticking around the boundary to the world of the dead. Yet here you are. Why?”
The goddess of trades tensed up against her own will. She unconsciously gulped, and her voice came in a frightful whisper.
“W-what do you mean, why?”
“I mean exactly that,” Urumi’s red eyes glinted dangerously. “Surely you haven’t come here just to take in the sights. What are you really here for, Chimata Tenkyuu?”
”… In all honesty, I'm not completely sure, myself.” ”It is as you’ve said before—I’ve come here as a tourist to visit the market.” ”In truth, I am a god of the marketplace. Is it so strange that I would attend a place where I can ply my trade?” ”It’s not by my own will that I traveled to this place. I was brought here by someone who wishes to summon me, though I know not who.” Write-in.
>That leaves only one possible option, I don't know, have you seen gensokyo? It's wild how many weirdos are stomping around.
[x]”It’s not by my own will that I traveled to this place. I was brought here by someone who wishes to summon me, though I know not who.” A god of trade oughta know how to keep some ability cards close to their chest for a while. No need to spill the beans on the first conversation.
[x]”It’s not by my own will that I traveled to this place. I was brought here by someone who wishes to summon me, though I know not who.”
Chimata met the ushi-ona’s eyes. Her earlier pleasant behavior had made the goddess lower her guard, but the closer she looked at her, the more telltale signs she noticed. Her tall, powerful body; the imposing horns sprouting from her head; unnerving red eyes, and the ominous aura she was now giving off—Chimata was sure of it now; those were the marks of a demon. Urumi was one of them.
And yet, the mere fact that they had been talking normally up until now was perhaps proof enough that she was, at least in some way, different from the other ones. She hadn’t immediately refuted Chimata like those scary marketeers—really, she’d shared her food and even acquiesced her silly request to make it a trade, for no tangible benefit for herself. Perhaps, thought Chimata, Urumi could be reasoned with… As long as she chose her words carefully.
“You’re right, Urumi,” the goddess said, measuredly, “I haven’t come here on my own volition. Rather, I was… called here, by someone else.”
Urumi’s eyes kept fixated on her, silently urging her to go on. Chimata swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat without her notice, and continued:
“I don’t actually know who is doing the calling, or what I am supposed to do here. I only know that for the past days, I have felt… compelled to come to here. It’s, uh, god stuff of sorts. How do I explain it...” Chimata scratched her cheek as she tried to think of her next words. “It’s like someone’s managed to tie me up on a string, and is pulling me towards them, but not in a forceful way, more like…”
“A lure?” Ventured Urumi.
“Uhh, maybe? I’m being drawn towards them, but there’s no hook or line involved, or anything like that. It’s a more... mental thing? Like I’m being compelled I must come here. Am I making sense?”
“None at all,” the ushi-ona said. Then, to Chimata’s surprise, she let out a long, tired sigh, and her belligerent aura abated. “But I can tell you’re saying the truth... Even if the truth of it is that you’ve no idea what you’re doing.”
The goddess grimaced at the bluntness of Urumi’s declaration. Her head hung dejectedly under the weight of the truth—she really had no clue about what she came there for, or what she had to do. All she had done since arriving to the Road of Liminality was run around like a headless chicken, without any real aim or goal, pursuing what amounted to a vague feeling.
The ushi-ona noticed the gloom hanging over Chimata like a cloud. She ruffled her two-toned mane, deep in thought.
“Listen, I’m no god, so I don’t really know about ‘god stuff’ or anything like that,” she eventually spoke, “but I know a couple of them. Maybe they could help you figure out what you’re supposed to do with that compulsion of yours?”
“Well, actually, one of them is a shingami and the other’s just a chicken god, and they both work for the Yama, so I can’t say how helpful they’ll really be...” Urumi shook her head. “But I think it’s worth a shot anyways. Better than just sulking at the side of the road, if you ask me.”
Chimata’s gaze drifted back towards the gentle warmth of the bonfire, as she pondered her options. The trade with Urumi had given her back a tiny fraction of her godly powers back—and more importantly, a sorely needed boost of confidence in herself. She now felt invigorated enough to try her luck again at the marketplace and search for answers there, but there was a case to be made in seeking wisdom from Urumi’s divine acquaintances...
No time like the present—back into the fray at the trading grounds! Surely a god of death must hold a veritable trove of insight and sagacity... A chicken god? A myriad god like her would likely understand best what she is going through.
[X]A chicken god? A myriad god like them likely would understand best what she is going through.
“This chicken god you mentioned,” said Chimata, “are they really one of the Myriad Gods?”
“The what gods now?” Urumi tilted her head in confusion.
“You know, one of the eight million gods of Shinto legend? The kind you find pretty much everywhere?”
“I… guess?” The ushi-ona’s tone made her ignorance on the subject—and her lack of interest in remedying it—plain. “Like I’ve said, I don’t really know much about how you gods work. You’ll have to ask her yourself.”
“As a matter of fact, I believe I might do just that,” Chimata stood up and dusted her cape off. Then she faced Urumi and, to the ushi-ona’s surprise, humbly bowed to her. “I thank you for your hospitality, Urumi Ushizaki. On my honor as the God of the Unowned, I promise, in due time, I will repay the kindness you have shown me in my time of need.”
“Uh, it was nothing, really…” Urumi replied, clearly uncomfortable at the destitute goddess’ effusive courteousness. “So I take it that you’ll be going now?”
“Yes. The sooner I can get to the bottom of this, the better,” said Chimata. Then, in a quiet murmur, she added: “And I fear I’m running out of time…”
“Hm? Did you say something?”
“Nothing, it’s nothing. Well then,” the goddess bowed a second time and turned around, “until next time, fair Ushizaki.”
“Sure, don’t be a stranger now,” the ushi-ona waved back at her offhandedly.
And off Chimata went ahead, reassured and confident in herself now that she had a clearer goal in mind… until a beat later, she retraced her steps back, as she realized she had made a critical blunder. The goddess approached Urumi awkwardly, who seemed more focused on the mantled stone she cradled in her arms.
“Um… You... Wouldn’t happen to know the whereabouts of the chicken god, would you?” She asked sheepishly.
“She’s got checkpoint duty today, I think,” the ushi-ona answered without bothering to look at Chimata, “so I reckon you’ll find her somewhere along the Sanzu’s coast.”
“And that is…?”
The lost goddess only got a finger wag towards the misty horizon by way of reply.
“R-right, I’ll be going, then,” Chimata stammered. “Sorry for bothering you.”
Right as she was turning, Chimata was stopped to a sudden halt by Urumi’s shout. The ushi-ona stared at her, then back at her oddly-shaped stone, and eventually let out a long, suffering sigh.
“I changed my mind,” she said. “I’ll have a bad taste in my mouth if I let you go like this and then find out you tripped on a pebble and drowned on the way. I think it’s best I lead you around for a while.”
“Hey, just how clumsy do you think I am!?” Exclaimed the goddess, her cheeks pouting in righteous vexation.
“Nevermind that. The Sanzu River is not a place you should take lightly, especially with so many phantoms about,” Urumi explained. “Luckily for you, I know the area like the back of my hand. And I have nothing better to do for the day, anyway.”
Having said that—and not letting Chimata get a word edgewise,—the until-then idling cow girl stood up, kicked dirt into the fire until the flames died, and walked past the dumbfounded goddess.
“Well?” Urumi said, her bovine tail swishing sharply. “You coming along or what?”
And so, coming to terms with the understanding that whatever choice she had in the matter had been overruled, the God of the Unowned shrugged and fell into step behind the ushi-ona, as she led her towards the ostensibly treacherous mists of the Sanzu River.
Sorry, no chicken dinner or choices today. Stuff came up and felt too tired to finish the update in full, so I decided to post the first half of it. You know how it is.
The cold waters of the Sanzu River flowed gently and unperturbed beneath Chimata’s feet, as the goddess and her ushi-ona guide flew over its currents. The perennial mists enveloped everything beyond a few yards around them. Feeling apprehension set in once more, Chimata floated a bit closer to Urumi, fearing she’d lose her if she so much as looked away or slowed down for just a second. The warnings the cow youkai had sternly given her before they set out in their journey still resonated in the goddess’ head:
“Listen up. I think I’ve told you this before, but the Sanzu’s an unforgiving place for the careless and the unprepared. So, while we’re traveling together, you’re gonna follow these two—no, three rules, which you will follow to the letter if you want to keep your soul intact. Understand?”
Taken aback by Urumi’s sudden burst of authority, Chimata could do nothing but nod emphatically, forgetting what she was about to argue about the fundamental differences between regular souls and divine beings.
“Good. First of all, whatever you do, never stray from the river’s flow. It’s a place between realms, and souls who get lost in there don’t usually come back.
“Second, don’t fall into the river’s waters. Only a shinigami’s boat can float over them. Everything else will sink like a stone into its depths, including souls. And you do not want to face the things that live all the way down, trust me on this.
“Lastly, this is more a precaution than a hard rule, but you should keep as close to me as you can. The mists are especially thick today, and there’s plenty of phantoms about. Not all of them harmless. If you get separated from me, there’s a good chance you’ll get lost in the fog and attacked by one of them, and I won’t be able to find you again. Did you get all that?”
“Do not wander off, do not fall off, and do not split off,” Chimata counted off with her fingers. “Yes, I think I’ve got this.”
The trip down the Sanzu River had been, objectively, quite an uneventful one so far, thanks to Chimata’s stalwart adherence to Urumi’s three rules. But that was not to say it had been a path of red lilies for the fearful goddess. Tense as she was, her mind kept conjuring up horrible silhouettes beyond the mist curtain, right beyond the corner of her eyes. More than once she thought she had seen a colossal creature swimming just beneath the surface, as if getting ready to jump out and swallow her whole.
And then there were the phantoms; an endless wave of cold, formless spirits gliding against the Sanzu’s current and towards Chimata and Urumi. Much to the goddess’ relief, they seemed not to pay much notice to the two of them. They had no troubles sidestepping any ghost that approached close, and if they formed a bottleneck too thick to graze through, they would readily move aside after Urumi shot a few warning danmaku shots in their general direction. Indeed, they seemed particularly placid and inoffensive to Chimata, who was fearing the worst after Urumi’s warnings. Or perhaps, she thought, they were too excited about something else instead…?
Chimata’s musings were interrupted by a ruminative grunt ahead of her. The ushi-ona had been doing some contemplation of her own, and she seemed troubled by it.
“Is there something wrong, Urumi?” The goddess asked.
“Hm? Oh, well, it’s nothing too important. It’s just…” The cow girl mulled her words over for a few seconds more, before speaking up again. “There’s too many phantoms here.”
“So I have noticed.”
“No, I mean, way more than normal,” Urumi shook her head. “The Flowering happened just a few years ago, so it’s too early for that. But more than that, they’re all going the wrong way.”
“What do you mean?”
“To put it simply, souls are meant to go to Higan so that they can be judged by the Yama and be sent to their afterlife,” she explained. “Higan is at the far shore of the Sanzu. And it’s also where Kutaka works, by the way.”
“Kutaka? You mean this chicken god of yours?”
“That’s her, yep.”
“So you’re taking me to the afterlife to meet God!? You could have warned me, don’t you think!?” Chimata exclaimed in a huff, eliciting a laugh from the ushi-ona. Right then, however, the implications behind Urumi’s account fully hit her. “Wait, are you saying all those souls we have passed are… Escaping away from the beyond?”
“Well, not necessarily,” said Urumi. “The traffic of souls is a very complicated and delicate system to maintain. It’s not unusual to have a soul jam spill over here from time to time. Just… Not as bad as this. Either Komachi’s slacking off too much again, or…” The cow girl shook her head again. “Guess we’ll see when we get there. Let’s keep going.”
The pair flew the rest of the way in silence, grazing the increasingly denser wave of phantoms coming their way. A while later, Chimata could hear a loud, high-pitched sound in the distance, in short, intermittent intervals. As they got closer to the source, they found a massive gathering of souls cluttering the river’s airspace, so tightly pressed together they could barely advance.
In front of them, holding fast against the tide, stood a lone woman in a brown dress, blowing a whistle and waving her arms with tireless abandon in the weirdest dance routine Chimata had ever seen. By the focused look on her face and the beads of sweat running down her forehead, Chimata could guess she was doing a herculean effort to keep the phantoms from charging forward all at once—and even then she could not stop some of them from splintering away from the crowd and floating past her. From her back sprouted a huge pair of hay-yellow wings and a bushy, feathery tail, and atop her short, blonde hair there laid a red nest-like extension, upon which roosted a tiny chick doing its best to imitate its host’s movements.
“If she looks like a chicken, sounds like a chicken, and wears a chicken…” Chimata muttered.
“Yup, that sure is Niwatarajin,” Urumi let out a chuckle.
“She seems… busy.”
“Seems that way, yeah.”
“I don’t think she would be too amenable to listen to a fellow god vent about her godly issues, would she?”
“Nnnot at the moment, no.”
“Well, this is quite the pickle indeed,” the goddess groaned morosely.
“Not as big as hers,” Urumi said, gazing at the mass of phantoms with a commiserate look. “I wouldn’t want to be on her shoes right now, that’s for sure.”
“Hmm,” Chimata hummed in thought, “and what if we alleviated her burden? Would she be willing to listen to us then?”
“Alleviate her…?” The ushi-ona frowned. “And how exactly do you propose we go about that?”
”Oh, it’s really simple! We do it the Gensokyo way, just like we’ve done before!” ”We must join her, and aid her against the phantom tide with the power of ritualistic dance!” ”Worry not, with my gift for eloquence and negotation, I shall convince them to turn the other way!” Write-in
Gonna have to call off today's update. I had to go to the hospital for a monthly appointment and came out feeling too faint to properly focus on writing (or anything productive, for that matter).
I will try to make up for this strike by doing a double update down the line. I don't know exactly when, but very probably not this week. Do remind me if I've forgotten about it by the time Nanowrimo's about to end, if it's not too much bother.
In the meantime, I'll leave the vote open for a day longer, in case the tide gets overturned by some miraculous economic trend shift or something.
My fellows at Discord/Matrix have already heard me whine about how undertaking Nanowrimo was, for me, a really bad idea since it was going to be a very busy month. If you don't frequent those places, this is probably the first you hear of it.
Well, that busy time has come earlier than expected. I had hoped to make "update time" between this weekend and the next by doing some extra updates per day, in the very likely case I'd need to take a day off writing to deal with irl stuff. Unfortunately, life has once again decided to kick me in the nuts before I could prepare myself, and I am no longer able to make time for writing every single day like I had hoped. I did say in my previous post that I would try to make up for the yesterday's lack of update by doing a double update down the line... but writing with a constant deficit hanging over my head is way too stressful for me at the moment.
That is not to say I'm abandoning the story (yeah, yeah, you've heard that one a dozen times already), or Nanowrimo for that matter. I tallied my current wordcount and found our that so far I've written down 7000 words in seven updates — that's 1000 per update, which means if I keep that rate up I can still qualify for Nanowrimo's other clear condition: 30,000 words during the whole month. That, I believe, is still doable within my means, as my current schedule is mostly composed of busy days interspeded with (almost) completely free days.
What this means for The Last Market is that I've decided to slow down the update frequency in favor or slightly longer (and hopefully better developed) updates. My hope is to aim for an update every two or three days, of 2500 words each more or less. I do fear this schedule slip-up might be an early onset of an eventual burnout-related full abandonment, like it happened to other stories of mine. So if it's not too much bother to those of you still interested in this story, please give me a good kick in my butt over at chat (or here, too!) if I start neglecting my writerly duties for too long.
That's all from me for today, regretrably. I definitely should be free for real this Thursday to deliver on the past-due update, so stay tuned for more market dork boulli.