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Light footfalls echoed through the shrine’s inner courtyard, barely audible over the driving rain. The muck underneath Saori’s feet supported her weight, the water drenching everything but her slender form. As she passed through the wooden arch to enter the honden, she rested a hand on the wooden frame and paused to inspect the inner shrine complex. Tenmangu-Jinja hadn’t changed much since she last visited, the building still well kept by the locals and she could feel the modest offerings from visitors and pilgrims still filled the coinbox plainly, their goodwill feeding power into her. Carving a rift through the barrier between realities, even with the help of her Lucetian companions, had been an exhausting feat and she needed energy. So she’d left them at a hotel in Fukuoka proper and made the pilgrimage to her shrine.

The rain that had begun when she’d neared the complex showed no signs of stopping, and she was too exhausted to even try stopping it. As she padded across the yard towards the altar, a bolt of lightning illuminated a man’s shape on the roof, an enormous bow pulled back and aimed squarely at her.

“Who are you, and what do you want?” a strong, masculine voice called over the storm, causing her to stop and look up with fire in her eyes.

“I am Saori Kimura, also called The Daughter of Wind and Rain and I have come to my shrine to rest,” she answered, barely hiding the tension she felt. .

The bow creaked and lowered, the man hopping down onto the muddy ground. He sauntered over; the sinuous grace of a martial artist obvious in his every step. And it was then that she noticed it. The spark within him, the crackling energy of another divine spark, and it gave her pause. It was familiar, too familiar. When the goddess got a closer look her eyes widened in shock, while the man’s face turned ghastly white. For a long moment, the two divinities gaped at one another, until the man made the first move. He reached out a forefinger and poked Saori gently in the forehead, drawing an annoyed glance from her, as she responded in kind. Her lips tugged back in a smile that his broad face mirrored. This was the last thing she expected to find!

“You…are me?” she stammered, reaching up to touch his cheek.

“Seems so,” he answered with a wry grin, “I’m Shosuke Kimura, The Son of Storms, and I swear I never thought I’d run into another…me either.”
He led her into the tatami interior of the shrine and set about preparing tea, a local blend she’d missed fiercely while she took a seat by the fire. It was still winter, and quite cold despite the latitude, and while she was dry Saori felt a bone biting chill. When Shosuke had finished and they were seated across from one another, sipping the hot green liquid, they eyed one another with intense curiosity.

“How is this…possible?” they both said in unison, which drew a chuckle from the man and a nervous laugh from the woman. Silence fell between them as the gods thought, wracking their brains to figure out what was going on.

It was Shosuke who broke the silence first, his tone quizzical, “You have been gone, haven’t you? Izanagi-sama sensed you had left this reality, pulled by some dark force.”

From around the teacup held in near her chin, Saori nodded, her eyes sparkling with sudden understanding. “I have. I…take it he created you to act in my absence?”

“Hai,” came the expected response, “When you vanished, he called me up from Gama’s memories and set me to maintain things in your stead. Though, I was supposed to disappear when you returned to this existence. I don’t know what happened, but I shouldn’t still be here. You’ve been gone nearly two years. We feared the worst. What happened?”

In answer, the goddess slipped the mirrored locket from around her neck and bid him look into it. He did so, and his eyes widened in a mixture of understanding, fear, and anger.

“This! This is an outrage! How…DARE they contain one of us! We should make ready for war, to punish them and free these other people!” came the heated but again predictable, response.

“No,” she shook her head, “for the moment we should try and figure out how best to get the people who I brought with me settled. Carving through the Kakuriyo is not something I can do again anytime soon, and I fear that I am the only one who could lead the way back. It may take months or years before I am able to, and those people deserve our help. Without them I would be dead, and thanks to my actions they are cut off from their own homes. We owe them our hospitality.”

Shosuke grunted, his temper still ruling, but he nodded in agreement. The mirror had shared with him everything, memories and emotions of the world Saori had left and of the friends she’d pulled along with her. It had been better than simply leaving them to the devices of the Malnosso, but it was still going to present its own share of problems for them. She had a responsibility to help them, and when she spoke, her male counter-self knew he did too. That was her way, and by extension his way. The fact that he hadn’t disappeared meant something as well, perhaps that the greater Myojin were in agreement with her or perhaps that they felt she needed the help.

“Of course. We should go to them, then. And you should contact Yuuna. She’s been good to me, but never wavered from the idea that you’ll return.”

That drew a faint smile, and the goddess gulped down her tea, already feeling stronger just by being near the shrine. She closed her eyes and focused her will, and the storm faded. She’d had enough rain, and it was time to clear away the clouds. She rose and offered her arm to her double, his burly arm taking hers and out they went. Saori’s mind played out various scenarios of how her friends might react to meeting two of her, each one more amusing than the last. Yuffie would try and impress him, and Helios would fiddle with his glasses, exclaiming that it was fascinating. Adele would blink and act confused, while Obi-Wan would regard it all with his passive calm. Harry would probably be his usual self, polite but wary and she didn’t have any idea about how the young Loki or the Abhorsen sisters might react. But each one brought a smile to her face. It meant more of her to go around, and though they shared the same memories and auras, she imagined it was like suddenly having a brother.

Though, after Luceti? Nothing seemed strange anymore.
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木村沙織

August 2015

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