Fictober, Prompt 9 – “There is a certain taste to it.”
This is a follow-up to my Prompt 2 piece, and will make more sense in context.
Warnings: none. Fantasy.
We left the shrine and took a different path into the woods. Several hours’ rest and some food had restored my energy, so I felt up to the hike back over the hills toward the river.
A conversation with the kami had brought me up to speed on the situation, and I agreed with her assessment that it needed to be dealt with sooner rather than later. The corruption that had weakened the high river path along the steep, rocky faces of the hills had begun to the north and was slowly spreading south.
The main path up to the shrine would be cut off soon, and I sensed that that fact, along with her dislike of whatever was causing the corruption, played a role in the kami’s urgency.
“Kami–sama?” I asked as we wound through the trees on a trail almost too narrow to even be a deer trail. She had given me no name with which to address her, so I stuck to the respectful generic.
She must have found that acceptable, for she did not provide any name now either. “Yes?”
“How do you know that it is not another kami, or a demon?”
She was quiet for many paces, but said at last, thoughtfully, “There is a certain taste to it.”
“The power of it?”
“Yes.” She considered her words again. “Those like myself, I know. The youkai are distinctive in their power, and those that live here do not challenge me. The older earth spirits here have quite a different feeling, a different sense to them, and they are too…too vast for this, too old.”
I nodded, and thought that over. I had certain abilities of my own, but fine distinction between such beings and powers was not necessarily one of them. I was beginning to have a better sense of her though, improved even just over the last few hours, and I knew that even now I would be able to distinguish her presence from that of any other kami (should I be so unlikely as to meet another). Perhaps I just needed more practice?
“Does that mean you think it is a newer earth spirit?” Her words implied that it was something different from a kami, at least, and that those beings that might have been here before she herself had come (or come into being) were something else as well. But people had been here much longer than either my or the Nihon people’s ancestors, so that was not a surprise.
“Mm,” she said, noncommittal.
I followed again in silence for awhile, enjoying the wind through the trees, the rain of bright leaves, the sounds of the forest around us. After a time, I began to hear the rush of the river again, echoing up rock from below.
We were getting near.
“What does it taste like?” I asked then, the question spilling from my mouth. There was starting to be a sense of something in the air, and my unease from the morning was returning more strongly with each passing step.
The kami paused ahead of me, and I did the same. Slowly, she turned her head so that her dark eyes met mine. The glow of her power was not visible here, outside her home grounds, but I had no doubts as to what she was now.
“It tastes,” she said, low and deliberate, “like malice.”
I swallowed, heart beating faster.
“Are you ready?” She whispered, and I could feel her power gathering even as something else approached.
I was no longer sure that I was, but I had made a promise and meant to keep it.
Gathering my own power, I nodded.
With a flash of a smile, she turned to meet the thing that was coming, and I stepped up close behind.
Kami – Japanese word for “god/spirit/deity/etc.”. It doesn’t translate well, being a (somewhat deliberately) ambiguous and flexible word in regards to what it refers to.
-sama – Japanese suffix (one of many) used to address someone formally and respectfully. I believe this one is often translated as “lord/lady” (for example, “Name-sama” would be “Lord Name”) but is gender neutral in Japanese, and there might be other words in English that would work. It is more respectful (elevating the person you are addressing) than the “-san” suffix, which is still polite but more everyday.
ETA youkai – supernatural creatures in Japanese mythology, often having some animal features, often at least potentially antagonistic or a danger to humans. I think this is sometimes translated as “demon” but that doesn’t encompass the full range of possible beings it refers to.
I should note that my understanding of traditional Shinto beliefs is that the kami do not exist directly in the human world (existing on a separate world/plane), but rather use intermediaries. I am working with a variant of the idea here, in which a kami can manifest in this world if they choose to do so.
ETA: This is continued/finished in Part 3 of 3 here.