The sun rays poured over the hills, bathing the trees and bushes with its warmth and projecting their elongated shadows onto the grass. The summer heat was slightly appeased by the delightful breeze that sweetly brushed the leaves and stems, while the cicadas peacefully chanted, barely disrupting the pleasant silence surrounding them.
Across the crops, there was a discreet stone path in which two kids around twelve years old calmly walked as they talked. The sound of their voices seemed to be part of the scenery, blending in perfectly with it.
It was as if they were the privileged inhabitants of their own, private paradise.
“What is your dad going to do for the Ascension festival?” the girl asked at a certain moment, after a brief silence. She walked with her hands joined behind her back, her brown hair resting in a braid over her shoulder.
“Well, he has to keep the traditions, right Akane? What would he change?” the boy answered as he kicked a small rock in the path. His eyes, blue as sapphires, looked at her curiously.
“I was wondering if he’d let us join the preparations, Mika. Do you remember last year?”
Yes, Mikaela did remember it. His father, the spiritual leader of their region, had allowed the citizens to join the preparations for the festival last year, but they had been ruined when some infiltrated followers of the Twilight Order had boycotted them. They hadn’t caught the culprits yet, but the boy’s father had his suspicions about their identities.
However, they didn’t want that terrible incident to happen again. Everyone had been truly disappointed when the festival hadn’t been as shiny and perfect as always, so they had resolved to change it and left all the preparations to the Nightly Order, the organization controlling all spiritual matters and of which Mikaela’s father was leader.
Mikaela pondered about the situation for a while.
“My dad hasn’t said a word about it, but if up until now we haven’t been allowed to join and have only resorted in the Order’s temples…” he answered, leaving the phrase unfinished. “There’s only one month left until the Ascension day, and the festivities start the week prior. There wouldn’t be enough time to prepare everything if they hadn’t started by now.”
“That was what I thought… but then, we aren’t joining either? I had so much fun preparing our small act,” Akane’s face seemed distressed. Mikaela placed a hand on her back, trying to comfort her, as he kindly gazed at her.
“Well… I’ll tell you a secret: we are going to do something for the Ascension Day. But they were going to tell us tomorrow at class, so act as if you didn’t know!” he winked at her as he brought his index finger to his lips.
Akane gasped and smiled, utterly excited at the new information. However, she immediately faked an angry pout, softly punching Mikaela in the shoulder. Yet she couldn’t contain a giggle as she did so. “You’re so evil, Mika! Didn’t your dad tell you to keep it a secret?” she joked. Mikaela just shrugged and stuck out his tongue.
They reached the end of the crops, where the stone path widened and continued until it reached the town where both of them lived. It wasn’t too big despite being the spiritual capital of the region, but as such, it was modern and full of commodities, although it did share the traditional oriental style most buildings in Japan had. The streets were clean and in a great state of maintenance, decorated with beautiful cherry blossoms, black pines and leafy plants like hydrangeas, and had street lights that mimicked old, traditional lamps, but were powered by electricity illuminating the way.
The path they took was made of big, nicely shaped stones in a light earthy palette. It was pleasant to walk around, just admiring the decoration and houses around them; all of the houses were big, with two floors at most, surrounded by a wide terrain and modern fences made with wood. The gardens seemed to bloom before their eyes whenever they could catch a glimpse through open doors - they were not only full of trees and flowers but of gorgeous sceneries like stone ponds, lakes and fountains as well, aside from the furniture the owners had placed outside of the houses.
They reached a plaza surrounded by shops. In the center of it, there was a small lake surrounding a tall sanctuary protecting a statue of their god. The place was quiet and calm, despite the few people walking around.
“Do you want an ice cream? It’s on me,” Akane suggested when they passed in front of a candy shop. Mikaela smiled at her; they often treated each other to sweets or drinks, and this time it was Akane’s turn.
“The usual flavor, please!”
The girl nodded and walked towards the shop. As he awaited, Mikaela decided to approach the sanctuary, and he crossed the the stone bridge that connected it to the rest of the plaza.
The sanctuary was a small building, enough to contain the statue and some decorative plants, and allow the visitors to walk around it. Four pillars supported the whole structure while thin walls covered three of the four sides, leaving the last one, in front of the bridge, opened for visitors. No one would ever dare damage the sanctuary or the statue, so there was no need for a door.
Once he was under the roof, Mikaela stared at the statue, which was made of marble but wonderfully painted. It portrayed a young man, probably around eighteen years old. He was dressed in simple but rich garments, as it was how most people liked to portray him despite the elaborated clothing he wore on some occasions - except for the silken cape he seemed to wear so often. He had short, spiky black hair, save for a long ponytail that was held together at his nape with a green tie. He looked like a normal human, for the most part... because the revelation came when someone looked at his face.
His eyes were what marked him as a divine being. The scleras were black, while the irises were a succession of golden rings around two tiny pupils. Even though it was only a statue, those eyes gave off a vibe of immense strength and wisdom, already hinting at how it would truly feel to be in front of the god.
Mikaela’s gaze fell to the statue’s feet, where he could see a sign. There, the name of their god shone in golden letters: Yuuichirou Hyakuya.
The kid quickly bowed to the statue. An aromatic scent filled his nostrils, and he soon noticed the recently lit incense resting on the table in front of the statue. It only added to the eerie feeling of the place.
He joined his palms together and closed his eyes as he quickly sent the usual prayers for those visiting any place of cult. It was almost like an automatic gesture, a harmless habit.
As he was doing so, he heard the footsteps behind him.
When he spun around, he was met by a man and two women. The man was tall and muscular, which intimidated the young boy quite a bit. The three seemed to be foreigners; had Mikaela been anyone else, he would had been wary of them because of that reason.
“My apologies, young boy. We didn’t mean to startle you,” one of the women spoke. She had blonde hair, just like Mikaela’s, that fell in big curls around her face.
“It’s okay, I was actually leaving now,” Mikaela answered. He politely bowed to them, which seemed to surprise them, before walking towards the bridge. As he exited the sanctuary, he passed next to the other woman, her startling purple hair attracting his attention for just a second.
He felt a chill run down his back when their eyes met. It was as if she was staring right at his soul.
Mikaela quickly walked towards the candy shop. Thankfully, Akane was just stepping outside with two delicious ice creams on her hands. Being with his friend immediately calmed him and wiped away some of his nerves, and he readily accepted the treat before they began walking home.
“How is your mom doing?” Akane asked after taking a spoon of her ice cream. Mikaela swallowed his own before answering.
“She is okay. She’s still not entirely happy here, but she seems more relaxed.”
“That’s great! You and your dad worked truly hard to make people more open-minded and respectful towards foreigners, and I’m happy it worked and she’s feeling more at ease here,” Akane said with a smile. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people didn’t attack each other over their beliefs?”
Mikaela smiled apologetically. She was right, but he didn’t know if it was as easy as that.
Mikaela’s mother was a foreigner. She came from a country where the majority of people followed the beliefs of the Twilight Order, although they weren’t as bothersome or violent as some of their members in Japan. Mikaela knew his father had met her in one of his travels when he was younger and had been dedicating his life to spread the teachings of the Nightly Order across the countries. They quickly fell in love and the woman had decided to go with him once he had to go back to Japan, where shortly after, Mikaela had been born. But when the distrust and the harassment she had experienced from some radical followers of the Nightly Order had become too much, even compromising the position of the boy’s father as the next spiritual leader, she had decided to go back to her country, leaving her child there with his father, as he was unable to permanently move due to his position.
She had come back a couple weeks ago and Mikaela didn’t entirely know what to think about her. His father and him had visited her, and she had visited them too, although not as much as them, and every time they had seen each other, she had been a tad cold and distant. Mikaela knew she didn’t know how to treat him either, thus causing her behavior, so he had tried his best to make it easier for her.
Having a foreigner mother and foreigner looks, though, was what had made Mikaela much more open to them, compared to many of their neighbours, even if he had been lucky and had barely experienced rejection due to his father’s position and his kind nature. He was easy to talk to and tried hard to make everyone comfortable around him.
“Yeah, that’s true,” he agreed, though.
Even if the Twilight Order was basically against the existence of their god and the followers of Nightly Order were the fierce protectors of their deity, Mikaela believed it was possible for all of them to live peacefully together. After all, the existence of Yuuichirou was irrefutable. He was a physical being - an utterly immortal and powerful physical being. And although the followers of Twilight Order acknowledged his existence, they refused to accept him as their deity - some of the most radical groups even pursued the hopeless task of ending Yuuichirou’s life. Yet, since their attempts never accomplished anything, they couldn’t, no one saw them as a real threat.
They soon arrived at Akane’s house. Through the fence’s opened door, they could see her father calmly watering the plants in the front yard, humming as he did so. The man happily waved at them once he spotted them at the entrance chatting for a while longer as they ate their ice cream, sitting on the sill of the wooden door.
It was one of their favorite moments. The day was reaching its end, but wasn’t quite there yet; the breeze ran, kind and warm, through the quiet and peaceful streets. The healthy plants on Akane’s front yard made the air around them humid and refreshing, the smell of wet nature filling their nostrils and cleaning their souls. Both kids relished on all of those feelings as they chatted and enjoyed their tasty treats, wishing the moment would never be over.
But soon enough, they had finished their desserts. Snapping out of the idyllic moment, Mikaela decided it was an appropriate time to go home - the sun was finally setting, painting the town with beautiful orange hues, and he wanted to help his parents make dinner. From the moment his mother had come back, Mikaela liked acting as if the three of them were a loving family and had always been. He thought it would be easier to make his mother happy if they made her feel she belonged there. With them.
“Well, I’ll see you tomorrow in class,” he finally spoke as both Akane and him stood up. “And remember,” he winked at her with a mischievous grin, “secrets must be kept as such!”
Akane giggled, covering her mouth with the back of her hand. “Of course, Mika! My lips are sealed.”
Mikaela laughed too, before waving goodbye and making his way home. The streetlights were beginning to light up as the sky began to turn purple. People calmly walked around him, coming home after going out or coming from work, some of them greeting him when they recognized him - he was pretty well known, considering his father’s position and his mother being a foreigner, and loved as well due to his kind nature.
He finally arrived home. His house wasn’t particularly big or pompous, but it did have a small private temple attached to it, in which his father held meetings with the most important members of the Nightly Order and taught those who desired to dedicate their lives for the Order, spreading the word across the world just like the man had done so many years before. Although the first thing that Mikaela’s father taught his pupils was not to force their beliefs onto anyone else whenever they visited other countries, those in which other religions were practiced.
After all, it wasn’t obligatory for anyone to worship their god or follow any kind of strict rules; believing in Yuuichirou’s existence was just the norm, since he did exist, but no one was forced to worship him or follow the Nightly Order if they didn’t want to. Or at least, that was what Mikaela’s father always said. Following the Order’s ideas about respect and tolerance, he utterly respected other beliefs, even those who still believed in ancient, different gods and refused to believe in Yuuichirou’s existence, despite him being a physical being. Everyone had the right to believe in what their hearts felt right.
But of course, radical believers were everywhere, in every religion. Just like those who tried to end Yuuichirou’s life, and miserably failed, those who had harassed Mikaela’s mother because of her origin… and those who…
“...how many?” Mikaela heard his father’s voice coming from inside the temple. He quickly approached the half opened door, carefully peeking inside. There, he could see his father speaking with three people dressed in the Nightly Order’s robes sitting in front of him.
It was a small delegation, probably coming from the capital, where the Order had their main community. Mikaela gulped - what could be so important that it had prompted the capital to send a delegation to talk to his father?
“Around eighty. We’re still evaluating the damage. The attack has been quite violent and we’re finding more and more corpses,” one of the members spoke. It was a white-haired man with eyes the color of the sky, who spoke in a gentle tone despite his saddened and angered expression.
‘Attack? Corpses?’ Mikaela felt a cold shiver running down his back. ‘What on Earth is going on?’
“I see. This is truly terrible. Have you figured out who is behind this attack?”
“We have an approximate idea. Recently, there has been a group of radical members of the Twilight Order whose ways have been becoming more and more aggressive. Our guess is that this is their doing,” a woman answered. She had hair as red as fire, held up in a long ponytail.
“The Ascension Day is approaching. We advise you to be extra careful. They might strike when our guard is low due to the festivities,” the last person continued, another woman with beige hair and kind, brown eyes. Her soft voice sounded truly worried.
With that, Mikaela decided that he had already heard enough. With a heavy heart, he silently walked away from the temple, following the stone path that led to the main entrance of the house.
He lingered for a moment on the porch, concern eating him alive. Was the Twilight Order really going to such extents? Massacring people just because they had other beliefs?
He shook his head and finally crossed the door. He sat on the step of the lobby to take off his shoes and replace them with comfortable slippers, when he heard footsteps behind him. Looking back he saw his mother, her long, wavy blonde hair cascading around her pale face; she seemed to have just come back from work, since she still wore her work clothing. Mikaela immediately smiled at her. Despite the fact that he still didn’t really know how to behave in front of her, he believed kindness was the key.
“Welcome home, Mikaela,” the woman answered.
The use of his full name was upsetting for the kid, but his smile didn’t waver. He knew his mother was slowly warming up to them, and it would just take some more time and efforts on his part.
He quickly put on his slippers as his mother headed for her room to change into a comfortable yukata for home. Before she entered the room, though, she spoke up again.
“I guess your father is still in a meeting with the delegation.”
“I think so,” Mikaela agreed. He was reminded yet again of the terrible information he had heard just a couple minutes ago. He shook his head, trying to not let his mother see his troubled expression.
But she seemed to notice it. Before she was able to voice her concerns, however, the front door opened behind Mikaela, and her husband stepped inside. He seemed worried, but the boy was able to notice how he tried to hide it when he spotted them, which concerned him even more.
“Welcome home, Mika. How was your afternoon?”
“Hi dad! It was good, Akane and I went for a walk.” Mikaela decided to play along. After all, he wasn’t supposed to eavesdrop when his father was working; if he asked, the man would read his face and know he had done so. “Shall we make dinner together?”
His father smiled and nodded, gesturing him towards the kitchen. As Mikaela spun around and headed there, he caught a glance of his mother, her eyes worriedly piercing her husband.
Mikaela took a deep breath. If her mother was so concerned, that meant his father was really distressed. She was very intuitive, so she was able to guess the depth of people’s emotions even if they weren’t openly displaying them.
He quickly called for them as he entered the kitchen. Maybe if they focused on preparing dinner together, they would all forget about it.
“I can’t wait for the Ascension Day, Mika! This will be awesome!”
Mikaela and Akane were spending their time off from class sitting on the porch of their classroom. Behind them, almost all the sliding doors were opened, and their classmates were scattered across both the room and the yard, enjoying their second break.
As soon as they had all sat down that morning, their teachers had told them what Mikaela had told his friend the day before: they would be joining the festival. Every year, the oldest kids in class who would be graduating performed a small dance in the festival’s traditional clothing, and that was done regardless of the conditions; but all their classmates had been eager to do something for the festivities too, so as soon as they had known they would, cheers and screams of happiness had been heard through the entire building.
And of course, on top of that, Mikaela and Akane would perform the dance. They were the oldest kids in the classroom, since their school randomly grouped kids from nine to twelve years old. As soon as the Ascension Day passed and they entered a new year, they would be in a new class with people from twelve to fifteen years old.
“Yes, it will be so fun! Although now we will have to practice something else, aside from the dance,” Mikaela said as he swung his legs, hanging from the porch. “But since we don’t have much time, it will probably just be a parade or something.”
“Still, I’m happy that we will get to do something together before changing classes. I will miss our classmates! I just hope no one boycotts the festival this year, though.”
Mikaela nodded, albeit Akane’s words had reminded him of the warning that his father had received the day prior.
Before going to bed, he had gone to his parent’s room to wish them a good night, but when he was about to open their door, he had heard them talking. Or rather, arguing. It had confused Mikaela at first: his father was a calm and understanding person, while his mother hated discussing things and prefered to just not voice her opinions and stay silent if she disagreed with someone. Listening to them raising their voices, almost shouting at each other, was shocking for him.
And apparently, the reason had been the attacks.
His mother was angry at the Nightly Order’s suspicions about the culprits. She wasn’t a follower of the Twilight Order, but she did share their beliefs about not wanting Yuuichirou as their god. She thought, like most of people who shared her opinions, that a god who didn’t use his powers to help humans didn’t deserve to be a god.
And Yuuichirou never interfered with humans’ actions.
He was an emotionless creature. He only existed. He didn’t feel or want anything, as he was a superior being - that meant he let humans live and exist as they wished, not interfering in their wars or even in natural disasters. The Nightly Order accepted this, as they considered that a god should not solve all of humanity’s problems and it was a task for them to solve their own issues, following the natural course of events - but the Twilight Order considered this to be wrong. They believed a god should help them. If he had endless powers, why didn’t he use them?
For them, Yuuichirou wasn’t a god. A being with such powers who did nothing to improve humanity didn’t deserve to be worshipped. Yet, despite those powers, there were people who thought they could end his life so easily. Some of them thought that just because he didn’t care about a thing, he wouldn’t defend himself if someone attacked him.
Of course, they were wrong.
Apparently, his mother had gotten terribly angry when she had questioned his father and he had said they suspected the Twilight Order to be behind the awful attack. It was odd that the woman had reacted like that, but Mikaela thought it could be some kind of defense mechanism after being harassed for her beliefs. It looked like she felt attacked by the smallest suggestions, even if she wasn’t involved.
“Are you okay?”
“Hmm?” Mikaela snapped out of his thoughts and looked at Akane. He blinked, looking at her worried gesture.
“You spaced out for a while there. Is there something bothering you?” she sweetly asked.
Mikaela dismissively waved a hand. A smile quickly made its way to his lips, seeking to comfort his friend. “It’s nothing. I just thought that time passes so quickly. We’re approaching the end of the year yet again!”
Akane smiled, completely buying his words. “True! Hey, didn’t people in the past celebrate the end of the year on another day?”
“There’s still people who celebrate it other days based on older beliefs. But for us, we decided to celebrate it the day Yuu-chan became a god.”
“You shouldn’t call him that, Mika,” Akane reprimanded. Mikaela giggled.
“Why? It’s not bad to call him that! I’m not insulting him.”
“He’s our god, isn’t calling him ‘-chan’ a bit disrespectful?”
Akane rolled her eyes, clicking her tongue at Mikaela’s stubbornness. She knew he respected and admired Yuuichirou dearly, just like everyone else, but while most people had a kind of respect born from their fear towards his god’s powers, despite knowing he wouldn’t use them to hurt humans, Mikaela didn’t. He dared to speak about him in the same way he would speak about a close friend.
“Anyhow, you should come home with me today so dad can measure you. He and his team need to start working on our dresses for the Ascension Day,” Akane changed topics.
“Sure!” Just then, their teacher walked to the front of the room, signaling the end of their break. They both stood up while their younger classmates ran towards their seats, their laughter and excited talking filling the classroom.
“To think this will change soon... We will be with older people we don’t know,” Akane mused. “It’s exciting, but kind of scary, too.”
“Well, we will know each other, silly. We’re both leaving this class together. There’s nothing to worry about.”
She smiled at him. “That’s true.”
New beginnings weren’t so scary with friends.