“Tch, this is pointless!” Yoon threw the rotten apple towards the river bank. Somehow, the trees were dying. He didn’t understand. He had been working so hard, but it seemed it just wasn’t enough. He stared down at his hands, covered in dirt and leaves. Or was it because his power was fading? Well, it certainly didn’t feel that way. But he could never be too sure. The visits at the shrine only kept going down and Yoon wasn’t sure how much longer his shrine would last. And it didn’t help that the current priest was ditzy and created more disasters than Yoon could afford to clean up.
People didn’t come and pray at his shrine, but then they blamed him when things went wrong. How annoying. Grumbling to himself, he walked back towards the shrine where Iksoo was talking to a group of little children. They were crowding around Iksoo and tugging at his robes. Yoon groaned and dragged his hand down his face, careful not to scratch himself with his nails.
Just as he predicted Iksoo fell over. Sighing, Yoon marched over and pulled the man back to his feet. The priest grinned thankfully and then told all the children to go home since it was getting late. Yoon watched the children run off, thinking that he didn’t dislike children except for when they trespassed on shrine area and broke things from the shrine. Iksoo loved children, even though they often caused multiple mishaps for the clumsy priest.
“What news from the town today?” Yoon asked Iksoo. He didn’t usually go into town, too many people, too many chances of people ‘accidentally’ seeing him, too many chances of him seeing reincarnated people he once knew and so little trees and so little faith. The town was slowly becoming a place that did not welcome Yoon. What with all this modernization and trying to become like the countries in the far west.
“I got the sweets shop agree to set up a stand here during the festival!” Iksoo beamed excitedly. Yoon sighed. How far his shrine had fallen that they had to beg people to set up stands during festivals. People used to bustle about months before the festivals to ask the priests at the shrine for some space to set up a stall. Yoon grumbled.
“Do we even need a festival this year?” Yoon asked.
“Of course we do!” Iksoo said firmly. Yoon glanced back at the apple trees growing behind the shrine and frowned.
“Suit yourself. It’s not like anyone is going to come.” Yoon huffed and spun around.
“Ah! Yoon, wait!” Iksoo grabbed a fistful of Yoon’s tail and Yoon made a low growling sound in his throat as a warning. “Sorry! It’s just...people will come. Humans like festivals.”
“Humans like festivals, but they do not like shrines,” Yoon sent a scowl at the priest and then marched away.
“Ah, I’m sorry, Lord Geuntae and Lady Yunho, Yoon is not in the best of moods today,” Yoon’s ears perked on top of his head and he curled up even further into the the wood of the shrine floors.
“That’s what you said last time as well, you ditzy priest!” Geuntae’s voice boomed and Yoon groaned, attempting to cover ears. He was in no mood to deal with the tiger god at the moment. It didn’t matter that the man thought that it was his duty to visit every month with his tree spirit wife in tow.
“Well, he has been down as of late and-” Iksoo stammered. Good heavens, was Geuntae in his tiger form or something?
“That’s your fault, you flimsy priest! You don’t take care of your go-” Geuntae was booming again and Yoon snarled, got to his feet and slammed the shrine doors open.
“Shut up! Stop bullying my priest, you noisy tiger!” Yoon roared. Geuntae looked up at him from where he was standing at the shrine steps and holding Iksoo by the front of his robes with one hand. His wife, Lady Yunho, bless her soul, was already prying Iksoo from his grip.
“There you are, you hideaway fox,” Geuntae snickered and let go of Iksoo, who would’ve fallen, if it weren’t for Lady Yunho yet again.
“What do you want? You’re interrupting my nap.” Yoon hissed at the tiger. Geuntae climbed up the rest of the steps and practically stalked towards Yoon. Yoon resisted the urge to flatten his ears against his skull and bare his teeth threateningly. Although they were on Yoon’s lands and Yoon was a ferocious fox that had fought off lion-dogs with tooth and nail to defend his territory, it was still threatening to have a tiger prowl into your den. Even if he came in peace.
“I hear your land is dying,” Geuntae said.
“So? I don’t see how that is any of your business,” Yoon growled.
“Oh, it is. Your shrine is one of the main nine shrines in this area. If you give in, the mainland gods will attempt to flood our lands. I refuse to have that happen. In fact, I think most of the gods around here would agree.” Geuntae was circling Yoon like he was prey and Yoon was sure he didn’t do this knowingly, but it still made Yoon feel threatened.
“And so you come down to my humble shrine to attempt to make it yours?” Yoon asked, his eyes narrowing.
“Ah, you don’t have to sound so mean about it. I’ll just help. Give the shrine a boost!” Geuntae grinned, flashing fangs.
“I’d rather fade away than have my shrine smell like some stinking tiger. You can leave. I’ll handle this by myself,” Yoon turned away, gritting his teeth.
“You would throw out a friend that’s come just because he’s concerned?” Geuntae asked.
“You can leave. Now. And perhaps never bother my priest ever again.” Yoon pointedly turned to glare at the tiger in the eyes. Most would freeze up in terror at the mere thought of having to look at Geuntae straight in the eyes, but Yoon had been dealing with this bully since he was nothing but a young fox spirit with no shrine.
“A pity,” Geuntae sighed. “Yunho, we’re leaving!”
Yoon didn’t bother to watch them leave. He only moved from his position when Iksoo’s warm hands gently tried to pry his curled fists open.
“You’ll hurt your hands,” Iksoo murmured gently.
Yoon had seen several priests before Iksoo. So many of them had given Yoon respect, awe and worshipped him. Iksoo on the other hand, treated him more like his caretaker, like a friend. Yoon supposed it was because Iksoo’s predecessor had died early.
“So...this is a bigger issue than I thought it was,” Iksoo said softly. Yoon sighed.
“Iksoo, it’s not your fault.” Yoon put one hand on top of Iksoo’s.
“It is. I am failing my duties as your priest. I will try harder.” Iksoo nodded firmly.
“Try any harder and you’ll have more than a couple of broken bones,” Yoon chuckled, trying to sound light hearted.
“I can take care of myself!” Iksoo frowned. Yoon’s eyes glazed over and he looked over the town in the distance.
“I suppose you can. I suppose they all can.”
Yoon’s hands felt cold.
“I wonder if I can somehow change things if I involve my blood,” Yoon muttered, frowning at the patch of dying flowers in front of him. He had heard of the powers of yokai blood. Practically been drowned in stories when he had visited a party filled with mermaids some years ago. He himself had seen how people had hunted him down for his blood before they erected a shrine in his name.
There were two visitors on shrine ground and Yoon would usually go and check it out, but he was busy trying to figure out if he should bleed all over the flowers. He would heal easily. A little bit of blood loss wouldn’t hurt him. Aside from attracting all kinds of low lifes. But they wouldn’t be able to enter shrine ground.
“...xcuse me!” Yoon wondered if he should ask Iksoo to get fertilizer or something for the flowers. After all, how much could a bunch of flowers resist his power? It was probably their own problem. “Excuse me!” Something whacked Yoon on his shoulder. Yoon spun around, already ready to lash out.
“Iksoo! What do you think you-” Yoon froze. “You’re not Iksoo.”
“Of course I’m not!” The girl frowned. “I’ve been calling you for five minutes now! You’re horribly rude!” She was in a school uniform, bag slung over one shoulder. Her hair was a curly mess of red that reached her shoulders and she had wide purple eyes and Yoon tried not to shudder. That was a wildly unnatural color. What on earth was in her blood? No wonder she could see him. Suddenly her eyes widened and a horrified gasp left her mouth. “Are you hard of hearing? I had no idea!”
Actually, on the contrary I have enhanced hearing. I’m just not used to people talking to me.
“Do you need something?” Yoon crossed his arms. Humans didn’t see him unless they were like Iksoo, or somewhat blessed like this girl seemed. And occasionally, those that were desperate could see him.
“Are you the priest here?” she asked. She didn’t wait for an answer. “Oh good! We’ve been looking everywhere for the priest!” Yoon’s eyebrows shot up. Iksoo hadn’t told him that he was going out. Had something happened to that stupid priest? “Come! I’ll take you to Hak!” She grabbed his hand and started dragging him. Yoon squawked in indignation and tried to make sure his nails didn’t hurt her.
They found Iksoo and...this Hak...by one of the bushes leading towards the priests’ residence. The tall dark haired male was pulling Iksoo out of the bush.
“Oh there you are, Yona. I found the priest,” Hak said.
“So there’s two priests!” the girl said cheerfully.
“Two priests?” Iksoo echoed in confusion and Yoon tried not to sigh. Yoon frowned when the girl glanced at him and then back at Iksoo.
“You must be the head priest!” the girl said. “We come on behalf of our class! So we’re having exchange students of sorts arriving in a month and we were wondering if we could add this shrine as an official historical spot in this town on the small brochure that we are making for them? Then we can even come here on a tour!” the girl beamed, clapping her hands together. “We were duly informed by our teacher that there are still priests that serve this shrine and that we should ask permission before adding it to the brochure and so here we are.”
“No!” Yoon barked, his blood practically boiling. The girl and Iksoo jumped in surprise and Yoon was furious, absolutely furious. “Does my shrine look like some historical relic to you? It is fully functioning and I will not have you insinuate that it isn’t. How dare you come in here and make such assumptions? You are not welcome here!” Crows cawed loudly and Yoon turned on his heel and marched away.
“Huh? But why? Where are you going?” The girl cried out.
“Yona...who are you even talking to?” Hak asked.
Iksoo awkwardly chuckled.
“If you will excuse me, I will return to you in a moment,”
Yoon curled up in his usual corner of the shrine. He had not let Iksoo enter, using his powers to forcibly seal the shrine so that Yoon would not accidentally harm his clumsy priest in his anger. Iksoo had talked through the wooden panelling, trying to explain that the children meant no harm. Yoon would hear none of it.
“I’m sorry, children, but I cannot give you permission to do what you’re asking,” Yoon could hear Iksoo’s voice.
“Can we ask why?” Hak’s grumpy voice.
“Because,” Iksoo sounded upset. “My God does not wish for that.”
Yoon curled up further, digging his nails into the wooden floor.