Every life he lives is a new one.
Every 'him' is someone entirely different. However, no matter what his appearance and personality end up being, his Essence is constant. He's the God of Humans, after all.
In this life, his incarnate is meek, awkward, and insecure. His name is Furihata Kouki.
He remembers everything, and he has trouble reconciling his anxious, painfully average current self to the badass warrior he had originally been. He was the Hercules of Japan, for crying out loud. He defeated giant serpents and battled godly dragons. He tore through the gates of the underworld and climbed up to the divine realm. The heavens had been so impressed, they gifted him with godhood and 'immortality'. He was the last god who was appointed a throne in the Sun Goddess' circle.
Now, he squeaked at every little noise and cowered before intimidating people. He was a scaredy-cat. He sent a brief apology to the Sun for being a disgrace of a servant.
The other god incarnates found it amusing. The assholes got a kick out of scaring him. Kazunari, in particular, always pulled the electrocution-handshake prank on him. For all his millennia of age over Kouki, he still acted like a complete fucking child. Every day, every life; he wonders why he accepted the cloak of godhood. The never-ending cycle. He's lived a thousand years and sometimes, he forgets.
Red. And gold. But the red-- it overpowered everything else. He remembers that much.
He always sees it in his dreams. It's the first thing his Essence makes him remember. The sensation of blood on his hands. Tears. Despair. Promises muttered in broken whispers. A lifeless body.
Red. And gold. Like fire, he thinks. Vaguely, he does recall flames. But it wasn't out of a natural fire--
Lightning strikes raining down. A silhouette, dirtied and blood-stained, wielding a worn katana as he faces the Guardian of the Gates. Lightning and thunder spangling the skies. He's relived this story, over and over.
He watches it through a haze and once more, he can't believe he and that man is one and the same. He feels the exhaustion, even though this memory is now just a myth to the people they watch over. It saddens him.
The man--me, he thinks--raises the sword to the sky. Lightning strikes.
The flash of light brings him back to reality. The rays of the Sun fall softly on his eyes.
He meets him and he is extremely afraid, but not for the reasons his human friends seem to think. Only Tetsuya and Kazunari understand why he's so shaken.
"You were bound to meet him, Kouki." Tetsuya murmurs as they sit facing each other, drinking tea.
Tetsuya's reincarnations don't differ much from each other. He's always calm and wise. Ironically, it's his original self that's drastically different. The God of Air was jovial, loud, and playful. However, he's still the wisest. That's one thing Tetsuya's Essence refuses to relinquish to the cycle.
Kouki looks down at his cup. "Seeing him was... electrifying. He made everything clear just by-by standing there. Maybe he should be the god."
Tetsuya scoffs. "We both know he doesn't need any more of that. Look where his superiority complex took him."
They share a brief laugh. Kouki reflects.
"...In spite of everything, I'm relieved."
His friend hides a small smile between sips. Tetsuya offers a small prayer.
The lifeless body. He's carrying it in his arms. He feels it again. The despair and the suffering. Agony like no human has ever felt before.
Lightning again. Kazunari going against the rules of heaven by supplying him with divine strength. The thunder reverberates in his chest.
"I'm on your side, mortal."
He knows they're all watching. Even Her. Even the most majestic of them all.
He raises his sword and it crackles with divine lightning. The power leant to him makes him feel invincible.
"Don't disgrace me," the God of Lightning commands.
Him, the warrior he was, maybe is, charges forward and meets the Beast head on. The roars are deafening.
Why did he do it? He could have just aged and lived in peace, then died in oblivion until the next cycle put him into yet another living shell. Not live for all of eternity in different incarnations, feeling awkward every time he visited the shrines and heard everyone's fervent prayers. What would they say if they knew that the deity they relied on to relieve their troubles and protect them from harm was this scrawny, awkward teenager?
"Lighten up!" Kazunari slapped his back. "We're different every life! Who knows, you might be an iconic yakuza boss in the next one! Or the greatest prime minister Japan has ever had!”
Kazunari, for one. It was so hard to believe that he used to be the most intimidating at the peak of his godhood. He had been the one who looked down on and distrusted humans the most. When the Sun Goddess decided to place them in eternal limbo to maintain the balance between the two realms, Kazunari had been the most upset. It was so jarring to see the stern and intense God of Lightning be this... cheerful, childish trickster. On the other hand, his cunning and disdain for humans have not changed much. He chose which mortals to keep close. He guarded their secret with utmost seriousness; believing that the humans would most likely try to harness their power for their own ungrateful, selfish means if they found out that the gods walked among them.
Sometimes, Furihata still catches glimpses of a storm in Takao's gray eyes when they witness yet another instance of humanity's corrupt, flawed nature. Violent, greedy, lustful.
It baffles him why Kazunari put his trust in him when he had been human. Hadn't he committed the most blatant act of irreverence? Why was he even blessed with divine Essence?
("Dude, you can't expect me to not help a guy who's literally gonna wage war against Heaven just to enforce his own sense of justice. No human is that pure.")
The gods are weird like that, he thinks.
"And I'm one of them," Kouki sighs.
The sun begins to set.
“I didn’t peg you for someone who likes to hike, Kouki.”
“It’s just once a year, Sei. It’s more a pilgrimage, really.”
Akashi quirks an eyebrow. “Do explain.”
Furihata grins. “When we get there, I’ll tell you everything!”
I remember you from a long, long time ago. Your hair was long, your eyes a warm brown. The people called you a witch because of your fiery, red hair. I have always been yours. I held you in my arms and drank the poison. I drowned, and the fire filled my lungs.
Kouki wakes up in a cold sweat.
The mountain never changes. It only grows sturdier and thicker through time. The forest never lets anyone in, never lets anyone see. Corporations and illegal loggers alike have tried and failed to conquer the Great, Old Mountain. The foliage overshadows the rays of the sun. Akashi’s forehead is furrowed. Kouki holds his hand and leads the way.
“I’ve been coming here every year since I was a kid. I know this forest like the back of my hand!”
“I do hope so. It doesn’t feel quite right…”
Kouki holds his hand tighter.
We’ve been here every life since the first, Kouki wants to tell him.
The light emerges through the leaves and carves out the path. Kouki thanks the Mountain for being so hospitable and reliable a servant. He reminds himself to pay the God of the Earth a visit soon to express his gratefulness for this gift. It was also worth mentioning that he quite missed his snide jokes and outrageous stories. Tooru was always great fun to be around.
“We’ve been walking for quite some time, Kouki. I can’t help noticing your lack of a compass or map.”
Kouki laughs. “Sei-kun, only a few more minutes!”
The tears and blood mingled on her pale, gaunt cheeks. He laid by her side and embraced her. The warmth seeped out and he knew. He carried the lifeless body in his arms.
He’s submerged into a cold darkness. He sees her sinking into the void. He kicks his feet and reaches for her hand. Someone pulls him up by the hair, and he fights against it; acting as if his rescue was attempted murder. He opens his mouth; a silent scream. The name that unleashed mortal retribution.
The Beast’s roars were deafening, but he could not be silenced.
“We’re here, Seijuurou.”
The man gazes down at a miniature wooden temple. The flowers surrounding its small, sacred space are in full bloom and fill the air with life and sweetness. What catches his eye are the strange characters etched on its marker. The characters resemble Japanese, but seem much more ancient—
“It’s small and shabby, but it’s a genuine religious monument from ancient times. Our family has guarded it for generations. It’s a sacred secret.”
Kouki omits the fact that he’s talking about his divine family and not the human one.
Still in awe, Akashi murmurs, “I wouldn’t have pegged your family for the devout type.”
“We’re not as religious as the old folks anymore, but this is really a big thing in the family. Everyone believes it’s why we’ve been so healthy and fortunate for many years.”
“Now I feel embarrassed that I didn’t bring an offering.”
Akashi kneels on the ground and says a prayer. Kouki listens. He sits beside Akashi and holds his hand.
“You’re going to forget me,” she sobbed. Dying and miserable, her hands were like talons that clutched at his arm. Her voice, which used to be mellow and sweet, was scratchy and grated at the ears. Her hair dulled into ashes. Bones stuck out of her body. He held her close.
“I will never forget you.”
“You want to hear the legend behind this?”
Akashi smiles and acquiesces. “I’d love to.”
“It’s been told to us that the human made this in memory of the one he loved most. He battled the underworld and the heavens to break her soul out of eternal damnation because he knew very well that she had been deceived and cursed by an evil spirit. He was the first mortal to defeat a god through sheer willpower and spirit. When he got ahold of her soul, he marched into heaven resolute on meeting the Sun Goddess to plead his case. The God of Beasts, also the Guard of the Sacred Gate, emerged out of sleep for the first time since the creation to protect the divine realm. But the human slayed them.”
With the help of the Gods of Lightning and Air, but Kouki chooses to keep the story short. He’s pleased to notice that Seijuurou is rapt and serious with attention. He wonders if Akashi, a champion of Japanese culture, would be thrilled to find out that most of the mythology they read was true.
“I haven’t heard that myth. It really is a sacred thing within your clan.”
(No historians or literary scholars know it, Sei-kun. Only us.)
Kouki scratches his cheek and shrugs. “Don’t tell my family or anyone else I told you! It's a heavily guarded secret.”
Akashi props his cheek on his hand. “What’s the ending of the story, though? I believe you haven’t finished.”
With melancholy, “They made him the God of Humans, and he was to chase his beloved for all of eternity, through endless lifetimes.”
“How romantic. I wonder if you’d do the same, sap that you are.”
Kouki pouts and begins to argue his case, but he is slightly unsettled by Akashi’s sharp perception. Even when he doesn’t realise it, he always knows.
“You will never be at peace,” the Sun admonishes him.
“Your courage shall also be your downfall. You will never rest, never sleep. You will be one among us. Your soul for hers.”
He’s on his knees, forehead touching the ground. No one is allowed to look The Sun in the eye. He is humbled. Resolute, he offers his soul to Her.
The light and heat melt him into nothingness. This is both reward and punishment.
“The throne is yours.”