Topic: The Autumn That I Love [Last Update: 9/18/2012]  (Read 2202 times)

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Joveus Molai

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The Autumn That I Love [Last Update: 9/18/2012]
« on: June 14, 2012, 08:37:50 pm »
Table of Contents
Prologue
Chapter 1
Chapter 2: [Under Construction]

Alternate fanfiction.net link

Library Catalogue entry:
Name: The Autumn That I Love
Author: Joveus Molai
Genre: Drama
Summary: Dissatisfied with their current divine roles, Minoriko and Shizuha try trading positions; Minoriko the new goddess of the changing of leaves, Shizua the new goddess of abundant harvest.

Note: Criticism is not only welcomed but encouraged, no matter how harsh or nitpicky. If you feel that something is wrong or incorrect, please do not hesitate to point it out!
« Last Edit: September 19, 2012, 03:42:00 am by Joveus Molai »

Joveus Molai

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Re: The Autumn That I Love [Last Update: 6/14/2012]
« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2012, 08:38:26 pm »
| Prologue |

In a field of almost fully-grown sweet potato plants, her senses filled with the smell of soil and the sound of farmers working, a goddess did her divine work.

To outsiders, ensuring abundant harvests for farmers looked like an easy thing to do: a snap of the fingers, and the crops would eventually be ready for harvest. But the task was far harder than it seemed.

She concentrated, carefully making sure that each sweet potato plant got just enough of her holy energies to bloom and bear fruit, but not so much that she'd run out before she got to all the others. Today, in particular, was the most important day, for it was today's work that would add the last finishing touches on the crops before they were ready to be harvested. It required precision, practice, and above all, discipline. Too little power, and the harvest might wither and die. Too much, and the crops would be unwieldy—no one wanted to deal with a dozen sweet potatoes that were each larger than a house. Yet, even now, just weeks before they were to be harvested,  the plants thirsted for her blessings more than they did water. "So greedy for my divine power," she thought. So like the farmers that tended them.

At last, she finished. She felt drained, more so than usual—both in body and mind. “Did I use too much power this time?” she wondered. She checked the spiritual power thrumming through the field.

“Hmm...no, everything's fine...

...so why do I feel so tired?”


Before she could dwell on the issue any further, she shook her head of such thoughts and turned her attention to the task ahead.

“Next are the cabbages and radishes, and tomorrow's the barley. All of next week is for the rice..."

A passing farmer called out to her. He bowed in reverence, then immediately launched into supplication—a good harvest for his fields, health and good fortune for his family. She waved back and smiled, and gave him a pre-fabricated response about faith and hard work. Only after the farmer receded into the distance did she let out a snort of disgust.

*Sigh* “This is so exhausting. But, no harvests mean no worship, and I guess a goddess has to get faith somehow.”

She breathed in deep, and let it out, hoping her fatigue would leave with it. It didn't.

“No use complaining. Onto the next field.”

She allowed herself one last glance backwards, at the field of sweet potatoes she'd just left. Back at the arsenic green of the plants. The shriveled tubers hidden away underground, away from the garish light of the sun. The equally shriveled people tending them.

This wasn't the autumn she fell in love with.

So went Minoriko Aki, goddess of bountiful harvests and the symbol of abundance and plenty.

-----

In the depths of the forest, surrounded by the wind and the rustling leaves, another goddess looked upon the fruits of her divine labor.

Another autumn, another kaleidoscope of reds, browns, yellows, and the occasional defiant green. Her work seemed easy, and in a sense it had been—the trees just needed a modicum of divine power to get things going, and they could take care of the rest themselves. Not like crops, where things had to be managed else they go out of control. No; here, all that mattered was ensuring that the leaves, at  some time or another, all went to their deaths.

So she had done what she always did. Just a smidgen of power here, a larger infusion there, so that the leaves changed colors at different times. Through her blessings, the once-green forests of Gensokyo turned into a scintillating landscape that drew in the viewer, one that could be appreciated as a grand whole and in the smallest of details. She was an artist, and Gensokyo's woods were her canvas.

She wanted to tell herself that her work was beautiful.

“Who am I kidding? It's just leaves dying in the end. Dying, falling off the trees, and rotting so they enrich the earth again. Anything else is a lie.”

She wanted to believe that what she did made people happy.

“Who am I kidding? No one worships me. No one has rituals and ceremonies to summon me so I can change the color of the leaves. No one asks me for favors or blessings. No one kneels in the forest and thanks me for making the leaves die.”

Tired of the false beauty surrounding her, she walked to the edge of the forest, where she saw how no one gave the living mural of colored leaves even a glance. She saw how the farmers were calling out and giving thanks to the other goddess, their delighted faces filling with hope. She watched as a young boy went about raking fallen leaves in his yard, grumbling about the mess that appeared daily, wishing for the leaves to never fall or change color so he wouldn't have to clean them up all the time.

“I want to make them happy. That's all I want to do. I want to use my divine power, and make them smile.”

This wasn't a matter of survival for her; she was a goddess of nature, so she didn't depend on the faith of worshipers to continue existing, as many other deities did. Nevertheless, even if she didn't need them, she was a goddess who longed for the people. She tore her gaze away from the village and went home.
 
Her path led her through the woods. Every step she took kicked up fallen leaves and filled her with the first hints of decay. Every so often, she'd see the rotting remains of a dead woodland creature, or a piece of deadwood filled with insects feasting on the remains. She'd see leaves falling on them, and imagined how they'd mix together and return to the soil.

This wasn't the autumn she fell in love with.

So went Shizuha Aki, goddess of the changing leaves and the symbol of loneliness and demise.


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 :wikipedia:Author's Notes::wikipedia:

she was a goddess who longed for the people: Though the translation for the Mountain of Faith Stage 1 song's title, 人恋し神様,  is often rendered as "Goddess Who Loves The People", its proper translation, as far as I can tell, is "Goddess Who Misses The People". I can see why people might go for "Loves The People" since 人恋し (hitokoishi) is made up of the characters for "person" and "love", but the characters together seem to mean "miss".  Nonetheless, I've always liked the former translation, so I went with "longing" here--a mixture, I think, between love and missing someone.

She concentrated, carefully making sure that each sweet potato plant got just enough of her holy energies to bloom and bear fruit...: I'm not sure if this is how gods work in Gensokyo, but according to this article on an online encyclopedia helpfully provided by Rurouni, god apparently sometimes join themselves to whatever they're dealing with; a god of rice harvests, for example, might join with the rice grains in order to produce said harvest. I figured that was a good a way to portray the Aki sisters at work as any, so I had each goddess pour a portion of their power into the things they work with. Metaphysics!  :fail:
« Last Edit: June 15, 2012, 03:37:21 am by JoveusMolai »

FinnKaenbyou

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Re: The Autumn That I Love [Last Update: 6/14/2012]
« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2012, 10:31:55 pm »
You have made me interested in a story about the Aki sisters.

This is a very large achievement. I'll be following this.

Gappy

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Re: The Autumn That I Love [Last Update: 6/14/2012]
« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2012, 10:57:16 pm »
Interesting. I saw your summary for what you have planned on FFN. I'm curious to see where you take it. It'd be interesting to see how it'd work with the new divinity mechanics introduced in Symposium of Post Mysticism.

EDIT: I have no idea why I shortened Symposium of Post Mysticism as EoPS...I must have been half asleep and tapped E instead of S.
« Last Edit: June 15, 2012, 09:21:13 pm by Gappy »

Joveus Molai

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Re: The Autumn That I Love [Last Update: 6/14/2012]
« Reply #4 on: June 15, 2012, 03:39:45 am »
Added some trivial information under the Author's Notes section.

You have made me interested in a story about the Aki sisters.

This is a very large achievement. I'll be following this.

I'm glad you enjoyed it!  :toot:

Interesting. I saw your summary for what you have planned on FFN. I'm curious to see where you take it. It'd be interesting to see how it'd work with the new divinity mechanics introduced in EoPS.

I can't say I know what EoPS is...is it an official work?

Joveus Molai

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Re: The Autumn That I Love [Last Update: 6/14/2012]
« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2012, 03:40:57 am »
|Chapter 1|


“So that's another fall come and gone,”said Minoriko.

“Uh-huh,” said Shizuha.

It was a late autumn morning at the Aki residence. The two sisters of fall sat at their dining table, legs tucked firmly inside the old-fashioned charcoal-heated kotatsu to keep away the cold. Theirs was a humble abode, considering that it was the home to not one, but two goddesses; two rooms, a dining space, a kitchen, sliding rice-paper doors and a roof thatched with straw. In the backyard was a garden that had been filled with a variety of crops only weeks before. Beyond the garden was a forest, its leaves having long since begun to change their color.

“And winter's coming in a few weeks.”

“Uh-huh.”

They should have been feeling both joyful and sorrowful. Elated, and remorseful. Celebrating another autumn, and mourning for its passing.

Yet...

“...thank heavens it's over for now.”

“...uh-huh.”

The weeks between harvest and winter solstice in the Aki household was supposed to be a lively affair. The sisters liked to throw parties between just the two of them after the season's work was over; days spent bundled up in front of a campfire out in their newly barren field, enjoying warm meals made from the fresh harvest while marveling at Shizuha's craft; nights spent at the kotatsu, chatting away about nothing in particular. Often, they would attend the local harvest festival as honored guests. During those days, only the thought of the approaching winter dimmed the sisters' post-harvest delight; that, and the occasional harvest dispute Minoriko had to settle at the village.

These days, however, the sisters sat in the stifling warmth of their home because they could not muster the strength of will to do much else.

Minoriko Aki glanced at her older sister, who sat across the kotatsu. Shizuha Aki had her cheek resting flat on the table, drool leaking out of the corner of her mouth and pooling on the table's surface. Her eyes were glazed over, staring at nothing. Strange, mused Minoriko, how...mortal gods could be at  times.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the idea of getting tired of her job as the goddess of abundant harvests would have been ridiculous. She used to love making things grow and talking with humble villagers, and seeing fields teeming with ripe crops. Where did it all go wrong?

She wracked her memories, something she found herself doing often nowadays, searching for that pivotal moment when her love of autumn fell into apathy, where everything went wrong. Once again, she found nothing, only a long series of memories of irritation and exasperation and exhaustion building up over years, decades, centuries.

“No. Now's not the time to think about this.”

'March on': that was what she told herself nowadays to rip herself free from dwelling on the past. March on, don't look back. Rest, and focus on the future. And resting was precisely what she was about to do, when she noticed Shizuha stirring from across the table.

“Minoriko,” drawled Shizuha, her words slurred. “Why don't we—”

Minoriko's deep sigh cut her off. “No.”

“You didn't let me fini—”

“No, sis. I know what you're going to say: 'Can we pretty please trade our powers for next autumn?' You've only asked every fall since ten years ago.”

“Nine.”

Minoriko frowned. “Nine what?”

“Nine years, not ten,” said Shizua, still looking as dazed as she was before. Minoriko wondered if Shizuha was tired of asking the question as much as Minoriko was tired of rejecting it. “I've been counting.”

Minoriko sat, anticipating. When nothing more came from her sister, she was surprised.

“Oh?”

“'Oh' what?”

“I thought you were going to say something more, sis.”

Shizuha shifted her head so that her chin was now resting on the table. From this elevated position, she gazed at Minoriko with dull eyes “No point. You rejected it before I could even finish saying it anyway.” She returned her head back to its former position, cheek against the surface. “Whatever.”

Minoriko sighed deeply and cradled her head in her hands. Were she mortal, she might have muttered a prayer for patience.

“Sis...I keep telling you—”

“Yeah, yeah. 'Shizuha, you're too irresponsible and stupid to do my job.' 'Shizuha, you'll just make a mess of things. 'Shizuha—'”

Minoriko gave her sister a hard look. “I never said any of that and you know it.”

Shizuha sat straight up and fixed her sister with a glare. The table shook as she slammed her palms down on the table. “You did say it! I remember.”

The sisters seemed to bore holes into each other's heads as they glared at one another. One, two tense moments later, Minoriko let out yet another sigh.

“Then you're not remembering it right,” said Minoriko. She didn't need this, not now. “A breath of fresh air might do some good,” she thought, so she stood up, got her coat, and went outside without a word to her sister.

At the table, Shizuha stirred, wanting to yell something to get the last word in, but decades' worth of unfulfilled longing kept her still.

-----

“First thing to do: make one last round at the village.” The thought gave her no pleasure, as some of the village's farmers were prone to complaining, even after a good harvest, but the duties of divinity called. “After that, visit the carpenter for some more rice-paper, then the rabbits' store for rice cakes.”The local rabbits in the Lunarians’ employ were the source of many of Minoriko's headaches (farmers had little love for vermin who stole their vegetables), but they made some damn good rice cakes. She let the thought of snacks muffle her exasperation at the work ahead.

She passed the garden that she and her sister kept, a barren patch of dirt that once held ripe, plump fruits and vegetables, and gave it a longing glance. It was one of her few pleasures nowadays, working that field. The smell of rich, fertile soil, the feel of the sturdy wooden handle of her hoe, the warm sun shining in the sky...and the lush greenery that was the fruit of those labors. No other thing on earth matched the joy and sense of fulfillment she felt as when she tended to her garden. These days, however, she found even that love of the growing things diminishing.

It wasn't long until she reached the village. The humans that worshiped her greeted her with praise and thanks, sometimes with a short prayer. In moments, those farmers gathered around her, some already asking for favors for the next year, others whining about the inadequacy of this year's harvest under the thin guise of grateful words. There were more of the latter today—a mistake she had made with the rice fields in the summer meant that this year's green onion crop was noticeably less abundant.

This certainly wasn't the first time she'd made this sort of mistake, and it wouldn't be the last. The previous year she was too cautious with distributing her power, so the crops weren't as fruitful as usual (though the villagers still had plenty to eat). The year before that, a communication error ended up as a village-wide onion shortage. Each time, the mortals made sure she knew she had failed; never directly, of course, but their false smiles, exaggerated praises, their sidelong glances made them easy to read. And every mumbled word of discontent sapped Minoriko of her confidence and strength. The faith she gained from her followers gave her plenty of divine power, true, but these days she found herself quietly dreading her work more and more, beginning each autumn more exhausted than the last.

It was a vicious cycle. The more drained she felt, the more mistakes she made: the more mistakes she made, the more the people grumbled: and the more the people grumbled, the more drained she felt.

She remembered when things were simple. She remembered when she first started on this enterprise, and it was only a handful of venturous farmers who asked her for her divine assistance. All she had to do in those days was visit a field or two, grow a few plants here and there. It was win-win for her, in those days. She could do what she loved most, and in exchange grateful villagers gave her faith. There were no pleading humans begging her for more favors, no mortals who had received the earth's bounty yet wanted more.

It was late afternoon by the time she was done sorting things out. “At least I haven't run into Mr. Tanamura today,” she thought.

-----

While her sister was out attending to business, Shizuha Aki still sat at the kotatsu where her younger sister had left her.

What Shizuha was doing could not be described as “lounging”—it would have been more accurate to say that she was wallowing instead. Her head lay plastered against the hard wooden surface, while every once in a while her hands would grope about for a half-eaten piece of fruit and mindlessly toy with it, before tossing it away.

She despaired the way a man dying of thirst would were he set adrift on the sea. She loved the people of Gensokyo, those weary, earnest mortals who did their utmost to struggle their way through harsh weather and harsher youkai, and she always felt that they were almost within reach, so to speak. Any time she ventured outside she'd run across that merchant, Shirou Kourogi, and remember how early he got up in the mornings to open up his stall so that his kids could sleep at nights with their bellies full; or the young farmer's daughter Sakurako Hideyama, and how she dreamed of finding her perfect husband and the tears of joy she'd wept when that dream had come true. Shizuha remembered them all, and wished she could share in their joys, at least as their goddess, if not their friend.

There was a quiet *clunk as a wooden brush slid and fell off a small table. Shizuha blinked and focused her gaze on the fallen object. “My painting equipment,” thought Shizuha absentmindedly. “When was the last time I even touched it?” She wasn't well known for it, but Shizuha was a fairly accomplished amateur painter—she had even sold one of her older works recently for a tidy sum. She thought of it as practice for her divine duties in leaf-painting, but her brush and her canvas had lain fallow for some time.

She considered getting up to put the fallen brush back, but her brain waved off the notion. So she continued to sit there, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, doing nothing.

-----

“I just had to run into Mr. Tanamura today, didn't I?”

Minoriko had left the rice cake shop, her left hand clutching a wad of rice-paper, her right a bag full of the tastiest cakes Eientei's servants could make—sweet potatoes, ground into a smooth paste and sweetened with honey to perfection, all wrapped around a soft mochi exterior. She'd purchased a share for Shizuha, as well; she doubted it would work, but hoped a dose of sweets would raise her sister's spirits a little. She had been just about to pass the village gates when she ran into a certain person.

“Oh no. Ohhhh no.”

He was a middle-aged man and a farmer, thin and balding but with a potbelly—the result of too many nights drinking heavily—and a pair of beady eyes that constantly looked at the fruits of others' labor with envy.  He was cursed, so he often said, with many things: a nagging shrew of a wife, a pair of lazy good-for-nothing sons, shoddy farming equipment, and some of the least productive land in the village. That these things often fed into each other and exasperated one another only made his head balder, his potbelly bigger, and his eyes ever more jealous and bitter. Minoriko might have pitied him if he did more than half-heartedly tend his fields and complain about his lot in life.

He was Yasuke Tanamura, and he’d just made Minoriko's day infinitely worse.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Tanamura!” Minoriko's cheek muscles strained to keep up a false smile as she injected cheer into her voice.

Tanamura let out a theatrical sigh as he started pounding the small of his back. “Good afternoon, Lady Minoriko. Oh, I hope I'm not bothering you, but it's just that my back is so sore after this season's harvest...oh how it aches and aches...” The glances he kept shooting her were so noticeable he may as well have screamed, “I'm fishing for sympathy!” at the top of his lungs.

“And despite all that work,” continued Tanamura, “this was the worst harvest I've had in ages!”  Another glance.

Resisting the urge to say something sarcastic, Minoriko continued to smile. “Surely not, Mr. Tanamura! Did you do as I said and not use those weird pesticides again?” Minoriko had a certain hatred for farmers who messed with the natural order of things too much. Excessive weeding was annoying enough, and too much plowing made her upset, but recently there was a bout of pesticide use. Strange substances bought from the stranger aliens who lived in the Bamboo Forest—no good could come from spreading that filth on what would eventually become food, she'd decided. Nonetheless, some of the farmers who worshiped other harvest gods were turning to such practices...and some of the farmers who worshiped her were starting to do it, as well.

Tanamura coughed, suddenly fascinated by the clouds. “Oh! Erm, uh, no, no, of course not! I...” He swiftly withered under Minoriko's glare.

“Mr. Tanamura! I've told you again and again, I don't approve of the use of that...stuff!” Minoriko groaned as she massaged her temples. “Those people at Eientei are pharmacists, not farmers. You shouldn't trust the things they sell you, especially if it doesn't have anything to do with medicine!”

“Well, I can't help it, milady!” said Tanamura. “It's just that insects always plague my crops, every single day! Some of my neighbors were using what that moon rabbit was selling, and it worked very well for them, so I thought I might...you know, give it a try.” He frowned. “Not that it helped my green onions...oh, my poor, poor green onions...”

Minoriko winced. Dealing with Tanamura today was going to be all the more difficult.

Tanamura let out a dramatic sigh. “How could this even have happened? We worked hard in our fields, and we performed the rituals perfectly...did something happen, Lady Minoriko?”

Minoriko gripped the bag of rice cakes tighter. She strained to not let her anger seep into her voice. “Mr. Tanamura, I assure you, you and the village still have all the green onions you could ever eat until the next harvest season. There's nothing to worry about—”

“And last year,” continued Tanamura, “there was a food shortage in the village, and the year before that we had no onions! These are terrible, terrible times...”

“Food shortage?” scoffed Minoriko. “Mr. Tanamura, please don't make mountains out of molehills, the entire village was perfectly fine even after that...incident. And the onion shortage was unfortunate, but these things happen from time to time.”

Tanamura's eyes narrowed at her words. “'These things happen'? But goddess, we have a compact! We perform the rituals every year, and—”

“—and I guarantee an abundant harvest, I know, I know.” How badly she wished to bury her head in her hands. If only they weren't so laden with bags. “And despite a few...problems over the years, I have never once failed to uphold my end of the bargain, yes? Ever since some of your ancestors and I formed our covenant, those who were part of the compact have never gone hungry over the winter even once, and every year's harvest has been an abundant one for them.”

Tanamura grumbled something under his breath. Minoriko didn't catch everything, but she swore she heard the words “for a certain value of abundant” somewhere in his mutterings. “What was that, Mr. Tanamura?” said Minoriko through gritted teeth.

Tanamura started, letting out a nervous chuckle as he sheepishly scratched the back of his head. “Ah, erm, nothing, blessed goddess, nothing.” He cleared his throat, desperate to end the conversation. “I should be getting back home, there's still rice to load into the silos and all that. Good evening, Lady Minoriko!” The pot-bellied farmer scurried off down the road, leaving Minoriko with her burdens.

But then Tanamura said something under his breath, something he thought the goddess couldn't possibly overhear. He had an unfortunate tendency to underestimate other people's hearing ability, something that often got him into trouble at the local pub, but here his words were more pivotal than causing yet another one-sided bar fight.

“Minoru's right. We should start looking for other harvest gods to worship...”

The words struck her like a slap to the face.

First, she felt shock. Betrayal wasn't something that happened to her often. It took her some time to even fully process it.

Then realization struck her. Minoru Takayama was one her most well-liked and influential worshipers. If he decided to switch to give his faith to another deity, then  the bulk of her faithful would follow.

Fear washed over her next. A god without worship was a god doomed to a fate worse than death. Trapped in the most mundane of forms: a stone, a tree, a gust of wind. Sentenced to an existence that was just barely aware, like walking through life while asleep, or seeing the world with one's eyes and nose and ears and mouth and body clogged, stifled, barely sentient. Like all gods, Minoriko was born to such an existence, and once the faith of worshipers gave her an ego and set her free from the prison of half-existence, she swore to never return to it.

She felt like screaming, right there at the village gates; felt like hurling her bags right in the face Tanamura and Takayama and all the other ingrates, and salt every one of their fields so that nothing could ever grow there again. She wanted to pile every vegetable, every fruit, every single grain of rice they grew with her blessings, and burn it all, laughing all the while, savoring the sweet nectar of their bitter, regretful tears..

She knew she could never bring herself do any of these things, so she settled  for letting her rage stew inside her as she stomped her way home.

-----

It took Shizuha some time to muster the willpower to go put the fallen brush back where it belonged, but eventually she somehow managed it. As she did so, it occurred to her that she could take up the brush again, if only to avoid sitting around doing nothing all day again. So she got some paper and some paint, set up an easel and a still-life on the table, and got down to work.

A few hours later, the result was disappointment.

It wasn’t the technique that bothered her: no, her physical skills with the brush remained largely undiminished. But the overall composition seemed…flat. Dull. Unimaginative. Nothing about it stood out or compelled her. The work as a whole seemed less than the sum of its parts, where colors and brushstrokes conflicted with one another and the eye had difficulty being drawn to the right spots in the painting.

Shizuha fell back and slumped in her chair, sighing as she ran a hand through her hair. As she did so, something celadon caught the corner of her eye, sandwiched between a stack of paper and some old paintings; curious, she grasped the thing and pulled.

It turned out to be one of her older works. Another still-life, which like her most recent one featured a number of mundane objects placed on a table, even down to the same brown cup used as the centerpiece. Yet somehow, it seemed more life-like. The direction and quality of the brush strokes, the colors, the direction and shape of the shadows and light—everything flowed together to create one seamless, beautiful whole. The painter’s passion and creativity shone through like the summer sun through white clouds.

She looked at the first painting, then the other. It was almost as if two different people had made them.
Where had her creative spark gone, she asked herself, as she grabbed the newer work and crushed it into a ball. Where did it go? As she tossed the crumpled paper away, a breeze outside caused a tree branch to sway, and the movement caught her attention.

“Wherever it went...” she thought to herself, as she gazed out the window to the leaves outside. “...it’s certainly not out there.”

She loathed to go outside during the fall these days, since everywhere she’d look her eyes would be drawn to the ugly mish-mash of colored leaf-corpses that hung from trees. What made it worse was that she was the one who made it that way. Not for a lack of trying on her part--no matter how much she wracked her brain, no matter how much she mulled over it and thought about it and experimented she just couldn’t come up with anything decent to decorate the autumn with. Her desire for excellence in painting Gensokyo’s leaves tended to leave her with little time; as a result, she frequently threw something slipshod just to complete her work in time.

Minoriko asked her, once, why she insisted on every autumn being a visual feast even though it only caused her pain.. “Because I want them to be able to look at the leaves around them and smile,” she’d answered. “Because I want autumn to be their favorite season of the year, in all ways.”

She stared at the handiwork that she hated so much for a little while longer, then tore herself away to sit at the table again, eyes slack and mind sulking.

---

Minoriko was still furious by the time she reached her house.

Her feet were sore from pounding the dirt road, and her jaws hurt from all the gnashing she did to her teeth, but she paid these things no mind.  She was too busy trying, and failing, to drown her mind with calming thoughts to keep herself from doing something she might regret.

She passed by her garden again, and stopped and gazed at it once more, hoping to improve her mood. It didn't work—her anger continued to boil inside her. Heaving a great sigh, she started to turn back when she caught something moving in the corner of her eye:

An oak tree, its branches swaying in the wind.

The tree stood at the far end of the Aki sisters' garden, like a great beacon with its fiery yellow and red leaves against the dead brown backdrop of the forest beyond. This oak tree was always the first in the year to change the color of its leaves, and the last to lose them.

It was Shizuha's favorite canvas for her art. It had no name, because the bond between it and its painter meant it needed none. Shizuha never slacked off on her duties to the rest of Gensokyo's trees, but the oak tree in the garden was the focus of her talent and creativity and passion. Minoriko always enjoyed watching the tree, drinking in its vividly colored patterns, even as she worked the gardens.

“It must be nice,” she thought, “to be the goddess of the changing leaves.”

It wasn't much of a secret that Minoriko and her sister quietly envied each other. Even the villagers had their own whispered stories, though theirs were based more on speculation than any true knowledge of what the sisters felt. Regardless, these days Minoriko mused more and more on the perks of Shizuha's office. To be able to do one's work, with little consequence whether it was a failure or a success; to be bound to no one's will but one's own. To be unfettered.

By the time she noticed that she had been staring at the oak tree for quite some time, her anger had faded into memory. Nonetheless, the sting of betrayal remained.

As she walked the remaining distance from the garden to her house, she thought about what to do about the villagers.

There was always the option of sabotaging the harvested crops and leaving them to either depend entirely on their neighbors' goodwill or starve to death, but except during moments of consuming rage Minoriko could never stomach the idea of doing something so vindictive, and that moment had already passed. Persuasion wouldn't be of much success either—the other harvest gods demanded fewer restrictions on farming methods than she did. No over-weeding, or over-plowing, or using too much fertilizer, and so forth. As such, she couldn't imagine why other farmers would want to change their ways just to earn her favor, and it also meant she couldn't convince her own worshipers to remain with her.

Then a thought struck her; was there any point to this at all?

Perhaps, if she sat down and thought about it for long enough, she could find a solution that would at least let her keep her worshipers. But what then? Every year, she did her best to do her duty, but the smallest of mistakes would always arise and set the villagers to grumbling. She could appease them, but then she'd inevitably make some other small mistake the next year and the cycle would repeat. 

Perhaps...perhaps, to end this cycle, she could quit. End it all, and return to the oblivion of being another nameless spirit.

“No,” said a part of her, defiantly. “You are the harvest goddess. Hundreds of mortals depend upon you to live through winter, and you have your sister to consider.”

But neither could things simply go on as they were. Minoriko prided herself on her determination at times, but she wasn't one to be foolishly stubborn. Next year, something would go wrong again, and the farmers would complain again, and if Tanamura's words had any merit she'd be out of the bulk of her faithful.

As Minoriko climbed onto the porch of her house, absentmindedly kicking off her shoes, she came to a conclusion:

She needed a break, and for that she needed her sister's help.

-----

While her sister had a moment of inspiration outside the house, Shizuha had come to a conclusion of her own:

“I'm so petty.”

It happened after she’d somehow mustered the will to get back up off the table and begin cleaning up her painting supplies. While she was putting away the easel and washing out the brushes, her mind wandered, beginning with the disappointing piece of work from earlier and traipsing through the avenues of mental connections and lesser conclusions, until finally ending up at the dead-end of realization.

Here was her sister, her hard-working, diligent little sister, who despite her steadily degrading patience always went and did her best. Her little sister, who had to put in every effort just to ensure things went well on her end every autumn, much less perfectly. Her little sister, who had to go out and deal with ingrates and fake smiles constantly, things Shizuha could never see herself doing.

And here was herself, whining about her own life despite her considerably easier line of work. All her job entailed was making sure the leaves changed colors and fell off the trees sometime before winter’s full onset. If she truly wished, each autumn she could have stepped outside and waved her hand, and her work for that year would have been done. She didn’t need to make every autumn a work of art--her own neuroses merely compelled her to, and here she was complaining about it. Guilt gripped her heart further as she remembered what she'd said to Minoriko earlier that day.

As she fought the welling urge to cry and feel even more sorry for herself, Shizuha resolved to properly apologize to Minoriko, and to never ask her about exchanging positions again—her little sister had enough to deal with already.

So it was quite the shock to her when Minoriko burst into their house, eyes ablaze.

“Sis,” said Minoriko, her eyes blazing. For a short, petite goddess who looked more or less like a girl in late teens,  she struck a surprisingly awe-binding pose in the doorway, framed as she was with the setting sun’s light. “For next autumn, let's trade our powers.”

It took Shizuha's brain a few seconds to comprehend what Minoriko just said.

“What.”

“I said—”

 “No no no, I heard you the first time.” Shizuha managed to extract herself from the kotatsu, staring at her younger sister all the while. “I don't...I don't get it, Minoriko. For nine years you thought swapping our powers was a stupid idea. And you were right, it is a stupid idea.” She shook her head, disbelieving. “What changed?”

Minoriko sighed as she sat down at the table, setting her bags on the floor.

“Today, I talked with some of the villagers, and I...I realized that I can't keep this up. I can't keep doing this before I burn out and lose all my worshipers.” She groaned as she buried her head in her arms. “Apparently that Minoru Takayama guy wants to jump ship to another god if I keep screwing up the harvest, and if he goes they'll pretty much all go.”

“And you don't think you'll make it through next autumn without messing up?”

“Pretty much.”

Shizuha's mind was reeling. Nine years of begging and pleading, and just when she'd given up the idea for good, suddenly her little sister champions it. What was she to make of this? A part of her wanted to leap at this chance and escape this stagnation, but another part of her hesitated. Shizuha wasn't sure if it was the voice of caution or just her remaining guilty conscious—nevertheless, she found herself unable to immediately take up on her sister's offer.

Minoriko frowned, quirking an eyebrow. “What's wrong, sis? Weren't you the one who always wanted to do this?”

“She's right,” thought Shizuha. “I wanted it. Now she wants it too. What's stopping me?”

She gazed into her Minoriko's eyes. Eyes as red and shining as ripe apples, which were now burned with determination Shizuha had missed. Minoriko truly wanted this.

The goddess of leaves closed her eyes. She breathed in deeply, then slowly let it out.
This wouldn’t be a minor undertaking. Even Shizuha understood this. This wouldn’t be a game, or a novelty.
She reflected on Minoriko’s words, on the possibilities before them. As she did, she remembered the people, the people she longed so much for. The people she so longed to see smile--smile at her, laugh with her, enjoy the autumn she so once loved with her..

“Nothing. Nothing is stopping me.”

When she opened her eyes again, they were brimming with excitement.

“We're doing this, then? For real?”

“Yeah. Just for one year, though.”

Shizuha nodded. “Let's do it.”

-----

“Well, I can't say that this is something I've done before. I don't know if it's ever been done at all.”

The Aki sisters stood on the grey stones making up the front yard of the Hakurei Shrine, the wind blowing half-swept leaves around their feet. Reimu Hakurei stood in front of them, holding a broom in one hand while scratching her head with the other. The sisters had come to the shrine to ask the shrine maiden for help—they might have been goddesses, but the vagaries of divine metaphysics was beyond them. As such, the morning after they made their decision they traveled to the mountaintop shrine, laden with sacks of rice and vegetables as payment for services that would hopefully be rendered.

Minoriko frowned. “So you don't think you can do it?”

“I didn't say that,” said Reimu. She did her best to look thoughtful, but her eyes kept darting towards the mountain of food the sisters had brought. “I can figure something out since it's not really unprecedented for a god to change into another kind of god, but it usually takes time and a lot of faith.” The shrine maiden ignored the worried looks the sisters gave her and went on to say, “I think I can still pull it off, though. Heck, I could probably do it right now.”

Shizuha squealed in delight. “That's excellent! Thank you—”

“But!” said Reimu, cutting the leaf-goddess off short with a hard look. “If this ends up setting off an incident, I won't show you any mercy, and that's assuming someone else doesn't get to you first. Got it?”

The Aki sisters winced in unison and nodded. Being collateral damage during an incident was one thing: being the prime target for Gensokyo's vigilantes was another. Shizuha, in particular, unconsciously massaged her upper left arm; the witch Marisa Kirisame had struck her there, once, with a star-shaped bullet. The bruise took two weeks to go away.

“Good,” said Reimu. She started making her way towards her shrine's front porch to fetch her signature gohei purification rod. “Now give me a few minutes to figure out how to do this.”

-----
 
About an hour later, everything was ready. The ritual materials were prepared, and the Aki sisters had taken the ceremony's procedures to heart.

The two of them stood facing each other, each inside an enclosure marked by stakes driven into the ground. Between the stakes were paper-adorned ropes, resulting in each sister standing in her own roped-off square. In Minoriko's enclosure was a sampling of autumn crops: a head of ripe rice, a bundle of choice vegetables. In Shizuha's, there was a pile of branches, each from the nearby trees with their leaves in various stages of color-change and decay. Reimu stood in between the enclosures, her face solemn and serious, her gohei in one hand and a pair of talismans in the other.

“You two ready?” said Reimu. Minoriko and Shizua nodded in response.

“Then let's begin.”

The sisters stepped towards each other with their right palms outstretched.

“O spirits of the earth,” intoned Reimu, her eyes closed and her gohei swishing through the air, “ye who were created to bless us with ripe harvets, ye who were created to oversee the changing of leaves...”

Another step, and the goddesses' right hands touched. As they intertwined their fingers with each other, firmly grasping the other's hand, they closed their eyes and listened to Reimu's droning voice. Here Reimu took a step forward, and wrapped the entwined hands with the two paper talismans. Then she stepped back and continued:

“...with all the reverence that we have in our hearts, we ask that you hear us now.”

With their remaining free hands, the sisters each undid a rope from a stake and let it fall. Then they slowly, reverently, moved out of their respective squares and into the other, facing each other all the while, as though they were dancing a courtly dance.

“We ask that you cast aside the vessels that bear you, in exchange for the ones we have humbly prepared...”

Suddenly, the sisters could feel something flowing out of them. They each felt a certain emptiness as they were emptied, then a feeling of being filled with something intensely familiar yet not entirely themselves. Their bodies trembled, their hair stood on end, their teeth chattered as divine essence flowed out and in. Behind Shizuha, the pile of vegetables rapidly decayed into soil; behind Minoriko, the heap of branches crumpled into dust.

“...we beseech you to take up these new mantles, and that you continue to bless us as we offer you our prayers and our faith.”

Reimu's gohei danced through the air, its sacred paper ornaments trailing behind it like a comet's tail. As the Aki sisters stood, still trembling, the priestess moved between them and replaced the fallen ropes, enclosing the goddesses back into the roped-off squares.

“May these new vessels bring you an abundance of faith and joy.” 

Then, as abruptly as it started, the sensation stopped.

When Minoriko and Shizuha opened their eyes, they each saw the changes that had befallen them. Their clothes remained largely the same—Minoriko still had her skirt, blouse, and hat, while Shizuha had her dress and her hairband—but the patterns that adorned them were now different. The ripe heads of rice on Minoriko's dress were now patterns of red and yellow leaves, and the grape on her hat a large golden maple leaf. The bottom hem of Shizuha's dress, meanwhile, looked as if someone had cut patterns into it, shaped like heads of rice. The headband that once bore two red leaves was now a large hair clip in the shape of a bunch of ripe grapes..

“Sis,” said Minoriko, her voice soft with awe, “y-your dress, your hairband...”

Shizuha nodded dumbly. “You too, your hat...” They stared at each other and their clothes for a while longer.

Minoriko was the first to recover. “Miss Reimu, it worked, didn't it?”

Reimu shrugged. “I think so. I didn't feel anything go wrong, anyway.” She nodded towards one of the trees in her backyard; most of its leaves were dead and shriveled, but there were a handful that remained orange and crimson. “Go see if the ritual worked on those trees over there.”

Minoriko walked over to the tree. The slight feeling of hesitation slowed her steps, and doubt reined in her enthusiasm. What if it didn't work? If it did work...was this a good idea? As she approached the tree, however, she quashed those feelings and extended her new divine power into the tree.

She noted that the tree branch felt remarkably like the crops she helped grow. As her power seeped into the branches of the tree, she felt the waning thrum of life pulsating through it. It was a sleepy thing, preparing for winter's long slumber.

Instinct took over; as soon as her essence entered the tree, she simply knew what had to be done. “Sleep,” she whispered to it. “Rest, for the cold days are ahead of you.”

As one, all the red, orange, and yellow leaves on the tree faded, shriveling into brown clumps that fell like rain to the earth.

Shizuha gasped as she beheld the sight. Then her eye caught a glimpse of wide, fan-shaped green leaves—a pumpkin plant. It had likely fallen to the earth later in the summer, which meant that the pumpkin was still growing, though given that the growing season was at an end its still unripe fruit would go to waste.

She rushed over to the plant and placed her hands over it, willing the half-grown pumpkin to grow. As she'd done with forest leaves, she entered the pumpkin plant and urged it onwards, towards maturity. Sure enough, the pumpkin expanded rapidly, like a balloon, until it was as large as Shizuha herself.

Shizuha stepped back, staring at her creation. Minoriko saw it too, and she ran up to her sister's side to better see the colossal pumpkin. “It worked,” she whispered.

“It worked,” repeated Shizuha.

Reimu huffed in annoyance, giving the giant pumpkin a good kick. “Well, that's all well and good, but what am I supposed to do with this giant thing? I certainly can't move this on my own—”

“It worked!”

In a flash, Shizuha grabbed Reimu's hands and began wheeling about, dancing. “Wha—hey! What are you doing, you—!” The flustered shrine maiden protested, too shocked to do anything but yell. “Let go of me already or I’ll--!”

"It worked it worked it worked! Thank you so much—!"

*WHAP*
There is a saying Gensokyo, often repeated by its youkai population; ‘Fear the Hakurei maiden, for her gohei rod is swift and without mercy.’

-----

It was a long walk home for the Aki sisters, but the levity in their hearts made it feel all the more shorter.

“No lazing around this winter, sis,” said Minoriko. She did her best to be utterly serious, but she couldn't quite suppress the spring in her step. “By next summer, we need to be ready to do our new jobs perfectly.”

Shizuha nodded in agreement. “Right. I'm going to need a few pointers on how to not let pumpkins grow like that...if the shrine maiden got that pissed off about one pumpkin, I don't want to think about how the other villagers would react to dozens of them...”

“And I'll need some help with the leaves,” said Minoriko. “I don't think the villagers will be very happy if I dump every single leaf on every single tree on them in one day.”

Shizuha giggled. “Don't worry about it, Mino!” she said. “It's an easy job, all you need to do is be creative and the rest will take care of itself.”

“Mino,” thought Minoriko. “It's been a while since she's used that name.”

As they walked towards the setting sun, the cool autumn wind blowing around them, the sisters smiled to themselves, and to each other. 

It, they thought to themselves, was going to be an excellent year.

-----

Elsewhere, while the sisters of autumn were returning home, a sleeping youkai stirred.

She dreamed of crimson and gold, and the riches of the earth. She dreamed of them overflowing, abundant, then careening out of control until her dream-vision was filled with an explosion of all these things mixed together with despair and regret and rage and desire and a hundred, a thousand, a million other things.

Were her nine-tailed servant there, she might have noticed her mistress' fitful sleep and awoken her, questioned her about it, and tracked down the source of the disturbance. But as luck would have it she was out on an errand.

And so  the youkai dreamed of autumn, and dreamed of things to come.

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 :wikipedia: Author's Notes: :wikipedia:

The "roped-off squares" mentioned near the end of the chapter are based off of himorogi, which are Shinto altars often consisting of gohei rods connected to each other by ropes that are decorated with sacred paper. Source: http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/publications/jjrs/pdf/CRJ-191.pdf
« Last Edit: September 19, 2012, 07:21:17 pm by Joveus Molai »

Nihilanth

  • Nyaa~ like no tomorrow.
  • Nickname: Nihi-san
Re: The Autumn That I Love [Last Update: 9/18/2012]
« Reply #6 on: September 19, 2012, 07:31:44 am »
Oh sweet, I read this story earlier in the day, and I have to say it's real nice.  ;)

I think you made a misspelling in the story earlier on. You said "geity", but I think you meant deity?

FinnKaenbyou

  • Formerly Roukanken
  • *
  • blub blub nya
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: Roukanken
  • Gender: i don't even know anymore
Re: The Autumn That I Love [Last Update: 9/18/2012]
« Reply #7 on: September 19, 2012, 09:37:52 am »
I've already told you what I think of this. Looking forward to seeing where this setup goes :3
 

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