In the darkness, Tsukuyomi laughed.
There was precious little mirth in the sound. He had been born in sadness – in the tears from his father’s eye. And in sadness, he lived his life. The sadness of a diamond, nestled in dirt, his brilliance forever hidden by the shortcomings of others. Such was the torment of his existence, to know his fellow gods were blind – wilfully so – to his righteousness. To see them ranged against him, even in the darkest of moments, was a source of irritation to him.
It had come as little surprise to him that Amaterasu had decamped to Olympus. She had ever sought to better her own position by joining her fate to that of other gods. Including those who were clearly her inferiors, such as that blusterous fool Raijin. More than once, he had warned her that her insistence on fraternizing with her lessers would be her undoing.
As it would be here.
When the lights went out, chaos erupted in the garden, even as Tsukuyomi had intended. Raijin, already on edge, rounded on Hachiman. “You – you plan some treachery,” he bellowed, and thumped his drum pugnaciously.
“This is not my doing you bellicose windbag,” Hachiman snarled, reaching for his blade. Susano, ever ready for mischief, joined him in facing down the enraged thunder god, even as Amaterasu pleaded in vain for them to cease.
From where he perched atop a nearby statue of Demeter, Tsukuyomi restrained a laugh. It was all so easy – so effortless. Their alliance had crumbled almost as soon as it had been formed. And that was why they could do nothing save fail. Really, Amaterasu should have known better than to gather such fools to her side. She had never been sensible when it came to such matters.
The argument escalated. Raijin wanted to fight – but that wasn’t the only issue. There was something in the air. A feeling, an itch at the back of every god’s skull. A flicker of madness, awaiting provocation. Yet another thing Amaterasu had failed to take into account. Then, her grasp of strategy had never been great.
Tsukuyomi yawned, stretched and clashed his tonfa together, bringing an end to the disordered babbling. Shingetsu and Mangetsu. New Moon and Full Moon. His closest friends, the only things worthy of trust, for they had never failed him. A lesson he had learned to his cost. A god could not trust other gods – not even siblings. Every god was greedy for the worship of mortals. But not every god was worthy of worship.
He rose smoothly to his feet and leapt gracefully down into the garden. The other gods scattered in surprise. To their credit, they recovered quickly – and acted as he expected. Hachiman and Susano recognized him and began to circle. They were wary – that was good. It showed the proper respect.
He directed his attentions to Amaterasu, as was only right. She was his sister, after all. The sun to his moon. “Hello, dear sister. Did you miss me?”
“What is the meaning of this, brother?” she snapped. Her famous composure was already fraying. He wondered how far hecould push her.
“You insulted me,” Tsukuyomi said, gesturing with a tonfa. “You invited Raijin – but not me? Your own brother? For shame.”
“Do not claim righteousness, Tsukuyomi,” Amaterasu countered. “You have shown yourself unworthy of my trust, time and again.”
Tsukuyomi kept smiling, though her words angered him. “And is Susano worthier than me?” he said, indicating their youngest sibling. “Hachiman? Certainly not Raijin. Tell me, did you invite our mother? What of the king kappa?”
Amaterasu shook her head. “I would have, if I thought that they would listen. But they would be no more amenable than you, brother. Always you seek your own advantage, even when it is to the detriment of others.”
“Especially then,” he said, smiling thinly. “What good is victory if there is no one to hold it over?” He snorted and turned. “Not that these fools will help you achieve victory. They lack the stomach to make war on the Great Dreamer.”
“Watch your tone, brother,” Susano said, softly. “Amaterasu may hold you in some affection, however strained, but I am not so soft-hearted.”
Tsukuyomi appraised his brother with a look and sniffed dismissively. “You are nothing more than a vagabond with an inflated ego, brother. Any time you’d like to meet me steel to steel, I will be happy to oblige you. But not today.” He twitched a finger chidingly. “Now be so good as to remain silent, while your betters speak.”
“Enough,” Amaterasu said. “Why are you here, Tsukuyomi?”
Tsukuyomi turned. “Why, I came to offer you my forgiveness, sister. Merely apologize, agree to follow my commands and I will deign to lead this pantheon to victory over our common foes.”
“We have one foe, brother,” Amaterasu said.
“Oh, we will soon have more than that. Cthulhu is as much a sickness as anything. Where he walks, mortals bow in worship. They forget their old gods and take up the cause of a new one. I have seen it myself.” He paused, and allowed himself a smile. “Not mine, of course. But yours, certainly. Already, your temples burn and your people carve Cthulhu’s sigil into their flesh. They dance about great bonfires and raise crude idols.”
“You tell us nothing we do not know,” Hachiman said.
Tsukuyomi ignored him. “But the mortals are not alone in their madness. The longer Cthulhu walks our world, the more his lunacy permeates it. And as the world goes mad, so too do the gods.” He paused. “Well, the weak minded among us, at least.” He glanced pointedly at Raijin as he said it. “Singly, we can not hope to stand against him. In groups, we turn on one another and fall to in-fighting, or distraction.”
“Then what would you advise, brother?” Amaterasu said, eyes narrowed.
“Only a god of strong will can match such madness. And my will is as strong as folded steel.”
“Your ego, you mean,” Susano murmured.
Tsukuyomi dismissed him with a gesture. “Regardless, if you turn to me, I will lead you to victory. And all I require in return is my just due – your obedience.”
“Never!” Raijin howled, unable to contain himself. He charged, as Tsukuyomi had known he would. The thunder god was as predictable as he was tempestuous. He avoided Raijin’s lunge and leapt aside.
Hachiman and Susano moved towards him from either side – again, predictable. Shingetsu sliced through the air, and several inky, black shuriken erupted from the darkened steel of the blade. The shuriken hissed towards Hachiman and Susano and they were forced to leap in opposite directions, seeking cover.
Tsukuyomi whirled to face Raijin, as the thunder god pounded back towards him. He brought a tonfa up, parrying his opponent’s attack, and swept Mangetsu out. The gleaming blade carved the air into caltrops of light. Raijin stumbled into them, allowing Tsukuyomi to avoid his clumsy blows. He slashed both tonfa across Raijin’s side, and the bestial god roared in pain and retreated.
Laughing, Tsukuyomi heard the whisper of parting air, and spun, catching Amaterasu’s sword on the crossed blades of his tonfa mere inches from his head. He twisted her weapon to the side and met her glare with a mocking smile.
He glanced over his shoulder, and saw Hachiman raise his bow and loose an arrow. He twisted aside, slicing the arrow in half as it passed him. He leapt upwards, striking a pillar in order to vault over their heads. He dropped down, facing all four of them, his tonfa crossed before him. “Four against one,” he said. “Hardly fair odds.”
“You instigated this fight, brother,” Amaterasu said. She glanced at the others. “You cannot complain as to its fairness.”
“I? I did nothing save offer to help. You are the ones who attacked me.”
“The shuriken,” Raijin growled. “You threw it at me.”
“Merely to get your attention.” Tsukuyomi smiled. “Which I succeeded in doing. Only for you to insult me yet again by attacking me.” He shook his head in mock-sadness. “I thought better of you, sister. But I see your envy of my power knows no bounds.” He clashed his tonfa and made a show of readying himself. “What now? Will you send your lapdogs to beat me down, merely for speaking the truth? Or will you call your gaijin allies, perhaps?”
“You wouldn’t know the truth if it stabbed you,” Susano said. He leveled his blade. “Let us deal with him as he deserves, sister. We will cast him from Olympus, and then depart.” He took a step towards Tsukuyomi, but Amaterasu held out her hand.
Tsukuyomi’s smile widened. Amaterasu glared at him with a fierceness he had only seen once before. “You speak of insults – of envy…” She shook her head. “You have ever been the envious one, seeing insult where none was intended. Wherever you go, you leave dissension in your wake, no less than the Great Dreamer. That is why I did not invite you to my council, brother. We have little hope as it is – with you at my side, we would have none.”
Tsukuyomi’s smile faltered. He reminded himself that he had wanted to provoke her. He sneered. “And what will you do, sister, when your futile stratagems are defeated by Cthulhu? Go hide in a cave again?”
Amaterasu went still. Then, she waved the others back. “You have outstayed your welcome. If you wish a fight, then I will give you one.” She raised her sword in both hands, and Tsukuyomi readied his tonfa. After a few moments, they began to circle one another.
Tsukuyomi attacked first. He lunged, his blades scraping along the side of Amaterasu’s armor. She staggered and he caught her with a kick, knocking her back against a pillar. She parried his subsequent blows, fighting desperately to keep him at bay.
He wasted no breath mocking her, or the others. If his plan was to work, Amaterasu must be taken off the board. Without her, the rest of the pantheon would splinter into squabbling factionalism. They would be easy prey then. Soon, all of Japan would bow to one god, and one god alone and such was the key to its survival. Tsukuyomi would contend with the Great Dreamer as an equal – no, not an equal.
He kept close, preventing her from putting any distance between them. Before she could recover, he thrust his tonfa towards her. She blocked one, but not the other.
She cried out in pain, and dropped her sword. He kicked the weapon out of reach and leaned close as she sank to her knees. “Your plan was doomed to failure the moment you decided to insult me,” he said, softly. “But do not fear – our land, our people will survive. I will defeat the Great Dreamer myself. In return, our worshippers will praise my name and lay offerings in my temples. And you, my sister…you will be forgotten, as is the lot of all traitors.”
“Something you would know much about, brother.”
Susano’s voice cut through Tsukuyomi’s satisfaction like a knife. He whirled, dragging his tonfa free of Amaterasu as he did so. He managed to block Susano’s sword-blow and shove his brother back. As Susano staggered, Tsukuyomi leapt away, out of reach. “You know, Susano, it wasn’t so long ago that you and I were of similar minds. And now here you are, at our sister’s beck and call.”
Tsukuyomi was rewarded by a slight tightening of Susano’s features. His taunt had struck a nerve. He smiled. “What did she promise you, I wonder?”
“Nothing. She knows better.” Susano paced warily towards his brother, sword at the ready. Hachiman and Raijin followed suit. “I chose to join her for the same reason the others did – we must stand together or fall separately,” Susano continued. “The Great Dreamer is too great a threat to be ignored, even by one as foolish and arrogant as you.”
Tsukuyomi shook his head. “I do not ignore the threat, brother. But I see it for what it is. An opportunity. One I will seize with both hands.” He extended his tonfa towards Amaterasu as he retreated. “Our duel is not finished, sister. We will meet again – and then I will come for the rest of you.” He stepped back into the shadows of a nearby pillar. “The sun sets on the pantheons.. and I am the new moon that rises to replace them.”
Then, with a final parting laugh, he was gone.