• The clouds overhead rumbled. They billowed across the darkened sky, blocking out the twinkling stars and watchful gaze of the moon with their sorrow. They threatened to cry, to drown the small world below them in their tears; all life scurried for shelter before the sky’s coming wrath, but in the lonesome brush of the forest, not a sound was made, and in the eerie hush of the dark and cold, the silence of the night predicted the coming damnation. The road that snaked through the forest was barren, not a creature nor a car traversed its back, like everything else, it was shrouded in darkness. The cities were far away, their world separate from the wilderness that existed here, but people were not far, and from a small shrine secluded in the forest’s wild territory, a small light pierced the darkness. A woman stood by the torii gate at the shrine’s entrance, bearing in her hand a small candle that emitted but a meager light as she marveled at the silent night. Her hair was long and dark, flowing over her shoulders like the rain that was sure to come. There were no people around, yet she still wore the common attire of a miko. Her hakama was red, her kimono pure and graceful, and her figure one of confidence. In her free arm she held an infant, content and innocent, who saw the shadows before her with the magic of a child’s eyes. The woman laughed silently at her child’s reaction, understanding her daughter’s awe at the nothingness that existed in everything before them.
    She turned back towards the shrine, a soft smile on her face as she watched the silhouette of her husband move around inside, cleaning up the remains of a late dinner. His tall frame was bent over, picking dishes up, and the woman chuckled as she recalled the mess their child had made at the table- glad that he was cleaning it up rather than she. A soft breeze blew, the wind sweeping the earth, and the baby uttered a gurgling sound, shifting in her mother’s arms in an attempt to get warm. Pulling the child closer to her chest, the mother hummed a soft lullaby, using her warmth and calm as comfort. She looked back towards the shrine, watching as her husband finally rose to his feet, balancing the dishes carefully as he ambled out of the room, and sighed softly. It was far past the time she normally put the baby to bed, but she was tentative about leaving the beautiful scene of the darkness behind, for it felt as if she would never see it again. Still, her husband was waiting and the baby was tired, she sighed again, her breath a puff of smoke in front of her face as she breathed the crisp chill in the air and headed towards the shrine. The cold was abnormal weather, and the woman wasn’t used to it, she shivered slightly, yet she didn’t head for the door right away, instead gliding over to a small box nearby. Their shrine had no storehouse, so her husband had built the box as a temporary one- it amused the woman to no end that he had taken care to nail the box to the ground and protect it from rain, but had never gotten around to building the storehouse like he said. She smiled again, putting out the candle with a wave of her hand before storing it safely away. She looked once more at the sky, watching as the billowing clouds contemplated rain or not, her hand instinctively going to the pendant around her neck and gripping it softly. The baby reached as well, her tiny fingers wrapping around her mother’s, who in turn slowly removed the object from her neck and placed it in her child’s hands, her eyes shifting back towards the shrine her feet slowly brought her towards.
    Before she could reach it, lightning cracked across the sky, and the woman looked just in time to see the sphere of light streak downwards and crash into the shrine with a deafening boom. Instantly the building collapsed from the weight of the collision. Flames erupted. She heard the ear splitting scream of her husband as he was crushed to death, and turned to run, holding the baby close to her chest for its protection. Then another horrible sound reached her ears- the sound of her own scream. A long thin stake, black from the flames, was now red with her blood as it pierced her stomach- blasted outward by the collapse of the shrine. The woman felt her strength draining, but one look at her child and she was running- running for the safety that waited outside the shrine, away from the sinister light and roaring flames of destruction. Her body was numb with pain; it was willpower alone that kept her moving. She did not think, though if she could, she would have marveled at the irony that despite losing so much blood, the sound of it pounding in her ears was all she could hear. Passing the torrii gate at full speed, the mother finally tripped at the side of the road, no longer having the strength to move. Yet still she wrapped her arms protectively around her child, holding the baby close to what little warmth she still had in her chest. She felt her heart begin to fail her, and looked towards the sky, whispering a soft prayer with her dying breath. “Xfonegn lef yime.” And then all went black.
    The morning sun finally rose slowly in the sky, pushing its face through the cloud’s misery and shedding its warmth upon the wet earth. The rain had finally stopped, but still life mourned. Trees and leaves bent under the weight of the grief, dripping their final tears unto the muddy realm below; the dirt had tried to wipe away the sky’s tears, drinking it away with its abundant thirst, but the pain had been too much to bear and now it too was a mass of flowing grief. The cold from the night before seemed as if it had never been, for now the air was humid, alive with the scents of the tropics, moist with grief, but still existent. Yet no animals scurried across the vast road, nor uttered a sound, and the horizon remained vacant other than the clouds and sun. Then faintly a low purr could be heard off in the distance. It grew louder and louder until finally a car rounded the curve in the road. It was a Jeep, new with a fresh coat of crimson paint, shining in the sun and showing off its vibrant contrast to the world around it. Inside the vehicle, among the smell of the leather trim and open sky slider, a young couple sat. The woman in the passenger seat stared out the window, her long brown hair falling over her shoulders in luscious curls. She wore a cream colored shirt, long sleeved despite the now warm weather, with a V neck and black butterflies decorating her lower torso. Her kapris were navy blue, practically new looking with a tight fit around her thin frame. On her feet she wore a pair of grey boots reaching halfway to her knee, adorned with white fur at the top, but otherwise plain. Next to her, sitting at the wheel, her fiancé watched the road intently. He wore a pair of black tripp pants, decorated with chains every which way, and red stitching. His shirt was also black, buttoned up slightly more than halfway so part of his chest was still showing; it was long sleeved, with loose cuffs around his thin wrists. His hair was medium length, brown and straight, but with enough volume so that his bangs stayed at the side of his face. He was good looking, but it was quite clear from his stance and expression that he was not used to such a fashion statement.
    There was no sound inside the car other than the healthy purr of the new vehicle, for the couple remained silent, each lost inside their own empty thoughts. Yet there was no hostility in the awkwardly quiet atmosphere, and after a moment the woman giggled, her emerald eyes watching the side of her fiancé’s head as she said, “You shouldn’t look so uncomfortable, Lance, those clothes look good on you.” Although he didn’t look away from the road, Lance felt the woman’s gaze, and knew she expected an answer. “I prefer more traditional clothing, Rose.” He finally muttered after a short pause, “These aren’t the sort of thing’s you’d wear at a dojo.” Still, a smirk came to his face as he remembered their date in the city. He’d been against the idea of going from the start, but she had convinced him otherwise with the same emerald eyes that watched him now. She’d also “convinced” him to buy her a new outfit, which she now wore, and to get himself a complete makeover, which he was now stuck with. He wondered what his students at the dojo would think of it. Funny, I’m sure.”, he sighed, pretending to watch the road as he dared not meet her beautiful eyes. Rose giggled once more, but then allowed the silence to wash over them once again as she resumed staring aimlessly out the window. Watching the scenery fly by, she marveled at the beauty of the wilderness that surrounded them. The colors were so vibrant and warm, bringing everything they touched to life, even in the dampness that remained from the storm couldn’t detract its luster. There was a calmness in it all that she found rather soothing, yet she couldn’t shake the strange feeling she got while watching it. Sadness, pain, fear- as if this beautiful forest had been forced to witness something terrible, and was trying to hide it in the serenity of everything that lived. She wondered what had caused the world such pain, her emerald eyes scanning both sides of the road as if expecting to find an answer. It seemed as if she was worried, fidgeting in her seat restlessly until her eyes finally fell upon something other than the plants and trees on the side of the road. Lance had slowed down; about to ask what was wrong when Rose raised her hand and pointed, her tone anxious as she asked, “What’s that?” Lance didn’t understand what was wrong; there was nothing in the silent beauty around them that should be making her nervous. Still, he slowed down further as he said, “It’s probably nothing.”, not all surprised when she responded with a firm, “Stop the car.” It was obvious she had seen something he hadn’t, but it perplexed him that it had scared her- he considered for a split second just driving by, but one look into her worried eyes and he complied with her request.
    As soon as the car came to a halt, Rose jumped out of the vehicle; she didn’t even bother to close the door in her anxious haste. Lance marveled at her speed as he struggled to catch up, reaching her side just in time to hear her breathless, “Oh my god.”, and finally, he saw why. Just off the side of the road lay a woman dressed like a miko, her velvet skin marred by the crimson blood that rested in a dried puddle around her. Behind her motionless body there were the charred remains of a shrine, the air heavy with the burnt scent and the eternal silence of those who once lived there. From where they stood, neither Rose nor Lance could see anything inside that had survived other than the torrii gate, which now groaned over the power of its own weight, as if it might reject what had happened by joining the rest of the destruction around it. The entire scene was covered in black, its impurity greatly contrasting with the serene forest around it which had somehow been unaffected by the fire. Rose stared at this with horror, her eyes deep with hidden emotions, considering, calculating. Lance still looked at the miko, his eyes finally wrenching away as he moved to enter the shrine, hoping to find something, or someone who had survived, but Rose blocked him with her arm, shaking her head. It was odd, but her face was full of understanding as she muttered, “There is nothing in there you want to see.”, and with that she turned to head back to the car. She hadn’t gotten very far when Lance stopped her by placing his hand on her shoulder as he suddenly asked, “Do you hear that?” Stopping, Rose tilted her head, and realized that she did indeed hear something. “It sounds like a baby crying.” She replied slowly, turning towards the sound. Further investigation led the couple to the last remaining light in the charcoaled shrine- the sole survivor. Wrapped in a blanket and tangled protectively in her mother’s arms, the infant bawled her eyes out, her breath coming in short gasps as if she had been doing so for quite awhile. Perhaps she had sensed her mother’s fear as she tried to escape the flames of destruction, perhaps she had felt the warmth leave her mother’s chest as she became still, perhaps both. Still, both Lance and Rose realized the child was helpless, so weak and fragile compared to the harsh world around it. “We can’t just leave her” Lance turned towards his fiancé, finding her already holding the child even as he began to speak. She didn’t answer him, but whispered comforting sounds, holding the infant close until the shudders finally stopped, and the gasping ceased. After a fleeting silence, in which the couple made certain the child had fallen into an exhausted and dreamless sleep, Lance asked softly, “What of her name?” as if in answer, Rose gently pried a small object from the small, sleeping hands- a pendant with an inscription on it. “Faide” she breathed softly, “It means Raine in the ancient language.” She looked away from the child, and their eyes met. In that moment, something passed between them- as if the miko’s will had been thrust in their minds, they both agreed wordlessly to raise the child.
    At that time, there was no they could know the great things this innocent was destined for, no way they could know the double edged sword that had been placed in her hands. The gods made the mistake of spilling this drop of life onto the world, and had once again set in motion the fate they could not forget. They had committed a wrong on a scale no mortal being could possibly imagine, but one must not judge the work of a god, for even with their darker deeds their eyes are on a grander plan. It was that wrong that allowed these words to appear before your eyes, and it was that wrong that set this tale in motion…