She knelt before the shrine, praying silently to The Seven, her eyes were closed and her mouth barely moving as she recited the Litanies of Virtue to herself and to the gods. She was thankful there were no others within the shrine hall this morning. Though the reasoning for that was she had slept in late and all the others had finished their morning rituals before she had come before the shrine. Not that she minded being alone.
“-for all that is given, equally it must be returned to please the gods. We must all work to protect ourselves from the evils of pride, greed, envy, sloth, anger, gluttony and lust. Through the strength of the gods who provide us with the power to protect ourselves from such evils with the virtues of modesty, contentedness, caring, labor, joy, fasting, and chastity-”
Her hands were fidgeting slightly, playing with the hem of her dress, brushing away the soft black hair that kept falling forward into her face. Her nervousness was obvious to any who could see her, though she was trying to hardest to remain devoted to finishing her prayers.
She was so focused on speaking out her morning prayers she didn’t notice the sound of the paper door sliding open behind her. Nor did she hear the footsteps walking up to approach her kneeling form.
She jumped as her prayers were interrupted and turned around with a frightful gaze. Behind her was the head priest, Daisuke. Even as the Head Preist, he was still in the realm of what someone would consider handsome, and still young for one in his position. But on the other hand, this position wasn’t without its dangers.
She hurriedly lowered herself to the ground in reverence, touching her forehead to his feet. Her body trembling slightly being in the presence of the temples most powerful and revered. He lifted his foot slightly signaling she could sit upright before him.
“Master. I was just finishing up…”
He smiled softly and gave her a wave silencing her apology.
“We still have time, Emiyo. Finish your prayers, eat and relax until I call you. It’s a special occasion for you and you should enjoy as much of today as you can.”
She lowered her head slightly, feeling a blush rise on her cheeks.
“Thank you, Master. But I wish to continue my duties before the ceremony begins. The others will-”
“This is an order, Emiyo. The others are simply jealous and you will be working very hard after that, this day will be a blessing you didn’t know you needed when you look back.”
Emiyo bit her lip slightly, she couldn’t go against the Head Priests orders, even if her fellow Mikos and the lower priests would no doubt give her more hateful looks from the side. She straightened herself up and looked up to him speaking quietly.
He chuckled and shook his head, smiling down on her like a proud father. It made her feel warm inside seeing him smile at her like this. He had always been there for her, the father figure in her life when she had none. She wanted to please him and keep him smiling like this.
“No. You really don’t. But that is perfectly fine because you are still so very young. You will learn what to appreciate when you are older.”
She gave an uncertain nod of her head, making him laugh again as he turned and gave a wave of his hand. Starting to walk away and out the door, pausing a moment before he looked back to her.
“Emiyo, go ahead and head to breakfast. Your devotion to the gods is quite clear even if you haven’t finished your prayers. They will understand for today why you didn’t do it.”
She looked at him with shock, her mouth starting to open in protest before he waved at her to keep her silent. She sat on her knees looking at him with surprise. He had never let her leave the shrine before she had finished prayers before! Her heart was beating so quickly in surprise, it almost felt to her like this was an act of defiance to the gods themselves.
While she was trying to overcome this feeling, a feeling she couldn’t describe by any means. It almost felt like a betrayal of everything that had been instilled in her from birth. Was this just some special privilege given to chosen people? She shook her head, stood up on shaky feet, turned and bowed toward the shrine. Apologizing to the gods quietly and telling herself she would spend twice as long praying to make up for her Master’s orders.
Worried that the Head Preist would return to make sure she followed his orders she quickly fled the shrine, stepping out into the main hall and sliding the door closed behind her. The hall was just now starting to see the start of the busy morning for the temple. Priests and other Mikos preparing booths and benches for visitors and supplicants alike.
Taking the shortest route she walked along the side of the walls, giving small smiles and polite bows to her betters as they greeted her while continuing their work and preparations. Sealing charms, talismans for warding off demons, tables for those who needed help with exorcisms and consultations on monsters and demons.
The Temple of Harkumet, the temple of demon sealing. The eighth temple of the gods that was the only one where no one god was worshiped over the others. It was considered the greatest of the temples in their power of demon-fighting and sealing. Drawn from all seven gods their temple was closest to the level of the Heroes that the gods summoned to fight Demon Lords. But at the same time, there were no Heroes summoned within Harkumet. Only the individual temples could summon a hero with the power of one of the gods.
She ignored the side glances and stares of the Mikos who were the same age as her, none tried to greet her and most often looked away pretending the hadn’t even seen her while continuing to do their morning duties. She walked past them all toward the dining hall, hoping there would still be some warm food left over. She knew the kitchen staff would gladly make her fresh food if she asked, but she was not in the mood for more preferential treatment, the looks would only get worse if they saw her eating freshly made foods when the dining hall was supposed to be closed to everyone.
Slipping behind one of the booths trying not to be seen by too many people, her ears caught someone talking in a not-quite whisper, loud enough anyone close by could hear but quiet enough that it didn’t extend far past the range where Emiyo could hear them.
“-of all the people they choose, why her?”
“Well isn’t it obvious? Her father may have been the last Hero.”
“Could easily be the Demon Lord.”
“You girls can gossip in the dormitories. Now, finish setting up.”
““Yes, Mistress. We are sorry.””
Emiyo pushed past behind the booth the three were sitting at, trying to ignore the pair of girls gossiping, also trying to ignore the sympathetic looks from the priestess who was admonishing her helpers. It was all on purpose, there was no simple gossiping here, they knew she was behind them and were trying to hurt her. That they never even looked to see who else might have overheard their conversation was more than enough proof for her.
She moved a little faster even though she didn’t want to show them if they had affected her or not. This had been what she had faced for years, there was nothing new or inventive in the snide remarks. For the most, she hadn’t cared anymore and had simply kept her head down and done her work diligently like a good miko. The comments had dropped away for a time, she was nothing extraordinary, no hidden powers, no special treatment given to her over any of the other girls. Everything she had gained within the temple had been of her own volition. Even the Head Priest treated all, priests, priestesses, and mikos the same. But that had been before the Oracle.
For the first time in the five thousand years of the worlds’ known histories, an oracle had arrived, gifted to the Head Miko, blessing her with the knowledge that shook the temple to the core. The arrival of a hero to the Temple of Harkumet.The Oracle had not only prophesied the arrival but had named the attendant of the Hero the temple must provide. Emiyo.
Out of jealousy and spite, the other mikos had a resurgence of cruelty to their old rumors and gossip. They couldn’t touch or hurt her physically, such violence would have kicked them out of any temple and brought curses and shame on their family. But not even protection from violence by the gods prevent the machinations of jealous women, who could be far crueler without need for petty violence.
She smiled silently to herself seeing there was still some food left over from breakfast, some cooling rice with chicken, and cut fruits. Looking for her favorite pieces, strawberries, she caught sight of a trash bin which made her heart sink a little. All the leftover strawberries had been picked out of the fruit and tossed away, undoubtedly one of her sister mikos had waited until everyone else had left just to perform this misdeed.
Picking out some slices of cantaloupe and cherries to go with her breakfast she quickly slid into a chair and started to eat. With her first bite, she sputtered and gagged on the rice. Coughing as she spat out the disgusting flavor. Sniffing more closely she realized someone had poured vinegar over the rice, enough to make it inedible without being too obvious with the smell.
She felt like crying as she sat there with a ruined meal, tears threatening to come forth but she held them back if only just. She tried to taste and see if the fruit was still any good. Fortunately, it appeared that the fruit had been spared, aside from her precious strawberries. She turned back and piled a plate full, even if it wouldn’t keep her full it was still better than nothing.
One of the kitchen workers stepped inside to clear off the leftovers, spying her eating her little pile of fruit. He walked over toward her with a quiet frown, he was kind but very strict in making sure everyone ate properly. Anyone he caught not eating their proper needs were victims of his sharp tongue as he admonished them.
“Miko Emiyo, I thought you would know better of all my girls that you need-”
He paused as she looked at him, seeing the redness of her eyes he immediately started catching on to what was happening. Moving over to the remains of the rice and chicken he sniffed the bowl and took a taste with his finger. He growled and picked up the pot, dumping its contents into the bin.
“I’ll get you someth-”
“No! No please it’s all fine. You don’t need to do anything special for me. Please.”
She stared at him with pleading eyes, begging him to not go any further with his thoughts. He stopped and caught himself before sighing and giving her a nod. She felt some relief as he went to clean up the tables and left her alone with her quiet meal of fruits. Eating as quickly as she could so he could clean up her place as well before he left the dining hall, promising she would have a heartier meal for dinner.
Back outside the hall she quietly tried to slip away to the library, most of her fellow mikos would be out trying to sell temple wares and aid their teachers during the morning hours. All she needed to do was avoid everyone else until the ceremony in the afternoon. A task easily handled as long as she could make it to the library.
“Have a good breakfast?”
One of the girls called out to her, Mayiko, her roommate, the gleam in her eye told Emiyo exactly who had been her tormentor for breakfast. She gave a slight nod and turned away, trying to hurry through the main hall and avoid further conversation with anyone else.
A task much easier now that people had started to flow into the temple seeking services and offering prayers to the gods. everyone else was getting busy with helping the visitors, letting her have the time to slip through the crowd without being called out by any of the other girls.
Once she slid closed the library door, Emiyo sighed and quickly grabbed a book without thinking too hard about what she wanted to read. Opening it up and starting to read without paying too much attention to what was written until she noticed her mother’s name written. Pausing a moment she closed the book and looked at the title wondering what she had picked up.
Records of the Five Hundredth Incursion of Demon Lord Haruko.