I awoke to the pounding drone of electronic dance music. Harsh neon lights accosted my eyes as they pulsed in tandem to the chaotic rhythm of the bass. A sea of people danced and gyrated beneath the balcony where I’d been strewn out on a backless couch, cigarette burns marring the plush velvet. Everyone’s gaze was the same- calm, relaxed, eyes glazed and wide, as if in some kind of shared, drug-induced ecstasy. A glowing sign over the DJ booth read, Club Lunar.
What the fuck?
The last thing I remembered was Amaterasu hurling herself into the air, her pin inches away from plucking out Susano-o’s eye, his staff pulsing with an electricity that ballooned around him and then, I’d—I’d died.
I reached up and felt my neck, fingers brushing against a thick wad of gauze where Amaterasu had given me the fatal wound. It didn’t hurt as much as it should; after all, I should be dead.
Was this hell?
A club playing endless electro music was certainly a kind of hell, but surely the devil, or whatever demons controlled hell, were a little more creative than overpriced drinks, awful music, and dozens of sweating, stinking, drug addicts. The place reeked of spilled alcohol, ladies’ perfume and men’s astringent cologne. I choked. A couple were getting hot and heavy in an adjacent booth, surrounded by a velvet rope, champagne on ice. Groaning, I moved to get up, finding I was able to do so with surprising ease. As though I hadn’t just been stabbed and killed.
I remembered dying. The pain lessening. The world dulling. Like slipping into a warm bath after I’d been flayed alive. It’d hurt like hell at first, but had gotten better and now I was here.
Where was here?
A young girl, no more than sixteen, strode up to my sectioned off corner booth, a tray of dirty martinis in her hand. She smiled with mauve painted lips and set one down in front of me. The olive bobbed in the liquid.
“I didn’t ask for—” Surprise filled me as the sound of my own voice filled my ears. I’d tried to ask before, tried to plea with Susano-o to save me, but my words had come out as gurgles. I frowned, thinking about my naivety in those last moments. I’d actually thought Susano-o might save me, that the gods might be as we’d always envisioned them to be – benevolent, kind, protective. I snorted. I’d been so very stupid. The human collective had been so very stupid.
The girl put up her hand while she placed the tray under her arm. The other martini glasses clattered to the floor and broke apart, splashing vodka on her black loafers. The girl, name tag Rhonda, didn’t seem to care. “It’s on the house. Compliments of Mr. Tsuki.”
Too tired to ask who this Mr. Tsuki was, I just nodded, and took a sip of the drink. The slow burn of the alcohol was a welcomed sensation as it trickled down my throat. It had felt raw, my mouth dry ever since—
The martini tumbled from my hand and landed on the soft plush of the sofa. My throat had been raw because of all the screaming I’d done, screams shouted in mourning, screams released in fits of unbridled rage. The gods had burned my father alive. In front of me. He’d been so close, I could have reached out and touched him, I could have burned with him. I should have burned with him.
I threw up my hands, and buried my face in them as the tears fell. Why hadn’t I done anything? I had the ability to breathe life into origami, make it real, and all of that had been for jack fucking shit. Why hadn’t I apologized to him?
He’s gone and it’s my fault. All my fault. The gods had murdered him and obaa-chan and drove my mother to suicide and they get to live. Get to bicker among themselves and use mortals because they can. Because it’s their fucking nature.
“We’re just flies to you,” I whispered as the loud, pulsing bass shook the floor. “Swarming around shit and it doesn’t matter if one of us dies, because there’s a thousand more to take our place.”
“You know, Miss Nagasaki. I think that’s why the bridge to Takamagahara was closed to us.”
The music stopped. The sea of gyrating, sweaty bodies stilled. I turned in the direction of that voice. A man stood to my left in an all-white three button suit. It reminded me of the kind of suits Uncle Kai wore, though this was a much more modern take on a suit, worn by a man who I imagined could make a potato sack look regal. He was thin, athletic, and a long ponytail of silver hair trailed down his back. His pale skin carried an inhumane luminescence and at once, I knew who he must be. Mr. Tsuki. And somehow I knew he was yet another god.
Mr. Tsuki glided across the floor until he stood inches from me, his body giving off a cool, soothing sensation. It reminded me of those days I’d spent star gazing with obaa-chan on her porch, basking in the moonlight and the tepid sea breeze.
“Feeling better?” He nodded toward my neck.
I shrugged. “It would appear so.”
With a flourish, he threw out his jacket so it billowed around him and he sat, the seat sighing under his added weight. He half-smiled, his gaze focused on the stillness of the club-goers. Without looking my way, he snapped his fingers, and the people hurried for the exit.
Within seconds, it was just me and Mr. Tsuki sitting alone in Club Lunar. He sighed. “I prefer to conduct my affairs in privacy.” He fingered a pair of polished silver cufflinks, in the shape of crescent moons, before continuing, his face taking on harsh angles, “You’re dying. My calling you to me has stopped your soul from returning, but after our meeting here is over, you’ll finish bleeding out over that office floor.” With a slender, gloved hand, he caressed my cheek. “Do let me apologize for their actions.”
I stared at him, unblinking. “You want to apologize for their actions? For killing my grandmother, causing my mother’s suicide?” I shot to my feet. “For burning my father alive?” The world spun sickeningly, nausea gripping my stomach. Pain pinched at my neck, and reaching up, I found my fingers touching something wet and warm. When I removed them, my fingertips were bloody. Mr. Tsuki put a hand on my arm and motioned for me to sit. I refused.
“I never said I was sorry. I wanted to apologize for my siblings’ actions. You can’t expect them to apologize.”
“And why not?” I snarled.
“Because,” Mr. Tsuki pulled on my shirt and I flopped onto the couch. “You don’t expect a dog to apologize when they root up the ground or tear up your house. It is their nature, just as it is theirs.”
I slapped his hand away. “And what of your nature? Are you saying your any better?”
He shook his head and strands of hair, like white silk, fell across his brow. “No. If anything, I’m far worse.”
He looked at my neck. I could feel drops of blood dribbling down my skin. “I don’t have time to explain to you why we do what we do, Miss Nagasaki. Nor do I have the time to explain how I might be the worst of all my siblings. I have come to offer you another option.”
I laughed. “And what is that? You want me to carry your power too, so you can rot me from the inside out? Put another target on my head? I still have an aunt and uncle, maybe you’d like to see Kagu burn them too?”
Mr. Tsuki shook his head. “You’re dying, there’s no getting around that. My brother used you to hide himself from us once Amaterasu decided her way back to Takamagahara was to kill the rest of her siblings and obtain enough power to recreate the bridge between our worlds. As her son, Kagu has no choice but to go along with her lunacy. I have other ideas.”
“You know, I think we were supposed to work together to bring back Ama-no-uki-hashi, walk the bridge back into heaven together, but gods are a fickle bunch as I’m sure you now realize, and such a feat impossible given our nature. I think that was the point. As much as it pains me to admit this, I’ve come to believe my sister is right. With enough power, one of us will be able to go home.”
He cocked an eyebrow and with a smile, produced a small jet-black knife from the inside pocket of his suit jacket. The curved blade reminded me of a snarling beast. “Make no mistake, Miss Nagasaki. Your live is forfeit this night. Susano-o has his power. He no longer needs you, so he’ll have no qualms letting you bleed out. Amaterasu will take great glee watching you breath your last. What I’m offering you, Jules, is not mere life, but a chance to be reborn.”
I snorted. “So, you want to use me to?”
He shrugged. “Yes.” My eyes widened. I hadn’t been expecting one of them to be so honest. “But unlike my siblings, my offer comes with a chance for vengeance, Miss Nagasaki.”
“Why? Why would you do this for me?”
“It’s not for you. I couldn’t care less about you. What I want is what we all want- to go home. To escape this mortal plane, this hell, you call home. To do that, I need my siblings’ power. And I could do it myself, kill Kagu and Susano-o but,” he stopped, plucked up the martini glass and gulped down its contents, “but I cannot go up against Amaterasu. Sun and Moon. We were made to work together. Without Amaterasu’s light, the moon has nothing to reflect. Without her, I cannot exist.”
“But if I were to kill her, wouldn’t you stop existing?”
He chuckled. “Oh, no. I’ve thought long and hard about that. You will kill her last. Take Kagu and Susano-o’s power first. By the time you end up killing her, I’ll be walking across the bridge to my home, the new king of the gods, and I’ll have enough power to create a new Amaterasu, one who’s far more obedient.” His charming smile peeled back into a vicious snarl.
I skirted away from him, suddenly aware of his true nature, not as calm and soothing as he first let one, but one that was cunning and vicious. Rage bubbled underneath the surface of his skin. How much energy had he been expending to keep his nature tempered, before the cracks started to form in his appearance? Mr. Tsuki held the dagger out to me. His eyes narrowed and grew fierce. “Help me and you will have the power to kill a god. To kill all three. Take this.”
The dagger reflected the blinding disco light overhead. I crept forward, shaking. Could he really give me that power? Wouldn’t there be a catch? There had to be—
“Of course, Miss Nagasaki. There’s always a catch. You will be my child of sorts. A woman cut from the cloth of night. A creature that seeks out the comfort of the moon, one who lurks in the shadows. You will change,” he furrowed his brows and feigned sympathy. “It can’t be helped, I’m afraid.”
I cocked my head though my gaze remained hinged on the dagger. Something about its smooth, almost glass like surface stirred something within me. I imagined myself plunging that dagger into Kagu’s heart and couldn’t help but smile.
“Sunlight will hurt you,” he said, scrunching his face as if in deep thought. “I believe the human phrase is ‘night owl.’ You’ll be something like that.”
I shrugged. That didn’t sound so bad. Especially if it meant I got to cut the heads off Amaterasu, Kagu and—Susano-o’s indifferent flash flashed in my mind, his unsympathic eyes gazing blankly at me, at my father, making no attempt to move, to do anything as Amaterasu gave the command and Kagu summoned his fire. I would kill him. I would kill all of them.
“You’ll thirst for blood.”
Mr. Tsuki’s words snapped me out of my thoughts. “What?”
He smiled. “Blood, Miss Nagasaki. You’ll need to drink it. I’ve been told it’s taste is akin to human wine. I’m sure it won’t be that bad.”
I sputtered. “I don’t think that’s true.”
“It matters not. Like it or no, you’ll need human blood to survive. To bolster your strength. Their blood, your power, Juliana. Just as my brother’s power was tied to origami by the human who first wielded it, so too is my power.”
“And the human who you chose to use your power—”
“Drank human blood. Derived pleasure from murder, gained strength through the blood. I’m afraid I didn’t make the best choice choosing him as my vessel.”
I gulped. That seemed less like a minor oversight and more like a fucking train wreck. “So, you’re saying, if I accept your offer—” I winced and threw a hand over my neck. Blood seeped through the bandages. When I looked down, I saw it oozing down my hoodie. Christ.
Mr. Tsuki frowned. “We’re out of time. Miss Nagasaki, I’ll need your answer.” He held the dagger to me. “Drink their blood, walk only in my brilliance, and exact your vengeance. Kill the gods.”
A scream escaped my lips as pain tore through me. I fell back on the couch, the lights blurring. Mr. Tsuki loomed over me, thrusting the dagger at my face. “Take it. That’s all you need do.”
I reached up, the pain excruciating, the world swimming in and out of darkness. Fire ravaged my insides as though I were being burned alive. Was this what dad had felt like? What he’d experienced in his last agonizing seconds alive? My fingers stretched, grazing the hilt of the dagger.
Mr. Tsuki whispered, “You need to be the one to take it. You need to make the choice.”
I exhaled, though I felt as though I’d pass out at any second. Screaming, I closed my hand around the dagger hilt. Mr. Tsuki howled in delight as he knelt to cradle my body.
“Good girl,” he said, before giving me a kiss on the forehead.
Cold cobwebbed outward from the spot where his lips had touched my flesh. It soothed the fire, the pain. I calmed, and then my heart stopped.