They’re all gone…
Name after name had vanished as the Calamity God sliced through her regalia until there were none left. They hadn’t done anything wrong. They were good, perfect children, innocent children, and now they were all dead. A void had opened up inside of her where their thoughts and feelings once resided, a gaping hole that could never be filled.
Bishamon felt a flare of something at the edge of her conscious, a spark of fear that wasn’t her own. She couldn’t find the source, casting around the abyss that had become her soul for the flash of emotion that wasn’t her own. Maybe…
That’s when she saw it in her mind’s eye; a small, flickering name that was almost swallowed by the deafening blackness.
Bishamon felt a surge of relief. There was still one left. They weren’t all gone. She wasn’t left all alone. Kazuma, the young regalia, the small nail that couldn’t even draw a borderline was still with her. She clutched desperately to the name, wrapping her entire being around it, drawing on its warmth. The heat it gave off was weak and wavering, but it was enough, thawing the cold frost that had enveloped her.
In that moment, she didn’t want or need anything else. She had him, her Kazuma, her Choki. As long as he was with her, she would be alright.
Her world gave way into darkness.
“ Lady Bishamon! ”
Kazuma stumbled into a run, tripping over his own feet in his haste. He had to reach her, he had to reach her, he had to reach her, dammit, go faster! He watched Bishamon fall as the Calamity God disappeared from his periphery. He sped forward, his vision focused on his lady and nothing else. The uneven ground caught on his feet, combining with his clumsiness to frustratingly slow him down.
The regalia felt a moment of weightlessness as his foot slid out from under him before he crashed to the ground. Kazuma pushed himself up onto his elbows. Rubbing his head, he looked to see what caused his fall.
It was a puddle of crimson, the bottom of his left sandal stained the same color.
He swallowed thickly, shoving down the sob building up in the back of his throat. He lurched into a run once more, urging himself forward with every fiber of his being. When he finally reached her, she was lying on the ground, her yukata ripped and tattered. He felt his heart drop to his feet.
Kazuma carried Bishamon’s unconscious form to the springs. His footsteps seemed far too loud, echoing in the eerie stillness. It was so shockingly silent, so utterly different than the way it was not even two days ago, that the crushing burden of his actions began to collapse against his shoulders. He looked down at his goddess’ face, twisted in pain and grief, and the weight of his sins only increased. But he shoved it aside, knowing that even the slightest pang of guilt would harm her even more.
He had saved his lady. He had done the right thing. He had saved her. He was right. He was right. He-
Then why does she look so broken? Did I make the wrong decision?
Pushing the voice to the back of his mind, he slowly dipped Bishamon’s body into the purifying water. The purple splotches blooming across her skin began to fizzle away as he leaned her against the rock wall in a semi-upright position. Her breathing began to even out, and her anguished face seemed to soften - but only slightly. As the spots of blight continued to fade, he felt a tear slip out of the weak hold he had on his emotions. Another followed, then another, and another, until his face was streaked and his chest hitched. He rocked back onto his heels and covered his face with hands.
A small grunt and the light ripple of water dragged Kazuma from his silent weeping. He looked over to see Bishamon stirring, her eyes opening sluggishly - painfully - as if she didn’t want to wake up. The violet irises that he found so breathtaking were flat and glassy, looking at nothing. When her eyes finally refocused (and gods, they looked so empty ) and met his own, they widened and filled with tears. Kazuma felt his heart rate jump.
Before he knew what was happening, Bishamon had thrown herself onto him, clinging to him like he was the only thing anchoring her to this world. The fabric of his yukata swallowed her tears and muffled her cries. Her arms were wrapped around him with all of the dwindling strength she had.
Kazuma stiffened, his hands freezing in midair. His mind raced, struggling to keep up with what was happening. Part of him was convinced that this couldn’t be real - that Bishamon couldn’t actually be touching him, let alone holding him, that it couldn’t just be the two of them, that everyone else couldn’t be gone - but the goddess’ grip on him only tightened. Slowly, uncertainly, the regalia folded his arms around her. One hand came to rest on her head, a soft and unsure touch that just seemed to feel right.
Remembering that she could feel his thoughts and emotions, he tried to calm his mind, focusing on images of lazy clouds and tranquil ponds and meadows swaying in a gentle breeze. It’s okay, he mentally whispered, looking down at her as tears slid across her face. I’m still here, and I’m never going to leave you. I’ll always be right by your side.
After pulling the blankets up around his goddess, Kazuma murmured a soft “good night” and stepped out of her room. He gently slid the door shut, lingering outside for a moment, listening to her shaky, uneven breaths with a heavy heart. After a few beats of silence, he turned to leave, when he thought he caught a wisp of a sound. Kazuma softly pressed his ear to the divider, straining to hear it again.
For a brief second he thought he had imagined it, but then it managed to reach his ears once more, and this time he was able to identify it. It was a sob. A soft, quiet sob that wrenched his heart. His stomach twisted with guilt. You did this to her, the back of his mind whispered. He tried to shove the thought aside, to stamp down his swirling regret. I mustn't hurt her again. But when her cries grew louder, his emotions swelled up in his chest, closing his throat and stinging his eyes. He slowly leaned back against the paper-thin walls and slid to the floor, Bishamon’s muffled sobs in time with his silent tears.
It’s the same thing every night for a week.
On the eighth day after the massacre (and the word stabbed him in the gut), Bishamon said the first word since their entire family was slaughtered.
It was so quiet he could hardly hear it, the voice so choked and raw he hardly recognized it, but it was the word itself that shocked him the most. Stay . Bishamon wanted him to stay with her. The traitor. The one who caused the death of her entire family. The one who was selfishly still here after all he’s done. He didn’t even deserve to be in the same room as her.
But when the second word she has said over a week is “please”, and it’s directed at him, and it sounds so fragile and heartbroken, he kneels by her side. She reached out a thin, shaking hand, and after swallowing his own self-hate, he took it in his own. Bishamon doesn’t look at him, and Kazuma doesn’t look at her.
She fell asleep without shedding a single tear. He’s gone before the sun rises, and she wakes alone.
His lady wasn’t eating.
It had been a month since the massacre, and she hadn’t eaten a single thing. He knew that gods could go far longer without food than humans, but even deities had their limits. Kazuma was beginning to worry. The small amount of pre-prepared meals that had been left in the kitchen were gone, even though he was the only one consuming anything. The only remnants of food left were random ingredients scattered about.
Kazuma was going to have to learn how to cook.
After a few hours and more unsuccessful attempts than he could care to count, two bowls of rice, each with a slice of fish and some simple seasonings, sat in front of him. He took a small bite of his own and decided it was good enough. At least he wasn’t gagging the moment the food touched his tongue. It wasn’t anything like they had eaten in days prior, but it would do.
Carefully balancing the bowls on a tray with two pairs of chopsticks, he made his way to where his lady resided. When he reached the room, he called out softly, “Lady Bishamon?”
With a quiet sigh, he tried again. After three tries with no answer, he gently pushed open the sliding door and stepped inside. Bishamon was in the exact same position he had last seen her in; curled up on the futon, a blanket spread haphazardly overtop her. The rise and fall of her chest was barely noticeable, but it was even, which meant she wasn’t crying. Kazuma didn’t know if he should be relieved or worried.
“My lady?” The oppressing silence of the once chattering manor lowered his voice, as if speaking too loud would cause it all to crumble around him. “I, um… I brought you some food,” he stammered out, his words quieting to a murmur as he spoke.
She didn’t turn to face him, or hum to acknowledge that she had heard what he said. It was if she wasn’t there at all; her soul floating anywhere but here while her body remained anchored to the floor. His heart dropped to his stomach.
Steeling his nerves, Kazuma softly padded over the side of the room his lady was facing. He sat down with his legs folded underneath him, and set the tray between them, carefully avoiding looking at her until he was stable. When he did, his insides twisted in the way that was becoming so familiar to him.
Her eyes, once a vibrant violet, were blank and glassy, staring at something only she could see; the shadows underneath them were darker and deeper. Her face was hollow and ghostly pale. Dried tear tracks left a permanent path etched into her face, and Kazuma wanted nothing more than to wipe away all the tears she had shed before and would ever shed again.
But he felt that if he touched her, she would shatter into a million pieces right before his eyes.
“Master?” He knew trying to garner a response was practically useless, but he attempted anyway. “You… you need to eat.” The longer he looked at her, the more he felt like a knife was being buried in his gut, and he began to ramble.
“I- I made you something. Food, I mean, I made you some food. It isn’t much, and it probably doesn’t taste that great-” Her eyes finally refocused, but the pain that shadowed them only twisted the knife further, so he looked at his folded hands instead. “-and there weren’t many ingredients to use, and I haven’t really cooked before, and-”
He cut himself off at the rustling of fabric and looked up to see her stirring. He watched without a word as she shakily began to push herself up off the ground, shaking her head at his attempts to assist her. When she reached a sitting position, she lifted the bowl (he tried to convince himself that her hands didn’t shake) and took a small bite.
Her eyes widened almost imperceptibly. She chewed slowly, swallowed, then opened her mouth to speak.
“It’s-” Her voice was quiet and raspy from weeks of disuse, and it was cut off by a dry, rattling cough. Kazuma instinctively made to stand, offering to retrieve a glass of water, but she stopped him with a rapid wave of her hand.
When she tried again, her voice was a little stronger and a little less brittle. “It’s good, Kazuma.” The goddess tried for a smile. It was so clearly forced, her eyes still swimming with loss and melancholy, but she was trying.
Kazuma smiled back, trying to pour all of the positivity and encouragement and happiness he could into a single expression. Which wasn’t hard - her praise meant the world to him. “Thank you, my lady.” The rest of their meal was blanketed by silence.
In the end, Bishamon was only able to eat half of the bowl, but Kazuma still took it as a small victory.
Kazuma swallowed, struggling to combat the heat rising to his face. It was their third time walking through the small village in the Near Shore, but he still wasn’t accustomed to Bishamon being so close. Goddess and regalia were walking side-by-side, linked at the elbows. It was mainly to support the still physically weak Bishamon, but he couldn't help but notice how similar they looked to the couples they passed by.
They were in the market square, weaving through crowds and stalls. It was Bishamon’s favorite place to visit. She enjoyed watching the humans go about their days, moving through their actions like routine. She liked the normalcy of it, as she had told him the first time they wandered down the pathways.
Kazuma felt her pause. He turned to her with an inquiry resting on the tip on his tongue, but hesitated when he saw her. She was gazing towards a group of children chasing each other in circles. Their faces were bright, their smiles wide, and their laughter joyful. The look on his lady’s face was that of blissful peace, with undercurrents of sorrowful remembrance.
She's remembering the younger regalia, he realized sadly. But even so, the gentle smile that graced her lips warmed him from his head to his toes, happiness bubbling up inside of him.
They were finally beginning to heal.
(And for the first time, Kazuma believed he had made the right decision after all.)