The first time she had heard the name ‘Kitsune Saiguu,’ Miko had barely been more than two decades old—a toddler under Kitsune standards.
In the Hakushin lands, the Kitsune had a select few favorite stories to share: the war over land between the tanuki and the Kitsune when they first arrived in Inazuma, Hakushin and her establishment of the Grand Narukami Shrine, and Kitsune Saiguu.
In their spare time, the Hakushin land’s elders loved to regale Miko with stories of the snow-white Kitsune—the proud and powerful companion of the Raiden Shogun—who headed Inazuma’s Grand Narukami Shrine atop Mt. Yougou with her legion of shrine maidens. Stories of Saiguu’s wit, charm, and intelligence enraptured Miko when she was young and continued to do so, years later.
By the time she had grown old enough to retain her human form, Kitsune Saiguu was something of a legend in Miko’s eyes. She was untouchable, pristine—a living goddess among the Kitsune.
And so, when she came of age, Miko made it her goal to travel to the Grand Narukami Shrine and learn under the tutelage of the Kitsune Saiguu.
When she finally met her role model—the sakura petals falling around her and this living myth—she could only think that the stories did not do Kitsune Saiguu justice, for she was more than words could explain.
In the middle of the Grand Narukami Shrine, the Kitsune’s amber eyes narrowed, a smile playing on her blood-red lips. Miko stood up straighter.
“And who might you be, little one?”
Being the Guuji of the Grand Narukami Shrine—Yae believes—is rather monotonous.
Every day, she prays to the Sacred Sakura and her Electro Archon, performs a variety of ceremonies to monitor the health of the Sakura, tends to the tree, and watches over the new shrine maidens. The monotony was the reason she started Yae Publishing House all those years ago, but even then, life becomes rather dull when the stories are boring and the days drag on and on.
Today is one of those days.
Though, Yae can’t complain too much. Inazuma has just been saved by the Traveler and her Shogun is back with her.
Her Shogun is back.
Yae’s brows crease.
What a miracle that the Traveler is to be able to bring her Archon back after five hundred years—something even she could not have hoped to do after so long.
And by the Archons had she tried.
Yae turns from her spot in front of the Sacred Sakura.
One of the shrine maidens comes running towards her, a letter in her hands.
“This just came in from Tenshukaku. It seems the Almighty Shogun wishes to speak with you about something.”
“The Shogun wishes to speak to me?” Yae raises a brow, her lips turning up. “How lucky. I’ve even received a hand-delivered letter from our Archon as well.” Yae takes the letter, seeing her title in Ei’s looping script. “Did they say when I need to be there?”
“At your convenience, Guuji Yae.”
Yae hums. Nimbly, she tears open the envelope, mindlessly scanning through its contents. The gist of it is as the shrine maiden said, filled with more courtesies and small talk than necessary.
“Well,” Yae starts, letting her spirit fox destroy the letter. “I suppose I can’t leave the Shogun of all people waiting. I trust you and the rest of the shrine maidens can continue keeping the Shrine running while I’m gone?”
From the corner of her eye, she sees the young shrine maiden immediately pink.
Yae keeps her smirk to herself.
Perhaps this day is not quite as monotonous as she initially assumed.
The first time she met Raiden Makoto had been something of an accident.
It had only been a month since she had arrived at the Grand Narukami Shrine. In that time, Miko had become Kitsune Saiguu’s student, learning both the Kitsune arts and a shrine maiden’s duties under her close watch.
Though the training hadn’t been quite what she had in mind, Miko had taken the duties in stride, eager to please Kitsune Saiguu however she could.
On that day, she had just finished up maintenance of the east wing of the Shrine and was searching for her master to begin her training, lightly prancing through the many halls of the Shrine. In the middlemost building, Miko had followed Kitsune Saiguu’s trail of elemental aura to a secluded room, unwittingly creeping up on a private correspondence.
“I’m sure you’re aware of what’s happening between the heavens and the godless land,” a voice had murmured, soft and yet, holding the weight of something important, pertinent.
Miko paused. The air suddenly felt thick with tension. Silently, she transformed into her fox form, nudging the sliding door of the room open so she could peek in unnoticed.
She saw a woman with long, partially braided purple hair—the tips a bright purple the same color as her electro Kitsune arts. Her eyes were soft purple and gentle, currently filled with unease. She wore a white kimono—an elegant piece that speaks of immense wealth.
Every shrine maiden knew their Archon. Miko held her breath, not daring to breathe knowing the Raiden Shogun was mere meters away.
And sitting across from Her Excellency was Kitsune Saiguu.
Her master—a legendary character of assurance and strength who never seemed to be afraid of anything in Miko’s eyes, who doted on her needs and listened to her ideas, who allowed her to bicker with the other Kitsune in Inazuma—was tense, seemingly knowing exactly what the Electro Archon was implying.
That day was the first time Miko had seen Kitsune Saiguu look worried.
“They’re so far removed from us. Do you think Inazuma should be concerned?” Kitsune Saiguu murmured.
“Human aspiration is much more powerful than we Archons give them credit for,” Her Excellency replied. “I believe we should be alert that there’s a chance we’ll be caught in the crossfire because of my connections to Celestia.”
Miko watched her master’s expression tighten. She herself felt the tendrils of confusion and fear. If there was something her master was worried about, then it must be something big.
Before Kitsune Saiguu could respond, Her Excellency raised her hand. The doors to the room opened with a whoosh, exposing Miko to the two in the room. Miko squeaked in surprise, shirking away from the gazes.
Kitsune Saiguu blinked. “Miko?”
Miko’s ears flattened on her head.
“Miko, huh?” Her Excellency asked, a soft smile playing on her lips. The earlier tension was suddenly gone from the air. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you around.”
“She arrived just last month from the Hakushin lands,” Kitsune Saiguu said. The Kitsune’s gaze immediately turned reproachful. Miko felt her insides shrivel. “I thought she would know better than the eavesdrop.”
Her Excellency laughed. “It’s no worry, Saiguu. I’m sure she was just looking for you.” Kindly, the Shogun holds out her hand, beckoning Miko over. “Come here, little one. I’d like to meet the new edition of the Grand Narukami Shrine.”
Warily, Miko trotted over, eyes glancing back at her master’s exasperated expression.
“Can you transform back, little one?” Her Excellency asked.
Giving her master one last cautious glance, Miko transformed into her human form, back into her shrine maiden outfit. Her ears drooped down, her head was lowered and her posture slumped over.
“I apologize for eavesdropping,” Miko said quietly.
“No need. We weren’t talking about anything truly secretive anyway,” the Shogun said, tilting Miko’s head gently up. “My, are you a cute one. Saiguu, why did you never tell me a new Kitsune had arrived at the Shrine?”
“It slipped my mind,” Saiguu said.
The Shogun hummed. “Your name is Miko?”
“Yes, Your Excellency,” Miko answered. “Yae Miko.”
“Yae Miko,” the Archon repeated. “Well, Miko, I am Makoto, Inazuma’s Raiden Shogun.”
“I would be remiss to not know who you are, Your Excellency,” Miko said, bowing her head.
The Shogun chuckled. She looked over Miko’s shoulder to where Miko knew Kitsune Saiguu sat. “I can see this one being quite the sweet talker in the future, Saiguu. You have your work cut out for yourself.”
Miko pinked. Behind her, she heard her master sigh, fondly exasperated rather than disappointed now.
“Please feel free to call me Makoto, Miko,” the Shogun said. “I would prefer it if you did.”
“Of course,” Miko said. “I wouldn’t dare to defy an order from my Archon.”
Makoto grinned. “I quite like her, Saiguu. You should keep her.”
When she heard her master’s sigh again, a smile crept on Miko’s face.
On that day, she met Makoto—Inazuma’s Electro Archon. It would be one of the only times Miko saw her, but every moment spent in the former Electro Archon’s presence always left a lasting impression all the same.
And yet, Yae knows now that what laid ahead for them was too bleak for a god like her.
It is a shame.
The Shogunate soldiers let her into Tenshukaku immediately, leading her up the many flights of stairs to the top of the manor. There, Ei sits on a chair overlooking the whole of Inazuma City and Narukami Island itself. The Electro Archon does not look up when the door opens or when the soldier leaves.
“To what do I owe the honor of getting a handwritten letter from the Archon asking for my presence at my earliest convenience?” Yae teases, lightly stepping over and taking a seat next to Ei.
“Miko,” Ei says in lieu of a greeting. “It is nice to see you again.”
“The feeling is mutual,” Yae says. “I am glad to have you back.”
Ei nods, glancing at Yae. Yae’s smile dims just slightly for something a little more genuine.
Ei sighs. “It seems a lot has changed in Inazuma, much of which I was not aware of.”
Yae hums. “Five hundred years is quite a long time for the mortal world.”
In their simple quietude, Yae merely appreciates the feeling of being near Ei again after so long. For a while, neither of them speaks.
“You have changed quite a bit as well, Miko.” From the corner of her eye, Yae watches Ei’s fingers lightly tap the windowsill, rhythmic and calculated. “You are not the same fox you were five hundred years ago.”
“The me from five hundred years ago would’ve never gone against you like that, yes,” Yae says, smiling. “But, I saw an opportunity to knock some sense into you through the Traveler, and I took it.”
“Thank you for that.” Ei sighs. “I had not realized just how… destructive my eternal stasis was for Inazuma.”
Yae frowns. “It was not just destructive for Inazuma, Ei,” she murmurs, just above a whisper. “It was hurting you.” It was hurting her, too.
Yae bites back her words.
“I’m afraid—” Ei pauses, breathes quietly. “I’m worried I’ve failed Inazuma while chasing after an Eternity for them.”
“You were well-intentioned.” Yae gently places her hand on Ei’s, squeezing slightly. “But in your grief, you forgot just who your Eternity was for.”
She feels Ei’s hand tense under hers.
“I believe I have a lot to think about.”
Ei turns, fully facing Yae for the first time since the Kitsune entered.
“Thank you, Miko. For being there, and being here.”
“It is my pleasure.”
Miko met Ei weeks later when the former came to talk with Kitsune Saiguu about certain affairs overseas.
As soon as she saw her at the Grand Narukami Shrine’s doorstep, Miko knew this was not Makoto. This was someone else entirely.
Though they looked strikingly similar, this woman was stern and austere, carrying herself with the hard-won discipline of a samurai. She was not Makoto, who seemed to abhor violence, whose own blade—the Musou Isshin—remained unsharpened. Rather, this woman radiated years of experience on the battlefield. Instead of long loose hair, this woman had her hair braided all the way down, wearing a grey kimono of a perfect shadow to Makoto’s white one Miko had seen the Archon wear weeks earlier.
“And who might you be?” the woman asked, staring at her with a raised brow.
“Yae Miko, at your service.” Miko bowed her head low. “Are you looking for Kitsune Saiguu?”
“I can lead you to her.”
“I would appreciate it.”
Miko nodded. “Right this way then, Your Excellency.”
When Kitsune Saiguu saw the Makoto double, the white-haired Kitsune immediately led the woman to a secluded area of the Shrine, away from prying eyes and peeping ears. Miko did not follow, having learned her lessons from last time.
The two stayed there for hours. Miko had finished her delegated tasks at the shrine and guided four different groups of Inazumans through a prayer to the Electro Archon when Saiguu and the woman finally left the area. But when they did finally finish their talk, Miko made sure she was there to watch the stern woman leave.
“One of these days, you should visit the Shrine for reasons other than Khaenri’ah,” Saiguu said, brows pinched as she looked at the Makoto double, worried.
“The tension between the higher-ups and the godless land is worrying me. I would rather put that behind us before I indulge in more frivolous visits.”
“You’ll run yourself to the ground that way.” Kitsune Saiguu frowned. Gently, she placed her hand on the woman’s cheek, an action so natural she must’ve done it a thousand times before. “Come visit our sakura tree later this week. We’ll invite Chiyo and play a round of karuta, hm?”
The woman leaned into Kitsune Saiguu’s touch, pressing her lips gently against the inner wrist of the white-haired Kitsune. “I will consider it.”
Saiguu smiled. She carefully kissed the woman’s forehead, brushing her bangs to the side lovingly. “I’ll bake some sweets for the victor then, as always.”
“As always,” the woman murmured back, and Miko had the distinct feeling that this was something she wasn’t supposed to see.
So she waited for the mystery woman at the steps leading up to the Grand Narukami Shrine. And when the doppelgänger finally arrived, Miko wasted no time satisfying her curiosity.
“Who are you?” she asked, standing in front of the woman and eyeing her up and down suspiciously.
The woman raised a brow at her. “I am the Raiden Shogun, Inazuma’s Archon.”
“You can’t be. You are not Makoto.”
The woman looked slightly surprised at those words, blinking at Miko with narrowed eyes.
“And why do you say that?”
“You look like you’ve been through thousands of wars that Makoto couldn’t have possibly fought in.”
The woman stared. Miko did not back down.
“What was your name again?”
“Ei.” The woman turned, stepping towards the exit of the Grand Narukami Shrine. “Kagemusha. Makoto’s body double.” Ei stopped just as she was about to descend the steps. She turned to face Miko, this time with an appraising look on her face.
“And, her sister.”
“‘What does it mean to be the God of Eternity if you cannot protect Eternity itself’?” Ei asks softly. “That’s what I asked myself when I stood here as the true Raiden Shogun. ‘What does Eternity mean if Eternity doesn’t last?’
“‘It must mean Makoto was wrong.’”
The soft scent of sakura reaches even here at the top of Tenshukaku. Yae looks towards the Sacred Sakura—a beacon in the sky.
“Now, I don’t know.” Ei looks down at her Inazuma. Yae watches Ei intently.
“I made the Raiden Shogun ruthlessly abiding, so she would never bow down to time. She would be strict, follow the rules of Eternity, keep Inazuma in stasis so it would never face the consequences of change.
“And perhaps then, I could freeze this moment forever in my Plane of Euthymia—preserve everlasting happiness for my people.”
Ei’s eyes flicker in and out of a daze, as if the Eternity she held close to her chest for five hundred years is slipping out of her grasp. She must want to slip back into her Plane of Euthymia, Yae thinks. It’s predictable there—comfortable. Out of her plane, life is constantly spinning, constantly changing.
“You are thousands of years old, but still act like the young Kitsune of the Hakushin lands.”
Ei frowns, head immediately turning towards her. Yae’s lips quirk up. It’s so easy to get a rise out of Ei, just like before.
“Have you ever considered how foolish it is to assume you could keep Inazuma in a stasis? To stop the passage of time itself?”
“I had to try, Miko.”
“It is an impossible duty, Ei.”
Yae watched Ei’s jaw clench and her eyes narrow. The Electro Archon is nothing if not stubborn.
From her sleeves, she produces a sakura petal. Ei blinks, watching her manipulate the petal, making it float in her hand.
“Every year I watch the sakura trees lose their petals and their branches turn bare,” she says, watching the petal as well. In her hands, the petal bursts, electro fizzling in the air where the sakura had been. “And every year, I watch the sakuras all come back again as if they had never left in the first place.” With a sleight of her hand, Yae produces another sakura petal, gently placing it in Ei’s hands.
Ei stares at the petal.
“Even the Sacred Sakura?” she intones weightily.
Yae nods. “Even the Sacred Sakura.”
Ei’s frown deepens.
“The point of the blossoms is never that they live forever, Ei. The point is that for the moment they are alive, they are beautiful. And because they’re ephemeral, it makes them that much more.
“The Inazuma you tried so hard to preserve was never frozen in time, Ei. It was only you. People still cried and screamed and scorned in the past half-millennium, but they also laughed and loved and lived. And those moments meant all the more because they weren’t eternal.”
Yae hears Ei exhale slowly. In her hands, Ei closes her fist around the petal, holding it close to her chest.
“I lost everything that day.”
“I know.” She had too. “But your people never asked for this. You need to move on.”
Ei does not respond.
Gently, Yae takes one of Ei’s hands in hers, and squeezes.
“The Traveler has already shown you around Inazuma, yes?”
“Then, allow me to show you around Inazuma as I know it.”
Ei raises her gaze to meet Yae’s. A small smile quirks on her lips.
“Fine. Entertain me, Miko.”
The last time she saw Kitsune Saiguu was in the dead of the night when not even the stars and moon could light up the sky.
“I leave the Grand Narukami Shrine to you and Hibiki, Miko,” Kitsune Saiguu murmured, collecting her into a tight hug. Miko hugged back just as tight.
“Must you go to Tenshukaku?”
Kitsune Saiguu had smiled, gently combing her hands through Miko’s hair.
“As the head of the Narukami Shrine, my allegiance is always to the Shogun. It is my duty to protect them.”
Miko had known that, but it hadn’t taken away the sting of being abandoned or the fear of being left with the Shrine alone. In her gut was the sinking feeling of everything going wrong.
“You will come back, right?” Miko asked, clinging onto Kitsune Saiguu’s Shrine Maiden uniform.
“Of course. Once this conflict is done and over with, I’ll return to the Shrine and things will return to what they once were.” Kitsune Saiguu had smiled then, and Miko had tucked the small thing in her memories, worried that everything would go wrong.
She had tried to convince herself that everything would be ok that night. After all, it was Kitsune Saiguu she was worried about. Kitsune Saiguu, the living legend.
“Ok,” Miko muttered. “Ok.”
“I’ll be fine, little one. I’ll be back before you know it.” Kitsune Saiguu had tilted her head up towards her, touch gentle and caring. “Come on, smile for me, ok? We’ll see each other soon.”
And Miko had obeyed, mustering the best smile she could, knowing just how much Kitsune Saiguu treasured her memories.
“Protect the Shrine for me, Miko.”
And then, she was gone.
A week later, Ei came to visit while Miko was guiding a group of Inazumans through a prayer. As soon as they left, Miko had flown down the steps of the prayer platform towards Ei, anxious for news of Kitsune Saiguu to calm the gnawing in her gut.
“Saiguu is fine, I promise,” Ei had said. “She’s staying in a guest bedroom just a door away from my room, and only a few away from Makoto’s. She is more resourceful than you’re giving her credit for, Miko. She will be fine and return once the dust has settled.”
“I know. Of course I know,” Miko had bit out sharply.
“What are you doing here, Your Excellency?”
Ei had glanced around, before ushering the two of them to the private room Saiguu used whenever Makoto or Ei came over. There, Ei informed Miko of Khaenri’ah, the land with no god. She told Miko of the mass manufacturing of “field tillers,” as the Khaenri’an people had called them, of all the war machines and soldiers and elemental magic the people of Khaenri’ah had been experimenting with, of all the clear signs of war, so obvious that it had even alerted Celestia.
Ei explained their worries that Khaenri’ah might attack Inazuma first, the island nation being by far the easiest nation of the ones under the Seven to capture. She shared with Miko all the preparation, the gathering of troops, the alliances Makoto had haphazardly made with the God of Geo and the God of Woods whole oceans away, of the very real threat that they would enter a war they could not guarantee a win from.
“It’s why Saiguu is currently residing in Tenshukaku, in case neither Makoto nor I am there and we need her to protect Inazuma,” Ei muttered, expression blank as always. “The chance of both of us being gone is unlikely… but—not a nonzero chance.”
Died, Miko thought. The chance that both Electro Archons would be gone was if one of them died. It was that serious. The gnawing in her gut heightened.
“Why are you telling me this, Your Excellency?”
“Ei,” the Archon corrected.
“Ei.” The name was unfamiliar on her lips. “Have you told Asase about this as well?”
“I have not.” Ei’s eyes met hers, striking and intense, a juxtaposition to Makoto’s gaze from months before. “I am telling you, Miko, because you are a Kitsune, training under Saiguu. She tells me you’ve come far in your studies and your skills in wielding Electro. If war does come to Inazuma, the Grand Narukami Shrine cannot fall.
“This Shrine—as Makoto calls it—is a pillar of Inazuman hopes and dreams. If the Grand Narukami Shrine falls, then so do all of those hopes Inazuma has placed on Makoto and me.”
Ei took her hand. Miko was surprised to find it was warm, unlike the cold disposition of the person.
“If Khaenri’ah attacks this Shrine, you must protect it in whatever way you can.”
There was barely any change to Ei’s expression when she asked Miko to lay her life down for the Grand Narukami Shrine—a home she had barely spent a year at. But Miko heard the tiny inflections in the kagemusha’s voice—the slight lilts, the gentle intones. This was as close to begging as Ei would get, and Miko heard it loud and clear.
“I promise to protect this Shrine with my life,” Miko said, for she was a Shrine Maiden. Her duty, first and foremost, was to her Archons.
Ei let go of her hand. Miko clenched hers in a fist.
“Thank you,” Ei said. “I will keep you updated on what is happening. For now, be prepared for if and when we have to protect Inazuma.”
The kagemusha stood. Miko’s hand immediately shot out, grabbing Ei’s wrist.
Ei stopped and raised a brow.
“If something happens or something changes, I want to be the first to know,” Miko said firmly. When Ei’s eyes met hers, she did not back down—refused to. “It is the least you can give me after asking me to lay my life down for a place I have barely stayed a year at.”
For the briefest moments, a smile flickered across Ei’s face.
“You will be the first to know if something happens,” Ei promised.
Miko blinked, and sighed. “Thank you.”
“No.” Ei slipped her wrist out of Miko’s grip, taking the young Kitsune’s hand in her own and gripping it. For who’s reassurance, Miko did not know, but strangely, it grounded her in a way she had not known she needed to be.
“Thank you, Miko.”
She urges Ei to change her appearance before they leave so she is unrecognizable as the Raiden Shogun.
As soon as Yae deems Ei completely disguised, she takes her Archon’s hands and pulls her out of Tenshukaku into Inazuma City.
They explore every shop available in the city from the top-level, all the way down to Hanamizaka. At Ogura Textiles and Kimonos, Yae urges Ei to try as many kimonos as possible, describing in detail her firework escapades during Inazuman festivals when she should've been performing her duties as Guuji while Ei gets fitted into a new kimono.
Yae pays for a sakura-themed kimono made from the finest silk imported from Liyue.
They have lunch at Uyuu Restaurant where Yae regales Ei of a Fried Tofu Ramen match she had with an oni once, and the unfortunate aftermath of that competition for the poor oni. Yae buys her a plate of tri-colored dango, which Ei happily consumes, smiling at Yae’s story.
She takes her to the Yae Publishing House next and purchases a set of bestselling books for her, entertaining Ei with stories of Ms. Hina’s Advice Column run by a certain Watatsumi General.
Before dinner, they take a soak in the Aisa Bathhouse, Yae sharing tales of the Inazuma she experiences every day, catching Ei up on five hundred years worth of gossip and hearsay.
At Kiminami Restaurant, they taste the Special Mushroom Pizza inspired by a recipe from a land across the sea.
And throughout their little adventure, Ei watches Inazuma around her, her people clueless that their Archon walks next to them.
Their final stop is the Grand Narukami Shrine. Under the setting sun, the two of them stand in front of the Sacred Sakura.
“I don’t remember the Sacred Sakura being a Kitsune,” Ei muses.
“I took some creative liberties with it,” Yae answers, glancing at Ei’s exasperated expression.
Ei sighs, but makes no further comments.
Yae watches as she gently touches the trunk of the tree, eyes closed and inhaling deeply.
“This sakura tree is the reason Inazuma still stands.”
Yae looks up, watching the branches of the tree reach up to the sky.
Ei’s hand curls into a loose fist. “I promised myself I wouldn’t squander the hope this tree gave Inazuma; that I would protect my people.”
Ei turns her head, catching Yae’s gaze.
“Thank you for today, Miko. It was quite fun to see and hear about Inazuma from your eyes.”
“Of course.” Yae takes a deep breath, exhaling into a sigh. “Life can be so boring sometimes. It’s these moments that I appreciate the most, and look forward to experiencing in the future.”
Ei blinks. “The… future. Yes.”
Miko was the first to know, outside of those in Tenshukaku, when Khaenri’ah attacked Inazuma—the waves of enemies starting on Narukami Island rather than one of the less populated islands like Seirai or Tsurumi.
She was the first to know that Khaenri’ah had launched a simultaneous attack on all of the seven nations, leaving Inazuma with no allies to help them against the Khaenri’an monsters.
She was the first to know of the very first death on the Inazuman side, of the seemingly hopeless battles, of the dark miasma the warriors of Khaenri’ah seemed to carry with them, of the contagious stains that broke down the morale of armies in mere moments.
She was the first to know that Inazuma was at a standstill, that she was essential to their cause and must continue giving the Inazuman people hope. That, above all else, she must protect and keep the Grand Narukami Shrine going.
The day she learned that Chiyo had disappeared after drawing her blade against Ei, there had been rolling thunder clouds for days above the Shrine as if embodying the kagemusha’s grief. Ei had personally delivered this message, clearly stricken, the blood of her oni friend still on her blade. Miko had held Ei’s hand, praying to whoever was out there that there would be no more deaths of this magnitude.
Her prayers had not been met.
She heard from Ei—weeks later on a night strikingly similar to the one when Kitsune Saiguu had left—when news of the Raiden Shogun’s disappearance from Tenshukaku spread. The kagemusha had refused to cry, but her hands had shook and she had her blade at the ready, as if worried all of Miko’s protective wards placed on the Shrine would suddenly fade.
Ei did not cry. But she shook like a leaf that day, so different from when Miko had first seen her. So, Miko taught her a trick.
“It’s a spell we Kitsune learn from a young age,” Miko had said quietly, afraid a loud noise would break Ei. Makoto was no fighter, Miko knew. There was no place for the peaceful Electro Archon on the battlefield. “We Kitsune usually use it to play tricks, but it can be useful when one wants to hide away.”
She taught Ei how to place her consciousness in objects that night, a spell that would last for however long the user wanted. A Kitsune trick, Miko had said.
It eventually became the thing she regretted doing the most, but in that quiet moment, while Miko demonstrated the spell and Ei regained her composure and her strength, she had never regretted anything less.
Before dawn broke, Ei had departed for Khaenri’ah. When the sun rose above the horizon, Miko prayed to Makoto and Ei that they would return home safely.
Then, strengthened her wards around the Shrine.
She was the first to hear of Kitsune Saiguu’s disappearance, aiding a group of Shogunate warriors in battle and never returning from the darkness again, likely overwhelmed by the Khaenri’an monsters—abyssal beasts, the people of Inazuma began calling them.
The Shogunate soldier who had sent the message to her prayed for hours right after at the Grand Narukami Shrine next to Miko.
On that same day, Miko constructed a memorial for Kitsune Saiguu, and replayed all the memories of the snow-white Kitsune she could recall, knowing how fond Kitsune Saiguu was of memories.
She did not let the Grand Narukami Shrine fall that day.
She did not cry until she was alone—all alone.
Ei returned to Inazuma soon after that, bringing with her hope back to the island. The first thing she did was visit Miko at the Grand Narukami Shrine.
She stood in front of the Sacred Sakura, its branches reaching up towards the sky, the sweet smell of sakuras permeating through the air, the one beacon of hope left in Inazuma before Ei returned. Ei stared at the tree, whether in awe or in a daze, Miko did not know.
Miko did not comment on the tear tracks on Ei’s face.
“Has this always been here?” Ei whispered, voice cracking, brittle and worn. Miko did not ask what happened in Khaenri’ah. She already knew.
“It has,” Miko answered, brow furrowing at such an obvious question. “Kitsune—” she cut herself off—immediately. Her heart ached. “She had said this tree has been here since Hakushin first established the Grand Narukami Shrine.”
Ei looked like she was on the verge of crying. Miko had looked away.
“I should return to the Plane of Euthymia soon.”
Yae stiffens. “Really now?”
“I… have a lot to think about, and eventually—depending on how things go—I will have to reprogram the Shogun, which will be an… exhausting process.”
“I see. Did you assume you’d never have to reform the Raiden Shogun at all?”
“I was hoping it would last for eternity.”
“You never thought you’d leave.” It is not a question.
Yae bites her lip, hard. “That’s quite the miscalculation on your part then.”
“I suppose so.”
Yae curls her hands into tight fists.
“How long do you think you’ll be?”
“I am not sure.”
“Inazuma cannot have you leaving forever again, Ei. The Raiden Shogun is too narrow-minded to rule.”
“I won’t be gone for long, Miko. Only long enough that I can reconsider my resolve. Besides, Inazuma has you.”
“Inazuma needs more than just their Guuji, Ei.”
“Inazuma needs more than I can offer at the moment, Miko.”
“And what about me?”
“What do you mean?”
Miko clenches her jaw. “What if I need you?”
“Well, you always seem to know how to find me.”
Yae blinks and laughs, rough and grating against her ears. “Of course. Yes. How could I forget, sly fox that I am. I always know.” Until she didn’t.
“I think it’s about time you return to Tenshukaku, Ei.” Yae turns from the Sacred Sakura towards the front of the Grand Narukami Shrine. She feels Ei’s stares on the back of her neck. “The sun’s about to set.”
“Oh, you’re right.”
Yae forces her lips into a smirk like an ill-fitting mask. She sends one of her electro Kitsune spirits Ei’s way, nipping at the Archon’s cheek.
“Let me know when you return from your Plane, yes?”
“Of course.” Ei meets Yae’s gaze. Yae lets the Kitsune spirit disappear into the air. “You will always be the first to know.”
When the Cataclysm was officially over, Ei visited Miko at the Grand Narukami Shrine.
Neither of them said a single word during her visit. Miko had simply led them to the secluded room she had led Makoto or Ei to whenever they visited. Miko brought a pot of sakura tea and all the sweets they had on hand at the Shrine into the room with them, knowing she needed this—they both needed this.
They sat in the room from noon to dusk, alone together, and tried not to remember that they were all that was left.
It was only the two of them now.
A week later, Asase Hibiki returned to Seirai Island and the Asase Shrine.
“I cannot handle this anymore,” she had said to Miko the day she caught the Acting Head of the Shrine packing her bags. “Everything here reminds me of Master. It’s too much—you must understand that. I’m sorry, Miko, but I must leave. You must understand.”
Miko had let her leave, had let her go, because of course she understood.
(She held her tongue when Hibiki left, but in her heart, Miko wondered: what about her? When could she just leave like that?)
(She tried that Kitsune trick she taught Ei so many nights ago on the same night Asase Hibiki left, placing her conscious in the Grand Narukami Omamori that she had given her when she first started training under her. Miko had wanted, for a moment, to just stop feeling.
She returned to her own body almost immediately after when she realized how dangerously she was acting. She would not have wanted Miko to turn out this way. Miko had to move on.)
On the night Miko became the Grand Narukami Shrine’s Guuji, Ei visited her again.
The Shrine was silent when the new Electro Archon kissed her on the lips, desperate and needy and broken inside.
And Miko had let her. She had let her grip on her shoulders, push her against the Sacred Sakura tree, sob into her hair while Miko placed featherlight kisses everywhere on Ei, the two of them simultaneously wanting to feel nothing and feel something at the same time.
Something that wasn’t the overwhelming pressure of being all alone. They were all alone.
“Don’t leave,” Ei had murmured in bed that night, clutching onto Miko like she was the air she breathed. Her purple hair fanned out around her, loose and messy on the futon. “You cannot leave me. Please.”
“I won’t,” Miko had promised. “So long as you don’t leave me.”
She had hugged Ei tightly that night.
When Miko woke up the next day, Ei was gone, her side of the futon cold.
“I’m placing my god in your capable hands, Traveler,” Yae says. With a flick of her wrist, the portal to Ei forms, murky and dark under the gate. “For my sake, and for Inazuma’s, please… bring her back.”
“Miko, you’d better know what you’re doing,” Paimon says warily, huddling closer to the Traveler.
“We will not fail,” they swear, meeting Yae’s gaze with their characteristic determination.
Yae smiles. “That’s enough chatter. Get to work!”
The Traveler nods and enters the portal, Paimon following close behind.
As soon as they’re gone, the gate spasms, flickering in and out of existence as it accommodates a new entity traveling through the tunnel. Yae immediately casts her wards around the gate, focusing her power on one point, trying to lead the Traveler and Paimon through the space-time folds to the vague location that she knows Ei to be.
Ei, who has once again jumped headfirst into a situation with no end in sight. Ei, who has once again acted without thinking about what goes next.
Ei, who has left Inazuma all alone, again.
The portal stabilizes. Yae can only hope that means the Traveler and Paimon have made it.
With no one else around, the smile on Yae’s face slips, replaced by a deep frown.
It is like Ei to do something like this—to jump into action without wondering what happens next; to stubbornly refuse help, refuse support, refuse to consider what the consequences could be.
She’s left Inazuma, again. She’s left her, again.
“‘I place everything in Miko’s hands.’” Yae huffs. She strengthens her wards. The portal opens up wider. Her frown turns into an uncharacteristic scowl. “You’ve already done that once before.”
She had done that five hundred years before.
When there was no one else, Ei had left her all alone in Inazuma. Makoto was gone, the youkai were thinning, the Hakushin lands were disappearing, she had faded to mere memory, and Ei, who couldn’t handle it anymore—who never told her, never warned her, never let her know—left her.
She had promised her that she would always be the first to know when things changed. And yet, when it came down to it, she was left in the dark. Ei had told no one. Yae had to find out for herself what happened to her Archon, what happened with the Raiden Shogun, how much everything had changed.
And by then, there was no one left.
Now she’s done it again—jumped into the maw alone, pawned Inazuma off to Yae thinking that her people would be fine, that the Raiden Shogun’s sudden departure wouldn’t cause mass panic.
That Miko would be fine with losing her Archon again—for another unspoken Eternity.
Her anger flares, sudden and burning, a powerful force that warms her body to the core. An acrid taste fills her mouth.
How could Ei be so stupid?
Around Yae, the air sizzles with charged electro energy.
No, she knows how. Five hundred years, Ei was in stasis. Five hundred years, Ei left for her own idea of Eternity. Not once in those five hundred years had Ei changed.
If she had, then perhaps she wouldn’t have been in her Euthymia for five hundred years.
Five hundred years.
And maybe another five hundred more.
Yae breathes harshly through her nose.
She had not felt angry when Ei had left her five hundred years ago—when she handed over her sister’s gnosis like it was a pretty penny—only like she was drowning, drowning with no one around to save her.
Now, she is livid.
The last time she saw Ei, the Electro Archon had the heart of her sister cradled in her hands and a look of determination in her eyes.
Almost forcefully, Ei handed Miko the Gnosis. At first, Miko had only stared at the chess-like object. Something grabbed at her heart then, squeezing it dry. What were the implications of such an action?
“I have no use for it,” Ei said. “But I cannot keep it just anywhere, so I am asking you to take care of it.”
“Aren’t you afraid that I might just sell this off?” Miko had teased weakly, still staring at the precious item.
“You understand the value of a Gnosis. Even if you sold it, I trust that you would have exchanged it for something of equal value, and that is no easy price to pay.”
Miko met Ei’s gaze. Ei simply stared back, completely assured in her decision, and Miko understood. Ei would only give away something as precious as this when she was about to do something drastic, something that required her to part with her sister’s precious Gnosis.
Miko should’ve stopped her when she knew.
But what was she to do? What could she do? Would Ei listen to her if she said to stop whatever it was that she was doing?
At the end of the day, Miko was no legend like her; she was only a mere Shrine Maiden, and a Shrine Maiden’s first duty was to their God.
So, with a faked smile, Miko took the Gnosis, observing it under the light of the sun and the shade of the Sacred Sakura.
“Well, this is your idea, not mine. Don’t end up regretting this, now.”
Under the Sacred Sakura, Miko let Ei go.
“We need to talk.”
Ei blinks, infuriatingly slow. “About what?”
Yae stares. She doesn’t know what she was expecting. Somehow, she is not surprised.
“That is why we need to talk.”
She spins on her heels, away from the Sacred Sakura. A moment later, she hears Ei follow her. Yae leads them down the wings of the middlemost building of the Grand Narukami Shrine into a secluded room of the building. There is a thin layer of dust everywhere, clearly from having been unused for a while.
Yae had no use for a room like this while the Raiden Shogun had reigned.
She seats herself on one side of the table, brushing the dust away from the surface with her hands. The mess only serves to irk her.
Ei sits across from her, expressionless while she scans the room.
“Are you going to tell me how messy it is?” Yae asks, abruptly. “Did you know this was the room I first met Makoto in? It was only used for the most honored of guests who came to the Grand Narukami Shrine.”
Ei’s eyes meet Yae’s—calculated, analyzing. Yae smiles, the expression pulling at her face in all the wrong ways.
“I wasn’t going to mention the mess. I’m sure there is a reason this room is the way it is; however, it does look like it hasn’t been used in a while.”
“Most of the Shrine Maidens don’t know it exists.” With a flick of her wrist, a spirit fox circles the room, the electro collecting some of the dust. Not all though. There is too much to collect all in one fell swoop. “Those that do have retired. No one has entered this room in a while. There was no need to.”
Ei narrows her eyes. “Are you ok, Miko?”
Yae blinks. She laughs. “No Ei, I am not.”
She leans over the table towards Ei, fingers sliding under her Archon’s chin. Ei stares.
“What made you think leaving Inazuma without their Shogun was the right choice, hm?”
“Inazuma has survived long enough without me. And the Shogun has done more harm than good at this point.”
“Inazuma is not at a point where you can just decide to up leave. You are lucky the Traveler knew to find me, and that time works differently in Makoto’s subconscious. I can’t imagine what would happen to Inazuma if the Raiden Shogun disappeared.”
“Inazuma still has you—”
“Inazuma needs more than me, Ei. It needs its Archon.”
“I would say in the past five hundred years, Inazuma has done quite well without me.”
“This is not Mondstadt or Liyue, Ei. The Anemo Archon can afford to leave his country godless because that’s the way it has always been there. The Geo Archon slowly weened his country off his dependence for years before he deemed it ready to continue without his guiding hand.
“Inazuma—though with only a puppet leader on the throne—still knew it had the might of their Archon behind them. Where do you think the Tenryou and Kanjou Commissions got their arrogance from when it came to dealing with the Fatui? Because they thought their Raiden Shogun would be strong enough to go against them, even their Tsaritsa.”
“Perhaps it would have done them some good to be away from their Archon for a little while then.”
Yae’s expression twists into a frown. “Not like this, Ei.” Her hand drops from Ei’s chin, slamming against the table with a loud thud.
“Did you know how long you would be gone?” Yae asks. “I’m sure you expected it to take years at least, maybe even centuries to reprogram the Shogun. Did you think you’d be gone for another five hundred years? That’s five hundred years Inazuma has to face without their Archon, Ei. And with the current state of things, how long do you think it would’ve taken Inazuma to sort itself out without its Archon?
“The Tenryou Commission is still facing unrest, despite your interference. There are clans still questioning the Kujou Clan’s right to lead the Commission. The Kanjou Commission is currently without a leader now that the patriarch of the Hiiragi Clan is in custody and Lady Hiiragi currently lacks the confidence and power over the Commission. The Yashiro Commission is doing well, but who’s to say that will last forever? And with the other two Commissions facing internal problems, it will only be a matter of time before the Yashiro Commission is spread too thinly, unable to do the job of all three Commissions at the same time.
“And what about your people, Ei? What would happen to them when their God is gone? How would they feel knowing their ultimate protector has disappeared? Have you considered that?”
“I had no choice, Miko. If I was to lead Inazuma into the future, I had to reprogram the Raiden Shogun.”
“You had a choice, Ei. You had a choice five hundred years ago too.”
“Are you truly going to blame me for my actions back then, Miko?” Ei’s voice turns cold. Yae narrows her eyes. “I am trying my best to make up for what I’ve done in the past, but it will take time. You have to understand that. And with an invention like the Shogun, I had known it would take time to reprogram it.”
“Then why didn’t you tell me? I thought you promised me back then that I’d always be the one to know when something happens?”
Ei’s brows raise. “Is that why you’re throwing a fit, Miko? Because I didn’t tell you—”
“Don’t tell me I’m throwing a fit,” Yae warns lowly. Ei flinches. It brings a vindictive sort of pleasure to Yae. “Don’t tell me I’m throwing a fit when it was you who left for five hundred years because you thought you had no one left.”
“Miko, everyone had died—”
“No,” Yae interrupts. “Not everyone.”
Ei stills, eyes wide.
The air changes. Suddenly, Yae doesn’t want to be anywhere near her Archon anymore. She leans away.
Ei’s hand clasps around her wrist.
Miko flinches. She feels so much like the little Kitsune from five hundred years ago, alone and small and scared and alone.
She swallows roughly.
“When Kitsune Saiguu had left for Tenshukaku, you told me I could not let the Grand Narukami Shrine fall. ‘It was a symbol of the people of Inazuma’s hopes and dreams,’ you said.” Miko’s hand clenches. “What do you think, then, was my symbol of hope that Inazuma would survive?”
Ei does not answer. Miko had expected as much. She raises her gaze, meeting Ei’s own.
“You know what I thought when you disappeared?”
Ei shakes her head, eyes wide and remorseful.
“I thought, ‘maybe Kitsune Saiguu, or Makoto, or anyone else would’ve been able to make you stay. If they were alive, maybe they would’ve been able to help you.’” Miko smiles bitterly. “You left. You left Inazuma; you left your people; you left me.
“You didn’t even say goodbye.”
The first time she met the Raiden Shogun was the same day she first set foot at Tenshukaku.
When she stepped into the main room of the palace and saw the Electro Archon on her throne, Miko knew immediately this was not Ei. The person sitting on the throne was expressionless, robotic, harsh.
This was not Ei. Ei might be cold, but she was not unfeeling, never.
And suddenly, Miko knew why Ei gave her the Gnosis.
“State your business,” the Raiden Shogun said.
“I am here to see Ei,” Yae answered, eyes narrowed.
“Where is she?”
“Ei is unavailable.”
“I know she’s here.”
“She is unavailable. I will not repeat myself any further. If that is all you’re here for, then you must leave.”
“I will not leave until I see Ei, puppet.” The hairs on Yae’s nape stood up when electro energy suddenly fizzled in the air.
“Refer to me as the Raiden Shogun,” the clone boomed. “Yae Miko, Guuji of the Grand Narukami Shrine, if you do not leave the premises now, I will be forced to use more aggressive means.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“For the sake of Eternity, I would do anything.”
From her chest, the clone summoned what looked to be a purple katana, its eyes shining bright purple with power. Around Yae, the air became charged with electro energy. The Kitsune tensed up.
“Leave, Miko,” the Raiden Shogun said.
Yae stilled. “Ei?”
“If you have no other business with me, then leave. I won’t ask again.” The Raiden Shogun lifted her sword. Yae froze, immediately recognizing it for what it was—the Musou Isshin, sharpened to kill.
“You…” Yae sucked in a breath. “You placed your consciousness in the sword.”
“Ei.” Miko lowered her head to meet the Raiden Shogun’s stare. “What have you done?”
“I am the Raiden Shogun,” the clone droned menacingly. “I am preserving Inazuma’s Eternity. You have refused to listen to my warnings, and therefore, are a threat to Eternity.” The Raiden Shogun stepped forward.
Yae did not stay long to figure out what the Shogun would do to threats to Eternity.
She transported herself back to the Grand Narukami Shrine, away from the Raiden Shogun, away from Ei.
Away from the last person left.
When Yae opened her eyes again, she stood in front of the Sacred Sakura, its leaves reaching up into the sky as far as the eye could see.
She breathed in the smell of sakura blossoms, and cried.
She was alone.
All alone now.
“I’m sorry, Miko.”
Yae turns from her spot in front of the Sacred Shrine, brow raised. In front of her, the Electro Archon stands.
“Ei. I didn’t know you’d be visiting the Shrine today.”
Ei frowns. “Miko—” she hesitates, eyes glancing around the Shrine.
Yae watches her, sighs, and turns, stepping down from the prayer platform. “Come. We shouldn’t talk out in the open like this.”
They return to the same secluded room in the middlemost building. It is cleaner than the last time they were here; Yae made sure of it.
They take their seats across from each other around the table.
Yae watches Ei’s hands clasp together, tight. She waits.
“I have been thinking of all you told me the last time we were here,” Ei starts, quiet but firm. “And I realize now how painful it must’ve been for you because of me. I’m truly sorry, Miko, for all that I have done. I’m sorry I left you without saying goodbye back then. I made many mistakes in fear of losing more of what I loved, and I had been so focused on the past that I forgot what was still here—what is still here.
She takes a soft breath.
“Before I became the Raiden Shogun, my only job was to lead the Shogunate. For a long while, it was the only thing I knew how to do, and knew how to do well.” Ei’s voice cracks. She clears her throat. “But when almost everyone I loved had died, I began to doubt my abilities. After all, what good were strength and power when I couldn’t use them to protect those I loved?
“When I became the true Raiden Shogun, I was at my lowest point—desperate and scared on the throne. I didn’t know how to lead Inazuma as Makoto had, only how to protect it. So, in my grief, I resorted to what was familiar. I aspired to restore Eternity to Inazuma once more, but in the only way I knew would keep them safe: stasis.
“And, in my search for Eternity and escape from the Heavenly Principles, I forgot I still had someone who I wanted to protect, who had lost just as many people as I had.” Ei meets Yae’s gaze. Yae holds her breath, carefully watching the way the other’s eyes soften with remorse. “For that, I’m sorry, Miko. If I could take back my actions from back then and fix things, I would do it in a heartbeat. It is my fault that things ended up this way. I should’ve been more empathetic towards you—more open towards you back then. If I had been, then perhaps these past five hundred years would’ve passed by differently.”
Ei squeezes her hands tightly. Yae’s eyes flicker towards them, then back up to Ei.
“I hope you know just how important you are to me, Miko—both back then and now. I promise you, there won’t be any more occurrences like that anymore. You always will be the first to know if I need to leave and the first to know when I have returned, now and forever.”
Her Archon pauses, closes her eyes, and opens them.
“There is nothing else more important to me now than staying here in Inazuma—staying here with you.”
Silence blankets them.
Yae exhales, slowly.
“I should apologize too.”
Ei furrows her brows. “What for?”
“I had lost my temper when I last talked with you.”
“It had been completely justified.”
Miko chuckles, soft and gentle. She spreads her hands on the table.
“Thank you for telling me this, Ei. While I don’t regret what I said to you, I do understand what you were feeling back then. I would be lying to say that I hadn’t considered doing the same thing you did five hundred years ago.”
Ei frowns. “Had you?”
“For a moment, yes. But I thought of Kitsune Saiguu, and knew she would’ve wanted better for me than that.”
Ei’s expression turns pained. Miko’s smile slips off her face.
“We both had different ways of processing our grief, Ei,” she says softly. “I understand better now what you had been going through then. So I hope, moving forward, that you understand too what I had gone through when you left, and that we learn from our past mistakes so they may never happen again.”
Ei immediately nods. “Of course.”
Miko grins and reaches over the table, taking one of Ei’s hands and gently loosening her tight grip on them.
“Then, things will be fine in the end.”
A small smile worms its way onto Ei’s lips.
“I am truly grateful for you, Miko,” she says, bowing her head. “I’m not sure what would’ve happened to Inazuma or me without you. Thank you, for all that you do for Inazuma, and for me.”
“Of course.” She wouldn’t have had it any other way.
She feels Ei squeeze her hand. Miko exhales, and squeezes back.
There is still much they needed to talk about—open wounds that needed treatment, scars that had yet to fade—but for now, in this moment, Miko is content.
This is nice.
“It is nice—to have you back, Ei.”
“It is nice to be back with you again, Miko.”