“They sent a replacement,” Byulyi quietly observes from her perch on the low hanging branch of a willow tree. She rests her cheek on a knee, eyes gleaming unnaturally in the darkness.
Yongsun straightens as she glares up at the goddess, hands balling into fists.
“My family has been watching over your shrine for generations. Why would we be stopping now?”
Byulyi hums at the exasperation practically dripping from Yongsun’s voice, her smile just visible in the moonlight.
“Your sister was supposed to be my priestess.”
“You don’t want me?”
“I never said that. She’s been trained on how to be a priestess for my shrine. You have not, Kim Yongsun.”
Yongsun rests her hands on her hips as she meets the steadfast gaze of the goddess. The spring air flutters the lithe branches of the willow surrounding them.
“My sister doesn’t want to have this lifestyle. She ran away to England. So I’m your only option.”
“You would sacrifice the rest of your life for my existence? I didn’t know I’d made such an impression on you when we first met.”
Yongsun pauses at the wry words, thinking of when she had wobbly prostrated herself in front of the goddess in a hanbok so new it was still stiff from the tailor. She’d been trembling as the person in front of her merely observed her with a sad half smile behind the altar, her dark silk robes illuminated by flickering candlelight. When she was asked to introduce herself, three year old Yongsun had burst into tears.
“You don’t forget a goddess giving you grape jelly from a convenience store to get you to stop crying.”
“It was cute.” Byulyi lifts her head and her smile widens as she slides from the willow tree branch, landing gracefully on the ground with the fluttering of her deep blue robes. Her dark hair is down loosely at her shoulders, a section pulled back and tied with a pink ribbon, ratty from use. As she gets closer and closer more of her humanness seems to fall away and when she stands before Yongsun triangular wolf ears swiveled atop the goddesses’ head and brown eyes now glow gold.
“Maybe it’d be good if I wasted away along with the rest of my kind,” Byulyi murmurs quietly as she meets Yongsun’s level gaze. Her smile twists bittersweet with the gleam of sharpened teeth.
“My family wouldn’t let that happen.”
“I won’t force this on you. I-I knew someone once who didn’t want this life but did it out of obligation. It didn’t end kindly for her. Despite how much I...” Byulyi’s face darkens and she glares off to the side, her mind clearly transported to another time.
“Well just because I have to do this doesn’t mean I don’t want to. I’m unemployed and it seems like this work will be the only thing that can give me a roof over my head. It’s like I’m fated to be your priestess.”
“Fate.” Byulyi’s forehead furrows and those golden eyes are back on Yongsun. “You think you’re fated to be here with me?”
Yongsun thinks of being a little girl, sniffling as she holds the grape jelly in one hand as a goddess gently pats her head. You can call me Byulyi, tickles her ears from years ago. What’s your name?
“Will you accept me as your priestess?”
Byulyi’s jaw tightens, a rejection clearly on the tip of her tongue.
So Yongsun simply falls to her knees, tilting her head up to look at the goddesses’ puzzled expression.
“I, Kim Yongsun, pledge myself to the goddess of the Northern Peaks to serve as her priestess. And to be of service to her and her shrine for the rest of my days.”
Byulyi gazes down heavily at Yongsun and reaches forward. She gently pulls something out of her hair.
“Are you sure? I will never force you to live your life for me.”
“I am,” Yongsun whispers, finally bowing her head and looking at the hem of Byulyi’s robes.
“I will appreciate your service to me for the rest of your life, Kim Yongsun. I’ll try to give you enough jellies to make up for it.”
Yongsun giggles at the wry comment and when Byulyi’s breath catches she peeks upward. Bathed in soft moonlight, the goddess is practically silver in an ethereal glow. It would be impossible to not believe that Yongsun is in the presence of a god.
“I look forward to it.”