9. The Poems

He had wandered the city for a day before he circled back. 

Chirikai picked up an empty chest on the way back into the city and filled it with mud. With a wave of his hand, the mud transformed into gold nuggets, and he dumped the chest in the doorway of the Shinrusu Palace. After a moment of frowning and scribbling in the dark, Chirikai also decided to write a poem.     

Many thanks for the gracious accommodations at the end of a long journey:   

The trees are barren    
Blossoms on the ground and wind
Drifting by new leaves
A hot summer is coming
Between these green branches     

He had no idea what the humans were using as currency these days, if they were using coins. But gold was good. This enchanted gold would turn back to mud in fifty years or so. His kind used their own currency, and Chirikai had more of it than he knew how to spend with chests of riches rotting in the seaside fortress. For as long as his father had been gone from home, envoys of the Sun Goddess had delivered gifts, and demons had paid their tribute faithfully because they were terrified of his father.     

Chirikai shook his head at the thought as he tucked his note beneath the chest and left for the Tachikawa Villa.     

The Tachikawa Villa was a few blocks from the Shinrusu Palace. Chirikai found a full staff of servants waiting for him. They took his clothes, prepared a bath, and laid out a hot dinner of pickled eggplant, clear soups, and rice cakes. Chirikai found the villa small, but fashionable with black wood and monochrome screens dividing each room. His bedroom opened into a quaint garden with a pond gurgling with frogs.     

Chirikai left the doors to the garden open.     

He could not sleep, and he was too tired to weep, so he drew patterns in the moonlight with his finger dragging back and forth over the soft wood, worn down over decades of socks and bare feet. Incense smoke wafted from his room. His eyelids laid heavily against his eyes.

This hospitality was not normal. Chirikai did not care. Pulling the last of the paper from the pocket in his sleeve, he called for ink and when the servant brought it, he wrote another note.     

You are not asleep.    

As are the frogs, crickets, me

    Please come and see me. 

It was not his best, but he handed it to the servant anyway. The servant looked down at the note, curious.     

Chirikai waved his hand. “Give it to the younger princess.”    

“The younger princess, sir?” He scratched his head, confused. “Are you sure?”    

Anger swept over Chirikai, hot as the sun on his fur. Was no one courting her—were they afraid? Did no one ever try because of the elder sister? The lovely mother? 

Wasn’t power the most desirable thing of all, and didn’t the younger princess have it?     

Chirikai vowed he would never use their milky, perfect skin tone.     

“Yes,” he bit off. “The younger princess. Did I stutter?”    

“My apologies.” The servant bowed. “I will take it over right away.”     

Chirikai waited for her response, gazing at the pond. He expected a response, but as the minutes ticked by, he became more uneasy. What if there was nothing? He fiddled with his sleeve, frowning. Then, he heard the shuffling in the corridor as the servant returned. 

Asuka had sent him a note back. He shooed the man away and unfolded the scented paper, reading:    

Those frogs and crickets    

Stay in their murky waters    

Birds keep to the skies. 

Chirikai barked a laugh and crumpled up her note. Asuka, the characters that made up her name were “bird” and “flying”—boxes and lines that made up the most human of spellcraft. His mother had delighted in the written word, writing characters with her bone brush set overlooking the ocean. She had insisted that he learn to write beautifully as well. She had given him the name Chirikai too. Made of special characters for “dust” and “ashes,” his name a reference to what is left following an apocalyptic disaster. Culturally, it was a very demonic name written in ridiculous human rules. 

He stood up, raising his fist to chuck Asuka’s note in the pond, and that was when he glimpsed the gigantic building beyond the villa. He walked to the edge of his deck, eyes wide in amazement. He dropped the crumpled poem. 

He had not noticed it before because it was beyond a clump of old trees on the edge on the property. The big building's roof curled upwards, as if made of the black, buttery scales of a dragon fish. The frame of the building, parts of the outer walls, and the roof was done.  Like blocking space, as it space could be owned and controlled by walls if they were thick enough. It claimed the earth and the sky, like a patch in the quilt of the darkening heavens. Chirikai gazed at it through the haze of sunset, the frame of it all dark and murmuring. 

It looked awfully human, all of it, in the same way as the blocks of human words on the page. But this page was carving out a mark in the ground. It was a large statement, a celebration of something larger than the mansions, palaces, and shops that seemed to ask permission to rest on the earth. Do not knock us over, please, the smaller buildings seemed to plead to the earthquakes, hurricanes, and passing demons like himself. We are like the homes of the birds in the trees. 

This building was not asking permission or pleading for anything. Chirikai gazed at it, a sinking feeling in his stomach, then the feeling trailed through the muscles of his legs and down into the earth. He stepped down from the deck, drawn to the earthenware tiles and gleaming boards. “How many trees were cut down for you, I wonder?” 

Throwing caution to the wind, Chirikai transformed into a fox and leapt over the fence surrounding the garden. Maybe he was desperate for something else to think about for the night rather than ashes blowing away on the breeze and murky rivers. Instead, he ran down an alleyway between two mansions towards the construction. 

It had seemed closer than it was, because the building was so big. He had to slink through bushes and under someone’s garden house to reach the closest street.     

What gods do they love today, I wonder? What are you worshipping and destroying now?