XV. High Monk Sanjô

“Cease,” commanded the catfish demon, his black and scaly skin glowing with power. The man stumbled backwards as the earthquake rocked the foundations of the building. Heimatsu’s voice reverberated, seeming to move around them.     

“I am Heimatsu of the Earthquake from the Realm of the Dragon Lord Under the Sea. Cease or I will destroy you.” 

“Just destroy him,” choked Chirikai. “Honestly.”     

The earth rumbled, splitting as Heimatsu waved his hand. The man dropped his staff and fled in a whirl of gold and purple robes. 

Heimatsu dropped to his knees beside Chirikai. “Are you all right? What was that?”    

“I don’t know.”     

“Are you all right? Chirikai, you shouldn’t have come here. The Capital is human territory.”    

“I had to find her.” 

Heimatsu lifted Chirikai to his feet. He could not meet his friend’s eyes. “And?”

“She’s dead,” said Chirikai tonelessly. “Of course.” He stepped away and brushed off his robes.     

“Then let’s go back. No need to stay around strange places battling shamans.” Heimatsu frowned at the statue. “Who’s the bald guy supposed to be? The hiwau?”    

Chirikai shook his head. “I’m not going home.”    

“Chirikai, you can’t stay here. There’s no reason for it.”     

Chirikai picked up one of the oranges from the dish and began peeling it. “There’s no reason for me to go back.”    

“Are you crazy? There’s a whole fortress of people that will miss you. I’ll miss you. Your father —“    

“I’m not going back!” Chirikai hurled the orange at the ground.      

Heimatsu blamed his response on the adrenaline rush from battle, the furious glow in his friend’s eyes, and the strange aura of the place. “Just because your mother came down here on a demented suicide mission doesn’t mean you have to do the same!”     

The demons froze as the words echoed through the building. Neither moved.     

Chirikai ended the moment by taking a step back and smoothing his hair. The fox demon touched his eyelids and mouth, and when he removed his hands, his face was placid.     

“Do you find your home to be a happy place, Heimatsu?” Chirikai asked with a small smile.     

“Yes.”    

“Do you know why that is?”    

Heimatsu turned miserable. “Chirikai, come home. I’ll stay at the fortress.”    

“You’re not enough,” answered the fox demon.     

“I’m your friend.”    

“You’re not enough” Chirikai snarled. “Now leave, go home.”    

Heimatsu stood his ground, even as Chirikai began to shed sparks from his fingertips. “I’m not going anywhere without you.”     

“Go home,” said Chirikai, “or I will kill you.”     

Heimatsu remembered the dragon corpse and the dunes riddled with bones. But he knew that with a stomp and a strike of the earth he could bring down the entire structure on them. A part of him longed for the respect that he would earn by forcing Chirikai to his knees.     

Heimatsu could see Chirikai’s poised, his shoulders raised. The fox demon had barely any magic left.     

“Fine,” whispered Heimatsu. “Consider me gone.”    

Heimatsu turned and departed.    

“Coward,” Chirikai said.    

With a thrust of his arm, the ground split open and leapt upwards, catching Chirikai between its jaws. Heimatsu slammed his palms together. The earth slammed together, but Chirikai’s form disappeared with a poof.     

Heimatsu felt a set of claws pressed against his back and Chirikai’s heavy breath in his ear.    

“That was fast,” taunted Chirikai. “I expected you to last longer.”    

“I bet you’re used to hearing that.”

“In bed?”

“In bed,” said Heimatsu. “And fighting.”     

Chirikai drove his claws into Heimatsu’s back, only to smash them into a layer of clay armor beneath the catfish demon’s robes. Before Chirikai could free himself, Heimatsu grabbed Chirikai and tried to hurl the fox demon over his shoulder. But Chirikai transformed, sinking his fangs into Heimatsu’s shoulder, and both demons hit the earth hard. 

They struggled in a heap, Chirikai working his fangs towards Heimatsu’s heart and Heimatsu with his hand around Chirikai’s throat. Something mumbled. It was then that Chirikai, with his eyes at Heimatsu’s shoulder, saw the strange man from before bend over to pick up his discarded staff.    

He’d brought friends, more purple-robed friends with staffs, and Chirikai was about to disentangle from his friend when their spell nailed him to the ground.    

The men began to chant.     

Heimatsu swore, and Chirikai whined in pain.     

Chirikai regretted baiting Heimatsu. Heimatsu regretted his friendship with such an emotional shapeshifter. Another man in purple robes ran from the entrance towards the group.     

“High Monk Sanjō,” said the young man breathlessly, “Lord Shinrusu and his daughter are here. What should we do?”

High Monk? wondered Chirikai. What’s a high monk? Some new sort of shaman?     

Heimatsu was just as confused as Chirikai, but he benefitted from stronger defenses against the painful magic. Heimatsu watched an imposing middle-aged man stride through the doorway in the orange and white robes of a shaman—this new man towered over High Monk Sanjō. Lord Shinrusu looked as if he had just been awakened. Chirikai stopped whining at the sight of Asuka. She had thrown on an orange shaman robe over a indigo sleeping robe. 

Gone were the brown peasant robes, and she now hide her face beneath a hat draped in gauze.     

Heimatsu normally was not afraid of shamans; they spent most of their time groveling to the gods and exorcising lesser demons. This High Shaman Shinrusu gave him a look that made him want to stink into the ground. An uneasy magic rumbled from the girl to his side. She felt dangerous.     

Heimatsu revised his opinion on shamans as Chirikai stiffened beside him.     

“Lord Shinrusu, what are you doing here?” asked High Monk Sanjō. He gave a slight bow to Asuka.    

Asuka did not bow back.     

“You do not think I am capable of sensing two demons fighting near my home?” Lord Shinrusu bent down to examine the demons on the ground.    

“You cannot use an exorcism spell on demons residing in their own bodies,” said Asuka. “We will take them to our shrine.”     

High Monk Sanjō spread his arms in protest. “They were trying to destroy our temple.”     

“They are demons,” said Lord Shinrusu. “Demons’ thoughts are rarely that sophisticated. If the dark one is a god, I should be the one guiding him back to his home. The line between spirits, gods, and demons is very thin.” Lord Shinrusu Shinrusu looked down at Heimatsu. “It would be awful to make an enemy tonight.”    

Heimatsu’s skin pinkened.     

“What of the damage to our temple?”    

“I will reimburse you for the damage to the… ground. Your, ah, temple seems to still be standing.” Lord Shinrusu left the temple to speak with his servants waiting outside.    

High Monk Sanjō had an accent, Chirikai noticed.  He had mealy skin and his face was flat like a dish, his hair cut close to the skin.     

He was also staring at Asuka in a way that made Chirikai want to burn and growl. It was not desire; as disgusting as that would be, he would prefer that. Sanjō’s look was a look of a man who found power attractive, even if it came packaged in a teenage girl, like he wanted to lock her in a room with his favorite seashells and butterfly wings.