16. The Father

The next morning, Asuka stood in the hallway outside her father’s study. Rain pitter-pattered on the roof. 

She pressed her fingertip against the wall, waiting for herself. 

Asuka heard her father inside the room, moving papers. She wrote a poem against the wall.

 I do not fear change
The moon revolves and returns
 But the dark scares me

Asuka closed her eyes. No time for poetry. She just had to ask. There was an answer, and she knew it had to be a good one because he was a good person. She stepped towards the door, then took a step back. What was she going to say? 

“Father, do you have a moment?” Asuka recited, her lips moving but her mouth silent. “You may have noticed that I was not feeling well yesterday. I was nervous because I came back to the inner shrine, and I saw you sacrifice the horse. You have taught me that was ancient and evil magic”—don’t use that word—“ancient magic we are not to use. It frightened me.” Don’t say that. Don’t cast judgment. “Please, tell me why.” 

Please. Make this okay. 

She stepped towards the door, and Asuka realized that there was fear in her heart because there was no way he could make this okay.

Divination was inherently greedy. Nothing was more ugly than destroying a life to increase your own knowledge. It was worse than destroying a life because you were hungry and needed something to eat or killing someone because you wanted an object; objects would survive and pass though families. Bodies naturally rose and fell—divination was dissatisfaction with reality, a craving for things meant to remain unknown. 

To kill something in order to answer a question... To rip an animal spirit from its body and throw it into the unknown stood against everything he had ever told her. The hiwau had diviners that worked for him, who, at dawn, slaughtered roosters and read signs in the smoke. Her father had sneered at them, once.  She did not fear the dark, actually, she realized. And this fear, this very particular fear, had nothing to do with her love for him. She loved him. That would never change. It was a fear of her asking a question and that love shifting under feet like treacherous sand. 

Asuka swallowed and finally forced herself to step through the doorway. “Father, do you have a moment?” 

Her father turned from his desk, holding a box of scrolls. He dropped it on the floor at her tight expression. “Asuka, are you all right? They told me you left early yesterday. I was worried.”

He embraced her. Asuka buried her face in his robes as her throat tightened and the words she had so carefully considered fled her mind. “I’m better. I mean...”

“Are you ill?” He drew her back to examine her face. Asuka could see the shadows and sleepless lines trailing around his eyes like mountain paths. He looked so old these days, especially as he said, “I can call for one of the healers.”

 “No,” she said quickly. She waved her hand, in agitation. She never did that. “It’s just, yesterday... I just have something I want to ask you.”

Her father led her inside his study and sat down before a painted screen, folding his legs crosslegged, and Asuka lowered herself to the floor. She tried to gather her words, one of her hands rising as if she could catch it, but the sound of raindrops scattered her thoughts.  

He poured her a cup of tea. 

“It’s just about yesterday,” she tried, trying to get the conversation going, “I came back, I mean, and I am frightened.”

His face paled, and she saw the unease, or maybe nothing; she didn’t trust her own judgment. Asuka held her cup, watching the steam rise. Her heart seemed to sink. Her skin felt hot with shame, but she didn’t know why—I didn’t do anything wrong—and the words caught in her constricted throat. 

 I can change everything. 

He leaned forward. “What’s wrong?” 

She opened her mouth, then stopped. 

 “You know you can ask me anything.”

Or I can change nothing. 

“I don’t know what to do,” she choked. “After the purifying at the inner shrine, I just, I went to the gate. I saw Master Shiho there. We talked a little, again, and he gave me a ride home. I know I shouldn’t have, but I didn’t do anything wrong, I promise.”

He shook his head at her sorrow. 

“It’s just that I feel so lonely sometimes,” she continued, rambling about this other truth she never talked about, which was a lot less scary than confronting him. Asuka felt hysterical on the inside, her voice hushed. Easier to talk about this. “I’m not sad. I just see something in Funako, and I wonder...”

They listened to the rain. She was lying, but it wasn’t a full lie, but. 

She couldn’t talk to her own father. What he had done. It was like she was trying to tear down an earthen wall with her fingernails. 

What’s changed between us? 

“If you don’t want to be high shaman...”

“I want it,” Asuka interrupted. “Never doubt that. I want it more than anything.” 

He dumped her cold tea back in the pot. “I will always protect you and your sister, your mother. Sometimes that means I have to protect you from things I can’t even recognize. If this is something you don’t want in your life, I do not want you to chase it for my sake.” He paused. “My feelings on the matter are insignificant beside yours. It’s your life, Asuka.”

Asuka stared at the floor as her questions began to shrink beside his words and the warmth in his eyes. The pain at her pain.  

“I know you’ve always been the quiet sort,” he continued softly. “I’m more like that, I suppose. Your sister has taken after your mother.”

“Yes, I guess she has,” said Asuka. She rubbed her eyes. Shame burned. Ask him.

“I only worry that you think your position has shut you out from others.”  He shifted, awkward. “It pains me and it prides me to admit it, but you have grown up to be a beautiful young woman. It’s only natural that men will seek your company, and there is nothing wrong with friendship. When I was studying to be high shaman, I spent all my evenings with your mother and Warase and those adventures, as stupid as they were, benefitted me greatly.” 

His voice turned pained. “Please don’t lock yourself away because I chose you to be my heir. I trust you, Asuka, more than I’ve trusted anyone in my whole life. I love your sister and you equally, but I trust you to do the right thing when there are decisions, when the hard times come.”

Asuka began to cry. He gathered his daughter in his arms. “I’m so sorry. Please don’t cry.”

She took a deep, shuddering breath. “I’m okay, Father. Thank you.”

They sat in silence until the rain stopped.