Asuka resolved to find her answers someplace else.
Asuka took her umbrella and left for the Sun Goddess Shrine’s library. All the great shrines in the Capital had libraries. Asuka had read all the scrolls in the Shinrusu Shrine to the Sea Goddess, so she knew she would not find her answers there for the spell her father was performing.
The Sun Goddess Shrine gate was wrapped in white paper in preparation for an upcoming festival. Asuka bowed at the gate and continued along the gravel path inside.
There was a time when human and animal sacrifice had been popular, she mused as she passed a cedar stage used for dancing. Shamans specializing in divination and spirit possession had innovated on techniques, trying to climb higher up into the pantheon of gods to discover how the world had been created. At the climax of the divination-possession trend twenty years ago, the previous hiwau magicked the Sun Goddess into his body.
“I was there when it happened, Asuka,” her father had told her when she had asked him about the creation of the world at thirteen. “He called all the shamans in the Capital to the palace. I remembered what happened with the Moon God shaman, you know, so I covered my eyes with cloth when he began his ritual. He sacrificed slaves and livestock. The air became so dry I thought it would catch fire. Her aura was too strong to be contained in a human body as the medium, even in her descendent’s vessel.”
“What did she say?” Asuka had asked.
“Her voice was so clear it hurt; it was like light trapped in my skull. She said, ‘Hōmitachi was the Law, Sasugamida was the Chaos, Monotsuku was the Matter, and Reitsuku was the Holy.’ She said those words, and then the hiwau died. The city caught fire from the dry air, and we moved back to Umiguni while the Capital was repaired.”
Asuka had never concerned herself with the debates around the Sun Goddess’s proclamation. She believed that if the gods wanted them to know something, they would tell without all the death and destruction. It might be naive. But gods had told her important things without dramatic sacrifice in the past.
As she approached the main hall of the Sun Goddess Shrine, Asuka bowed to the shaman in charge, noting the suns stitched into his sleeve. “Good afternoon.”
“Good afternoon, Princess,” he said pleasantly. “Your servant informed me that you wish to use our library?”
Asuka nodded, and he lead the way inside. She gave them scrolls from her personal collection in exchange for use of the library. Knowledge was might, and might was a family business. She was no family to the hiwau, and no shrine would allow an outsider to read their precious, hand-written collections for free.
He opened the windows to the storehouse, shaped like an elevated log cabin. Some squirrels ran out from beneath the storehouse as she walked up the stairs. The shaman watched her as she fished through boxes, reading the labels. “Can you tell me if you have any scrolls on divination and god contact?”
“In the back corner, Princess. We don’t allow any fire in here, so you will have to read by sunlight.”
An hour later, Asuka politely declined their offers of tea and lunch, refusing to leave the storehouse. She unrolled piles of scrolls, scanning their contents and reading the ones relevant to animal sacrifice. None of the newer scrolls proved helpful. With a sneeze, Asuka dragged a scroll as long as her arm down from the shelf. “Older texts,” she mumbled. “Probably useful.”
The old language lacked punctuation. The sentences rambled into each other. As the sun set, the handwriting in the scrolls seemed to grow worse. Asuka rubbed her eyes, remembering the gleaming coat of the mare. He’s consulting gods. Which god?
She left the storehouse, her eyes sore, wishing she could keep reading.
I need to do more research.
“Need another ride?”
Asuka looked up from the gravel path to see Chirikai waiting at the shrine gate. Unbidden, she reached up to straighten her collar. Chirikai wore a beautiful fuchsia robe, stitched with tiny lotus flowers. Most men would not be bold enough to wear that, or offer her rides home—she felt color rise to her cheeks, not quite anger, not quite embarrassment. He should be embarrassed, not her. All the same, she felt like she was doing something wrong here. “Are you stalking me, Master Shiho?”
“I have read the stories,” said Chirikai evenly. “If I’m attractive, it’s technically not stalking.”
Asuka passed him breezily, aware of the shaman and attendants watching them from the shrine. “If you say so,” she replied, distracted.
In an out-of-body moment, Chirikai realized that he was more interested now that she was not interested. Then, his pride swelled; she was looking at him from the corner of her eye.
“I was wondering if you would like to stray from the main path this evening?” he said. “I found a patch of lilies blooming by the riverside shrine. It would look lovely by the moonlight.”
Asuka’s eyes narrowed. “Lilies bloom in the summer.”
“These are blooming,” promised Chirikai. “Would you like to come with me?”