"There was a side of me you destroyed." The side that you touched was the side that was never allowed to feel desire or love. "But it wasn the side that mattered in any way."
He scoffed at me, dismissing any honor that had leaked out of my admittance. "Don give me so much credit."
"Its not credit to you, Sugai." I looked up at him though the parts of my hair that fell over my face in ropes. I thought that it must have hardened my face, given me seriousness where it had never been placed on me. "The credit is for me. With that innocence in me gone, I was free. You set me free. Because then, Sugai, then what did I have to lose to secure my profession?" My soul no longer suffered for the crimes I committed to my desire to love. My heart was no longer tugged to define what desire laid buried in my soul.
"Don try to make me feel for you."
I leaned forward, bracing myself with my arms on the bar of the prison. "All these commands." I said with a scoff ringing in my tone. "Just like how we used to be."
The day my life became entangled with his, I cherished. I crushed the memory of hardship between us into the depths of my soul to ensure whatever I felt at the thought of him remained pure. That was the way his emotional fingers curled tightly around my heart, and the strength of his presence treading on my definition of love. He defined it. He created it. The things that I called desire, pleasure, lust, were all made by him. The story of him a song on repeat.
I tiptoed on the dirt path thousands of feet before mine had worn down to the shrine. The ground perpetually wet, the soil stuck to the soles of my feet and blackened them as I carried my geta with my fingers hooked around the hanao. I walked slowly, with purposed in each step, though my eyes were half lidded and my mind was floating high above the trees. I looked up into them towering above me, the splits in the bark long and straight, taller than I could reach. The leaves spread out collecting the sunlight and shading the forest floor where I walked. Droplets of the humid air clung to my hair and put weight in my kimono. The temple in the distance broke through the green and brown with stark red in contrast, shouting to the poor souls lost there. I smiled to myself as my gaze became fixed on the red gates, my feet cold in the dirt, and I thought maybe I wouldn be able to tell the difference if my soul suddenly slipped out of my body and spilled on the ground.
Weeds, vines, and moss littered the tori gate like the reach of the forest pulling it further still into the darkness of the canopy trees. As I stepped under it onto the stone path I pat the pillar three times with my flat palm. The shrine had been placed there, in the middle of the forest, perhaps by the God it housed Himself, and had not been found by samurai battles. I closed my eyes with my palm against the wood, in the same spot the colour had been rubbed away from thousands of visits before me, and I imagined the clearing of the greenery. I left wet footprints as I cascaded down the stone path to the Kamidana. No one came to the shrine anymore. I was the only one alive who knew it still stood.
"Ohayo gozaimasu Kitsune-san." I said to the stone statue of a fox that I greeted. A patch of red fabric had been tied around the animals neck some time ago, and had become faded and grey. I adjusted it at the edges, smoothing it down the foxs proud chest, and slid my index finger from the tip of its nose to the top of its head.
"Ohayo." I heard the voice in the instant I felt a grip closing around my wrist, catching me in between the slight movements. How natural it was, I thought, to be caught so effortlessly in a way that matched even the seconds I drew breath. I was frozen in the hold around my wrist, as if my entire being had been enslaved to it. As many times as I had visited the shrine, I walked the same steps, I covered the same ground, and I was utterly alone every time. The forest was still and deafeningly quiet, no breeze nor bird calls in the sky, no rustle of leaves on the ground. "What is your name?"
A glowing sort of yellow eye peered from the back of the fox statue, an almost replica of the stone shape. I strained to see into the shadow behind the statue, into the lines of the figure, but caught off guard as I was, my eyes could only look. As I watched, clawed fingers slithered out of the shadow and wrapped around the statue where the fox figure met the pillar. The shape of them were human enough, but the skin a slight blue colour, as if left in the cold too long. The nails were long, pointed at the tips, opaque and black. A soft and light hair, matching the colour of the skin, grew just too thickly from the knuckles. Somehow, though the information by brain was trying to make sense of was surprising, even frightening, I felt my feet glued to the ground in my place. I was steadfast, unable to move, and yet the energy washing over me in the presence of this creature, whatever it may be, was calm. I felt no fear, but I did not feel complacent for the first time.
The creatures single visible eye warped in shape into a smile, as if he were laughing to himself concealed in the darkness. "You don have to tell me. I know your name." He said. His voice carried itself around me, drifting like a fine tuned instrument. "Do you know my name?"
"Demons aren meant to give up their names." I spoke instantly, without much thought, entranced by this being. Was he real? I thought at any moment I would awake on the floor of my room with the previous nights sake reverberating in my brain.
He laughed. It was a sound like I had never heard, a smooth note. "I am hardly a demon." He had been crouched behind the statue I realized, as he emerged in a way that made him seem to float. I felt my eyes dart over him as the shadows cast by the heavy brush revealed him.
Hardly a demon, a term far from describing him. Nearly human, his face was angular, his eyes pointed slightly upward in a beautiful way that gave him an upturned expression. His lips full, his pointed teeth like a cat glinting slightly from underneath as his mouth curled into a relaxed smile. Ears like a fox sat atop his head, nestled into buoyant hair that floated on the air like a spirit, thick, cascading down the sides of his face. His attire that of a temple Mikos, white kimono under red hakama, tied in an elaborate knot at his hip. Against the white of the kimono, the blue cast to his skin seemed warm in tone, and I noted, he was alive. I was captive in his eyes, unsure of what I was gazing at before me.
"I have been watching you visit me here for time, Seishin." He spoke my name without hesitation, despite having not been given it. I could almost feel his presence in my mind, as if he were surrounding me. "You don recognize me at all?" He opened his palm and reached to the head of the stone fox on the pillar, looking back at me knowingly, willing me to play this game with him. "I am called Sugai. The Kitsune of this shrine."
"Recognize you?" My voice betrayed me, captive as I was to his features, and it wavered in and out in an ungraceful manner. My fear was evident, and so was my fascination.
So quickly I couldn see it, his hand shot out from behind the statue, his fingers gripped my neck firmly. It was a possessive sort of hold, and I could feel energy rushing between us in a whirlwind of excitement. He was not threatening, not forceful, all I could feel was desperation in our contact. "You come here nearly every morning, Seishin, and you speak of the sins you commit." His form slithered out from behind the pillar, as if the hold he had on me was a magnet drawing him closer. Crouched slightly, he peered upward into my eyes and a sly expression came over his face. He scoffed, as if to himself, as if he could hardly believe the interaction between us. "And you ask me, help me keep the innocent me in the mirror pure and hidden away. Well. I decided to finally help you."
In the Hanamachi I heard stories circling in whispers of the shrine and the spirits housed there. I heard them for years, and each year after the number of visitors dwindled until I was alone there. To them, I thought, I was the demon in the shrine, alone there to create distance between the Edo they knew and the one that was familiar to me. The Kitsune were told to be vicious shapeshifters, enticing victims in forms familiar to desires, ensnaring the souls of the weak for the Gods bidding. Nogitsune, I heard them called, a demonic presence in the shrines used to tease out admissions of vanity, ego, pride. All these traits I held close to my heart. A confession from me useless, as the air surrounding me dripped with the green colour of my envy. All at once I knew I had been hunted for these things that made me whole.
"Just how can you help me?" I asked him finally, though I knew with every nerve tingling in my body how dangerous a question it would become.