Fushi’s laughter had ceased to shake the ground. He watched Gilly's approach with delight.
“Ah, she comes!” he said.
She stopped when she reached his outstretched front legs. “Come, come,” encouraged Fushi. “I won’t eat you; you’re far too amusing.”
She crept a little closer. Fushi’s eyes glowed a pale green, like thin jade lit from behind. He lowered his imposing head until his chin touched the grass, almost as a dog eager to play. Above his head now rose the hulking mass of his muscular shoulders. His tail flopped on the ground once and then twice. He winked one glowing eye.
This coaxed a small though genuine smile from Gilly. She stopped a few feet from the beast’s immense square muzzle with the flaring nostrils. She could feel his warm breath on her knees. He smelled of star anise and cinnamon.
“And how old are you, Gilly?” asked Fushi quietly. His voice vibrated in the soles of her feet, for once properly encased in sandals.
“Six,” answered Gilly.
“Ah,” rumbled Fushi. “A lucky number, one that means happiness.”
“Lord Fushi, I’m six!” interjected Aiko, standing on the sidelines.
“Indeed: two happy girls,” amended Fushi.
Aiko came hurrying up to Gilly and put her arm around the other girl’s waist. Gilly jumped slightly and then held herself still. Aiko leaned her head against Gilly’s.
“Can you fix her?” she asked Fushi.
“No, I cannot,” admitted Fushi. “But the Sacred Realm will know how.”
“Come inside, children,” called Atsuko, gracefully getting to her feet. “It’s time to wash up for dinner.”
Gilly twisted around to look at Tenshio, wondering if she was considered one of the children. He was standing some paces behind her, his face calm. His arms were crossed, one hand still holding her clothing and her doll.
“Thank Lord Fushi and then go with Lady Atsuka,” he said gently.
“Thank you, Lord Fushi,” said Gilly. “I do like you and I am glad you are coming and I apologize for embarrassing Master Tenshio.”
Before he could answer, she leaped nimbly over the beast’s front paw and ran after Aiko, who waited by the front door, holding her father’s hand. Yuudai closed the door behind them. Tenshio walked slowly over to Fushi and bowed deeply to the beast in the now otherwise empty garden.
The light from a nearby stone lantern shone on Tenshio’s left side, casting his right into shadow. The light brought out the sheen in the heavy white silk of Tenshio’s kimono sleeve and burnished the scarlet of his stiffly pleated, wide legged hakama. He curled the fingers of his right hand under the waist band.
Funshi drew his front half back up off the grass and stretched, a long, luxurious movement that tore the grass into strips where his front paws gouged it. He shook his head, rolled his shoulders and slapped the ground hard with his tail.
When he yawned, the light shone liquid on his white teeth. The light gleamed on the thick pelt of his colossal right shoulder and solid front leg. His eyes were a pale shimmer in the shadows around them.
“This atmosphere down here always makes me so damn sleepy,” Fushi rumbled lazily.
“I very much appreciate your coming,” Tenshio said. “The girl is right; I do need help.”
“T’ien-lung sent Satoru my way; he had a feeling you might be in over your head,” Fushi said gently. “Has the child told you what happened to her, to leave her spirit in that ravaged state?”
“No. I don’t dare ask. I grow increasing convinced that whatever it was, she has pushed it entirely out of her mind. Otherwise, how could she keep from speaking of it, each time she opened her mouth?”
“Whatever it was, it will come for her on the Kagamihara.”
“I know,” said Tenshio, his shoulders dropping. “I have seriously considered not taking her back at all.”
“What prevents you from making that decision?” Fushi asked curiously.
“She doesn’t belong here,” Tenshio said simply. “She belongs with her parents and, no matter how insupportable it may be, her fate lies in the mortal realm. We cannot permanently remove all of suffering humankind. It’s not our purpose.”
“And yet you are teaching her to behave as a well mannered daemon child should behave,” Fushi pointed out.
“I did that at first to save my own pride,” Tenshio explained. “I didn’t realize at the time that in the course of caring for a child, there is simply no saving of one’s pride. I have never been so consistently humbled in all my life.”
Fushi grinned. “Humility becomes you, honorable priest.”
“I have overheard her earnestly asking God to save me from Hell,” Tenshio admitted, his eyes dancing. "She seemed to think it impossible for me to have been redeemed from the fall."
Fushi laughed, his rib cage shaking, his tail lashing the ground.
"I wouldn't laugh so hard if I were you," cautioned Tenshio, grinning. "I have no doubt that she would include you in that most unfortunate fate."