Sanzang glanced out the window, watching the scenery absently as the carriage moved along the bumpy, rarely traveled road. The monastery was expecting him in a few days, and the driver he’d hired was the only one willing to take him there. No one else wanted to risk attracting the demons that lingered in the area. Especially with Sanzang as their passenger.
The carriage came to an abrupt stop, startling Sanzang out of his thoughts.
“Oi! What the bloody ‘ell do ya think yer doin’ in the…by the Maker, don’t hurt me.” The driver begged, voice muffled slightly. Sanzang sighed. Speak of the demons and they will appear, he supposed.
“Mmm, I will think about it.” A smooth, attractive voice replied. It was startlingly close to the carriage. “For now, why don’t you tell me why you’ve made your way into my woods? What do you carry that’s so important…or lucrative…that you would risk the wrath of my brother or myself?”
“I-I have a magic-wielding monk. He asked for passage.” The man stuttered out. Sanzang calmly flicked his fingers and his orbs swirled up from his lap, lazily dancing around his shoulders as he straightened his crown.
“A magic-wielding monk, you say.” The demon said, sounding excited. “One going up to the monastery in the middle of demon territory. You wouldn’t happen to be carrying Sanzang Zenyatta, would you?” A moment of silence followed by a heavy thump on the roof of the carriage. “I asked you a question.” The demon growled. Sanzang brushed off the front of his robes, making the rings at the bottom jingle slightly, before opening the carriage door and stepping out. He evenly looked up at where the driver was sitting and saw a demon crouched on the roof behind him, leaning over so that his upside-down face was just in front of the driver’s with his clawed hands holding him in place. Both looked at him as he delicately cleared his throat and he raised a smooth eyebrow.
“I believe I am the one you wish to speak with.” He said. The demon immediately released the driver and leapt down from his perch to stand in front of Sanzang, his grinning mask barely two inches from the monk’s face,
“Ah, I have been looking for you.” He said. Sanzang was glad that his voice was at least pleasant to listen to. He’d met too many demons with unpleasant voices to take this one’s for granted.
“So I can see. Would you mind telling me why you were harassing this nice man?”
“I had to make sure it was you.” The demon said, rocking back on his heels happily. The driver looked horrified. “Now, marry me.” Sanzang leveled a cool, unimpressed look at him and turned to the driver.
“May I have my pack, please?” He asked.
“Hey! I just asked you to marry me!” The demon said, his tone indicating that he was pouting beneath the mask as he moved to stand in front of Sanzang again, clearly wanting a monopoly on his attention.
“No, you did not ask me to marry you, you told me to marry you. That is not the same.” Sanzang told him before stepping around the demon yet again and going to the driver to take the offered pack. “Thank you, my friend. I would recommend you return to the village now, I will make my way from here. May peace and blessings be upon you.” The driver gave him a grateful nod and wheeled the horses around, driving the carriage away from the scene with the speed of a very, very scared man.
“Will you marry me?” The demon asked. Sanzang shrugged the pack on and began walking along the road in the direction of the monastery.
“No, thank you.” Sanzang told him. The demon moved along the road with him, though his feet floated about an inch above the rough ground instead of walking.
“Why not? Do you know who I am?” He asked, sounding more interested than irritated.
“You told my friend that you were one of the demons of these woods, making you an oni. You claimed to be one of the two brother who control this forest, so you are either Shimada Hanzo or Shimada Genji.” Sanzang said. The demon hummed, and the sound almost seemed approving.
“You are very smart for a human. And very observant. My name is Shimada Genji, you can call me Genji, and I still think you should marry me.”
“My friend, you do not want to marry me. You want eternal life.” Sanzang rebuffed gently.
“Yes, but in order to achieve eternal life, we must be wed. I do not see why you are refusing.”
“Because we do not know each other. We’ve just met, after all. How do you know we will make a good match?”
“Because I value you and will protect you. I’m one of the most powerful beings in the world. Once you become mine, nothing else will dare to touch you.”
“As tempting as that is, I will have to decline.” Genji floated in front of him and stopped directly in his way, forcing him to stop as well.
“You will not leave this forest until you are mine. I will not allow it.” He said, voice going unnaturally low. Sanzang gave him a gentle smile and stepped around him, continuing on his way.
“I am going to the monastery. For that, I will not have to leave the forest.” Sanzang points out. The demon, far from seeming put out, let out a light laugh.
“Ah, but it is still within my forest and is therefore part of my domain.” He said with no small amount of satisfaction.
“Excellent point, but it means you cannot keep me from my destination.” Sanzang said as he continued to walk. Genji hurried to float next to him again and hummed happily.
“As long as you are in this forest I have every right to claim you as mine. Though, if you somehow did manage to leave I would still follow you.”
“And risk venturing into another demon’s territory?” Sanzang asked curiously.
“You are mine. I will not let mere distance come between us.”
“You may come with me if you like, but I have not agreed to marry you.” Genji tilted his head, his blankly smiling mask staring at Sanzang.
“You will.” He said
Sanzang spent the entire day walking with the demon hovering beside him, trying to convince him that their marriage would be the best thing that ever happened to either of them. A lesser man would have worn through his patience after the first three hours, but Sanzang remained passively polite the entire time.
As the sun began to set, Sanzang paused and set his pack down underneath a tree just off of the road.
“What are you doing?” Genji asked curiously.
“It’s dangerous to travel at night and I need to rest.” Sanzang explained. He waved a hand and all the loose rocks and twigs in the area rolled out of the way.
“My brother and I are the most dangerous things in this forest.” Genji scoffed. “Nothing will threaten you while I am here.”
“And what is stopping your brother from attempting to claim me as well?” Sanzang asked. Genji snorted.
“He has a current obsession already, I doubt he would give up his plaything so easily just for a chance to rob me of mine.” Genji explained as he collapsed onto the ground, looking no less dangerous or threatening as he lounged, watching Sanzang spread out his bed roll on the ground he’d just cleared.
“Ah, that is what this is, then. An obsession.” Sanzang said evenly. He pulled out a small yellow apple from his pack and gently rubbed the skin with part of his robes before biting into it.
“You are unlike any obsession I’ve ever had before now.” Genji said, looking at the apple with an absent interest. “How often do you eat? I should probably know that.”
“Three times a day, though I can manage with less.” Sanzang said once he’d swallowed that first bite. “I know demons can eat, do you?” He asked curiously.
“I used to eat, but since coming here I haven’t. Eating is too inconvenient to make a habit of it.” He said with a flippant wave of his hand.
“I see.” Sanzang said, continuing to eat his apple and keeping an eye on the oni. Just because he was acting vaguely civilized didn’t mean that he was any less dangerous, and Sanzang knew it.
It was getting dark quickly, and Sanzang glanced up at the sky before looking at Genji.
“Do you intend to stay with me all night?” Sanzang asked. It would hardly be smart to sleep with a demon so near, but he also needed the rest.
“Of course.” Genji said, seeming baffled by the question.
“I would ask, for my own piece of mind and safety, that you stay at least ten feet away from me.” Sanzang said as he looked at Genji. The demon shrugged.
“I don’t see how harming you would benefit me, but sure.” He agreed amiably. Sanzang tossed the remains of the apple off to the side, into the woods. He wiped one hand over the other and then mirrored the action, cleaning his hands of the sticky juice using his magic.
“Thank you.” Sanzang said.
“If,” Genji added as he sat up “, you marry me.” Sanzang gave him a dry look.
“That is a very skewed bargain. If you stay ten feet away during the whole night I will think about marrying you, how about that?” Genji huffed and crossed his arms, poofing into smoke only to reappear a few feet further away.
“Deal.” He said, though he didn’t sound particularly happy about the arrangement. Sanzang gave him an approving nod and set his crown to the side before laying on his side and turning away from the demon. He curled one arm under his head and closed his eyes, muttering a protection spell just in case. If Genji broke their agreement, which was highly unlikely for a demon, Sanzang would be woken up immediately.
If he could actually fall asleep.
Genji was humming lightly, and Sanzang was very aware of the too-small amount of space between them. He’d dealt with demons before, of course, but none so cavalier and seemingly honest. Perhaps there was more to this demon, but for now he was simply hyperaware of the potential danger. Sanzang was still for an entire minute before he shifted into a more comfortable position.
“Are you done sleeping?” Genji asked.
“No, I’m adjusting.” Sanzang told him.
“Oh, I see. I should be quiet, then.”
“That would help.”
They were silent for a few more moments before Genji began humming again. Sanzang sighed. He just wanted sleep.
Sanzang woke the next morning as the sun rose and sat up, rolling his neck out slightly while his orbs swirled to life around him in response.
“You’re awake! I knew humans slept for a long time, but I’ve never seen the whole thing.” Genji exclaimed. Sanzang followed the sound of the voice, looking up to see him lounging in a tree nearby, lying on his stomach on a thick branch with one leg swinging back and forth in the air beneath him.
“I thank you for your patience and upholding your end of the bargain.” Sanzang said cordially. Genji let out an amused huff.
“I didn’t have a choice in the last bit. All demons are bound to their deals.”
“I am aware. That doesn’t make me any less grateful.” Sanzang told him. He ate a small, quick breakfast and rolled up his mat, strapping it to his pack and setting off again in the direction of the monastery.
“Ah, are you still going to see the other monks?” Genji asked absently, floating beside Sanzang once again.
“Yes.” Sanzang said.
“They have reached out to me and asked for my assistance. They have several young people there who they feel could benefit from my instruction. It is also for my own protection.”
“Ah, yes. There are wards around the monastery. Nothing...nothing with bad intentions can set foot in this holy place? Something like that?”
“None who wish to do harm to those inside may tread upon this pure ground, for the Iris casts its light upon those who study here and protects those who seek sanctum, so be it for as long as the Iris touches upon a single soul.” Sanzang recited from memory. Genji turned and his mask looked at Sanzang. Beneath it, Genji let out a light laugh.
“How do you remember that? And why?”
“I’ve memorized spells my entire life, and it’s one of the most powerful protection spells ever laid down. As someone with a focus on protective magic, I took a natural interest.” Sanzang explained.
“You specialize in defense? Is that why the monastery wants you?”
“I suppose.” Sanzang said with a slight shrug. “I am also one of few people who can directly touch the Iris. I may be able to help others reach the same point.” He said it not to brag, but rather as a matter of fact.
“You should marry me. Then you would have all the time you need to study and teach.” Genji said.
“We don’t know each other very well, I couldn’t marry a man I don’t know.” Sanzang deflected easily.
“My name is Shimada Genji and I am…actually I don’t know how old I am.” He said with a contemplative head tilt before shrugging off the brief confusion. “I haven’t eaten in decades but I really enjoy soups and noodles. My favorite color is green, I find poetry dull, and I fight with a sword.” Genji concluded.
“And yet, I still do not know who you are as a person.” Sanzang said, trying not to smile at Genji’s overeager attitude towards talking about himself. Sanzang noticed that Genji didn’t ask about him.
“I’m not a person. I’m a demon.” Genji said.
“It’s but an expression, don’t mind it.” Sanzang said, not able to resist a light laugh. Genji sighed.
“Already laughing at me. You know, most people would consider laughing at a demon a bad idea.”
“I am not most people. I assumed you’d realized that by now.” Sanzang told him with a small smile.
“I knew it years ago when I heard of monk that carried a demonic energy. The last one like you was…oh…eleven thousand years ago? And the demon that ate that one died long ago.” Genji said, putting his hands behind his head and stretching with a slight groan. Sanzang’s eyebrows twitched toward one another in confusion.
“Died? I thought to purpose of eating or marrying one with demonic energy was that it would give you eternal life?” He asked.
“Sure, but nothing’s perfect. There’s some loophole that I haven’t figured out. Some way to die that no one’s thought of.” Genji said with an unconcerned shrug as he let his arms fall back to his sides.
“You do not seem to mind that marrying me will not, in fact, make you immortal.” Sanzang said slowly. Genji turned to him slightly, his grinning mask matching his pleased voice.
“You will make me impervious to swords and arrows, daggers and poison, humans and demons. That’s damn near immortal.”
“Why do you not simply eat me, then?” Sanzang asked. The thought had occurred to him before, but he’d had the notion that eating him had simply slipped the demon’s mind as a possibility. Now that he knew it hadn’t, his curiosity was piqued.
“It would be faster.” Genji allowed with a small head tilt. “But having you agree to marry me would add prestige to my name. You would become a living, breathing testament to my power and influence.”
“A trophy.” Sanzang said with understanding.
“A trophy.” Genji agreed. “Besides, if I am then injured by this mysterious loophole no one knows about I can eat you and save myself.” Sanzang shot a look at him out of the corner of his eye, which the demon didn’t seem to notice, and quickly looked back at the uneven road. He’d almost forgotten for a moment that he was walking beside a very dangerous entity. He would not make that mistake again.
The path was old and seldom used due to the dangerous woods it slunk through. Trees draped themselves over it and provided welcome shade, and the low-growing plants that clung to their roots had begun to inch across the road, threatening to trip those on foot who didn’t pay attention. Sanzang found a certain peace with this, admiring the beauty of it and thinking back on the tales his brother would tell him.
“What are you thinking about?” Genji asked after several minutes of silence. Sanzang had been slightly impressed that the demon could go so long without talking.
“The road is being taken back by the forest.” Sanzang explained, gesturing to the plants at their feet that split the dirt road in an attempt to conquer it.
“So?” Genji asked.
“It would make a good story.” Sanzang said simply, letting a hand reach out and graze the bark of a tree that grew close enough to the road for him to reach by veering off ever so slightly.
“It’s a road and some grass.” Genji said flatly. Sanzang laughed.
“Perhaps, or perhaps the two sides of the forest are lovers, separated by a seemingly insurmountable force that neither can control. But slowly, slowly, their persistence and love wears through the obstacle until finally they are together again.” Sanzang watched as Genji’s mask turned toward the ground, like he was looking at it more closely, before the demon spoke.
“Or, the forest is a mighty nation, torn apart by a conquering army. Through subterfuge and might, the nation slowly begins to rip apart the invaders until the bloody land is once again theirs.” Genji said with a certain amount of dark glee at the thought.
Sanzang thought, not for the first time, that he was very lucky this demon seemed too obsessed with him to consider harming him. For now, at least.