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Many Names and Many Secrets

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Every part of Lord Zen’s shrine complex is tranquil, but the best place is a large maple tree drooping over the edge of the pond. Fish circle, posturing and drifting, and it makes a secret and comfortable place for naps.

Time, and quiet, and naps are not luxuries the shinki is accustomed to.

The rain is light, the surface of the pond just barely shivering with the drops and the koi hiding beneath the silver waves. Leaves rustle with a gentle slithering sound as they shed droplets, leaving his perch blessedly dry. He's dozing, just about to slide into a full sleep, when Zen’s sudden presence shocks him into wakefulness. “Nanaki!”

The summons is imperious but not ill-spirited, and Nanaki drops to a kneel at Zen’s feet. One could say he's lucky to have fallen in the way of a major god, but truly, he's just lucky to have met Zen. “I am going for a walk. Will you accompany me?” As if he would deny his master anything he asked. He is his master’s weapon, in any form.

It isn’t until they pass the entrance gate that Nanaki realizes someone's missing. “Is Mister Mitsuhide not coming with you?” The guide rarely leaves Zen’s side, and Nanaki can’t remember ever having been alone with Zen before.

“No, we have matters to discuss alone,” Zen answers, setting off along the road at a good clip. Nanaki scrambles to catch up physically and mentally, heart pounding with disappointment that Zen is sending him away already, just when he’d started to feel useful. That is what he's used to, but he’d thought Zen was different. “I’ve been finding myself uneasy about one thing, and I’d like to know what you think.” That is vague. Nanaki starts to feel uneasy himself, but he covers it with a smile.

“Of course, Master, anything you want to know.” His fingers trace the invisible mark on his shoulder, the one borrowed name he wants, Zen’s gift to him. Zen turns to face him, frowning as his eyes drop to Nanaki’s neck. Of course he wouldn’t want to see the other names. Dropping his shoulder, he pulls his scarf closer.

“Your other masters.” Zen pauses, face pulled in with distaste at the concept. Nanaki braces, ready for him to ask how many there are, or even worse who. Instead Zen takes a deep breath, trying to look serene again. “Have you considered asking them to release you?”

Nanaki’s mouth falls open. No. He's never considered it. Those names keep him together, keep him himself, keep him from giving in to the ayakashi he knows he's never far from becoming. He’d been exorcised once, long ago, and his whole afterlife is just waiting for it to return from the depths.

“I don’t like the idea of sharing you,” Zen continues. “If you would be willing to try to get yourself released, I will support you in whatever way I can.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Nanaki says thinly. He doesn’t think there's much hope of that. He’s been a very useful Nora for a number of fractious and difficult gods, a weapon who can cut any enemy without flinching, a ghost who has so few scruples he rarely stings. Nobody ever wants him around for long, though. This is a new kind of request.

Zen turns and keeps walking, droplets glittering in his pale hair. Occasionally he glances at Nanaki in a way that he probably thinks is subtle. “Is there something else, Master?”

Zen looks elsewhere. “In a way. I don’t want to pry, but I need to know.” They walk in silence for another couple of minutes, and Nanaki starts to wonder what question could be so dire that he requires this much preparation. At last Zen’s mouth opens, his voice weak. “Is my brother-”

“No.” Nanaki cuts him off. “I have never even met your brother.” He has his own theories about whose mind was behind the plan that brought him into Zen’s circle in the first place, but Izana’s guide Haruka was the only one he’d dealt with. The potential reward had been high, for the task: for scaring away the upstart nobody of a god attaching herself to Izana’s little brother, he’d get the right to sleep at Izana’s shrines whenever he needed to.

But nothing proceeded as planned, and Lady Shirayuki was undeterred. Zen named him in anger, leaving him in the care of more trusted shinki until he'd cooled down. Since then, he's respected the bond and welcomed in the new shinki with good grace, but Nanaki isn't naive enough to believe his weapon form has nothing to do with it. For Zen, he's a night-dark kunai knife with a golden tassel, both stylish and deadly. Naturally he flies straight and true. He has a lot of experience killing ayakashi. He's very good at it.

Giving up his other names would mean staking his future on a single god’s generosity. It hasn’t appealed to him before, that kind of trust. He watches the hem of Zen’s robes as they walk in silence, heading home now that the difficult discussion was complete. But Zen has something different about him. Somehow, he makes Nanaki want to trust him, makes him want to be someone worthy of trust for once. He might just turn out to be worth the risk.