sat at his desk in the Temple of the Setting Sun, staring at a few blank sheets
of paper, the pen sitting in the inkwell.
The sun was streaming in the third-floor window, eliminating the need
for candles or lights in the small, relatively sparse room. He rocked back in the chair, looking out the
window. The small south courtyard was
easily visible, the lotus pond filling most of the courtyard along the wall,
one gnarled water-dwelling tree rising out of it; the tree had buds that would
open into red flowers soon. It didn't
grow anywhere in the area, and was the pride and joy of the groundskeeper; it
been there almost as long as Sanzo had been alive.
courtyard was empty; he fought off the temptation to get up and go sit out
there, he had business to deal with. Some rich merchant in another city had
died without heirs and left his entire fortune to the temple there, a
last-ditch bid at buying off the gods; Sanzo had been meaning to write a letter
to them, nudging them to put it to some kind of good use. The temple there was large and well-kept, but
the area had been having a lean year.
turned back to his desk, staring at the paper again. He needed to write the actual letter, but
every time he put the pen to the paper, all he could think of was what he truly
wanted to say, not how to word it so that they'd listen. After more staring at
the blank paper, he decided to just let it out - he could write a proper letter
once he'd gotten the honest version out of his system.
covered the sheet in cramped, jagged writing, finally ending it at the bottom
of the page; setting the pen back in the inkwell, he stared at it again. It would be nice to be able to send this to
them, or say it to their faces, but that wouldn't get them to hear him out;
he'd have to resort to pleasantries and double talk, if he wanted to be sure
they'd take care of the people that needed it. He went to crumple it up, then
stopped; it'd be just what he didn't need right now, for one of the temple
gossips to find this, and it seemed wrong somehow to destroy the version that
was his honest opinion like that.
Standing, he stared out the window at the top of the tree; the old
groundskeeper had just finished cleaning the lotus pond, packing up and leaving
after fussing over it. The tree was in
the center of the pond, where it was difficult to reach from the courtyard;
most care had to be indirect, dealing with the pond, and anything done to the
tree drove the old man crazy.
turned to the groundskeeper running over.
The upper branches of the tree were festooned with colored paper
airplanes, painting the boughs well before the flowers even budded. The groundskeeper bowed enough to show
respect, but no more. "Might I
please, please trouble you about those...things! They're stuck all over the tree again, and I
can't get them out until something knocks them loose, then I have to fish bits
of wet paper out of the pond - surely you can throw those outside the temple
studied the tree speculatively.
"Surely it can't be that much trouble...They add a bit of color to
the courtyard, and sometimes it's worth a bit of
hassle to brighten things up a little."
He smiled benevolently and turned to walk away, leaving the flustered
groundskeeper trying to figure out if he was relaying some cryptic lesson or
just trying to dodge taking responsibility for cleaning it up.
whim hit Sanzo; he picked up the honest letter, folded it with the writing
hidden inside, and tossed it. It landed
neatly caught in the very highest branches.
groundskeeper was going to go nuts.
prank done, he sat back down to write the polite version.
groundskeeper looked back, and spotted an angular patch of white in the
branches of his tree. He glared at it,
dumbfounded, as if it were some old ghost risen from
the grave to gnaw at his sanity.
the stairs to a certain third floor room in disbelief, knocking on the door.
Was the snapped response, by which he inferred he was supposed to open
sitting at the desk, bent over a piece of paper, pen in one hand, glaring
balefully at the door.
“Ah…sorry to trouble you…what might you be doing currently?”
“Working on an official letter.” It was snarled in a tone that clearly implied
he was not to be disturbed further.
Koumyou's apprentice maybe, but he seemed to have all the sense of humor
of a rabid badger at this point; perhaps it'd come from another upper-story
window. Either way, it didn't seem safe
to bother him, and the old priest had no clue if his gun was within reach or if
he was cranky enough to use it.
nothing, nothing really.” He bowed,
pulling the door shut as he walked out.
returned to the letter, a dry, malicious smirk crossing his face after the door
back out past the courtyard, the groundskeeper paused to worry over the bloody
thing. Now as then, there was no way to
get it out, not without someone climbing the tree, which would be horribly
messy and damage the lotuses and the koi if he got
one of the apprentices to do it.
when he spotted Goku leaning in the archway with a
chunk of bread, glancing both ways to check for pursuit before eating.
out where he'd gotten it that he was avoiding notice came secondary, although
the boy did jump and put it behind his back with a very well-feigned look of
innocence at the old man's “Excuse me.”
man smiled congenially as he bowed, trying to play off that he'd seen anything
suspicious. “Might I be able to trouble
you to help with something?”
something caught in the branches of the tree in the lotus pond that I can't
retrieve, and I was wondering if you would get it down for me.”
one you're always chasing me out of?” A
more plotting look had appeared on the boy's face. “I dunno…why don't
we make a deal for it?”
deal…what kind of a deal?” The old man
“Since you're going to have to let me climb it
to get whatever's stuck…you may as well let me go up there whenever,
blanched at the idea - but at least Sanzo and Goku
were here rarely enough that he wouldn't have to worry about it too much, and
if it could be made a running agreement...
I let you sit there whenever you want, can I get you to clean trash out of the
branches as well? It'd simply be a small
a deal then!" Goku
cheerfully snagged the old man's hand and shook it, then darted over to the
pond. Transferring the bread to his
mouth without stopping, he hopped easily from the edge of the pond to catch the
lowermost branch, pulling up easily. The
groundskeeper cringed at how much the branches shook as Goku
made it in a matter of seconds to the top of the tree, standing triumphantly on
the topmost branches with the paper airplane in one hand, bread in the
good! Now can you bring it here?"
there's writing here..." Goku opened it enough to recognize the handwriting, then sat in the crook of the branches, eating and reading,
seemingly oblivious to the groundskeeper pleading to just bring it down.
deeply honored sirs -
polite as it looked, Goku could almost hear the
sarcasm dripping out of Sanzo's voice.
Nobody was "Most Deeply Honored" to him.
come to my attention that your temple has recently come into a very large sum
of money recently, thanks to a particularly wretched bastard developing a fear
of the afterlife in his last days. I
would hope that a temple of Buddha would be able to make more of such than its
original crass intent, but I know you people too well. In fact, you're going to ignore everything I
have to say, so you may as well burn this letter right now.
you're still reading - curiosity, I'm sure, you've probably already decided how
to spend it - I would like to point out that your province has had a long dry
season, and many people who worked hard all season have nothing to eat
regardless, while you people are living well off the offerings and savings
you've stored. You're the richest lazy
beggars in existence. The sum you've received could easily alleviate the
suffering of your people, but then, what're the masses to your enlightenment?
realize that expecting you to actually demonstrate the compassion you're so
fond of spouting off about is probably too much; you're all too busy wallowing
in hypocrisy to pay attention to some violent heretic like myself. So, in a few weeks when I hear that your
temple is as splendid as ever and the people at its feet are dying, I'm not
going to be surprised, because it'd be too much to ask for you people to open
your eyes and accept your own glaring, hideous faults, much less that there
might be people outside your gates that need your help. More important to spend eight hours a day
meditating on the meaning of kindness than to actually show any, right? So I'm going to do what I've always done and
fuck off now, to go live like Hell because I'm not willing to lie to myself
about my many faults and failings like all of you worms.
Honored Genjo Sanzo, who despises you almost as much as you despise him
time he finished reading, Goku was grinning ear to
ear, the bread gone. The groundskeeper
was loudly pleading for him to hand it over; glancing up, he saw a flicker of
gold and white in Sanzo's window.
of an asshole as Sanzo made of himself, every once in a while he did something
that proved he was a decent guy at heart, no matter how much he tried to hide
or deny it.
Goku gave the letter a speculative look, then
looked down at the groundskeeper. He
hopped easily down the branches to the edge of the lotus pond, and for a moment
the old man believed he was going to turn over the paper - then he took off
running for the building.
groundskeeper chased for three steps, then flopped down sitting by the lotus
pond, despairing of ever being able to deal with Sanzo or his ward.
door swung open without so much as a knock; he didn't need to look up from his
writing to know it was Goku, still carrying the other
letter in one hand. "Ey, Sanzo, I think you lost something."
"Like I really care right now."
Goku leaned over his shoulder, Sanzo adopting an even more
irritated hunch. "Whatcha doing?"
"Writing a letter."
"A polite one." He snarled the word 'polite', as
if its existence were an offense.
Goku tried to read part of it, got put off by the flowery
language that seemed almost as painful to Sanzo as it was to him, and flopped
out on the wood-frame bed, holding the other letter up to look at it, then
dropping his arm draped over his chest.
"I think I like this one better."
but if I send that one, they can say I 'didn't show proper respect' and blow it
off without a second thought. If I'm
polite about it, they have fewer excuses for ignoring me."
"Meehhh...the temples are stupid."
chuckled darkly over the scratching of his pen.
"No argument there."
do you stay with them then?"
Sanzo set the pen down, turning in his chair and holding up the
Maten Sutra off his shoulder with one hand. "Not like I have a choice. I'm stuck
with them as long as I'm a Sanzo."
back to the letter; Goku sat up, legs hanging off the
edge of the bed. "A Sanzo? Your name means something?"
pen-scratching paused briefly.
"It's a title. I inherited
it from my mentor."
what's your real name?"
is my name." He could feel Goku's bewildered gaze on his back. "It's not something you just take on and
walk away from. When
you become Sanzo, that's your name and your life."
that's why you don't just quit the temple?"
nodded quietly, trying to focus on the letter.
"Part of it."
the rest of it?" After a few
seconds of silence, Goku realized he was being
ignored. "It's gotta
be important, to keep you working with these assholes. How'd you get the Sanzo thing
anyway?" He hopped to his feet,
leaning over Sanzo's shoulders trying to catch the priest's eye. "You inherited it, so why don't you just
pass it on if you don't want it? You
must've had a name before you became Sanzo, right? How long've you
been Sanzo, if it wasn't your original name?
If the temple people don't like you, why don't they give it to someone
else? You're not very good at the whole
priest thing, you'd think they'd have done more about
it. What's your old name? Who-"
next sound was of a paper fan connecting with a skull, and an outraged
turned back to his letter; Goku sat on the ground
behind the chair, rubbing his head and looking up with a wounded look. "You're mean, you know that?"
talking and I'll kill you."
Goku raised an eyebrow, giving Sanzo a skeptical,
disbelieving look. He always said that,
but was probably more likely to kill himself than Goku. "So why don't you give the job to
once you're Sanzo, that is your life. In order to give it to someone else, I would
have to name an heir and die."
There was a louder tap punctuating the word 'die', as he stabbed the
paper with the pen harder than he probably should have. “I have no plans of dying anytime soon.”
"...Oh." Goku sat by the chair, mulling it over. "Wait...you keep ditching
apprentices...does this mean if you get killed, I might get stuck with
it?" There was a tinge of dread and
horror to his words.
stopped writing, turning his chair and leaning down to fix Goku
with a harsh, searching glare.
"Don't be an idiot. You're
the last person I'd name as an heir."
Sanzo turned back to his work, Goku wasn't sure if he
should be relieved or insulted. "I
wouldn't want it anyway."
room was silent save pen-scratching for another couple minutes, then Sanzo dropped the pen in its holder, folded the
two-page letter neatly, took a couple gold ribbons out of the desk drawer, and
fumbled with a wax seal and a candle to melt it. Once it dried, he stood up, put away his
reading glasses, and swept toward the door.
"Ey...what do you want me to do with this?" Goku held up the
don't care. Burn it or something."
you write it then, if you're not gonna do anything
I felt like my time would be wasted if I didn't write at least one honest