A cat stands on his chest.
Rye breathes shallow to not disturb the animal. Moonlight filters through ragged fur, through the space where organs and blood should provide life. He squints to catch sight of solidarity.
Stars gleam through the cat’s head.
“If this is about not providing offerings at your shrine, well, I’ve never been that fond of cats—“ A hiss. “I mean neko. You see, and I’m terrible about honoring any of the spirits honestly, but I’ll lift you something next time I sneak down to the city’s lower levels. I was in the barracks yesterday. Would you like a saddle blanket? They’re green.”
The neko growls.
Rye scratches across his father’s desk.
Two fingers curl, rutting into gloss.
Oak scent strengthens as he weakens the layer of varnish. To the eye it’s an indiscernible thinning but one that his mind tricks his nose into fancying. Breathing deep, he runs his other hand along the front drawers. He pauses at a keyhole.
The neko sits tall upon the desk. It glares at his hesitation.
Rye says, “I don’t see why you care about my Naming.”
His gaze goes soft, unfocused and hazy, allowing him to ignore his surroundings, to feel the rhythm of the breeze drifting through linen drapes and the thump of his pulse in his fingertips. He retrieves a short wire from his vest pocket, slips it into the keyhole, and tinkers with angles and pressure. Sweat beads at his shirt collar.
As the drawer clicks open footsteps approach from down the hall.
Rye riffles through papers, each with ink flourishes and scrawls that blend words together.
Heeled shoes clip across marble flooring. Louder.
Pounding through his veins.
The neko hops off the desk. It exits through glass courtyard doors, tail high and gait lazy, leaving Rye to swipe his Naming certificate and scramble to secure the drawer.
Sculptures of animals carved out of wood sit in two straight lines along the long the sides of the worship hall in the upper level shrine. Sunlight etches leafy shadows across herb gardens, thick aromas seeping around green wood beams to stain the air in the hall with spice.
Rye crouches before the neko’s alabaster statue. In front of it a shallow offering dish glimmers with clear water.
“See, I knew it’d be in order. The Seer isn’t going to botch a bribed Naming by forgetting to match the certificate to his claims. Look, my father’s Name in its proper place. By all rights I’m his. See?”
Rye waves the certificate before the neko’s unblinking gaze. It trots to its empty dish.
Kneeling, Rye stares at the certificate. “Not that it matters. He treats me like a poison. They all do.” He leans forward to frown at his reflection in the dish’s shine. “Maybe I am poison. It’d explain the hollowness. My own toxicity is creating a sphere of nothingness inside, lodged behind lungs and heart.”
Tugging at his hair, Rye looks at the spirit. The neko sniffs the air around his face as Rye says, “I’ve gone all poetic over a lacking I can’t even name.”
Purrs erupt from the neko. It slinks forward, shoving its nose into Rye’s ribcage.
A scream freezes in his throat.
The neko twists into his flesh, shoving between tissue and bone, stretching, filling, until the burn of spirit consumed the lacking of his heart.
Until a Name that smells like home whispers in Rye’s ears.