Chapter 30: A Garden of Many Bowers
There is a reality even prior to heaven and earth;
Indeed, it has no form, much less a name;
Eyes fail to see it; It has no voice for ears to detect;
To call it Mind or Buddha violates its nature,
For it then becomes like a visionary flower in the air;
It is not Mind, nor Buddha;
Absolutely quiet, and yet illuminating in a mysterious way,
It allows itself to be perceived only by the clear-eyed.
It is Dharma truly beyond form and sound;
It is Tao having nothing to do with words.
Wishing to entice the blind,
The Buddha has playfully let words escape his golden mouth;
Heaven and earth are ever since filled with entangling briars.
Dai-o Kokushi, from On Zen
InuYasha and Kagome followed Yuki down the path she had come. Suddenly, the air around them shimmered, and they were someplace else.
Instead of being on the path leading back to the clearing, suddenly, with one step, they found them standing next to a small waterfall cascading down a sheer rock face.
“I must leave you here,” said Yuki. “But my Lady will be joining you shortly.” She stepped a few steps away and seemed to vanish.
“What the --” said InuYasha, grabbing the handgrip of Tessaiga. He turned around, and he no longer saw the path he had walked up, but instead, an expanse of garden.
“You are not where you were before you stepped through the portal, InuYasha son of the Great Dog. I have brought you and your wife here to safety,” said a lilting and soothing voice.
InuYasha swung around, putting himself between Kagome and the source of the voice.
He turned and saw her. Her long dark hair swept nearly to the ground, contrasting with the soft whiteness of her uchikake and the many pastel kosode she wore layered beneath it. Even in the bright light of daylight, her skin and calm dark eyes seemed to glow.
Peaking around his shoulders, Kagome whispered, “She’s not a youkai, InuYasha. She has an amazing aura.”
“You are quite right, Kagome-sama. I am Benzaiten.” At a sign from her, Tsukikage followed by another woman dressed in red stepped out from somewhere. “You already know Tsukikage,” Benzaiten said. “And this is Nyoko, sister to the Kitsune Hakuzo, with whom you have been spending time.” Together, the two Kitsune women rolled out mats.
“You...you’re a Kami?” said Kagome.
The woman smiled. “There are those who call me that. I like to think of myself as a helper, or perhaps a guardian. Rinji is one of those places where the gateway into Yomi is very close. And one of my roles is to guard the gateway.”
InuYasha and Kagome sank down on the pro-offered mat. “The darkness at the heart of Rinji is breaking through the barriers set long ago,” Tsukikage said, handing Kagome a cup of tea she produced from somewhere unseeable. “My lady has brought you and all your companions to this place to protect you.” She handed InuYasha a teacup, which he stared at like it would bite him.
Nyoko and Tsukikage rolled out a mat and cushion for the Kami, then helped her sit gracefully, spreading her skirts around her in a graceful semicircle.
“They are all safe, InuYasha-sama. All your companions, even the monk who spoke ill of you. They are, you might say, in different rooms of this place, the doorways of which are invisible to all but those who dwell with me.
“But I wished to speak with you and Kagome-sama first. I offer you a choice,” she said. “There is a great battle about to take place. One of the dark souls from Yomi is trying to break through into the world of sunshine, and I must fight to keep the gateway closed. I give you the opportunity to leave while there is still time. Or, if you wish, you can stay and help us put an end to the evil one who is threatening us all.”
“We’ll stay,” said Kagome without any hesitation, resting a hand on InuYasha’s.
InuYasha looked at Kagome, surprise registering on his face. “You sure?”
“I still remember my dream. That’s what will happen if we don’t succeed,” she whispered. “Even if you want to go, I’m staying.”
“Like hell will I leave you here alone, woman,” he replied.
“It looks like we’ll be staying,” he said.
The place they found themselves in was gray.
It was light, but there was no source of light noticeable. It was not exactly like being in a fog, for there was no wetness to the air, and they could see their fellow travelers with no wisps of fog wrapping around anything. Even the ground below their feet was the same shade of gray that they saw looking off into the distance and up at the sky above.
"O my," said Sango, turning in a circle and looking around her. "Where are we?"
Miroku put his hand on her shoulder and looked around as well. "I cannot sense any evil here," he said. "The only auras I feel are from us."
Shippou jumped onto his shoulder. "The air smells . . . strange. Like it has no real smells that belong here. Just us."
"Perceptive, little one," said Hakuzo. "That's exactly right. I can't smell the ground or anything blowing in the wind or trees. I've never smelt air that smelt so . . . so . . . "
"Sterile, my friend?" said Teijo.
"Yes, that's the word." The Kitsune shivered. "It's like we're the only people here in a place that knows nothing but us." He looked around the gray space they were in. "Where is Sesshoumaru?" he asked. “And where is Tsukikage?”
The Daiyoukai, along with Rin and Jaken and his dragonet, was missing. Matsuo and Saichi his prisoner, was also gone.
“Where’s Kohaku?” Sango asked.
“He was with Rin right before this happened,” said Hakuzo. “I imagine he’s wherever they are.”
Walking out of the gray like she was stepping through a door, a small woman with red hair entered the area, carrying a tray.
"Please, everyone, be seated. You are all very well safe and out of harm, and your companions are as equally safe. I am Yuki, and my lady bids me come and offer you refreshments until she is ready to speak with you."
One moment, Matsuo was in the clearing where so much had taken place, then the next moment, he found himself standing in a small hondo, the Buddha hall of a small temple. In front of him was the statue of Kwannon of the Thousand Hands, Bodhisattva of mercy.
“A tenth of an inch's difference,
And heaven and earth are set apart;
If you wish to see it before your own eyes,
Have no fixed thoughts either for or against it,” he quoted.
Immediately he gassho’d in front of the image. A small tendril of incense trickled upwards from the burner on the butsudan, the altar. Someone had placed fresh flowers on it, and a small lamp gave off light. Looking around the room, he saw another monk kneeling to his right. The room was Spartan, but very clean. Light filtered in from the doors. To his left, Saicho knelt, still bound.
He turned next to him, and removed the ofuda, and cut his bonds. “I don’t know what’s happened, but it seems wrong to leave you like that in this place,” he said.
Saicho rolled his shoulders and rubbed his wrists. He tried to stand, and Matsuo helped him rise on his wobbly legs. Standing, he bowed towards the butsudan. He turned back to Matsuo, giving him a strange, wild-eyed look. “I don’t know how I got here, inside a Zen temple, or even where here is. But I will let you know this: I will try to leave again if you leave me unbound,” he told the youkai. “I am obligated to return to my brothers.”
Matsuo gave him a small smile. “I do not begrudge you your freedom. I have kept you alive when Sesshoumaru-sama would have taken your life. Whatever brought us here is obviously stronger than he is. I just ask that you do not smack me with my own staff or decorate me in rice to do it.”
The monk to their right stood up, and turned to face them. His face was haggard and tired, and there were dark circles under his eyes. His head was in need of being freshly shaven.
“Is that you, Saicho? I thought you were in the east still,” said the monk. “And you, youkai - do you still chant the Heart Sutra with such finesse?”
Simultaneously, both Matsuo and Saicho said, “Master Jomei?”
Sesshoumaru found himself in a pleasant, quiet garden, much like his own private garden back home. It was mostly green, shrubs, trees, grass, with small drifts of blue, yellow and red flowers scattered among the rocks, a calming place.
"Ooooh," said Rin as she realized she was no longer in the forest clearing. "This is pretty." She ran to examine the flowers.
"Where are we?" said Kohaku. He steadied the dragonet with a practiced movement, and watched, fascinated as a dragonfly passed by to observe them. The dragonfly flew off, and he turned to the tall, white-garbed youkai. "Sesshoumaru-sama, do you recognize this place?"
From somewhere nearby, there came the sound of running water, the cascading sound of a small waterfall. The enclosed space, surrounded by hill slopes and a rock face, was nestled by the swaying of pine trees on the heights, like dark sentries. Overhead, the sky was blue. Not a single cloud passed by.
"Boy, do not bother Sesshoumaru with useless questions," said the little green youkai. The Staff of Two Heads wiggled precariously in his grip as he swerved around. "Where is everybody else?"
"Jaken, be silent," Sesshoumaru said, turning in a full circle, observing the garden he found himself in. "The air smells . . . unnatural. There is no smell of decay here," he muttered. "It is like nothing here has ever died."
Out of sight, a biwa began playing. It was a tune that the Daiyoukai remembered from childhood, something that his mother would hum to him on those days when she still tolerated him near her. A voice began to sing:
"If you ask the birds
as they fly over the waves
when the high tide comes,
they cry out, cry out
that they are only sea birds,
birds, they know the air.
Ask the waves about the tides,
Ask the rolling sea.
"If you ask the blossoms,
Sakura petals falling
In the breeze of spring
To tell you of the winter,
winter with its snow,
They'll say that they are petals,
blossoms in the wind.
Ask the trees about the snow,
ask the ancient trees."
Sesshoumaru's eyes grew wide as the familiar, nearly forgotten, words filled the garden. A woman's voice, soft and delicate. He turned around, trying to sense her. A certain warmness seemed to grow on the air, not of temperature, but of peace and comfort. Even though his instincts were screaming to stay alert, Sesshoumaru found his youki calming.
“Oh, she’s beautiful,” said Rin. Sesshoumaru looked behind him.
“Welcome to my garden,” said Benzaiten.