Chapter 7 Shadow and Light
“Boy,” the old sage said, shaking Sachio by his shoulder. “Boy, wake up. We have to leave.”
Sachio blinked his eyes and looked up into the face of the old Kitsune, who bent down, peering over him. The room was dark, and only lit by the lantern the old man was holding. It cast strange highlights in his dark gray eyes. The smell of the old man, a smell of age and sorrow and anger and something he couldn’t quite name washed over him. His eyebrows, gray, came together in an intense stare.
“Wha...what?” Sachio muttered, dragging the coverlet back over his head.
Akinori snorted, then grabbed the covers, ripping them off the youth and tossing them into a corner. “Get up, Trouble-sama. We need to leave the house now, before the sun rises.”
The old man grabbed him by the collar and started to drag him up. “You are coming with me now, like your mother said. You don’t want to be here after sunup.”
The world spun around the youth. He was in a room he didn’t normally sleep in, near the entry door. The last thing he clearly remembered was his mother giving him to this strange old man. After that, everything was hazy, indistinct. He had wispy memories of blood and screaming and fire and great magic being wrought. He vaguely remembered hiding, curled up into a ball.
“We have to leave. When the sun rises, when the Kami fully sees the depth of what they did here last night, this shiro will have to deal with what was wrought. Already, I can feel the anger of the Kami who guards this land. You do not want to see that.”
Sachio shook his head, and grabbed for his clothes. “What happened?” he whispered. “I don’t remember anything, not really.”
“That’s good, Trouble-sama. Let’s just say, Yomi touched the earth, and your father created a monster. There’s a price to be paid for doing that. But I promised your mother to save what I can.”
He looked up at the old man. “Why are you calling me Trouble?
“That’s what Inari named you, that’s what I will call you until you deserve another name. Hurry up.”
Sachio finished dressing, and Akinori hustled him out of the house and out of the grounds, bypassing the garden completely.
“I want to say goodbye to my mother.” Sachio tugged at Akinori’s sleeve.
“You can’t. If you do, you will break the magic, and they will all die.”
“What?” asked the youth.
“Everything’s changed, boy. Can’t you feel it?”
The youth shuddered. Something was wrong with the area. Sachio, even with a child’s sight, could see the redness in the Shinkiro flowing into the garden, like flame on a hillside.
He stopped and looked at the path towards that part of the grounds.“But the garden’s always been the lightest place on the grounds,” he whispered.
“Now it is a place of wrath, “ said the old man. “The Kami is angry about the magic your father had done.” He tugged on the boy’s collar to get him to move. “Maybe someday, the Kami will let the garden be a refuge again, but for a long time, people will want to avoid that place.”
They stopped by an outbuilding, a shed that Sachio knew was used to store things for keeping the grounds. This night, it was warded with layer after layer of magic, both to keep in what was there, and to keep away anything that drew too close. The young boy felt a growing sense of unease, and then pain as they approached.
“This is our last stop,” the old man said. He made a single gesture, and the warding fell away.
They walked into the room, Akinori holding the lamp high, and saw a woman curled up, lying in the corner. She was tied, and her clothes were stained with blood. The old man walked up to her, and shook her. She startled awake, rolled into a sitting position. Sachio could see by the light of Akinori’s lamp that her eyes were flashing anger, but her face was bruised and scratched.
“I am going to cut your bonds, Nyoko. You must leave,” said the sage. “If you don’t leave, both you and Yashuo’s child will die by midmorning. Do you understand?”
She nodded. He slashed through the ropes that tied her wrists. She rubbed them together.
“There is no way for you to save Yashuo. They stripped him of his soul. Your father put a particularly wicked curse on him. He will go until his soulless body fades into death, looking for you. He will come to you with love in his eyes and heart, and as he reaches out to you, he will drink all your life essence in one gulp. That was the curse your father laid. For you to be near him is death. You can never be together in life again. You must flee.”
He cut the bonds around her ankles, then dodged as she tried to kick him.
“You carry his child.,” the old Kitsune said matter-of-factly. “You have a choice. You can go to your death, or flee and save your child.”
He removed the gag from around her mouth. She reached out and slapped him. “You did this! I saw you weave the curse for my father! Why should I believe anything you tell me?”
The sage reached into his sleeve and pulled out a small box. “I bring you this as proof,” he said.
Her eyes grew wide as she saw the box. “That’s....”
“That is your father’s Tama. Use it well. I suggest you be well on your way before the sun is up. Things will begin to be interesting then.”
The Kitsune sage bowed to the woman. “Come, Trouble-sama. We need to be on our way. There’s a place in the mountains we need to visit.” He nudged the boy out. Turning once more to the woman, who was turning the box over and over her in her hands, he said, “I did what I did to save what I could. There will be an end to it. Maybe there will be something you can salvage when it is all over. For what they are worth, I give you my blessings.” Then he followed the young man out.
Excerpt from Tale of the Last Feast by Sachio Hayashi writing as Michael Mitsuo
“It’s so....brown!” Ayume said, as she stepped onto the balcony of her hotel room, looking at the mountains in front of her. “With a name like Boise, I was thinking it would be all green and forested.” The mountain range that ran along the eastern flank of the city dominated the landscape, greenish-brown and bare of trees. The mountain s were indeed more brown than green, as the growth of summer grasses were beginning to cure.
Ichisuke laughed , standing in the doorway. “I can see you’ve lived in Seattle too long, woman,” he said, “It’s not even fire season yet, not really, not here. Look further down, into the valley nearer the river. What do you see?”
“Trees,” she said. “A lot of them. The whole valley looks like a forest.”
“That’s why they called it Boise, the place of the trees, situated against all these brown mountains and sagebrush. Here they appreciate their green stuff, unlike on the coast where they take it for granted.” He took a drink from a water bottle.
“You’ve come here often?” She asked, turning around and leaning against the door frame. “
He shook his hand. “Not too often. I’ve come up twice to visit Sachio, and once on my way to Sun Valley, and once to give a talk at the university.”
“Did you call him and let us know we were coming?” Ayume said. “I want to change before we leave. I would rather not meet my formidable uncle wearing a teeshirt and shorts.”
“Yes, and I talked to Masuke. Sachio is expecting us to drop by this afternoon. Masuke will join us for dinner. I’m not sure you should mention Masuke and Sukeo to your uncle, though.” Ichisuke moved out of the door frame to let Ayume through.
“Why?” she asked as she unzipped her suitcase.
“I don’t know if he’d appreciate the fact that we have people keeping an eye out on him. After all, he’s the founder of our little organization. He might think we think he’s gotten too old to take care of himself.”
“Uncle? Old? That’ll be the day.”She pulled the clothes out of her garment bag and set them up on hangers. “He’s too stubborn to get old.”
Ichisuke rolled his eyes.
Lillian woke up with a start.
“What a strange dream,” she thought as she sat up, shaking her head. “Maybe I’ve been working to hard for Mr. Hayashi.”
The dream had been something like one of his stories. A fox, four-footed and silver, had stumbled across a samurai warrior. The young human, was wounded and delirious, blood-stained and burning with fever. The fox sniffed him over, and suddenly changed into a young woman. The Kitsune rolled him on his back, making soothing sounds, and saw something in his hand. He had been clutching the sleeve of a woman’s robe, and muttering her name, over and over. The sleeve too was bloodstained.
“Harue!” he cried, pulling at her robe. “Harue! Don’t leave me!”
“I won’t leave you,” she whispered. Somehow or other, in the dream, the Kitsune woman dragged the injured man into the cave she was living in, where she tended him gently.
She went out for fuel for the fire. When she returned, she found the samurai slaughtered with his own sword. Two red eyes peered out of the back of the cave, a form walked towards her, calling a name. “Nyoko,” it whispered.
It reached the light, revealing a beautiful young kitsune man. He had three scars across his face. “Nyoko, I’ve been looking for you. Let me touch you. Let me take you with me. We can go down to Yomi, to hell together. We can forget this life.”
She backed out of the cave. As she moved into the light, the young man followed her, stepping over the corpse of the man he had slain. In the full light he was emaciated, and his clothes were ragged.
“They did this to me because of you, Nyoko. You owe me a debt for that. Come with me, beloved.” He reached out a hand to grab her.
Suddenly, a bright light, red with anger, stood between the two. It took the shape of the dead man in the cave. “Run, Kitsune woman. Run. You tried to save me. Let me save you.”
“But, but...” Nyoko said. The man who was attacking her screamed as he punched through the ghost, but was unable to advance.
“Run. Say a sutra for Harue and Akitada and remember us to Jizo. Run!”
Her attacker screamed again She ran, as a claw punched through the ghost and her attacker screamed like the damned.
With that, her heart pounding, Lillian woke up.
She got up, trying to shake the dream from her head, tossed on a tee shirt and jeans, and meandered into the kitchen, where she made coffee, something she didn’t do every day. Sunlight streamed through the windows, and while she thought that might chase away the shadows of the dream, it didn’t. While the coffee was dripping, and she looked through her kitchen to find breakfast, the images from it flashed through her mind. Grabbing the milk and cereal, she walked to her table.
“Something feels weird,” she said. “This felt like a story I was supposed to know, not a dream. The whole house feels weird.”
Putting up the milk and grabbing her purse, she left the house.
Moving in that numinous space that allowed those who had the ability to be both in the world of humankind, yet not detectable by those without the eyes that could see, a small group sat in the garden at the back of Sachio’s house. Nezumi, moving like a gray shadow, scampered around the garden, stopping to investigate a bed of lillies. The midday sunlight kissed the flowers as they nodded daintily in the breeze. The rat looked up as a wasp buzzed by lazily.
Not far from the rat, two others sat in the shade cast by a cherry tree.
Daikokuten leaned back against a large stone, enjoying the heat on his back. “Well, gracious lady, everybody has arrived or is at hand,” he said. “I do believe the board is set. Each piece is prepared for the next move.”
She, her black hair shining in the midday light, looked away to the back of the garden.“The flowers in Sachio’s garden are lovely, are they not?” Benzaiten asked. “And the wind in the pines is very lovely.”
He looked at her carefully, and frowned. “You do not approve of my seeing this as a Go match?” asked the Kami.
Benzaiten hid her face behind her fan. “Is it a contest between those who are good and those who are bent?” she asked. “Tell me, of those players on the table, who has not been wronged? Who has acted only with right?”
Nezumi jumped into Daikokuten’s map. He idly petted the rodent. “It is a dark and ugly braid,” he said.
She dropped her fan, her dark eyes, serious but kindly, looking far away. “I am reminded of a tale: It is said that when Izanagi first moved into the river to purify himself after being polluted by Yomi, that the first Kami born of this was Omagatsuhi, Lord of disorder and destruction, born of hell. But following that was Onaobi, Lord of rectification and reordering, born of Heaven.’
“Omagatsuhi has had a long time and much joy in toying with this family. I think he has been playing both white and black by himself for a long time. But now, I would like to think it is Onaobi’s turn, to rectify and reorder things. Perhaps we should think of this not as a game of Go, but as a procession to the Land of Roots, where Hayasasura-hime, the Kami who can purify the darkest sin, can cleanse the souls of all involved, and give them a chance to end well.
“Whether they will take it, or not,” she said with a wistful smile, “Now that is the question. We can but offer.”
“You see with the eyes of a Bodhisattava, Lady. Kind and compassionate.”
She gestured with her fan. “And you, O Kami of fortune and abundance?” she asked
“Yes, Benzaiten-hime?” he said, as Nezumi jumped from his lap and stood up, looking at the goddess.
“Will you aid me, Dono?” she said, touching him lightly on one hand
“Have I every refused you, gracious lady?” he replied.
“It is your job, if you will be so kind,” she said, “not to let the procession start too soon. The hunter must not reach his prey until we are ready to act. Good fortune to you on that one.”
She closed her fan, and withdrew away from the mortal plane, and back to her hidden realm.
“Now that,” Daikokuten said to the rat, “might definitely take some good luck.”