Chapter 9 Results of Disorder
Smoke rose from the grounds in the early dawn.
It was not the smoke of cooking fires in the kitchens, nor warming fires while the men on guard kept watch.
A crow flew in, an early riser, attracted by the smell, and flew through the broken remnants of a still smoldering building. Besides the cawing of the crow, there was no sound except for the crackling sound of the small fires that had not yet burned themselves out. The wind itself was utterly still, as if unwilling to disturb the scene in front of it. letting the smoke drift up almost straight, like ghostly fingers.
The air, though, even still, carried a message. The grounds reeked with the stench of blood and scorch – burnt wood, flesh, hope. Half numinous, the Kami drifted through the grounds, and her grief reached up to the August Plains of Heaven as she walked through the garden, stamped and ripped and burned, and blooded. One of the maids lay on the grass near the boulder Yayoi had liked, an arrow in her back. She drifted through what was left of the house, her sleeve held up over her face, not just against the smell, but the horror of what had been done. As she moved up past clusters of bodies gathered in what must have been fighting formation, she was amazed at the cruelty the Neko and the Kitsune forces had been able to wreak on each other. Some of the bodies were burned beyond recognition. Some were in fox form, a few in cat form, most still human or mostly so. Heads and limbs were severed. All bore wounds: slices and blows and punctures and burns. The ground at places was saturated with blood and it lay redly in thick, sticky puddles in the early morning light.
After a painful, heart-wrenching search, she found the one in particular she was looking for, in a tucked away corner of the keep that had not burned. There it was, the sight the Kami least wanted to find, but knew she would – the noblewoman laying in a puddle of blood next to the body of her slain husband, her throat slashed, the knife still in her hand. Her body was very pale against the black of her hair and the deep red of her robes. The robes were darker in patches, the ground well spattered with what she offered before the Neko soldiers could get to her.
“Yayoi, Yayoi,” the Kami whispered. Tears trickled down her face. “I saved what I could. Your children are safe.”
Carefully, she cradled the woman. A warm, spectral hand touched her cheek. She looked up, and saw the shade of the woman she loved looking up at her. “I know,” the ghost breathed, then dissipated in the morning light. Sighing, she laid the woman’s body down, and moved on.
From somewhere, she heard a woman keening. Gently she released the body of the woman, and stood up to see. A woman, a man, a few dazed children stood in the garden looking at the devastation. Others, daring to leave from where they escaped from, began drifting in and joined them.
The Kami sent them what blessing she could at the moment, watching it touch their auras, soak in and be overwhelmed by the darkness of the grief and shock they felt. She turned, feeling a cold, spectral wind touch her.
“Ah, Terugin Himegami, I am surprised to see you away from your trees today,” said a cold and chilling voice.
A dark shadow, only barely an outline, stood there, looking at her.
“Omagatsuhi-sama, why am I not surprised to see you here?” the Kami said.
He swirled the energy fields around him, taking more solid form. Terribly beautiful, with shining black eyes and black hair and black clothing, he breathed in a wicked miasma about him that said, ‘come, offer me your light, and I will love you, even as I devour you.’ Polluted with the worst corruption of Yomi, where he walked, disaster followed in his wake to feed the ever gnawing hunger his soul craved for disorder and grief and pain. Terugin shuddered, beholding him.
“What, you didn’t enjoy my little drama?” he said, moving closer to her.
Anger flared through her aura. “How long have you been plotting this?”
“Oh, it’s taken awhile, but ah, what results! Such carnage. Come to me, beautiful one. Come to me and let me absorb you, and my day will be complete. If I drink your soul, I will have truly devoured this Kitsune clan. How perfect it would be.”
His attraction grew more intense. The promise of oblivion offered by those wicked, beautiful eyes, the sardonic, but perversely loving smile of the dark Kami had an almost mesmerizing effect on the grieving heart of the clan Kami. She took one small step in his direction.
Suddenly, she found herself wrapped around by the gentle coils of a white dragon.
“No,” said a strong, but gentle woman’s voice.
He swerved to the sound of the voice, and his lips curled back into an ugly snarl. “This is not yours to interfere with, Benzaiten.”
“You are mistaken, Omagatsuhi-sama.” The kami shifted the energy around her, and stood there as her full self, numinous, surrounded by light, eight armed, each hand holding a different object. “I am Uga Benzaiten. In me, are joined Uga no Mitama, Dakini and Inari. Foxes are mine!”
Omagatsuhi turned into something bestial, dark and ugly in the presence of her light. He growled, in pain, and as he curled up into himself he gave the two kami one last, drooling, angry, red-eyed snarl. “You have not heard the last of me, Himegami! I WILL eat them all!”
And with that, he vanished. From somewhere on the grounds, a woman wailed.
Benzaiten looked at the clan Kami, smiled gently, reverting to her usual self as her dragon returned to wrap around her wrist. “I think we have our work cut out for us,” she said sadly.
Excerpt from Tale of the Last Feast by Sachio Hayashi writing as Michael Mitsuo
I walk in the dappled sunshine this afternoon.
The grounds here are green and shady, and warm. The river runs along side of the park. I can hear it beyond the trees that shade its banks. I am not surprised at how much they celebrate this waterway here. A desert people, surrounded by brown hills and downs, black basalt and long, long weeks in between rain know that water is precious.
I think about this time of the year where I grew up. It would probably be raining, and the air hot and heavy and sticky.
As I walk, I pass a group of children running with small shrieks. Innocence amazes me any more. Are there any above the age of 10 who are truly innocent, unmarked by the nastiness of life? The children disturb a cluster of geese, who honk at them. One of the children turns and looks at me, and the look in her eyes takes me right back to a day very long ago.
It was the first time my father had brought me to visit the leader of our clan, and to make an offering to the clan Kami. The adults were busy preparing for the festival, and I was left to wander the grounds alone. I saw Nyoko for the first time then. She was no more than ten. She sat in the shade of a cherry tree in August, dressed in a too warm set of ceremonial robes. Blue and pink and pale green waves of silk pooled around her as she sat. She looked up at me with a look very much like the little girl who was frightened by the goose. Her maid was fussing over how she had messed her hitoe and trying to make her look presentable before her mother came to join them. Something came over me, and I walked up and kneeled down next to her. Without saying anything, I handed her the paper crane my brother gave me. I will never forget the brilliant smile she gave me. I think I fell in love with her that instant.
I sigh at the memory. Even after this many years and all the blackness that has stained me and her, I still cannot forget. Nor can I not regret.
The path by the river runs to a footbridge. I find my feet wandering along it. Across the river is the local university. Sunday afternoon in summer it does not get much travel. But on the other side of the river there are places you can walk down and touch the water. I cross it and admire the view of the mountains and woodland you get from the top of the bridge. But something catches my attention while I am looking. A scent. So like Nyoko’s. Unstained with dark or misery. She had been here, leaned on the railing right where I touch it, not long before I stood in this same spot.
My intentions for the day, to forget for at least an hour or two what I now am, shatters as the dark hunger, triggered by the scent surges within me. So close to Nyoko’s. I must possess it. Suddenly, I become predator. Sunlight and memories fade. I must find that scent, make it mine, devour it. This is the darkness of my curse, to destroy the very thing I most cherish, and in the thrall of its control, it excites me, gives me purpose and joy. Breathing deeply of the air, I return back to the park. My hunt will not end until I find her.
Sukeo, feeling the magic hold slowly drain away, got to his hands and knees, then stood up, brushing off the dust and gravel on his jeans and shirt.
“What...what happened to me? I’ve never done an unintentional change before.” He looked at the man standing next to him, who looked at him with a wry, amused face. Sukeo shook his hair and slicked a strand of it back. With a tug, he pulled a burr out.
“Better yet, tell me what you are doing here, chaser of squirrels,” Yoshikata said.
Sukeo snorted, but reached down, pulled off his shoe and emptied it out. A small stick fell out. As he slipped it back on, he looked up at the man in front of him. “Ah, much better. Believe it or not, I was looking for you.”
“Hmph.” Yoshikata crossed his arms. “Your organization running out of ghosts and rogue foxes to chase?”
Yoshikata had not changed much since Sukeo last saw him, maybe 10 years before he migrated. His face, perhaps, was a little more weathered, a little more shut in, and his eyes glittered with determination, like a man who understood his duty even though he hated it, and would cling to it to the bitter end. He wondered idly what would happen to him after it was over.
“Probably not. But someone told me you were out here in the woods. Told me I should drive up to this very area, in fact. And that you would be heading into town. And our biggest ghost, as you say, is already in town. I thought you might like to know in case you want to change your mind and go somewhere else. You are my cousin, after all,” Sukeo said. “I remember the last time you two got too close. It wasn’t very pretty.”
“That crew of yours has some interesting sources. I didn’t even know I was going into town until last night.” Yoshikata shifted the weight of his rucksack. “You said he’s in town?’
“Yeah. And you know that Sachio lives there, too.” Sukeo looked around as if trying to figure something out.
“I’d heard that. I just didn’t have much desire to stop by and drink tea with him.” He leaned on his walking stick.
“If you got confused when you ran into my barrier, and are trying to figure out where your car is, it’s over that way.” Yoshikata pointed back to the road.
“I don’t think too well when I’m in fox form,” he admitted. “Want a ride back into town?”