Chapter 12 Black and White
Shoutaku found Nyoko not far from the road, really, curled up into a little ball, trembling. The old nun could see how she had covered herself up with strands of fox magic, trying to hide, to look like grass and leaves.
She knelt down by the Kitsune, placed her hand on her back. “I think you should come home with me,” she told her. “You’re not ready to take this pilgrimage.”
Nyoko sat up. There were leaves in her hair, and tears streaming down her face. She looked at the nun in awe and surprise. “You can see me?”
Shoutaku smiled. “Yes, child. It’s been a long time since any bakemono or ghost has been able to shift reality totally from these old eyes. Here, let’s get you sorted out.” She helped Nyoko to stand up and put her clothes back in order. Digging into her carry bag, she found a plain tie strip and wrapped it around her waist. “I’m afraid your lovely obi is lost,” she said, fastening the knot.
Nyoko looked down at it and touched it with her fingers. “What did you do to that awful man?” the Kitsune asked.
“I made him fall down,” said the nun, picking up her bag. “Then I tied his hands with your obi. I thought that would be a better use for it than lying in the dust. I don’t think he will be bothering us for awhile, but I do think we should probably head back. Someone might find him before you are far enough away. Can you handle a long walk in the dark?”
Nyoko nodded. “But why are you here?”
The nun smiled. “I came looking for you. I told you it was too soon for you to leave my house. And I see that I was right.”
They began to walk through the woods, away from the highway. The nun dug in her bag, and handed Nyoko a bamboo leaf-wrapped parcel. “Here. You need this.”
Nyoko took it, and unwrapped it to find a rice ball. “Thank you, Ama-sama.” She slowly began eating the rice ball. “But I don’t understand why you came looking for me. I am a Kitsune, a bakemono. Humans see us like that samurai did, something to be chased away or used and killed.”
“There are three vows I make every day,” said the nun. “One is to save all sentient creatures. You are one of those, aren’t you?”
“Last week, from where I sat in meditation on my mountainside, I saw a great burning going on across the valley. I watched it, wondering what was happening. Suddenly a wonderful perfume filled the air, and I looked around and saw a being dressed in shimmering white.” The old woman stepped carefully over a log and helped Nyoko steady herself as she did the same thing. “The being looked like a prince with beautiful silver hair and flowing sleeves. He said, pointing to the smoke, ‘Omagatsuhi is playing his games again. A wrong led to a more serious wrong, which led to a greater wrong. He thinks the chain will go on and on. But the Merciful One has heard the cries going up to the August Plains of Heaven. If you go to the base of the cliff, you will find a fox who holds the key to ending these wrongs. Take care of her. She will be Onaobi’s countermove.’ And then he disappeared in a blindingly bright light.”
“And then I found you,” she said, turning back to Nyoko. Nyoko had hid her face with her sleeve, and sobbed once.
“It is not fun to have a destiny forced on us by the great ones,” the nun said.
Nyoko replied, “I have done such awful things.”
“You’re not the first, child.” said Shoutaku. “But life still goes on, day by day.”
They walked on as late as they could, then made camp. While Nyoko stared into the distance, the nun made porridge.
“It is dangerous, you know, to be with me. There is someone stalking me. I tried to save someone, but he came and killed him and almost killed me.” Nyoko said.
“So you told me before.” said Shoutaku, stirring her small pot. “I am not worried. You are safe with me.”
Nyoko turned and looked at her. “Why? How can you say that?”
“Because him killing me is not my destiny.” She added some dried vegetables to the pot.
Nyoko shook her head.
“The ghost who tried to save you, he hurt him pretty well. He will not be searching for at least a time.”
“How....how did you know that?”
The nun stirred her pot. “You are not hard to read, child.”
They fell silent for awhile. Shoutaku began to softly sing the song she had been singing when Nyoko had woken up in her hut.
“Light shines out, pure, clear,
into the realms of darkness,
compassion's bright hand.
Flowers and incense
we offer with our own hearts,
You who vowed to empty hell
before you would rest,
O Practitioner of mercy,
who brings the boat of compassion,
rescue those beings
drowning in suffering's sea,
caught up in their long dreaming,
burdened with karma.”
“What are you singing?” Nyoko asked.
“Ah, it is a prayer to Kwannon Botsu. She likes to rescue us poor wayward waifs, always in trouble. Come and sit next to me, and eat your soup,” said the old woman.
Nyoko did as she was instructed, sitting down next to the fire The old woman handed her a steaming bowl. The old nun said her prayers over her food, then began to eat. She looked up at Nyoko, who stared into hers, unmoving.
“You must try to eat,” she said. “I know you are with child, although why you didn’t lose the little one when you fell is beyond me.”
“I was told,” Nyoko said. “It doesn’t seem real to me yet.” Suddenly, unexpectedly, she let out a great sob. Shoutaku put her bowl down and threw her arms around her. “I did it. I did it. They are all dead because of me,” she said. “Yashuo....”
The nun’s eyes went wide as she gently probed Nyoko. “Your soul is touched with an awful, hard grief. So much sorrow and anger and bloot. Such wrongs done to you and by you.” Nyoko keened in her arms, rocking back and forth.
“Oh, and what was done to you, and all those you loved best. O child, Omagatsuhi has outdone himself this time.
"Pass through, yes, pass through
And where will this path lead you?
Take this winding road,
Hand in hand carry your load
This road leads you on.
"Pass through, yes, pass through,
And will you know what to do?
The foxes stand guard,
The winter wind is very hard
This road you are on,” the nun sang as she held Nyoko.
Slowly, Nyoko’s sobs eased back.“You must stay with me until you are ready to face your ghosts, girl. Stay with me, and I will teach you what I can, and Kwannon the Merciful One will help show you how you can live with the stain on your heart.”
Excerpt from the Adventures of Nyoko by Sachio Hayashi writing as Michael Mitsuo
I find my way, somehow, back by the river, the darkness of the curse receding for the moment.
Who is that woman? Why does she attract the darkness I carry in side of me so much? I look at the book she left. It is thin, hardbound volume. Regrets, the title says. Regrets: Poems of a Moment by Michael Mitsuo. I lift the book to my nose. It smells of her, and of incense, and flowers. And another scent I know I should remember, but cannot.
There are benches here, where I can watch the water pass by. Sitting down, I reach out, touch the flow of Shinkiro, and mask myself, older, with a touch of gray. Clean, without the coffee spills that now adorn my chest. Non-threatening. I feel the magic snap into place, and I lean forward and look at the book.
There is a name on the inside cover. Lillian Reynard. Lillian. I think of how she looked in the coffee shop, red-haired and fair. A lily, indeed.
I turn to a random page.
Here by the waters,
here by the flowing waters,
here the pale green leaves
of willow wakened by spring
entwine me, binding my heart.
The waters flow on,
never ceasing their singing.
A single leaf lands,
turns once, drifting away
on the clear, sunlit water.
The withies hold fast,
willow, tree of remembrance,
tree holds my last thoughts
unable to slip away,
bound fast in those yesterdays.
Let me be a leaf
slipping into tomorrow
drifting in sunlight
down the clear rushing water,
not the unmovable tree.
“Bound fast in those yesterdays,” I mutter. I understand that feeling. Is it not the story of my life, to be caught up, never able to move on until the curse is broken at last? I think of the last time I saw Nyoko happy, standing in the sun near another river, the sunlight shining on her hair, laughing as she played with the women of her father’s house, some silly game that involved running in around after each other. “Let me be a leaf,” I say in something close to a prayer, “and not the unmovable tree.”
A shadow falls over the book and my lap and my body. I look up and see him. He stands there, wearing black leathers and silk. O, I have seen him before. He is always, always dark, and beautiful and terrible to look at. His eyes glint with a hungry look, and this time is no different. He only comes when there is something he wants to be done, or wants me to know. I hate him.
“Yashuo. Reading poetry today?” he asks. His voice is musical, but it grates, like an instrument with a string slightly out of key. His eyes drill into me. “I do not think I will ever let you be a leaf, Kitsune no Yashuo. No, you are too useful to me as a tree.”
He leans over me with a piece of paper, tucking it into the book of poetry. “What you want is there. I just don’t know if she’ll be there when you get there.” He stands up, and sniffs the air, and looks at something I can’t see.
“Ooooh, the game’s afoot. Go, go. Find out what you can. The next move’s ours!”
Laughing, he walks away. Damn, but I hate Omagatsuhi.
The house was small, but on the corner of a busy intersection. Unlike most houses in the neighborhood, it had no expanse of green grass, but was a solid flower garden. Cosmos and verbena, snapdragons, nodded in the breeze, and marigold and petunias and blue flax lined the pathway as he walked up to the door. An ofuda in a bright red cover hung on the door. Ichisuke could feel the power radiating from it many steps before he reached the doorbell.
As he was reaching to ring the bell, the door opened. A small, gray Japanese lady stood in the entryway. She looked very ancient, but her eyes were dark and shining and full of life. “Greetings, my fine young Kitsune. I was expecting you. You must be Ichisuke, son of Sukeyoshi, cousin of Sachio-sama and Nyoko-hime,” she said with a respectful bow. “Please do come in.”
He bowed in return. “Thank you for inviting me, Senkensha-sama. You have been such a great support for my family so long.”
“It seems to be my destiny,” she said as she led him into the house. He sat on the foyer stool and stowed his shoes in the shoe cupboard, then followed her into the house. The room she led him into looked out over the garden, but from this angle, the busy traffic on the street beyond was hidden behind a lovely hedge of wisteria. The room itself was almost bare, with a low table and scattered cushions. Along one wall was the Buddha altar, where a small statue of Kwannon looked benignly at the two of them as they sat. Incense, aloeswood by the scent of it, burned as an offering.
“You must drink some tea with me,” the old woman insisted. She poured from a beautiful dark pot into a fine green black cup. He accepted it from her graciously, and waited as she poured her own.
“Now you want to know why I called you,” she said.
“Yes,” he replied. “I had only been here a little more than an hour when you called.”
“Eh, the Kami knew already,” she said with a little shrug. “ You do realize your family is at a critical moment in time, I believe.”
“I do believe it is so, Senkensha-sama,” he replied with a nod of his head. He took a sip of the tea, bitter and cleansing. He had not drank tea that tasted quite like that in a long, long time.
“Believe it.” she said, pushing a wrapped package towards him. “This morning I had a visitor, a being of light from the August Plains of Heaven, I believe. He wore shining white garments, and his hair was silvery white. I have seen him very seldom. The first time I saw him it was to rescue a poor fox at the foot of a cliff. Perhaps, when your family’s ills are finally resolved, the Kami will allow me to rest.” She sighed. “I am very tired, and have seen far more than I ever expected to.”
“The being asked me to call you, to give you this package. The being told me, ‘The lily must bloom,’ and that your family would know what to do with it. I think it is an ofuda of some sort.” She closed her eyes. “The crisis nears. Before the week is out, it will all be decided one way or the other. Everybody needed is near at hand.”
“What about Nyoko-hime?” he asked.
“She is much closer than you think. It cannot finish without her. Look for her. She will find you before the moon is three quarters old.”