Chapter 13 Wilderness Walking
Nyoko stood by the water, dressed in the plain white linen of one who seeks purification, looking at how the water cascaded down the rock face into the small pool that then flowed down the hill. In the early morning, the water glowed with the morning light. The air was clean with promise. The sound of the water falling filled her with a particular ease.
She thought about the last several days. She had been at the small house with the strange nun for five days, where Shoutaku had asked little of her, and she rested. Shoutaku, although wearing the robes of an ama, a Buddhist nun, was a hermit and a seer, a senkensha, friend of both bodhisattva and Kami.
Above all, she was kind.
On the sixth day, Shoutaku had woken her up before dawn, and announced that today the Kami had decided it was time to begin her healing. After morning prayer before the image of Kwannon, Shoutaku had laid out fresh clothing, a white robe and headband, and told Nyoko to change. Afterwards, she had led her down to this pool.
“Your soul carries much taint, girl. Like Izanagi did after visiting Yomi, you must start with purification in water,” Shoutaku said. “Then we will see where your path leads next.”
Shoutaku with Nyoko bowed towards the water, clapping three times, and bowing again. She began to chant:
“Hear us, O Kami,
we come to you with grateful heart,
you who know that from time to time,
great sins occur,
sins against the August Plains of Heaven,
sins against the earth,
sins that cause the blood to flow,
sins against the living and the dead,
against mothers and children,
the beasts of the field.
“You who know the cause of the great miseries
that befall across the land,
times of great sorrow and misfortune,
we come to you for aid.
“We thank you, O Kami,
you who listen,
you who restore order
when we come to you,
contrite and humble
to request your aid.
Onaobi, hear us.
“O Kami of the August Plain of Heaven,
let the eight-fold gate of cloud part,
the gate between Heaven and Earth,
and lend your ear to these words of our petition.
“O Kami of the earth,
climb to the tops of the mountains
sweeping away the mists
so clarity is restored,
and the light of Heaven be upon us.
“O Kami of the water,
remember how even the August One
once purified himself through your power
who dwells in the river and the waterfall,
carry the impurities to the expanses of the ocean.
You who dwells where the river meets the sea,
Swallow all our impurities.
There in your land,
in the root country,
dissolve our impurities
until there is nothing left.
“Please hear our humble words,
and know our grateful hearts.”
She bowed three times once again. Turning to Nyoko, she said, “Go into the water, girl. Stand under the waterfall. Clap your hands twice and bow once before going into the water. Turn clockwise and face the air. I’ll call your name when it’s time. Come out, turn clockwise, face the waterfall, clap twice and bow.”
Nyoko stepped into the shallow pool. The water was cool, almost cold on her feet. She could feel the energy building up, but as she looked, she saw that the Shinkiro was surpressed, and none of the darkness that should and had been trailing around her was visible. Light, instead, cascaded with the water in the waterfall.
“Come, child,” the water murmured. It was a soft voice that promised hope. She felt it draw her.
Clapping her hands twice, she bowed low. As she rose, she could feel a soft touch on her cheek. “I am here, daughter. I am she who is called Descent into the Current. Descend into my waters,” said the soft murmur of the waters. She stepped into the water fall, turned clockwise, and felt the cold stream rush over her. Suddenly, there was a flash of whiteness, and she was somewhere else.
Excerpt from the Adventures of Nyoko by Sachio Hayashi writing as Michael Mitsuo
I look at the young one who has run into my trap. Sukeo. He looks at me with sheepish, yet irritated black eyes. His tee shirt has picked up a dirt smudge from when he transformed back. Medium-sized, his body moves with the grace of one well-trained. I am surprised I caught him off-guard.
Sukeo. He is, I believe, a cousin of mine, but I forget how. So many connections, and I have spent so little time with them. My duty, the gem sitting even now in the pouch in my pocket, has kept me in a constant dance revolving around the Hunter and Sachio so long that I have forgotten what it feels like to have connections beyond those two. Yet I remember him from the time when the Hunter scented me out near San Francisco. He has not changed much since them. Impetuous. Impulsive. Loyal.
We walk side by side down the path I have pointed out. He moves surprisingly quiet towards the road, and on into the city beyond this mountain.
“So, Sukeo-san, how did you know I was here?” I ask, tired of no noise but the wind and our walking, and the building tension of something fateful in the air.
“There’s this old seer who works with us. She told us you were up here,” Sukeo says, as we climb the embankment that leads up to the road. “She said ‘Tell that stubborn old fox that it’s too far to walk, and everything will be over before he gets here.’”
Over. Can it ever really be over? I contemplate the ironies of fate.
Nyoko’s father. Hidemori. The Heroic Guard of the Kitsunes. He was tall and broad and impulsive and quick tempered, given at times to demanding allegiance and unquestioning obedience. He lacked the ability to read the hearts of those around him, or perhaps, he didn’t care much about their hearts. I went through decades hating him and what that inability wrought. Every step of the way, we were given choices, and each one of us made the wrong choice.
Sachio, now -- he took after his mother, it seems. She was a gentle thing, gracious and kind to everyone who came under her wing. I do not know how the two of them were able to make a life together. I have read Sachio’s books, disguised as fantasies, that tell about the destruction the dark one wrought on us. His heart seems soft, neither pointing fingers or ignoring the faults of those involved. Perhaps just enough time has passed that he learned wisdom. It has been a long time since I saw him last. Living with the old Kitsune sage changed him a lot. He was a lot like Sukeo when I first met him, when I was to be his brother-in-law.
Sticking my hand in my pocket, I clutch the bag the Tama is in. She pulses, restless. If she could fly away on her own, she would go the opposite direction we are headed in. Yashou is closer than her comfort zone. The curse bids her to flee, never to rejoin. I will have to take care.
“So, where do I take you, Yoshikata?” he asks as we reach his car. It is dusty, but looks capable. I trust my feet better, but I have a nagging feeling that being there soon is important.
“Where do you want to take me?” I reply. It doesn’t really matter where he drops me off. I slide into the seat, fumble with the seat belt. It is a different style than I remember. I know where I’ll end up when the time is right. If this is the end, the Kami will not let me get away.
“Uh,” he says. “I’ll think I’ll start with Masuko. He’s better at figuring these things out than I am.” He backs the car up and heads down the road.
“Can I help you in there, Mr. Hayashi?” Lillian called from the front room. She was restless, and not sure of what to do in this house as a house guest.
Sacho stepped out of the kitchen. Sachio had a striped apron on, and a big vegetable cleaver in his right hand, and looked like a cook celebrity from a food show. His dark eyes twinkling, he smiled at her. “No, no, Miss Reynard, you sit down and relax. If you’d like to go out into the garden, feel free. It is a lovely evening.”
She smiled back at the sight of him.
“That’s a good idea,” she said, and headed for the back.
“And stay out of the office!” he told her as she passed. “Don’t even think about work today.”
“Yes, sir!” she said, grinning as she headed for the back entrance. She had been thinking of doing just that sort of thing. Instead, she bypassed the door to her office, and went to the stool by the back entrance and put on some sandals before pushing open the door and heading outside.
Standing there on the small porch at the back of the house, she took a deep, long breath of the air, and for the first time since she woke up with the odd dream, she could feel herself relaxing. It was late afternoon, and the light had begun to soften with a warm, honeyed touch, and the shadows from the trees were long and inviting. She walked down the small steps at the back of the porch and onto the walkway that would lead her into the garden proper.
The flagstones of the walkway were laced with mother of thyme and gave off a sweet fragrance as she walked. Today, she bypassed the drifts of lilies, and went into a back recess of the garden, partially screened off with wisteria. Near at hand, was an apple tree, filled with underripe fruit.
In the alcove formed by this was a little shrine to Kwannon, Bodhisattva of mercy. She looked very kind and gentle to Lillian’s eye.
She walked over to it and bowed with her hands clasped like she had seen Sachio do in the past and sat down on a large flat boulder near it. “Please,” she said, “I hope you don’t mind if I sit in your part of the garden. It’s just so quiet and peaceful, and today’s been anything but a quiet and peaceful day. In fact, something strange feels like it’s going on, but I’m not sure what it is. That strange man shouting. The man who rescued me. The weird dreams....” She sighed, then giggled at the thought of her talking to the image; it wasn’t something she normally did. And yet it felt more right than wrong, and for some reason, she felt very soothed. The rock she was on was warm and inviting and large enough and she curled up on it, at first merely watching the sky through the branches of the tree overhead, dappled light. Slowly, lulled by the wind in the branches and the peacefulness of the moment, she fell asleep.
On a level not visible to human or most Kitsune eyes, light shimmered near her. Moments later, a soft hand, decorated with dark red silk sleeves brushed gently brushed a stray hair off her forehead. Nyoko straightened up and sighed.
“It’s already beginning, isn’t it?” she said.
“Yes. Daikokuten’s already had to step in once,” said her companion. “But we have this refuge for her. This is the safest place for her to be,” said Benzaiten. “It has the strongest wards.”
“Should we tell Sachio?” she asked.
“No, we can’t tell Sachio. He must choose to do the right thing, the same way he chose what to do when he told your father. But I have no doubt that he will choose correctly this time.” Benzaiten rested long fingers gently on Nyoko’s shoulders. “We will not let the three come together until it is time.” Her white dragon unwrapped itself from around her wrist, and circled around the stone Lillian slept on.
“But her seeing Yashou...He knows she’s here,” Nyoko said. “She doesn’t know anything about him, or what he would do to her.”
“And he does not really know who she is. He might guess or be suspicious, but he cannot know,” said the Kami. “Although it is true that this week, until your magic is finished, it will not be a good thing for them to meet. He reacted very strongly to her. The curse within him can feel something, but it cannot guide his mind yet. So far, he has been mostly confused. The old seer sent something that will help, and we will watch her. The Dark One may try something, but we have luck on our side, and Onaobi, too. Order and luck versus chaos. ” Benzaiten began to sing softly:
“Under the white bloom
of the apple tree that sways,
kissed by evening wind,
I watch the petals falling
white blades caught by unseen hands.
“How quick the passage
of the spring into summer.
Close your eyes - it's done.
The green leaves announce to all
how certain the passing time.
“Arrow pointing up
released by the archer's hand --
how swiftly it flies,
a graceful arc heavenwards,
falling at last to cold earth.
“Hear it whisper now,
softly, the voice of the wind,
witness with the sky
of the passing blossom time,
of each arrow's single flight.
“It will be over soon, Nyoko. Our lovely lily will be reborn as her true self, and Yashou and Yoshikata will find peace. The time will pass like a arrow shot in the air.”