Chapter 14 Twins, Triplets, and a Fish Dinner
Suddenly Nyoko wasn’t standing under the flow of the waterfall any more.
She couldn’t exactly tell where she was standing. Her feet felt the ground, but she couldn’t see any. Three women of incredible light surrounded Nyoko. They looked almost identical; the only real difference was in the obis tied around their waists. Their brilliant white hair floated like they were suspended in water, and the white sleeves and the hems of their garments did likewise. They looked at her, questioningly, probingly, but not unkindly, with eyes of silver and slightly pursed lips, as if they were trying to figure out what to do with her.
“She sees us, sisters,” said the one with the deep brown obi. Her eyes narrowed.
“She is a difficult case,” said the one with the blue and green obi. She moved her sleeve in front of her face, one finger touching her nose.
“Wounded, part willfully, part intentionally. And look at this thread!” said the one with the silver and white obi. She pointed away from them. The three sets of eyes followed something somewhere she could not follow.
“He has outdone himself this time,” one of them whispered.
“But look at the answering move!” she pointed to Nyoko’s midsection and then off to another section of whiteness.
“What...what are you talking about?” Nyoko asked. “And who are you?”
The woman with the silver and white obi looked her in the eyes, smiling softly. “We are here to cleanse you, child. I am the Maiden of the Descent-into-the-current, who will rinse the darkness that has tainted you.”
“I am the Maiden of the Swift Cleansing. I will take the pollution that my sister loosens and send it on to where it can do no harm,” said the woman with the blue and green obi. She bowed ever so slightly.
And I am the Maiden of Swift Banishment. I will take the darkness, and send it back to where it never will walk again, being utterly spent,” said the one with the deep brown obi. Nyoko felt herself shrink from those calm, but compassionate, eyes.
“We will make you as clean as we can so that you may stand before the Kami unblemished,” said Descent-into-the-current. “At the beginning, we did this for Izanagi, after he returned from Yomi.”
“Your soul cannot be healed while the pollution of the Dark One lies so heavy on you,” said Swift Cleansing.
“And the grief will eat at you until you become an avenging ghost, bringing yet more grief into the world,” said Swift Banishment.
Nyoko’s face lit in wonder, then suddenly, it was like she hit a wall. Whispers of what she had done began to overwhelm her, crescendoing up until they were far more than whispers. She hid her face behind her sleeve. “I do not deserve this chance,” she said.
“No one does,” said Swift Banishment. “It is a gift we give because we choose to.”
“Besides, this doesn’t matter to just you any more. You carry life inside of you,” said Swift Cleansing.
“And you are not totally to blame,” said Descent-into-the-current.
Nyoko dropped her sleeve and looked at the three increduously. “How can I not be totally the blame? I destroyed Yashuo. I turned my family and clan over to the Neko. I betrayed Yoshikata on our wedding day!. How many died because of my anger?” Her eyes flashed. “If I were not a coward, if I were not carrying a child, I should by rights take my own life.”
“You cannot. You are bound by the curse as much as Yashuo and Yoshikata,” said Descent-into-the-current. “Your trying to resist purification is just part of the curse’s desire to protect itself.”
Swift Banishment rested a gentle hand on Nyoko’s shoulder. “Shall we show her, sisters? It will cause her pain.”
“She is in pain now,” said Descent-into-the-current.
“You and your clan are caught up in a struggle between Omagatsuhi and Onaobi,” said Swift Cleansing. “Every event was staged to happen by the Dark One, the Kami of chaos.”
“No,” said Nyoko.
“Not one of you took the ways out offered by the Light One. Except for your mother, and she sacrificed herself to do it,” said Swift Banishment. “You and your brother and your sister are alive because of it.”
“No,” said Nyoko. “No.” She sank to the ground, covered her face. “Mother,” she whispered.
“We must show her,” said Descent-into-the-current. “She’s pulling too far away to reach. The curse is strong and resisting.”
“We must,” said the other sisters. All three of them lay their hands on her head.
Excerpt from the Adventures of Nyoko by Sachio Hayashi writing as Michael Mitsuo
There was a knock on the door. Ichisuke put down his teacup and looked towards the hallway. “You were expecting other company?” he asked.
“Ah,” said the senkensha, smiling at him. “That will be your co-worker.”
“Ayame? Here?” Ichisuke said.
“Yes,” said the woman. “I’ve been expecting here. One of the Bright Ones whispered to me she was coming.” She stood up gracefully, and Ichisuke rose to his feet, staying behind while she went to answer the door.
Ayame looked beyond the woman who had opened the door, her eyes intensely searching. “Ichisuke!” she called.
The senkensha looked amused. “He is here, Ayame-san,” the old woman said, opening the door wide. “Will you not come in?”
She charged down the hallway, not bothering to remove her shoes, but hesitated to step into the room where Ichisuke sat, sipping his tea. Instead, she stood in the doorway, arms crossed in front of her. “We need to go. The Hunter spotted Lillian.”
Ichisuke put down his teacup. “What? And how did you get here? And why didn’t you call me?” He stood up and moved towards the door.
Looking up at him, Ayame said, “As for how, I had the address in my laptop, and I took a cab. As for why, Masuke called me, and told me that he followed her to a coffee house. Masuke was able to get her away, and was keeping a watch on things, but didn’t have any backup. Sukeo was going in the mountains looking for the Guardian. I told him to call Sachio.”
The senkensha, standing next to Ayama, said, “Which he did. The girl is now at Sachio’s house, going to have dinner there.” They both looked at her. She laughed. “Nothing supernatural this time. I talked to him on the phone shortly before Ichisuke-san got here.”
“That still leaves me with one unanswered question,” Ayame said, turning back to Ichisuke. “Why didn’t you answer your phone?” Ayame asked.
“I never heard it ring,” he replied.
“Cellphones won’t work in here,” the senkensha said. “The wards on this house evidently block them. It also makes for quieter conversations.”
“You could sell that and make a fortune,” Ichisuke said.
She smiled. “I have thought of it.”
“So what’s next?” Ayame asked.
“I suggest dinner at Sachio’s. I hear he’s a very good cook,” said the senkensha.
The kitchen smells of miso and ginger and fish and onion.
I sprinkle the last of the salt on the mackerel, letting it sit. I set the timer, wash my hands, and then wander out of the kitchen and towards the back door.
Thinking about today’s activities, I ponder my role in what has been going on. I have, I have been told, the reputation of a being a kind and helpful soul, seldom angry, but thought well of because of my willingness to avoid strife. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps this is because of my long and strife-filled life, something at times I have been able to pretend away, but as this weekend has demonstrated, is something which can fast come back to haunt me. So often when alone, I sink back and think of the choices I made and what I could have done differently. Is that the way wisdom is gained? To know the regret of bad choices and wrong decisions?
Trouble. Inari-sama surely named me well.
I step out on the porch and take a seat near the door. Trouble has come to me again, and as usual, is touching the innocent lives of those whose lives touch mine. I look over the garden and see Lillian stretched out on the flat boulder, sleeping by the looks of things. I contemplate walking over and waking her, but she is shaded from the sun and I decide to let her rest. I do not like it that the trouble in my life is reaching out to touch her. She has been a good secretary, and the nice, quiet type of companion to my day-to-day life. She doesn’t push, she laughs like music, and she works well, and seems to enjoy the small space where our life overlaps a bit. If she has to leave because of the evil of my background, I will be greatly saddened.
The timer goes off, and I return to the house.
I think of old legends about two brothers or suitors or generals, it varies in place to place, who are forever doomed to fight each other. In some ways, that legend fits Yoshikata and Yashuo. Both suitors for my sister Nyoko. Both strong, handsome, well positioned in our clan. Both of their families were favored by my father, once upon a time, although I am told he preferred Yoshikata, and my mother favored Yashuo.
Yashuo, though, was the one to win my sister’s heart. And then came the disaster. Yoshikata was given that which Yashuo needs most desperately to be whole, and Yashuo bound by the curse to try his utmost to kill him if they are near. Yashuo, bound until the curse is broken to try to kill all he needs and loves and wants, Yoshikata bound to stay away from all who would love him to protect that essence that is the core of who Yashuo was once upon a time.
But we, even Yashuo and Yoshikata are merely pawns on the board of the two Kami, always locked in combat. Where one is silver-white and light, the other is black on black and dark. Both are needed to have balance, but neither can let go the need to move and countermove each other.
I come in and pour the boiling water I have kept ready over the fish, and follow it immediately with cold water. In the pot I will cook the fish, I add the dashi and sake and mirin and vinegar. I add the ginger then I had cut earlier. It reminds me of my old sensei. He loved ginger, and when he cooked for his woebegone student, the air was always filled with its rich smell.
He was a peculiar person. He had a rather unique idea of the Kitsune’s place in the world. “Kitsune,” he would say, “ are the people in charge of the balance. Our job is to walk between Omagatsuhi and Onaobi, and make sure neither wins their great game of Go they play with the life of the world. A world that was nothing but night would mean nothing could grow, nothing bloom, nothing live. A world that was nothing but day would get no rest, have no contrast, no idea of what was good and true because all would be light. We are the people who tweak the scale, correct the over-righteous and block the evil of chaos when we can. We rescue without being thanked, we thump when it is time for someone to learn a lesson.”
Putting the fish in the pot, I put it on to simmer.
He also would say “Omagatsuhi hates the Kitsune. He doesn’t have Onaobi’s wisdom about respecting balance or the need for contrast. This is why your family was sought out. Kitsune who are busy fighting among themselves have no time to do what Inari and the other Kami expect them to do. Our job is to thwart him, even while he tries to destroy us.”
It makes as much sense as anything. I miss my sensei. I mix the miso with some of the dashi broth and pour it over the fish. After covering it, I set the timer once again, and reach for a daikon to grate.
I jump when the doorbell rings. Wiping my hands, I open the door. She looks at me in that hard way she has, my niece. Her eyes glitter with some mischief or other. I think she takes after my father. “Ayame,” I say after finally finding my voice.
“Uncle,” she says, and walks in, Ichisuke walking behind. “It smells wonderful in here. I hear you make splendid fish. Do you mind if we stay for dinner?”
I wonder what Sensei would have thought of my niece. I wonder indeed.