Chapter 26: Foxlight in the Evening
Confrontations and promises of explanation
True reality --
It begins before heaven
it predates the earth.
Truly without form,
truly that which is nameless --
shadowless, it is.
Eyes fail to see it;
voiceless, no ears can hear it.
If you call it Mind,
Or if you name it Buddha,
You violate its nature.
Trying to name it,
You mask its reality,
a vision of real,
a flower in the air --
for it cannot be named Mind,
it is not Buddha;
mysterious is its way
the clear-eyed only perceive
Dharma beyond form and sound
Tao having no words.
Dai-o Kokushi, On Zen (adapted)
"What an interesting evening this has been," said Hakuzo.
He stood there, leaning against a tree, his arms crossed in front of him, looking at the knot of people in front of him through his calm green eyes. He saw the anger that Sesshoumaru still carried in his carriage and in the tinge of his youki, the controlled relief of Teijo as he shook out his gray clad arms, and the placid, almost unreadable waiting of the fox woman. Her hair ornaments and white kimono shimmered as it was touched redly by the central camp fire. Beyond them, InuYasha's group moved towards the center of the clearing, nearing the fire where Kagome had left her thingsA youth, perhaps twelve or thirteen that Rin had named Kohaku had left the others to stand next to Sesshoumaru's girl, who was shyly telling him something. The boy watched and stood by the girl with a quiet ease that spoke of friendship and long association. InuYasha, in a flash of silver and red, brought his eyes away from Kagome and his pack mates and looked questioningly at his brother and the fox woman, no doubt sensing something of the tension in the air, while Kagome, her black hair shining in the light of the camp fire, tended to a small kitsune child.
A soft light touched Tsukikage's golden eyes as she studied Sesshoumaru. "My lady asks me to tell you that she will make all things clear to you tomorrow if you will join her, and she in turn begs a favor of you," she said softly.
"Do not look at me, Kitsune, like I was some child in need of soothing, whoever your lady is, Kami or Youkai or human." the taiyoukai said. "I do not yet understand what web this Sesshoumaru is being caught in, but I know a web when I see it. The last spider that tried to use me is dust." His face barely controlled, and his eyes still angry, he looked hard at Teijo and Tsukikage. "We will finish this later."
"But of course, Sesshoumaru-sama. This Tsukikage is here at your disposal to make the way smooth," she said, keeping her manners gracious and non-threatening, giving him a polite bow. "My Lady will supply all the answers you require." The taiyoukai turned and moved towards Rin and Kohaku.
"An interesting evening, indeed," said Teijo. "Some evenings stay interesting far too long. I would prefer not to repeat this one, between escaping prisoners, angry nephews and the games Kamis play."
"Ah, but at least yours is not the head that has paid directly, Sensei" said Matsuo, still sporting a bandage around his head from where the prisoner Saicho had cracked his head with his own staff. Matsuo looked back over to the edge of the clearing, where the bound warrior monk knelt, constrained by rope and sutra. He caught the youkai monk's eye with a harsh glare. Matsuo sighed.
"If the gracious lady had not appeared when she did," Teijo said, nodding to Tsukikage, "more than your head might have paid. My nephew is more than a little perturbed by the state of things."
Matsuo snorted as they watched Sesshoumaru rejoin Rin and accept a greeting from the young man. "I would never want to be on the receiving side of Sesshoumaru's displeasure, myself," he said, "eh, Hakuzo?"
"No, Sesshoumaru may not be that old, but his legend goes before him," Hakuzo replied, even as he was looking carefully at the woman in white before him. Tsukikage met his eyes, nodded in his direction.
"Have you met the Lady Tsukikage before, Hakuzo?" Teijo asked. "She goes everywhere, but seldom graces us with this form," he said. "She and her sister Yuki. She also plays a wicked game of Go. Be warned."
The fox woman hid her face behind her fan, in an unexpected coy movement. "We go as our Lady bids us, Teijo-sama. Yuki is rather busy right now, entertaining another of our Lady's guests," she said. Teijo looked at her, raised an eyebrow.
"Ah," Teijo said. "That explains..."
"I do know you," Hakuzo said unexpectedly, his face lighting up with a look of surprised recognition. "I remember you, your voice, your scent... So long ago, and I was so much smaller. You were there that night when it happened..." His green eyes looked deeply at her. "Nyoko had opened the gate. We had been caught by surprise and there was fighting everywhere. You dragged me and Tama from where my father had fallen and walked us through the fire and the fighting. Without you, I would have died with my brothers. I remember the smoke and cries and the blood....and your fan."
"It has been a long time since that night, Hakuzo, son of Keiji," Tsukikage said, smiling gently. "Trees have grown and fallen along the keep walls since then."
"Many sunrises," he said. "No other night for me quite that dark."
"May you not see its like again, Hakuzo." she said.
Suddenly, all eyes focused towards the center as they heard a shrill cry from the kitsune child that Kagome had been carrying as he began to dodge InuYasha. "Kagome, save me!" the child yelled as he darted between her legs, his red tail flashing behind him..
"Not this time, Shippou-chan," she said, laughing as the two dashed around her. InuYasha lunged for the kit, but he managed to slip past him. He started to break towards the woods, but the neko kitten in the other woman's arms jumped down and transformed into a huge firecat, blocking his way. The monk beside her said, "Seems Kirara agrees with InuYasha, Shippou." The kit changed direction and began running towards Hakuzo's group. InuYasha had a giggling Kagome tugging on his sleeve to slow him down as he followed.
"Let me at the brat!" InuYasha said, as his friends doubled over, laughing. "He bit my ear! Get back here, Shippou!"
The kit, looking back over his shoulder towards the hanyou, tripped. Hakuzo picked Shippou up by the tail, raised him to eye level. "So you're the fox child Kagome told me about," he said.
"Uh...." the boy said, looking up with huge, innocent-looking eyes. "Hello?" he said, uncertainly.
"Child, is that any way to treat your alpha?" Tsukikage asked.
"Tsukikage?" he said. "You....you're beautiful!" the boy exclaimed. "I thought you were pretty as a fox. Now you look like a hime! "
She laughed softly, took the boy from Hakuzo. "So, scholar, you've heard of this wild child?"
"Oh yes. Kagome took care of me once after some crazed monk attacked me." he said, smiling. " She told me some nice things about this child. I wonder if she was mistaken."
"So, Shippou, what did you do to get InuYasha so angry with you," the fox woman asked.
"I....I bit his ear." the boy said, looking downcast.
"And why did you do that?" she said, looking at him sternly.
"I got mad at him when he told me to stop acting like a baby and walk instead of let Kagome carry me." he said, his eyes watering. "But...but it had been so long since I saw her last! I missed her!"
She put the fox kit down, looking him in the eye. "You must apologize, Shippou-chan. He is your alpha. You must show him proper respect."
"I will walk with you, little one. And you will apologize." She took his hand, and walked towards InuYasha, who managed to stand there looking stern, even as the crowd around him worked to surpress their smiles.
"InuYasha-sama," she said softly. "I believe this one belongs to you and wishes to say something to you."
Shippou stood quietly, looking down at his feet. She nudged him. The boy bowed and said, "I....apologize, InuYasha-sama. It was wrong of me to get angry when you asked me to behave. I am sorry I bit your ear."
InuYasha lifted his hand, as if he were going to pop the boy with his fist, and Shippou tensed, but instead, the hanyou ruffed his hair. "Next time, listen to me," he said. The kit nodded, then suddenly dashed off towards Kohaku and Rin.
Questioning eyes focused on Tsukikage. "Perhaps," Hakuzo said, "We should have some tea."
"Tea would be good," Kagome said. "I think that's something I could deal with." She turned away from the others to tend the fire and start the tea making, with InuYasha following quickly after her.
The group grew silent.
"Perhaps," Miroku said, looking at the group of kitsune and inu youkai, "Introductions would be in order? And maybe someone can tell me why we are all here in this strange place?"
"That," Tsukikage said, "is a long and sad story."
Teijo looked at the fox woman and sighed. "Perhaps it's time to tell them."