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
Jomei found himself....elsewhere. He did not know what to call it. It was a gray landscape, featureless, almost like being in a fog. Light was everywhere, but no source of the light, like a sun or a lamp could be seen. The air was very still, and he was neither hot nor cold.
"Am I dead?" he said. His voice sounded dull in the air, almost muffled. There was no answer.
He looked down at his clothing, the black hakama covering his legs, the dark robes covering his torso. He examined his hand It looked solid, normal. He flexed his fingers, looked at the back of his hand, ran a finger over a scar that he received when he was fifteen. He ran his hand over his head, and felt the nubbles as his too long unshaven head had begun to sprout hair again. His ankle, which had been so badly sprained was pain free and unbandaged.
He felt alive, and more like himself than he had felt in many days. So much had happened ever since he met that damned Kitsune who thought he understood the Lotus sutra. For once, all the fog was outside of himself, not in his mind.
Suddenly images of all he had seen and dreamed since then slipped into his memory, and he shuddered. "I vow to save all sentient beings," he muttered, and began to wonder, carefully and hesitantly, about what that vow might actually mean, and how youkai and other beings fit within it. The image of his sister drifted into his consciousness and the being she loved. He shook his head, unable yet to deal with the implications.
Not willing to touch that knot in his mind, he sat down and assumed a lotus posture. "Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu," he chanted, longing to lose his unease in the comfort of deep meditation.
He heard from no direction he could determine, a soft voice chant:
Of whatever type or form,
Born of egg or womb,
Rising from moisture,
or born of unknown tranformation,
formless as the wind,
or bound in solid structure,
born able to think,
exempt from thought's need,
totally beyond thought's realm --
deva or asura,
all there to be led
to unbounded Nirvana."
Slowly light coalesced into a point, white against the grayness. A small shape stepped out of the light, also white and fleet of foot, which ran towards him. The white form, shapeless but with a painful brightness, stood in front of him, slowly dissolved and then reformed as a petite woman in a pale blue kimono, covered with snowflakes. Her eyes were an amazing shade of amber, and her long reddish hair streamed down her back, caught in a low pony tail. A white furry boa, looking very much like a white fox's tail, draped across one shoulder. She looked at him calmly and with familiarity.
"I know you," Jomei whispered, studying her face, her eyes. "But why? Are you a Kami?"
"You may call me Yuki, Jomei-sama," the woman said in a soft voice, making a very respectful bow.
"You....you're that fox who has been trailing me." he said. "But you have no jyaki, no youkai aura that I can feel. There is no darkness in you."
"Hai, Jomei-sama," she said, bowing once again. "I am but a spirit fox, the tool of my mistress, and what aura I have is hers. At the instruction of my Lady, I have been to watch over you during your dreams and visions."
Surprisingly, he felt no anger at her information. Nor, surprisingly, did he feel any uncomfortablenss at being in her presence.
"What is this place?" he asked after a moment.
"The place for your last revelation," she said.
The fox woman reached behind her, and from somewhere that he couldn't quite make out, she took out a rolled up red mat which she spread out in front of him. She repeated the moltion and pulled out three cushions, and then produced a low table. Reaching into the grayness, she returned with a set of tea cups and a teapot on a tray. Next she produced a steaming hot kettle. Shortly thereafter, she knelt down with great grace and began to prepare tea.
The darkness had solidly fallen across the clearing since the arrival of Tsukikage and the others.
Kagome tended the fire, making sure her tea kettle stayed hot, and looked around her. An uneasy circle of people had gathered around the fire sitting in clusters, the firelight flickering on their faces. InuYasha hovered near her, his body showing his unease as he sat with his hands in his sleeves, his ears twitching at each sound, as if on high alert for danger.
She slowly made the rounds of the circle, realizing how the seating reflected the uncertainties and attitudes of the travellers gathered together. Sesshoumaru sat not far from his brother, stiff, proper and unreadable, with Rin and Kohaku to his left. The two children talked softly to each other, with Rin showing Kohaku something she had made. Jaken sat slightly behind Sesshoumaru, clasping the staff of two heads quite tightly. To Kagome's left, Tsukikage sat on a fine blue mat, her skirts fanning out beautifully behind her, like a lady of importance. Her aura sparkled in the darkness, and the silk of her robe shone in the flickering light. Near her sat Hakuzo, lost deep in thought, and Teijo, who was sitting peacably, trying to behave in a relaxed manner, but keeping a cautious, if polite eye towards Sesshoumaru. Matsuo, as usual, was near Teijo, his staff resting in front of him. He and Miroku were discussing something quietly, something about Matsuo's monastery from the snippet Kagome overheard, while Sango sat not far from Kohaku. Shippou, entranced still by Tsukikage, sat in front of her, watching everything she did with huge eyes.
There was little sound besides the chatter of the children, the very soft talk between Miroku and Matsuo and the sounds of tea being consumed.
"Once, long ago, my family called this valley home," said Hakuzo.
The sudden sound of his voice startled Kagome as she looked up from her teapot. "Really?" she asked.
"Yes. In fact, I was born here. It was a kitsune holding allied with the Lord of the Western Lands for over a millenium. We haven't reached it yet, but there is a place further in the valley where my family had a stronghold It's all ruins, now, overgrown with trees. The kami of the place lets my sister Tama stays nearby to tend to our parents' graves, but I, I haven't been back there for probably 300 years."
Sadness reflected across his face, and he looked down at his hands. "It's a long story, and a tragic one. Once, I had a beautiful sister named Nyoko, who was being trained in a special youjutsu by my brother's stepbrother Akai. I had two older brothers who I followed around like an abandoned puppy. Then one day, a young human came down the road, travelling across the mountains to the coast. He had been attacked by bandits and left to die. My brothers found him and brought him home, and my sister nursed him back to health. I suspect that if my father had known what was going to happen, he would have killed him on the spot.
“So much grief for so little reason,” he mused.