The elderly monk asked: "What is the dharma's great meaning?"
The Master replied: "Not doing evils, devoutly practicing every good."
The elderly monk said: "If that is so, then even a three-year-old child could say so."
The Master replied: "A three-year-old child maybe could say it, but even an elder in his eighties cannot practice it."
That being said, the elderly monk bowed and departed.
--Dogen, slightly adapted
Hakuzo sighed as Kagome refilled his teacup, his green eyes, firelit, focused far away. "It was a long time ago. The world has changed a lot since then. Back in those days, we only wrote in Chinese then; the kana had not yet been invented. The Gempei war had yet to happen. The Emperor had only recently moved to Kyoto. Yet so many things were still the same: people would fight for wealth or benefit, farmers would work their fields, and youkai and human, for the most part, went their own ways." he said, then took a drink of the tea.
Kagome walked back to sit next to InuYasha, who put a protective arm around her. Rin, ignoring the sad talk, giggled at something Kohaku was showing her.
"We were far away from most human activity," Hakuzo continued. Those who came with a good will, left talking about the blessing of Inari; those who came for ill, went away telling of the evils of kitsune and the tricks they played."
"My sister nursed the stranger back to health, and fell in love with him. Not an unheard of thing among kitsune, although even among kitsune, it's not a favored match, since it so often ends in grief between the partners or their children. But this man, Yashuo, was a sage, and he was carrying a token that should never have been brought near youkais. And he knew it, and didn't do anything about it. Disaster followed."
"Was this not about the time that Kukai returned from China and began to teach?" Miroku asked.
"You are right. He even had time for a curious little kitsune boy who was fascinated by all he had heard of the Buddha," Hakuzo said. "He was here when everything happened."
Finishing his tea, the old kitsune sighed. "I'm sorry, Kagome-sama, I really don't want to talk any more about it tonight."
"I slept in the past,
time that shall never return,
like it was today.
Around my pillow
I smelled the perfumes of those
never to return,
orange blossom drifting
in bittersweet reminder
of that which once was," Teijo recited. "I remember those days, too. They are hard to talk about."
Tsukikage reached out, and lightly touched Hakuzo on his shoulder. "I remember your father. I remember well the night he punished a man named Tokutaro for abusing his servants. He made the man think he had committed a grave offense, and shaved his head, telling him that his only escape from certain execution was to become a monk. I hear that when Tokutaro woke up in that field alone and shaven-headed, he immediately set out for someone to teach him about the Pure Land, and was always careful to honor Inari."
"Father was a kind man who loved both justice and mercy. And a good jest was not past him, either. "
Tsukikage reached out and petted the head of a sleeping Shippou, who had fallen asleep sitting next to her. "It is getting late. Perhaps it is time for all of us to follow this little one's example. My lady will no doubt explain what all this means tomorrow."
Jomei watched Yuki prepare tea, obviously for others coming to join them. Suddenly, there was a sweet, cool breeze, scented with the smell of pine forest, and he could hear the sounds of chimes in the wind. That was joined by the sound of a fall of water.
"My lady draws near," said Yuki, who was tending the braizier on which the kettle rested.
The grayness was pierced with a bright light, pure and intense. It slowly gained form as a white clad woman, beautiful, with intense eyes that caught Jomei's eyes. He felt himself being lost in those eyes, although he could not tell you what color they were, for the color seemed to shift from blue to dark to violet, as restless as water.
Her forehead was very high, and her smile was gentle, and she radiated a calm serenity. He could sense her aura, but it was not youki, nor was it a human ki, either, but something else. It touched his mind gently, like a caress, easing his anxieties, a feeling of home and peace and safety. For some reason he could not quite fathom, he found himself uncrossing his legs from his meditative pose and getting to his knees to bowing low.
Yuki stood and made a formal bow. " Welcome, Benzaiten-sama. I have prepared as you asked me."
"You have done well, Yuki-chan," she said softly. "Nyoko, come sit at my left." Behind her, Nyoko, dressed in red and gold, stepped forward, carrying her lady's biwa. Yuki helped her lady settle down on her cushion, spreading her many skirts in a graceful semi-circle around her, and Nyoko sat to her lady's left.
Benzaiten patted the red-headed kitsune's hand. "All will be well, Nyoko. Jomei has learned much the last few days, I believe." She looked deeply at the monk bowed low before her. "You may rise, monk," she said, and watched as he returned back to an upright posture.
"Now, Monk, I am sure you have many questions," said the kami. She motioned for Yuki to serve the tea. " We will drink tea, and contemplate beauty, and then we will see."
She waved her hand, and Jomei found himself looking at the source of water he had been hearing, a small rivulet running down a rock face. He was in a small garden, backed by a sheer wall on one end. They were surrounded by pine trees, and among the rocks grew angelica and fox flowers, and something else in little drifts. The garden was lit by lanterns throwing off a soft glowing light, and fireflies drifted lazily.
"I hope you enjoy the garden, Jomei-san," Benzaiten said. "It is fairer by day, but night has its certain charms."
At a nod from Benzaiten, Yuki served Jomei a small delicate cup of tea, which he took a first, tentative sip. The delicate fragrance teased his sense of smell, and the taste of the bitter drink seemed to bring him an extra sense of peace. He watched the dance of fireflies near beyond them all and sighed.
"Light in the darkness,
how quick each flickering life,
One swift summer's night, " he said softly.
"O very good, Master Monk!" said Benzaiten. "There is more to you than the pursuit of death in the name of light."
His face fell when she said that, staring into his cup. He could find no words to say.
"Do not look so low, Monk. I have brought you here for a reason," she said. "Are you vowed to save all sentient beings?"
"Yes," he replied.
"Tell me - are those you call youkai among the sentient beings?"
"Yes," he replied.
"Thus, are you vowed to save youkai as well as humans?"
"Yes," he replied.
"How should you save these sentient beings?" she asked.
Hanging his head, confused by days of dreams and uncertainty, he replied, "Once I thought it was by freeing them to be reborn human into the Pure Land." He swallowed. "But, after the lessons of the last few days, I fear you do not agree with that answer."
The kami smiled at him. "Let me tell you a story."
InuYasha tugged at Kagome's sleeve later as the circle began to break up into their on little knots for the evening. He nodded for her to follow him, and when they were a little further way, he knelt down.
"Get on," he said. "Let's go for a run."
Kagome climbed on, felt his strong hands take hold of her thighs. "What is it?" she asked, sensing the tension in his back as he held her. She leaned forward, nuzzling his neck. "Why are we out here?"
"It's been a day from hell. I need some peace, Kagome, and between my brother and uncle, monks and the kitsunes, I just need to get away so I can breath. Snooty human priest that they're guarding hasn't helped either. Kamis, kitsune disasters. If I could, I'd just leave them all here to fight it out."
She held on with her head against his shoulder, half cloaked with his streaming silver hair as they moved like quiet wind through the night.
They ran for awhile, until he said, "I think there's a spring up ahead."
They broke into the clearing, ringed with tall pines, standing like darker sentinals against a moonless sky. Soft tendrils of steam rose from a pool of black water. Overhead, they could make out the stars shining brightly and the white streak of the Milky Way.
"Will this do?" he asked, stopping and letting her slip off his back. " A couple of hours before moonrise," he said. "I'll make a fire."
"Yeah," she said.
Shortly, he had built a small fire, and in the flickering light, he laid out his suikan as an impromtu bedroll. The air was warm and still. Kagome slipped off her sandals and the two of them sat down on a rock at the edge of the spring, their backs to the light, caught up in the shadows. Kagome dangled her feet into the warm water, letting it relax her. She rested her head against InuYasha's shoulder, felt the rough linen of his kosode press into her cheek. After a few minutes of staring into the dark waters, his ears occasionally twitching as if straining for sound, he gave out a deep sigh, and wrapped his arm around her.
"I'd heard the story about what happened to Hakuzo's family before," InuYasha said after awhile.
"Oh?" said Kagome. She pulled her feet out of the water, and curled up against the hanyou, snuggling under the warmth of his suikan's sleeve and the warmth of his body.
"Yeah. Some kitsune unleased something really evil, and it managed to attack everyone who lived there. There was a holy man, I forget who, that helped push the evil back enough for the survivors to get away. But it left some presence there...everything I've heard has said the place was haunted by something really nasty. No one's been able to stay a night in the ruins and live. Most of those who tried, seem to run away with horror stories about black things coming out of the shadows to grab them. Never really thought it was a real story before, just another ghost story to scare folks."
He pulled Kagome into his lap, rested his chin on her head, idly ran the fingers of one hand around a strand of her black hair. "I guess Hakuzo and Tsukikage are kind of proof something happened."
"I have bad feelings," said Kagome, tilting her head back to look at him. "Is it just because we're getting close, I wonder? Just this place? Or is something about to happen?"
InuYasha nuzzled the shell of her ear, while his right hand traced lazy circles across her stomach. "I don't know," he whispered, breathing into her ear as he talked. She shivered a little at the feel of his breath and hand. "But I know I'd rather think about something else."
She ran a small fine hand along his thigh. "So would I," she said.
Lifting her up, he carried her back towards the fire and laid her down on the suikan. He pulled off his kosode, and rolled it into a small pillow to put under her head, the firelight dancing off the fine chiseled muscles of his arms and stomach, touching his hair with a warm golden glow.
"The next time I get the urge to go on a journey, shoot me with one of your arrows," he said, then laid down beside her.
"You have heard of Yomi?" asked Benzaiten, gracefully accepting a cup of tea from Yuki's hand.
"Of course, My Lady," Jomei said, also accepting another cup. He took a sip of the fragrant green drink, feeling the quality of the tea wash across his tongue. "It is the hell where Izanami is ruler, a place of corruption and darkness."
"Yes," said Benzaiten. "It is more than that. It is the negation of all that walks beneath the light. Where here, forces work for life and growth, the beings of Yomi work for death and darkness. The Kami of that place are gods and spirits of hate and anger, and many are the beings they use to bring this about."
The Kami sipped her tea, a long fingered and fine hand handling the cup with a beautiful grace. Her eyes, now stormy, drifted far away, gathering her thoughts. "Within Yomi, there are many beings who yearn to spread Yomi into the land of day. One such is Kurokongouseki. He is a fierce warrior fiend, an Asura who drinks the blood and spirit of those with youkai blood. He feeds off their power. He has vowed to free the world of all such, absorbing their strength and youki into himself until there are none who can restrict him.
"He is one of the reasons why so many times youkai and humans find themselves at such painful ends. But this is not enough for the evil one. Once, long ago, he found a way to cross the gulf between realms. He created a black amulet, small and lovely. If a youkai embraces this stone, and gives himself to the dark power within, it will open a doorway for the dark one to walk in the world of light. It is said that if Kurokongouseki is ever fully released, he will walk through the land until there are no supernatural beings left who can resist him and then he will release Yomi into the world of day. If he has his way, there will be no Heaven, Earth and Hell. There will only be Yomi in all three realms."
The monk shuddered as he suddenly began to get a glimmer of the darkness that had touched him.
"Once, long ago," the Kami continued, " A human was entrusted with this stone. He was attacked and left for dead. He was healed by a kitsune woman. But one of her kin became infected by the dark one."
"But my lady, what has this to do with me?" Jomei asked.
"I need you to help me defeat him."