October 13, 2010

Okurokami - part 14

I have cast the last of my pebbles behind, fossilized memories, to help me find my way.
I want to go back because ahead of me lies only a web of weakness, poverty, and bone dry bottles converging to the point of my death. But looking back, the pebbles I have cast behind me have bloomed into flowers of ash that are being carried away with by a sad breeze.
There is nothing behind me and nothing ahead as I walk through my war torn mind.
My present is only the blade’s edge, one that I walk until I reach the point that will pierce me and end the battles.
I know where the next step on this path will lead me... ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ingen had gone pale… and he laughed nervously as Takeko carefully folded the cloth and returned it to its container.

Teruro was hovering beside him doing his best to hide his curiosity, “So you actually saw something in there?”

Looking pale and unusually thoughtful, Ingen replied, “I saw my end… I reckon it shouldn’t have surprised me, all things considered. Have you looked into that thing?”

Teruro nodded and shrugged, “Yes, I have. I see only my reflection…” 

Ingen grabbed a bottle of sake and emptied it neatly down his throat, “Hey Takeko, what the hell did I just see? Was that the future? Can it be changed?”

She shrugged in response, “You saw the truth… As far as I know no truth is absolute.”

“I would like to know is how this helps us…” Teruro asked mildy.

“Well, it has shown that Ingen can, to some extent, be trusted: he hasn’t lost his mind…”

"Gee thanks... By the way, I saw were we need to go next... It's about days walk from here. So lets get some sleep, or finish drinking… Better yet, let’s finish drinking and then get some sleep.”

Teruro looked at Takeko who merely nodded and rolled back up into her covers saying, “Don’t get too drunk Ingen. We’re setting out at first light in the morning.”

He only responded with a drunken snore as the last bottle of sake slipped from his fingers.
Teruro sighed and started cleaning his sword by the fire’s light.

Okurokami - part 13

The food had all been eaten and the central fire-pit was casting its warm glow in the hut’s single room. Takeko was rolled up in her blanket and looked asleep in the dark corner where she was using her pack as a pillow: she had decided she wasn’t interested in listening to Teruro interrogate Ingen over postprandial drinks.

“Alright, lets recap…Firstly, you have foregone love, life, and probably sanity in the single-minded pursuit of mastery in the way of the blade?” Teruro asked.

“Well, you done said it a lot prettier than I did, and the bit about my sanity is still up for grabs, I reckon.” Ingen replied with a smile.

“Hrmph… Moving on. So you travel across the country fighting all comers and supposedly never lose. You recently went to challenge the famed martial artist Aonori Matsukaze, but you found him crazed and broken with grief in a deserted house cradling the long dead corpse of his wife against his emaciated chest. You buried the wife and set out to nurse the man back to health and sanity so that you could fight him and possibly kill him-You’re an odd person you know that?”
Ingen shrugged.

“Aonori seemed to have gotten better under your care, at least enough to ask you to find the mystic Taizan no Seimei who, he claimed, could help him. You thought nothing of it and fetched the mystic. Then you had ‘one too many’ and fell asleep while the mystic was tending to Toshimasu… When you woke up you found neither mystic nor martial artist, and the wife’s tomb had been desecrated. You’ve been chasing Taizan no Seimei since… Do you really expect us to believe that?”
Ingen smiled and shrugged, “Believe me or not, that’s my story.” 

Teruro frowned in concentration, “Ok, moving on… What happened here, what were you doing here?”

“Well, what you’d expect, I guess… I heard that Taizan was after some book that Portuguese had, and that the Portuguese where gonna dock here… so I was heading on over here when I first bumped into y’all. When I got here yesterday, the villagers had been shot dead with them foreign weapons. Taizan and the Portuguese captain were shouting at each other on the beach. The onmyoji [mystic] was saying how he took exception to their killing the villagers, and I reckon the Portuguese didn’t take to that way of thinking, so they tried to shoot Taizan... He took offense at being shot at, so called up that there spook -the one y'all just saw. The Portuguese tried to shoot it but it didn’t pay their bullets no mind, no sir it just walked right through and caved the captain’s head in with his golden club. That done put the fear into them foreigners and they piled into their row boats and tried to escape back to their ship. But the wraith could walk on water. It chased them down and killed them one by one, and then went on to continue its work on the ship.”

Teruro looked pensively at the fire and poured himself a fresh saucer of sake from the small ceramic jar heating in the sand next to the fire. He muttered half to himself, "Hmm... that was a yokai that spawns from anger and resentment, and feeds of fear... She must have no fear." He took a sip and asked, “So what were you doing while this was happening?”

“Well, at first I wanted to hear what they were arguing about… But when the fighting broke out, I tried to follow Taizan but he just went to captain’s body, picked what I’m guessing was the book from off the corpse, and vanished. I looked around for a while and couldn’t find him, so I came back and everything was quiet. I had just finished up burying the villagers and when I noticed y’all out in the bay rowing to the ship… I tried ta holler, but y’all couldn’t hear me so I reckoned I make some dinner and wait for y’all to get back.”
“Hmmm… I see. This raises a number of questions…
Ingen grinned, “Lemme guess… You wanna know who told me about the Portuguese bein’ here, right?”

Teruro nodded.

“Well, it happened like this, a few weeks back I met a Tokugawa shinobi, a real head-case you know? Anyways.. He’s the one who told me.” Ingen chuckled softly to himself.

Teruro frowned, “I imagine he didn’t merely volunteer this information. Shinobi are notoriously tight lipped with their secrets…”

Ingen grinned and shrugged, “Well, I reckon it wasn’t as simple as all that… He kinda attacked me screaming that he would “vanquish” me in the name of “justice”… As I said, that redhead was loopy. An ok fighter, but nothing to write home about… The dog that fought with him, on the other hand, was tricky. Anyways, after roughing them up a bit… I managed to convince him I was on his side…”

Teruro quirked an inquisitive eyebrow.

Ingen shrugged, “I guess it was my not killing him that convinced him, and the fact that there dog of his took a right liking to me once the fighting was over. I get along well with critters, see. They’re wild the way I am. Ya know? The fellah said a man loved by beasts can’t be evil, or something. So that’s when we got ta jawing.” 
Teruro looked skeptical and said “Well Takeko, what do you think? You aren’t actually sleeping right?”

Takeko sighed theatrically and sat up, “I wish I were, but you two just won’t quieten down. I could be dreaming about eating umeboshi.. I had a dream about that once… I was on an island that was actually giant umeboshi, and I had an endless supply of...”

Teruro coughed pointedly.

Takeko’s eyes refocused as she came back from her sweet (or sour, considering the umeboshi quotient involved) recollection. “Yes, anyways, I’ve seen lovers fence words and get to the point quicker than the two of you...”

Ingen grinned and Teruro frowned…

“I don’t think Ingen’s telling us everything, but then why should he… I do think he could be useful, even more so considering we have no idea where to go next.” Takeko nodded as if coming to a decision and pulled the lacquer box from her pack. “Let’s have him look into the cloth and find out what he's made of.”

September 14, 2010

Okurokami - part 12

Teruro pushed off of the Portuguese ship and started to navigate the small fishing boat through the moonlit bodies.

“You don’t have to go around the bodies, you know.” Takeko said, “They aren’t really there.”
“Eh? Hmm… Is that so?” Teruro tried to poke one of the pale bodies with the oar and watched the image ripple the way a reflection on the surface would.
“You know, Takeko, I have some questions for you…” he said as he sculled.
“Why don’t you start by telling me what happened on the ship?”
Takeko shrugged, “Nothing much, a guy with a crooked club tried to bash my head in, but I kinda hit him first.”
“Yeah, my blow passed through his face. He wasn’t really there. Then, he ran away through the side of the boat, onto the water, and vanished.”
“…” Teruro looked pensive.

Drifting clouds dampened the moonlight and the ghostly image of the bodies faded from view.

“I understand that your master was cast out from his order for being more devout as a follower of the way of the blade than that of Buddha. Clearly he has trained you in way of true battle.”
Takeko nodded and shrugged.
“But why is it that nothing seems to faze you?”
Takeko sighed, “I guess I was going to have to tell you sooner or later. As you know, I have visions… I experience those visions from the point of view of a person in my vision. Everything they feel, see or hear, and, to some extent, think- I experience as well. But the real kicker is that while, to the world, my visions last anything from a few seconds to up to thirty minutes, their duration is unrelated to how much time I experience within it.”
“Eh? So then…”
“Yes, By the time I was twelve I had already experienced several lifetimes worth of visions. The highs of human achievements, the low of human weakness, and a great amount of everyday human activity. But then I figured out how to control it and only had visions when I chose to…”
“How did you get control over it?”
Takeko looked at Teruro, as if gauging his soul, and shrugged as she decided to trust him… “The secret is in my hair… When people look into my hair, they see truths about themselves. Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth about themselves. When I look into it, I have visions…”
“So the cloth in that box you carry is woven from your hair… And that’s why you keep your head shaven.”
Takeko nodded.
Teruro frowned, “Hmm… Well, I guess that leaves me with just one question.”
“Ok…What is it?” Takeko said guardedly.
“We’ve been traveling together for a few day now. How is it that your pack seems three times bigger now than when we left?”
“Oh, I just I picked some stuff up along the way…”
“Yes… Well… When we stopped at that teahouse I got some rice, some dried fish, a pot of miso, and another of umeboshi… I picked up some chestnuts in that forest we walked through… in the galley of the ship I got…”
“Ok, ok I get the picture…”
“Hey look we’re coming to shore… I smell food!”


“You again.” Teruro said tersely as he leapt off of the boat and started pulling it onto the beach.
The young man’s hale and unshaven face split into a winsome grin. “Yep me again.”
“Oh hi, it’s you! Do you have enough for us too?” Takeko enthused.

The muscular young man blinked in surprise and then chucked softly.
“As a matter of fact, I have! Right this way miss. My name is Ingen by the way.”
Takeko followed Ingen into one of the nearby huts… Teruro frowned, checked the surroundings, and shrugged as he followed the other two.
“I have a pot of Shijimijiru* going and there are a half-dozen Sanma** roasting next to the fire.”


“Hmm… You were clearly expecting us. How long have you been here?” Teruro asked.
“I’ve been here for two days, I came straight here from the tavern where we first met.”
“Ha. I told you going through mountains would take longer!” Takeko exclaimed triumphantly.
“Apparently so… But that’s not important. What I’d like to know is, who are you? Why did you come here? What do you want?”
The young man shrugged dismissively, “I’m Ingen.” After a dramatic pause, he went on to conclude, “And I’m going to kill the man you are after.”
“Hey guys, since you aren’t eating your fish… Can I have them?” Takeko asked, pointing at the four remaining fish with the bones of two she had eaten.

*Shijimijiru = Miso soup with clams 
**Sanma = Pike Mackerel

September 6, 2010

Okurokami - part 11

The ship was silent - eerily silent- a black monolith hulking on an impenetrable pane of mirror-like obsidian.

In the captain’s cabin Teruro swore under his breath as he meticulously searched through drawers and cabinets looking for a clue. He was slowly coming to the realization that his was a fruitless task and that being able to read Portuguese would have been useful.

In a completely different part of the ship.
A random assortment of items flew over her shoulders as Takeko rifled through cabinets and barrels. "Aha!" She exclaimed triumphantly, stuffing salted herring, some cured pork, half a dozen apples, and mid-sized sack of rice into her increasingly large pack.

Abruptly a sound like horse-hooves over a wooden bridge echoed through the ship.

Takeko asked herself, “What was that?” but shrugged and resumed her busy looting. A shadow loomed behind. Pale moonlight glinted off of a crooked raised golden club. An evil-looking grin flashing white under the brim of a plumed hat.

A moment in time crystallized… then shattered as Takeko whirled, slamming two feet of club-like chorizo through the face of her attacker. Takeko seemed unphased that her attack had no effect on her intangible attacker. On the other hand, its face registered first shocked bewilderment then fear. It turned in a panic and frantically fled, its golden getas hammering against the floor.

Takeko shrugged, hiked her heavy pack over shoulder and jogged after it, but it quickly vanished into the gloom of the hall… its presence marked only by the sound of its metal shoes against the floorboards. Then there was a great crash and the sound of splintering wood. Takeko came to a stop in front of a gaping hole in the hull of the ship. Looking out of it she could see the figure of her attacker bounding away over the water, barely touching the glass-like top, each step leaving small concentric rings of ripples that quickly disappeared.

A shift in the clouds changed the light and the figure vanished like a shadow. The opaque glassy surface turned clear, revealing the pale bodies of the crew just under the surface…

Teruro’s voice called out from above, “Ok… Come up to the deck, I think it’s time for us to leave.”

Image composed from stuff found online...
Takeko's assailant is an homage to Satoshi Kon's shonen bat. 
Satoshi Kon died recently and the world lost an original story teller.

August 31, 2010

Okurokami - part 10

The waning moon’s light made it seem more as if the shadow of a sail ship squatted in the middle of the cove than an actual ship.

“What are we doing here?” Takeko wondered out loud.
“Well, as I recall, your visions didn’t exactly give me concrete directions on what to do next. It’s a good thing the shinobi network told me where to find the Portuguese ship.”
“Shinobi network?”
“A network of spies the government has planted throughout the country.”
“Oh, is that why at least 5 strange animals came right up to you while we were walking.”
“Hmm? Oh yes, they are trained to deliver messages so that I don’t have to meet the shinobi. They’re very secretive…”

They stood in front of one of the handful of ramshackle driftwood huts built on the shore.

“It’s too quiet… These huts are empty, and you’d think everyone was out fishing except…”
“Except that their boats are still pulled up on the beach.” Teruro finished.
“And something is wrong… with this village and with that boat…”
Teruro looked at Takeko briefly and said, “I think that the villagers were all shot and buried nearby.”
Takeko looked thoughtful for a moment and shrugged. “We should see if they have any food we could take.”
“We’ll see about that after we find out if the Portuguese still have the book, or if they don’t, who they sold it to. So help me get this boat into the water.”

Teruro sculled the single oared fishing boat out to the anchored Portuguese ship that loomed besides them. Its sails were furled and it was completely still and quiet in the water.

“Hmph. For it to be this quiet either that ship is deserted, the crew is dead, or they are waiting in ambush.” Teruro said. He smirked and whispered to himself “Lets go see which one.” He quickly made his way up the rope ladder and disappeared onto the ship.

Takeko strung her bow and shouldered her quiver. “I wonder if the Portuguese eat umeboshi?” She shrugged and followed Teruro up the ladder.

The deck was dark and deserted. And after a few minutes of poking around, they came to the conclusion that no one was on board.

“I’m going to search the captain’s cabin to see if I can’t find something useful. Stay here.” With that Teruro walked down the deck.

“And while you’re doing that I’m going to see what I can find in the ship’s galley” Takeko said to herself, moving in the opposite direction.

Portuguese ship (detail), attributed to Kano Naizen (1570-1616)

August 12, 2010

Okurokami - part 9

Teruro nodded, “Yes, it is the same man.”

The early afternoon sun streamed into the restaurant through the sliding window and Teruro eyeballed the fourth ronin who was walking towards them. He glanced over at Takeko to see if she had noticed, only to see that she had already eaten all her food. He wondered how someone that small could possibly eat that fast.

“I’m going to see if I can get more food from the kitchen!” Takeko announced as she started to walk away from the table.
“What about the ronin?” Teruro whispered.
“What about them? You don’t need me to take care of those three.” She said over her shoulder
“What about the one walking towards us?”
“He’ll be interesting, but harmless for now,” she concluded before ducking into the kitchen.

Teruro pondered that he had a lot to learn about his new traveling companion when he noticed a fly on his noodles. In fact a number of them were idling above his plate. He frowned and pushed the bamboo plate away while eying the widely smiling ronin who had reached his table and had sat down in front of him.

“I see your clothes have dried…” Teruro said mildly.
“Yup. I’d offer you some fish but we already ate it. Speakin’ of eating- since you aint eating that, dja mind if I do?" the young man inquired, nodding towards the plate of noodles.
Teruro shrugged and pushed the plate of noodles, the dipping sauce, and the bowl of chopped spring onions across the table.

The young man grabbed a pair of chopsticks and plucked the fly off the noodles and then in as many stabs caught four more flies in mid-flight that he put down next to the fly from the noodles in a neat little row on the table. He grinned and put the chopsticks on the table, got another pair and was about to dig in when three consecutive "Hsst!" interrupted him. The scrawny-necked ronin had turned their sly looking, sallow faces towards Teruro’s table.

"Excuse me, I think they want me to go over there." the youth said blandly as he went to join the three ronin at the door with the plate of noodles in one hand and chopstick in the other.

"Well… This is interesting." Teruro thought to himself. Whatever outrage he might have felt at the ronin's impudence had been replaced with curiosity.

Meanwhile the ronin had finished whispering at the young man, who grinned and loudly replied, "Sure I'll tell him!"
The three ronin looked nervous and seemed startled at the sound of the young man's voice.
“You do that… We’ll be waiting outside.” By the time the young man had calmly made his way to Teruro’s table, they had slunk out.

"Those guys want me to tell ya something.”
“Yeah, that they’re offerin’ to entertain you at their campsite and to wine you and dine you too. They say that their low status forbids’em from askin’ ya in person, but they’d “greatly appreciate the honor of entertaining such a noble guest”." the young man said using a funny voice to quote the ronins.
"Why do you think they want me to come out?" Teruro asked mildly.
"I suppose they wanna draw you out to the nearby woods, where they've been campin’ with twenty of their friends, then kill you and finally steal your stuff. In other words, I'd say it's a trap. Though of course, even forty of them wouldn't stand a chance against you." The young man replied evenly, grinning broadly as he cleaned his chopsticks with a handkerchief.

Teruro took a long speculative look at the young man, showing none of the amusement he felt at the idea of those pitiful excuses for ronin killing him. He tried to guess what his intentions were, what he was after, what he was worth. He also took note of the man's grimy black and white training clothes and his unshaven head that clearly said ronin; yet he also took note of his muscular shoulders, his hale complexion, and bright eyes suggested that he was something more than just a ronin.

"Why are you telling me this? Don't you mind betraying your friends?" asked a puzzled Teruro.
"Friends? Oh you thought that... Naah, they were just buying me a drink. As to why I'm telling you this, they said they would get me all the booze I could drink in a night if I delivered their message." The man replied between slurps of noodles.
"Do you know who I am?" Teruro asked suddenly, wondering why the ronin wasn't afraid for his life.
"Sure I do! You're Teruro Magunojo, one of the best swordsmen this side of mount Fuji." the young man replied with an open faced admiring smile and a mouthful of noodles stuck halfway from the plate to his mouth.
"Remember how fifteen yeas ago you saved the shogun's life by killing four ninjas in Edo? Or do you remember that time in Koga, when a jealous lord had hired assassins disguised as Kabuki actors. You killed seven that time. Seven!" He nodded with a smile as he chewed his mouthful of noodles displaying five fingers and two chopsticks.
"You sure do seem to know a lot about me, but I don't know anything about you... Who are you?" Teruro asked slowly in a voice laden with suspicion and danger.

The man, as if impervious to any form of danger, answered with a bright smile "Me? Oh, I'm Ingen." in a tone that somehow managed to sound modest and boastful at the same time.
"You said you accepted to deliver their message for saké?"
"Yup, that's right."
"Since I don't have time to deal with these men, what would it cost me for you to explain to them who I am or scare them off or something?"
"Well now, since it’s for you… I'll do it for free." The young man replied with his earnest grin as he finished off the last of the food.

Teruro couldn’t help smirking as he watched the strange young man go. He decided go find Takeko and then wait a few moments before leaving, so as to slip away while the stranger took care of the ronin or to save him, as the situation required.

The young man stepped lightly out of the eatery and tied his straw walking sandals under the ronins’ nervous stares. They were hiding behind a pile of chopped wood on the other side of the road and scrutinized the stranger as he walked towards them. He stopped in front of the ronin who had the dubious distinction of being the leader, grinned, and stretched out his open palm.

"I’ve delivered your message, you owe me my drink now."
"Huh? Whadaya mean? What was his answer!" The flustered ronin grumbled.
"He says he ain’t interested."
"If he aint interested why should I give you sake" growled the ronin as he started to draw his sword.
"Come on now, I delivered your message like I promised, so you should keep up your end. If I were a violent man I might react badly and do this… " the smiling young man combined action with speech.

In the blink of an eye, Ingen’s right hand flashed to the ronin’s wrist, pushing the sword back into its sheathe, then flashed up to the ronin’s face to flicked him on the nose twice, then returned to control the man’s wrist before he could draw. The other two ronin, who had been staring flabbergasted up until this point, decided to avenge the outrage done to their boss but halted in midstep when the young man said with a deadly serious face: “Stop! Don’t move.” Something in Ingen’s tone seemed to freeze the three ronin in their steps. Ingen then laughed brightly and his hands blurred as he exploded into unbelievably fast movement. One moment the three ronin stood frozen with sheathed swords at their belts, the next, their belts held only empty sheathes as their blades twirled in the air, flashing as they reflected the sun’s light. Then, before they even had time to react, their blades thunked back into their sheathes.

The ronin blanched, looked at their returned swords, as if disbelieving what they had just seen. the fact in front them disproving the impossibility of the feat. The leader roared and charged at Ingen with wide haymaker punch. The young man politely frowned and casually ducked under the ronin’s and in one smooth spinning movement plucked the man’s sword from his belt again and tapped him on the back of the calf with the flat of the blade sending the leader to fall to the ground in a whimpering heap. The two unharmed ronin fled.

"Now then, about our deal. I don’t think you actually have all the sake I can drink in a night so I’ll take the next best thing." the young man said, bending as he took the ronin’s money-pouch. The wounded ronin said nothing as he watched him walk away for a moment before crawling back towards his camp. No one noticed when Teruro and Takeko, who was carrying a large rice pot, slipped away.

August 9, 2010

Okurokami - part 8

The village was a modest assembly of wooden houses on either side of earthen road. It sported an inn, a small Buddhist temple, a scattering of shops, an official building, a inn/restaurant, and even its own gambling den. These things make the village larger and more important than any of villages nearby but it certainly fails to qualify it as a city. An ancient priest sat on the temple’s wooden steps peacefully enjoying a sunbeam. He looked as if he had been sitting there forever. Teruro and Takeko said hello and the old monk seem to come to life. Teruro struck up a conversation with the old priest about woodcarving who insisted they should come into the temple to see a famous carving of Hachiman Hachiman. An hour later, Takeko spurred by hunger and disinterest gently coaxed Teruro away from the sculptures to say goodbye to the priest and get going to the restaurant again.
Famous Hachiman sculpture by Kaikei
They removed their sandals in the inn’s entrance. Teruro noticed five other pairs that, judging from their make and state, belonged to chojin, and rather unkempt ones at that- or perhaps to some disreputable ronins. A quick look inside the restaurant's main room revealed four shabbily dressed young men with swords seated around a table eating and drinking rambunctiously. Teruro tsked and wondered if they should enter at all. He thought that perhaps it would be best to avoid the trouble that was bound to occur by going somewhere else for food. He turned to tell Takeko, only to find that she had already entered the room and had seated herself. Teruro shrugged, went inside, and sat down next to her.

The nervous looking inn-keeper came and Teruro ordered two platters of soba with chopped spring-onions… The man was about to leave when Takeko added: “Oh and give me a bowl of white rice with bunch of umeboshi!” Her order was met with raucous laughter and chatter from the ronin’s table.
“Ha it’s a woman! I thought it was a boy!” the first ronin stage whispered.
“It eats like a monk, maybe it was sour plums that made her hair fall out.” The second ronin replied.
“Get a load of the guy she’s with… he looks… hmm.” The third leaned forward and whispered something to the first two ronin while shooting looks at Teruro’s daisho. The ronin resumed their raucous revelry but the tone had subtly changed.

Teruro noted that the fourth ronin contrasted with the other three: though he too drank in great amounts, as demonstrated by the collection of empty sake jars in front him, he was quiet and sat straight-backed with his legs neatly tucked beneath him. His katana’s hilt and his simple clothes seemed weather-worn but of good make. His hair was tied back in a messy plume like pony tail that extended down to his waist. His companions, on the other hand were red faced from shouting and drinking, were sprawled untidily on the floor noisily singing lewd songs or bickering amongst themselves.

The innkeeper reappeared, set the food out, collected the money Teruro had set on the table and hurriedly scurried into a back room. Takeko whispered to Teruro “Hey, isn’t that the guy?”

Shinto god of war and protector of the Japanese people.(back)


Buck wheat noodles often eaten chilled in the summer, served with a soy based dipping sauce.(back)

Pickled plums.(back)

Daisho literally means big small. It used to describe a katana worn or displayed with a wakizashi (long and middle sized swords).(back)

August 6, 2010

Change blogfest

The fabulous Elizabeth Mueller is hosting the Change blogfest as a housewarming present for our one and only Sangu Mandanna.
Thanks for hosting the event Elizabeth!
Congrats on your new place Sangu!

“Small change.”

You know what? I think I’m in a rut.

I don’t dislike my job, it pays my rent and lets me live comfortably.

Most of the time, I think it’s a pretty good deal for nine-to-five behind a desk in a law firm, faffing about on a computer.

But sometimes I can feel the wheel turning. You know, the wheel of life, the wheel of time… and I think to myself, “What the hell am I doing?” But then I pick up my book and forget completely about it.

My clunker of a car broke down and would cost more to repair than it would to replace. I knew it was coming. I’m now officially 30 and I’m car-less, the way I was when I was a teen. So here I am sitting at the bus stop thinking about my life. My book is in my purse, but instead of taking it up I’m pondering the meaning of life… Without the benefit of the pythons.
So her thoughts ran as she sat on the wooden bench waiting for the bus. Then she noticed something next to her foot. Taking a closer look realized it was a coin the color of corroded copper. When she picked it up she was surprised to find that it was much heavier than she expected. She didn’t recognize the writing around the edges. One side was embossed with a curious geometrical pattern of concentric circles and the other with strange-looking symbols that looked uncomfortably familiar, they reminded her of… Her thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of her bus, and so she hastily pocketed the coin and grabbed her bag and her purse.
Later, during her lunch-break, she had as usual shunned the company of her co-workers. She liked eating her sandwich in a nearby park while reading on her favorite bench. She was about to sit down when she noticed the strange greenish-blue coin on the bench. At first she thought that the one in her pocket must have fallen out onto the bench somehow, but she pulled it out of her pocket. She picked up the second coin and compared it to the first. They were identical. She shrugged and stuck them both in her pocket. And set about reading a chapter from her book as she ate her sandwich.

Shortly afterwards she had finished her chapter and her lunch. It was time for her to go back to work. “Just one more chapter…” she thought to herself. Four chapters later she closed her book and looked pensively up at the sky and the passing clouds. The pointlessness of her job struck her like a kick to the heart. She realized that nothing much would change in the world if she just stayed in the park until she finished her book. Nobody would care if she didn’t file her afternoon’s stack of reports in the system.

She decided to flip on it. Going through her pockets for a coin and coming up with one of the weird ones she had found with a shrug and a smirk she said, “Circles I go back to work, weird symbols I stay and finish my book!” With a flick of her thumb she sent the coin spinning in the air and it rang a single clear note, like the singing of a crystal glass. At the apex of its flight something strange happened. Instead of obeying the laws of gravity, it hovered in space, spinning faster and faster, and humming a sharp crystalline note. It hung in the air thus for a few seconds, then started to glow like a bluish green candle flame, then fade from view… The ringing note lingered for a few seconds then it too faded away.

She quickly looked around to see if anyone else had seen what had happened but no-one seemed to have noticed. Baffled, she decided to go back to her desk and look up what had happened on the Internet. So she gathered up her stuff and headed back for the office…

She walked through the door into the reception area of the office. Gillian was at her post behind the front desk.

“Hello Ms. M. How are you today?” the receptionist said with a polite smile.

“Um… Gill, I saw you just this morning when I came in? And what’s with Miss?”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean Ms. M. Did you come in this morning? Anyways, can I just say I’m very much looking forward to your next novel! Are you coming in to deliver the manuscript?”

She was completely confused but her gut reflexes took over and she said, “Thanks, I’m glad you like my work. I’m still working on editing my latest novel… I just remembered I needed to be somewhere… Bye Gillian, nice chatting with you.”

“Huh? Alright, Ms. M. Good luck with your manuscript!”

She walked through the doors and onto the street. Utterly baffled by what was going on, she turned around to check that she had entered the right building and noticed that while the building was the same, the sign was different, it said “Oryxkin House Publishing” instead of “Ramkin & Usulügner, Attorneys at Law”!

She took the bus home in a daze. At her door she fished in her pocket for the key and pulled out the other mysterious coin. Once inside she found that her apartment, while still her apartment, had been remodeled and redecorated. A quick trip to her bookshelf turned up three hardcover books with her name on them. The manuscripts she had written in college but had never queried… She set the books in the middle of the dining-room table and set the mysterious coin on top of them. She sat there a while, staring at them, and grinned.

“I wonder if I have a car now.”

August 3, 2010

Okurokami - part 7

The grass bordering the path was still wet with dew. Dawn had come and gone, taking with it the stars and the night sky. Teruro and Takeko had already been walking for several hours and the peaceful bamboo forest of Sagano was well behind them. As they walk, Teruro passed time by sharing a story from his childhood…

He recalled a walk he had had once, long ago, with his grand uncle who had retired from politics to become a hermit tea master. His name was Magunojo Sekishusaï, he was eighty at the time and often claimed he would live to be a hundred. Teruro, on the other hand, was only three years past his first hakama. He was wearing an indigo hakama and a carmine kimono with a matching haori. His long unshaven hair was gathered in a glossy black ponytail that swished softly as he walked. The elder Magunojo patriarch and the eight-year-old Teruro had gone for a walk upon the lower slopes of the Kasagi mountains when Sekishusaï taught the boy a lesson about life that would stay with him throughout his.

They had just reached a slight overhang that afforded them a breathtaking view of the valley, the village far bellow, and forested slopes that mark the horizon on both sides of the valley when Sekishusaï called for a halt. He took a seat on a boulder and motioned for Teruro to take a seat beside him. The old man gazed intently at the beautiful scenery with a warm smile and at first, the young Teruro followed suit. Ten minutes passed, thirty, then forty... Still the old man hadn't moved, and so young Teruro began to squirm with boredom for truly he saw little point in just gazing about and would rather have been exploring the woods and climbing the nearby trees, only respect for his great grand uncle kept young Teruro from interrupting Sekishushai's contemplation by asking for permission to go play. After two hours or so the child was about ready to explode with agitation and then Sekishusai slowly turned towards the child beamed at him with a gentle smile that was permeated with softness, patience and warmth. In Teruro's memory, Sekishusai had an air of Buddha-hood even more so with the sunbeam that seemed to have chosen to halo the gentle old man.

"So Teruro, what have you learned about yourself. Have you learned your lesson child?"
The blank look of guilt and surprise on the boy's face answered more eloquently than his words, "I'm sorry, I didn't hear you say anything."
"Not all lessons need to be heard for to be learned, not all teachers need to speak for to teach. For those who are aware wisdom can be grasped from thin air." was the old man's cryptic reply before he resumed looking in the distance.
"I... I don't understand."
"Take your time and think about it.” Sekishusaï answered without even looking away from the horizon.
The young Teruro furrowed his brows in concentration and buried his chin in his palm as he tried to understand what he had just been told.

Time passed, the sun had completed its journey eastwards and the slim crescent of the new moon was high overhead when Teruro finally lifted his chin from his cupped palms.

"I understand now." Young Teruro said quietly.
"Why don't you explain it to me, child." The old man said with a soft smile.
"Haï... So:
- ‘Not all lessons need to be heard for to be learnt’ means that lessons aren't always words spoken aloud
- ‘Not all teachers need to speak for to teach’ means that not all teachers are people and that the teacher doesn't always have to be the one giving the lesson: the student can acquire his lessons for himself. (but this means that the student must choose both lessons and teachers carefully doesn't it uncle?)
- ‘For those who are aware wisdom can be grasped from thin air’ means that if the student is paying attention to everything around him he can learn from anything.

That's correct, isn't it uncle?" the boy said, smiling proudly.
The elderly man laughed softly, "Your words were true, but they were naught more than my own reflected by you. You've demonstrated having understood the finger but where does it point? Have you discovered that?"
"Uhm..." the proud smile on Teruro's face faded away and was replaced by a serious frown of concentration to which it was yet unaccustomed, "... I think I have. It's about patience and attentiveness isn't it. You asked me what I had learned about myself, I... uh... suppose that from the fact that I had lost patience after only a few hours teaches me that I lack patience and if I lack patience I can't pay enough attention to everything around me..." young Teruro stated uncertainly.
The old man laughed kindly "That is correct, but if the finger were pointing to a star, you'd just have taken the first step onto the stairs reaching the heavens. The first step is to look away from the finger. You've learned something through this first step, apply it and climb the stairs…" the old man trailed off and seemed to have returned to his contemplation. A few minutes later he murmured, as if to himself, "Aren't the trees magnificent, few are the regions than can boast having so many old trees." Young Teruro wrinkled his youthful brow in concentration, pinched the base of his nose between his thumb and his forefinger and steam may have trickled from his ears as he strived to find the hidden meaning of this statement. The old man and the grandson stayed thus for a while. Teruro jokingly said that it had like four days, but that in truth it was probably closer to a couple hours.

"Aha! I got it!" he said he snapped his closed fist into his open palm with a toss of his ponytail. "The trees here are older because they haven't been killed or burned by marauding armies in wars. Which means that this region has been in peace for a long long time, it also means that the commoners live well and that haven't had the need to chop wood to earn a living. This teaches me about myself that I come from a family that has, for many generations, served a noble family which in turn has preserved the peace and brought prosperity to the people by their wise governing. But then if peace is the way of prosperity should I not abandon my studies of the way of the sword and the art of war that stems from it?" he queried, his two youthful brown eyes open wide with the surprise of discovery and revelation.

"It is a thought worthy of you child but no, do not. Do you believe that a potter could sculpt a teacup if he had neither his hands nor the tools his trade? Of course, he may still be able to dream his creation but without his hands and tools his dream could never achieve reality. Like wise, the way of the sword is the hand by which you may sculpt the clay that is your life, that is your birthright, that is the life of a warrior. The way of the sword is much more than mere exchanges of blows or even knowledge of war strategy, the way of the sword is knowledge of life and a means of sculpting it into a work of art that is ever perfectible until it reaches the unattainable perfection. Do not lose your self on the way and become a potter whose sole tool is a hammer, with the power to control and sculpt life comes the power to take life. You will often find yourself in need to do so and thus, when you must, do so with no hesitation nor doubt, killing is normal part of the path but it is never the objective in itself. You must ponder this deeply... Child you have shown tonight that you have intelligence beyond your years, if you strive upon your path you have the means of becoming a worthy descendant of the Magunojo family. Now why don't we go home and get some food; all this seriousness has made me hungry..." the old man gravely concluded, his eyes brimming with laughter.

“But enough about my past… Speaking of eating, we’re coming up on a village… Shall we eat there?” asked Teruro.
“Yes, lets. I’m getting quite hungry... I hope we can get Umeboshi. Hey what is that guy doing?”
The dirt path leading to the town followed the course of a lazy river and a young man was standing thigh deep in the water. The young man's scarred torso was bare and his uncommonly well-developed muscles glistened with sweat under the midday sun's glare. His face was unshaven, and his unkempt hair tied back in long a sloppy ponytail; it swung around as he turned his head about to keep track of something that even Takeko’s archery trained eye could not see. Suddenly the young man's hand flashed out and seemed to grab at the air. He then grinned broadly, his teeth flashing whitely in his darkly tanned face. It was then that they understood that the young man had just caught a fly.

As our travellers wondered why the strange stranger was catching flies, the aforementioned fly was carefully put onto the water. The young man then grasped a ridiculously over-sized black suburitô from the river bottom where he had planted it. The stranger assumed a ready stance with his long and heavy wooden training sword and waited. After a few minutes Takeko and Teruro moved on. They had just passed the young man when they heard a roar and a great splash behind them. Takeko turned around and saw expanding circles of rippling water where the man had stood… After a few moments he surfaced grinning brightly, holding up a large flapping trout. Takeko waved hello and laughed when the man dropped his catch as he waved back. The young man dived after his lunch and Takeko hurried to catch up with Teruro, who was headed towards the village.

Baggy pants, first pair of which boys are given during a ceremony when they are five.(back)

Traditionally, young nobles dressed colorfully.(back)

The shaven head and topknot called sakayaki was first done at the genbuku ceremony where the 16 year old boy officially entered adulthood.(back)

Pickled plums, very sour, not to everyone's liking (I lovem).(back)

July 30, 2010

Okurokami - part 6

“And that was the end of the vision…” Takeko said, her voice sounding a bit hoarse.

“You’re getting tired… Would you like to get some sleep?” Teruro asked.

“Not yet, I have too much on my mind to fall asleep however much I’d like to… So what do think about my visions?” She replied.

“Hmm… they will require some thought. As it happens, I know something about Akaimaru’s death. So there is at least some truth to your vision… I’ll need think about it further.”

There was moment of quiet as this oddly matched pair waded through their thoughts, eventually Takeko asked, “So, are you going to tell me who you are and what you’re doing here? Are am I going to have to wait ‘til I stumble upon it in one of my visions”

Teruro smirked and replied, “Well, I’ll tell you why I’m here…” And so he launched into the events that brought him to Takeko’s home.

Teruro Magunojo’s tea-house (for more description see this post) was surprisingly modest for a samurai of such high standing, but that's the least of the atypical things about this famous sword fighter. In his younger days he had wandered as a ronin (samurai who has sworn no allegiance to a master, or who has been disgraced and rejected by his master) obsessively challenging and mercilessly defeating any strong fighters he could find and in so doing earning the reputation of being a formidable swordsman… Later, he was recruited by Yagyu Mitsuyoshi, and he fought semi covertly, working behind the scenes, dealing with exceptional troubles that could threaten the Tokugawa government. But those days were well behind him, and though just middle aged, he had retired from the troubles of the world to his quiet tea-house.

Teruro sat on the back porch. His emerald green tea, in an artfully carefully sculpted yet deceivingly simple earthenware cup, steamed slightly beside him. He gazed at his modest vegetable garden and beyond it at the stalks of a small patch of bamboo swaying gently in the breeze.

He toyed idly with his thoughts, “Hmm… Bamboo is strong and enduring, it keeps its color all year round; it is graceful, as its elongated and supple form shows; and yet despite these things it is humble, as its hollow nature demonstrates. Truly if men were more akin to it, wisdom would be a common virtue and then…”

His train of thought was interrupted by the arrival of a messenger; who knelt before Teruro bowing his head to the ground and waited to be addressed as protocol demanded… Teruro, repressed a sigh at the fastidiousness of protocol, pondered to himself

“Why do these messengers always remind me of horses?”
Aloud he said sternly, “Arise and state your name and business.”

“Yes, sir Magunojo. I am Matamura Umasuke. Forgive me for intruding upon your haven but Lord Yagyu sends me with a letter,” the messenger said in a somewhat nasal and rural voice.
“Give me the letter,” Teruro curtly replied.

The messenger advanced with bent knees, holding the letter to his forehead, and proffered it respectfully.
“I was told not to expect an answer milord, and thus, with your leave, may I depart?”

Teruro vaguely waved the messenger off and started reading… As he untied and unfolded the letter he immediately noticed that it was both unsealed and unsigned, it was also written in his liege’s distinctively elegant brushstrokes. Sure signs of the letter’s confidential nature. He mused that the messenger was most likely a shinobi (covert agent) in a clever disguise. He took a sip from his green tea, thinking about how easily the peace had been chased from his haven.

Teruro old friend,
The shogunate calls on us anon and anew. The onmyoji (historically they are cosmologists/mysticists but here read sorcerer) Taizan no Seimei lives still, and is plotting against the government.
Our intelligence finds that Taizan’s return is not due to a failure on your behalf to have fulfilled your previous mission but due to occult devices we don’t understand yet. Our sources have also found that he seeks to obtain a book through the Portuguese merchants in exchange for a sizable amount of gold that he stole from a government transport ship. The book is foreign and is called Nekuronomikonu.
We need you to finish what you started by bringing us his head. While you’re at it, destroy the book: I’m told it could supposedly give enormous evil power to any foolish enough to try and wield.
Go see the old wise-man in the Sagano bamboo forest, he can tell where you need to go to start your mission.
Once more we walk the blade’s edge…
Watch yourself,

Teruro sighed, thinking about having to go out onto the roads once again and noticed that he had drunk the contents his cup, “What a waste…” he thought to himself.

An hour before dawn… Teruro had already eaten his breakfast of raw egg, diced daïkon (pickled radish) and natto (fermented beans) mixed into a bowl of fresh white rice, accompanied with a broiled river trout, and a bowl of miso mushroom-soup. He donned his unpretentious brown haori (jacket) over his black hakama (pants) and reddish brown kimono; his clothes reflected his being, unpretentious yet made from good thick hardwearing cotton… Well-made- made to last. He fastened his straw tabi (sandals), checked his swords snuggly sitting in his obi, and finished by putting up the heavy wooden shutters over the doors. He knew that the open road and bloodshed lay ahead. And so he began his journey.

Teruro was about to go on but smiled softly as he noticed that Takeko had fallen asleep. There would be time for more the next day. He tucked into his blanket and let the crackle of the campfire lull him to sleep.

July 28, 2010

Okurokami - part 5

Takeko looked up at the sky and said, as if to herself, “Until now, my visions have always been relatively short and unconnected, but the next part of this vision was the continuation of the previous… as seen through the eyes of Akaimaru’s canine companion.”
I have howled the traditional lament for the departed that will guide Akaimaru’s spirit safely to the great beyond, and facilitate his journey as I did whilst he lived. I've watched his spirit uproot itself and depart. There is nothing left for me here so I should leave as well, but it is difficult. The memories of our love flash before me and the pain wells within; I howl a farewell forever and obey the imperious and instinctive need to run through the night, away from the pain, away from the place of his death, away...

The earth rushes beneath me and the landscape flashes by, far I have run and the sun is tinting the edges of dark night sky with blue, promising a soon forthcoming dawn. My tongue hangs and my sides heave as I suck in the brisk morning air. Regret, remorse and vengeance are not in my nature, I feel exhilarated and free once again. Free as I was before meeting Akaimaru, not that I was ever bound to Akaimaru by anything other than love. He was at least smart enough never to try to bend me to his will. As I sit upon a hill waiting for the sun to rise on the horizon, I recall our first meeting...

At the time, I ran with my father's pack. My father was different from his pack brothers: he was bigger, stronger, faster and smarter than most of the others, his fur was rust-colored and his fangs were white. I inherited most of his intellectual attributes but physically I took mostly from my mother. My black and white fur and larger than average but lithe frame came from my mother; but the fangs that I too have snow white come from my father.

We had separated an old reindeer from its herd and had frightened it into the forest of pine trees to hinder its escape. I remember how I was the closest to the prey that day, I was leading the pack for the first time, and I was only two springs old too. I had never been a match for my father when it came to a contest of raw speed and strength, for though I was bigger and faster than most of our pack I was still much smaller than he, but when it came to dodging in and out of trees he just wasn't built for it. I, on the other hand, had seemingly been born for feats of agility and stealth. So I was the closest behind the prey, all my senses reported that I would soon be making the killing bite. I saw the prey and it was within leaping distance, I knew it could neither have seen nor have heard me and yet it seemed to have sensed me. It drained the last of its reserves in a wild leap forward; I leaped after knowing that I would catch it by the throat in mid leap and take it down.

My fangs indeed sank into its jugular and then quite abruptly the earth vanished beneath us. The prey and I were falling. We had both leapt of a cliff, and as we fell the prey died, but I swear there was a wryly satisfied glint in its eye as it did. The fall seemed long, though in retrospect I suppose it wasn't, the white snow-covered earth was rushing up to meet me and when it did, I knew that I would die. I struck it with a terrific impact that jarred me from nose to tail. There was a dreadfully loud cracking sound that could only have been the sound of my bones shattering. Then white unconsciousness engulfed me.

I awoke some time later. I couldn't tell exactly how long since my internal clock seemed to have been frozen out of order, but I had other concerns. Such as, why was I half dry and chilled to the bone, why was I tightly tied up in a thick warm blanket and placed next to an ironpipe stove, why was I still alive? Still alive! I gave a garbled yelp of surprise and joy through chattering teeth. I then realized that I was in cabin and I wasn't by myself as a voice said: "I'm happy to see you're going to make it. I had a cold hard time pulling you out of that lake you know. I had to dive in myself, glad it wasn't for nothing!" I squirmed until I could the see the voice's owner. It was a spiky red-haired fresh-faced young man wrapped in a red blanket.

My father had begun his life in a family household, and had lived with many other humans after that. In the evenings of plentiful summers, when all had eaten their fill, he would tell me the tales of his tribulations among men. He taught me to read their mannerisms, body language, smells and to neither fear them nor trust them blindly. The others in the pack refused to acknowledge the wisdom in these tales, they obstinately stuck to the tradition of blind fear and disgust for all things human. True enough my father had encountered some despicable humans, but also some few that he had loved. The last of which was a miner who tore him away from an abusive slave driver, my father joined the pack shortly after the death of that miner.

I was confronted with my first human; it kept making placating noises. I had learned through my father that humans place great stock in oral communication, observing this specimen I understood what my father meant when he had told me that their oral language was completely redundant. Although I didn't know the man's language, his movements and smells spoke eloquently. The man seemed decent enough, he had after all saved my life but I didn't appreciate being tied and I wanted to know a bit more about the man's character. I shrugged out of the blanket and the coils of rope that bound me by performing an undulating movement that fully made use of my exceptional suppleness and strength. The man gawked at me, his mouth hanging open, and his eyes open wide.

I dashed at him, he only had time to stand up, which conveniently exposed his midsection as I rammed into it. I heard his breath leave his lungs in a whooshing sound as he was propelled backwards against the door that slammed open to let him fall on the snow that lay behind it. He staggered to his feet fighting to regain his breath. His body language expressed pain and surprise, but unexpectedly it also expressed amusement, admiration, playfulness and a strong fighting spirit. None of my father's stories had ever described men as fighters, he had narrated their skill at killing and hunting but never had he described men as possessing the fighting spirit and yet the man before me was like a wolf in his fighting spirit. He assumed a fighting stance, feet spread, one hand outstretched before him and the other at his shoulder... He was waiting for me.

I sprinted straight at him, a few feet away from him I swiftly sidestepped and leaped at him aiming to take him down and settle this. He didn't move, at first I thought I had caught him unawares as my teeth sank into the bandana he wore around his neck, I had begun pulling him down when I realized that something unexpected had happened. I was indeed holding the scarf between my teeth but it was tied around a log. The man had vanished. I was astonished, "What happened?" I wondered. Instinct or some primal sense warned me and I looked up. He was high above and fast falling towards me. With a flick of my neck I tossed the log upwards at him so as to distract him and leaped away, I had decided to attack just after he landed, expecting him to be vulnerable. He then demonstrated why he kept a hand at his shoulder when it flashed forth and back revealing a short sword that sliced the log in twain and was resheathed in one impossibly swift movement. I leaped forward, he landed, my paws connected flat against his upper chest and he fell backwards. Time stopped and we were both still, like statues planted in the snow. I was standing over him with my teeth at his neck yet not biting, his blade’s edge was against my throat, not cutting...

There was a hush and the world seemed to stop in dramatic anticipation when the two halves of the log were reclaimed by gravity and descended, landing precisely and squarely on our heads. The man was silent for a while longer and broke into a grin, which quickly turned into laughter of pure unbound merriment. He slowly took his blade away from my neck and sheathed it. It was then that I decided that I would love this man, that I would protect him, and follow him faithfully. I licked his face looking in his eyes and there was a moment of rare and complete understanding between two strangers of different species. His laughter subsided and he smiled softly. His eyes reflected my emotions and thoughts, his smile was one of grateful awe and love. Thus began our friendship.

Shortly after it was time for us to depart, I had given a thought to my father who would either think me dead in the lake or find the place where I battled Akaimaru. In the latter case he would read the signs and the smells and would understand that I followed in his pawprints and went to live amongst men. I wonder now if he did find that place, it seems I followed his path to its end: I have loved one man like a mate and now that he is dead, I return to the wilds.

I feel the longing upon the primal fabric of my soul, an undeniable pull that leads me back to the land of my birth. The distances completely escape my comprehension, but I know that it is far from this strange land to my native hunting grounds. My instincts guide me north, besides I have one last duty to fulfil there in Akaimaru's memory. After several weeks of uneventful travels, and a stolen boat ride, I find myself in Hokkaido following familiar paths that I had often trod with Akaimaru. I near the village where sleeps my rival, the woman Akaimaru loved. The first snows of December have just begun to cover the earth, like my winter fur that has just begun to grow and is already showing signs of growing unusually thick and lush. The signs announce the premises of a winter that I know will be exceptionally harsh. I think to myself that food is going to be hard come by. The thin crescent moon lights my way along the mountain paths and beckons me.

I have reached the bluffs that dominate the village that I observe a short ways off. Below, I see the clustered wooden cabins, the stables, the sacred tree with it's paper twists next to the clear stream that runs still but will be completely frozen over and snowed under in a couple of weeks. The moon's light flowing over this place is like a lover's careful caress wary not to awaken the sleeper. Just months ago I was down there amongst the people... amongst friends. I have changed, it is time for me to deliver my message, I tilt my head back and howl at the moon. The horses stir in the stable, the dogs bark, and I sense that many of the people below have awakened, they are unaccustomed to wolves and know of us only through legends which depict us as wise and dangerous. I feel a vague sadness not to hear a reply to my call, I only sense the tame animals' fears and the peoples' wonder.

A lone figure is silhouetted against the snow in the middle clearing formed by the cabins, she sees me and recognizes me. I smell no fear in her, nor superstitious wonder, I sense a deep sadness. She was always clever when it came to understanding the ways of the wild. She is akin to these mountains: beautiful, cold and strong. No tears from her, just the deep and tranquil sadness of one that knows death and accepts its existence with wisdom. I leave on my journey home, I leave behind that which was once my life with Akaimaru. The coming winter will freeze the waters before me; I will pass beyond and away, home.
Takeko and Teruro both sat in silence listening to the crackle of fire… Both lost in their thoughts.
After a while Teruro asked “What happened next?”.

July 26, 2010

Okurokami - part 4

The fire crackled as Takeko began, “You have to understand that what I see is the truth… When people look into my cloth, they see the truth about themselves… The visions of events I see are the truth of events as seen by someone experiencing the event.”

Teruro quietly nodded poking at the fire with a stick.

“So you asked about my last vision, I had it the morning of the day you appeared… It went like this…” and Takeko’s voice changed slightly as she reenacted her vision, and Teruro wondered if she was re-experiencing it as she spoke but refrained from asking any of the questions on his mind, choosing to save them for afterwards rather than to risk interrupting her.
“...You're mad!” He tells me, I wonder why they all keep telling me this? Don't they realize that it is they who are insane? Can they really believe that their actions or values bear any sanity? Teehihi, I hear her cry at their folly.

“In the name of justice I, Akaimaru, must defeat you. Prepare to die, you foul unnatural creature!”

Justice? I tilt my head to one side quizzically before my laughter breaks out in waves that rack my body and brings me to my knees.

“You dare laugh at me? SILVER SPARROWS!” He shouts as he hurls half a dozen shuriken (throwing blades) at me and his big dog rushes in after them. Crouching I find myself chuckling, my forehead against the ground, my laughter mounts and my backs arches as I shriek my hilarity at the night sky, visible through the tops of the surrounding pine forest. Somewhere, smothered behind the mirth, the thought that I ought do something about the projectiles rushing at me. They thunk into my chest, sending shivers throughout my limbs that echo the exquisite pain that powers me. Teehihi, the pain I need that tests the chains of our love... I use it to shape the darkness that carries us since your death into shapes that they fear. Black immaterial bats scatter from where I stood an instant before, and six silvery shuriken fall to the earth with a muffled thud. From the within the darkness I see the wolf-dog yelp in surprise and return to his master's heel. Hii hii heh heh... The darkness flows as ever and I let it carry me within a few feet from him. He turns to and fro desperately seeking me out as he stinks of barely mastered fear.

"Where are you fiend? Are you dead or have you so little courage that you fly before me?"
Courage? Another vain word... I hold my laughter in check and my bone blade in hand. It carries her spirit and once was a part of her. He doesn't exist... I am beneath him now and from the shadows I surge, she rips through him and within the streaking flash of the blade her beautiful face in anguish... Her pain, my pain, the past... the present... The moon lights the blood as it sprays a beautiful dark crimson against the dark night air. The dog knows better than to attack me, it probably tried to turn its master from his madness. Folly for all that attacks me will taste the sweetness that I give. It howls beside the halves of its master's remains. I snap the blood away from her vessel, glimpse her shadow exiting the clearing and chase after her. Tonight is not the night and the splendid nightmare continues... ”
Her voice resumed in its normal tone as she continued “From there on the vision dissolved into laughter… but…”
Takeko looked up from the fire to find Teruro looking at her intently.
He raised an eyebrow and asked: “But it didn’t end there did it?”


July 23, 2010

Okurokami - part 3

Teruro had barely taken ten paces from the hut when an arrow streaked from within the hut straight towards the back of his head. Immediately followed by Takeko charging forward with a spear. Teruro spun and laughed with an expression of unbound glee on his face as he sliced the arrow in mid air with his sword.

He roared “Good! Now come at me!”

Before the two pieces of the split arrow had hit the ground Takeko’s spear was flashing towards Teruro’s heart only to be bashed away by a flick of his katana.

In an instant they had regained their distances and were facing each other in their ready stances. They gauged each other’s skills and tried to read what move the other would next make… The intensity of their gazes was as extraordinary as the visible contrast in their characters. Even in his ready stance, he projected the fluidity and looseness of a dancing flame, something inherently natural, neither good nor evil but intransigently dangerous; she, on the other hand, seemed still like the surface of a frozen pond, in absolute control of herself, as if mastering her body and emotions through the power of unshakeable reason and certainty.

The rustling fronds of bamboo swayed in the breeze that carried a stray leaf on its meandering way between them.

He sheathed his sword in one liquid motion and chuckled softly.
“You are not afraid. You attacked without warning using a bow, and charged. You understand.” There no reproach in his voice, only surprise and respect.

She rested the butt of her spear on the ground and nodded, “Of course.”

“Go get what you need, we have a ways to go before nightfall.”

She walked back into the house and returned a few minutes later carrying her sheathed spear and a small pack on her back to which her unstrung bow, a small bundle of arrows, and the small box containing the square of black cloth were affixed. Teruro got up from the rock he was sitting on and started walking. Takeko followed, leaving behind her the only home she had ever known.

“You don’t seem too distraught about leaving this place.”
“I’m not. The time for me to be here has passed and so I am leaving…” Showing the first sign of any kind of emotion since he first met her she added, “I enjoyed my time here and I will miss my master’s friendship, but there is a time to lay roots as there is a time to cut them.”

Teruro nodded and walked on.

Several hours later, dusk was settling into darkness. The two had eaten their meagre meal and were facing each other from either side of a small campfire.

“I noticed you took the box with you. Why bother?” he asked.

She regarded him with puzzlement, “You really didn’t see anything special when you looked into the cloth, did you… Are you sure that you’re really a human being and not a fox or a raccoon in disguise?”

He grinned crookedly and replied “I’ve been told often enough that I’m inhuman… But I can tell you this, I was born from a human mother and that my father was quite human as well. What was I supposed to see in the cloth?” 
“Other people witness the truths they hide from themselves in the cloth…” she said quietly.
“Hmm… And what do you see there?”
“I see the truth as well, but of things that have happened or that are likely to happen.”
He rubbed his unshaven chin thoughtfully, “Is that so… So you have visions?”
She silently nodded.
“What did you last see?”

 Picture from an Alaskan fishing tour company.

July 21, 2010

Okurokami - part 2

The child lived with the blind old man for fifteen years. They shared a small hut deep in a remote and isolate bamboo forest. When she was old enough she took over tending the small vegetable patch that provided them with food, which was complemented by the presents pilgrims brought the old man. Yes, pilgrims came to visit him, not because he was once the head Sohei monk of the famous Enryakuji temple on mount Hiei, but because of his reputation of wisdom and his legendary ability of helping people advance on the path of holiness.

It was one of the hottest days of the year. The air was suffused with the primal smell of freshly turned soil and the brittle song of cicadas when the man entered the small clearing in the dense bamboo forest that sheltered the hut. She stood in the entrance and watched him enter the clearing. They wordlessly measured each other up as he approached…

She figured him to be in his thirties and seemed to be carrying nothing but a small bundle tied in a piece of cloth slung over his shoulder, the swords at his belt, and his worn travel clothes.
He saw her to be a child on the cusp of womanhood dressed in cheap work-clothes. Her shorn head marked her as an apprentice.

“Hello. I’ve come to see the old man.”

“You’re too late. My name is Takeko. I am his apprentice.” He only nodded once in response.

“You don’t look like a holy pilgrim.” she said.

“Appearances have their uses, but they should not be confused for truths.” His reply seems to amuse her grimly, partially for what it didn’t say, but also partially because of her special relationship with truth.

There was a moment of silence as they stared at each other waiting for the other say something. Something about the man’s intense gaze caused her speak first.

“My master died yesterday, I gave him the last rites and buried him this morning.”

The man’s expression did not change when he said, “I see… You have my condolences. Goodbye then.” And turned on his heel to leave.

“Wait! If you take me with you I’ll give you what my master could have given you.”

He stopped and turned around and looked at her coolly, “Are you qualified to succeed you master?”

“Yes I am. Come inside.”

He followed her within after removing his straw traveling sandals in the entrance.
She was seated on a zabuton (floor cushion) in front of a small laquer box.

“My master was a wise man, and as such he knew when to use this tool. I am not as wise as he, but this is all I can do. This is my master’s tool for aiding people on the path of holiness… Mostly, by his careful selection of candidates, he helped those on who he used this item. But sometimes it would create great anger within them and they would become violent. In which case it was my job to “see them out”. So I’m going to leave this box here and you are going to wait five minutes for me to get ready outside before opening it.”

“If you insist upon this, then go now.”

So Takeko exited the house leaving the strange man with the lacquer box. She had barely gotten to the edge of the clearing and notched an arrow in the string of her long bamboo bow when the sound of roaring laughter came from inside the house. None of the other pilgrims had ever reacted that way… But judging from the laughter she deemed it safe and ran back to the house. By the time reached the house the laughter had trickled to an amused chuckled. Within she found the man seated in front of the open box with the square of mirror-like black cloth on his knees.

The man composed himself and looked at her, “I wasn’t expecting a zen joke.”

“What do you mean? Did you look at the cloth? Didn’t you see anything within?”

“I saw my reflection of course. I suppose the message is: to find true holiness you must know yourself? Or something of that nature? Well, a true martial artist cannot afford to have any illusions. Asides from the laugh, this was not worth my time. I’m leaving.”

Takeko looked pensive as she quickly replaced the cloth in the box, “Alright, just give me a moment to pack some things.”

“Pack if you like, but you are not leaving with me.”

“I see… you never did say you would take me with you. How about this: you said you were a martial artist, if I defeat you in combat will you take me with you.”

The man paused, thought about it briefly, nodded agreement, and said: “You understand that I will not hold back and that you may die.”

She smiled grimly “I have no illusions. How about you, are you prepared to die?”

He smiled at her for the first time, “My name is Magunojo, Teruro Magunojo. I’ll be waiting for you outside in front of the house, come at me when you are ready. Do not make me wait too long.”

Picture found on pixdaus. 

July 19, 2010

Okurokami - part 1

This story like many stories begins with a birth and with blood.

Long ago, in an impoverished yet noble family, a little girl was born with long hair as dark as clouded nights and so glossy it would reflect every star above when the clouds parted.

At first her parents were delighted: being born with hair was considered an excellent omen. They laughed and imagined she would grow into a beautiful young woman who would marry favourably. But as the weeks turned into months, people began to notice that their personalities had changed. Where once they had been relatively pleasant and open people they had become secretive and short tempered, they turned visitors away be they friends or family, and no one could see their baby daughter.

It was the nursemaid who was the first to realise that they had gone completely mad when they ordered her to put the child to the blade. The nursemaid bought some time by claiming that such a deed must be accomplished at the darkest hour, and promised she would execute their order that very night. As soon as she had a chance she swathed the child and escaped, but her departure was quickly discovered… The nursemaid used the last seconds before the raving parents caught up with her to hide the child in the tall grasses in the ditch next to the footpath.

Just in time to save the child from the raving parents who promptly slew the nursemaid. The mad couple argued over the slain woman’s corpse and returned to their home. The next morning, a villager who had come to deliver vegetables found them dead, they had killed themselves. The local priest was called in who claimed that a curse was at work and that the home should be burnt to protect the villagers from it.

And so, dutifully the villagers set the house afire and put the whole affair behind them. Little thought was given to the child and those who did dismissed it as probably having been the first victim to her parents’ insanity.
No one knew that a blind vagabond had found the infant child crying in the ditch and had taken her away.

The next part will be up Wednesday.

July 12, 2010

Defiant dulcimer

Give me shatterproof light for I am picking up pieces of the rainbows from the spent dreams in which the instruments have fallen silent. Talent was of no avail and skill brought about no succour from these woes. The coldest hour has come ignoring the sweltering summer day. Yet still the dulcimer plays and carries me safely away.

Music by Dizzi. If you are at all interested in hammered dulcimers check out her website: she is awesome!

July 5, 2010

Cut loses

Tending my self's edge, dangerously sharp
Savant weapon silenced the heart
Better than to feel pain of spinning wheel
Or remnants of warmth as away they steal
The sorting of emotions as I rip apart
Returning to the blade that I was at start
I am not she/he, without become mere thing
Twilight to nothing, his/her passing.

Image from Derknives.com
There's a poll up on the top left:
do y'all want a Questing for Food mix tape?

July 1, 2010


The sun broke free from the clouds and cast its rays on a classroom of thirty high-schoolers frantically scribbling down the words of an educator. The students had become writing machines, all save for the new kid who observes them quietly.

He was a quiet child who arrived in the middle of the year, seldom spoke, and almost never smiled. Most of time he was off to one side, in shade that he almost invariably managed to find regardless of where he was or the time of day; and so, with his dark clothes he was easy to overlook unless you were looking for him.

His clear green eyes scanned the room through his unruly long hair. A quiet observer of a scene unfolding: a professor who is quite visibly completely uninterested in imparting his knowledge to students whose sole reason for being present is social convention; each group existing solely in their own distinctly separate dimensions. The young man observed all of these things and burst into laughter.

The sudden laughter interrupted the teacher who tried to thunder the impertinent student with a glare, but it was as effective as glaring at a shadow. The students eagerly pounced upon the opportunity for distraction, turned from their sheets and snickered at the new kid who paid them no heed and carried on filling the room with his hearty laughter.

Abruptly he vanished, taking with him any sign of his having ever been.

Thirty seconds passed…
A minute.

The teacher resumed his logorrhea where he had left off, the students once again took up their writing implements and their unthinking pantomime. And all was as it had been before, as if the young man had never existed. But one of the students remembered him and thought to herself: “I wonder what he was laughing about…”
She dropped her pencil and starting looking…
BTW, there's a poll up on the top left side of my blog.

Le soleil, caché jusqu’alors dans les nuages, éclaira de ses rayons les élèves qui scribaient avec frénésie les propos d’un représentant de l’éducation. Les élèves, transformés en machines à écrire, étaient observés par l’exception : le nouveau.

Il était arrivé en cours de semestre et ne parlait quasiment pas, et souriait encore moins. Il se maintenait a l’écart, le plus souvent dans l’ombre qu’il ne manquait jamais de trouver quel que fut le lieu ou le moment du jour, ainsi avec ses vêtements sombres on le remarquait à peine, à moins de le chercher. Il observait donc la classe à travers le rideau de ses longs cheveux, ses yeux clairs observaient avec intérêt la scène. Le professeur qui apparemment n’avait aucune envie de partager son savoir et les élèves qui, de toute évidence n’avaient aucune envie d’apprendre ne semblait être présents que par convention pure. Chaque groupe existait dans sa dimension propre et leur mondes ne se touchaient presque jamais. Le jeune homme regardait autour de lui et rit.

La soudaine explosion du rire qui se prolongea interrompit l’enseignant qui essaya de foudroyer l’impertinent du regard, mais celui-ci était aussi indifférent que l’ombre dont il était vêtu. Les élèves trop heureux de la distraction, délaissaient leur feuilles en se tournant vers lui pour ricaner. Cela ne le dérangea en rien et son rire se poursuivit de plus belle.

Brusquement il disparut, emportant avec lui toute trace de son passage. Trente secondes passèrent, puis une minute. L’enseignant reprit sa logorrhée là où il l’avait laissée, les élèves leurs outils d’écriture et leur stupide pantomime. Ainsi tout fut comme avant, comme si le jeune homme n’eut jamais existé. Mais une des étudiantes se souvenait de lui et se demandait : « Pourquoi riait-t-il donc ? ». Elle posât son stylo et se mit à regarder, à observer…

June 28, 2010


Fire smolders within the paper-thin boxes that make my being
Flames flicker with the wind winding its way in-distinct feeling
Uninspired and disenchanted I frown, growl, and glower
My power waits in its temporarily forsworn state.
 0628 13341342