The Ritual of Taizan Fukun
Abe no Seimei was sitting on the narrow verandah of his house with his back leaning against a pillar. He'd let his flexed left knee fall to the side and kept his right knee upright. His right elbow rested on that knee, and his right cheek leaned on his hand. There was an indefinably sensuous air to the tilted angle of chin and head. The narrow fingers of his left hand held a jade cup and from time to time he sipped at the wine within it. Before he drank and after, and indeed while doing so, the customary small smile remained hovering about Seimei's red lips.
Minamoto no Hiromasa sat across from him drinking in the same fashion.
A single lamp was burning in a long-legged brazier. The red flame, no thicker than a child's little finger, moved in and out as if breathing.
Night time, just at the start of the rainy season. Hiromasa wondered if the rain that had fallen throughout the day had stopped. At the moment a fine moisture floated on the air, not quite water drops nor exactly mist, and not really moving up or down.
The moon was somewhere up in the sky, and the heavens' darkness seemed to contain a faint bluish sheen mixed in with it. It was as if the night air was holding against its breast a blue ink that gave off a dull phosphorescent gleam.
At Seimei and Hiromasa's side lay spread out the night garden. It was the kind of garden that looked like someone had cut out a chunk of hillside woods or country meadow and put it down intact in this spot. There were tall weeds growing silently; in other places white lilies spread out their pale petals.
The night wind was cool but in no way chill. Seimei's white silk hunting costume had grown heavy from soaking up the damp night air.
"And that's how it is, Seimei," Hiromasa sighed, as he lifted his winecup. "Can't you manage something?"
"Some things can't be managed, Hiromasa."
"But this is an Imperial command."
"Imperial command or not, what can't be done can't be done."
"And this case is one of those."
"Suppose the Emperor ordered me to stop the sun from rising tomorrow morning. I couldn't do it, and this is the same sort of thing. I'm not saying I can't do something that I very well could."
"I can't make men immortal. Even if they remain youthful, as Shirabi Kuni-dono did, eventually, inevitably, they die. That's the law of this world--"
"But the Emperor has ordered you to perform the ritual of Taizan Fukun. It puts me in a bad position too, Seimei--"
"The ritual of Taizan Fukun isn't something that just anyone can do, no problem."
"It isn't a question of anybody. The Emperor is saying for *you* to do it, Seimei," Hiromasa said.
"And just how did someone like *that* fellow come to say the name of Taizan Fukun? Didn't someone tell him about it in the first place?"
"Well, it seems it was the priest, Master Douma."
"That terrifying man who once brought a man back from the dead. He was the one who said, 'Call Seimei and have him make Taizan Fukun bring this abbot back to life.'
It was ten days earlier that abbot Chikou had fallen ill at the San'i temple. Or rather, not fallen ill so much as remained asleep without waking up.
He was always awake by the time for morning services but that day he failed to appear. A young monk, thinking it odd, went to see how he was and found him still sleeping. He called his name but the abbot showed no sign of waking; he placed a hand on the abbot's shoulder and shook him, but still he didn't wake. Thinking he was simply worn out from the previous day's labour the young monk left him alone. But Chikou was still asleep at noon, and that evening, and the next day as well: a whole day went by and the abbot showed no signs of opening his eyes.
By the third day everyone began to be worried. They tried giving him water and striking his cheeks and various other methods, but still he didn't awake. In his sleep Chikou groaned as if in pain and made guttural noises in his throat. On the fourth day his breathing at last grew shallow and on the fifth his cheeks became sunken. It seemed that if he continued in this state his life must be in danger. Up to that point he had somehow managed to swallow the water that was put into his mouth, but on the sixth day he stopped drinking, and the herbalist gave up in despair. Exorcisms were carried out on the chance that some spirit had possessed him, but these had no effect.
On the seventh day one of his disciples, a certain Keichin, brought a visitor whom he said was a Buddhist priest. The man's hair was shaggy, his beard unkempt and his teeth were yellow, but his eyes gleamed with a piercing light. This was the priest Douman.
Douman placed his hand on the forehead of the sleeping Chikou, pressed his cheeks with his fingers, and repeatedly touched his stomach, his backbone, and other areas here and there. At the end he said,
"This man is beyond hope."
Everyone came rushing in with a great cry, but by that time Chikou no longer breathed and his heart had stopped beating.
"The only thing you can do now," Master Douman said, "is entreat Abe no Seimei to call on Taizan Fukun to lend his aid at once."
Taizan Fukun was originally a Chinese deity, the god of the Eastern mountain Taizan, one of the country's Five Peaks. He was also known as the Great Emperor of the Eastern Peak.
From olden times Taizan was the mountain where the souls of the dead congregated. Taizan Fukun was the god who judged the good and evil deeds of these souls. After the coming of Buddhism Taizan Fukun was evidently identified with Enma the Great King of Hell, and given charge over the length of men's lifetimes and the time of their deaths. It should further be noted that it was the Tsuchi-mikado line of onmyouji who worshipped Taizan Fukun as their patron deity, and that Abe no Seimei was an especially famous member of that line.
In any case, Douman's words were relayed to the Emperor on the eighth day. On the ninth day Minamoto no Hiromasa was called privately into the presence and entrusted with the mission of giving Abe no Seimei the imperial order to celebrate the ritual of Taizan Fukun as quickly as possible. And on the evening of this tenth day Hiromasa had made his way unnoticed to Seimei's residence.
"Well, and that's how it is, Seimei," Hiromasa said.
"But why's that fellow so concerned about this abbot Chikou of San'iji?"
"Well, as for that--" Hiromasa put his cup down and looked out at the garden.
Hiromasa usually reproved Seimei for his habit of calling the Emperor 'that fellow' but tonight he didn't even try.
"Abbot Chikou was once of great service to His Majesty--"
"This is in confidence. The Emperor was once very fond of a certain lady. She died and was buried at San'iji. But that night the Emperor was overcome with desire to see her again..."
"The abbot secretly caused her body to be taken from the grave and brought before the Emperor so that he might have one last meeting with her."
"With her dead body."
"Mh. The Emperor observed her body in the torchlight and wept exceedingly, saying 'So this is what death means? A man should taste the full measure of love while he still lives. When I sat at the banquet I would think of this face alone'--
Seimei said nothing.
"I don't know when it was, but when the Emperor was young he once exchanged oaths with some woman and promised to come for her. I think it must have been *that* woman-- you know, the one who came every night closer and closer to the palace in an ox-cart with no ox pulling it."
"Rindou, I think her name was."
"Her requiem is still sung at San'iji."
"I see. So that's the story."
"And Chikou was the head of that temple. There's a reason why the Emperor, on hearing he had died, instinctively ordered that he be brought back to life."
"But it's been a day and a half since then. He may have changed his mind."
"I hope he has."
"On the other hand the abbot's body looks the same as in life and hasn't decomposed at all. That may be why the Emperor was so quickly moved to make such an unreasonable request-" Hiromasa was saying when Seimei stopped him.
"Wait- what did you just say, Hiromasa?"
"I was saying that Abbot Chikou's body looks as if it's still alive. I suppose the body of a virtuous man is different from ordinary ones..."
"Look, Hiromasa- could it be the abbot isn't actually dead?"
"But-- he doesn't breathe, his heart isn't beating..."
"I think I'll go and make sure of that."
"Thank you very much."
"If Abbot Chikou is merely so sick that he appears dead, or if he's been possessed by some spirit, there's no reason for me not to put in an appearance."
"There's a thing or two that has me worried."
"Ashiya Douman, and the fact that he spoke of Taizan Fukun.'
"But it does no good to think about them here."
And so they did.
Seimei and Hiromasa reached San'iji at noon of the next day. A young monk called Shichin led them in to the abbot's room. They sat themselves down at the head of the bed where Abbot Chikou lay on his back.
"Yesterday and the day before that, we had monks from Mt. Hiei came to offer prayers..." Shichin said.
"I suppose they said it caused no change in him?" Seimei said with a cool expression.
"No," Shichin agreed.
"But why from Mt. Hiei?" Hiromasa asked.
"The Bright God of the Red Mountain whose worship the monk En'nin brought from China, and established in the foothills of Mt. Hiei, is in fact Taizan Fukun," Seimei replied. "The Emperor must have requested them to carry out the ritual of Taizan Fukun, even if in form only."
"Is anyone coming from Eizan today?" Hiromasa asked the monk.
"We sent a messenger to let them know that Master Seimei would be arriving, so I wouldn't expect anybody to come..."
"That's good," Seimei said, and gazed down at the upturned face of Chikou.
They had requested privacy, so no one else was present in the room. Except for the abbot, there was only Seimei and Hiromasa and the monk Shichin.
Chikou's face had grown thin, as if someone had cut the flesh from it with a knife. One could clearly see the roundness of the eyeballs in their sockets. His skull seemed to have had a man's skin stretched over it. He did not breathe and, if you felt for a pulse, you found no heartbeat either, but there was a faint moisture left in the skin and the body was soft and pliant. The cheeks and the skin of the jaw weren't exactly cold to the touch. It seemed some slight heat remained within the body.
Seimei held the palm of his right hand above Chikou's head, then slowly moved it down over the neck, the breast, the belly. He did this over and over again, then said, "There's something here."
"There is?!" Shichin exclaimed.
"What is it?" Hiromasa said, leaning forward.
"I don't know whether something possesses him or if it's some other kind of spirit, but certainly something is in there."
There was a stunned silence.
"Abbot Chikou is still alive."
"I can save his life, but--"
"It worries me that Douman spoke the name of Taizan Fukun."
"It may be that the life of one here present will shortly be in danger."
"One here present? Seimei, who do you mean?"
"You or me, or possibly Shichin-dono," Seimei said, to which Shichin responded, "Should it be myself, I don't care what happens to my life. I've practised my devotions here at San'iji for over twenty years but have attained no special results thereby. Since that's how I am, I can hope for no better fate than to die for the sake of one like the Abbot."
"If that is truly your resolve, might I borrow some paper and an inkstone, and ink and a brush?" These were speedily supplied.
"The thing I'm about to do will deceive Taizan Fukun, even though he's my patron god," Seimei said as he ground the ink. "Depending on circumstances my own life may be emperilled, but before things go that far I will divert Taizan Fukun's attention to yourself."
"Then what ought I to do?"
"Please wait a moment." Seimei filled his brush with the ground ink, took the paper in his other hand and began writing something in easy strokes.
"Seimei, what *is* that?"
"A prayer addressed to Taizan Fukun, written in Chinese." Seimei finished writing and handed the paper to Shichin. "Could I ask you to write your name here yourself?" Shichin took the brush and wrote his name at the end of the prayer. "Now, put that in the breast of your robe. Have a screen or something set up on the verandah out there, and remain in its shade reciting your prayers."
"What prayers should I use?"
"The sutra of the Law or the Hannya Heart Sutra or whichever you please. Just continue until I tell you to stop. If you don't, your life and mine will both be in danger."
Shichin disappeared and shortly thereafter his voice sounded chanting a sutra.
"What's all this mean, Seimei?"
"It means that Shichin-dono has made himself a substitute for Abbot Chikou and offered his life to Taizan Fukun."
"No, he's safe as long as he recites his sutra. And in the meantime, we must settle matters here."
Seimei picked up the remaining paper in his left hand and took a small knife from his breast pocket. He began to cut the paper with the knife.
"What are you going to make?"
"Look and see, Hiromasa."
Seimei nimbly cut two figures out the paper. One was a small human figure, which seemed to be wearing armour with a sword at its hip and a bow in its hand: clearly a warrior dressed for battle.
The other was a dog no bigger than a grain of rice.
"Now this one--" Seimei pulled down the jaw of the supine Chikou with his left hand, prised open the teeth, and placed the human figure inside his mouth.
Next was the tiny dog. With his left hand Seimei lifted the hem of the robe Chikou was wearing and thrust the other hand, holding the dog, into its folds.
"What are you doing?"
"Putting the dog into this gentleman's noble behind." Seimei's hand reappeared almost immediately, evidently having finished its work, and the little dog was no longer held between his fingers. Seimei began to murmur a short spell. And then--
Chikou's lower abdomen suddenly jumped.
"Oh- ohh, Seimei! Something just moved in his stomach!" But Seimei made no answer, merely continued his chant.
Another sudden movement in the abdomen.
"It moved again!!" Hiromasa cried.
Jump- Jump- sudden movements here and there through Chikou's body, gradually moving upwards.
"The dog is chasing whatever is inside Abbot Chikou's body," Seimei replied, and resumed his chant. Almost immediately the flesh of Chikou's throat was pushed outwards from within. Blump, blump, up it moved heading towards the outside. It looked as though a wild beast was raging inside the abbot's throat. From time to time long fangs protruded from between his lips and then were pulled back in. Or again, the flesh of the forehead would suddenly swell as if trying to grow horns and then flatten out again, but in those spots the skin became broken and blood trickled out.
"Oh- oi, Seimei! The abbot's turning into an oni--!"
"It's alright, Hiromasa. We can let him alone for a bit now." True to his words, the growth of the fangs, the swelling of the horns, and the violent pulsing of the throat were rapidly growing calmer. At last, when all movement had ceased, Seimei said, "It appears to be over." He opened the Abbot's mouth with his left hand and laid his right towards it- at which a warrior accompanied by a dog came marching out.
The soldier and the dog climbed onto Seimei's right hand. In both hands the warrior was grasping a round white bead the size of a swallow's egg.
"Finished," Seimei said, and at those words the warrior and the dog returned to their original form of white paper cut in the shape of a man and a dog. All that remained in Seimei's hand were these two scraps and the white egg.
"What is it, Seimei?"
"The thing that was inside abbot Chikou's body."
"Call it an insect or a sickness or whatever you like; but this is the evil vapour that lodged in the Abbot's body."
"So why is it shaped like an egg?"
"That's what I changed it into, so that it can't move for a bit."
"Exactly. If it moved and possessed you instead, Hiromasa, you'd become exactly as Abbot Chikou."
"But then, what about the Abbot?"
"He's fine now. Probably breathing by now." When Hiromasa followed the hint and turned to look, Chikou's chest was indeed moving, even if faintly, going up and down.
"Soon he'll wake up." Seimei looked at Hiromasa. "It's alright now. Will you go call Shichin-dono over?"
Chikou's cheeks were naturally still sunken but the blood had already returned to his face. A little while before he'd drunk a good quantity of water by sucking again and again on a soaking wet cloth. Now his eyes were closed and there came the quiet sound of his sleeping breath. Seimei, Hiromasa and Shichin remained sitting by his bed.
"Now," Seimei said, turning towards Shichin, "there are several things I need to talk to you about. I'm sure you know what I mean."
Shichin looked up with a resigned expression. "Yes," he said in a low voice.
"What was it you monks here did, that allowed Master Douman to take such advantage of you?"
It was Hiromasa more than Shichin who looked startled at these words. "Oi, Seimei! What a thing to say, just like that--"
"Ashiya Douman, if I may so remark, is like a worm that infests people's hearts. The hearts of men call him to them, and he in turn devours those hearts as a way of passing the time."
Hiromasa was dumb.
"But even being like that, Douman couldn't do anything you didn't want him to. What was it that you asked from him?"
At Seimei's question, Shichin looked at the ground. He said in a low trembling voice, "F- fornication..."
Fornication: which meant that a monk had turned his back on an absolute prohibition and had fleshly congress with a woman.
"What kind of fornication did you- or rather, Abbot Chikou- indulge in?"
"It was- it was with a dead body. Chikou-sama used a woman's corpse for fornication," Shichin spoke with difficulty, running the words together.
"What's the story behind it?" Seimei asked.
Shichin began to speak in a low hoarse voice.
"From the time I was a child acolyte, Chikou-sama always favoured me..."
Chigo- child acolytes- are the boys dressed in beautiful costumes who take part in the events of each temple or monastery's Buddhist services and festivals. They're from seven to twelve, and occasionally serve as the physical medium through which a god may descend.
Monks were strictly forbidden to copulate with women and so these acolytes acted as their partners for sex between male and male. Shichin was here admitting that as a child he had been Chikou's male lover. Their relationship had continued even after Chikou grew older and took his vows.
"Am I to die like this, never having known the touch of a woman's skin?" Three years ago Chikou had begun from time to time to give out with remarks like this one. This year he would turn sixty-two. His body was weakening and his physical strength deserting him. "Before I die I want to taste a woman's body to see what it's like, even if it's only once." But there was no way he could attain his desire for fornication.
And that was when Ashiya Douman appeared.
It was night. Shichin had been with Chikou and was getting up to leave when Chikou, sighing deeply, murmured the words we have just noted. A voice spoke nearby.
"Look, you still have the life left you before you die. If you want to do a thing like that, why don't you?" They looked outside. There in the night garden, bathed by rays of the moon, stood Master Douman.
"Your life is your life, whether it's spent devoted to Buddha or to a demon. But what a worthless thing is a life that knows nothing of a woman's skin," Douman said with an unpleasant grin. "Say, could you bring me a little rice in hot water? If you do I'll tell you something useful in repayment."
He was certainly an odd man. His feet were bare, he himself was filthy, and all he had on was a ragged jacket and trousers such as a servant would wear. Where had he crept in from? But he possessed a strange magnetism that drew men to him. Shichin prepared the rice without even thinking about it, and Douman finished it in a gulp, still standing in the middle of the garden.
"Call me Master Douman," he said, resting his elbow on the edge of the verandah. His head wasn't shaved and he wore no robe, and it was hard to say in what way he was a monk.
"Douman-sama, what was the thing you were going to tell us?" Shichin spoke to him as if he were under a spell.
"You want to know?"
"You can screw a woman without the crime of fornication," Master Douman announced grandly.
"Today at noon a woman was buried in the hills behind here. A woman of twenty-four who had only just died. You see? A dead woman isn't a woman, just a thing with a woman's skin and a woman's parts. And the best thing about her is that she doesn't talk. The maggots and the flies won't have her yet. But if you let it go tonight you won't have a second chance. That's the thing I said I'd tell you." And adding only, "See you," he turned away and vanished.
"Honestly, what a thing to say--" Shichin began as he turned around, but the words died on his lips. Chikou had a hard gleam in his eyes and his body was quivering all over. Someone totally different from the Chikou Shichin knew was standing before him.
"So in the end you went there?" Seimei asked.
"Yes." Shichin nodded in agreement. "I used a hoe and dug up a woman's body that stank of the earth. And then, Abbot Chikou..."
"He took her."
"Yes. Three times."
"Three times?" Hiromasa cried.
"And after the third time we heard a voice behind us."
'I saw you! I saw you!' It was a voice to chill the blood. They swung about and saw Master Douman standing there bathed in moonlight. 'You screwed her, you screwed her!' Douman laughed jeeringly.
'Now, did you know this? That woman was born on the twenty-sixth day of the third month in the year of the serpent,' Douman said gleefully. 'You've ravished the body of a woman born on the same day as Taizan Fukun. And do you know what *that* means...?' He spoke as if licking his lips. 'You've stolen an offering that should have gone to Taizan Fukun. And now what will happen, I wonder?' And with those words he took himself off, almost hopping in the moonlight.
"That was ten days ago," Shichin said.
When Chikou got back to the temple he said his head ached and he felt sick to his stomach, and went to bed.
"And in the course of his sickness, it was you who brought Master Douman to the temple...?"
"No, actually, Master Douman came of himself. He said he wanted to be sure Chikou was alright."
"Oh, very likely."
"But then why *did* he come?"
"To speak my name and force me to come here."
"You mean that priest--"
"Exactly. Everything up to now was designed to make us dance on the palm of his hand- you as well as myself."
Shichin said nothing. Seimei's words had struck him dumb.
"It might have turned dangerous but now there's no more need for worry," Seimei went on.
"That charm I gave you a while ago, may I ask for it back?" Shichin took it from his breast and handed it over. Seimei picked up the brush that still lay by his side, crossed out Shichin's name and wrote his own beside it. Shichin gave a small cry.
"But Seimei-sama, that means--"
"You needn't worry about *me*," Seimei said as he got up. "Matters here are finished so we'll be leaving. As for the Emperor, if I tell him the problem's been settled, that should be enough."
"Oh- oi!!" Hiromasa called out to Seimei's retreating back.
"I'm in a hurry. Somehow I've got to prepare to meet Taizan Fukun tonight."
They were drinking sake on the verandah of Seimei's house. Seimei was resting against a pillar and lifting a cup to his mouth in small sips. Hiromasa was also drinking from his cup but seemed rather nervous.
Between them lay a third cup, this one made of jade. Within it a small egg-shaped object rolled about- the thing that the paper warrior had brought out from Chikou's body. The night garden, as on the previous evening, held drifts of small waterdrops somewhere between drizzle and mist. The bluish sheen that filled the sky was much brighter than the night before, either because the moon was closer to full, or because the droplets filling the air with a kind of haze were finer than last night's. The smell of soaked vegetation drifted heavily on the night air that the two men breathed in.
"But what's going on, Seimei? I still don't understand a thing," Hiromasa said as he lifted his cup.
"But I already told you," Seimei replied.
"What did you tell me?"
"That all of us were brought together for Douman's amusement."
"Oh yes. From the moment that man first showed up, when he said to Abbot Chikou 'Why not fornicate with a woman?', a spell was cast."
"Not *another* spell."
"Yes indeed. The thing that Abbot Chikou was thinking in his heart all along. And by putting words to that thought Douman wound his coils about Chikou-dono's heart."
"And in all this the greatest spell was probably the ritual of Taizan Fukun."
"Taizan Fukun, hm?"
"Because of him, Abbot Chikou was so terrified that, all on his own, he produced a thing like this inside his own body." Seimei glanced at the object inside the jade cup.
"And what *is* that?"
"To put it as simply as possible, it's a demon Abbot Chikou created in the excess of his terror."
"That's not simple at all. How can this be a demon?"
"Basically, corpse or not, fornication is fornication. This thing contains Chikou's awareness of his crime, and his fear of Taizan Fukun, and in addition the various things that Abbot Chikou couldn't rid himself of even after his many decades of ascetic practice."
"Hohh?" Hiromasa's answer suggested he didn't quite understand.
"I was thinking if I let this hatch I might be able to use it as a familiar."
"But what will it hatch into?"
"Now that I don't know. It had no form to start with, but if I gave it an order- 'Turn into this'- it might become some kind of insect or bird."
"Oh, like that."
"Yes, like that. This is very valuable, Hiromasa."
"What's 'valuable' about it?"
"Think about it. Abbot Chikou has practised asceticism for years, but even so he couldn't rid himself of *this*. It must be a very strong spirit."
"Seimei, are you telling me you went to San'iji in the first place just to get this?"
"Of course not."
"I don't believe you."
"When I heard Douman's name I thought, "Ah, that fellow is telling me to come to him," and that's why I went."
"You just said he was amusing himself with us."
"And knowing that you still went?"
"I felt like amusing myself too. I was interested in seeing what kind of diversion Douman-dono had prepared for me."
"But someone might have died."
"And you also said it isn't over yet."
"Will Taizan Fukun actually come here and take you away?"
"Seimei, somehow I still can't believe it. Is there really a something called Taizan Fukun?"
"If you say he's real, he is. If you say he isn't, he isn't. This time, since Master Douman spoke the name and cast the spell of it, then he probably exists."
"I don't understand."
"Look, Hiromasa. This world is composed of any number of levels and ideas."
Hiromasa looked blank.
"Taizan Fukun is one of those levels and ideas."
"But I just can't believe that there's a hell somewhere where someone called Taizan Fukun goes about ending or lengthening people's lifespans at will."
"Look, Hiromasa. I must have told you before- we may call it Taizan Fukun but essentially it's just a kind of power. There's an unseen power that decides the length of a man's life and when it will end, and that's precisely why Taizan Fukun exists."
Hiromasa was no more enlightened.
"When someone called on that power and named it Taizan Fukun, that power *became* Taizan Fukun. When the last person to know the name 'Taizan Fukun' disappears from this earth, then the thing called Taizan Fukun will vanish and only the power will remain. Again, if you change the way of calling that power- if you change the spell- though it's still Taizan Fukun, it will manifest in the world as a different thing."
"What? So you're saying that, ultimately, it's a spell cast by human beings that makes Taizan Fukun be Taizan Fukun?"
"That's it, Hiromasa. The way things are in this world is entirely determined by spells."
"I don't understand."
"I don't understand. But tonight this Taizan Fukun is going to come here to take you away."
"Yes, because I changed the name on this paper."
"And when he comes, will I be able to see him?"
"If you think you'll see him you will."
"What does that mean?"
"I *mean*, if you really desire the sight of Taizan Fukun then he'll appear to you."
"It's an incredibly great power. But what will come here is only a part of it."
"And that's why you're so calm?"
"Well, I think I'll be able to handle things." Even as Seimei spoke, suddenly there was someone standing in the garden.
"What's that!?" Hiromasa rose to his knees, and as he did so the shadow said, "Me." Ashiya Douman- the priest Douman- was standing amid the plants in Seimei's garden.
"Greetings," Seimei said.
"I came to watch," Douman said, walking nonchalantly through the grasses towards the porch where the two men were sitting, "--and see just how you'll settle things with Taizan Fukun." With a smug smile he grabbed the pitcher of wine from the porch, sat down cross-legged on the verandah's edge, and began to drink.
No one said anything. Time went by. It might have been imagination, but the sky seemed to grow lighter from the colour of the moon.
"Hiromasa, your flute-" Seimei said. Hiromasa took Hafutatsu from the breast of his robe and put it to his lips. The melody of his playing flowed out onto the night air. More time went by. And then-
"He's here," Douman said in a whisper. Hiromasa was about to take the flute from his lips when a glance from Seimei checked him. Still blowing into the flute, Hiromasa turned his gaze to the recesses of the garden.
Something white was standing motionless amid the grasses at the foot of a great maple tree. It was as if a fine-grained mass of water-drops, wrapped about in moonlight, had solidified in the night air; but it also looked like a human figure wearing a white short-robe. It seemed to Hiromasa that when his mind's eye saw the white shadow as a human, it gradually began to take on human shape.
It also seemed to be rooted amid the grasses, listening unmoving to the sound of Hiromasa's flute. Then before he knew it, it gradually came closer. It didn't seem to walk, but somehow when he wasn't looking the human form in its white half-robe was close nearby. Its glance was cool; it looked like a young man except that it also looked like a woman. There was something vaguely unpleasant about its emotionless face, that became a not surprising horror when it suddenly opened a red mouth to reveal sharp teeth. Hiromasa felt the skin of his spine ripple in terror as he looked at it.
When it had finally come up as far as the porch Seimei reached out his right hand. In it was the jade cup holding the white egg.
Inside the cup the egg lay broken.
From out of the pieces spilled something that resembled a gently glowing mist. It flowed over the cup's edge, growing gradually larger as it did so, and became a single blue butterfly the size of a sparrow.
With his other hand Seimei took the piece of paper from his breast and held it out before the butterfly. The butterfly fluttered upwards, grasping the paper in its legs.
The butterfly was coloured a beautiful blue. And its head bore Seimei's face.
It fluttered about the air, still grasping the paper. And then--
The white shape moved. Gently, no one could see how, the white-clad figure was floating in space and cradling the butterfly between its two clasped hands. It seemed that a silver mist had flowed through the night air: and then the figure in the white half-robe and the butterfly were nowhere to be seen.
Seimei was looking at the spot where they had vanished. Hiromasa took his flute from his mouth and murmured, in a shaking voice, "Is it over?"
"It's over," Seimei answered.
"Thank god. If I hadn't been playing my flute I'd probably have screamed and run away." Hiromasa loosed a tremendous sigh. "So that was Taizan Fukun?"
"I saw him as a beautiful young man in a white half-robe who looked like you. What did you see him as?" But Seimei didn't answer the question.
"Marvellous," Douman said, putting down the pitcher and getting to his feet. "Taizan Fukun thought the familiar you made was you and took that instead."
Seimei nodded in silence.
Douman gave a small sniggering laugh and took a few steps towards the middle of the garden. He suddenly stopped. "Oi, Seimei." He turned around. "Let's get together again sometime." He turned back and resumed walking.
"Entirely at your convenience," Seimei said. Douman went on walking, making a path through the grass. Moonlight spilled down on his back. Very soon Douman too had melted into the darkness of the garden and could no longer be seen.
Seimei gave a small sigh.