No sex, pure gen.
A missing chapter Saiyuuki story. What happened three years before the start of the Saiyuuki action when Sanzou, following his orders, brought Cho Gonou back to be judged by the three Buddhist deities. Obviously, spoilers for manga vol 4 and 5 which detail Hakkai's past history.
The sonorous voice of the temple's cantor announced their arrival at the top of the steps. "Genjou Sanzou the Master of the Law and the criminal Cho Gonou come before the Presence." Two white robed monks swung the outer gates open. Sanzou stepped forward, as one who has done this so often he needn't think twice about it. Gonou walked a pace behind, the iron manacles on his wrists dragging his arms downwards. The doors of the shady forecourt closed behind them, and they were facing the huge doors to the sanctuary itself. The three wheels of the Law were carved upon them, each higher than a man. Sanzou waited. Gonou waited. There was nothing in Gonou's mind at that moment. There had been nothing for three days. Heart and soul were as empty as the empty swath of new green where the castle of the Hundred-Eyed Demon had once stood. Where the castle had been razed to the ground and burned to ashes, and with it the body of the only person Cho Gonou had had to call his own. New seedlings, little blades of grass, had begun to cover that vast tract of desolation, but Gonou's mind was like the curving edge of a sand dune in the desert, dry and empty of life.
A voice spoke from nowhere: "Enter." The two great doors swung open by themselves. Sanzou stepped through them and Gonou followed after, into a chamber so huge the far walls were indistinct. Except for the two large braziers that lit it, it was empty. There was nothing there at all. Gonou felt tiny, reduced to the size of an ant walking up a pyramid. Sanzou went ahead, still at home, until he reached a point near the centre of the room. He stopped, caught Gonou's eye with the side of his own and nodded minutely downwards. Gonou knelt. His chains seemed heavier than before. He put both hands to the ground and bent his head. Beside him Sanzou had dropped to one knee, right palm flat on the ground, left arm across his supporting leg in an attitude of service and veneration. Gonou waited. There was only silence and emptiness and a strange faraway smell as of hot metal, unplaceable and unpleasant. Gonou waited. He knew as a fact that these were the last moments of his life and that he should treasure all the tiny sensations they brought him- the feel of stone beneath his hands, the little ache in his shoulders, that odd smell that seemed to be less sharp now than sweet, as if mixed with lotuses- because soon there would be no sensation at all. But he could only think these things, not feel them. Feeling seemed not to exist for him any more, a withered muscle that wouldn't respond. Gonou waited.
Light flared up in the wall before him. Every instinct in his body, human and youkai, held him still, as if by not-moving he might escape notice. They were there. He knew it. And They were something so utterly not-him that his very skin seemed to shrink away from them.
"Genjou Sanzou, well come." It was the voice that had bid them enter. Male, the voice of power, rumbling like thunder. Gonou's flesh crawled.
"Haah," Sanzou said respectfully.
"You have brought the criminal." Another voice, high and female, and cold as a glacier.
"In accordance with your honoured commands, I bring you the man Cho Gonou for judgment."
"Man no more," said a third voice, neither male nor female, that made Gonou's guts churn. That was the one he was most afraid of. "He has bathed in the blood of a thousand youkai and become youkai himself."
"Cho Gonou," the first voice said, "what have you to say in defence of your deeds?"
He spoke quietly. "Honoured divinities, this person has nothing to say in his defence."
"There are three hundred human lives and a thousand youkai ones laid to your account. Why did they die?"
Gonou took a deep breath. He'd hoped this wouldn't be asked. A quick judgment and a quick death were his desire, or even a slow death, if needs must; but not the reliving of the thing that had brought him here.
"The Hundred-Eyed Demon came to our village, demanding a woman from the people," he began. "The Hundred-Eyed Demon takes women and uses them as playthings; and when he tires of them, he devours them. None wanted to part with a woman of his own kin, so they gave him this person's lover instead. And this person was away and didn't know what had been done, and was too late to stop it."
"Was that reason to slaughter half the men of your village?" The second voice, the woman.
"Yet you did."
"Did you hate them so much? Had you always hated them?"
"No," Gonou said. "Not at all. This person always thought-- that we got on rather well, in fact."
"Was it they that hated you?"
"No. It wasn't that. But we were outsiders. Strangers. They didn't care what- happened- to Kanan- She didn't matter to them- so long as- it wasn't one of their women who--" He stopped.
"You killed them in revenge for their indifference?"
"I- This person called it revenge at the time," Gonou said with difficulty. "But it was- more selfish than that. They took-" he drew a deep breath. "They took from him the one thing he had. They didn't- they didn't even--"
He stopped, because he was trembling too much to continue. His self-control seemed to be deserting him. He would break down if this went on. Somehow it hadn't been as hard before, when he'd said all this to Gojou- to the odd red-haired man who'd saved his life that terrible rain-filled night. But it was easy to tell things to Gojou, because Gojou never asked to hear them. Kind and indifferent, or indifferent because kind, he'd let Gonou heal from his wounds, inner and outer, and never showed any interest in where they came from. And when Gonou was ready to talk, he'd listened unblinkingly to the whole hideous story, without comment or blame. The memory of Gojou's casual acceptance was like a small lamp in Gonou's heart, here in the midst of his ordeal. It was more bitter and painful than he could have thought, accusing himself before the unforgiving presences in this sanctuary. And there was even less question of evading the truth with them than there had been with Gojou.
Gonou put the last of his pride from him. There was no reason not to confess the smallness of his soul. "This person wanted them to suffer for what they had done. To suffer as he was suffering. To lose a father or brother or husband-- surely that must hurt them as much as losing my lover did me."
"You name her your lover," the third voice said. "Yet she was your own sister."
"So unnatural a relationship merited the punishment of heaven. What complaint have you that it came?"
Gonou was still. Feelings were churning up inside him, like mud at the bottom of a pool when a stone is thrown in. Dark and obscure and nothing he wanted to remember. He wanted that emptiness that had been his a moment before, the calmness of the certainty of death.
"Speak the truth!" the third voice commanded, not male, not female, like the voice of conscience or Justice itself. "Tell us what was in your heart. When you found what the villagers had done, how long did you hesitate before reaching for your knife? A minute? Two minutes?"
"I didn't hesitate," Gonou said matter-of-factly. "It was in my hand and my hand was covered in blood before I knew it."
"How long did it take you to reach the demon's castle in the far mountains?" the male voice asked.
"And in all those two months, had you no regret? No remorse? No second thoughts about what you were going to do or had done?" the female voice said.
"Kanan was in that castle. I had to save her." He shook momentarily in remembrance. "I knew what was happening to her."
"And to save her, before you even found her, it was necessary to hunt down and kill every youkai there, from the men at arms to the baby at its mother's breast. Whom you killed too, did you not?" That third voice, the one there was no escaping.
"Yes," Gonou said, staring fixedly at his hands pressed to the floor. The metallic smell was becoming stronger in his nostrils. It had madness in it. He needed to get away from it- away from here- in any way possible. "There is no defence for what this person did," Gonou repeated. "He will pay for it in whatever way your Divinities desire. With his blood and his agony and his life, as you decree. Only--" He stopped, knowing too late that he shouldn't have said the word.
"'Only'," the third voice echoed. Gonou despaired. Whatever boon he asked for would be denied, simply because he asked for it. There was no escape. They would have all of him. Whatever it was he wanted to keep hidden and separate and to himself- even in his death- they would have that from him too. And he didn't even know what it was. Not his pride, not his love, not even his self. What more of him was there?
The third voice spoke again. "Have you not heard it said, 'To those that have, much shall be given. And those that have not shall lose even the little they have'? You are one that has not. You must lose the little you have."
"Is that the Law?" Gonou asked.
"That is the Law," the male voice said.
"Honoured divinities," Gonou said slowly, "This person thinks-- I think-- that I don't think much of this Law of yours." Speaking like this was like walking through a wall: something ordinarily impossible, and so much against the laws of the waking world that he ought to be terrified of what he was doing. But this was a place where terror was part of the air, part of the foundation of the earth, and hence something to be taken for granted and ignored. Gonou went on talking.
"All my life, I have had nothing. All my life I have been alone. That which other men take for granted- love and friends and family- has been like a mirage in the desert to me, no sooner glimpsed than gone. My parents died when I was five. My sister was separated from me. I grew up in the cold charity of strangers- always alone, always afraid, always an outsider and different. Only when I was sixteen and met Kanan again- only then did I find someone of my own, someone who wasn't a stranger from the heart outwards. Someone I could love and who loved me." His mind teetered on the edge of the abyss, trying to save itself from pain. But they wanted all of him, and all of him was what he would give. He let the black gulf of his loss swallow him. "She was all my joy and all my happiness. When I was with her the ground was steady under my feet and the stars moved safely overhead. For three years I knew the things that other men take for granted. I was never hungry; I was never in need: I was never alone." Tears were running unnoticed down his face. "That was what they took from me. Not my lover only, but the thing that kept the world turning and the sun coming up each morning. Those villagers concerned to keep their own families safe; the demon's tribe looking only for pleasure and sport. They destroyed the world. What right do they have then to complain that their world is destroyed?" The metal smell was hotter and stronger, but it was no more than a part of the heat in Gonou's breast, the heat of grief and indignation and anger. "What right have they to be fed if I must hunger? What right have they to lie easy if I must sleep on cold ground? What right have they to their comfortable secure lives if I must be an outcast in the night? Why must I go without when they have everything? Why must I mourn while they rejoice?" Blackness was taking his sight from him. He looked up as the shadows descended- looked at the faces of terror before him that held no terror for him now- the reverend man with his beard, the calm woman with her bleached mouth, and that most terrible third, not-man, not-woman, whose eyes were closed to the way the world was. He looked straight at it as the dark wave came upon him and spoke his challenge fiercely to its closed eyes. "How dare they have anything- anything- when I have nothing?"
There was silence. The darkness rolled back, leaving him with his small and solitary triumph. The gods themselves were mute in the face of Cho Gonou's pain and hunger.
"Cho Gonou," the third deity said at last. "Is it you that says this?"
"Yes," he answered. "It is I who says this."
"Tell Us then," the male god said sombrely. "How came your sister dead?"
So justice existed after all. Even the gods were compelled in the end to face the wrong at the heart of the universe. On his tongue was the last iron fact that would prove them ephemeral; the final horror that, if spoken aloud, would bring an end to their show of power and make this very temple crumble into dust. In a small part of his mind, Gonou felt a little sorry for them. "She killed herself," he said, and felt all the endings in those words. "When I found her at last in the dungeon of the demon's castle, she took my knife from my belt and plunged it into her heart."
"Why did she so?" the female deity asked, as if it were part of a ritual.
"She had conceived by the demon." His mind flinched from what those words implied. "She could not bear to live to birth the monster's child."
The third deity looked up. It opened its closed eyes- and its eyes were empty. Blind and milky and filmed, there was nothing there at all.
"Which monster?" it asked.
So strange a question. "The Hundred-eyed--" Gonou began, and then the darkness struck. He was in the dungeons of the demon's castle, standing behind bars, watching in cold horror as a figure approached- that walked like a man but wasn't a man, that was bloody to the armpits with bits of brain and entrail spattered across its shirt, that called his name 'Kanan! Kanan!' and smiled at him with relief and happiness, smiled as when they made love together, smiled as it had when plunging its knife into young children and pregnant women like himse---
This is a temple, Gonou thought, obscurely shocked. People shouldn't make noise like that inside a temple, that screaming like a man being torn apart by horses in his four quarters it's indecent someone should stop him screaming His head jerked violently to one side and then the other way and back again and then again as something cracked hard against each cheek and he was looking at a man with golden hair, golden hair below his white veil and golden monk's diadem- Sanzou hit him again and he knew then that it was Sanzou and knew the world was ending.
He drew breath to scream again and Sanzou hit him again and he stopped, gasping for breath, staring open-mouthed into Sanzou's lavender eyes. Pain was a knife, a silver knife cutting him from himself. It was happening again, that simple step in his head from being himself in pain to being someone else, the one who took his pain and wrote it on the bodies of others where it rightfully belonged. Wrote it in blood and entrails on those blank-faced sheets of paper-- 'Gone' in a gouged out eye, 'Gone' with a knife to the throat, 'Gone' 'Gone' Gone' in the hacked and mutilated corpses of his neighbours-- He stared at Sanzou as the pain burned him like a man at the stake, eating his limbs and trunk and heart and crumbling them into black horror. Kanan died because of me. Because of *me*. She would not live to bear the child of the thing I am- His hands were weighed down. He couldn't lift them to strike the face before him and write Monster/ Youkai/ Murderer/ *Murderer* on it with its brains and blood. He couldn't anyway, even had his hands been free. This man could never be a blank surface for Gonou to write his pain on, this monk who'd sung the requiem for Kanan's spirit and his own. Sanzou belonged to the world that had Kanan in it and so was untouchable. Some small part of Gonou remained to be glad of that. But that meant he must let the pain burn him alive, and he couldn't bear the agony. Somebody, kill me...
He bit down hard on his tongue to sever it and end his life. Sanzou hit him in the gut and his mouth opened wide as the wind went out of him in a hideous whoosh. He doubled up in agony, begging for a breath of air. His tortured lungs found it and in that moment's respite he clamped his teeth down tight, not on his tongue as he'd intended but on flesh and bone thrust into his mouth. He heard a grunt of pain behind him as he bit the edge of Sanzou's hand that was stopping his teeth from meeting. Fierce pressure on his windpipe took his breath again. Gonou's hands, heavy with their chains, scrabbled weakly to free himself. Sanzou's forearm was across his throat, strangling him into docility. His sight went dark and he gave up the fight, slumping bonelessly within Sanzou's encircling arms. Blackness was all about him, the blackness of night and the blackness of Nothing. A small thought came to him, the only hope he had left, that maybe he was dying. He had to be dying, because living wasn't possible.
"Honoured divinities," Sanzou said above his head, calm and respectful as though he hadn't just finished subduing a demon. "Have You had all Your will of this man?"
"Genjou Sanzou," the female voice said, a small note of reproof sounding. "The criminal Gonou has shown Us the truth of his heart. He has spoken in his true voice. These things you have witnessed. Why do you yet call him a man?"
"The human who slays a thousand youkai becomes youkai himself," the male voice said. "But what human would take a thousand lives save one that had a monster's spirit to begin with?"
Of course, Gonou thought in his darkness. Of course. Naturally.
"He has the soul of a dragon," the third voice said, flat and unequivocal. "You have heard it speak. Hunger and want; covetousness and need; and fury that rends anything that dares to take what is his."
Is that it? Gonou thought. That makes sense. How odd that I never realized. I thought I was- so ordinary. He closed his eyes in exhaustion.
"I do not dispute what You say, my Masters," Sanzou was saying. "And I ask again if You are done with him."
There was an odd little pause. "And if We were?" the man's voice asked. "What would you do then?"
"Why, then," Sanzou said, and pulled Gonou up abruptly so that his eyes flew open and he was looking at the three divinities again, "then I might have another try at pounding enough sense into his head to make him go on living." Gonou gazed at the three faces. His mind seemed unable to move, and his body was without strength. He could only lie against Sanzou's chest, as helpless as a baby. "You," Sanzou said to him, "are you back in your right mind yet?"
"Yes," Gonou said numbly. The three gods were watching him- the monster him, Cho Gonou who had brought about the death of the only thing he'd ever loved- looking at him as he must ever afterwards look at himself. He had not thought anyone could be as sick of his own self as he was in that moment.
"That may not be," the male god was saying. "The Law requires that Cho Gonou die."
"I agree," Gonou whispered.
"Be quiet," Sanzou said. "No-one asked you."
"No," Gonou protested weakly. "I won't be quiet." He pushed at Sanzou's arm, and Sanzou let him go. Gonou pulled himself upright on his knees, facing his judges for the last time. "This person no longer possesses anything in the world to keep him alive," he said, in the full weariness of his defeat. "He has lost even the little he had, as the Law decrees. He begs to die."
"Cho Gonou has lost everything but the illusion that he can 'have' in the first place," Sanzou said behind him. His voice was grave and restrained, but something told Gonou that it was only from regard to the deities present, and that if they were alone he'd be hearing a much rougher side to Sanzou's tongue. "And until he loses that, he hasn't lost nearly enough. If you want to go into the darkness hugging your chains to you, no-one will stop you. But it's stupid and pointless and a waste."
"Other men live in the world of sunshine, with friends and family," Gonou said. "I have lost the right to that. I choose death."
"Other men live a poppy dream, holding empty air in their hands and saying 'See how happy I am. See my wife- my son- my lands and my wealth.' It was you who proved to them what an illusion that was. How then can you believe it yourself?"
"This is too hard for me," Gonou said. "I wanted only what I had with Kanan. And without that--"
"Grow up," Sanzou said, a note of annoyance creeping into his tone. "You want your illusion of happiness like a child who wants to catch a bubble in his hand, and cries because the laws of the physical world don't permit it."
"The Law has favoured you and you don't even know it. 'To those that have much shall be given' is a curse, pure and simple. Those that have go deeper and deeper into illusion and attachment, and when they die their souls beg for more as an opium eater begs for more of his drug. They never get free from their hallucinations so that they may look on the true Light, not in a thousand lifetimes. But those that have not lose the little illusion they have, and so come at last to understanding. Try living with nothing for a change. Try living without the illusion that you can possess anything for your own, that you can save it from the ravages of chance and destiny. You cannot have. You cannot save. You cannot protect. Everything you have can be taken from you in a moment, except your own self. And you will not discover that self until you lose everything else." Sanzou spoke intensely. Gonou listened to his voice, to the words whose meaning he only partly understood and to the thing speaking below the words that he couldn't understand at all. "Let it go," Sanzou said. "Own nothing but the thing you are. You have that chance now, one that's offered to very few. Or die in your egotism, clinging to a false illusion and refusing to let it go for no other reason but that it's yours. Exactly as you please."
Gonou's brow creased. He let the words fall into his mind, wondering what pattern they would make there. He looked before him, at the motionless deities, to see what they would say. They said nothing. They were looking at Sanzou with a closed expression, and if it had meaning it was one hidden to Gonou. There was no answer for him there.
"The choice is not mine," he said, and felt a small relief in that realization. "The deities have declared my death."
"Then I will intercede on your behalf," Sanzou said. He turned back to face the gods in his former position, right hand on the ground and one leg bent, and lowered his head almost to his knee. "Honoured divinities, the monk Genjou Sanzou begs mercy for the criminal Cho Gonou."
"Cho Gonou is a destroyer and ravener," the female voice said. "Would you loose him a second time on the world?"
"My masters," Sanzou said, looking up. "You have named him a dragon. So he is: a destroyer and a ravener, as many are. But dragons have wisdom unknown to men. Dragons have wings to fly to the farthest horizon. Let him master the dragon within him and who can say where it will take him? Up to now he has been pent in his lair, bound by the dream of possessing-- lying in the darkness of Illusion and grasping his treasure to himself. Now he begins to see the light. If he frees himself from his prison, frees himself from his desire to have and his fear of losing, it is a certainty that he will go farther than any ordinary man."
There was silence. "Will you be security for him?" the male god asked.
"No," Sanzou said at once. "He must be security for himself. Each man bears the responsibility of his own actions alone. And I carry no baggage through this world."
"Impossible, then. He must die."
"Our religion is not to take life," Sanzou said. "How will You take his?"
"There are deaths and deaths," the third deity said. "If you are right, he must die to the world and the thing he was and be reborn in the Way. Only thus can he be freed from that prison you speak of. Cho Gonou, will you take your oath before Us to renounce the world of illusion and follow the Way of enlightenment?"
Gonou looked from one face to the other. He opened his mouth, and closed it again. At last he said, "You want me to live- to live on with the knowledge of what I am and what I've done...? Is that my punishment?"
"If you make it so. It may well be your salvation."
Gonou looked down at his hands. 'If you die you'll have accomplished nothing. If you live things may yet change,' Sanzou had told him three days before. What do I want to accomplish? he wondered. Nothing. Simply living was more than he felt he could manage. What will my life be from now on? Nothing. Sanzou said nothing was the pathway to enlightenment, and maybe it was. But nothing was a hard and empty road to walk. Kanan was gone. There was no more love or friendship for him. No happiness, no peace of mind. He dared not even hope to possess those things, after what he had done. And that would never change, whatever Sanzou said. The prospect of even a single day of such a life made him want to cry in fear, like a child alone in the dark. Dying was so much easier. Dying would be like hiding his head in the blankets and pretending the dark wasn't there. But he wasn't a child. He was a man, and had to bear a man's responsibilities.
"I will," he said. He had never wanted death so much in his life. And he had to let even that desire go from him.
"Genjou Sanzou, will you hear this man's vows?"
"Gladly," Sanzou said. "With the proviso," he added, glancing at the deities meaningfully, "that it is understood that he is not- I repeat, *not*- my disciple.
"Koumyou Sanzou did not scorn to take a disciple," the female deity said. "Why then should it beneath Genjou Sanzou?"
"I have not my master's wisdom," Sanzou said. "I am not qualified to reveal the Law to any other man." A dry voice in the back of Gonou's head said 'For one unqualified to reveal the Law, he certainly lays it down a lot.' Shocked even in his misery, Gonou silenced it at once. Sanzou was saying, "Let him find the Path for himself, as all men must."
"You would do well to remember the story of the spider's thread," the third voice said in mild reproof.
"Haa?" Sanzou inquired respectfully, and a little suspiciously.
"Recall what happened to the soul in hell who was offered a single spider's thread on which to climb out of the pit, and who sought to thrust the other souls off it lest it break under their weight. It would no longer bear him and he fell back into the depths. Freedom from human attachment is one thing. Thrusting others from you lest they hinder you on your path is quite another."
Sanzou bowed his head to the god's rebuke. "I will bear that in mind. And I will give this man what counsel I can, or he will hear. But as for taking him as a disciple- no. I must beg to decline. For one thing, he himself has no desire for it. Have you?" he asked Gonou abruptly.
"Uhh--" Gonou stammered. "Without offence- no."
"Much too fond of his own opinion," Sanzou nodded. Gonou blinked in surprise. He gave Sanzou a doubting look, but Sanzou's face was empty of expression as he continued, "He has been badly hurt in body and soul. The full rigor of our order would be too much for him. Let him begin with layman's vows, that are as much as he can bear for now."
"As you will," the male voice said. "Cho Gonou, are you in agreement with this?"
Gonou gave a silent sigh. "I am."
Behind him he heard the doors to the sanctuary opening, the heavy metal rolling on its oiled hinges. Sanzou rose to his feet. It took several minutes for the procession that had entered to reach them. A shaven monk carried a small tambour stool which he placed near the wall in front of the deities. Sanzou walked over to it and sat down, back to the gods whose faces appeared above him. Seen thus, his own face looked as grave and beautiful as theirs, reflecting something of the same divinity as their own. Gonou felt an obscure pang, as if he had lost an ally, as if Sanzou were now ranged with the gods against him.
A second monk crouched beside Gonou and unfastened the heavy manacles. Gonou rubbed his aching wrists briefly. Sanzou beckoned him forwards. He rose and walked stiffly- painfully- to that crowned and veiled stranger, Genjou Sanzou the Master of the Law, and knelt at his feet. He kept his eyes on the ground, because he couldn't bear to meet this Sanzou's unhuman gaze.
"Cho Gonou, do you renounce this world of emptiness?" Sanzou asked.
"Do you renounce all attachment to its unreal illusions?"
Kanan, Gonou thought, even as his mouth said, "I do." Foresworn even as I swear, he thought. But Kanan wasn't an unreal illusion and he refused to renounce her.
"Will you seek after Enlightenment?"
The monk beside them held out a small offering table on which lay an iron razor. Sanzou picked it up, took a lock of Gonou's hair, and sliced it cleanly. He put razor and hair on the table which was carried away and placed before the gods.
"As Cho Gonou ceased to be human and became youkai in the castle of the Hundred-Eyed Demon, so must you now cease to be Cho Gonou and become other in this sanctuary. I give you your name in the Law, Cho Hakkai. You will keep the name 'Cho', meaning 'boar', because you are still as pig-headed as ever under that meekness of yours-" Gonou looked up in shock to meet Sanzou's irate and familiar glare, and dropped his gaze again, feeling oddly comforted somehow. "And you will take the name 'Hakkai', meaning 'eight renunciations', because you are not yet ready for the full nine of a true monk." Hakkai, Gonou thought. I am Hakkai now. Not quite a monk and not quite a man. Appropriate.
Sanzou accepted a long piece of cloth from the monk beside him and placed it over Hakkai's left shoulder, binding the two ends in a knot above Hakkai's right hip. "You will wear this shoulder cloth above your ordinary clothes that men may know you for a pilgrim on the Way. But remember that it is not by his robes and his shaven head that men may tell a monk, but by his deeds and his attitude. Be what you would like to seem- not the appearance only, but the thing itself." Hakkai felt Sanzou's grave regard on him. He bowed his head in acquiescence.
Sanzou rose and turned to kneel beside him once more, facing the gods. The monks removed the stool and disappeared back into the dim recesses of the chamber. Sanzou said, "Honoured divinities, I present to you Cho Hakkai, born again in the Law, and entreat you to look favourably upon him."
"Cho Hakkai, be welcome," the male voice said. "Heed the words of Genjou Sanzou. Already there is a disparity between your outward form and your inner nature. Learn to reconcile them, that you may be one, not many."
"There will be a sign from Us to help you on your Way," the female divinity said. "Do not be afraid, but go forward boldly."
The third divinity said nothing. Eyes closed, mouth a colourless line, it had no message for him at all. Hakkai put his hands to the earth and made reverence to the three deities of the shrine.
"Honoured divinities," he said, "your servant thanks You for your mercy and favour, so far beyond his desert." He stopped, then drew his resolution together. "Is it permitted to ask one question?"
"Ask," the male voice said.
"Was that a true vision that You gave me, of Kanan? Did it truly happen as You showed me?"
"What is truth?" It was the third deity. Naturally. "If it might have been true, then it was true. Remember that, and do not so again."
Hakkai bowed again. "Thank You," he said humbly, as it becomes a criminal to thank the magistrate who passes sentence on him and sends him to prison for life.
They came out into sunshine. It was odd that the sun should still be shining. That there was still a whole world out here, away from the blue-lit presence of those Three. Hakkai had never expected to come alive into it again. He stood blinking at the doorway to the outer hall, seeing from the top of the long flight of stairs before him the many buildings of the monastery and above them the wide blue sky, full of sailing clouds huge and happy as whales. Beside him Sanzou took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one with the desperation of a nicotine addict who hasn't smoked in an hour. There was a circle of dried blood ringing his hand below the thumb, where Hakkai had bitten it.
"I'm sorry-" Hakkai said. Sanzou gave him a questioning glance.
"Your hand-- You should get some mercurochrome on it before it infects."
"This? Don't worry. I'll lick it and it'll be fine." He sounded abstracted.
"Mnh." Sanzou stood gazing over the scenery, exhaling smoke. "Don't mind too much," he said. "I told you the gods save nobody. You'll get used to it."
After a moment Hakkai said, "Yes."
"It gets better. But you being you won't believe that until it happens."
It would be rude to say 'no', so he didn't say it. There was silence as he considered the world from the eyes of Cho Hakkai. Perhaps not quite the same as before...
"I'm 'eight renunciations.' What's the thing I didn't renounce?"
Sanzou wordlessly held up his cigarette.
"I don't smoke."
"Then whatever you like," Sanzou said, taking a drag. "Beer, for choice. Try not to make it obsessive guilt, whatever."
Sanzou finished his cigarette, dropped the butt on the ground and stepped on it. He started down the flight of stairs, with Hakkai behind him.
"And I'd really like to know whose idea that was," Sanzou added, sounding disgruntled.
"What was?" Hakkai asked, uncertainly.
"That farce back there." He nodded at the sanctuary behind them.
"Farce?" Hakkai felt confused. "It felt real enough to me."
"It was meant to. But I still don't even know why They sent me after you to start with. I'm not the police."
"Why--" Hakkai paused, confused. "Surely- They wanted me brought to justice--"
Sanzou snorted. "So They said. Why, is what I want to know. You're not the greatest criminal of our age. That honour probably belongs to the youkai king you took out. I'd bet someone's up to something, up there-" he jerked his head at the sky- "but I'm damned if I know what." His downslanting eyes checked Hakkai over, a fast head to toe, as if looking for a clue, and obviously failed to find it.
"I suppose I'll learn what it's all about eventually," he concluded morosely. "We're just the hired help as far as They're concerned. No need to explain things to the servants."
Hakkai smiled ruefully. "I don't suppose the gods consult our wishes any more than we consult the chessmen we play with ourselves."
"We're not pawns of the gods," Sanzou said ferociously. "And if they think we are, they can learn different."
Hakkai held his peace. The dealings of men with gods was something his mind would always flinch from thinking about. They reached the last few steps above the temple's inner courtyard.
"Oh--" Sanzou said, stopping abruptly and staring. Hakkai couldn't quite see what it was that had caught his attention because the noonday sun was bouncing off a whitish patch of marble near the stairs' foot and dazzling his eyes. He squinted, trying to see around that brightness, but to all appearances the courtyard was the same as before, large and empty save for the banyan tree growing in its centre. Sanzou went down the last two steps and over to that brilliant white flagstone, which-- moved. Hakkai joined him. It was small, glowing, exquisite, and about the size of a very large tomcat or a smallish dog.
"A dragon?" He couldn't quite believe it. It was so small, and so beautiful. Two wings unfurled from its sleek sides and it flew up into the air to the level of their heads. The dragon stuck out its snaky neck and looked straight at him with its wise little face. It had two glowing red eyes that reminded Hakkai suddenly and oddly of Gojou's.
"Yours," Sanzou said, sounding disgusted. "And if I were you I'd march straight back up there and demand something more presentable."
But Hakkai hadn't gotten beyond the first part of the sentence. "Mine? This is for me? But how--" The little dragon flew over and landed on his shoulder. It was terribly warm and had a soft feathery mane all down the length of its spine, soft as a dove's wing. "Oh," Hakkai said at its touch. "Oh." Love at first sight. "Oh, aren't you beautiful." The little thing cheeped at him. Hakkai stroked the minute mane in unbelieving delight. "What's your name then, lovely?" he asked it, and it chirruped 'Jii-ip' at him. Hakkai laughed. "It says its name is Jeep, Sanzou-san. Should I call it Jeep?"
"Of course," Sanzou said impatiently. "That's what it is. You'd think They could manage better than that."
"Than what?" Hakkai was at sea.
"Show him," Sanzou commanded. The dragon flew up in the air again. There was a poof, and sitting in front of him was a sturdy beige Landrover, gleaming new, with large no-nonsense tires and a thick windscreen. Hakkai put out a disbelieving hand. Solid metal, and terribly warm. Let him master the dragon within him and who can say where it will take him?
"I'm not asking for a Maserati or a BMW," Sanzou was saying, "but a Honda Civic for instance, or a Volkswagon, or anything with a roof even... Where on earth do they think you're going?"
"Over some rough territory, it would seem," Hakkai said. He climbed into the driver's seat. The keys were in the ignition. "No surprise, really." The steering wheel fit friendly into his hands. The seats were upholstered in a webbed wool/cotton blend, sweat-absorbent, soft enough for sleeping on if you had to. Made for him. Made for him. There were no words for the wonder of it. "Oh," he said, looking at the monk, and felt like the sun coming up in the morning. "Sanzou-san. Sanzou-san. It's--" There were no words. He shook his head, smiling at the impossibility of telling Sanzou what he felt. "Sanzou-san."
"I'm glad you're happy," Sanzou said, ungracious, and got in beside him. "I hope this damned thing has springs at least."
"It's not a damned thing," Hakkai said with unaccustomed authority. He put a loving hand on the dashboard. "It's my jeep, Hakuryuu, and it's perfect." He gave Sanzou a straight look for perhaps the first time in their acquaintance, and after a second Sanzou looked away, shrugging an apology.
Hakkai turned the ignition key. Hakuryuu's engine purred. He put it in gear, reversed to give himself room to avoid the banyan, turned smoothly on a dime, and drove sedately across the courtyard towards the main gate. "Where to?" he asked Sanzou.
"The conveni," Sanzou said. "I need cigarettes. Take a left once we're outside. I'll tell you where to go after that."
"Right you are," Hakkai said. He shifted into third, and sailed smoothly through the gates into the world beyond.
MJJ Sept-Oct, 2000