WET FEATHERS by Tengu
No real disclaimers (except some words Autocensor will get…I should confine my cussing to Japanese, eh?) FOOTNOTES
Thanks to Pidgey for Betaing.
Well, this is my first `Tactics` fic…Time to get my feathers wet…
Haruka jostled his wings. He felt itchy.
It was midwinter and he was sweeping snow off the paths, -yet again.
The garden was covered in virgin snow, -except where everyone had romped around in a snowball fight, that and made three snowmen.
Haruka smiled, one was a snowman, a rosary made from acorns in one hand, the other was a snow fox with a brush of birch twigs, and the third a tengu with daikon nose and wings made from an old paper umbrella.
Ichinomiya Kantarou, Folklorist by day and Exorcist by night was out delivering a manuscript to the paper he wrote for.
Youko was out shopping so it was Harukas task to clear up in the garden, keep the stove lit, man the phone and generally mind the house.
Boy, was he in need of a preen.
Haruka shoved his broom unceremoniously under the porch; he went to his room and had a good scratch.
"Haruka!" called Youko.
That person sighed at the pile of old feathers, twigs leaves and dirt he had removed from his great black pinions.
He was still itchy.
"We are having fried bean curd today!" trilled the kitsune.
Haruka managed to suppress the urge to sigh. "That’s nice," he said neutrally. Anything was better than dried fish that looked like they had been caught before the Meji restoration.
It was lucky they all liked fried bean curd. It seemed to get served up a lot in this house.
"Anyone would think Kantarou was a fox owner!" Haruka said under his breath.
"What did you say, Haruka?" The master of the house (and master of kitsune and tengu, don’t forget) asked, sliding back the front door. He sat in the hall, pulling his sandals off.
"Did you get paid?" Came Youkos voice from the kitchen.
"Yes I did."
And Youko came running out and snatched Kantarous purse from the bosom of his kimono before anything untoward happened to it.
"Are you going to give me my pocket money then?" Kantarou asked plaintively.
"Yes, Youko, what about mine?" Haruka emerged from his room.
"You get plenty of handouts from Suzu-chan...And Sugino-sama." She accused.
"I only ask for money from them if we are short." Haruka growled.
"Can’t it wait? The bean curd is hot." Youko gestured into the living room.
Haruka sat down. "One day can we have a tengus favourite, -meat?" He picked up his chopsticks.
Kantarou ignored him. He was thinking too much about Fox owning. "I could get you two to stage a haunting one day so I can get paid to exorcise you. Some rich unmarried lady will do."
"It’s not like we have a lack of work in that department" said Haruka over a mouthful of rice.
All though the meal they had a running lecture on the practice of fox owning. Kantarou told them how in certain districts there were families who owned kitsune, and how those families were said to be versed in dark magics. Marriage brokers were always careful to research clients for a history of fox owning.
"I was thinking about the shugenja(1) who have foxes for mischief" Haruka corrected. It was a common practice on the Tengudo.
"No jabs, Haruka." Kantarou corrected. "I’m no shugenja, and I’m an honest man...Honestly."
They all laughed at that.
"Have you fleas?" asked Youko.
"I need a bath." The tengu said bluntly, there would be no argument here.
Kantarou grunted in reply. He knew that baths for Haruka in the winter meant a good soak followed by standing round a big bonfire to dry his wings off. The neighbours would ask him what that big bird in his garden was. (Though it was surprising the amount of people who `could see` Haruka was a tengu, and that was only those who admitted it. Kantarou knew that most people who saw Youkai did not talk about the subject.)
So Haruka would spend a few days with his friend Sugino the mountain kami. Kantarou did not mind...much.
The next day, when the weather (and paths) was clear again, Haruka took flight.
Haruka wore his traditional clothes, (For Sugino laughed at his western dress) and carried a furoshiki with his towel in it, that and a bottle of sake and some sweets. (No one thought to leave such confectionaries in the shrine, and Sugino liked chocolate.)
The weather was cold, but tengu are tough. He landed half a mile from the white feathered tengus nest. It was snowy but the trees had prevented much drifting. Haruka trudged gamely on.
"Sugino!" Haruka called up to the tree house. (It was considered impolite to land on the veranda and knock...and a threat.)
"Onikui!" Suginos dishonest face poked out the window. "Come on up!"
"Muu!" Muu-chan, his small green wife, looked over the roof.
Haruka was up on the porch with one sweep of his great wings.
Sugino gave his biggest goofiest grin, "run away, Onikui?" He looked around, "are the police after you? Or that wife stealing bastard master of yours? I’ll hide you, I’m your bestest pal!"
Haruka shook his head sadly.
"Wait a minute!" Sugino, whose mood changed with the wind, had second thoughts, "you cannot come here! Sugino village is the first place the sods will look! Don’t involve me, or I’ll be arrested too."
Haruka had to smile at his loony friend. Several times he and Kantarou had been called into the district police station to identify this drunken tengu. Oh, and pay any fines/damages he might have caused. Midnight phone calls at Kantarous house were either Youkai emergencies or, alternately; tengu bail outs.
They only did it, because Sugino, everlastingly relieved at being freed from the cage was always good for food or a money handout if Kantarou ran short (an event which on average, happened thrice a week...This was a good week.)
"You know what they say, Sugino?" Haruka said archly, "Friends, go down the police station at two o clock in the morning to bail you out...`Real` friends are in the cells with you."
"Hah, I have Muu-chan for that!"
Haruka sighed, "And unlike certain tengu, I do not get drunk in the city. Kantarou would not go to such troubles for me; I would probably end up in jail."
Sugino looked angry, "the cells are too cramped to spread your wings in, and the foods awful, and you either come out with lice or if you have not got lice, they smear a nasty chemical over you to kill them...Not to mention some stodgy priest lecturing you on appropriate behaviour of a mountain kami."
"And then you get Kantarou put a spell on you to prevent you flying...Or if you happen to as much as sniff sake, to be violently sick."
"Ohhh!" Sugino gave Haruka a feather crushing hug.
Haruka winced for the safety of his plumes, "Don’t worry Sugino, I’m not in trouble...I’m here for a bath."
"A bath! Do you say?" Suginos mood switched again.
Part of the perks of being the kami of his village. (Haruka did not know if Sugino was named for the village or the village named after Sugino.) Were unlimited onsen(2) tickets. Sugino lounged in the warm water, fast asleep.
Muu-chan, well aware of how much it maddened her besotted husband, went the rounds of other bathers and got affection from them. To no avail, the heat had sent the normally hyperactive tengu sluggish.
Haruka washed his feathers gratefully. He had already eaten several soft eggs, another perk of Suginos.
Afterwards they stood by a bonfire fed by the tireless Muu-chan, holding their wings out to dry. Sugino bounced up and down. He was never still, noted Haruka. Sugino was telling him about something a villager had said to him last month. Sugino kept a tab of what was going on in the village. He was no hermit.
Haruka smiled to himself, the Tengudo was a lonely place. Tengu were too full of belligerent pride to form proper relationships. Sugino had spent many decades as a lonely hermit, before he defeated the previous mountain god and took the dragons place. Now Sugino had a place in society, really the only one he could ever have given his demoniac state of existence.
But Haruka had a family now.
Muu-chan (tengu did not marry!) got out some lumps of venison, tengu in their natural habitat lived the lives of matagi(3) some simple farming in the summers, then dispersing to hunt in the dead of winter. Haruka was perfectly happy to eat rice and vegetables in the summer (fish was an acquired taste for him. tengu were not fishermen) but in winter he needed meat to keep in condition. A diet that was well beyond Kantarous limited means. (If only he would be allowed to kill some Oni! But Haruka wanted to put his oni eating, -indeed on occasion man and fellow tengu eating habits behind him. This was his chance, not just at liberty from the Iwasaka(4) he had been bound in, but the chance to become a normal tengu once again.)
Haruka ignored the fact he was as skinny as an ascetic...But fasting is also part of the Tengudo.
They chewed happily; Haruka noted that Sugino and Muu-chan let him eat the best pieces. He decided not to protest.
Haruka settled in for the night. Sugino got out his spare sleeping mat, and a whole pile of ratty futons and the skins of various beasts Sugino had killed. Bear, boar, deer, serow(5) to name but a few. Part of the disadvantage of living in a tree; Sugino had a small stove for cooking. For safety’s sake it was put out at night.
Sugino was doing his night time piddle; he gleefully composed a haiku about rain on a snowy night.
Haruka did likewise with a poem about how he hoped any passers-by had brought umbrellas just in case.
Sugino laughed his crazy laugh, "you get arrested for soaking any citizens in the city, I bet!" He smiled happily, "the sublime delights of the Tengudo! Freefall pissing."
Haruka smiled but declined to reply to that.
"It’s the best part of being a tengu, you know, to enjoy the delights of spring winds...Taking you to a rival monastery to foul the washing."
Haruka chuckled; he grabbed his wacky friends sleeve and pulled him inside.
Muu-chan was already hidden in Suginos bedding, having performed her ablutions in a more dignified and less poetic way. Sugino wriggled into his nest, sake bottle in hand, cooing affectionately to his wife as he did so.
Haruka pulled off his outer robe and wriggled into his own bed. He smiled to himself; he hadn’t enjoyed the comfort of a tengus nest in centuries. Camping out on Kantarous roof on warm nights didn’t match. "Thanks for putting me up, Sugino. You make me feel like a tengu again."
"Yes" Sugino grumped, "I know what being humans like. I chose my own path. I chose differently, I chose the impossible.” He smiled the grimace of those beyond damnation. “I chose the Tengudo, where the karasu(6) does not fear the exorcist, the kohana(7) not constrained by petty morality and the Onikui goes unbound."
Haruka was silent. He knew just who that was aimed at. He picked his sharp teeth thoughtfully.
"So, still shacked up with that exorcist?" Sugino asked.
Haruka wrinkled his retrouse nose, "I’m happy with Kantarou," he growled warningly.
"It’s a fine thing to see you, the great Youkai eater, reduced to a mortals pet!" snorted Sugino.
He always could not resist such jabs.
Muu retreated in apprehension of a fight.
Haruka looked up sharply, "You were human once too." he sniffed. Well he knew this was a sticking point with his friend. Sugino had not been born a tengu, but had fallen on the Tengudo as a result of his own shortcomings. It was one thing to be ignorant, another to know that for all your knowledge, you fell into ignorance. Sugino had once had a chance at Enlightenment, -and blown it royally.
Harukas life these days was not so bad.
Kantarou well knew that his career, indeed his very life was dependent on the two Youkai. So he always treated his possessions well.
When he had first brought Haruka home he had made sure that the tengu was supplied with the newest futon in the house, that he had a clean towel and night robe, -but not a new rice bowl for Haruka was so attached to his own, (though there had been numerous attempts to replace it by well meaning individuals.)
Haruka always got fed the best of food, that is, if there was any money. Sometimes they were all reduced to bowls of millet gruel. Kantarou never took the lion’s share of food; it was always doled out equally. Indeed if they ran really short, it would be he who went on a fast. If by some good fortune he had a treat, it was always shared with Youko and Haruka, though neither of them were required to follow suit.
If there had been a fight, Kantarou would see to it that Harukas wounds were treated. He would be dabbed with iodine, a substance Haruka knew to be expensive. Haruka knew how to treat his cuts with herbs; -fights and subsequent doctoring were part of tengu life.
Kantarou did not laugh at Harukas maladaptations to modern life. Part of the problem was Harukas Youkai physiology. Tengu are sensitive to magnetism and electricity. Haruka could sense the small current in the telephone. (one of the few luxuries Kantarou allowed himself, though it was also useful for jobs) he was frightened by the trams, (though later on would ride them) and at first would only pass under a telegraph wire with a sheet of paper or a fan shielding his head. Haruka could feel the electric current, and it made him uneasy. (It meant also, that Haruka could collide with a high voltage tram cable and get away with just his pride zapped. This had blown the fuses in a whole district for two days though.)(
He did not laugh at his new pet when Suzu-chan gave him one of her father’s old western styled suits. (Sugino scoffed no end.) The dark glasses hid Harukas wild, dilated eyes (the only part of his tengu nature Haruka could never hide from humans.) (9)
Kantarou could have made plenty of money putting his bound Youkai on display in a fairground. He could have done all sorts of things to them. But Kantarou believed that Youkai should not be ill treated any more than humans should.
He knew what they were capable of.
He did not insist that either Youko or Haruka contribute to the household economy. Youko cooked, (she was a good cook) Haruka went on errands that could be done more speedily by flying. They both helped with Kantarous articles, that was apart from their Youkai busting work.
As a whole Harukas and Youkos lives were much better than if they were free like Sugino, they had the run of a comfortable house, -and bathhouse, they all had library tickets, rode the trams, drank lemonade, celebrated the bon, led, well, normal lives.
The world of Ningyo(10) was not a terrible place.
Sugino gave another pull at the sake jar, "you know what, demoneater?"
"Yes" Harukas tone was neutral.
"I think you should take that human master of yours and show him around the Tengudo." Sugino gave an oni eating grin, showing his sharp teeth.
Haruka stared in shock.
The Tengudo was their term for the state of being, - or becoming a tengu.
But it was also a place, the part of the Hidden World that was inhabited by tengu. A world of dark forests and secret mountains. A world ruled by the tengu, tengu great and small, from the lowly karasu and kuhin(11), to the greatest of daitengu(12), rulers of many mountain territories.
The Tengudo was a terrible place. The place where the inhabitants put martial ability and spiritual prowess above and beyond the petty distractions of the normal world.
There were humans in the tengu world too. Some were born there; others went there to advance spiritually.
Some had been abducted.
Haruka had attacked Sugino on first meeting him. He and Kantarou had been investigating disappearing children.
A tengu would be pretty much top of the list of potential suspects (the others were kitsune, tanuki, oni and yamahito(13).)
...Tengu could control the minds of their victims.
If Haruka were to take Kantarou to the Tengudo...Then the boot would be on the other foot.
And Haruka would be free.
Haruka wanted his freedom.
He hated it when Kantarou controlled him.
True, Kantarou only ever issued Haruka a direct order when it was a life or death situation (such as winning a shogi(14) or go match)
Tengu are naturally prideful creates and it rubbed Haruka sore to be controlled, however slightly by a mere mortal.
Youko didn’t mind, she was used to Kantarou, having been with him for many years.
She had chosen to be owned.
Haruka had not been given a choice. Kantarou had broken the wards sealing Haruka into the Iwasaka, he had performed the ceremony naming, -and binding Haruka to him.
At the time Haruka had just been glad to be released, he had no memories of his imprisonment (except one, troubling detail, which kept Haruka awake of nights.)
And he had no memories of his life as Onikui, that annoying person whom Sugino addressed him as, but he was no longer. Nor was he Rin, the maltreated slave of a minor Heian courtier who dabbled in heterodox rites. Haruka still hated Ryuhime Fujiwara, and he hated Rin too.
He knew `Rin` was the reason he had become `Onikui`, and he knew Onikui, the killer of Youkai, men and tengu, was the reason he had been incarcerated.
Haruka feared Onikui, feared him for his strength, something he could no longer use.
He feared Onikui more for his urge to kill everyone.
Sugino, like a fool, wanted Onikui let loose again. Even though he knew the stronger tengu would in all likelihood kill him and Muu-chan and everyone he knew and loved.
Haruka understood, up to a point, but he was a tengu who had become more human, less prideful, weaker. He realised it was several degrees beyond sad that he was so emasculated, but the pragmatic side of him was merely grateful for his release after centuries asleep, knew there would be quite stringent conditions of parole...He prayed to the kami everyday in thanks for release from oblivion, to be able to fly on the winds again, (Ryuhime had always taken sadistic joy in clipping her birds wings, this was only the first of the indignities she visited upon Rin) to feel the sun on his skin, to eat and drink again.
No, Onikui had been left behind in the Iwasaka. It was for the best.
Sugino was prey to the sin of pride, the crime that had turned him into a tengu. He craved power.
He would never understand Harukas humility. This was not what tengu did.
And this was the true reason why he could not go to the Tengudo.
He would have no status.
Seventh and last, Haruka knew he was just a human’s plaything. He could trust Kantarou to not hurt him, -just about.
"I’ll think it over." And that was the last Haruka had to say on the matter.
Sugino shrugged, but his snide comment was stopped suddenly by Muu-chan leaping suddenly on his head and entwining herself in his long hair.
Footnotes, Drat it, there is a veritable forest of the things. Its looking like a flipping academic paper rather than a Fanfic, neh?
But `Tactics` is a glimpse of the Secret World and so we need to get used to some esoteric concepts.
I’m writing `Tactics` fic…Occult Japan has been long an interest of mine. Im able to do an accurate…if not artistic job.
…I’ve also been on the Tengudo….
(1) Shugenja. A practitioner of Shugendo, the mountain religion, a Yamabushi. This idea of fake hauntings was a common shugenja scam. They could be a dodgy bunch, hetrodox rites, fox owning, money grubbing, wife seducing, fighting,…Does it come as a surprise to hear that many tengu follow this faith?
The sect was dissolved in the time of the Meji Restoration, due to being a combination of Shinto and Buddhism, (The government wanted to try to separate both religions, a matter that caused much trouble and confusion to this day.) It was reinstated during the occupation after the war, as part of freedom of religion laws.
So, logically, in `Tactics` there is no Shugendo, though of course Kantarou is familiar with it. And neither tengu is a shugenja, (But we do see Haruka dressed up as one! And he’s none too happy about it which is one of the jokes I’m sure you did not get!)
(2)Onsen. Natural hot spring, common in Japan (Go find an Anime/Manga called `Thermae Romae` for more bathhouse fun.)
(3) Matagi. Hunters of Northern provinces. People who live in remote mountain hamlets, in summer they farm but in winter they live by hunting. This lifestyle is very close to that of the Ainu, unsurprisingly, and many hunting terms they use would be Ainu in origin. It’s a very ancient lifestyle, -there are still a few matagi left today.
Though there certainly are eyewitness accounts of what life is like on the Tengudo we do not know exactly how their society and economy works, the accounts being written purely from a spiritual viewpoint. Not all of them can be yamabushi, can they? The lives of matagi would be a logical assumption, a mixture of primitive and modern.
Indeed there are kami who live in the village in the summer, then head to the mountains during the winter months…And some of those are tengu.
(4)Iwasaka. Stone seat, a stone that contains a kami. A Shintai `god body`.
(5)Serow. A little antelope, common prey of matagi.
(6)Karasu. `Crow` The least and most avian of tengu.
(7)Kohana. `Tree dwellers` Commonest sort of tengu. Presumably both Haruka and Sugino belong to this class.
(8)Tengu and electricity. Tengu can control lightning and make themselves magnetic. One wonders how tengu would fare in our world.
(9)Tengu eyes. Wild, staring, dilated pupils. Now you know how we identify tengu in human disguise. It’s easy when you know what to look for.
(10) Ningyo. The world of Men in the Buddhist cosmology. (Ie, Middle Earth, -the normal world.)
(11)Kuhin. `Man-dogs` Poorly attested variant of tengu. Possibly tengu who have fully human forms.
(tengu are shape shifters so it might be hard to really define this class.)
(12)Daitengu. `Great tengu` The rulers of the Tengudo. Each holy mountain in Japan is ruled by a daitengu, and we know many of their names. Possibly the most famous is Sorjobo, the daitengu of Mount Kurama, near Kyoto, who taught Minamoto Yoshitsune.
(13) Yamahito. `Mountain man` Hairy man the equivalent of the `wild man of the woods` of Europe.
(14)Shogi. Japanese version of chess.