labingi: (Default)
[personal profile] labingi
Title: "Patterns of Life"
Fandoms: Mirage of Blaze/Mushishi Crossover
Rating/Warnings: PG-13 for themes, light swearing; standard MoB dysfunctionality; het (but no explicit yaoi)
Characters: Ginko, Naoe, Kagetora, cameos: Tan'yuu, Adashino, Yahagi
Word Count: about 11,000
Disclaimer: Neither is mine.
Spoilers: Through the end of MoB; references to various Mushishi episodes
Summary: Ginko encounters a 500-year-old woman whom he finds bemusing, confusing, amusing, and occasionally abusing.
A/N: Apologies to Mushishi fans for this fic, in which Mirage of Blaze sits upon Mushishi like an 800-pound gorilla upon a little, translucent mushi. I put in Latin abbreviations to signify Mushishi note-taking jargon of the 19th century. Apologies for my random mix of Japanese and English vocab; it's the best more poor Japanese skills can do. Cross-fandom vocab: onryou = vengeful spirit; mushi = buggy spirit.


"Patterns of Life"

Excerpted from Ginko's personal journal, with cross references to his Mushi Notes.

Part 1: The Study of Mushi

May 10, 1897

Yesterday, I came across a kind of Uroana entirely new to me. I was following a confluence of Uro and found a woman picking mushrooms. She was dressed like a Western man, in trousers. I thought at first that the Uorana might lead all the way to the West, but she spoke native Japanese.

I shared my provisions for supper and observed her as she steamed rice and mushrooms (in my pot; she had next to no supplies). The traces of an Uroana were around her, though other mushi were giving her a wide berth: about two feet more than normal (1897.5.10, Midori). When I told her I was a mushishi and sensed that she'd come from an Uroana, she asked eagerly, "Can you summon it? I've been trying to get it back for three days."

"How?" Summoning an Uroana was so futile it bordered on funny.

"I've tried several different sutras."

"Sutras, hm? Mushi don't respond to sutras. Why don't you show me where you've been looking for it?"

The Uroana traces grew as we walked. The Uroana itself was still present but only as a mushi-covered hole in a tree, about the size of a human head. I gave it a look; I almost wish I hadn't. Inside, at the far end of the tunnel, I could see bright, blaring chaos (1897.5.9-10, passim; cf. Uroana, 1892.2.5). I pulled my head back into the forest. "Where did you come from anyway?"

"Can you help me get back through?"

"Sorry. I don't have any influence over an Uroana. At the rate this one's shrinking, it will probably be gone in a day or so."

For several seconds, she glared at me as if I were the one who'd shoved her through it in the first place. "May I have paper and something I could place a message in, please?"

I gave her some paper and pencil and a small box.

She scribbled something and said what I guess was a sutra over it. Then, she stuck the box into the Uroana. "I hope my friend finds that."

"I know this is disorienting," I said. "But it's not a disaster. You're still in Japan. Just head for home the long way." But as I said it, I thought of the lights and cacophony in the Uroana and suspected it wasn't that simple.

She searched my face and said finally, "The trouble is I haven't traveled in space but in time."

Imagine that. She claimed to come from the mid-twenty-first century. That could explain the strange sights through the Uroana, her foreign clothes. But as I sat up late, smoking by her campfire, her explanation sat wrong with me. A hundred and fifty years in the future: would she speak flawless Japanese, no future idioms, no old words she didn't recognize? Would she pitch a camp and light a fire in exactly the same way I would? No, she didn't seem out of her time.

"Hey, Midori," I said, as she was settling in her coat to sleep, "why are you lying to me?"

After a moment, she said, "Lying about what, Ginko-san?"

"You don't come from the future."

A long silence. "Thank you, Ginko-san, for trying to help me." A little dry. Well, I hadn't really tried, had I, since there was nothing to be done?

We both hung around today. She was saying more sutras over the shrinking Uroana; I was taking notes on all the little ways it differed from other Uroana (q.v. 1897.5.10). We pretended to ignore each other. You can't please all the people, as they say. But you can get a good set of observations. An Uroana through time. I am certain she's a liar, yet that part I believe.

***

August 23, 1897

There was an explosion at the outskirts of Small River Fork. I was on the trail of a disturbance that had set the mushi skittering like ants. Usually, that indicates either a very powerful mushi or a natural disaster. This time, it was neither.

At twilight, I was a mile outside the village when a light flared over the treetops, followed by a thunderclap. A lightning strike, I thought at first, but it wasn't lightning: no clouds and too orange. Mushi? Not that I sensed, and I couldn't imagine not sensing one that shot out fire like that.

When I got to the village, the people were scampering, not unlike the mushi. They said a weaver's daughter had been possessed by a spirit: she'd been speaking as if she were someone else and was seen floating. Then, the same thing had happened to another child and another: five kids in all. Priests had claimed to sense the presence of onryou, but none of their pacifying techniques worked. Then, an exorcist had come to town and performed incantations that had culminated in a fireball and the children being fully restored to themselves.

I went to the site of the explosion. What a mess: two trees still smoldering and the ground charred black. The mushi that hadn't fled were in a frenzy. A few were potentially dangerous, so I set up a pot of vapors to calm them down. As I was gathering bracken for the mix, my eye fell on the father of one of the possessed kids thanking the exorcist for saving his daughter. Trousers, I thought. It was the time-Uroana woman.

I went up to the two of them. "Hey, Midori, it's been a while."

She tore her eyes away from the father, whose adulation she'd been receiving with a look of embarrassment. "Ah, Ginko-san, how have you been?"

"Not bad, thanks. So what's the story here?"

The father chimed in with a tale of how Midori had restored his daughter and was most praiseworthy, etc. When Midori got a word in, she said, "The onryou here was the mother of five children who died in a flood and, being a woman of great spiritual force, she recalled their souls and built her power until she could make them possess living children."

"And you exorcised them?"

"Yes."

I gestured at the crackling trees. "You don't do it half way."

"She was more powerful than I initially anticipated."

The father begged Midori have dinner at his house, so she excused herself to go with him, while I went back to calming the mushi. I don't really know anything about onryou. I can't sense them, but that obviously doesn't mean they don't exist. As for Midori's story, well, a mushi didn't cause this, and if the kids are better, maybe she knows what she's talking about. I hope she knows if she goes around blowing up trees on a regular basis.

Night fell with a sliver of a moon. I was coaxing a family of mushroom-threads back into the ground when a noise made me glance up; I saw the dark shape of a person watching.

"I was wrong about you, Ginko-san," said Midori. "I thought you were a cold man. My apologies." She bowed.

"It's all right." Unsure how to respond, I went back to the mushroom-threads. "Can you see them?"

"No. I can only see how you handle them."

I thought of the wrecked trees and blackened ground behind me. I can see how you handle things too, I thought.

***

October 3, 1897

Midori again. My fifth day in Maple Veil, still working on a treatment for that flowing-yeast (1897.9.29-10.3 passim). What drew my attention was the screaming kid. He was about four and had skinned his knee. He was screaming louder than normal, of course, because yeast enhanced his sense of touch. Sitting beside him, talking quietly and washing his knee, was Midori. I made him a poultice, and we took him home to his sister.

After we dropped him off, I said to her, "Small world."

"Not in this instance. I've been following you."

I found that statement a little scary. "Why, do I have an onryou attached to me?"

She sighed. We ambled through streets unnaturally quiet with the villagers keeping to their houses. She said, "After Small River, I kept my ears open; I wanted to learn about what you did. I followed the tales to find you. I've been watching you work for a week or so. I should have revealed myself sooner. I'm sorry."

"Well? So what do you want from me?"

For a moment, she made no response. Then, she shot out in front of me and knelt at my feet, bowing so low her head almost touched the earth. "I wish to be your student. Please."

My cigarette dropped right out of my mouth. I retrieved it. "You can't see mushi, right?"

"That's correct." Head still bowed.

"You see, that's not something I can teach. You either have it, or you don't."

"I have no pretensions of becoming a mushishi, Ginko-san. But even if I can't see mushi, but I can still learn about them and... what they mean in the world."

"Midori, I'm not-- Midori, get up."

She got up.

"I'm not looking for an apprentice."

"But I will be an able one."

I decided that this was one of those cases where rudeness is the kindest course. "Look, I'm not keen on going around with someone who blows things up as part of her trade."

She had no retort to that. After a moment, she said, "Let me aid you for today, at least."

I didn't say no. And she was reasonably useful, given that she couldn't see a thing. She boiled and mixed as I instructed her. By evening, all the townspeople had had their daily treatment. Midori, herself, was no more infected than I was; mushi still avoid her.

I was wrapping things up with the last family when she announced she'd made dinner arrangements. I hadn't even noticed she'd slipped out. Dinner was lavish--and already paid for--at the inn. She'd set us in a private corner, very contrived.

"I don't blame you for not wanting to take me on," she said as I ate. "I can't expect you to even consider it without knowing more about me, so I'll tell you what I tell very few. When we met, you accused me of lying about coming from the future. I wasn't lying. But you were also correct: I was not born to the twenty-first century. For almost five hundred years, I have been a kanshousha."

"Go on," I said between gulps of noodles. I was dumbfounded. I've never believed in kanshousha, though doubting them in face of everything else I've seen doesn't make sense when you think about it. Or maybe it does. Maybe I was too afraid to admit the possibility that body snatchers walk among us. But when she said it, it explained so much.

She didn't go on. She just sipped her sake.

I asked, "Do you plan to steal my body?" I was casting through my repertoire to see what skills I might have to prevent that. Nothing came to mind.

She gaped at me. "No! Forgive me, Ginko-san." She bowed. "I truly don't share this information often, so I have little sense of how others hear it. Kanshousha are as different from each other as any other humans. Some do steal bodies from unwilling souls, but my people usually perform kanshou on unborn children and live whole lives in the same body. It's true," she added, "I only took this body about ten years ago, but she--the real Midori--was willing. She had suffered and was tired of living."

A mushi was swaying like a seaworm from the wall. It was small and harmless, and I fixed my eye on it.

"I was summoned back," she said, "to protect humans from onryou. For centuries, I did that work in secret. It is only since I was lost in this time with no ready means of support that I began to ply it as a trade. But years ago, I was released from my obligation; I have no attachment to 'blowing things up.' I will gladly leave that world to watch yours, if for only a little while."

I don't know why I said yes. Maybe she bludgeoned me into it--no, more like mowed me down like a locomotive. Or maybe it was the "little while." I can handle a companion, for a while. Maybe it's curiosity. Or maybe I just don't like being afraid of the unknown.

***

October 16, 1897

Quite a bite to the air already. The maple-weavers are tying up red and orange leaf cocoons. I explained to Midori how they mulch the leaves over the winter so that grounds with plenty of these mushi tend to be especially fertile in spring.

She watches like a blind person, ears pricked for the sunset. And like the blind, matching sounds for sights, she's beginning to develop her own code for spotting mushi: "I saw the leaf move," or, "There's a trail through the needles, Sensei." Her techniques not very effective; the last trail she discovered belonged to a slug.

Still, she stares where I point, her eyes sometimes so intent that I tell her to look away. Even if she can't see river, I worry sometimes she'll burn out her eyes just by following my hand to it.

***

November 8, 1897

Stopped in Seven Old Stones. No mushi troubles, but I have friends who'll give us a warm room for a few nights. I'm not looking forward to this winter.

Today, I must have told fifteen people that Midori is my student, not my wife. Maybe I'll just give up... except I wouldn't want Tan'yuu to hear

***

November 21, 1897

Came across a Harumagari, creating a circle of drowsy warmth and green three feet across by the edge of a frozen stream. Midori and I were both drawn to it, the day being gray and chilly. "But don't get too close," I told her, "or it will put you to sleep and you'll freeze."

Midori had already closed her eyes where she sat.

"Oi, Midori." I gave her a shake.

"I'm awake," she said. "There's a spirit here."

"An onryou?"

"No." She smiled softly. "An old ancestor. I think he came here to get warm."

"Do spirits get cold?" I chaffed my stiff fingers.

She opened her eyes. "If they think they do, they do." Suddenly, her eyes shifted to something over my shoulder, on the blind side.

I had to swivel right around to get a good look behind me. Nothing there... nothing I could see.

"What is it?"

"Nothing," said Midori helpfully.

***

December 13, 1897

Came across a spirit both of us could see: a boy who'd died of drinking too many mushi (1897.12.10, kouki). He was lost and lonely. Midori said she could exorcise him. I asked him if he'd like to live in a wood with some other mushi-human spirits. He said yes. The wood was about ten miles away: two days through the snow. He seemed happy to see the other mushi-humans. Hopefully, he'll be all right with them.

***

December 28, 1897

Stuck in a cave. Neither of us wants to try for the next village until the snow dies down. We snared a rabbit. I don't much like eating rabbit, but Midori made a decent stew out of it.

Midori is too useful. She's a fairly good cook, an excellent packer, a practiced hunter; she pitches a quick and comfortable camp. She can coax a fire out dripping ferns. I wake up every day to the smell of breakfast, and I'm an early riser; she must be up before dawn. It's too easy to get used to this, too easy to forget how to get by without her. I wonder if that's her plan.

***

December 29, 1897

Watching the snowfall from the mouth of the cave. "There are mushi in the snowflakes," I commented.

"Is that normal, Sensei?"

"It's not abnormal. There are more than usual, but that's probably just because I've been here for a couple of days."

Midori put another stick on the fire. "Will they be a problem?"

"Not as long as the snow pack's light enough for them to burrow down and find plants to eat."

After a moment, she asked, "Are they all unique? Like snowflakes?"

"Isn't everything?" I puffed some smoke their way and watched a few stop twitching and drift.

"May I have a cigarette, please?"

"You don't need them," I said. "Mushi naturally stay away from you."

She gave a short, hard laugh at that. "I'm not surprised."

"Why's that?"

"Many natural things avoid the unnatural. May I have a cigarette all the same?"

A little jealous of my winter supply, I pulled one out nonetheless, lit it from mine, handed it over. "It's strong."

She inhaled and immediately coughed. "You're not kidding, Sensei." And she settled down to smoking as if she'd smoked them all her life.

We watched the snow fall with its muted patter. After a while, I asked her, "So are you getting what you wanted?"

She suspended the cigarette in her fingers as if she thought that's what I meant. Then, she blew a thoughtful puff of smoke. "Yes. As much as anything ever ends up being what I want."

"You sure sound bitter."

She threw off a smile. "Sensei, you have not begun to hear me sound bitter." She leaned back on her elbows on her blanket, gazing at the snow. "I used to be a monk. I was born into a Buddhist family, and after my first life, I was recalled to serve a Buddhist god. Every day, I saw the reality of the deities in whose name I acted. And so for more than four hundred years, I believed in the correctness of the path. I tore myself to pieces on that belief. I berated myself endlessly for my clinging to attachment. I called myself a terrible person." She blew another long trail of smoke. "And I was--I am--a terrible person in many ways, but it wasn't until... near the end I began to truly see that my love was not the problem. I was not made for contentment. And that, in itself, is not terrible."

I poked at the fire. Outside the day was waning, the snow and mushi falling thicker. But in our cave, in coats and blankets, we were warm beside the fire. I tried to think life into her words, but I've never much studied Buddhism.

"One evening," she said, "we were walking in Tokyo, and we came upon fence coiled with morning glories. The flowers had shut for the night. And I thought of how, come morning, the flowers would uncurl, rain or shine or end of the world. They defied--no, they existed outside--the most cataclysmic of battles with Oda. All that faded into insignificance. All my life, such revelations have been packed into fleeting moments: the pulse of the tide, the stars at my grandfather's house, or good horse meat with old friends. This has always been my happiest way of living." She glanced at me. "And you, Sensei, you swim that world like a koi. I have so much to learn from you."

The image bothered me. "So you're in it for the lifestyle, not the mushi?"

"I think mushi are interesting, but I suppose you could say that's true."

"Thing is, you have to be in it for the mushi, or the morning glories, or the people you help along the way. The lifestyle doesn't create itself to make you happy."

"Yes." She stubbed out her cigarette. (I still had a ways to go with mine.) "My egotism always been a substantial problem for me. At least it's been better since he--" She stopped and gazed into the snow.

I felt colder and drew nearer the fire, huddling down in my blanket.

"Sensei?"

"Mm?"

"You have a guardian spirit. Do you know that?"

My ears pricked. "What spirit?"

"She's a steadfast presence. Often she's no more than an atmosphere near you, but sometimes I see her clearly. Her soul is never far from you."

"See, but that doesn't make any sense because she left to find her husband and son." The minute the words tumbled out of my mouth, I had no notion of their meaning.

Midori was silent a moment. "Pieces of souls go different places. Souls are always mixing, like mushi. That's what makes the world, right?" On the far side of the fire, she lay down in her blanket. "I think you are her son."

That's wrong. I may not remember who the voice belongs to, but I've always known she's not my mother.

Be that as it may, I've learned a few things about Midori: she used to be a man, which I had suspected. She used to be a samurai. I asked for confirmation of this later. Indeed, she wasn't being metaphorical when she talked about battling with Oda. And she's got a man she does and doesn't want to talk about. This is more than I bargained for, and a long winter still ahead.

***

January 4, 1898

Can barely write. Out all day on frozen river extricating ground-eel from ice (1898.1.4). Quakes should stop now. Host lit fire in room, but it gives off as much heat as firefly.

***

January 5, 1898

No good will come of this. Last night, as Midori and I lay shivering, she asked if she could lie closer to me. I could hardly say no. "Close" to her apparently means lying half on top of me.

I said, "Hey, Midori, you know I didn't take you on as a student to sleep with you."

She said, "Sensei, I don't think it is humanly possible to be clearer on that point than you have been."

I'm not the only one whose intentions are clear. When she lays her head on my shoulder and her arm across my chest, she knows what she's doing. I liked it. The warmth made me comfortable until her weight put my arm to sleep. Even through our coats, even through the sleeping winter, she smells like a woman, and it's been a long time. And there are a lot of good reasons for that.

***

February 11, 1898

Yesterday, Midori spent two hours painting, not very accurately, the mushi I described to her in an eddy of a stream. This afternoon, she spent another hour painting the dead grasses exposed by the stream's rubbing off a patch of snow. When she can see what she's painting, she's not bad. No particular flair, but precise, a good student of nature.

***

February 26, 1898

Stopped by Adashino's to sell some wares. He gave me a hard time: "What? You're traveling with a woman, Ginko? I didn't think you had it in you." Later: "She's a bit old for you." About five hundred years, I didn't say. "Still," he sized me up through his eye glass, "I guess you aren't in a position to be too picky." I glared at him. He lodged us in his spare room, and I had the distinct, though I'm sure unfair, impression that he was hovering outside our door all night to test his hypotheses about us.

"I like him," said Midori that night. "He reminds me of the friend I left behind."

The next day, mercifully, his curiosity had shifted to back to the trade. I turned a decent profit on that tapestry (q.v. 1897.2.6), after considerable haggling, of course.

***

March 21, 1898

Where to begin? Fading Fountains set out a big market to celebrate the end of this rather nasty winter. They'd laid it out not far from the graveyard so people could purchase food and bring it to tend their family tombs. Some bone-dwellers were nibbling on the offerings but no real mushi problems. As Midori and I were strolling through the graveyard, she said, "I've stood by this tomb before." She often says things like that, having been up and down Japan for hundreds of years, so I didn't think much of it.

The market was jam-packed with locals and travelers. I lost track of Midori while having lunch. An hour later, I saw her in the crowd with her back to me. She didn't turn as I approached.

I put a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, Midori."

She started so hard she practically hit me.

"What's wrong?"

She stared at me as if I'd commanded her to recite the Tao Te Ching in Chinese. She glanced back into the throng, and back at me, and back at them.

After a lot of that, she whispered, "They're... here. My people." The words seemed to shock her into action. "I have to go. I can't let them see me." She looked back again. I tried to follow her gaze, but all I saw was a sea of bodies. "I have to go," she insisted, as if I'd tried to dissuade her. She took a step away, stopped, turned back. "But what if this is the last time I ever see him?" She stepped forward, passed me as if pulled by an invisible cord, then whirled again and strode off toward the forest.

She wasn't at our camp at nightfall. I spent a long time gazing through the swaying branches at the stars, unable to sleep, not wanting to. I did fall asleep eventually and awoke in the gray pre-dawn to her step. She spread out her blankets and settled next to me.

"Are you all right, Midori?"

She responded with a shudder, followed by sobbing. I put an arm around her and pulled her against me. When she'd caught her breath, she said, "My life is one never ending misery."

She sounded so much a like thirteen year old that part of me wanted to laugh. The other part thought about what that statement meant to someone who'd lived over five hundred years.

When she was calmer, she said, "Before he died, he said that one day we'd live in house by ocean and he'd give me enough happiness to last eternity. It never happened. But if it had, it still would have been a lie. Such moments, however blissful, couldn't even stretch to this night, not even a mere seventy years." She cried again for a little while. "I can't find the way no matter what I do. I can't find him. Some days I feel he's completely gone. What's wrong with me that I can't feel him? He is my most precious treasure: how could I misplace him?"

I tried to follow this. "Was his spirit traveling with you?"

She didn't answer. "It's all empty here," she said at last and pressed her hand under her ribs. "I felt more pregnant when I was a man."

Confused, I wondered if she actually meant she'd lost a baby. But that didn't agree with the rest of it. Had his spirit shared her body?

She sniffed. "I don't know how I can walk through these next hundred years without seeing him when I know exactly where he is and what he's suffering. How can I not be with him?"

"You mean seeing the... version of him from your past."

"It would only damage things more." She sat up. "Forgive me for burdening you, Sensei." She packed up and left before sunrise. I don't suppose she'll be back, which is for the best probably. I've gotten too used to her company.

I don't know how many times I've lifted my brush to write, "Midori's insane." I've stayed my hand because it seemed unfair. Perhaps insanity is the inevitable end for a kanshousha who has walked the earth for half a millennium. Or maybe from that vantage point, everything she has said and done has been absolutely sane.

***

Part 2

Profile

labingi: (Default)
labingi

October 2017

S M T W T F S
1234567
89 1011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031    

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 17th, 2017 02:11 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios