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samurai champloo fanfiction: kitsune in koshu chapter 38


Disclaimer: I don't own Samurai Champloo or any of its characters

Chapter 38

"Think in this way of this fleeting world: As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream; a drop of dew, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream."

The Diamond Sutra

Visions and Verisimilitude, Part I

I. At the Sekisuiji Onsen Inn

"So, Fuu-chan, how did it go?"

Fuu hesitated before answering. Exactly how much of this day's happenings should she relate to Hideo? It might be prudent to wait for Jin, and see what he had to say, before she told her uncle about her meeting with Munefuyu. After all, Jin hadn't even told her about Munefuyu's offer to act as go-between, and perhaps he had a good reason not to. But there was no harm in narrating the details of her interview with Sachiko's neighbour.

"So-so. I found out some things that might be useful, but I am not sure."

Hideo waved an index finger at Fuu in mock admonishment. "What? You are not sure? You should have seen how Ayako-san nagged me for allowing you to go on your little investigating trip today. And Miyoshi-sama too was asking about you. He expressed an interest in meeting you, you know, and it was very awkward to explain your absence. So you'd better have something to show for your efforts."

They were in the dining hall of the inn, waiting for Ayako to join them for dinner. Under normal circumstances Fuu would have dreaded the prospect of facing her aunt, but today her mind was preoccupied with other things. First, there were the revelations of Munefuyu and the urgent need to discuss them with Jin. Secondly, she was a little worried about Jin and Mugen. True, they had said that they might be late in returning, but she had a sense of foreboding about the ritual per se, and couldn't rest easy until they had returned safe and sound.

Because of this sense of unease, she was only 'half present' as she summarized her findings for Hideo's benefit. Hideo's response, though, was quite enthusiastic. "Yes, those are useful bits and pieces of information, Fuu. That sentence, 'Leaves brewed in the tea looked like comfrey leaves,' is rather interesting, isn't it? Brewing comfrey leaves in tea is a remedy often recommended by physicians for ailments of the liver. But one has to be careful; accidents can happen sometimes. I once heard of a case in which the leaves of a foxglove plant were confused by a self-medicating novice student of medicine to be comfrey leaves. The consequence of that mistake was fatal!"

"Foxglove, huh? Does it have purple or blue flowers? And blue berries?"

"I think it has purple flowers. And there is another poisonous plant which Europeans call Belladonna; I believe it has blue coloured berries. But any physician would know about those sorts of things. Perhaps you should ask Dr. Watanabe, when he is here to check on your wounds...How are your wounds, by the way? Do you still feel pain?"

"Not too much. There's a pinching feeling there if I walk too fast, and it itches quite a bit." She rubbed the abdominal area she was referring to gingerly.

Hideo caught hold of her wrist, restraining the rubbing motion of her hands. "No, no, don't do that. It might get infected if you scratch it. What about the cut on your right arm? Is that all right? Your pulse feels a little quick, by the way – you don't have fever, do you?"

"Oh, no, I am all right. Don't worry, Ojisan, that cut on my arm was just a scratch anyway. Even the stomach wound isn't too deep. You should have seen the kind of wounds Jin and Mugen recovered from, at Ikitsuki-shima."

There was a deep and heavy sigh from Hideo, as though he was releasing the weight of the world from his shoulders in one cycle of breath. "Those two young men are much stronger than you Fuu-chan...But it is quite worrisome to know that the kinds of people who have been hired to kill you are the likes of Kariya Kagetoki and Inuyama. From now on, I hope at least one of your friends, either Jin or Mugen, are available to guard you."

"They will be. Today they had to go for that kitsunetsuki ritual, as you know."

"Ah, yes, I wonder when they'll be back. It is getting rather late, isn't it?"


II. At the Inari Shrine: The Shared Hallucinations of Jin and Mugen

Jin and Mugen stood on a beach. Vast expanses of three colours filled their surroundings. Their feet were on golden sand which stretched over the horizon on one side of them as far as they could see. On the other side was the moving aquamarine-blue mass of the ocean and above them was the azure-blue of a cloudless sky. It was bright, like in the middle of a day, and yet the crystalline shaped star positioned in the middle of the blue sky could be looked at; its light wasn't a blinding one. There was a strange feeling of lightness, accompanied by a feeling of inversion, made possible by the fact that somehow one could think of the sky as the bottom and the sand-and-water as the top of one's environment.

"Weird," said Mugen. "Another shared hallucination, huh? Better than the last one, though. Nice to be here, than in some mouldy old bunch of caves full of dead people."

Jin took in the landscape, a gentle breeze shifting his forelocks and his clothes as he turned. "Perhaps, but we can't be sure. You could be part of my hallucination. Only when this is over will it be possible to confirm that we saw the same things."

A speck of something dark was suddenly visible on the horizon at the shifting border the ocean made with the sand. It appeared to be moving, inching slowly towards them.

"It feels very real, and quite natural," said Jin. "One can smell the sea, and the breeze feels just as it should, and yet there is something very unfamiliar about all this. I don't think I have seen any place like this before."

"It's Nirai Kanai."


"Well, like the Nirai Kanai of my dreams. Back in Ryukyu, folks believe it's where spirits go to seek peace." Mugen pointed at the horizon, towards what now appeared to be a moving line of dots. "Those dudes stay in this place."

"Ah. This is like the 'Paradise' of the Ryukyuan religion, and those are the gods...But why am I here?"


Both fell silent as they waited for the moving queue of gods approaching them. Their shapes were visible now – they looked male, with grass skirts reaching their knees, and wreaths on their heads. The exposed parts of their bodies – faces, arms, torsos and legs – appeared to be caked with mud, and each of them carried a staff in his right hand. As they moved closer, it seemed to Jin and Mugen that the queue didn't have an end, like a line of gods stretching infinitely to the horizon and beyond. They looked identical, and made only one pair of footprints in the sand, each god's feet falling neatly into the footprints left by the previous god in the queue.

The line stopped moving as the first god in the queue faced Mugen, and spoke to him.

"Your mabui – the essence of your spirit – is here again, but you do not seek rest. Do you know why?"

The god's voice had been a little husky, with a pitch belonging to that ambiguous range in which it could be classified as either feminine or masculine, surprising Jin a little. He looked at Mugen, who was unconcerned, shrugging his shoulders as he replied, "Nope. Looks like you do, so you tell me."

"You have brought the mabui of another person with you – as anchor – to pull you back in case you are tempted to stay."

"I'm not tempted to stay here. He's just tagging along, I guess."

The god smiled, and it was followed by a smile from the god who was next in the queue, and then by the third, and so on like a series of smiles being transmitted like a domino-effect through the line of gods, extending to the horizon and beyond.

"You are here because you have questions."


Jin moved closer to Mugen, grasping one of his hands at the elbow. "Baka – idiot. Ask a question!"

Mugen shook off Jin's hand. "I ain't got any questions Fish-Face, so shut up."

The gods continued to stare smilingly at Mugen. The god who was second in the queue now spoke: "Doesn't matter. At this stage you are not ready for a complete answer. So you will only get a partial one."

The scene changed dramatically in the next moment. They were now inside the corridor of a house, following an old woman dressed in a white kimono with a colourful pine-and-cherry blossom motif. She had iron-gray hair knotted into a severe bun at the back of her head, and seemed oblivious to their presence.

She went into a room and offered prayers at the altar, and then appeared to be making a report of some sort, in a language Jin conjectured to be Ryukyuan. He understood fragments of it; it had a grammatical structure similar to Japanese, along with some common vocabulary. Mugen, of course, understood it quite well, but was puzzled. This was definitely Ryukyu, but not Miyako-shima, where he grew up. The Miyako-shima he knew didn't have traditional Ryukyuan households of this type; they had all been destroyed by its criminals and vagrants.

"What is she saying?"

"She's making some kind of report to her ancestors. Seems she's upset about a dude called Kenji."

"Her grandson?"

"Yup. He's having an affair with a broad. The old dame doesn't approve."

The woman left the room and returned to the corridor, making her way outdoors to the backyard of the house. Jin asked, "Do you understand the significance of this? It must have something to do with the question you have in mind."

"There's no question in my mind. Got no idea what this is about."

They followed the woman to an annex that evidently served as a kitchen, with a series of earthen stoves demarcated by a surrounding square of bricks. The hearth included an area in which three stones were placed, and before which the old woman knelt, addressing the 'hinukan' or kitchen god as she made a similar report to the one she had made at the 'butsudan', i.e. the altar of the ancestors. Then she moved out of the annex and walked towards what seemed like a privy, going by its outward appearance, and the acrid smell of waste that came from it.[1]

Jin said, "It seems that we can smell and feel things in these visions. What is she doing now? Perhaps we should, uhm, stay away."

"I vote we stay away too. Although, the broad isn't going there to use it. She's just going to make another report to the furu no kami (god of the toilet). Same crap."

"How do you know?"

"Someone told me when I was a kid. About customs they followed in Hateruma-shima, another Ryukyuan island."

The scene changed again and they were now inside what appeared to be a dojo. There were two rows of students seated in seza, all dressed in white trousers and jackets. Facing them was a middle aged man of a muscular build, obviously the instructor of the martial art in question, demonstrating a form, which involved a series of choreographed movements having the appearance of a dance. It was an 'empty-hand' form of martial art, in that it didn't involve the use of weapons.

Their attention, however, was soon diverted, as they heard a series of footsteps coming towards the entrance, which was diagonally across to them at the other end of the hall. And when a tall, dark haired man dressed in a brown and beige striped kimono with black trousers appeared, bowing at the entrance, there was a sharp intake of breath from both Jin and Mugen.

The man – who had surprised them because of his undeniably striking resemblance to Mugen – waited at the entrance, attempting to catch the eye of the instructor and then bowed again, murmuring an apology for being late, and asking for permission to attend the class. The instructor returned the bow and nodded somewhat sternly at him. The man entered, walking along the walls until he had reached the corner in which Jin and Mugen were standing, going into an enclosure created by a shoji screen positioned there.

Jin asked, "Is that supposed to be some relative of yours? Are we seeing something from your past?"

Mugen replied, quite emphatically, "No."

"He looks exactly like you."

"No, he doesn't. Too much of a pretty boy."

"Well, if you washed your hair and had a bath more often, you would look exactly like him. And I think he was wearing a pair of blue earrings, just like yours."

"Yeah, I wondered about that. But lots of people in these parts wear those things. I've had mine since I was a kid."

The man came out of the enclosure. He was now clad in a uniform similar to what the other students were wearing, and had taken off his earrings. He then seated himself in seza at the corner, apparently waiting to catch the eye of the instructor again. The instructor, after having finished demonstrating the application of a technique on one of the students, nodded at him, saying, "You may now join the class, Kenji."

Mugen and Jin exchanged a glance; they had both recollected the previous scene in which Kenji's name had come up in the 'reports' made by the old woman. Kenji now joined the students and seated himself at the 'senior end' in the front row, towards the right end facing the dojo's altar.

Jin asked, hesitantly, "Could this...This person Kenji – could he be your father?"[2]

"Can't answer that. Didn't know who my father was."

Mugen didn't look at Jin, and yet felt his eyes upon him. It made him uncomfortable. While he was sure that his short and abrupt answer had discouraged Jin from asking a follow-up question, there was no knowing what the blighter would conclude about his state of mind. Knowing him, it was bound to be some sentimental crap. So perhaps it was better to speak and set him straight.

"As I said Fish-Face, I don't know why we're seeing this. Didn't know who my father was, and didn't want to know who he was. I vaguely remember I had a mother. She died when I was a kid. Don't even remember what she looked like."

There was some harshness to Mugen's tone, and Jin knew very well how to read it – he was angry. In the case of Mugen, though, there was always a latent anger burning within, and it came to the surface when provoked by some stimulus. In recent years, some of it had dissipated, cooled even, as he had found release fighting for justice on the streets of Edo as otokodate (street knight). And perhaps, hoped Jin, his friendship with Mugen had made a difference.

He decided to venture another question. "It was your mother who told you about the customs of Hateruma-shima, wasn't it? Did she tell you anything about your father?"

Mugen was prevented from answering immediately, as their attention was attracted by a sparring session between Kenji and the instructor. It was more like a real fight than a sparring session, and it was obvious to both Jin and Mugen that Kenji had great skill in the martial arts in question.

Mugen said, "That's quanfa – a fighting style that comes from China. Pechin of Ryukyu – they're kind of like samurai - practise it."[3]

"You didn't answer my question."

"Yeah, well, there's not much to tell. She said he died before I was born. She went to Miyako-shima after he died, and I was born there."

The sparring session between the instructor and Kenji ended; for all intents and purposes it had been a draw. But almost immediately afterwards, another student requested a sparring session with Kenji, and the instructor nodded curtly in the affirmative, even though it was obvious that Kenji was exhausted at the end of the session with him.

Mugen found that he was smiling to himself as Kenji proved to be too strong for the other student, in spite of the fact that he was tired and the other student had fought ferociously, as though he wanted to kill Kenji. There was a strange, somewhat uplifting feeling inside Mugen at this point, something akin to what he had experienced on another occasion. That was three and something years ago, when Jin had defeated the challenge of that other fellow – was his name Bunta? Ogura Bunta? – from Jin's old school. What was this feeling? Pride? No. It was simply a validation of one's instinctive feelings about the outcome of a situation. If you were proven right there was a reason to be smug about your instincts. That was all.

Jin smiled to himself as well; he had noticed Mugen's smirk, his folded arms and cocky expression. But he looked away as he knew that Mugen didn't want to openly acknowledge any of the emotions he had experienced. Besides, there was something else that had caught his attention, and he wanted to observe it closely. There had been something very personal about the way the other student had fought Kenji; his attacks had an intensity that could only have been driven by hatred.

The other student had schooled his features to a semblance of inscrutability, but his eyes betrayed the emotions burning within, like a volcanic hot-springs beneath frozen snow. But almost as soon as Jin focussed his attention on the other student the landscape changed and they were back to 'Nirai Kanai' facing the queue of gods.

Mugen struggled with his curiosity as he stared at the smiling gods. He was keen to stick to his resolve of not questioning the gods, and yet he badly wanted to ask, 'Who was that guy Kenji?'

The gods kept smiling and said, in unison this time, "You will have more dreams. Observe them, and you will know. You may go now."

Saying this they vanished, or the queue turned and receded into the horizon; it was hard to tell which because it happened so quickly.

Jin said, "Where do they expect us to go?"

"Out of here."

"How do we do that?"

"We jump into the water. That's how one enters Nirai Kanai, so I'm guessing that's how one gets out of here."


III. At the Sekisuiji Inn

Ayako's silence during dinner had spoken volumes to both Fuu and Hideo; they now sat in a dining hall of Sekisuiji Inn very quietly, like children chastened by an adult after having been naughty. They were both very subdued, speaking now and then, after long pauses between short conversations in low voices.

Fuu nervously drummed her fingers on the table, echoing the sound of the light rain that was falling on the rooftops of the inn. "I am worried Oji-san. It is really late and they aren't back yet. Ah-ah-ah-choo!"

"Bless you, Fuu. I hope you aren't going to catch a cold. Why don't you go upstairs and rest? I'll wait up for them and let you know when they are back."

"They should have been back by now."

Hideo looked at his niece, who had pursed her lips, and didn't look like she wanted to leave. "I don't think they will come back any time soon, Fuu."

"Why not?"

"I think these rituals they have in the Furin Kazan Inn take a while...How do I know? Well, our friend Akemi-san was in a mood to gossip again. It seems that the rituals can last the entire night, and can be, ah, quite decadent. From her description, I got the impression that there were drugs involved."

Fuu looked up at her uncle, her eyes widening. "But...they will be all right, won't they?"

"Of course. Those two are full-blooded young blokes. I bet they will enjoy the rituals. There's no harm in that Fuu-chan; boys will be boys. Don't worry about it."


IV. At the Inari Shrine: The Shared Hallucinations of Jin and Mugen

Jin was inclined to question Mugen about their method of departure from Nirai Kanai, but Mugen simply caught the lapel of his kimono and ran into the ocean, dragging Jin with him. They were soon submerged in the water and to Jin's surprise he found that he was able to breathe in it. But he adjusted to the idea immediately. After all, this was a hallucination – a vision, rather, given the sense of peace and upliftment, exhilaration even, that went with it. He followed Mugen's lead in throwing his arms forward, diving in a downward direction. They were moving faster than he would have imagined possible, as if some invisible force was assisting them.

It would be impossible for either of them to verbalize their experience, had they been asked about it. There was a strange sense of oneness with the environment around them, as though every atom of their surroundings was an extension of themselves. There was no sense of 'I', as they could see, sense and feel everything in the ocean from the perspective of every part of it. They journeyed through a vast expanse, and yet it could feel as though they had not moved at all, or moved very rapidly, whichever way they looked at it. If they were to take the former view, there was no sense of having moved even as they reached the 'end point' at which they emerged, on the other side of the ocean – they had been at the end as well as the beginning at the same time, they had seen – no, had experienced being – all the creatures, large and small, that inhabited the ocean.

So when they emerged at the other side, beautiful as it was, they couldn't appreciate it because of a sudden sense of emptiness that came from being disconnected or 'switched off' from their surroundings. Jin was now Jin, and Mugen was Mugen, and they were watching 'the other side' as distinct from themselves. The water on their clothes and bodies had miraculously dried-off, as though they had never been inside the ocean at all.

The other side was, in a sense, a mirror image of Nirai Kanai, except that the sky was an indigo blue of the night, with a gigantic moon in the middle of it, its light very bright, casting long, pale shadows where they stood. There was a sense of gravity, a heaviness that induced a strange fear, the apprehension that the moon would somehow fall on top of them.

"I think this is from your mind," said Mugen.

"Why?" Jin turned around, casting a quick glance in all directions.

"Well, it's your turn, I think."

"Hmm. It will be nice if we see something similar in spirit to what we saw at Nirai Kanai."

Mugen wondered whether Jin wished to see his parents. Or did he want to see that teacher of his, Mariya Enshiro? In those brief moments they were in the ocean – for now they felt brief – he had known everything about Jin, including having a perception of his past experiences. The memory and insight of those feelings had since gone, or rather, been pushed to a corner of his mind, a thick mist surrounding them. But he knew there was a great sadness in Jin from having killed Mariya Enshiro. And he knew that there was a part of Jin that was waiting for a karmic punishment of some sort – no, actually wanting a cosmic retribution for that act.

"Fish-Face, I sure hope you aren't going to come up with something dark and gloomy."

Jin didn't answer, preoccupied with some shapes that seemed to be flitting across the moon like shadows of birds. Mugen too spotted them, and they were flying in the direction of where Jin and Mugen stood. As they came closer, their shapes took a more distinct form; they were women dressed in flowing white robes.

"I think they are dakinis," said Jin.

A group of about eight of them swooped down to where they stood, making a circle around Jin and Mugen. They were identical down to every respect – their pale oval faces, the shapes of their features, the texture of their waist-length black hair, and their golden-brown fox-like eyes. The non-humanness of their eyes was striking, accentuated by the fact that they had a predatory look in them, with all the eight pairs alighting on Jin. Soon, another eight pairs of eyes watched Jin, as an outer circle of dakinis surrounded the first one. Then there was another eight, and another, until the dakinis numbered sixty-four.[4]

Mugen asked, "Why are they looking at you like that?"

"I am not sure."

Another voice spoke, as a female form distinct from the dakinis, mounted on a white fox flew down to the centre of the eight concentric circles of the dakinis, close to where Jin and Mugen stood. "You are not sure? Really, Jin, you should have learned to be a little less cautious by now. Why don't you speak your mind?"

Jin turned to look at the new arrival and conjectured that she was Uga no Mitama no kami, a female version of Inari. Or was she Ukemochi no kami? There were so many versions of Inari, both female and male, that it was hard to tell. But she was definitely Inari, going by the red and golden robe she was wearing, the pale wide face and dark hair, and the sheaf of rice that she was carrying. Of course, there was also that white kitsune she was mounted on.

"I don't know what you mean."

"You figured out that these females surrounding you were dakinis. How did you know that?"

"I had heard mythological stories involving them, when I was a child. I vaguely remember the stories, but I recall that dakinis are deities with the ability to fly."

"Aa-Ha. So when you replied with 'I am not sure' to Mugen's question, what were you thinking of?"

Jin looked a little perplexed, and replied after a pause, "There is another thing I remember about dakinis – they like to feed on human hearts. They were granted a special ability by the Buddha – the ability to know when someone is about to die, six months before it is their time. That way they were able to feed on human hearts immediately after a person died, rather than hunt humans who were alive."

"Hmm. And based on that story, why do you think they are 'looking at you like that' as Mugen put it?"

"I don't know. But since this is a dream, a vision perhaps, they are symbolic of something. If I were to interpret it as a dream, I might even think of it as a prophecy of death, as dakinis only seek those who are about to die. Alternatively, the dakinis may represent a fear of death."

The goddess laughed; it was an echoing, reverberating sound that seemed to ride upon the waves crashing on the shore of the ocean. "Ah, Jin, that's what I like about you. You are so amusingly cerebral about things sometimes. But you use that analytical mind of yours to cover up the emotional and sensitive side of you, which is a shame, really."

Mugen whispered to Jin, "Geez, she talks a lot. Who is she, by the way?"

The goddess laughed again. "Yes, Jin, why don't you tell him? Who am I?"

"You are Inari, the kami of fertility, rice, agriculture, industry, and worldly success."

"Hmm. Fertility, rice, agriculture, industry, and worldly success. That must puzzle you quite a bit, mustn't it? You are trying to figure out what I symbolize in this dream. Go on, I'd like to hear what you think."

Jin frowned, and paused a little before he answered. "I am not sure, Inari-sama. You symbolize a hope of prosperity and well being, I guess. But-"

"Ah, a hope of prosperity and well being. Not quite the concerns of a warrior like you, hmm? The dakinis you understood – a warrior is always prepared to die. To put it somewhat dramatically, in the words of a samurai from this, ah, Tokugawa period, 'The way of the samurai is the way of death'. But prosperity and wellbeing, rice and agriculture – those things are for ordinary people with ordinary lives - for peasants, merchants and artists perhaps, not for a dashing swordsman like you. So you must be very confused to see me."

Jin sighed. "Inari-sama, I am no different from others in that respect. Yes, I am a swordsman, and I am proud of it. But I don't believe that 'the way of death' is the way for me. I am, of course prepared to die for the things I believe in, and the people I love. But all I want is the experience of an ordinary life."

Inari smiled a mysterious smile. "Oh really? Well, that's not too much to ask for, is it? But it is difficult for a person like you to have an ordinary life. Perhaps you will, but then again, maybe not. But I will try to help. Good luck!"


V. At the Inari Shrine

Mugen woke up from his dream to the strong smell of incense, feeling a little disoriented. Where was he? Oh, yes, this must be at the main prayer hall of the shrine, although he couldn't remember getting here. Beyond the misty haze of incense he could see a brass statue in a square enclosure of iron railings. That must be a statue of Inari, going by the fox, and the rice ball in one hand. But wasn't Inari supposed to be a female, like in that dream? Although, sometimes, females had beards too.

The faint light provided by the charcoal in the incense burners made it difficult to see things, but he quickly surveyed the surroundings, looking for Jin. There he was, against the wall, sitting cross-legged in a meditative position. So, obviously, he hadn't woken up yet.

He walked around the narrow space between the walls of the prayer hall and the railing of the enclosure, trying to get the circulation back in his legs. Where were those broads, Tomoe and Hiroko? Since Otane was asleep, those two must have brought them here.

He thought he heard some whispering voices coming from outside the entrance of the hall, and assuming them to belong to his hostesses, walked out to meet them. He saw Tomoe first, who looked like she was about to enter the hall.

Tomoe said, "Ah, finally! We have been waiting for the two of you to come out...What about Jin-san?"

"He's inside, sleeping, I think."

Hiroko too had joined them, and addressed Tomoe. "It should have been over by now, for both of them."

Mugen said, "That was strong stuff you had us drink. Fish-Face will be out a little longer. He's like that."

Tomoe shook her head and started to walk towards the hall. "It has been well over an hour. He should be awake by now."

Mugen followed her back into the prayer hall; Tomoe and Hiroko positioned themselves on one side of Jin, with Mugen sitting on the opposite side, all of them observing Jin closely. He was as still as frozen snow, his eyes closed, and appeared to be breathing very slowly.

Mugen said, "I'll wake him."

He had placed a hand on Jin's shoulder, and was about to shake him, but Tomoe restrained him, gently removing his hand. "No, Mugen-san, you must allow the vision quest to be completed."

"We've gotta get back to the Sekisuiji Inn at some point. Might as well wake him."

"No! As I said before, in some cases it takes longer. But I am sure Jin-san will have completed the vision quest in about an hour. Surely you can wait until then?"

"I don't mind. But what if he doesn't wake up in half an hour?"

"Then we wait a little longer. I am sure it will be all right. As you can see, he seems to be breathing normally."

"Yeah, but it's kinda unusual for him not to wake up when we've been sitting around him talking. Even when he's drunk and stoned, I'd expect his instincts to be intact."

"What do you mean, Mugen-san?"

"He's a swordsman. A good one, I have to admit. Right now though, he's sleeping like a baby. Any idiot could kill him."

"Well, we don't intend to kill him, do we? His instincts, Mugen-san, would kick in only if he sensed danger. There's no danger here."

Mugen turned to look at Tomoe, a wry expression on his face. "Really? How do I know you haven't deliberately poisoned him? And why did that sister of yours give us that strange warning?"

"Mugen-san, you drank and ate exactly the same things. What my sister said is irrelevant. In some cases people explore the dream environment a little more, and therefore have longer visions. I don't think there is any harm in letting Jin-san take his time."

"Well, if he's confused about it being a dream or reality, then he needs to be woken up."

"He will eventually be able to realize that himself. There is no need."

"I'll wait for another half an hour. If he doesn't wake up by then, you give me a bit more of that stuff. I'll go into his dream, and yank him out of there."

"What? I don't understand what you mean, Mugen-san."

"We had a shared hallucination before I woke up. He was in my dream, and I was in his. Both of us saw the same crap. So if I go in there again, I can tell him to snap out of it."

"Mugen-san, what you are saying isn't possible. As far as I know, there is no such thing as a shared vision. Jin-san may have appeared in your dream – he could have been part of it in that sense."

"Nope. We'd shared a hallucination before, after eating some mushrooms. This one seemed like a shared one too. We can confirm that once Fish-Face wakes up."

"Yes, that's fine. Just let him wake up first. It is too dangerous to give you another serve of that brew. You must realize that it was fairly potent."

"Yeah, I am still feeling it in my body. I could probably have another hallucination if I tried."

"Well then, please don't try. What if Jin-san wakes up and you are hallucinating? This could go on forever."

"You have a point. But if he doesn't wake up in another half-hour, something will need to be done. Maybe, one of you broads can go get a doctor."

"A doctor? There's no need."

"There is, if I say so. And I'm not Fish-Face, so I'll have no problems making you get a doctor. Basically, the deal is that if one of you goes and gets a doctor, I won't kill the other one."

Tomoe smiled, somewhat sardonically. "You don't mean that Mugen-san. But yes, perhaps something will need to be done, if Jin-san takes too long."

[1] For Ryukyuan customs and religion see relevant Wikipedia articles and references therein. I haven't tried to be particularly accurate in relation to the details, though, and I suppose I don't need to, given that I am writing about a dream. But I like to have a certain verisimilitude imparted to my story, and hence you see some historical references in this chapter (and in others, for that matter).

[2] Readers may recall that in chapter 20 of this novel, the kyubi-no-kitsune mentions Mugen's father Gushiken Kenji. I suppose making the guy wear earrings similar to Mugen is a rather Bollywoodish idea; in the 1980s there were plenty of Bollywood movies involving long-lost relatives being united after identification via family heirlooms. But I have no intention of re-uniting Mugen with his relatives, at least in this novel. Sometimes an earring is just an earring!

[3] The Pechin class of Ryukyu were known for practising a weaponless martial art that eventually developed into various styles of Okinawan Karate. The origins of these styles were typically the Chinese kung fu forms, specifically the White Crane style. An internet search will provide the details for those who are interested.

[4] Dakinis, as described in a previous chapter are mythological characters somehow tied to Inari and kitsune folklore. The number of dakinis chosen for this dream is somewhat arbitrary; I believe there is a temple of 64 dakinis back in India, where the dakini concept originates, and I guess that's how the number entered my head.