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Fur and Rags

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  • Аннотация:
    Фанфик по фильму/манге "Колдун" (The Ying-Yang Master, Onmyouji). Эта милая дружба на самом деле может трактоваться как нечто большее, но оооочень завуалированный.

   "Hiromasa, leave please, I'm busy today."
   "Ah... All right, I won't stay long, I just came to tell you that..."
   "No, no, please, not another threat to the capital, not today. And when I say `leave' it means leave immediately."
   "Seimei! That's simply rude!"
   "I never pretended to be polite and courteous, I don't really belong to the court. Now, please, turn and go away."
   "But it's urgent, really, listen, I'll make it one sentence: the court onmyouji..." as Hiromasa was pronouncing this, Mitsumushi came in, her silk robes rustling. "Mizuko-dono has come to see you, Seimei-sama" said the butterfly, calmly interrupting Hiromasa.
   "So that is what you're busy with!?" exclaimed Hiromasa. "Well, then do as you wish!"
   At that he strode off out the back wicket of Seimei's garden, feeling that he could kill or at least hit the stubborn onmyouji. Mizuko-dono! Huh! How could that oaf of a man make it so clear that some pretty girl was of more importance to him than what Hiromasa was trying to say! No, Hiromasa wasn't jealous, he thought it all right for a man to meet women sometimes, in order to satisfy his aesthetical and physical needs. But to send an old friend away because of a woman! That was unbelievably rude.
   Those were the thoughts Hiromasa was trying to express in a nutshell while crossing the Motori-bridge. He hoped it would mar Seimei's pleasure.
   Hiromasa came home and threw himself on his futon. His rage has settled down a bit by the time. Now it was more like a quiet nuisance, that he couldn't manage to tell Seimei what he had to tell him. When Hiromasa heard the news that morning, the only thing he could think of was to visit the foxy onmyouji at once. Who could have thought it could turn out like this?..
   At the same time, now that Hiromasa was not angry anymore, he began to think that Seimei had a reason to send him away. Mizuko-dono was the Left Minister's daughter, so the little prince was her nephew. She was just of the age when young girls start attending court's festivals in order to meet future husbands. The fact that she is an onmyouji's lover could spoil her future life entirely. Of course, Hiromasa wasn't going to tell anyone, but the girl could have lost her confidence in Seimei, knowing another court's man has seen her at Seimei's estate. So, probably, Seimei has had a point driving Hiromasa out, also considering that Hiromasa never announced that he was coming over...
   Hiromasa woke up in the evening. The sun was still on the sky, but it's rays have grown orange, which made pine-trees in a nearby wood look as if they were on fire. The young man sat up and rubbed his eyes.
   "I have to go there once more." he thought. "She isn't staying there forever. Seimei insulted me, he did, but now it's not a good time to be insulted." With that he stood up and left his house.
   A few times in his life Hiromasa has heard other people saying that sleeping during the day is unhealthy. He realized that very well as he nearly missed Seimei's house in the darkness, being still drowsy after his day-long nap. But actually it was very easy to miss a house on the very edge of the city, especially as no lamps were lit inside it. The gate was half-open as usual, but it didn't burst open as Hiromasa approached.
   "Well, it's all right until it doesn't shut before my very nose... I hope they are not already sleeping... there... together." Hiromasa shivered. He came up the steps to the verandah. Nobody was there. Nobody seemed to be inside the house either.
   "Seimei" called Hiromasa. Silence was an answer to him.
   "Oi, Seimei!"
   Hiromasa took a lamp, lit it and entered one of the rooms, that he thought to be Seimei's. There was a slight mess of covers and blankets and a scent of love in the air. Though it wasn't the kind of love that Hiromasa was going to glorify with his flute...
   Then he went to the room that served as a kitchen. A huge braizer stood there, still warm, but the fire has died out in it. Something cracked under Hiromasa's foot. He bent down to see: the floor was covered with porcelain fragments, rice seeds and pieces of some other food, as if a plate has been broken here. That reminded Hiromasa of something. He went back to the verandah and examined the floor there. As he had thought, he found a bottle of sake sitting near Seimei's favorite pillar, and a tiny jade cup. The cup was lying upside down, sake covering the wooden floor with dark spots. It wasn't broken, probably, Hiromasa thought, because Seimei was sitting when he dropped the cup.
   The young man suddenly straightened death-damp. He couldn't imagine what kind of thing could ever make his friend drop a sake-cup.
   "Is it possible for something that horrible to exist? And what if it's still somewhere around? And, anyway, what happened to Seimei?"
   Hiromasa found himself shaking and sweating, he was frightened like a naked child alone in a forest. The night, the very edge of the city and something that even Seimei wasn't able to bring down... Well, this way it won't be safe even in the Emperor's castle, even with all those guards and onmyoujis... Stop. There are no onmyoujis anymore. The disaster that Hiromasa was trying to warn Seimei about that morning was that all the capital's onmyoujis suddenly disappeared without a trace. He was so worried about his friend after hearing the horrible news, he made his men run to bring him here as fast as possible, and Seimei was still here, alive and kicking and... actually kicked Hiromasa away.
   The young noble was frightened, worried, insulted and vexed, and it was hard to say which feeling dominated. He felt as if everything was already lost. Now that Seimei disappeared nothing could stop all those oni from destroying the capital. Hiromasa thought he had to warn the Emperor, but... Then it will look like Seimei was nothing special, just another court onmyouji, dead as well as all the others, a braggart and nothing else... It wasn't a kind of memory Hiromasa wanted his friend to leave in this world.
   "May be, there still is a hope... May be Seimei will return somehow, as he always has done before..." The thought was no more convincing than the belief that the other-world for musicians is a paradise. But in Hiromasa's current state it was too hard to think at all. That is probably why he suddenly turned and headed into the dark forest, all alone, without any weapon or talisman or a single idea of what he was going to do.
   He walked for a long time. Dry branches cracked under his feet, night birds hooted and squeaked above his head, but the only thing he was now frightened of was the thought that he would never see his friend again, or, even worse, that he would eventually stumble over his dead body. In attempt to force this thought out of his mind, he picked the most troublesome ways possible, crossing brooks, getting bogged in the mud, squeezing his way through spiky bushes.
   After a couple of hours of this march Hiromasa found himself in a clearing, where he sat down to get his breath to normal. He thought he heard some kind of growling sound behind his back. Hiromasa turned his head, but nothing was there. He stretched himself on the grass, looking up into the sky. The growling repeated, this time for sure. He sat up. Again, nothing was there except... "Is it my imagination?" Something white flashed between the trees. Something extraordinary white, nearly shining, was moving there. Hiromasa jumped up.
   The movement ceased.
   "Oi, Seimei! Is that you?"
   Hiromasa's voice was already filled with joy. From behind the trees the growl repeated. Hiromasa took a few hasty steps into the forest, the growl becoming louder and louder as he approached. Suddenly, Hiromasa felt frightened again. It was definitely not Seimei, for who would expect the famous onmyouji to hide in a forest and growl at his friend? More likely it was some kind of wild animal, probably, a wolf, or a feral dog... The growl was rather low, so it was a relatively big animal, surely bigger than a fox. Anyway it was better not to come any closer. So Hiromasa just turned and went on in the opposite direction, again not knowing what he was going to do.
   The night has reached it's climax, so did the darkness. The tiny lamp that Hiromasa took from Seimei's house was now more of a hinderance than help. It couldn't lit anything ahead, but made Hiromasa as if blindfolded. That's why he was not at all surprised to find himself facing some kind of wall very close to his eyes. He was more surprised that he didn't hit it with his forehead. The young man stepped back and lifted the lamp. What was before him looked like a giant hornet's nest with a low entrance to the right. It produced a dim light as if there was another small lamp in the nest. As he was trying to figure out what it could be, he noticed a scratching sound and a shadow of a person's hand against the wall, as if someone was pushing it from inside. No matter how much Hiromasa was frightened before that, now he felt like screaming his head off and running away at the top speed. But that very instant he heard a scarcely audible "Help!", and the familiar growl from behind. The hand vanished. Hiromasa turned to see a huge white furry creature standing there, its head low, its teeth bared. Without any second thought Hiromasa stooped and entered the nest.
   Minamoto no Hiromasa used to be a good narrator, and when he became an old man, his friends' and relatives' children enjoyed coming over to his place to hear thousands of entertaining and edifying stories of his adventures with the capital's greatest onmyouji Abe no Seimei. And every time Hiromasa was telling this story and nearing this moment, he would stop and say "From that day, my dear, I've decided never to be surprised again, and I never was".
   For standing in the middle of the enormous hornet's nest was no one other than Mizuko-dono. Hiromasa stopped frozen right away and, as he thought, forever. The girl turned her pretty face to look at him, and there was a disturbed expression on it. There was a noise to the left, which resembled another "help". Hiromasa turned his head slowly, and his eyes grew even bigger than they were at the moment. The whole wall was covered with gray cobweb, and along it stood the court onmyoujis, tangled and stuck, covered with grayish fibres, their hats lying at their feet, their faces sunken. A few of them were still moving, but it really looked as if they were all goners.
   Before Hiromasa ever managed to make a sound, let alone of asking questions, Mizuko-dono raised her hand and sent something flying in Hiromasa's direction. At the same moment he suddenly felt sharp pain in his right ankle, so he twitched aside, and the thing missed. It splashed against the wall and turned out to be a piece of web, still liquid as it flowed down the wall.
   There was a loud growl.
   Hiromasa looked down and saw the white creature from before, which turned out to be about a meter shoulder height. He felt some movement of the air behind and saw that the creature was waving all of its tails, which Hiromasa failed to count. There were about seven or nine of them, though he thought he had to be seeing things.
   The creature growled.
   The girl raised her eyebrows.
   "Dear me..."
   She got up and raised her hand once more. This time Hiromasa and the white beast both jumped away from the knot of liquid web. For an instant the girl looked as if choosing who would be her target, and stopped on Hiromasa. But as she began to move her fingers in order to produce more web, the beast jumped at her and bit her wrist. The girl screamed and pushed it away with some non-feminine force, so that the beast came rolling across the floor, its tails tossing about violently. When the beast stood up its left paw was bleeding.
   Hiromasa looked around to find anything to shield himself from the next attack, but the only thing he saw was a stone brooch on the wall to his left. It was small but had sharp edges.
   The girl now was concerned with the beast, who kept dodging her attacks rather successfully. Snatching the opportunity, Hiromasa darted to the brooch and tore it from the wall.
   The beast's eyes were now crimson with rage.
   Suddenly the walls began to quake. At the same time the girl gasped and began to chant something quickly under her breath. That caused the young man to act. He dashed to the beast, grabbed it across its chest and rushed out of the nest, pulling the beast with him. They landed outside rather painfully and the next moment the nest was gone with a low flop.
   Hiromasa was out of breath, he slid down a tree and closed his eyes, his limbs trembling. After a few minutes he glanced at the beast. It sat before Hiromasa, the rage gone from its eyes, looking at the young man with sympathy. It was holding its left paw in mid-air, and blood was streaming down the shiny fur. Hiromasa felt his hat lying near him in the grass. He tore it into a band and started to wrap it around the beast's injured paw. The beast growled in pain, but let him do it.
   Suddenly Hiromasa realized how sleepy he was. So he slid to the ground near the beast and put his arm around it, stroking the silky fur, and closed his eyes. The last thing he felt were the multiple fluffy tails covering him.
   Hiromasa woke up from chill. He felt frozen throughout, even too cold to open his eyes. After a few minutes of inner struggle, he eventually managed to do so, but was immediately frozen even more. There was Seimei lying before him fast asleep. His hair was loose and shaggy, his clothes draggled and ragged, his face especially pale, but there was no mistake: it was Seimei in person. Dumbfounded, Hiromasa remained lying, his eyes bore an expression of a misty glass, his jaw slowly falling open. Seimei shivered and opened his eyes as well.
   As he did so, he jumped up immediately with a nearly frightened look on his face. That made Hiromasa also jump up and produce a hoarse sound in his throat. They sat staring at each other as if seeing for the first time. Seimei was the first one to speak.
   "Thanks Heavens you are alive. Just now you looked as if it was all over."
   "Er... ehh--why, no, of course I'm alive, but what about you!? How come I was hugging you!?"
   "That's a question to ask of yourself, isn't it?" said Seimei in a slight bewilderment.
   "Me? But... I... A-all right, tell me at least how come you are here? I was looking for you all night through, but..."
   As he was speaking Seimei's bewilderment grew more and more evident, but then he suddenly burst into laughing, and laughed for a few minutes, loudly, at times whimpering and bending down to hide his face. He stopped when Hiromasa was already thinking that his poor friend had been robbed of his mind.
   "Hiromasa... Don't you tell me you still don't understand..."
   "Understand what?" asked Hiromasa bluntly.
   "Who do you think was that fox yesterday?" Seimei looked like he was barely keeping himself from another discharge of laughter.
   "Fox?" Hiromasa raised his eyebrows. Then, slowly, an image of the seven-or-nine tails began to emerge in his mind. His eyebrows moved even higher as he was connecting memories and notions, which made Seimei crouch in chortles again. Finally the connection was established.
   "Wait! Do you mean that... But it couldn't be! Or could it be that?.. No way!"
   "But of course it was me!" moaned Seimei, unable to watch this pantomime any longer.
   "Now! Wait! Seimei! Why on Earth were you here looking like a fox!!?"
   "Ahh, it's a long story..." said Seimei a bit calmer, wiping tears of laughter with his sleeve. "Now we have to go. I'll tell you everything as we walk".
   "Where are we going? You're injured and..."
   "Let me start from the beginning, all right?" interrupted Seimei. "First of all let me apologize. It was my mistake to drive you away yesterday morning. But, you see, it was hard even for me to imagine that Mizuko-dono was actually an oni. Come to think of it now, the Left Minister has only one daughter. Mizuko did an enormous job to deceive everyone. But she got caught into her own trap in a sense... She used some rather tricky mind-controlling potion to make those court onmyoujis leave their homes and enter her domain out of their free will. She used the same potion on me, I guess, she added it into the sake. But as I am still half-kitsune it is impossible to control my mind entirely, so the only thing she achieved was that I was forcefully turned into a fox."
   "But then how come you are back now?"
   "The potion's effect isn't eternal. It has worn off during the night."
   "I see... But... Why weren't you at home? And all those shattered porcelain... Were you trying to pursue her?"
   "Pursue? No, it was more like the opposite... You see, in that fox form I can't speak and chant, so my magic is of no use. It was probably a shikigami who broke the porcelain, because as I transformed, all of my shikigami became paper again."
   "Still, why were you here then?"
   "I had my reasons."
   "Ahh, your reasons... Out of what reason did you growl at me?"
   "Did I?"
   "Yes, you did."
   "Hmm, well, one never can be the same person in the skin of a human and of a fox."
   "So it was like it wasn't you?"
   "It was me and it wasn't me at the same time."
   "Is it a spell?"
   "Never mind."
   "By the way, is that brooch still with you?"
   Hiromasa put his hand into his breast pocket.
   "Yes, it is. Why?"
   "We'll need it. We're now heading to an abandoned temple nearby, there we will be able to seal our pretty demon with the aid of this brooch."
   "Ahh, very well then. How is your arm?"
   "The arm itself is all right, but I've lost much blood. It won't stop me from sealing the oni, however."
   Hiromasa said nothing shaking hair from his face. He hated having it loose, but his hat now was gone, and besides he didn't want to look tidy near the shabby Seimei.
   "What happened to your clothes?" he asked indifferently.
   "It is because of the transformation. It always happens."
   "Do you transform often?"
   "No. I grudge the clothes."
   Hiromasa was silent for a while. Then he suddenly remembered.
   "Oh, I forgot to ask the main question. Why did the oni suddenly disappear?"
   "That's because you took the brooch. This brooch used to connect our layer with the layer where the oni dwells, and it allowed her to come here. The moment you touched it the connection was broken, and she had to return home. Now we simply need to take those two-piece wizards back."
   Talking like this they finally reached the temple. It was green with moss, twined round with vines, but still looked like a temple. When they entered Hiromasa noticed that even golden embelishment was not stolen.
   Seimei went straight to the altar and began unwrapping his injured arm.
   "What are you doing?"
   "I need some blood for the ritual. No need to cut another hole."
   "Wait, Seimei!" Hiromasa nearly ran up to the altar. "You've lost so much blood already, it won't do any good if you faint in the middle of your ritual! It shall be my blood this time."
   "Hiromasa, I'm already twice guilty before you, I don't want to..."
   "You'll make up for it some other time, right now we should be concerned about the ritual's success only."
   Seimei shrugged. "As you wish." With that he drew a long sword out of somewhere under the altar.
   After a flash the two were back in the nest, though now the air seemed dim and the outlines of objects seemed double. The sounds were even stranger. The oni (it no more looked like a girl) seemed to be pinned to the floor in the center of the nest. Seimei's magic was as good as ever. The half-fox himself went straight to the trapped courtiers. While he was chanting to make them free, Hiromasa was watching the oni. Even after all those things he has seen from Seimei he still couldn't finally believe that a living creature could be trapped by a simple word. Or even by a complicated word. As if approving of his disbelief, the oni suddenly began to laugh. Seimei startled and turned to face it.
   "What is so funny?" he asked haughtily.
   "No matter how hard you try," chuckled the oni, "you can't kill me."
   "Really? What makes you think so?"
   "Why... Don't you know I bear your child?"
   Hiromasa watched Seimei change in his face unpleasantly. He remembered the scent in Seimei's room and thought that the oni had a point there.
   "You see now," continued the oni, "I sucked the wizarding power from those poor shrimps, and I've got your child inside my belly. There is no way for you to defeat your own blood enforced with human power." With that the oni stood up and began to approach Seimei slowly, the last was apparently taken aback. "Just you imagine what kind of a powerful oni my child will be! Even if you were alive by the time he grows up, you'd be no match to him!"
   Something is wrong, thought Hiromasa. He certainly didn't mean that the ritual itself went all wrong, because it was obvious from a single glimpse of Seimei's expression. No, "Something is wrong with this oni" - that's what Hiromasa was thinking. "Real divine beings do not say twisted things, and that is why they are terrifying. This one is trying to frighten because it is cornered, it's bluffing!.."
   With that Hiromasa lifted the long sword, approached the carried-away oni and swung. The blood spurted, the ugly head flew sideways. Seimei blinked and then gave off a sigh of relief.
   "That was a risky act, Hiromasa... It's our great luck that she was bluffing, otherwise we were all be blown into pieces already."
   "Eh... Really? But she was obviously bluffing!"
   "Obviously? I wouldn't say that" Seimei bent near the half-freed onmyoujis once more. "The probability was one half."
   Hiromasa felt a chill pierce his spine and gave out a nervous chuckle. "A-all is well that ends well, anyway..."
   "All right, all right, help me now."
   They dragged the courtiers to the center, and Seimei draw a circle around them. Another flash - and they were back at the temple. The onmyoujis started waking up, and as they did that, they screamed, pressed their hands to their chests, tried to run away, and so on - in short, their actions seemed to be a little out of place. But then the two friends began to understand their strange behavior, after looking at each other.
   Both were loose-haired and covered with blood (their own, each other's, the oni's, lucky the AIDS didn't exist at the time), Hiromasa also had a bloody sword in his hand and Seimei's robes were heavily ragged. No wonder people were frightened.
   Seimei sat leaning against the pillar on his verandah. His eyes were closed, his face solemn. He was experiencing something new: he was being scolded by his best friend. He had to accept this fact and interpret it somehow.
   "...could you make me worry so much, I thought you were dead..."
   Hiromasa was striding up and down the verandah, sawing the air and nearly shouting. Mitsumushi hid herself in the kitchen and looked out only when Hiromasa was his back to her.
   "...because of a stupid girl who turned out to be an oni..."
   From time to time Seimei nodded apologetically, not even daring to interrupt.
   "...how could you let her deceive you to that extent, what about my confidence in your skills..."
   "Oh no" thought Seimei "the third round of friendship-faith." Indeed, Hiromasa went on for the third time blaming Seimei for his distrust:
   "... what made you think I'd give you up because you transform into a fox, it's the most foolish thing I ever heard..."
   Seimei smiled secretly. He had to tell Hiromasa that he was actually hiding from him in the forest, because he didn't want his foxy identity to be known, but the young man, speculating in terms of true friendship, made it sound as if being half-fox was something that Seimei was dreadfully ashamed of during his whole life from the very childhood. Even with that load of malarkey Hiromasa was now saying, Seimei was still pleased with the other man's concern. Anyway, Hiromasa still was a really good man.

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