take hold of the cold porcelain knob
of the moon, and turn it
. . .
Rain, rain, go away.
Ukoku sat on the floor of his quarters, idly studying the swirl of leaves in the bottom of his cup of morning tea while the rain beat a steady tattoo on the roof above him. He looked up when he heard a knock on his door. "What is it?"
"Priest Ukoku, a messenger just arrived with notes for you and Master Juu'en. I have your note here, may I come in?"
"Sure," Ukoku replied. When the monk entered his room he showed him his cup. "What do you see in there?"
"I, uh… a whirlpool?" The young man handed Ukoku a folded, sealed piece of parchment. "I don't know much about tea-reading. Master Li is the expert on that here." He moved back to stand by the doorway.
"A whirlpool? That doesn't sound particularly lucky." Ukoku took the another sip of his tea while he slid a finger under the note's flap to break the wax seal. He scanned its contents.
Seconds later, the cup slipped through his fingers and smashed when it hit the floor. Lukewarm tea soaked into the hem of his robes.
The monk gasped. "Sanzo-sama, are you all right?"
Ukoku barely heard the young monk's voice over the roaring in his ears. He ignored the question and continued to stare at the note in his hands.
Kinzan Temple attacked by youkai. Koumyou Sanzo is dead, the Seiten scripture stolen. His heir, Genjo Sanzo, now wears the Maten and has left in hopes of recovering the Seiten scripture.
The hastily scrawled words began to blur. Koumyou Sanzo is dead.
"Leave me alone." Ukoku forced the words past his rapidly constricting throat. He gripped the paper tighter, and felt it crumple and tear in his hands. "Get out." He bent over and pressed his forehead against the worn, wooden floor.
Koumyou Sanzo is dead.
The monk took a step toward him. "Sanzo-sama, please let me help—"
"I said get out!" Ukoku flicked his hand, and the monk cried out and crumpled to the floor.
Koumyou Sanzo is dead.
"Fuck," Ukoku said. He felt the rasp of splintered wood against his skin, and the scent of the dying monk's blood filled his nostrils. Above him, the drumming of the rain felt like it was drilling through his skull. "Fuck."
He lurched to his feet, and as he stood there swaying he glanced down at his robes, at the pebbled, cream-colored silk.
Pale like the moon.
The thought made his gut clench. No, no more moonlight, he decided, and he yanked at his sash, pulled off the garment, and threw it on his bed. He rummaged in his rucksack for his black robes, the ones he liked to wear while traveling, and put them on instead. The white robes went into the pack, along with the lotus crown and veil.
No more moon-pale silk, no more fucking temples with their stupid fucking monks.
No more Koumyou.
Ukoku squeezed his eyes shut, and for a few, brief seconds he let grief wash over him. Before it could consume him he opened his eyes, and then he went to his bed and packed his remaining things with quick efficiency. He picked up the Muten scripture off the bedside table, unfurled it, and let the parchment settle on his shoulders, taking a small amount of comfort in its quiet, humming energy.
He stepped over the body of the monk and retrieved the wide-brimmed bamboo hat that hung on a peg by the door, and then without a word he summoned the power of the scripture.
Darkness closed in on him, and he stepped willingly into its depths.
. . .
"Sensei!" Across the toy-strewn room, Ukoku's young disciple looked up and beamed at him. "You're back!"
"Not for long, kiddo," Ukoku replied. "I'm just here to get a few things and check up on you. Have you been practicing your lessons?"
"Memorizing your sutras?"
"Oh, yes!" The teen grabbed a handful of parchment scrolls and ran over to show them to Ukoku. "Look, I've copied them over and over. I've worked very hard, Sensei." He pointed at Ukoku's bag. "Is there anything in there for me?"
"As a matter of fact, there is." Ukoku pulled out the white robes and tossed them over. "Here, you can have these now, I don't want to wear them any more."
"Wow! Thank you, Sensei!" The young man put on the garment and rolled up the too-long sleeves. He gasped when Ukoku handed him the veil and crown. "That too?"
"Yeah, you can have that, too." Ukoku watched him put them on, and he frowned when he saw a red chakra appear between parted blond bangs. What the fuck? he thought. This kid's a few tiles short of a mahjongg set, and the gods acknowledge him instead of me?
If Koumyou were alive, he would have laughed his ass off.
'Do I get to have this, too?" A hand reached for the Muten scripture.
"No!" Ukoku snapped, batting his hand away. "Don't be greedy. Girls don't like greedy boys."
"I'm sorry, Sensei."
He left the boy there and went upstairs, navigating a series of back passages until he reached a plain, locked door. He fished the key out from the depths of one of his sleeves and unlocked it, and then he opened the door and flicked on the light switch.
It was a small, narrow room, filled floor-to-ceiling with bookshelves that overflowed with books and data disks. A desk took up one corner, and atop it sat a computer monitor, keyboard and mouse. A stuffed rabbit perched on top of the monitor and smirked at him with beady, button eyes.
"Hi, Bunny," Ukoku said as he slid onto the chair, and he reached down and poked the computer's power button. While he waited for the computer to boot up he picked up some printouts off of the printer stand next to the desk and skimmed through them. The idea of traveling outside the country had been simmering inside him for awhile, and now his only reason for staying was gone.
As good a time as any, he thought.
"Where shall we go, Bunny?" he asked, and soon the only noise in the room was the incessant tapping of computer keys.
. . .
The sun was just dipping below the horizon when Ukoku left the building, and he carefully picked his way along an uneven path to the mountain's summit. Despite the monsoons in the south, the sky here was clear and Ukoku stood on the rocky ledge and watched the moon rise while the wind whipped about his robes.
"You knew, you crazy bastard!" he shouted at the moon. "That night, you knew it was going to happen soon. That's why you got drunk, and why you were so fucking weird."
"Have you ever considered that the greatest challenge in having power is to not use it?"
There it was, right there. The fucker knew he was going to be killed, and had already decided to not do anything about it.
"But why?" he demanded of the sky. "Why did you just let it happen? Why did you make that smart-assed brat your heir?"
Why did you leave me?
Ukoku looked down at his clenched, shaking fists. "You were the only interesting thing here," he whispered. "Everyone else is so fucking boring."
His gaze returned to the moon, which had risen further away from him. He held out his hand as if to touch it, to turn it, to tear it from the night and prevent it from watching him, from knowing him. Like Koumyou had.
Ukoku ran his fingers over the scripture that rested on his shoulders, and he whispered words of power to it. He smiled as it fluttered and rose into the air, lengthening and rolling out until it hung behind him, parchment and silk and power coiling and swirling, with utter darkness at its center.
A whirlpool. Just like he had seen in his teacup.
The moon was high in the sky now, cold and distant. But Ukoku remembered warm hands, a hot mouth and sad, knowing eyes.
"Ta ta for now," Ukoku said, and then he let the darkness take him.