Anonymous 2009/12/30 (Wed) 22:13 No. 108977
Her travels brought her upwards, through the clouds, past the sky and onto the sea of stars, where she soon entered into the Vicegerent’s precincts. Protocol demanded that she should surrender her weapon at the threshold to those Gods posted as its sentinels, but at the sight of the Great Sage in her anger, they had fallen back or fled outright. It was thus unopposed that she cast open the doors of the High King’s palace and strode inside, her mouth downturned and her eyes blistering with rage, blazing with a fire that outshine the stars surrounding.
‘How much this place reflects the one who reigns within its walls!’ was what the Great Sage was thinking while traversing the maze of sparse hallways and frugal rooms into which she had entered. She marveled at how if the High King’s palace was bright and expansive; it was also coldly utilitarian in its fixtures and meager in its adornments, uncharacteristic for chambers in a court of Heaven. This only made only more painfully apparent by the fact that they were emptied of their officials, guards and guests as well, and not by coincidence – the Great Sage had especially chosen the day of her intrusion with the advance knowledge that most of Heaven would be at the Queen Mother of the West’s birthday celebration. Mentally thanking her friend for his acumen in advising her so, she penetrated through a final set of double doors and was brought face-to-face with the one she had sought.
In a long chamber flanked with the exhibited flags and pageanted standards of the celestial hosts, the Vicegerent was already awaiting her upon a high dais. There enthroned, that enigmatic Weaver was patiently at rest upon one elbow, legs conspicuously crossed beneath a shapeless shroud of sable. Beneath a wimple and a translucent veil that hung from the rim of his three-peaked alabaster crown, nothing of his face was to be seen. The Great Sage neared to him and he hailed her.
“I have long expected you, Great Sage born of Heaven and Earth. Your presence does honor to my hall, or would; had you not designed to transgress against my law and bear arms within.”
The Vicegerent’s voice, resonant, agreeable to the ear and remarkably clear; carried the force of command in its soft tone of silver bells. The Great Sage, who had advanced to the foot of his throne with her sword raised, now found her hand stayed in obedience to his will and compelled back towards her side. Undaunted, she looked at him with bold sureness.
“Your law is voided, having misgoverned your province and abused your office.” At once, her bright blade was freed of the invisible constraints that had been set upon it and, swearing a solemn oath; she swung it aloft and leveled its point high – level with the Vicegerent’s crown. “With all of the ethereal sky and cavernous earth as my true witness, I have come to depose you, High King.”
Seeing that the Vicegerent said nothing to her challenge, it was thus greatly emboldened that the Great Sage embarked on the purpose for which she had come.
“I know that it was from you, High King,” such was how she began her indictment, “that originated the dolorous divination at the birth of the Elder Princess of the Fujiwara. It was through your nature, High King, that the court magician of the Mikado, an innocent; was senselessly slain after having been possessed as your mouthpiece. It was because of your will, High King, that the Princess Royal of the Mikado was entrapped into committing the crime of infanticide. It was by your affliction, High King; that the same Princess Royal was stripped of her beauty, mind, dignity and life after you manifested your essence inside her body. It was via your influence, High King, that the Prince of Fujiwara was affected to imprison his daughter in lieu of no crime. It was through your intercession, High King, that Kaguya of the Lunar Capital was punished with exile to Earth. It was in fulfillment of your aims, High King, that the same Kaguya fascinated the prominent and powerful men of the Yamato Kingdom to their humiliation and demise with her bewitching allure. And, it was at your order – yours, High King; through which that most dangerous of forbidden weapons was created anew from Empyreal fire and deployed into the mortal world.” Her anger flared. “The sum of all that is ill and wretched in the present state of affairs has its sole authorship in you!”
No longer suppressing herself to only the confines of her body, the Great Sage’s spiritual energies were surging wildly in a conflagration of power and light as she secured the lowest step on the Vicegerent’s pedestal.
“You have abandoned your mandate as an Imperator, whose great honor is to employ his wisdom to lead and guide those under his protection,” she proclaimed, sighting her enemy down the length of her blade. “By having wrested away the reins of decision from those whose governance with which you were entrusted and by having devised through violence and fraud to exchange their freedom for the adamantine chains of your machinations, you have demonstrated yourself only a Tyrant, hungry for control and determined at mastery. In either your stewardship as Vicegerent or your office as Weaver, you are no longer fit to rule. Bow down!”
There was immediately set upon the Vicegerent’s head a dreadful burden – all the pain and sadness of those living and dead who felt themselves wronged by him; an immensity which was greater and more onerous than that of the whole world. Even the strength of his mighty resolve was stooped under the weight of their hatred and lamentation that had become laden in his crown and was bidding him fall prostrate from his throne. But he would not allow himself to be conquered so easily. Summoning all his determination, he strained his neck upwards and, from behind the opaque twill of his veil; met the merciless golden eyes of his foe.
“Great Sage born of Heaven and Earth,” the Weaver gasped, his own glance shining a hoary-blue, “what is the Princess of Fujiwara to you?”
She sensed well his guile and answered with care. “One who has the will to attain free will against your domination,” sword unshaken and unyielding, the Great Sage took another step, “and one who shall soon have the power to realize it. Did you not know, High King?” She smiled. “Even now, the princess hastens towards your ‘Pandora’s Box’ to obtain that power which is proscribed to me; who have by covenants ascended and to my covenants eke been bound. Into her hands it will fall, and into her hands will be granted the dominion of the world, to the liberation those souls within. By her freedom, she will all mankind free.”
“I see…” The Vicegerent stared despondently at the tip of the Great Sage’s holy sword, now but inches from his head.
“… So you delude yourself.”
The Great Sage’s sword hand was wrenched violently down and affixed inoperably to her flank; rendered as stone by the rejuvenated and redoubled force of the Vicegerent’s command. Stretching, that Weaver folded his hands and re-crossed his legs.
“Whatever aught was gained by heroes that to their Gods was ever denied, asked him, all encumbrance on his voice and his figure forgotten, those luminaries by whose grace alone that they may endeavor?
Her answer was to laugh defiantly and push forward with another step. “What darksome falsehoods are these?” said her. “Do you count the freedom of the spirit for so little, High King?”
“’The freedom of the spirit?’ was his rejoinder. “By whose exertions was that very spirit breathed into the bowels of men? By whose exertions were they raised from the mire of barbarity with the arts of fire, agriculture, writing and law? By whose counsel and favor are they spurred to action, even till this very day? Men are by no means free,” he declared, leaning forwards on his throne, “and your princess is no exception.”
As if having taken a blow from behind, the Great Sage felt herself forced to one knee. From behind his veil, the Vicegerent looked down on her.
“She has had her life decided by your attendance upon her, Great Sage born of Heaven and Earth. Everything she is become today has been only through your counsel,” he said, and noticing a chill beginning to dampen the Great Sage’s fire, “yea – even of her ‘choice’ to depart from the place of her confinement and to seize the ‘Pandora’s Box,’ as you have termed it;” he leaned forward on his throne, “for in that, as in all else, the need and the initiative that drove the Princess of Fujiwara had its origins in you – one who is subject to my law. Had I never deigned you enter into her knowledge, her life’s path would have travelled a less happy course, though to its same end.
Sinking under the weight of comprehension, the Great Sage had fallen hunched upon both knees now, her whole demeanor about with the uneasiness and gloom.
“So you understand.” He shifted back and averted his gaze, in pity. “I cannot deny that first principle on which my power rests, that consequences arise from actions. By such a measure, your princess and her kind are not without a measure of ‘free will,’ if that is what should be termed the outcomes of those decisions made by mortals. But, if they have the liberty to select their steps, their Destiny – the road along which those steps are made – that is the name of those outcomes decided by the Gods; we who plot its heights, its depths and its end.”
“The very wrong that I will see set right!” She bellowed and tried to rise; the incredible weight of the laws upon her notwithstanding. “With their misrule of the world, the Gods have proven themselves unfit to decide for men! Shackled by blind slavery to the perpetuation of their own power, they have forgotten justice! You have forgotten justice!” Unable to move with both legs and her right hand inoperable, she pointed. “High King! Where is your justice that the guiltless should be murdered and the lives of their children destroyed?”
“Mankind ill needs a savior such as you,” he replied coolly, rising from his throne. “That which you propose has been effected before; to the creation of a less just world, not more. ‘Freedom from the Gods’ produces only that – freedom. A freedom from order, from security, from possibility of happiness; a freedom to rob, a freedom to rape, a freedom to murder,” the Vicegerent shook his head sadly, “are these not the universal characteristics of those ages in the mortal world when men chose to extinguish the light of law bestowed by the Gods that they might govern themselves? Call that a more just world, you?”
She could make no further retort. The diadem having slipped from her head upon falling prone, the Great Sage was comatose on the floor but inches from his feet.
Now with no one else to see it, something in the Weaver’s conduct changed. After he collected her silver circlet with its iridescent feathers, he knelt at her side and softly shifted her, that he might see her face. Beneath the pall over his face, his features softened.
“I am sorry for having done this to you, for having to oppose you, Great Sage,” he whispered in a tender voice, “and more because we are the same. Just as you are bounded by exercise of your power, I am enslaved by mastery of mine. What is the High King of Destiny but one who lies in fetters forged by himself, the least free of all living things?”
The Vicegerent paused and, drawing back the crown’s veil; now addressed her without impediment.
“I feel as much guilt and remorse for all that I have done as you, indignation; for I know well the value of those whom I have had sacrificed that others may live. If the day should ever come that I must make that same sacrifice for the good of all, or in atonement for all that I have done, then I will make it gladly. But until that time,” the High King pronounced firmly, “I am induced by my twofold responsibility as Vicegerent and Weaver to see that their deaths were never in vain and their forfeitures were never without meaning. Until that time, I will take upon myself any infamy, any perfidy; any antipathy to overcome the nature of my being and see an end to the sacrifices. Until that time, I must be the enemy of the world; that I might save it.”
Onto the Great Sage’s breast was placed the diadem and her hands were folded over it. Then, blessing her in a sign of benediction, the Vicegerent leaned close and onto vermillion lips delivered a long kiss. Only after having done that, wishing her health and long life, was the veil replaced. “Farewell, kindred spirit,” he murmured in a small, forlorn voice. “May you also find a way to surpass your limitations.” Turning his back, he was gone from that place.
In the world below, the princess was in a desperate situation. She had not eaten for over a week, for she could not spare the time to take a meal. They would catch up with her. She had not slept in three days, for she feared what she would again hear. They would speak to her. She was nearly naked, without shoes and with her threadbare clothes nearly falling off her body, for she could never again ingratiate herself into the company of men. They had marked her.
Ever since that day, when she had taken the weapon of which the Great Sage had told her, she had been pursued. Always just behind her was that man’s ghost, urging those them onwards; those black shapes in the form of women with the wings of bats, whose eyes dripped blood and whose hair was snakes. No one else could see them, but they were there! They were there and they were unrelenting! They had smelt the blood that was on the air, that man’s blood; that soaked the ground under her feet as she fled. And, there was nowhere she could fly, nowhere she could escape. The score that had appeared on her skin proved it. Though she had run for hundreds of miles over many long months, it still bled. They were still close.
The quest of having obtained the weapon had changed the princess, on the inside and out. She had tried her strength, her wisdom and her guile against that of the world, and triumphed. But in her victory, she had lost something too. She was less apt to laugh or to smile than she had been and, if she had not forgotten how to speak; her speech had become a joy seldom heard. At that same time she had gained the ‘Pandora’s Box,’ which was only a short time before that fell blemish also appeared on her collarbone, her hair and her eyes had lightened into silver and reddish-brown, respectively. In the eyes of those she afterwards encountered, the princess had become a monster. Normal folk thought her possessed or an evil spirit in disguise, while the more spiritually attuned, many of themselves outcasts; shunned her as one cursed by the Gods. Some even tried to kill her. None of them met with success, of course.
This was the princess’ condition on that fateful night they caught up with her. She had stopped to rest for a short while atop a desolate mountain, barren of all other life; for though her spirit burned as brightly as ever, her body had reached its limits. Lain out on a bed of heather with her back pillowed against a broad stone, she was appreciating the stars in the glow of a small fire. Her neck ached. Without a need to look at it, to see the crimson of her own blood staining her rags, she already knew.
They had come.
He had come.
There emerged onto the edge of the firelight the gray figure of a man. His wide, battered hat was pulled low over his face and in the hazy outline of his hand was still held the lance that he had borne at his death. The darkness behind him was especially deep, and it danced as if in time with his steps.
The princess hailed the stranger, not moving from her seat.
“You’re gonna say,” she pointed with her index finger –
“– there is nowhere to run, Princess.”
“There is nowhere to run, Princess.”
For just an instant, her visitor forgot the fact that he was dead. At that look of shock that came over his face, the princess smiled and thought to herself, ‘heh, still got it!’
But Iwasaka – for that was the spirit’s name – had not followed her only that he should be the victim of jokes. As much as she knew what his next lines would be, she knew best the purpose for which he had come. She was his killer. He had saved her life and she had promptly repaid that debt by murdering him in cold blood. Even at the time, drive by desperation in those final stages of taking the weapon, she knew how horrible a crime it was. Out of all that she had encountered in her journey – the monsters, the bandits, the myriad men who had tried to take advantage of her; Iwasaka had been the one shining light of genuine, unselfish kindness. The princess asked of his ghost, now seated across the fire from her, if he had perhaps come to place a curse or sentence upon her for what she had done.
“I sentence you not,” he replied in a voice at once more high and more sonorous than when he was alive, “for your sentence you have yourself chosen.” His indistinct features blurred as he closed his ‘eyes.’ ”Though you were one born of woman, against your womanhood you have decided. Though you were one whose sacred duty was to exalt the lives of her subjects, a princess; against your subjects have you bloodied your hands. Though you were one favored by the powers of Heaven, against Heaven have you blasphemed in raising arms. What once you were, I have pronounced to you,” through the fire came suddenly the lance, which stopped mere centimeters from the princess’ heart, “what now you are, you must pronounce to yourself!” His expression had become more distinct and cobalt flames burned in the intensity of his gaze.
The princess, what was she now? In searching for an answer, the path of her thoughts tracing backwards through time and through space, searching along that road that Iwakasa had lit for her; she was finally confronted with that realization from which she had tried so hard to escape.
She was alone.
The mother she had never known was already dead and the father who had finally realized that he loved her had been forced to exile himself in shame. The Great Sage, who had been her constant companion and teacher, had disappeared from her life. All the race of mankind wanted nothing to do with her; and even monsters shunned her, for they perceived her as one cursed by an overwhelming evil and feared if it should fall upon them. ‘What am I become,’ was what she thought, ‘that the only company who will have me is the ghost of the man whom I’ve wrongly slain and the vengeance demons who follow in his wake?’
“So you understand.” Iwakasa’s spirit nodded and looked away. “Then,” he started to become indistinct, “I forgive you, Princess. I forgive you for having slain me.”
With intangible arms and ethereal fingers, he held the princess. Having faded and reappeared on the same side of the fire as her, he was hugging her.
Upon declaring so, the darkness that had hemmed in Iwakasa and the princess both had begun to recede and fail. Where before there had been only implacable retribution and study of revenge, unyielding desperation and adamant denial; there was compassion and contrition. The spined, leathery swathes, gruesome to look upon; had been changed into beautiful wings of white feathers. The eyes of blood became eyes of fire, matched by newly-kindled crowns of flame that had subsumed the serpent hair. In their hands, clawed no longer; were held bright swords and equitable balances. On the crest of that lonely mountain, now as brilliant as if under a midday sun, bitter, unrelenting Vengeance had transformed into merciful Benevolence.
At the heart of this remarkable scene was the most extraordinary sight of all – one which had never yet been seen in the world, nor would be seen again afterwards. Within Iwasaka’s insubstantial embrace, for the first time in those fifteen years since her birth and the last in all her life, the princess cried. She might have been forgiven, but she was not yet ready to forgive herself. Lying heavily upon her heart was the double weight of deadly weariness and doleful remorse; from which she would have relief.
“There is a way, if you desire it,” he said; standing and placing his ‘back’ towards her. His ‘eyes’ turned towards the sky. “The slumber of forgetful repose – a sleep without dreams, enduring beyond all the years of time and unmoved by the fate of the world. In other words,” Iwasaka faced her again, eyes alit blue once more, “the sleep of a peaceful death.”
You would have expected the princess to refuse. You might be thinking, ‘No one would agree to something like that, no matter how sorry she might feel!’ or, as those particularly astute might conjecture; ‘To accept that kind of proposal would be tantamount to giving up, which isn’t at all like her.’ And indeed, you could likely produce many good, nigh-unshakable reasons in support of both those arguments.
You would still be wrong.
The cause is that very same which drove the sequence of events that found the princess speaking to Iwakasa’s spirit, the ‘Pandora’s Box.’ That she was now its custodian and master caused for what was otherwise an offer which she would have flatly refused – ‘ain’t anythin’ that perks up ‘thout sloggin’ through th’ hot and th’ heavy,’ or something of that kind is probably what she would have said in its absence – now held an enchanting appeal because of its presence.
As strong as her desire for penance was a curiosity; a temptation that lain dormant at the back of her mind and now whispered in her. The sleep of a peaceful death was something she had thought lost upon taking that most forbidden of divine weapons and, at least at the time; had written it off as nothing. In her ensuing struggles to stay alive, she had put it out of her mind, maybe even actively suppressed thinking of it – not strange given that she was running away from what she believed were fiends which would kill her. But now, now that she was safe, now that she been awakened to the realization that it was not from fear of demise that she fled, but fear of acknowledging herself, what she was and what she had done; Iwasaka’s proposal seemed not so bad.
Her reasons were not only so personal and frivolous. Upon having mastered the weapon and the unlimited promise it had granted her, the princess had no longer anything to fear in the worlds above or below; or should. Her whole experience since having seized it had proven to the contrary. This was not because the princess was unfit or unprepared to employ that ‘Pandora’s Box.’ Indeed, maybe more than anyone else living, she was the most worthy of wielding its power. Whether by design or by chance, the ordeals that had challenged her since the day she was born had served to eliminate anything which would dampen her energy and weaken her will; and layered upon that mind of steel was the wisdom and justice of the Great Sage’s knowledge. The question of competence, or of chance of corruption in commanding such complete power; these were not the concerns on the princess’ mind. Rather, she was thinking of something the Great Sage had said, one of the first lessons that had been imparted to her and repeated with the frequency of a maxim.
“Princess,” she would always say, closing her eyes and folding her hands into her sleeves, “never forget that weapons exist in the service of causes, and not the reverse. A sword without righteousness becomes only a threat to the one that holds it.”
‘How right she was,’ thought the princess. She knew that she had become the sword and that she had been without purpose since having become that way. The difficulty before her now was not the tired generalization of ‘whether she would use her powers for good or for ill’ but if there was a need for that power – for it was from need that good and ill followed naturally. All of this had happened because she had not known when to sheathe herself. Therefore…
She accepted Iwasaka’s offer.
On the very rock to which she had placed her back, the princess would fall into the sleep of long ages, unscathed through the storms of time and fate – but only after having extracted two promises.
First, that if her slumber would endure for many years, it would not be irreversible. Though she was tired, though she was repentant, though she recognized that no one in the world needed her; the princess had not lost her lively temperament or her sensual simplicity – that frankness which seemed bred to enjoy happiness fully and which loved the good things in the world. She was not giving up hope; rather, she was giving herself up to hope. If she would rest now in her scabbard of her own choice, then at that inevitable time at which there would be want of her for some just cause; she would be able to shine more brightly for it.
But, it was having gained this concession that the princess had another thought. What is a weapon but an extension of she who wields it? ‘This blade,’ she chuckled to herself, ‘surely suffers no unworthy hand to grasp it.’ It was from this thought that she made her second request – that if ever one should come to waken her, it would only be the first and most fearless of heroes.
Iwasaka’s response was to call upon that boon which ghosts were said to be allowed only once. Becoming substantial, his features taking on the same guise as when he was alive; he reached down and swept the thin, small and very embarrassed princess up in his arms. “There will be kindled for you, Princess,” he declared in his own voice, “a bridal fire as has never seen a bride to equal it, before you.” Iwasaka looked in her eyes and drew close. “I promise that the one who kisses you next will be one compassionate, but who shrinks not from the terror of death.” His lips meeting hers, he delivered that sleep which he had offered to her with love’s farewell. The princess accepted it and, looking upon the light of the waking world for the last time, fell asleep. Unmarred by sorrow and liberated from care, she had a beautiful smile on her face.
Iwasaka made good on what he had said. After the princess had fallen asleep, he carried her to under the shade of those few trees on the slope and laid her out beneath their broad branches, thinking them a softer pillow than the stone she had proposed. Then, retrieving his lance, he looked to the sky and commanded those Powers that were visible now only to him, bidding that they should take the form of fire. Pure flame they became, that would ward well the princess and protect her while she slept from those of craven heart or evil intentions. When that fire grew to a towering conflagration that wreathed her round fully, it has been said that Iwasaka’s spirit, growing transparent once again; made one final pronouncement to no one in particular.
While the Gods yet reign and peace endures, your sleep shall be as one undisturbed.
Having left her those words, he turned his back and was gone from that place.
My tale ends here, but if the murmurs of men wandering and the rumbling of those rumors they’ve spread carry any substance of truth, the princess’ story has not. It’s persisted across seasons, years and generations, lasting into the youngest of days and the newest of nights; renewing itself with each breath that fills the princess’ small breast and each pulse that drives her yet-quiescent heart. For how long she yet sleeps, ensconced in her bower of burning flame, none are quite sure.
Some say that her awakening will be into an age of anarchy, of which she will be its savior – that the scion of kings from which she springs will be renewed by one which springs from her.
Others say that she will be a destroyer – that she will be roused from her slumber at the Twilight of the Gods, where which she will march forth on the side arrayed against the armies of Heaven and, brandishing that weapon she stole from them; cover the entire world in fire.
Still another version says that she will never awaken – that her sleep of a century will endure till the end of eternity, the dawn for which she longs in her heart never arriving.
But all the varied accounts agree – the one that wakens the princess, the one who knows no fear – to that one will she pledge herself. With her true name forgotten to the memory men, this is the reason for her name in legend; the ‘Bride of Heaven,’ Princess of Fujiwara and Child of the Great Sage.
Edit2: Wasn’t satisfied with some of the phrasing.