Even an Oni is Fond of Chinese Poetry
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The air has cleared, wind combing through the new willow hairs.

The ice has melted, waves washing through the old moss beard.

It is said that when the scholar Miyako no Yoshika spoke the first half of the poem while crossing the Rashomon gate, the second half came to him as a reply, from the roof of the gate. Curious, the man diverted his course, walking up the old staircase leading to the top of the poorly kept structure.

Once there he met the Child of Ibaraki, the foul Oni, half beast and half demon. For many it was known as the creature who terrorized the Rashomon gate, enemy of envoys and tutelar to the bandits that called Rashomon home. The creature was 15 shaku tall, towering over any man, her skin leathery and yellow, the color of congealed fat. From the waist up, the appearance of an ogre, with enormous fangs, dirty hair and eyes red like the blood of the many she’s killed and devoured throughout the years. From the waist down, she bore the appearance of a crocodile, the beasts that hunt unsuspecting passersby at the edges of the Yangtze.

“I didn’t think you would come meet me, human.” The Child of Ibaraki said.

“I wished to meet a fellow scholar.” Yoshika replied.

The Child of Ibaraki laughed. “You will find no master of poetry here. Merely the scourge of Heian-kyō.”

“Is the scourge fond of poetry, then?” Yoshika asked. The Child of Ibaraki raises an eyebrow, not expecting the man’s willingness to speak with a murderous abomination.

“Fondness is a strong word… The wind simply carried meaningless words to my ear, so I decided to fix your shoddy poem, make it into something presentable.” The Oni chuckled. Yoshika smiled, taking a single step towards her.

“Care to fix more pitiful poems, then?”

… And this is said to have been the start of a strong kinship, for Yoshika saw past a foul and fearsome exterior, meeting instead a fellow poet.

This is a story told and shared throughout Yamato, especially around its capital, Heian-kyō. I have heard of it for well over ten years, and now that I was finally able to come to the capital, I wished to meet these two figures. One’s path hardly ever works in intended ways, however, and as soon as I arrive at the capital, the Emperor’s Minister of the Right calls me to meet him at his office.

“It is a true fortune that we could meet, O gracious Tianhong.” The Minister spoke, bowing before me. I bowed in return, then the man proceeded. “If you could help us, once again, to make this city that reveres you just a bit closer to Heaven.”

“I require no reverence. Your Emperor’s court knows I will lend a hand if possible.” Whenever I come to the Capital, I repeat these words; I am not here to intervene in earthly matters, but if they wish to hear my thoughts on any matter, I will not deprive them of the knowledge of all that have come before them. It is up to them whether they heed my advice or refuse it.

Thus the Minster lent me his worries and the worries of his people, and I lent all lessons learnt through the ages. It wasn’t until an hour and a half had passed that the people I was interested in hearing about came up.

“Let’s talk about the scholar next; Miyako no Yoshika, a famed poet of the court. He’s been blessed with incredible talent, and the skills to tame even the Queen of Bandits, the Ibaraki-douji. Yet, his involvement with her and other critters of her putrid ilk worries us. A man of such influence, covered in spiritual filth cannot and must not come close to the Emperor. Thus, we’ve decided to exile him from the capital, so his filth may be washed through pilgrimage.”

I remember frowning at these words. “I cannot agree with this decision, although my knowledge on this subject is lacking. Is it such a defiling event, that of Miyako no Yoshika interacting with the Child of Ibaraki?”

“Oh, you must have heard of the vile creature’s actions, for they are famous. The Ibaraki-douji has killed and devoured many through the years, and takes residence in the Rashomon gate, allowing bandits to gather, who further ruin our beautiful city. A foul, brainless beast is Kegare incarnate; a being composed of filth, the opposite of your divine being, and the divine being that our Emperor is. Anyone willing to communicate with such a creature without the explicit purpose of slaying them is as covered in grime.” The Minister explained.

“Don’t you believe it to be the opposite, that the scholar has been purifying the Oni’s soul?”

“Bah! Foolish thinking.” The Minister mocked my words, but quickly bowed. “A-apologies, but no, that can’t be possible. An Oni is pure malignancy. To become pure would be akin to stopping its existence, and if that is the case, then why does the Ibaraki-douji still draw breath?”

“Perhaps you’re wrong about Onis?”

“I will not deny the chance, even if I don’t believe in it, but to allow a friend of a murderous beast into the court? The Emperor and all under him would be seen as a joke.” The Minister spoke, shaking his head. “I apologize again, O gracious Tianhong, but this is no matter to be discussed. The court at large wishes to remove this filth. Miyako no Yoshika will be exiled.”

Part of me wished to ask why the Minister had decided to ask for advice from me about this, if the decision had already been made, and no word I were to ask would change this, but I instead decided to ask something different. “Where is Miyako no Yoshika right now? Do you know this?”

“I assume atop the Rashomon gate, alongside that wretched Ibaraki-douji, as usual. Why do you ask?” The Minister asked.

“Do you mind if I give him the news myself?” I asked. The Minister blinked.

“… No, of course not.” He shook his head. “I would advise not to meet him now, if he’s with the Oni. I fear what the beast could do to a divine being such as you.”

“I will take this into consideration.” I thanked him, bowed, then excused myself, departing for the fabled Rashomon gate.

Indeed, both the scholar and the Oni were sitting side by side atop the gate, engaged in idle talk. The Oni turned to me when I descended near them, glaring daggers as I approached the pair.

“State your purpose, Tennin.” She growled.

I bowed. “My name is Tianhong, who scribes. I am here to finally meet you two, who I’ve heard so much about.”

The Oni laughed. “Well, you’ve met us. Now scatter.”

The scholar laughed then, placing a hand on the Oni’s arm. “It would help you to be less aggressive in the presence of visitors. Lady Tianhong here wishes to meet us, and I don’t see a reason not to share a few words.”

“Words have value. They’re wasted on celestial beings such as her.” The Oni spat.

“Am I to assume one of my kind has hurt you in the past? If that’s the case, then I apologize.”

“No, I simply find the existence of beings that walk among the clouds, away from all suffering rather insufferable.” The Oni seemed prone to aggressiveness.

“… Are you done with this nonsense?” The scholar asked the Oni, who laughed again.

“Sure.” The Child of Ibaraki seemed content after the exchange, a sigh escaping me.

“Very well. Lady Tianhong, it’s a pleasure! My name is Miyako no Yoshika, as you must know already. This woman by my side is the Child of Ibaraki, who bears no name but the title of her hometown. To what do we owe your kind visit?” He asked, walking towards a small cabinet, pulling out food to serve me, their guest.

“A pleasure as well, although I’m afraid this visit is not as kind as you believe.” I admitted, deciding to tackle the issue as soon as possible. “I’ve been informed that you will be exiled from Heian-kyō, for your ties with the Child of Ibaraki has dirtied your soul.”

A passive silence fell for a brief moment, first interrupted by the wind blowing Momiji leaves past us. The second interruption came from the Child of Ibaraki.

“Well, it was but a matter of time until they decided to get rid of that which this government deemed heretical. Nothing the fall of their shoddy castle can’t prevent.”

“Do not.” Miyako no Yoshika raised his voice, speaking with sobriety as he moved his hand to his chin. “The people shouldn’t suffer for the court’s decisions. Besides, they are right. I have chosen to spend my time by your side, and a price must be paid for it. Exile is little compared to the bliss of your company.” The scholar smiled. The Oni sighed.

“Your words are sweet like Azuki, but they rot fast. I cannot leave the gate. I will not be able to follow you.”

“You don’t need to.” The scholar spoke. “You knew I would one day depart. Human lives are ephemeral, like blossoming flowers.”

“I readied for your death, not for this sorry plot to remove you from the court.” The Oni spat again, the pieces starting to click together: If they wished to remove Yoshika because of his uncleanliness, why do it now and not ten years ago, when these meetings started?

Realizing that this matter was not one of belief, but of political gain, I decided to chime in. “Why not go on a pilgrimage, clean oneself of all filth, and become a Sennin?”

“You do understand that the process takes a hundred years, yes?” The Oni quickly attacked my words. “I know your ilk lives forever, but you must know that humans do not, right?”

“I know, of course. If the process is realized correctly, even a human can become one.” I told the Oni, attempting to ease either her worry or her ire.

If done correctly. If not, you waste your life and die without purpose.” The Child of Ibaraki was quick to shoot down my suggestion. Miyako no Yoshika, however, seemed interested.

“A poet exiled away from his hometown and away from those he holds dear loses all spark. A poet without spark cannot recite poetry. A poet who can’t recite poetry… Well, is that not the definition of purposeless?” The scholar laughed.

“Don’t try it. It’s not worth it.” Ibaraki told the man, but he wished not to listen to her warning.

“If I leave, you will never see me again, no matter whether I try to become a Sennin or not. Wouldn’t it be better to try then? If I succeed, I will live much, much longer. You will not have to prepare for my death, for I will defy it.”

“If defying death was as easy, everyone would be a Sennin.” The Child of Ibaraki pointed out.

“Not everyone has the fortitude to remain disciplined for a hundred years.” I decided to speak then.

“… Why are you helping him? Why are you helping us? What do you gain out of this?!” The Oni’s fury was evident. Either she really disliked my kind, or she was really affected by the exile. It was most likely for both cases to be true.

“I am not here to gain anything.” I shook my head, part of me wondering why it was that I had decided to help them. It was not my mission here, and while it certainly didn’t go against my duty, it was still a stretch. As I wondered about it, fragments of long lived journeys plagued my head, bringing meaning to my actions. “I… I’m only here because those who care for each other deserve not to be separated. I cannot help with this, of course, but I can share the many tales humanity has shared with me, and aid may be taken from them.”

Perhaps I said too much then, for the Oni didn’t attack the words I had uttered then. Instead, she turned to the scholar.

“You better not return as a poet worthy of the court. I will not be able to help elevate your mediocrity if there is no mediocrity to amend."

Miyako no Yoshika smiled. “I doubt they will be any good once I return, so remain at the gate, so you can help fix them.”

The two shared a few words, the kind the closest of acquaintances share, before I bestowed upon them the story of Emperor Yao, who despite ruling a thousand and two hundred years ago, I still meet when visiting Wanshan, the city where his empire once stood.

I finish my tale, and Yoshika soon decides to begin his exile, wishing to meet the Oni again as soon as possible. With a mix of joviality and nostalgia, I fly away from the Rashomon gate, where the Child of Ibaraki remained, staring in the direction the scholar had left. Only four hours into my visit to the capital, and I already had a story worth sharing to the world.

As I finished transcribing the aforementioned events, a willow flower fell on my shoulder. I remember smiling before picking it up, walking to the nearest river, and gently allowing the stream to take the plant away.

May it meet its cherished moss one day.

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