Author’s Note: Wrote this thirteen years ago. Enjoy the story and R&R.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to or of the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX series.
Terms: Kaishi - Paper atop which sweets are eaten prior to a tea ceremony. Katatagae - Change directions. Roji - Dewy path.
The mirrors captivate her, shrouding her in a light of perpetual fascination as she awaits escape from the virtual realm. Gazing into a world beyond the looking glass, a woman caught between light and darkness recounts her story.
Within this darkness, there lies an inner light. A warm glow that takes one by the hand and ushers her towards the end of the tunnel. It does not ask of anything else. We must merely obey for that single moment before we cross the threshold. It is hope. It is the only commitment. Without the light, we are nothing, blindly stumbling through the shadows. White…That is all that can be seen, or that is all that cannot be seen. Light and darkness…There is no real difference between the two. Humans lose sight from one or the other. Neither lifts the eyes from the body better than the other. They are the same. That is a fact of this universe that people fail to realize. One side, one end: Melding and winding in the hollow abyss, the blackness infinite. The route taken left, the route taken right: Twirling and circling in the scorching depths, the holy steep.
I have lost sense of direction. The fault of my reflections, casting silver across my face once more. So it has come to this. I am become the moderate force between them, yet we are alike. There, at my breast, is an identical sliver of red that lines the whiteness. Looking back, there is no change. We share an appearance, shouldering the same uniqueness. There are no imperfections in my duplicates; they do not stray from their original purpose. Only I am incomplete. Alone, I bear this curse.
Fingertips gloss over black glass. The first two eyes open, signalling the second phase.
Here, beneath the starless sky, they revolve around me. Their images shift over top of the paper lantern, and silent words are heard, yet none are spoken. There she is, and there she is again, yet again and again and again. Like a carousel, my semblance eddies, multifaceted in every detail: orbs of passionate violet, lips of intense flame. This is no funhouse; there are no illusions, contortions or bends. I should only recognize two planes of existence and two states of being, but in the end, I do not. There are three women. From every angle, that is what is seen.
Regard the way in which she, the first, is seated. So composed and refined, retaining all aspects of her femininity. The second, standing opposite, is dutiful and proud, absolved of indulgence. There is no room for a third. Within the looking glass, two to a table please. Within the looking glass, two to a life is enough. Duality. Yin and yang, the practitioner’s art. Tracing the former polished replica, our hands touch, pressed against the panes as if it were a snowy winter morning. With the next, the results are predictable and evident, and the feeling of reminiscence is long passed.
Two more blinks. The fourth phase.
Yonder grace can be found in that palace. Surrounded by flimsy knights, and lair of an oppressive queen, it is all but impenetrable. Gather the mightiest swords, daggers and crowns in your possession, and take to those heights. Do not stop to dine with the Hatter. Do not attempt to converse with the feline that stinks of the pits. Reduce the gate to ashes, and the army to its grave. Commandeer the throne, and once the castle is made yours, revel under the watchful eye of destiny. Pray. Meditate. It is not time to celebrate the joyous occasion.
What if she comes along, the enterprising lady? Should she happen upon the fortunes, everything is lost. Glancing into the reflecting pool, she grasps for my throat and hauls me downwards into the fountain. She emerges, wet and disgruntled, but free of entrapment. Unleashed, the entrepreneur reigns, but for how long, it cannot be said. With a peek, it could all be stolen away in an instant.
A wince. The Half is nigh.
Or will it be the other who reveals herself, the collected woman who sits by the fire, reading to her formless grandchildren? There is a bowl of fruit nearby, and she moves to fetch an apple from it. The green skin is sickness itself. She gnaws on it like a rat, and that is what she has become. Disgusting vermin reeking of plague and death. Though her cool demeanour grants her much self-satisfaction, her guise is easily torn. As if it were aged parchment, her fake clothing comes off, leaving her with nothing. She flattens herself in the corner, soft sobs her only comfort. The foul taste of the apple lingers on her tongue, burning through it. A toxic aroma paralyzes her. Pinned to the floor like the beautiful specimen of a butterfly collector, she drifts into a disquieted slumber.
Peering through the defoliate clouds. The sixth phase.
And so I arrive at these silver crossroads. Atop them, I am myself, and from this place, my soul diverges. What path shall be chosen? Either will be sufficient; I have no doubt regarding that. Whether I am birthed anew as an angel or a demon is unimportant. Celestials have the potential to become the fallen, and the fallen have the opportunity to redeem themselves for their actions. One way or another, I will have selected, and after that, there is no chance of return from that point. In retrospect, more time should have been spent on my decision, but I have no regrets whatsoever. Seclusion in these mountains brings me the peace of mind needed for contemplation. I must distinguish between angel and devil. Katatagae! Let fate be my guide!
Staring into despair and desperation. The eight phase.
When the last drops of blood have been bled, and the final lamp has been fitted on the pedestal, the foot will drive hard into the earth. The shade that holds the moon will consume itself, and the god of darkness will descend.
We are blessed by the presence of symmetry in this life. This benediction binds us to the ritualistic nature of this world, but unshackles us from the uncouth reality that poses a greater threat. Because of this, the true beauty hidden in mirrors can be uncovered, and entrance to the cosmos within will be granted. The ugliness that moils like a disease for humans, both in heart and in soul, is a refraction of their unclean whims. Glass reveals more than words. The blasphemies are so horrendous that even crystals shun them. Yet, when light and darkness converge, these sins are purified.
The protectors of this secret are themselves ideal symbols of the balance. Without souls, but created with equilibrium; representative of the sacredness of light, and the reserve of darkness. Forged from the simplest constructs of folded paper, the shikigami are mysterious and adept sources for servitude. They need not feed nor sleep, and given proper incantations, may adopt the ability of flight. They are skilled reconnaissance agents, and even more efficient assassins. These spirits, however, are driven solely by the energies of the person who calls on them. Without this power supply, shikigami become immobile and eventually revert to their original shapes. Once again, the dual-sidedness that maintains harmony for us proves to be a restriction. It is implied by the teachings of my profession that a master may carry with him no more than two shikigami at a time, and that only those two may manifest. But I digress. Puppets are puppets, any way you look at them.
The thin wings of the dove snap, yet there is no sound of the bones breaking.
The idle smirk within the hand mirror, it gleams with malevolence. As it rises from the ground, it is haloed by a ghostly ambience. Black and white luminescence pours forth, and the visage cracks. Oh, how she mocks me with her glare, as if I had done her a cruel deed. The pieces lay shattered. Pick them up, I say! Soak the jagged fragments in ointment, then replace them on the tarnished frame. The transfigurement is arduous and unfulfilling, but also all-encompassing. Afterwards, dip the remade object into the molten solution, and let it run like a river into the cast.
She is alive. She breathes, gasping within the stifling air. I take the new mirror in my arms and embrace it as though it were an infant crying for its mother. These are the hooks of Mephistopheles, rendered in twain. He grips at her supple neck, and his hellish nails extend to dig into the small of her back. His sockets are empty, unbearable and instilling dread. There she rests, in the sanctified ward, a boundary enclosed by bramble of chains and filth. The moon shines down on the reflective surface as it traverses the night. From afar, the glass scintillates with the lunar charity. She is roused. She stirs. She becomes aware.
The bird leaves no feathers. Its wings are but strips of tissue.
Shirogane no Henbai
I don the kimono as dictated by tradition, and check that the flowery wallet within holds a fresh sheet of kaishi. My guests have arrived, and with the sounding of the bell, they enter the alcove from the garden's roji, having already cleansed themselves with water from the stone basin. They remove their shoes. I notice their astonishment of the ancient scroll hanging from the wall that welcomes them. I motion for them to sit, and the first bows kindly before doing so, kneeling on the tatami, followed by the second. The scent of incense is thick in the air. They present their own kaishi as soon as my sheet is unveiled, and I place a single delicacy on each. The first unfastens her kitsune mask to partake in the treat. The second guest eats, and myself as well. The utensils are rinsed and arranged in front of them. I go about my tasks in muted succession, measuring tea mix into the bowl and adding hot water to it.
Four twists of the whisk and the beverage is ready. The woman and I exchange bows, and the gesture is repeated between the travelling couple. She rotates the cup, takes a sip, mutters, takes another two sips, returns the cup to its original position, and passes it to the other. He mimics the procedure, then gives the cup to me.
Outside the temple, a tree decorated with strands of shimenawa and gohei sheds its pink blossoms. The talismans, spread throughout the web-like mass of cords, churn like the crowd of a festival.
The heated rim, the last chime…I drink. The tools are cleaned again. Nayuta, the Goddess of the Autumn Winds makes a request. She asks for permission to handle them. I comply, preparing the antiques for her inspection as she puts her mask back on. Running her fingers along the cloth-sheathed objects, she seems impressed. She nods towards her pious counterpart, Asogi, Wizard of the Eastern Breeze, who shows equal interest behind his intricately-woven shawl. Spellbound, they trade whispers. What manner of deity could understand their pitter-patter speech?
Mugen no Koumakyou
Nayuta and Asogi are gone. They vanish behind me in an explosion of rainbow-lit shards. The shrine fades into nothingness, taking with it the tree and all life held within it. Everything sinks into sludge, and there is silence. Unnerving silence. The sun opens its golden eye. Darkness grips at the edges like barbed teeth. It wears a coat of umbilici, which squirm atop the blackened divinity like hundreds of flesh-hungry vipers. The beast’s collar is studded with hollow spires of obsidian from which disfigured corpses, dangling upside-down against steel platforms, swing in a tangle of wire. Locusts climb out of its maw, dripping with yellowish pus and writhing in agony; some manage to flitter away, but die shortly thereafter. The shrieks of ten mirrors become one, made indistinguishable by a mauve firestorm.
Standing on an ocean of glass. The sadistic laughter of ghouls rings with a nefarious echo.
I number the pillars of radiance as they burst free from the larger spotlight: ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, nana, hachi, kyu. The tenth was expected, but never comes. Upon these roads, the dead do ride. They clutch mirrors to their gaunt chests, anxiously awaiting the portrait of their numen. Absolute darkness! That is my premonition. Their vitality is limited, yet they continue to squander precious minutes on such a meaningless exercise. The countdown to destruction has begun. It is only a matter of time before these phantoms depart for whence they came. Although the omnipotent ruler’s advent is certain to occur, their intentions are prohibited while they reside in my realm.
The wreath oscillates upon itself in a perpetual cycle, and with each turn, ink is spilled over the leaf. Brushstroke after brushstroke, character after character. The inner circle neglects the movements of its superior. It is on the verge of collapse. The badly-stacked pile of ofuda bleeds a corrosive puddle into their cold palms. Their calligraphy would have been flawless, had it not been for my cantankerous mood. Disappear. Begone. Melt into oblivion.
The circuits crackle beneath her feet. The memory of the white inferno replays in her mind. She thought catastrophe had dawned, for spite was well-cherished, and sensed her brother’s anger, his persona so marred by karma that his rage splintered her treasured devices of reflection.
“Quick, let’s get out of here!”
The voice is convincing, but escape for her is purposeless. Sadness wells up in her heart and keeps her transfixed. The song of a guardian is heard; the delicate notes of a flute waft on the wind. Her pleas of forgiveness are uttered as she plunges into the ether.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m leaving him to you.”
A promise. A favour. A choice.
Who am I you ask? I am the fabled miko, Saiou Mizuchi, sentenced to a dream from which I cannot awaken. Remember my name, for one day, the mirrors will tell my tale.