Ryu Zhong

Takuan from Koto II Hunters of Weredemons

A temple monk, a wandering warrior, and a mischievous swindler walk into a tavern... Come next morning, the warrior finds himself with a headache, the monk finds himself robbed, and the swindler is nowhere to be found.

The monk named Soliang travels the country on a secret mission from the Goddess of the West. On his journey, he meets evil sorcerers and their demons, wandering warriors and monks, soothsayers, thieves, and robbers. Making enemies, Soliang makes friends as well; friends who will help him to fulfil his sacred mission.

Join Soliang’s journey... But what about the swindler? Was it the young Takuan whom we already know?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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Chapter 1

Even for the Most Enlightened Sage, It Is Above Station to Reverse the River of Time

On an Errand for the Goddess of the West, a Homesick Monk Sets Off on a Journey

In those days, when weredemons roamed freely in the Earthen Realm and floated upon the sea waves, the country of Chinayindu lay on the shores of the Everlasting Ocean. The Silent Sea argued with the Bottom Sea which of them should wash the sandy shores of Chinayindu. These disputes did not give peace to the country, which was jealous of her sister Auyasku, whose sleep even the brightest summer sun did not dare to disturb.

Discontent gathered in wrinkles on the face of Chinayindu, and these wrinkles crossed the country as mountain ranges. The largest of them stretched from the shores of the Silent Sea to the great desert of Augaitanu. The mountain peaks lit up scarlet in the rays of the setting sun, and the highest of them never said goodbye to its crimson blush. From a distance, the slopes of this mountain could be mistaken for brocade, which seamstresses save for the best wedding dresses. Therefore, people called it Brocade Mountain.

The top of Brocade Mountain hid behind a veil of clouds that rested on her shoulders. A little lower, between a cloudy cowl and a dense robe of green trees, stood a monastery.

The monks who lived in it were just the same as those in the other three hundred monasteries scattered around the world. Starting early in the morning, they gathered in the temple halls and guarded the celestials, whom the Jade Emperor settled in monastic prayers.

When the noonday sun went around the mountaintop, and clouds cast a ghostly shadow on the monastery, the worldly inhabitants climbed the mountain along a wide path. Adults led children up the mountain to swallow seeds of good luck, which were stored in the deep stone cellars of the monastery. The Jade Emperor left the monks these gifts from the Seven Lucky Gods to protect people from demons and hungry ghosts.

One of the abbots of the monastery on Brocade Mountain was called Juro, just like one of the Lucky Gods of good fortune, the one who was famous for his witty tricks. It was said about the abbot that he achieved real enlightenment and learned to travel along the river of time. For months this sage sat motionless in his meditation, and only occasionally did he descend into the world and wander through the villages that surrounded Brocade Mountain.

Once, during the abbot’s meditation, the goddess Xiwanmu herself appeared to him, wearing a white dress with long sleeves. The sleeves fluttered in the wind that swirled around the top of Brocade Mountain. Golden hair lay on Xiwanmu’s shoulders, twisted into a dozen braids.

“Venerable Juro,” said the goddess. “Grant me a favour.”

It was uncommon for the gods to ask a favour from the inhabitants of the Earthen Realm, even if they were as enlightened as the abbot of the Brocade Mountain monastery. Therefore, Juro did not inflate himself with pride, but only kowtowed, lowering his elongated and wrinkled forehead.

“O, Most Beautiful Xiwanmu,” he said, touching the wooden floor with his palms. “How can such an insignificant monk like me be useful to the Goddess of the West?”

Xiwanmu told the abbot about her worries. A lot of time had passed since her beloved Yanwang died in an unequal battle with demons. The Jade Emperor and his four Heavenly Kings managed to drive the demons out of the Imperial Palace, but only Yanwang was able to lock the gates of the Under Realm. Goddess Xiwanmu asked the abbot to go up the river of time and warn Yanwang of the impending storm.

Abbot Juro prostrated himself once more and withdrew into the maidono, the dimmed prayer hall, where he immersed himself deeply into meditation. Left on her own, Xiwanmu turned herself into a beauteous maiden, whose golden hair was second only to the Goddess of the West herself, and set off to travel around Chinayindu.

A lot of time had passed when Xiwanmu climbed back up Brocade Mountain, and the venerable Juro was no longer there. However, in the monastery, the goddess was expected. Abbot Kokoro, who had never left Brocade Mountain since the day of his initiation, presented the golden-haired maiden with a sealed scroll. Inside the scroll was a letter written in Juro’s old handwriting: “Most Beautiful Goddess of the West! Even I couldn’t turn back the river of time. The fate of the raven-haired Yanwang Umma-ö can’t be altered.”

Tears welled up in Xiwanmu’s emerald eyes. This did not escape Abbot Kokoro, who hurried to comfort the beauteous pilgrim. The abbot did not know that it was the Goddess of the West who was in front of him. In the entire monastery, only Juro was aware that Xiwanmu was travelling through the mortal realm. And on the letter that the old monk left for the goddess, there was the most common name: Qing.

The golden-haired maiden dabbed her eyes with the sleeves of her dress, kowtowed to the abbot, and left the temple hall of the abbot’s reception. She went into the apple orchard in one of the inner courtyards, sat down on a wide bench and unfolded the letter once more, in the hope of finding that the sad news had been replaced by something joyful.

The words already read by the goddess did not disappear, but after them there were others: “Only you, God-Mighty Xiwanmu, can save Yanwang. The magical implements of the ruler of the Under Realm are still scattered around the world. Combine them with the Xiantao peaches that grow on your Mount Gunlun, and it will bring Yanwang Umma-ö back.”

The goddess’s hands, white as washi paper, trembled and dropped the scroll, which whirled in the air and sank with a rustle onto a bench. Xiwanmu grabbed the letter back and, holding it up to her face, which had reddened with hope, read the advice of the enlightened sage three more times.

The letter omitted the most important details: where the goddess should look for the said implements, and also what they were. “These items should be dear to the ruler of the Under Realm, since he enclosed in them parts of himself,” thought the Goddess of the West. Giving it more thought, she surmised what those implements could be. It only remained to find someone who would help with her quest.

The goddess looked around, and her gaze fell on a young monk who was pruning the unkempt branches of the apple trees. This monk was called Soliang, and he was as young as he was handsome. Only two years ago, he passed the last stage of initiation, and now he spent most of his time in the inner halls of the monastery, diligently indulging in prayers and various meditations.

Dutifully, he had completely immersed himself in his work, noticing nothing around him – not even the Goddess of the West. Xiwanmu did not interrupt the monk’s meditation; instead, she decided to wait for night to fall before she appeared before the monk in her true form. Without making any noise, she got up and crept out of the garden.

Xiwanmu returned to the abbot of the monastery, kowtowed, and said the words, “Venerable Kokoro Bhante, allow me to spend the night in the meditation hall. By the morning I’ll set off on my journey.”

Ordinary pilgrims were forbidden to stay in the temple halls after sunset, but the abbot made an exception for the beautiful maiden Qing. The Goddess of the West proceeded to the meditation hall and humbly sat against the wall.

Minutes gave way to hours, until night fell on Brocade Mountain. Xiwanmu rose to her feet and, shaking off the appearance of the beauteous maiden, returned to her true form. Spreading her arms either side of her, she swam towards the solitary cell in which a monk named Soliang slept peacefully.

The Goddess of the West had to duck her head to squeeze into the small cell, but one wave of her divine hands was enough to make the walls and the wooden ceiling part wider. The long sleeves of her dress touched the cheeks of the sleeping monk. “Wake up, Soliang,” said Xiwanmu in a deep voice.

At that time, the monk was already having his third dream of the night, and each of those looked less and less like visions worthy of the initiated monks of Brocade Mountain, or indeed of any monks at all.

Therefore, when he heard the voice of the goddess, he left his third dream and immediately decided that before him was the fourth. And in this dream, it was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen who hung over him in her dress white as the moonlight.

The monk opened the sheets, which sheltered him from night draughts and annoying midges. Under the sheets, he was completely naked: in the evening, he threw his robe under the bed, and soaked his underwear overnight in a bucket.

“Oh, beautiful maiden!” so exclaimed the monk, stretching out his hard hands towards the Goddess of the West. “Come into my arms and know the true passion!”

Full of indignance, Goddess Xiwanmu hit the monk on the forehead with her fan so that he woke up instantly and fully, and that was when it dawned on him that he faced none other than the Goddess of the West herself – and that he, a virtuous monk who had taken monastic vows, had appeared before her in a completely unseemly way.

In an instant, the monk had jumped out of bed and was looking around for a robe – but he found nothing except the bucket in which his underwear was still soaking. Confused, he snatched his clothes from the bucket and pulled them on. His head immediately stuck where the shirt’s neck was supposed to be, because in a panic, instead of an undershirt, the monk had pulled out his underpants.

Cold water trickled down the monk’s face, bringing him back to a calmer state of mind. He pulled off his underpants and wrapped himself in the bed sheet. Now he looked like a heavenly maid who had just come out of the steam bath. This image visited his mind, because not more than two dreams ago he had visited such a bath himself.

Goddess Xiwanmu watched all this, hiding her smile with her unfolded fan, upon which the leaves of the peach tree swayed. Finally, she spoke. “The gods have chosen you, Soliang, for your conscientiousness and diligence. The fate of all people and celestials is now in your hands.”

The monk looked with surprise at his hands, which had not changed at all overnight. Left unattended, the sheet started to fall down, and he tugged it back, lifting it up to his chin. For good measure, the monk fell to his knees and prostrated himself. In this position, he did not have to worry about the sheet.

The Goddess of the West meanwhile continued: “At the very source of time, demons broke free and not only swarmed over the lands of Chinayindu, but also made their way to the Heavens. Only Yanwang Umma-ö could stop the invasion of demons.” The beautiful Xiwanmu’s voice trembled at the mention of Yanwang. She continued, “But those treacherous devils took him by surprise and tore him to pieces. Behold now, Soliang!” exclaimed the Goddess of the West. “The ruler of nine thousand worlds can be saved and returned from the Under Realm, which he once ruled.”

It was the absolute truth. As the Abbot Juro wrote in his letter, Yanwang Umma-ö often travelled through his domain, from which no one could escape without help. To travel between the realms, he used magical implements in which a piece of his soul was enclosed. The Goddess of the West told Soliang about all this.

“What are those implements?” the monk, who was still prostrating, asked the goddess.

“A dragon-ivory comb and a quarterstaff,” Xiwanmu replied.

The purpose of the comb was well known to the Goddess of the West. She had seen Yanwang Umma-ö combing his raven-black hair. When he did so, bright blue sparks flew in all directions, which was a clear sign of magicks. Without any doubt, Yanwang had sealed in the comb his salvation.

But of the quarterstaff, it was only the goddess’ good guess. The last moments of Yanwang’s life were still vivid before her eyes. The weredemons flew around and above, away from the blows that Yanwang delivered with his sparkling staff. Xiwanmu had no doubt that the quarterstaff was filled with magical power.

We are well aware of what the staff was actually filled with, but the Goddess of the West knew nothing about the events at the palace stables. Thus Xiwanmu resolved that the quarterstaff was also a magical receptacle.

“When the demons attacked the Jade Emperor’s Imperial Palace,” the Goddess of the West continued, shrugging her shoulders to push away the memories, “the staff and the comb fell from the Heavens. They now lie somewhere in the expanses of Chinayindu. Bring me these two magical implements, and with the help of Xiantao peaches, I can rescue Yanwang Umma-ö. Then he will deal with all the demons, locking them back in the Under Realm.”

“How could I find these things?” the monk asked, although he had a completely different question in his mind.

The question was, “Why is it that the Goddess of the West, who has ample magical powers, cannot find them herself?” But the monk did not dare to ask such a direct and rude question. Instead, he said, “There is no magicks in me. How can I distinguish Yanwang’s quarterstaff from a simple wooden stick? And even more so the comb!”

“You will find the comb in the cache that Yanwang himself arranged in Chinayindu, and you will have to search for the quarterstaff across the country. But all in due time,” the goddess answered evasively.

She had her own plan, and she was not at all going to tell the monk about it. The Xiantao ritual required the magic implements of Yanwang to be held by an ordinary mortal, and the monk named Soliang was quite suitable for this role. In addition, he was handsome both in face and figure. If he’d only had long raven-black hair, he would have turned out to be even more beautiful than the Lord of the Under Realm himself, whom everyone in the Heavenly Palace stared at.

Concealing her emotion, the Goddess of the West said, “Go to the domain of the Jasper Emperor. On the opposite side of the Four Rivers Principality, at the Blue Mountain Monastery, you will find my emerald necklace, and with it a magic scroll that will show the way to Yanwang’s secret treasury.”

“The Blue Mountain?” repeated the monk, as if spellbound. “I have to go through the whole Principality of the Four Rivers!”

The Goddess of the West sighed.

“They say that weredemons hunt there," the monk continued. “They catch local residents for breakfast, and for dinner they relish travellers!”

It was not without reason that the monk stayed in the monastery to take care of the apple trees, and did not go on any pilgrimages, as his monastic brothers did. The tie strings of the komuso’s travelling hat had bloodied the monk’s ears, and without the strings the hat could not stay on his head. It kept slipping over the monk’s face and hindering his movements. The reason for this was the excessive caution that the monk adhered to. Out in the world, such caution was called cowardice.

“Take this magic headband as a defence,” the goddess said, and threw a small hoop of shimmering gold onto the bed. “If demons attack, put it on your head and recite the eighth kamisutta three hundred times.”

“Thank you, Goddess of the West!” the monk said humbly, realising that the journey was unavoidable. And if something cannot be avoided, then you need to put up with it. This is what the abbot Kokoro Bhante taught.

The goddess waved her long sleeves, and the monk immediately fell asleep. Entangled in the sheets, he fell to the floor and snored. The goddess left Brocade Mountain and returned to her realm.

The next morning, Abbot Kokoro came to politely escort the golden-haired pilgrim out of the monastery. However, there was nobody in the meditation hall. “Did she evaporate?” thought the abbot, and went searching through the rest of the halls. But before he could reach the haiden, the worship hall, a monk named Soliang threw himself at the abbot’s feet.

“Venerable Kokoro Bhante!” cried the monk. “Last night the Goddess of the West herself paid me a visit! She wore a long-sleeved dress, and her golden hair lay in braids over her shoulders.”

The wise abbot immediately understood that hiding under the guise of the beauteous maiden Qing was none other than the divine Xiwanmu. Then he abandoned the search, for it was clear that there was no longer any pilgrim left in the monastery. Abbot Kokoro then uttered the words, “The goddess must have chosen you as her monastic warden, Brother Soliang.”

“No she didn’t, venerable Kokoro Bhante,” said the monk, and, trembling from joy mixed with morning chills, he told the abbot all about the conversation that had happened the previous night in the monastic cell.

Abbot Kokoro was immediately seized with a high sense of destiny, and he ordered the monk to prepare for a long journey. While Soliang was collecting his simple belongings, the abbot hurried to the monastery’s vault, where he took out the most expensive of the ceremonial robes. The bright orange fabric of this robe was covered with finely crafted golden embroidery.

The ceremonial robe was an item which the Brocade Mountain Monastery abbots boasted about, and only one other monastery had robes comparable to it. Needless to say, this monastery stood on the Blue Mountain, where the Goddess of the West had sent Soliang on her errand.

The monasteries of the Brocade and Blue Mountains had been competing with each other for many years, and Abbot Kokoro wanted to show his opponent once again that the Brocade Mountain Monastery has no equal. “Let them all be green with envy!” With these words, the abbot removed the gilded robe from the hanger and wrapped it for safety in a thick rag.

An hour later, a monk named Soliang left the gates of the monastery on Brocade Mountain and set off downwards along a wide path to meet worldly worries, anxieties, and passions. Those turmoils did not disturb him, because the monk had enough of his own. The divine blessing of Xiwanmu lay on his face, and a canvas bag dangled over his shoulder. In the bag was a magic headband gifted by the goddess, a ceremonial gilded robe, a spare travelling robe, and a box with the eighth kamisutta inside.

If you want to learn about the monk’s further adventures, you must listen to the explanation in the next chapter.

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