Friday, January 11, 2013

Flash Friday # 25 -- Sanctuary from the Night

He saw the village; not a place he'd visit under normal circumstances.  Tomi glanced at the woods where darkness spread within the already shadowed grounds.  No turning back.
He hurried past rice fields where peasants worked, their heads bowed in fatigue, mat-woven hats hanging listlessly from their backs.  He wanted to go home, but there would never be that chance again.  Bitterness ate at his heart.
Tomi followed a stone-lined path, fearing no one would give him a place to sleep.  He dared not stay out on a night when he already heard the whisper of demons on the breeze.
Villagers blocked his way.  Had he worn the silks of home, he would have commanded respect, but robbers had stolen his fine clothing the first day away from Kyoto.  What he wore was the gift of people who hadn't been rich enough part with even these rags. 
But they had.
He'd painted good luck symbols the walls of their hut and wished them well. 
The headman  or the bravest man -- often they were the same -- stepped forward.  "No strangers allowed here.  What do you want?"
"I would like sanctuary," Tomi  replied.
"From what?"
Ah, be careful with this one, Tomi told himself.  Be very careful.  "From the night, of course."
A pause, a look towards the woods.  "The night.  Yes, of course.  I'm Isas."
"Welcome Tomi.  You'll find sanctuary from the night here."
He would have liked better wording, feeling as though sanctuary from the growing dark was no sanctuary at all.  He followed Isas into the village, surprised to find the path clean, the sties away from the houses, and the walls in good order.  This place seemed untouched by the war and famine he'd seen elsewhere.
Isas lived in a small hut.  He had, by far, the best view with rice fields cascading down the hillside and the sun setting in the mountains beyond.  Tomi stopped to watch.  He hadn't seen anything pretty in too long. 
"Welcome." Isas stood by the mat-covered door and bowed, oh so proper and polite.  Tomi wanted to turn and run, but stepped inside.
Not right.
Too large for the small hut.  Incense filled the air and Tomi could hear distant voices.  Tomi felt his breath catch, taking a step back.
"You cannot leave so soon, friend.  Not until I give you leave.  I hunger for company.  So few come this way."
Hunger seemed an ominous word.  Tomi cast one look behind to find the door gone.  He whispered a prayer to his ancestors and hoped for guidance in this strange place.
"Tea, my young lord?"
"I'm not a -- "
"Young lord isn't the worst I could call you.  Tea?  You will serve."
Tomi managed not show dismay.  Tea ceremony.  Perfection of form.  He'd taken pride in the simple beauty and the faultless form, but his life had never depended on it before.
Isas gestured.  The room changed to a garden with a tea house at the end of the path.  Tomas, finding no exit, could only go forward.  He bowed, quite profoundly.
His clothing changed to attire suited to the situation.  The tea ceremony gave him an unexpected feeling of serenity, in touch with actions which had been so central to his life.  The ceremony was perfection, but at the end his mind careened down unwelcome paths, just as his life had since he left Kyoto.  Surely there had been more to life in the great city than form, simplicity, perfection -- and tea.
He looked at Isas.  "This isn't right."
"A veil lifted," Isas replied.  "All is illusion.  You seek sanctuary from the night; from robbers, wild dogs and demons.  But they are all as much a part of the world as the tea and the magic you hold."
"You know."
"There is little in this world I don't know.  You are exceptional, Tomi.  It's good you left Kyoto."
"No," he denied.  "There's no joy to be cast out of beauty and civilization."
"Kyoto is a city of dreams, but dreams are only a short step from nightmares.  If you look back, what will you see behind you?  Dream or nightmare?  Dare you look?"
Isas's eyes glowed a soft jade green.  Looking behind didn't seem such a bad idea.  Tomi dared to glance and saw the shapes of Kyoto.  His heart swelled and he yearned --
Then he looked beyond the city to the shadows.
"Kyoto is a dream in a world of night," Isas said.  "A pretty dream, but she sits upon the edge of nightmare and reality.  Either will destroy her, Tomi.  They help the destruction by denying anything beyond the silk and tea.  Dreams end.  These people have slept far too long, don't you think?"
"What good to wake and send them out into the world?  Most wouldn't survive."
"True.  But sooner or later they will awaken.  The demons are in the west. "
Tomi could see the gathering of black on the western horizon; demons ready to strike.  "How can we hold them back?"
"The others cast you out, yet you would protect them and their dream, wouldn't you?"
"They cast me out because of lies.  I am not the person they said I was.  I will not compound lies with more wrongs."
The demons retreated and light shown on the horizon.
"Stay with me awhile and guard.  There are rewards for such service, but we won't always win.  Dreams are sweet, but nightmares are as much a part of the world.  We can only hold them back a little longer."
"I'll stay."
Isas smiled.  Years left him.  They could have been brothers, Tomi thought.
"Perhaps a game of Go?" Isas asked.
"I would be honored."
He stayed a long time.  He never asked what Isas was; god, magician, or even demon of another kind.  They watched the west and kept the demons at bay.
And some days they could hear sweet music from Kyoto, dream-like on the wind.
The End
999 Words

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