A semi-dark room scantily furnished. A sliding door opens and the distant chaos of a battle can be heard as two ghosts enter. The first, the soul of the legendary Hangaku Gozen, is dressed in her full samurai armor. The second, Lady Seishin, wears a kimono that might have been stylish 100 years ago and a kabuki fox mask that she never takes off. At the back of the stage is a small fire pit and a small window. Seishin stirs the embers and then stands by the window, peering anxiously out.
It is a wild night outside.
Help me off with this helmet. Is the rain still coming down?
In torrents. I cannot see the other side of the road.
If not being able to see someone ten feet away is good, then hai. Luck is with us. Should I put the oil wick in the window?
[Sitting down next to fire with her helmet in her hands.] Why? No. Only when we hear her order a retreat. That’s what she said.
But on a night like this she may have pulled the troop all the way back to Kyoto and we’ll never know.
Do not be so querulous, you cranky fox.
This isn’t me being cranky. Something is about to happen. Listen to the wind sobbing around the house … a lost soul that we’re refusing to let enter.
Why would we do that? The wind loves us.
The wind puts up with us. Ever since— What was that?
[Listens.] It is our message, I think. [Listens harder.] Something is coming. Douse the fire.
[The room is reduced once more to semi-darkness.]
[This time the sound is heard by both women. Someone or something in groaning in the dark. They stand as the door slides open and Jiutian Xuannu enters.]
Cousins, why are we wasting time here? I was going to call retreat but those stupid Takahashi samurai are milling about right over there and look so smite-able.
But who is going to do the smiting? You?
You look sad, cousin. We’re shadows, azure-
eyed, made from lust and stardust and despise
blood and afterbirth. Fools fear our power
to peel off our pelts. Fools fear change, disguise,
the way floods deform and do not deform
dry earth. But, cousin, what use are nightmares
if you can wake up? Why try to transform
when we can slaughter? We don’t need more snares
fools keep slipping free from. Call Onibaba.
She’s a friend. She has farseeing vision
and short cruel knives. Fools call her, “Hag with Tusks
and Fangs Chitter-Chatting in her Vulva.”
Fools fear her carnage; her love of carrion;
how she sucks both down to their very husks.
[Jiutian Xuannu exits.]
But first, let’s test her skills. Seishin, you pretend to be me.
I’m not a ghost. I think she’ll notice.
[Jiutian Xuannu, Onibaba and Kijo all enter.]
Ah, Lady Onibaba. Chrysanthemum in the Legion of Flowers. Mire in the Order of Tenacity. Chalice of Malice. Fury of the Divine Crest. It is I, your Lady Hangaku!
Xuannu, I find it odd that the, “Terror of Genpei,” would be both Jiuzhou and alive.
[Aside.] That was the worst Hangaku impersonation I’ve ever seen.
Lady Onibaba, please forgive me for being cautious. Who is this?
[Indicating Kijo.] My daughter, Lady Kijo.
[Incredulous.] You had sex?
[Skeptical.] With a mortal?
[Scandalized.] O my, you nanty narking chuckabog.
I don’t think you brought me all this way to make snide comments about my lovers.
[A loud moaning begins from outside and the wind rattles against the hut’s walls.]
The dusk wails and you pray for Onibaba
to smite souls. It’s fitting that twilight
moans for us, glimpsing our hitodama,
our blue-green flames, as we pass in the night,
searching for the spot where we died; where our
blood touched the earth and our hubris melted
when we found out all our sweet truths were sour,
our faiths false. Who claims to know what’s sacred?
How I don’t know. But they’ll kill for it.
You want me to go out and lay the Eight
Ring Curse on those men? Men who love carnage
and their samurai bushido bullshit?
I’ll do it. Saints say hate cannot kill hate.
I say all we are is gristle and rage.
[Aside.] These mountain demons can be very tempting with their tongues.
Don’t frown, Lady Hangaku. That was you once, too: a butcher. Now you’re just dead and vague.
[The door opens and a little battlefield spirit acting as a messenger enters.]
[Bowing.] My sovereign. Ladies of the court. I come from the walls of Osaka. Takahashi’s soldiers have stormed our outer defenses. We are now fighting in the streets.
What sort of necromancers do they have that can breach our spells?
I heard that Emagami The Blight was selling herself again, but her skills are pitiful.
[To Onibaba.] My lady, do you think that we should give up on Osaka, or not?
Of course not. Only cowards and monks run away.
Yattaaaa! I agree with what she says: we’ll fight it out.
Glory is like the ripples on the water. You have given me the task of whipping the Takahashi then I will beat those waters until they froth.
Lady Onibaba, drive the living daylights out of Osaka. They says the root of suffering is attachment. I say we beat that koan home on the skulls of Takahashi and his men.
Onibaba is, as her name states, is a red-skinned, white-haired Japanese ogre. She carries a kanabo (Iron war stick) slung over her shoulder.
Hangaku Gozen was an actual warrior and fought in the Genpei War (1180-1185 AD).
Jiutian Xuannu (Dark Lady of the Nine Heavens) is a Chinese goddess of war, lust and longevity. With long Mandarin robes and her Dadao (“Big sword”) she justifies showing up in this play by saying that she is on holiday.
Seishin kitsune is one of the names used for a fox spirit.
Senjo bozu. A spirit from the battlefield.
Jiuzhou is an ancient name for China.
Hitodama are a pair of blue flames (similar to will o’ the wisps) that accompany a ghost when it manifests.