The annoying thing about alcohol, thought Ibaraki Doji, is that once you’ve had a few, you’re too drunk to remember you’ve had enough.
He ambled through the streets of Heian-Kyo, wincing at the myriad of sights and sounds that constantly assaulted his senses. He and Shuten Doji were in Heian-Kyo at the behest of Abe no Seimei, who had sought their help with an urgent matter. They had been scheduled to meet with Seimei tonight, but the onmyoji had been called away at the last minute. That had left them scrambling to find accommodation for the night.
They’d settled on a small room on the top floor a hostel, which gave Shuten Doji a bad case of cabin fever. He’d attempted to cure it in the only way he knew how: by drowning his sorrows in alcohol. But for all that his friend loved alcohol, his ability to gauge his own sobriety was nothing short of atrocious. On some nights, Shuten Doji’s hangover was so severe that Ibaraki Doji was sure it would have left the great snake god Orochi reeling.
Unfortunately, tonight was turning out to be one of those nights. Shuten Doji had already consumed three whole bottles of Ambrosia - each of which could knock a human senseless for a week - and was hellbent on having more. Ibaraki Doji had desperately pleaded for his friend to stop, but this had only enraged Shuten Doji, who had attacked him in a drunken stupor, and run off into the night.
That left Ibaraki Doji in the predicament he was in now: walking through the streets of Heian-Kyo, trying to find Shuten Doji before he got himself into trouble. Ibaraki Doji sighed. For someone accustomed to the gentle ambience of Mt. Oe, Heian-Kyo was akin to being on a battlefield. Worse still, he couldn’t block any of it out, needing to keep his eyes and ears open for even the slightest sign of Shuten Doji.
He hoped he could find Shuten Doji soon, or things would go downhill from here. He was sure of it.
The great thing about alcohol, thought Shuten Doji, is that the more you drink, the more you want to drink. You just want to forget who you are, and all your troubles along with it.
He ambled through the streets of Heian-Kyo, thankful that the alcohol dulled the myriad of sights and sounds that constantly assaulted his senses. Wandering through Heian-Kyo wasn’t exactly how he preferred to spend his evening, but it was all he could do to make the most of his current situation.
What he preferred was relaxing in the forests atop Mt. Oe with Ibaraki Doji, chatting over the gentle warmth of a campfire. The view from Mt. Oe’s peak provided a stunning backdrop to their conversations; the night sky would stretch out before them, a blanket embroidered with dancing lights that illuminated the vast expanse of Heian-Kyo down below. That, combined with the crackling of the campfire, the chirping of crickets and the rich aroma of his prized Ambrosia wine, made for a scintillating experience.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t happening tonight. Being cooped up in a small room in a crowded hostel wasn’t conducive to relaxation at all. The din of the crowd had him constantly on edge, while the light pollution prevented them from enjoying the night sky in its full unrivalled beauty. The only way to dull the horrors of their dilemma was with alcohol. He’d been partially successful in blocking out the raucous crowd with Ambrosia, and had planned to keep drinking until the noise became an afterthought in the far reaches of his mind. But Ibaraki Doji, the miserable jerk, had been hellbent on denying Shuten Doji any modicum of comfort.
That left Shuten Doji in the predicament he was in now: walking through the streets of Heian-Kyo, trying to find someone to enjoy a drink with. Shuten Doji smiled. For someone accustomed to the simplicity of Mt. Oe, Heian-Kyo was a hive of activity. Better still, he had the opportunity to find spend the night with someone who could really appreciate the subtle nuances of alcohol, now that he was away from the overbearing watch of Ibaraki Doji.
He hoped he could find a drinking partner soon, as things would go uphill from there. He was sure of it.
The first place Shuten Doji sought out was the tavern. It was a logical choice: there was a steady flow of alcohol and an endless choice of patrons who might be willing to share in a bit of tipple.
He quickly found himself in the company of a dog spirit called Inugami, who was enjoying a drink with a small yellow sparrow. Inugami seemed to be quite an affable fellow, giving Shuten Doji a hearty pat on the back and thrusting a cup of sake into his hand as he lowered himself onto a rickety bar stool. The dog spirit proved to be excellent company as he regaled Shuten Doji with tales of his work protecting the Onmyoji around Heian-Kyo. After an hour of rapturous storytelling, they found their cups dry and their stomachs empty.
“What would you say to a meal?” asked Inugami. “Nekomata, the innkeeper here, makes some great fried chicken.”
Shuten Doji’s face lit up like one of Aoandon’s lanterns. “That sounds like an excellent idea!”
“Great! Let me go and place an order.”
Ah, Kyoto Fried Chicken. It had been so long since he’d sampled one of Heian-Kyo’s finest delicacies. The chicken was moist and succulent, coated with light fluffy batter that gave a satisfying crunch when bitten. It was especially satisfying when coated with Nekomata’s secret concoction of herbs and spices, giving the chicken a warm, golden appearance. In fact, he could almost swear that he saw a piece of chicken on the table in front of him. Hungrily, he reached out and snatched it off the table, marvelling at its soft texture before stuffing it in his mouth.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” came a startled cry from behind him. It was only then that Shuten Doji realised that the piece of chicken was squirming in his mouth. He spat it out, horrified to find that it was in fact the small yellow sparrow.
“HOW DARE YOU HURT MY FRIEND!” thundered Inugami. The dog spirit grabbed Shuten Doji, lifting him into the air, before throwing him brusquely across the room. Taking this as his cue to leave, Shuten Doji scampered out of the tavern, with the howls of the irate Inugami echoing behind him.
He sighed. Things hadn’t gone well, but hey, at least he’d managed to score some laughs and a free drink.
Time to find a new drinking partner.
Meanwhile, Ibaraki Doji had been trudging around Heian-Kyo for what felt like hours. The search for Shuten Doji was taking its toll, and he was famished. He was just about to faint when the scent of deep fried chicken wafted into his nostrils. Before him was a busy tavern, with a huge ‘Home to Nekomata’s FAMOUS Kyoto Fried Chicken!’ sign plastered to the front. Ibaraki Doji’s legs moved of their own volition to plant him at the end of the long queue in front of the tavern, his mouth watering as he began daydreaming about filling his belly with juicy, tender chicken.
However, when Ibaraki Doji reached the front of the queue 45 minutes later, he was met with the sight of an empty frying pan and an apologetic innkeeper. Apparently, the tavern was catering for a big event at a casino, and they’d run out of chicken. Anger and despair welled up in Ibaraki Doji’s chest as he grasped the innkeeper by her clothes, bleating miserably.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” came a growl from behind him. Ibaraki Doji turned around to find a dog spirit literally breathing down his neck, murderous intent oozing from every muscle in its body.
The dog spirit leaned in close. “Nekomata is a very good friend of mine, and if you don’t drop her right this instant, I WILL GUT YOU AND FEED YOUR ENTRAILS TO THE KRAKEN, YOU HEAR ME?!” he roared, punctuating each word with a forceful jab to Ibaraki Doji’s chest. Suitably rebuked, Ibaraki Doji nodded, before turning and running as fast as his legs could carry him.
He sighed. Things hadn’t gone well, and even worse, he didn’t have any clues on where Shuten Doji might be.
After his encounter with the brutish Inugami, Shuten Doji had decided that his next drinking partner ought to be a woman. He found one in the form of an excitable young rabbit spirit, who appeared to have the lower body of a toad. A small voice in the back of his mind questioned such a strange combination, but in a world where spirits like Shishio or Kiyohime existed, it didn’t seem too far-fetched. Besides, he was too drunk to care what body parts she had, he was more interested in whether she’d make a good drinking partner. The answer was shaping up to be yes, as she was ogling at his bottle of Ambrosia wine with a childish curiosity.
“Will it make me go faster?” she asked innocently.
“Of course it will, sweetie,” he replied. How could he say no to her when her pink eyes shone like diamonds in the morning light? Shuten Doji was enraptured. “Here, have a cup.”
To his horror, the rabbit drank the entire bowl in one big gulp. But instead of retching or fainting as he’d expected, the rabbit’s face broke out into a huge grin as she jumped up and down with excitement.
“Woohoo! This is awesome! Yeaah! Amazing!” she squealed with joy. “Hey, mister, this stuff is really good! You should come for a ride with me!” She held out a hand, beckoning for Shuten Doji to jump on her back.
Shuten Doji’s face lit up like one of Miketsu’s wheat fields during the harvest season. His heart pounded with excitement. This was exactly what he needed in a woman- youthful beauty, combined with an extraordinary ability to hold her liquor. Eagerly, he took the rabbit’s hand and climbed aboard her back.
“Ready to go fast? Let’s go! Wheeeeee!” she screeched, before taking off at the speed of light.
After failing to get his hands on some Kyoto Fried Chicken, Ibaraki Doji headed to the marketplace and settled for the next best thing: a giant piece of sakuramochi. He was about to dig in, when there was an almighty crash from across the street. The side of a building had exploded in a shower of shrapnel, and emerging from it was a small, red-faced rabbit riding on a toad.
The toad galloped awkwardly through the marketplace, bulldozing through stalls and decorating the pavement with food and drink. The townsfolk were whipped into a panicked frenzy as they darted in all directions, desperate to get out of the toad’s way.
He caught sight of a red-haired passenger on the back of the toad, holding what appeared to be a bottle of Ambrosia wine. It was none other than Shuten Doji! Ibaraki Doji’s jaw dropped open in shock.
“Stop!” he called, sprinting towards the wayward toad.
“Hola holaaaaaaaaa!” screamed the rabbit, hurling a ring at Ibaraki Doji. It caught him squarely in the midsection, sending him face-first into the dirt. Dazed, Ibaraki Doji pushed himself into a sitting position, finding that his body felt a lot lighter than usual. Not only that, everything and everyone seemed to tower over him. What in Enma’s hells was going on?
As he looked around, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in a nearby mirror. The rabbit had turned him into a paper doll.
He sighed. Things hadn’t gone well, and even worse, he’d lost his piece of sakuramochi.
Shuten Doji groaned as he collapsed by the side of a building, struggling to catch his breath. His ride around Heian-Kyo had been exhilarating, but it had come to an abrupt end when an idiot with a piece of sakuramochi decided to step directly into their path. The rabbit swiftly responded by turning the idiot into a paper doll, which sent the sakuramochi tumbling into Shuten Doji’s hands. Unfortunately, this also caused her to lose her balance and crash into the side of a building.
That wasn’t the worst part, though. The worst part was when he’d picked himself off the pavement and saw that the rabbit had been cleanly bisected. He’d felt the foul taste of vomit as it threatened to rise up out of his throat. Had he been responsible for her cruel and untimely demise?
Suddenly, the two halves of the rabbit’s body had started to move. Not only that, the rabbit’s torso managed to pick itself up and scurry back over to her legs, jumping around excitedly. Shuten Doji’s mind simply could not comprehend what he was seeing. What kind of freak was this rabbit? What kind of arcane magic was she using to keep herself alive after suffering what was undoubtedly a mortal wound? More importantly, if she knew such magic, what terrifying things could she do to him? The small voice in the back of his mind suddenly came to its forefront, screaming at him to run, run for your life! So he did.
He sighed. Things hadn’t gone well, but hey, at least he’d managed to score some cheap thrills and some free sakuramochi.
Time to find a new drinking partner.
Fortunately, the building he’d collapsed in front of was the Wind Sea Casino. The casino owners, Yasha and Youko, were known for their flamboyant personalities and had a penchant for throwing lavish parties. In fact, one of the casino’s most famous events, Shikigami Showdown, was currently in full swing. The event attracted thousands of onmyoji who came to place bets on their favourite shikigami as they battled for dominance in the arena. Such a spectacle would surely be well-catered for. Not only that, there were bound to be beautiful women employed to entertain the guests.
However, the challenge was getting to the wine and women, as the casino was notoriously difficult to navigate. That was made worse by Shuten Doji’s poor sense of direction, which, given his current state of inebriation, was shoddy at best. He’d ended up taking a trip to a janitor’s closet, what appeared to be a dungeon filled with eerie sounds, and even the arena, where he’d placed a couple of bets and won big. He was just about to follow a sign directing him into the main auditorium, when he caught sight of a spirit exiting a room down the hallway.
Shuten Doji’s face lit up like the flames of the fox spirit Tamamo-no-Mae’s tail. The spirit was absolutely gorgeous, with silky white hair and smart black robes that accentuated her lithe figure. In one hand, she held a fan, which she twirled with a captivating grace, and in the other, a cup of fine wine. Her eyes were obscured by a mask, but he was sure that her face was as lovely as the rest of her. Shuten Doji powered down the hallway, spurred on by an eager desire to claim the beautiful spirit for himself.
It had been a long day for Youko. He’d managed to dilute the stress of managing Shikigami Showdown with copious amounts of alcohol (too much, Yasha had said) and was looking to wind down for the evening when he saw a voluptuous redhead making her way towards his private rooms. The woman’s hair was tied up in a thick, voluminous ponytail, which only served to accentuate its fiery hue. Any thought of winding down was quickly banished, replaced by the eager desire to claim the redhead for himself.
“Hello, gorgeous,” the redhead purred, voice low and sultry. Youko felt shivers run down his spine. “Are you Miketsu in disguise? Because you’re looking absolutely foxy.”
“Only if you’re Susabi, so I can tend to your every want and need,” he whispered, his lips pulling up in a seductive smile. “Shall we continue this somewhere more… private?”
He led her into his private bedchamber, where they spent the next hour whispering sweet nothings into one another’s ears, gorging themselves on delectable Kyoto fried chicken and sipping on fine wine. Eventually, Youko felt confident enough to ask the redheaded maiden to remove his mask. He closed his eyes, feeling the butterflies in his stomach as her fingers trailed up his face and relished the tingle of the redhead’s warm breath against his skin.
However, his reverie was soon interrupted by the redhead’s shocked gasp.
“You- you’re a man?!”
Youko’s eyes snapped open. At this close range, he was able to see that the redhead was not a beautiful woman, but in fact, a man. Horror etched itself onto his features as he leapt backwards.
“You- you’re a man as well!” he exclaimed. “You tricked me!”
As the redhead stumbled out of his room, screaming, Youko sank to the floor and ran a hand through his hair.
Yasha was right. He needed to drink less.
After one of the villagers had kindly freed him from his paper-bound state, Ibaraki Doji made his way to the casino. He had it on good authority that Shuten Doji had just been spotted hightailing it out of the casino, and he was determined to find out where his friend was headed next.
The casino’s main auditorium was the pinnacle of opulence, and played host to a banquet of the finest foods in all the lands of Heian-Kyo, including a huge tower of Kyoto Fried Chicken. He quickly caught sight of Youko, who having a casual conversation with Kisei and Jikikaeru, the hosts of Shikigami Showdown.
“Youko!” he called, barging through the crowd towards the fox spirit. Taking notice of him, Youko politely excused himself from his conversation.
“And who might you be?” the fox spirit asked silkily.
“I am Ibaraki Doji, friend of Shuten Doji, and I come here to seek your help in finding him.”
Youko’s lips curled into a blithe smile. “And what if I refuse?”
Ibaraki Doji felt a spark of annoyance. “If you won’t help me, then I’ll force you to help me by challenging you to a duel! If I win, you tell me where Shuten Doji went. And,” he added, “You give me a plate of Kyoto Fried Chicken!”
Youko’s laughter echoed through the auditorium. “Very well. I could use some entertainment,” he said, motioning for the crowd to give the two combatants space.
Ibaraki Doji watched as Youko assumed a ready stance. There was something about it that nagged at him, but he shook the feeling of trepidation away. He was confident in his abilities. With the soul of a shadow, he could strike hard and fast- a point he immediately proved by landing a direct hit on Youko, sending him tumbling backwards.
“Is that all you’ve got?” he taunted.
“You underestimate my power,” Youko purred, with an alluring glint in his eye. Ibaraki Doji froze, unable to move as Youko unleashed a torrent of wind blades- two, four, six, eight, too many to count. It was only then did he remember why he was troubled earlier.
Youko had the soul of a seductress.
The wind blades caught him, picked him up, and blasted him out of the casino and onto the streets.
He sighed. Things hadn’t gone well, and even worse, he hadn’t been able to get his hands on that delightful chicken.
For the second time in as many hours, Shuten Doji groaned as he collapsed, struggling to catch his breath. His experience in the casino had left him traumatised- not only had he fallen for a man, but he had fallen for Youko, one of the casino’s owners.
He sighed. Things hadn’t gone well, but hey, at least he’d managed to score some mystery amulets and free bag of coins.
Time to find a new drinking partner.
He discovered he was in a park. It was empty, save for a lone figure sitting on a bench. It turned out to be a young boy dressed in black. Good. After his most recent experience, he was done with women. He hobbled over to the boy, crumpling in a heap on the bench next to him.
“Hey there,” he said. “Fancy being alone here, huh?” The boy didn’t respond. No matter, he could work with this. He offered the boy a cup of wine, which the boy accepted with a curious glance. Shuten Doji grinned and proceeded to chat to the boy. In his current state, conversation flowed as freely as the alcohol, and soon, he was waxing lyrical about his encounter with Youko.
Shuten Doji’s face lit up like Hiyoribo’s sunshine doll as he became more and more impassioned in his rant.
“And she was a man! I even told him I loved him!” he hollered. “Here’s an important lesson, kid. Never, ever tell someone you love them unless they’re the most precious person in the world. Someone who you’d catch a grenade for, throw your head on a blade for, or jump in front of an Oboroguruma for! Only if you’d die for them, and they’d do the same!”
Their ‘conversation’ was interrupted by the arrival of a tiny boy dressed in white.
“Kuro, you shouldn’t have run off like that. Lady Enma will be furious,” he said frantically, pulling the other boy off the bench with a vice-like grip. He turned to Shuten Doji. “Hey, thanks for looking after him, mister. Here, take this.”
He handed Shuten Doji a voucher with ‘Kamikui’s Bathhouse’ emblazoned on it, before dragging the boy in black away, and leaving Shuten Doji to rue his newfound loneliness.
He sighed. Things hadn’t gone well, but hey, at least he’d managed to impart some wise advice and score a voucher for a free bath.
Time to find a new drinking partner.
Ibaraki Doji woke to the sound of maniacal laughter reverberating in his ears. Youko’s attack had been brutal, and he could still feel his body throbbing with the sharp pain of every single slice. He tried to sit up, immediately regretting it as the laughter got louder and louder.
It was then that something barrelled into him, reacquainting his face with the dirt for the second time that day. Ibaraki Doji’s vision swam, but he was able to make out that he’d been struck by two objects, one white and one black. The black thing appeared to be the source of laughter, while the white thing was flapping around it like a bird.
“Kuro! Kuro! I told you not to drink it, Kuro!” White Thing shouted, voice strained. It was no use, as it was soon smothered by Black Thing, the hysterical laughter interspersed with shouts of “Shiro! Shiro!” and “I love you!”. However, the tables quickly turned, as White Thing grabbed Black Thing, then promptly disappeared down an alleyway and out of sight.
Groaning, Ibaraki Doji slowly pushed himself onto all fours (or all threes, in his case). He noticed something glinting in the dirt. Reaching down and picking it up, he discovered it was a vial, with a noxious blue liquid inside. ‘Sleeping Draught’, read the label on the front.
He blinked. Things had taken a curious turn. Better still, he’d suddenly thought of a use for the sleeping draught.
Shuten Doji thought he’d reached the height of misery as he trudged down the street. Well, perhaps that was an exaggeration- but he was sure he was close. After his chat with the boy in black, he realised that he’d inadvertently given the boy the last of his wine. How was he supposed to drink his sorrows away with no alcohol?!
As the alarming thought of his impending sobriety began to stew in his mind, he was interrupted by a shrill cry of “Discounted baths!” from down the street. The mention of baths suddenly reminded him of the bathhouse voucher he’d received. He took the voucher out and inspected it in more detail. At the bottom was a set of magical words: ‘Complementary drink with bath’.
Shuten Doji’s eyes lit up like the stars of Susabi’s stellar fields. The bathhouse was sure to be would be full of patrons looking to relax over a delicious, full-bodied cup of wine. He was sure of it. Excitedly, he dashed over to the bathhouse, paid the admission fee with his newfound riches, stripped down and jumped into a bath. However, after he’d asked a staff member for the beverage list, he was dismayed to find the bathhouse didn’t serve any alcohol.
“This isn’t a tavern, you know,” the staff member said pointedly.
He groaned. Things really hadn’t gone well, and now he’d paid for a bath he didn’t want or need.
Would he ever be able to find a good drinking partner?
Remember, you’re doing this for Shuten Doji, Ibaraki Doji begrudgingly reminded himself. He found crossdressing to be incredibly demeaning, and after he’d lost his arm the last time he’d tried, it was firmly anchored to the bottom of his to-do list. However, he’d overheard some spirits discussing the bathouse’s ‘free drink’ promotion, and thought it might be a good place to search for Shuten Doji. His instincts had been proven correct- apart from one small detail.
Ibaraki Doji felt as if he’d taken one of Satori’s club bombs right in the face when someone had told him that they’d seen a wine-obsessed, red-haired spirit go into the women's baths. He’d been completely baffled as to why Shuten Doji would go there. Surely, even in his inebriated state, he wouldn’t have strayed into such dangerous territory… would he?
As he entered the bathhouse, there was a scream from the women’s changing rooms. He dashed inside to see a group of women crowded around a bewildered Tanuki, who was clutching a bottle of wine in its paws. He was struck by the realisation that Tanuki had the ability to transform into humans, and that the red-haired woman hadn’t been Shuten Doji at all - it had been Tanuki!
He groaned. Things really hadn’t gone well, and now he’d dressed up as a woman for no reason.
Would he ever be able to find Shuten Doji?
Dejected, he trudged out of the bathhouse, lamenting his failure. He’d been attacked, turned into a doll, defeated in a duel, bowled over and now humiliated in his quest to bring Shuten Doji back to the relative safety of the hostel. He tried his best to suppress the rising panic at the thought of not finding his friend. Would he be able to get back to the hostel? Where would he end up if his sense of direction lead him astray?
Suddenly, as he turned a corner, he saw a familiar red-headed figure slumped by the side of the road. It was Shuten Doji! He couldn’t believe it. After all he’d gone through, Shuten Doji was now being delivered to him on a silver platter? Not wanting to look a gift fox in the mouth, he quickly hurried over to his friend.
“Shuten Doji!” he called. He watched as his friend’s eyes drifted upwards to look at him. His face was gaunt and his eyes were aloof, his mouth hung open like a goldfish begging for food. To see his friend reduced to the mess he currently was clawed painfully at Ibaraki Doji’s heart.
“It’s time to go home,” he said gently, offering a hand to help the troubled spirit. Shuten Doji’s expression turned into a wan smile as he took Ibaraki Doji’s hand.
“Oh, an angel, a lovely guardian angel has come to rescue me,” he croaked, reaching out to cup Ibaraki Doji’s face. “And you smell of Ambrosia, the wine of the gods. Magnificent.”
Ibaraki Doji felt the heat rising behind his cheeks as he blinked back tears, and tried to ignore the pain lancing through his heart. There was no way Shuten Doji would normally compliment him like that. Undoubtedly, the combination of Ibaraki Doji’s disguise and his own state of intoxication had led Shuten Doji to believe that he was being rescued by a beautiful woman. Still - never look a gift fox in the mouth, and all. So Ibaraki Doji allowed his friend to lean on his shoulder and whisper sweet nothings in his ear as they began the long walk back to the hostel.
When they arrived back at the hostel, Ibaraki Doji gently deposited Shuten Doji onto his futon as he went to remove his disguise and prepare a drink for them both.
“Wait…” said Shuten Doji, a flicker of horrified realisation crossing his eyes, “I know this place…”
“Yes,” Ibaraki Doji replied gently, “It’s the hostel where we’re staying at while we wait for Seimei.”
Shuten Doji’s face became a picture of total despondency. “Oh, Ibaraki Doji… it was just you…”
He offered Shuten Doji a cup of wine. “Here, let’s have a drink.”
Shuten Doji’s tired face lit up like the sunshine in Hiyoribo’s doll. Tenderly, he took the cup from Ibaraki Doji’s hands, failing to notice the blue tinge to the usually sunny Ambrosia.
“To your continuing health and prosperity,” Ibaraki Doji said, raising his cup of wine in a toast.
“Hear, hear,” concurred Shuten Doji.
Ibaraki Doji watched with fondness as his friend drained the cup of wine. Within minutes, Shuten Doji was fast asleep, his face an image of childlike innocence as he snored gently into his futon.
He was sure Shuten Doji would be cross with him when he woke up, but that was a problem for tomorrow morning. The most important thing was that his friend was safe and sound, and could live to drink another day.
He smiled. Things hadn’t gone well, but perhaps now, they were going to change for the better.