QUITE pathless were the desolate mountains of Tango, for no one ever went into them except once in a while a poor woodcutter or charcoal-burner; yet Raiko and his men set out with stout hearts. There were no bridges over the streams, and frightful precipices abounded. Once they had to stop and build a bridge by felling a tree, and walking across it over a dangerous chasm. Once they came to a steep rock, to descend which they must make a ladder of creeping vines. At last they reached a dense grove at the top of a cliff, far up to the clouds, which seemed as if it might contain the demon's castle.
Approaching, they found a pretty maiden washing some clothes which had spots of blood on them. They said to her, "Sister, Miss, why are you here, and what are you doing?"
"Ah," said she, with a deep sigh, "you must not come here. This is the haunt of demons. They eat human flesh and they will eat yours." "Look there" said she pointing to a pile of white bones of men, women and children, "You must go down the mountain as quickly as you came." Saying this she burst into tears.
But instead of being frightened or sorrowful, the brave fellows nearly danced for joy. "We have come here for the purpose of destroying the demons by the mikado's orders," said Raiko, patting his breast, where inside his dress in the damask bag was the imperial order.
At this the maiden dried her tears and smiled so sweetly that Raiko's heart was touched by her beauty.
"But how came you to live among these cannibal demons," asked Raiko.
She blushed deeply as she replied sadly "Although they eat men and old women, they keep the young maidens to wait on them."
"It's a great pity" said Raiko, "but we shall now avenge our fellow subjects of the mikado, as well as your shame and cruel treatment, if you will show us the way up the cliff to the den."
They began to climb the hill but they had not gone far before they met a young oni who was a cook in the great dōji's kitchen. He was carrying a human limb for his master's lunch. They gnashed their teeth silently, and clutched their swords under their coats. Yet they courteously saluted the cook-demon, and asked for an interview with the chief. The demon smiled in his sleeve, thinking what a fine dinner his master would make of the four men.
A few feet forward, and a turn in the path brought them to the front of the demon's castle. Among tall and mighty boulders of rock, which loomed up to the clouds, there was an opening in the dense groves, thickly covered with vines and mosses like an arbor. From this point, the view over the plains below commanded a space of hundreds of miles. In the distance the red pagodas, white temple-gables and castle towers of Kioto were visible.
Inside the cave was a banqueting hall large enough to seat one hundred persons. The floor was neatly covered with new, clean mats of sea-green rice-straw, on which tables, silken cushions, arm-rests, drinking-cups, bottles and many other articles of comfort lay about. The stone walls were richly decorated with curtains and hangings of fine silken stuffs.
At the end of the long hall, on a raised dais, our heroes presently observed, as a curtain was lifted, the chief demon, Shi-ten dōji, of august, yet frightful appearance. He was seated on a heap of luxurious cushions made of blue and crimson crape, stuffed with swan's down. He was leaning on a golden arm-rest. His body was quite red, and he was round and fat like a baby grown up. He had very black hair cut like a small boy's, and on the top of his head, just peeping through the hair were two very short horns. Around him were a score of lovely maidens--the fairest of Kioto--on whose beautiful faces was stamped the misery they dared not fully show, yet could not entirely conceal. Along the wall other demons sat or lay at full length, each one with his handmaid seated beside him to wait on him and pour out his wine. All of them were of horrible aspect, which only made the beauty of the maidens more conspicuous. Seeing our heroes walk in the hall led by the cook, each one of the demons was as happy as a spider, when in his lurking hole he feels the jerk on his web-thread that tells him a fly is caught. All of them at once poured out a fresh saucer of saké and drank it down.
Raiko and his men separated, and began talking freely with the demons until the partitions at one corner were slid aside, and a troop of little demons who were waiter-boys entered. They brought in a host of dishes, and the onis fell to and ate. The noise of their jaws sounded like the pounding of a rice mill.
Our heroes were nearly sickened at the repast, for it consisted chiefly of human flesh, while the wine-cups were made of empty human skulls. However, they laughed and talked and excused themselves from eating, saying they had just lunched.
As the demons drank more and more they grew lively, laughed till the cave echoed, and sang uproarious songs. Every time they grinned, they showed their terrible tusks, and teeth like fangs. All of them had horns, though most of these were very short.
The dōji became especially hilarious, and drank the health of every one of his four guests in a skull full of wine. To supply him there was a tub full of saké at hand, and his usual drinking-vessel was a dish which seemed to Tsuma to be as large as a full moon.
Raiko now offered to return the courtesies shown them by dancing "the Kioto dance," for which he was famous. Stepping out into the centre of the hall, with his fan in one hand, he danced gracefully and with such wonderful ease, that the onis screamed with delight, and clapped their hands in applause, saying they had never seen anything to equal it. Even the maidens, lost in admiration of the polished courtier, forgot their sorrow, and felt as happy for the time as though they were at home dancing.
The dance finished, Raiko took from his bosom a bottle of saké, and offered it to the chief demon as a gift, saying it was the best wine of Sakai. The delighted dōji drank and gave a sip to each of his lords saying, "This is the best liquor I ever tasted, you must drink the health of our friends in it."
Now Raiko had bought, at the most skillful druggists' in the capital, a powerful sleeping potion, and mixed it with the wine, which made it taste very sweet. In a few minutes all the demons had dropped off asleep, and their snores sounded like the rolling thunder of the mountains.
Then Raiko rose up and gave the signal to his comrades. Whispering to the maidens to leave the room quietly, they drew their swords, and with as little noise as possible cut the throats of the demons. No sound was heard but the gurgling of blood that ran out in floods on the floor. The dōji lying like a lion on his cushions was still sleeping, the snores issuing out of his nose like thunder from a cloud. The four warriors approached him and like loyal vassals as they were, they first turned their faces towards Kioto, reverenced the mikado, and prayed for the blessing of the gods who made Japan. Raiko then drew near, and measuring the width of the doji's neck with his sword found that it would be short. Suddenly, the blade lengthened of itself. Then lifting his weapon, he smote with all his might and cut the neck clean through.
In an instant, the bloody head flew up in the air gnashing its teeth and rolling its yellow eyes, while the horns sprouted out to a horrible length, the jaws opening and shutting like the edges of an earthquake fissure. It flew up and whirled round the room seven times. Then with a rush it flew at Raiko's head, and bit through the straw hat and into the iron helmet inside. But this final effort exhausted its strength, it's motions ceased and it fell heavily to the floor.
Anxiously the comrades helped their fallen leader to rise, and examined his head. But he was unhurt,--not a scratch was on him. Then the heroes congratulated each other and after despatching the smaller demons, brought out all the treasure and divided it equally. Then they set the castle on fire and buried the bones of the victims, setting up a stone to mark the spot. All the maidens and captives were assembled together, and in great state and pomp they returned to Kioto. The virgins were restored to their parents, and many a desolate home was made joyful, and many mourning garments taken off. Raiko was honored by the mikado in being made a kugé (court noble,) and was appointed Chief of the entire garrison of Kiotō. Then all the people were grateful for his valor.