Tasogare no Kishi, Akatsuki no Sora
<The Shore in Twilight, the Sky in Daybreak>

Copyright Fuyumi Ono, Koudansya, 2001


~ Chapter One ~


Not waiting Toshin to scream out, that thing jumped out from the thick fog and hit hard at the stone wall by the Forbidden Gate. It uttered some short cries and slipped down onto the terrace as it struggled. What the heck, Gaishi yelled worriedly. The thing that crashed on the balcony flapped its wings two or three times in spasms and cried sorrowfully as it collapsed on the spot. At the same time, a person fell from its back.

Toshin dashed out to the terrace right after the spear-totting Gaishi. Passage through the Forbidden Gate is restricted to only the emperor, Saiho (ɕ) and persons authorized by the emperor. The kijyuu (Rb, lit. ridden beast) that collapsed in front of them are not possessed by anybody mentioned above. This gate, which links directly to the most interior of the palace, is no place for anyone to approach with their kijyuu as they please without prior authorization under any circumstances.

The colleagues that rushed to the kijyuufs side were gripped by tension like Toshin, alerted of imminent danger. Toshin felt a lump forming at the pit of his stomach as he approached. More soldiers closed in from the barrack beside the Forbidden Gate, and together they formed a wall of spears around the kijyuu and its rider. With such formation, Toshin finally got the spare time to observe the kijyuu and its rider. His eyes opened wide.

It was a big dog-like kijyuu. Its head was black and its body was silvery gray to the point of white. However, its fur was tainted coal-gray and ruffled, and reddish black spots were forming one place or another. Even the black hair at its head fell off like it was plucked out. The short white feathers covering the wings were heavily soiled, and the strong black feathers at the wingsf inner edge (؉H) were broken or missing. While lying flat on the terrace, the kijyuu knocked its wings weakly against the ground, but the motion was just too weak to be even called flapping. At its side laid a person as if protected by its wings. The person looked nearly as pitiful as its kijyuu: wounded, dirty and depleted of all energy.

Puzzled, Toshin looked for Gaishi. Gaishi stood ahead of the pack, holding his spears forward as he directed his surprised gaze at the kijyuu and the person. A hum of puzzled conversations exploded. Gaishi held up a hand to signal surrounding soldiers to stay put, put down his spear and knelt on one knee by the personfs side.

gAre you alright?h
The collapsed personfs face lifted up upon Gaishifs question. By this, Toshin finally realized that that person was a female. Tall and sturdily built, the female was wearing armor. Or maybe it should be called her armorfs remains. It was not only dirty but also torn and missing some part or another, just like the kijyuufs wings.

gCan you hear me? What the heck happened?h
The woman mourned as she struggled up. Seeing her movements, Toshin sensed that one of her arms were deeply wounded. Gaishi hesitatedly lifted his spear.
gDonft move! Sorry, but please donft move. Here is the Forbidden Gate. We cannot allow any person of unknown origin to approach here.h

The woman squeezed her eyes to look up at Gaishi, and nodded lightly. Gaishi pulled out the sword carried at the womanfs waist with his empty hand, gave it to Toshin behind him, and again put down his spear. The woman struggled up again with mourns, but this time Gaishi didn't stop her.

g--My apologies for all the troubles caused.h
The woman forced some mumbling, and barely succeeded to kneel down.
gI am a general appointed in the Kingdom of Tai (), surnamed Ryuu ().h
g...Tai?h Gaishi mumbled back with wide open eyes.
As if trying to cling on Gaishi with her eyes, the woman settled her gaze on Gaishi, and kowtowed in front of him.
gI thoroughly understand my discourtesy, but I would like to extend my report to Kei-ou (i) the empress of Kingdom of Kei (c)!h


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