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

Copyright Fuyumi Ono, Koudansya, 2001


~ Chapter Three ~


With her emotions in full force, Youko (zq) headed deep inside Kinpa Palace (g{). Walking without aim for a while, Youko passed through a couple of buildings in obscurity, and finally reached a quiet spot facing the Sea of Clouds (_C, Unkai). Kinpa Palace spreads itself among intricately undulating mountain ranges. Passing by some unknown palace gardens, and walking through short tunnels that penetrate the cliffs above, Youko reached a tiny cove that cuts through intricately shaped boulders. In front of the cove was a cape that extends to the Sea of Clouds. A very tiny spot with only one arbor sticking out, there was nothing worth mentioning of the spot except some wild summer flowers growing there.

Youko gave a slight sigh. Tree shadows that dropped on boulders on both sides. The smell of green and the aroma of sea waves. The extensive prospect of the Sea of Clouds extending beyond the horizon. Except these, there was nothing else.

"There is such a place..."

Youko mumbled as she sat on the grassland. The cries of summer birds descended from the sky, and the sound of seawaves filled the air. Up till this moment, Youko didn't realize there is such a spot in Kinpa Palace. In the first place, most of the space in this humongous palace was of no use to Youko. She had not even visited those places.

-- It is not bad here, Youko propped up her chin.

Although Youko did not have a single clue where on earth she was, not to mention how she should return.

Not only Kinpa Palace, this world has few blank spaces. Every inch of the walls and pillars are flying with colors and patterns, leaving few plain blank spots. Even gardens are of no exception, as characteristic trees and rocks jam-packed every inch of space.

This spot, with nothing but the prospect of the Sea of Clouds, might be a place abandoned by emperors of previous eras. The only existing arbor was peeling off its colors, and bore no sign of being taken care of frequently. Therefore it exuded relief -- a moment that reminded Youko of her foreign identity.

It had been filling her mind full to be an emperor, and she had nearly no time to think of her homeland. Sometimes she did remember, but it felt like a distant dream. Maybe she had forgotten, maybe she had sealed her memories -- This something that she sensed when hearing Taiki's story swayed her heart a little. A sense of deja vu. It didn't mean she missed it dearly, but when she remembered she could never return, she felt a stabbing sense of loss.

A kirin that shared the same time and the same place.
-- What is he doing now?
There is a Shoku (I), so he must have returned to that dream-like world. Then why doesn't he come back?

In Youko's deep thoughts, faint footsteps could suddenly be heard. Youko turned her head, and found her servant standing.


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