When Youko came to Risai’s room to inform her that they were going to conduct the search for Taiki, Risai was in the middle of her dinner.
“Before actually doing it, we wouldn’t know how much help we can get from other countries, or how far we could go to find Taiki. However for now, even if it’s only one step, we are moving forward for sure.”
She chuckled at Risai who couldn’t even say a word of gratitude, then hastily left the guest room. To cover for the time she spent for Tai’s business, Youko was to stay up until midnight to tackle the matters of her own country.
“Wow, thank you, that’s wonderful.”
To the mumbling Risai, Kei kei who finally came into the guest room as a helper for Risai said, 'Isn’t that a relief! With many emperors working together, we will surely find him.'
The one who decidedly said so was Suzu, and Risai only responded with a numb nod. Compared to not less than six years being stuck and doing nothing but fighting the despair, what a progress this was indeed.
…Finally, the saving of Tai has been started.
Thinking so, Risai was so happy she couldn’t sleep that night. Lying on her bed, she ruminated on Youko’s words over and over again, until late at night her happiness suddenly turned into anxiety.
…What if Taiki still can't be found after all this?
When she thought that they might be able to find him, she’s filled with nothing but deep happiness, yet when thinking that it might turn into a disappointment, she couldn’t help being afraid.
It’s not that she doubted Youko. It’s just, she had spent too long being denied of what she wished for. Her wishes were betrayed, her every hope was shattered. It had always been like that.
Taiki to return safely, is such a happy thing really possible to happen?
She then became restless, starting to think that it might not be possible to find Taiki, or something bad might happen to Taiki while they’re searching for him. This time she couldn’t sleep because of these thoughts.
Risai was troubled, she couldn't bear the agony in her heart and got off the bed.
Suzu finally stopped keeping a vigil and returned to her own room only after Risai’s condition got a little better. There’s nobody there to assist Risai, so nobody would blame her for leaving her bed either.
With such a weak body, walking slowly by holding on to the wall and furniture, it took Risai a long time to open the door of the room. She just wanted to feel a bit of night breeze, but once she opened the door, her body was forced to sit on spot. Thinking how weak her body had become, she’s overwhelmed with the urge to fret.
…Even if, even if Taiki could return, what should be done afterwards?
If Taiki was here, then, relying on ouki (emperor’s aura) she might be able to search for Gyousou. But, for doing it, she would have to take Taiki back to Tai. Could she really do that? With such a weak body, not to mention her lost arm. This way she wouldn’t be able to protect Taiki, while Tai was infested with Youma and villains. Probably because her body withered, her heart withered as well. Or perhaps, slipped away from Tai and getting protection from a safe country had made her body and soul felt relief. Looking back, she saw Tai as a scary place. She couldn’t think of herself taking Taiki back to such a place.
Sitting on the corridor’s floor, with a gloomy feeling Risai leaned on the wall. Ahead of the eaves, the moonlight shone the courtyard. From somewhere, lonely sounds of insects were heard.
Even if Taiki would return here, she didn’t know what to do afterwards. She couldn’t believe that Taiki would actually return. She felt like there’s no way of saving Tai. Without firm basis to think otherwise, she could only think that way. Don’t know since when, but in order to save herself from disappointment, her heart made preparations to adjust like this.
......After all, it’s always been like this.
How many years had it been since Gyousou disappeared, when Tai’s catastrophe got really bad? It is said, “The emperor’s ceremonial rituals set up the world’s order”. Hadn’t Asen performed the rituals? Or perhaps if it’s not the justified emperor, then the world couldn't be calm? Anyway, Tai started to be ruined. Moreover, it’s more than anytime during throne vacancy ever before.
It was some summer after Gyousou’s disappearance; Risai entered Bun Province to find him. Secretly so Asen wouldn’t catch her, relying on connection and getting protection from old acquaintances, she entered Bun Province then headed for Tetsui. Gyousou vanished from his camp at Rin’u, a city right next to Tetsui.
Rin’u originally was a city in Bun Province that had the best gem springs. The oldest gem spring came from Mt.Kanyou, its surrounding was dotted by other big and small springs, and at the base of the mines, different cities were built. But she heard that most of those gem springs were already mined thoroughly, and now gem was only produced from what was left of those springs. Even these remaining springs suddenly died at this time, she had heard. Risai didn’t know whether this was a part of Tai’s catastrophe.
She couldn’t find anything looking only around Rin’u and its surrounding area. Perhaps the people of Tetsui would know of Gyousou’s whereabouts. When she found that there’s enough possibility that Tetsui people might have given shelter to Gyousou, she made the move to Tetsui. However, when she got there, Tetsui had been burnt down to the ground. Only dingy rubble remained, the city had been abandoned. Of course, there was no sign of any remaining living person. There were only some white flowers on the altar of a burnt Shibyou (shrine). Probably, the remaining living people of Tetsui were really afraid of being caught that even during the night they stayed hidden and secretly went to the Shibyou to pray for Gyousou’s safety.
Next to the Shibyou stood the Riboku, which looked like it was really withering, with flames of fire burning it. Seeing that lonesome view, Risai realized how Tai, that had lost its pillar, lost its strength as well.
Even Risai herself had to hide in the night, mingled in the crowd to stay hidden. Though she had walked around in disguise, trying to find people who knew of Gyousou’s whereabouts, or Eishou, Gashin and the troops’ whereabouts, she couldn’t obtain any useful information. She heard that after much difficulty, finally the combat occurred at Rin’u’s suburb, and though the Kingun (Imperial Forbidden Army) could face the rebellion head on, after that battle the Kingun seemed to shatter, and even when the rebels came attacking, there was no counterattack from Kingun. She believed this was the time Gyousou disappeared.
Someone mingled in the confusion of the battle, and attacked the emperor—...normally that would be possible, but in the case of Gyousou, that would be hard to believe. Gyousou was a famous swordsman. One couldn't easily be a match for Gyousou and successfully attack him.
However, Gyousou was leading Asen’s army. If Gyousou carelessly trusted Asen, trusted Asen’s subordinates, then in the middle of the battle, troops around Gyousou must have been Asen’s subordinates. Against so many troops—Gyousou could have been taken down. Or rather, it was possible that Gyousou was taken down. However, did Gyousou really trust Asen to that extent? Judging from how Gyousou split and brought along half of Asen’s troops to Bun Province, it could also be argued that Gyousou had suspected Asen from the beginning.
While she was traveling around searching at various battlefields and ruins, summer had passed, and after that summer ended, snow came down. Risai could only see the dirty, sticky, dusty, and grayish colored snow as a bad omen. In fact, that year’s winter was harsh. Snow fell down abundantly so even the houses in the northern area that had been designed to deal with snow couldn’t stand the weight of the snow and were about to collapse.
The long winter with lots of snow continued, and then finally a dry summer arrived. A rare hot summer came to Tai. The farmlands were parched. Even so, the winter soon approached again.
She was quite sure it started from that following year. Youma’s appearance became frequent. It’s not that Youma didn’t exist since the prolonged throne vacancy, but people could easily see that they were suddenly increasing. The elders said that if the Emperor had been safe, then Youma couldn’t have been that many. That was the time when they started to confidently say that Gyousou must have passed away.
What are Tai people doing right now? Risai thought as she looked up at the night sky above the courtyard. While Risai’s here, Tai people were suffering. Summer’s approaching its end. Soon the terrible winter would hit Tai again.
…Please help us.
Even now Risai felt the impulsive urge to shout and beg. The more she got to know Kei-Ou and people around Kei-Ou, the more she realized it’s a shameful sin, a sin that’s piercing herself. But even knowing that, she still---
“There’s just no other way…”
There must be someone to stop Asen’s destruction.
They needed the power to get rid of Youma and to give supply for the people so they could survive the winter. If these could not be obtained, then Tai would not last for long. Probably this year, or next year, or a year after that. After that year’s winter passed, the frozen dead bodies of the last Tai people would appear from under the melting snow.
“What’s the matter? What are you doing at such place?”
When she looked around to where the voice came from, she saw an old man stood at the entrance gate of the courtyard.
It was Enho the Taishi.
This estate belonged to Enho, so it might be natural, but ever since she moved here, even someone as important as Enho often paid her a visit. Kei’s people—at least people close to Kei-Ou—were all warm, nice people. Risai was scared of herself who kept on feeling the urge to beg Kei-Ou to send her troops to Tai every time she thought about how nice these people were.
“Is it okay for you to get up?”
“Yes… I’m fine already…”
Seeing Enho swiftly walked to her direction, Risai, who had been slopping her hip on the corridor floor, corrected her position.
“I heard the emperor of En has lent his power to help searching for Tai Taiho?”
“Then why do you look so depressed?”
That’s not true, Risai muttered, but of course Enho couldn’t hear her.
“Well I suppose it’s natural that you do. Even when the search is conducted, it will not be easy to find Taiho. Even if he could be found, there are piles of problems waiting ahead. It might be easier to search for Tai-Ou after we find Taiho, but for doing that, Taiho must be brought back to Tai, while there’s a possibility that the reason why Taiho disappeared in the first place was because he could not be safe there.”
Yes, Risai gave her agreement.
“To conduct a search for Tai-Ou, personnel would be necessary. But I heard that in Tai it would be difficult to recruit personnel. Even if somehow you manage to get some personnel, in the mean time Tai people would be struggling harshly to survive.”
“…The winter is coming. There are only few months left until the first snow. “
“Thinking about it, Tai is a suffering country… There’s no way for people living in roofless houses to survive the winter.”
“That is so true… Winter in Kei is so warm…”
“Well, probably so, compared to Tai…”
Risai hung her head in depression.
“There are warm countries, and there are cold countries… How wonderful would it be if Tai were just like Kei. If people could survive the winter just by being close to each other, sharing body warmth. Why are there warm and cold countries?”
Risai looked up at the moon.
“Why would Tentei create a country like Tai? If only the winters were not so harsh… It’s just too unfair.”
“There’s no good in asking these things.”
Risai replied, biting her lips.
“Isn’t this world made by Tentei? If so, why would Tentei create a country like Tai? A country with such a cruel winter—If I were Tentei, I would create countries with at least blessed climates. A world where the winter is not freezing cold and the summer doesn’t parch-- such world I would create.”
Hmm, with only that Enho replied.
“When people are starving, give blessings to them. When they are made suffer by Gi-Ou (fake emperor), punish Gi-Ou. Aren’t those the things the Heaven should do?”
“I could not answer that…”
“Why? The Heaven told the emperor to begin a country accordingly to The Way (Jindou). Then why the act of sending troops for the sake of The Way would be punished? It’s also the Heaven who placed Gyousou-sama at the throne. Moreover, Tentei was the one who made Gyousou-sama a monarch, and chose him as an Emperor. But then why, why didn’t Tentei protect Gyousou-sama?”
Enho remained silent.
“Does Tentei really exist? If he does exist, then why doesn’t he save Tai? Can’t he hear the blood soaked Tai people’s prayers? Does he think the prayers are still not enough? Or does the Heaven wish for Tai’s destruction?”
“If Tentei doesn’t exist, then that’s fine. I cannot think that I wish for the existence of a God who can’t even give the people the feeling of safety. However, if he does not exist, then why can’t we send troops pass the borderline? Then who punished emperors for that action? If there is someone who makes sure that sinful acts get punished, then why doesn’t that person punish Asen!”
There’s a warm hand put upon her shaking hand.
“I understand your feeling. However, such anger would not be good for your health.”
Risai took a gulp of air and then exhaled.
“I’m really sorry. I got carried away…”
“I certainly understand your feelings. Eventually we all are living inside the Heaven’s divine powers. While we are living inside it, we cannot really participate in it… It is somewhat outrageous…”
“However, this is human world. Do not mind so much about the Heaven. No matter what kind of divine interference there is, we could find our own way to live. At least that is what the Empress of Kei is trying to achieve with all her devotion.”
“Yes. I have said impolite things.”
“Don’t be so troubled. …Nobody has abandoned Tai.”
Risai nodded. The moon still looked upon the world below coldly.
“This time also you came abruptly... You’ve done well.”
…in letting yourself enter this palace, hinted Youko silently, which made Rokuta grin.
“Well I’ve been here before right… Thanks to this hair, nobody ever asks me ‘who the heck are you and where are you from?’ …But Youko’s gatekeeper surely asks. He’s called Gaishi or something right. Please make him remember my face and name, kay.”
Youko sighed lightly.
“You come and go like the wind, nobody can tell.”
“Well, that’s my merit. By the way, I’d like you to get prepared for a journey. We need to hustle.”
“Yup. We’ve passed the talk to other kingdoms. Kyou, Han, Sai, Ren and Sou, these five countries are willing to lend a hand and collaborate with us. If we include my country and Kei, it makes us seven countries. Hou and Kou are in vacancy, so they are not included from the start, while from Ryuu and Shun we didn’t get favorable respond.”
Youko lightly raised her back.
“The important thing is that we use all the help we can get, and send search party to Konron and Hourai. Kyou and its best-friend country Sou, together with Sai will collaborate and conduct the search in Konron. We together with Han and Ren will cooperate to search in Hourai. Han and Ren are arranging the preparations to send their Taiho to En. There’s something that Kei hasn’t done, and that is paying the cost of this whole thing with Kei’s treasury. I was wondering how you would feel about Kei taking the monetary burden…You wouldn’t like it, right?”
“Of course. En should be fine paying alone.”
Okay, Rokuta said, laughing.
“Delegations from Ren would have to hustle to get here in short time. Right now adjustment in schedule is being discussed, but since it’s a very long way from Ren to En, we still have some time before they arrive. In the mean time, I want you to go to a place with me.”
“Mt. Hou.” Replied Rokuta.
Mt.Hou is a sacred place where Kirins are born. It’s located in the Yellow Sea, the center of the world. Youko had only been there once. A newly chosen Emperor goes there to receive the Devine Revelation.
“Why are we going to Mt. Hou?”
Youko tilted her head so Rokuta answered,
“To meet the Nushi (master).”
“By Nushi you mean… Hekika Genkun? Really?”
Hekika Genkun was the master of the Nyosen in Mt. Hou, but Youko hadn’t had the chance to meet her.
“Yes. It’s because what we’re trying to do has never been done before. We can get some information, plus it could be a good lesson for Youko who is a new emperor, so Shouryuu told me to take you along. ----
---- Just take a Kijuu that can fly as far as Mt. Hou, and bring as little things as possible. Please hurry. We have to get back before our guests arrive.”
Youku hastily got herself prepared. She left the future affairs to Koukan, and borrowed a Shirei from Keiki. Youko thought that certainly they would take off from the Forbidden Gate, but when she said so Rokuta laughed.
“If we depart from down there, I don’t even know how long that would take. We’ll go right from above the Sea of Clouds (Unkai).”
Youko blinked. The top part of Mt. Hou was not different from Mt. Ryouun, it’s suspended above the Sea of Clouds. However, as far as she remembered, at the top of Mt. Hou there seemed to be nothing but uninhabited Shibyou. At least it didn’t look like there were people living there.
“Well, when you get there you’ll know.”
Being told so, Youko mounted on Hankyo that she borrowed from Keiki. After that, once she started to fly she just stayed put and drowsed, and when she opened her eyes it was early morning. Then they passed the top of Mt. Kongou, mountainous range separated by an ocean that looked like an archipelago. Finally, at the time when the sunset was approaching they could see the Five Mountain (gozan).
Mt. Hou was the eastern one of the Five Mountains and there’s a magnificent white Byoudou (Shrine) built on its top. Before getting off swiftly from her mount, Youko noticed a figure that stood still at the front of the gate of the Byoudou. The brightly sparkling woman was looking up at the coming Kijuu.
“See?” Laughed Rokuta.
Well indeed, thought Youko, it’s certainly ‘when you get there you’ll know’.
Before this Youko did not know of Hekika Genkun’s face, but seeing the appearance of the awaiting person, Youko got the idea that this woman was none other than Hekika Genkun.
“As usual, you even bothered to meet us here, I’m left aghast.” Hearing Rokuta who was the first to get off from his mount saying this, the woman laughed lightly.
“I’m the one who should say that. En Taiho as always, still passes by abruptly. It seems like no matter how long it takes, Taiho will not change at all.”
“Well, that’s my merit, right… I want to introduce this person to Genkun.”
Hearing Rokuta, the woman turned her lively gaze towards Youko.
“You are Kei-Ou, if I’m not mistaken.”
Surprised, Youko looked up to see Gyokuyou’s face. “You know well.”
“That’s because I’m Mt. Hou’s Nushi (master).” Gyokuyou laughed softly.
“Since we’ve finished the introduction, there’s something we want to immediately consult with Genkun about. And while we’re at it, it would be great if we could also rest a bit…”
She laughed and prompted Rokuta towards the Shibyou. Across the door-less gate there’s a broad courtyard paved with white stone pavement, but there’s no fence nor corridor surrounding it. There were only red smaller shrines (byou) inside the area.
There’s a Seiden (some kind of main-praying shrine, I don’t really know--Ajisai) at the front, but Gyokuyou didn’t head there, and instead she stood in front of a red painted shrine. With her fan, she stroke one door and opened it.
From her memory of coming here once before, Youko clearly remembered that there should be a glass-crystal stairway at that place, but now there’s white stairway stretching all the way down instead.
Looking back at Youko who looked so surprised, Rokuta grinned.
“Don’t mind about it. If we have to classified, then Genkun is in ‘Monster’ classification.”
Gyokuyou laughed with a clear voice, and urged Youko and Rokuta inside. It worked just like the Forbidden Gate, just a short while after they were stepping on the white stairway, they got into a white building. After stepping off the stair onto the building floor, when looking back, there’s no shut door that was supposed to be behind them. There’s only a white wall instead. In that octagonal building, there were no other walls. Instead, there were wall-like greenish big rocks, covered with moss.
The place where Gyokuyou guided them to was an adjacent shrine. When they entered the wide building that was surrounded by strangely shaped rocks, tea set and snacks had already been prepared. There’s no sign of the nyosen who surely lived in this Houro Palace (Houroguu, lit. humble house/shrine of Hou.). “I arranged so we could talk in private, I hope it’s alright with you.”
“I really admire your considerate actions. I’ll ask without preliminaries, how much do Mt. Hou people know about Tai’s situation?”
“Because there were non-stop inquiries from En asking whether there’s Taika (the fruit of Tai’s Kirin) in Mt. Hou, we could easily imagine that there was something wrong with Taiki.”
“Other than that?’
“Tai-Ou has disappeared.”
“That’s about it. There’s a Gi-Ou in Tai. We couldn’t find Tai-Ou and Taiki’s whereabouts. It seems like Tai-Ou hasn’t left Tai, so there’s nothing we could do about it. However, even if it’s only Taiki, we would like to search for him. There’s a high possibility that Taiki was swept to the other world by meishoku.”
Gyokuyou silently poured hot water into the tea set.
“However, the task is too much for me alone. We’re planning to use help from other countries. We’d like to find Taiki and bring him back here. But we can’t just bring him here then send him back to Tai. To prepare for the winter in Tai, supplies would be needed. In addition, for Taiki to be able to evade the fake emperor and find Tai-Ou, personnel to support him would be necessary as well.”
“Coalition between countries that is to bind countries in mutual association and agreement, it seems like it’s never been done before.”
“Would it violate the Providence?”
“Well… it sounds fine up to the part where you find Taiki and bring him back here, but I’m not sure about the rest of the plan. It seems like a violation towards the Providence.”
Gyokuyou added while putting the cap of the tea set back on, and then put the tea set in front of Rokuta.
“Judging from the fact that Taiki who’s been swept away has not returned until now, it’s better for us to think that he is not able to return. Though we do not know what kind of circumstances stopped him from coming back ---
--- at the worst it might not be some circumstances alone, but also some other reasons that we might not be able to solve. How would we remove that obstacle? These are our problems as well.”
“That’s right. What should we do?”
“Hmm…” Gyokuyou only muttered so and said nothing more. Then after sometime, she nodded.
“Have to do something. Taiki is really pitiful if nothing is done… I will ask for confirmation.”
“Please do.” As soon as Rokuta replied, Gyokuyou stood up.
“Please rest for the remaining of this day. You can take any place that is not used by the nyosen and use it freely. Let us meet again tomorrow afternoon.”