Around the time when the summer reached its peak, Risai was informed by Youko that the search for Taiki had been begun. The heat that brought along the feeling of boredom reached even the Royal Palace. On those uncomfortable nights, Risai was deprived of good sleep for being stirred by restlessness, because she’s always waiting for good news to come.
It didn’t take long and Rokuta’s expression, which had been lively when he told Risai ‘We’ll find him soon, so don’t worry!’ turned into a clouded one. It was because in the area of Hourai where he once found Taiki, they couldn’t find Taiki’s aura. They had extended the search, but still, no good news had arrived.
Still couldn’t sleep, Risai got off from her bed and went to Shoukyakuden. Inside the West Garden surrounding Shoukyakuden, there was a guest quarter called Seikouden, and further ahead there was a library called Ransetsu Hall. This building was now functioning as an assembly hall for those who were searching for Taiki. Risai couldn’t help coming there several times in a single day, and though she got disappointed every time, she felt as if she could overcome the unbearable thirsty-like feeling she was having just by coming there. This night was no different. As if searching for water to quench her thirst, she left her room and strolled towards Ransetsu Hall. Inside the Hall, Rokuta was lolling back in a chair.
‘Yo!’, Rokuta smiled, but it’s obvious that his smile held no energy.
“You haven't found him?”
Uhm, said Rokuta in a low voice. As if realizing the disappointment in Risai who remained standing, Rokuta then said in a bright tone,
“It’s nothing unexpected, right? From now on we’ll certainly find something!”
‘I understand’, Risai could only answer with that remark. Risai herself couldn’t do anything to help. These noble people, whose ranks had no equals in their countries, were taking the trouble and exercising the task with their own hands, but Risai couldn’t do anything besides watching. To blame them for the delayed result would certainly make Risai a person who didn’t realize her own position.
“Wouldn’t you like to have tea or something? …I’m the one who would like to have some, though.”
Risai smiled and set fire upon a small stove on the table. She put some water from a water jar into an iron kettle, and then put the kettle on the stove.
“…Probably he’s not in Hourai.”
Risai’s hand stopped moving.
“So… He’s in Konron?”
“I don’t know. But, it might be just like what Han-Ou said. Why Taiki hasn’t returned on his own, I think the problem really lays there.”
“Because there’s a situation that’s preventing him to return..?”
“It’s easy to say he’s having a situation, but what do you think actually happened?”
“I can’t possibly know…”
“Taiki inflicted a meishoku. Keiki had emphasized repeatedly, that Taiki couldn’t have known how to inflict a meishoku. So if he inflicted it, there must be something unexpected happened, and he inflicted it mostly by instinct. I also agree with this opinion. Rather than saying that Taiki crossed over, I think it’s more correct to say that he accidentally tumbled down from here. I wonder if the end of the tunnel he tumbled down into was really that other world.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Between the entrance and the exit of the gate of Gogou, there’s a space of nothingness. You can think of it like the Forbidden Gate or the Five Gate (Gomon). It’s not like ‘there’s the gate, behind that gate is there, and this side is here’. There’s a tunnel between the entrance and the exit.”
Ah, Risai nodded. There were pathways that had been given some magic spells. But usually, there would be a stairway.
“Seeing the fact that Taiki is not here, it’s certain that he had entered the tunnel. But did he really manage to reach the exit and arrive at the other world?”
But that’s… Risai turned around towards Rokuta.
“Are you suggesting that he’s stuck in the middle?”
“Yes, but I don’t know. Probably Taiki couldn’t reach the other world. Using Renrin’s Gogoukanda we can cross over, but while crossing over, we have to hold Renrin’s hand. –
-- Rather than Renrin’s hand, it’s probably better to say that we have to hold onto Gogoukanda’s tail. Through Renrin’s hand, we have to hold onto the pair of Gogoukanda’s two tails. If we don’t, then we would go astray. It means that we would stay inside, wouldn’t be able to go out to the end of the tunnel nor return to where we came from.”
“Taiki’s like that, went astray and…”
“I don’t know. We probably shouldn’t think of meishoku and Gogoukanda in the same term like that. However, I’m starting to think that probably Taiki didn’t reach the other world. There’s just no such remarkable aura in Hourai. As a Taika, Taiki was swept to Hourai, and was raised as a normal kid. He had parents, who had a house there. I think I found him before in his birth house. I regret the fact that I don’t remember where that house was. But I remember the rough location. Though Houraikoku is a vast land, I remember that particular town and environment. If Taiki inflicted a meishoku by instinct to run away, he might have returned to his hometown. However, in that town, there’s not a trace of him being there at all.”
“Well then, perhaps he’s not in his hometown. Probably he’s somewhere else, another town-”
“Thinking so, we immediately searched over that land. From the center of his hometown we separated in two groups, one headed to North and the other went to South. But still we couldn’t see any sign. ..Ah, but no, we haven’t searched thoroughly.”
The last was said in a tone to comfort Risai.
“Next time we’ll search more closely. And we would also have to catch people around that area, and ask them if anything unusual occurred six years ago. …--
-- But this would take a lot of time.”
“It would be great if while we’re doing that, they find him in Konron… At any rate, we can’t possibly hold Hanrin and Renrin forever. We can’t hold Keiki even more, because Kei is still a young country. Probably there’s no other way but to search for him patiently, and then at one point give up. I’m really sorry if this all would really end up that way.”
“Don’t be… It can’t be help.”
Risai endeavored and managed to say that calmly. She told herself she couldn’t possibly demand anything more. At least she had recovered her health as a one-handed person. She had also learned that Gyosou’s incident happened in Mt. Kanyou, at the outskirts of Rin’U. When the search for Taiki was concluded and she returned to Tai, she would be able to search for him. Coming to Kei was not futile. Indeed, Risai and others were still connected to Gyousou.
“Even if that happens, it doesn’t mean we would abandon Tai. I promise to do everything in my power to help refugees from Tai and those people who remain in Tai.”
“That's already too much...”
It was when Risai mumbled those words. Suddenly there’s a sparkle of light shot into the dark room. Looking around, she saw dim light slipped into the room from a door at the back of Ransetsu Hall. Risai stood up. Once she passed the door at the back of Ransetsu Hall, there were several short pathways. –
-- One of the short path led to a small building called Kokinsai. The light was coming from there. The light looked like moonlight coming in through the skylight, but there’s no skylight or such inside Kokinsai, moreover, that night there was no moon. Even though there’s a white, round light shone on the floor, there’s no light source. So it was certain, the light didn’t come from above the floor, but shone from under the floor.
It’s Gogoukanda, thought Risai, stepping into Kokinsai. From the circle of light which diameter got wider, a figure was gliding out. First one person, then another person. Once the two figures emerged completely, the light shrank, and then disappeared as if it went further away.
“Oh, hello, Risai!”
Hanrin greeted Risai, and then ran through the pathway into Ransetsu Hall.
“Rokuta, it’s strange!”
To Rokuta who asked back while raising his back off the chair listlessly, Hanrin nodded.
“Shirei said they couldn’t go. They trembled strongly and said they hated it!”
“Ugh, I said they couldn’t approach, and they said they shouldn’t go further!”
“You’re no good. I can’t grasp what you’re saying at all. …Renrin, what happened?”
Well, about that… Renrin who just entered the room answered, still with a worry look on her face.
“I don’t understand myself. The Shirei refused to do our order. They said there’s something ill.”
“Yes. It was Taiki’s hometown that Rokuta showed us. I wanted to search there one more time, so Hanrin and I tried to return there, but the Shirei said they didn’t want to go. It seemed like there’s something ill and filthy there. They said there’s something incredibly big and terribly bad, so they couldn’t approach that place.”
“What was that about… But they’ve been there before!”
“Yes, that’s right. The shirei said they felt it before, though slightly. Isn’t that correct, Juuko? Do explain to us.”
Understood. Saying that dotingly, a white beast emerged out from Renrin’ feet. Though it looked like a small dog, it didn’t have a tail like dogs. The beast narrowed one of its bluish round eyes. Its old man-like fury eyebrows drooped above its eyes in depression, giving the beast a troubled look.
“There’s something bad there.”
“What kind of bad thing?”
“I do not know. But it’s not good.”
“We can’t understand with only that… It was there before, is that true?”
Yes, replied Juuko, shrinking its body.
“But that’s only after I thought back about it. I also felt a glimpse of strange feeling before, but it wasn’t strong, and I was oblivious of it. After that I actually forgot about it, but when we tried to return there tonight, that thing had become extraordinarily big. It’s a bad thing. I will not approach it. And there’s no way I would let Taiho get near that thing.”
“Bad thing? Is it like a premonition, a hunch?”
“No. It’s something terribly filthy, misfortunate. There was something bad. Before, it gave me the feeling like it was a small thing, but it’s nothing small. There’s no way I could approach it.”
“Small thing? What…”
Risai withheld Rokuta who was about to ask perplexedly.
“Wait a second. Please forgive me for chopping in. This thing…Did it feel like a big, incredibly strong Youma?”
Hearing Risai said so, Juuko jerked its body up.
“Yes. Yes, it was a feeling like that. Moreover, it’s not a common one. It would feel terrible for us to get closer to that thing’s side. There’s just no way I would bring Taiho along to…”
Risai raised her voice. At the same time, Rokuta mumbled.
Risai ran towards Juuko, went down on her knees, stoop down on the floor.
“Where was that? It’s Taiki’s Shirei, there’s no mistake about it.”
“But… That thing doesn’t have an aura of a Youma who could be a companion or Shirei.”
“Taiki has toutetsu. It’s toutetsu, is that wrong?”
Juuko’s ears rose, as well as its fur.
“Toutetsu. How come…”
Risai leaned on Renrin’s robe with her remaining hand.
“It must be Taiki, Ren Taiho!”
Gentle arms caught Risai who lost her balance.
“I understand. Please be assured. I will surely bring Taiki back.”
“You must not!”
Still with risen fur, Juuko jumped.
“That is not a Shirei. It’s a terrifying creature!”
“I will not allow you to be a coward, Juuko. If that’s really a Youma, for what reason would a youma that strong be in that country? It might be Taiki. Even if it’s not him, at least we have to confirm it first. If you guys don’t want to go, then I will, even if I have to go alone.”
But… mumbling, Juuko hung its head.
Renrin, called Rokuta before leaving the room and went towards the pathway.
“Cross me over. I’ll have a look. …Little sis, what about you?”
Hanrin looked to her right and her left several times.
“I… I will go, too. Of course I will go. But…”
Renrin took a thin cloth from Hanrin’s hand. Hanrin had been clutching on it as if she was frightened.
“Can I use this, too?”
“Then I would like to borrow it. Han Taiho, please tell me everything about this.”
Youko and Keiki were informed, and when they arrived at Kokinsai, at the same time two figures emerged out from the round light.
“…Enki, is it true that Taiki’s been found?”
“I don’t know.”
Although Rokuta gave no answer other than that, his usual fatigue had disappeared. Following Rokuta who was returning to Ransetsu Hall forcefully, Youko and Keiki saw that the emperors of En and Han had gathered inside.
That question came from both En-Ou and Han-Ou.
“I don’t know. It couldn’t be seen.”
“Can’t be seen? What do you mean by that?”
“I think that’s Gouran. Taiki’s shirei. However, indeed, that creature could no longer be called a shirei. I’ve also understood why our shirei trembled. That creature is more like a Youma now. Moreover, it’s an incredible, terrifying one.”
Renrin who just came in to the room also had a pale look on her face.
“It’s a terribly big filth, a really big badness. When we approached it, we felt that as well. We had found the place. It’s a big city, but Gouran is there. However, we couldn’t see Kirin’s aura.”
“Though we had approached it, knowing well that’s a reckless thing to do, we still couldn’t see any trace of Kirin’s aura. I think Han-Ou is correct.”
Rokuta nodded, still with a fearful look.
“There’s no Kirin there. I think Taiki is there. But Taiki can no longer be called a Ki.”
“What do you mean?”
Youko asked and cast her gaze on Rokuta and Renrin.
“Don’t know. But since Gouran is there, Taiki must be in that city as well. At least it didn’t seem like Gouran had fully changed back into a youma. We’re sure he’s still a Shirei under Taiki’s command, but there’s not even a drop of Kirin’s aura there. He must have been unable to return even though he wanted to—I think Taiki had lost his nature as a Ki. –
--- If not, then there’s no reason for his Kirin aura to die out to such extent.”
“Is such thing really possible to happen?”
“How could I know? I could only think that it’s indeed possible. In any case, we could only search thoroughly. Search for him, find and bring him back here. There’s no other method to choose. Gouran is… He’s dangerous even for the lives over there.”
Summer slowly turned into autumn. However still, a gloomy boredom was taking its hold on Ransetsu Hall. No matter how much they’d searched, they couldn’t locate Taiki’s whereabouts. Gouran’s aura was conspicuous, but compared to the clear spectrum of lights, the fine glow a Kirin would leave behind, Gouran’s trace was really vague. Rokuta idly draped over the map he brought.
“If you just find Gouran’s whereabouts, then Taiki would also be there, right?”
Shouryuu asked this, but the Kirin whom he asked the question to answered ‘No.”
“If it’s that simple, then we would have found him already, Mr. Idiot.”
Hanrin hunched her shoulders and muttered.
“We know that the thing is there, because it feels so terrible. When we get closer to it, the terrible feeling gets worse, so we know we’re heading its way.”
“If that so, all you have to do is to go to the direction where the feeling gets stronger, no?”
Heh, you, said Hanrin, looking up at Shouryuu.
“If Gouran is like a pillar and doesn’t move, then of course we would find him. It would be easier if we aren’t bothered with shirei’s reluctance and my own instinct that screams run… ruuunn… But Gouran does move. Moreover his power gets stronger and then weaker. I think that probably, when Gouran is awake and when he’s sleeping, the strength of his aura changes as well. That’s why, even when we struggle hard to find his overbearingly strong aura, we always lose track of it. And we don’t know whether it’s because he’s getting further or because he’s sleeping!”
In spite of herself, Hanrin stomped her foot. She got upset easily for her accumulated exhaustion.
“Don’t take it on me.”
“If I’m taking it on someone like Shouryuu, I’m the one who would break!”
Hanrin said that with a high pitched voice, and scurried out of Ransetsu Hall.
Shouryuu who was seeing Hanrin off with a shocked expression, got smashed on the face by a flying fan.
“Mountain ape over there, don’t pick on my princess.”
Felt like cursing, Shouryuu picked up Han-Ou’s thrown fan.
“The Taihos are doing their best. Though they are doing their best, things don’t go as they want. Who do you think would be most irritated by this fact? ---
--- Do you think you and I who are doing nothing but watching can chime in with complaints?”
Being lectured by Han-Ou, Shouryuu remained silent.
“Especially Risetsu, she’s really terrified of Gouran’s aura. That’s because, unlike that little monkey over there, she has delicate personality…”
“That’s only cowardice, isn’t it? It’s not like Gouran has been freed from Taiki…”
“Beasts are creatures that are sensitive to danger. It is a beast nature to defy danger, so there’s nothing could be done about it. Different from taika Kirin, her nature as a beast is strong. She herself is aware of it but can do absolutely nothing to change that, so don’t you blame her.”
After saying that, Han-Ou looked at Renrin and Keiki.
“It’s the same with you two. Don’t force yourselves too much. How about calling today off and have some rest? If you keep doing this everyday, your bodies won’t hold. Especially Kei Taiho, for threading between your breaks from official duty to do this…”
You’re probably right, Renrin let out a sigh. Renrin looked at Keiki to hear his opinion, and Keiki nodded. Another Kirin had already left the Hall, showing them the mane on his back.
“They indeed seem quite tired, don’t they…”
After seeing Keiki off, Shouryuu said so. Han-Ou agreed with him.
“It’s because using Gogoukanda consume their power… Well then, I’m going now to console the Princess and lull her to sleep.”
After Han-Ou got out of the room leaving the rustling sound of his skirt, only Shouryuu and Renrin remained in that room. Seeing Renrin who didn’t seem like having any intentions to leave, Shouryuu tilted his head.
“Aren’t you going to sleep?”
“…Before taking my rest I want to cross over just one more time. En-Ou, please do not worry.”
“Though he’s damned, what that Han person said was right. Above all, Ren Taiho’s burden is the heaviest. If you keep this going, your body won’t take it. It’s better if you rest now.”
Every time they used Gogoukanda, Renrin had to keep eye on the comings and goings. They could rotate the Kirin who went with her, but as she was essential, she didn’t have the spare time to rest.
“I’m not that tired.”
“A lie is something we should not utter.”
Renrin smiled slightly.
“The truth is, when thinking about Taiki who got swept to a foreign country and might die there, I just can’t sleep. What actually happened to him? How is he doing now? These are all I can think about… Even though in my head I know he must have grown up, I couldn’t help thinking that it’s so poor of him, being so small and young…”
“So Ren Taiho has met Taiki before?”
“Yes. Only twice. Even more, the first one was when I did nothing but lending Gogoukanda to Sanshi in order to bring Taiki back to Mt. Hou. The second time was right before that incident happened in Tai. Taiki came all the way to Ren just to thank us for what happened in Mt. Hou.”
She would not forget how Taiki looked at that time. When she thought how Taiki must have suffered after that incident, it broke her heart just by remembering how Taiki earnestly showed his sadness to leave Ren. Realizing how far Tai was from Ren, she knew that they might never have the chance to meet again, but she had never imagined this kind of farewell.
“His Majesty was really worried as well. Especially because Taiki got separated from Tai-Ou, it must have been a misery for Taiki. His Majesty thought so.”
“Because it seemed that for Taiki, Tai-Ou was someone he truly held dear. He wanted to be useful for Tai-Ou, and from the bottom of his heart he wished for Tai-Ou’s happiness. His Majesty said that, probably just like His Majesty would feel out of place in the Royal Palace if I wasn’t around, Taiki wouldn't be able to find his own place if Tai-Ou wasn't happy. I also think that might be the case. …... No, even if Taiki didn’t have such feelings for Tai-Ou, being apart from its emperor must be very hard for a Kirin.”
“That might be true…”
“Because we’re creatures who can’t live apart from our emperor’s side…”
Being separated from its emperor would rip a Kirin apart. Although it was said that Kirin existed for the sake of the country, for the sake of the people, --
--- Renrin thought it wasn’t like that in actuality.
“The one who exists for the sake of the country and the people, is the emperor. We exist for the sake of that emperor.”
Renrin hid her face.
“After all, we are owned by our emperor.”
A warm hand patted Renrin’s slumped shoulder.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Renrin lifted her face.
“This plan… Could you please take a look at this map?”
Renrin returned to Kokinsai with a smile on her face, and then one more time that day, she slipped into the light made by the tails of the silver snake. She crossed over to a savage town with no trees, no mountains. Though there was a sea, the shore was blocked by dams so it couldn’t be seen. It was really unpleasant to look at. The town itself felt like it had an enormous cavity in it…Renrin might feel like that because she didn’t belong there. While searching, she kept having a pathetic mood. It’s only because she was relying on Gouran’s aura, because the cowardice inside her kept telling her to avoid Gouran.
Surveying the desolate night streets, Renrin chose the path which she didn’t want to pass. Perhaps Gouran was awake. Right before this Gouran’s aura got really weak and Renrin thought about giving up, but now the aura felt even stronger than before. Though it made the search easier for Renrin, at the same time it made her scared even more. –
-- She unconsciously wanted to avoid going to that direction. She stifled the feeling strongly, and went ahead towards the way that gave her scary and bad feelings. At one point she couldn’t hold it any longer and went down on her knees.
Juuko flied towards her in panic. I’m alright, she smiled, putting her hands on the ground to bring herself up. At that moment Renrin finally found it. A ray of golden light, as thin as a spider’s thread. It was really weak and thin, and dissolving away as she was looking at it. But she knew from the fragility of that glow. It was Taiki, though it seemed like a very ill, dark glow. This couldn’t possibly be the track of Renrin and others.
Renrin lifted her face to look, but she couldn’t find any other glow on the streets that sprawled and bent between the tall buildings. It was a single remaining glow, just like a foot print or perhaps, a blood stain.
“…What has happened to you?”
The appearance of Taiki that she met in Ren, and the trace of glow she just found. …They differed too much.
“But there’s no mistake about it, you’re really here.”
The glow was so pale; she didn’t know how much longer it would remain.
If this glow disappeared, she would not be able to trace it. Moreover, she failed to confirm which part of the town that place was. However, just by finally finding Taiki’s glow was enough a penance, a reward for her.
“I will surely find you… Please wait.”
When she touched it gently with her fingers, the glow finally disappeared, as if it was overcome by Renrin’s own aura.
The darkness was corroded. The darkness that was dyed with brown-red color of dried blood also clouded Sanshi’s body with rusty color.
At the same time, Sanshi’s impatience grew stronger.
It really seemed like he’s being poisoned with some kind of venom. The accumulation of this thing at some point had even started to eat Taiki’s life. Taiki’s life mana had become thinner with each passing day. If this kept going, he would die…He would disappear.
Shall I kill them? A rumbling sound asked from somewhere in that rusty darkness.
“Don’t. For now Taiki needs these people to take care of him.”
“He’s a prisoner.”
“While he remains a prisoner, they wouldn’t kill him…”
“But they are poisoning him.”
I know, replied Sanshi, ripping her chest with her claws. From those long wounds on her colorless skin, red fluid flowed down.
…He’s going to die. They are going to kill him.
Even without worrying about Taiki, Sanshi’s impatience could not be controlled, for she was losing her sense because of her illness. Now Sanshi saw every single person in this foreign country as an enemy. Those who were guarding this prison, those who were surrounding this prison, and those who were observing Taiki and could do harm to him in one way or the other.
Every time they had their revenge, the rusty filth in that darkness got deeper. It’s damaging Taiki’s life force and polluting Sanshi even more. Sanshi could no longer distinguish the difference between this side and that side of Empty Sea.
What she understood was only that there were enemies. Someone tried to kill Gyousou, someone who tried to take his throne. That certain someone was still trying to take Taiki’s life, even until that very moment.
…For that alone, I will never forgive.
Looking back, everything that had happened was actually the result of Sanshi’s small mistake. Tumbling down into this world in a bump, Sanshi could not comprehend that the world which had been supporting Taiki had altered fundamentally. Her revenge, the punishments she did to protect Taiki only created new oppressors, and before long only called for even worse oppressions. Persecutions towards Taiki intensified. At the same time, Sanshi and Gouran’s punishments intensified as well. Severe punishments invited worse persecutions, and gradually both expanded in high acceleration.
Taiki had mostly become this new world’s enemy, he had become a target and was considered evil, but Sanshi still couldn’t understand this. Her punishments brought blood that polluted Taiki, her pouring grudge stained Taiki’s glow with menacing blackness.
Everything that happened had liberated Sanshi’s, and even more Gouran’s nature as monsters. It strengthened their powers, but in inverse proportion, took away their reason and logic. They were on the verge of total destruction.