“…We found it.”
While running into Ransetsu Hall, Renrin said that. Keiki and Rokuta stood up from their seats. Hanrin who was leaning on her master’s lap, half asleep, also raised her face.
“We found Taiki’s aura. Moreover it’s recent, a glow he’s just left not so long ago.”
“Where was it?”
Accompanying Rokuta who walked in strides, Renrin returned to Kokinsai. Keiki followed them, while Hanrin dashed towards Seikouden as if someone had pinched her.
From the short, curved pathway, a pale light could be seen. It slipped through from Kokinsai’s exit door. The silver snake with two tails that coiled on Renrin’s arm was still creating a round light. After Keiki whose hand was held by Renrin passed through the light, it expanded into a dark, cold cavity.
Inside a perfectly square, box-like building, in a room that could only be described as a repressed hollowness, there were tables that also looked repressed and gave out no feelings whatsoever, lining up in rows. A room that looked like a desolate prison… Keiki remembered seeing this kind of place before.
“This is… a school?”
Once, when he came to find his master in Hourai, he saw rooms with similar look.
“It seems like this is a classroom…”
The one who said that was Rokuta, and as always, Keiki felt a slight discomfort. Seeing from his golden glow there’s no mistake that this person was a Kirin, but no matter how Keiki looked at him, the boy that stood there didn’t look like Enki at all.
“Probably this is Taiki’s school.”
Following the mumbling Rokuta who’s looking at his surrounding, Renrin emerged out and the light that shone at the corner of the classroom disappeared.
“En Taiho, Kei Taiho, it was there…”
Renrin scurried to the space between the tables and pointed at somewhere on the floor.
“This is it. The shirei found it for us.”
The person whom Renrin turned to see at that moment looked hazy, as if about to disappear. He wavered into a vogue form, sometimes lost his human profile and revealed his beast silhouette.
At the place which Renrin pointed, where the shadow was heading to, on the deep bluish-purple floor there was a ray of light so weak it looked as if it’s ready to disappear at any moment.
“This is a Kirin’s aura, isn’t it?”
“I think so. …But…”
Keiki’s voice sounded trapped inside himself, so his answer was difficult to hear.
“It continues to over there.”
With a little shudder, Renrin slipped through the room’s—the classroom’s wall. At the dark, vacant corridor, there were some shadows wandering around like ghosts. On the floor where these shirei were squirming about, there’s a track of light that looked as if it had dropped its fine particles.
“The rest of it has been dissolving away, but this is Taiki. And I think this was left recently, not more than just a few days ago.”
Keiki frowned, nodding his head deeply.
“You’re right… But…”
Rokuta took over from Keiki who hesitated to say the words, and said frankly,
“It doesn’t look good as a Kirin’s glow.”
It seems like filth-contamination, said a little white beast that had emerged from Renrin’s feet without being noticed. The beast brought its snout closer to the floor, and sniffed that track of pale light.
“This is the smell of blood... And it’s a bit nasty.”
“So it’s true… You’re positive about it, aren’t you, Juuko?”
“Blood and malice… This is Esui, there’s no mistake about it. I wonder what really happened. Taiki is sick. And it’s pretty bad already.”
After saying that, Juuko then blew his nose that was near to the floor, as if he was disgusted.
“This one seems like the Nyokai’s aura. The corpse-smell was too awful not to be noticed.”
That bad smell was also obvious to Renrin, Keiki, and to Rokuta. It was a loathsome smell of filth, and it tainted the naturally pure and clean aura of Kirin. What had happened to Taiki? They hadn’t known the detail, but at least they’d known one thing for sure. From the beginning a bad smell had been floating around this place, similar to a smell that could be found in a battlefield.
“We can say that Gouran has returned to his nature as a youma, and Sanshi’s aura has ruined Taiki’s… It seems like bad things are happening around Taiki.”
Hearing Rokuta, Keiki nodded in dismay. Aura of blood and slaughters. Taiki who’d lost his nature as a Kirin was there, in the middle of these chaotic events. At this rate—he wouldn’t hold for long.
“In this case, we really have to hurry. Taiki is sick. Even worse, his shirei are definitely sick as well. Even though it seems like Gouran and Sanshi haven’t lost their powers, in this current state, we can’t let Taiki stay in this chaotic filth any longer.”
Keiki tried to touch that track of light.
“What they’ve lost might be their rational, reasonable minds. If the shirei lost their minds due to the illness, they too might be the root of this filth.”
“That could be it. Probably, for some reasons some bloodshed happened, and they broke free from their bounds and couldn’t be stopped.”
---Then Taiki who got deeply ill from the filth and lost his nature as a Kirin no longer possessed the power to restraint his shirei.
“Did you find where this light leads to?”
Almost in an imploring manner, Renrin addressed this question to the darkness in front of her. From countless shadows that were squirming here and there came no reply but a cold silence. Renrin’s face got clouded.
“While for sure we’ve got so near to him…”
“Let’s search. Probably we’ll find another one after that broken line.”
Having that said, Rokuta stepped forward into the hollows where no light could be seen. Keiki and Renrin followed him. They wandered around the classrooms that lined up at one side of the corridor, the stairs that went down like a well, and inside the ominous darkness where humans’ aura had died out, searching for the pale light. At the building’s surrounding, the shirei in monstrous appearances did the same; they crept around to search for the faint trace.
“…It’s nowhere to be found.”
Renrin said that disappointedly after they’d searched the building through and through. She went back to the classroom where the track of light could still be seen, and looked down upon it sadly. It’s still letting out bad smell and faint glow. She could guess that the trace had been left there the day before or even earlier that day, but since they couldn’t find any trace more recent than that one, it could only mean that Taiki was no longer there.
“En Taiho…Kei Taiho… What should we do?”
“We don’t know where to go from here…”
Hearing Rokuta who was letting out a deep sigh, Keiki responded firmly.
“We don’t have the time to be disappointed. And we don’t need to be disappointed… We know for sure that he was here before, so there’s no reason to give up now. He was here once, so there’s a chance he would return. For now, let’s extend our search with this place as our starting point.”
Renrin nodded, then turned around and called out.
The deep black shadow on the floor let out a struggling sound and emerged out.
“You’ve done well in finding this trace. Stay here and guard this place for a while. I’m counting on you.”
The shapeless shadow raised its head and stirred it, as if giving its consent. Soon it slithered and melted down, back to its previous state.
A dim light flowed into Kokinsai then started to dissolve away. Rokuta who was the first one to slide out from the light surveyed the faces of the people who’d been waiting there, and gave a big nod.
“It’s Taiki, there’s no mistake about it. But he’s sick, and it’s quite bad.”
“What do you mean?”
The one who asked in a choked voice was Risai.
“I don’t know for sure. But we think it’s Esui. An illness caused by uncleanness, by filth. Moreover, it seems like his illness has become severe. It might be why his aura became so thin.”
“So… It’s not that he’s lost his nature as a Kirin, right?”
No, he might have, said rokuta, diverting his eyes.
“Indeed, Taiki can no longer be called a Kirin. It’s better to think that he’s lost nearly all of his powers. Moreover he suffered severe Esui. Somehow his shirei can run around freely, but Taiki doesn’t seem able to restrain them.”
“But that… Then, Taiki…?”
“His aura’s line stopped there. However, for sure he’s somewhere near that place. We must hurry and find him, then bring him back here as soon as possible.”
Risai looked at the faces of Renrin and Keiki who just emerged out from the light. Both faces, as well as Rokuta’s, were shaded with distress. Their expressions said that if Taiki could not be found and brought back soon, the situation would become really bad.
“By any means… Can something be done, somehow?”
In response to Risai’s cry, Renrin hung her head as if apologizing.
“In this current state we’re really short of hands… Moreover…”
Renrin lifted her face.
“Even if we find him, how should we bring him back?”
Renrin nodded at Risai, and looked at everybody as if searching for help.
“If Taiki has really lost his nature as a Ki, then right now he’s only a human—a human of Hourai, isn’t he? Is there a way to deliberately bring that kind of person back here?”
Hearing this, Youko who was standing at the corner of the room gasped. Indeed, someone else had already said something like that. That even if they could find Taiki, they wouldn’t be able to bring him back.
“If he has become a mere human, he can’t cross Gogoukanda. No, even if he hasn’t changed into a mere human, he has such strong youma with him. There might be a way to force his return but it will surely conflict a shoku…”
Rokuta tilted his head, deep in thought.
“We wouldn’t know unless we try it… However, now Taiki might already be a foreign object for this world as well. If so, this world might refuse him. And if we force to cross him, he might suffer a great damage.”
Youko opened her mouth to speak.
“I’d made the contract with Keiki, but as an emperor I hadn’t received Heaven’s Revelation. Even so, Keiki managed to cross me over somehow. Shouldn’t it be like that as well with Taiki, even if he’s lost his nature as a Kirin? …Yes, after all, Taiki and I, we’re both Taika.”
“Youko was mostly an empress. Taiki is mostly NOT a ki. … We don’t know what would happen. How does the Heaven think of this?”
“We must do it.”
It was Han-Ou who said that without the slightest strain.
“If we don’t bring him back, Tai will sink. It’s either bring him back even if it would harm him, or just kill Taiki in a blast and then wait for a new ranka of Tai.”
“Don’t say such an absurd thing.”
“If you don’t want to kill Taiki, then there’s no other way but to do something about the damage, right?”
Rokuta spat ‘I know that’ but his voice was covered by Hanrin’s voice, who said in a rather frightful manner,
“Uhm… If Taiki has become a mere human, can’t we make him an immortal?”
“If we appoint him into sagehood, then he’ll be able to cross the empty sea, right? It won’t reduce the shoku nor the damage, but it would minimize the harm done to him.”
Is that so, mumbled Rokuta.
“But how can we grant him the immortality?”
“It won’t be a problem if Your Majesty crosses over as well. If an emperor crosses over, the shoku will be greater, but it’s better than forcing to cross over a mere human.”
“That’s rough, but you’ve got a point.”
“I indeed have, haven’t I?”
Rokuta nodded and looked at his own emperor.
“You… wanna go?”
The one he asked, Shouryuu, was leaning on the wall with his arms folded. Before long,
“I don’t mind going.”
He whispered that, and looked outside through the window.
“…It’s a homeland I haven’t seen in five hundred years.”
The moonlight that’s shooting down through the window gave a complex shade to Shouryuu’s face. Shouryuu narrowed his eyes, and then surveyed that room.
“Youko…No, Keiki. I’m going to Sou. It’s your chance to tie a friendship with them, so Keiki, you go along with me.”
“Me… Going to Sou?”
Shouryuu answered the distraught looking Keiki with a nod.
“We have to inform them that Taiki is in Hourai, right… And while we’re at it, let’s beg them to lend us some shirei. … Rokuta, you go to Mt. Hou. Again, take Youko with you, and inform our current situation.”
Youko understood that they were going to ask Genkun for more precedents, but Risai looked at Shouryuu perplexedly.
“Why Mt. Hou?”
“I want them to meet Genkun. Taiki’s condition and his shirei conditions are not normal. We don’t know what would happen if we insist to cross him. We’re not even sure if it’s possible to cross him over, or whether bringing him back here is the right thing to do. We don’t have any certainties on anything. So it’s necessary to ask Genkun.”
Shouryuu’s words made Risai tilted her head even more.
“What do you mean by that? …Does Hekika Genkun have some relation with the shoku?”
“It’s unrelated to Shoku. It’s because the Heaven has what is called Heaven Providence. The only one who can judge our actions is the Heaven, but it doesn’t make any contact with us. The only connecting door we have with the Heaven is Genkun, and that’s why we need to ask her. Ren Taiho, I’m sorry to trouble you, but could you please continue —”
“Wait a minute, please!”
Risai raised her voice.
“Does it mean that you want to find out about Heaven’s Will through Genkun?”
“Then, then…. The Heaven exists?”
Shouryuu nodded. Risai felt like someone had pounced on her from behind.
“The Heaven exists? Then… then why did the Heaven abandoned Tai?!”
“If the Heaven exists, Heaven’s Will exists, and Gods of the Heaven exists, why didn’t they help Tai sooner, why didn’t they help Tai before things became like this?! Tai people pray to the Heaven with all their might…”
Fearing Asen, these people took cover from the darkness of nights, silently lining up to enter the Shibyou. They couldn’t even utter that name out loud, so they just laid Keihaku seeds on the altar. With each passing years the devastation got worse, and it got more and more difficult to survive the winter. In the middle of their suffering where a single seed of Keihaku could determine their lives and deaths, they gave away the seed as an offering. That’s how deeply they wished.
“They knew they couldn’t do anything with their own powers, so the people devotedly went to the Shibyou, you know? --
-- Even so, still, the Heaven didn’t give us any help, so I came to kei-Ou, fully realizing that it was a sin. If the Heaven, if Gods of the Heaven gave us just a little blessing, I wouldn’t have lost my dominant arm just to cross the ocean!”
“It’s useless to say these things.”
But…, Risai began to speak but then stopped and looked sternly at Shouryuu.
“Then, please let me go along.”
“We’re in hurry now. And you have to take care of your body.”
“I’m cured already.”
Shouryuu looked back at Risai who’d replied firmly.
“Can you ride a Kijuu with only one arm?”
“It’s fine. If it’s Hien, I can surely ride him.”
“Is that a Kijuu? What kind?”
“They are fast… Can you make it till Mt. Hou? …That’s a long way with no resting point.”
Well then, said Shouryuu to Risai.
“You can go along. After all, this matter is about Tai. Go and grasp the Heaven’s Will with that hand of yours.”