Risai heard the words she’d been longing to hear on the same day she returned from Mt. Hou.
Running into Ransetsu Hall, Renrin spoke up after she cast the Koseisan off her face.
“Risai-- He’s there!”
Risai froze. Hearing the news she’d longed to hear for so long, her body couldn’t move out of anxiety, instead of happiness.
“The shirei found Taiki. Also Gouran and Sanshi… This is for sure.”
Aah, Risai moaned. She held her heart with her remaining left hand and then raised her face.
“So, Taiki is?”
“He’s safe. When I got there he already left that place, but we were able to track his trace. He’s inside that building. I left some shirei there, so we won’t lose him again.”
Risai looked up to the heaven. As strange as it might be, she looked up towards the Heaven and the feeling of thankfulness escaped her. ---
--- Yes, if the Heaven existed, it would make mistakes and have some flaws. However, there would always be ways to correct these mistakes. If the Heaven had been flawless, there would be no room for correction.
‘So’, Hanrin spoke up.
“Shouryuu’s going to pick him up, right? How will you go?”
The emperor who was not a beast and didn’t posses two different forms would not be able to pass Gogoukanda. Sometimes emperors were called ‘gods’, but their forms could only be classified as ‘humans’.
“I’m going to bring Taiki along with me on the way back. We’ll open the gate of Gogou.”
“That will cause a big shoku…”
That can’t be help, mumbled Shouryuu.
“We’ll use as many shirei as possible, and try to minimize the shoku’s impact. I’ve no idea how much damage we can actually reduce, though. For now I’ll ask Sou-Ou’s help and borrow the shirei of those three countries. After that we’ll use Kouyoukyou. We’ll split the shirei into as many as possible, and basically just do the things we can do.”
“So, when will it be?”
Shouryuu answered Han-Ou’s question with a short reply.
It had been cautiously planned about where to open the gate. The end of the Empty Sea would be preferable, and though they’d never done it before, they would try to open it at the highest point possible, far away from the land below. But even if they did that, there’s no guarantee they would avoid the destruction, for that’s the incurable nature of shoku.
“This is really, putting the term ‘entrust it to the Heaven’ to the test.”
After saying that, Rokuta called his shirei. Kijuu could not cross the Empty Sea. Shouryuu would be carried by a shirei.
“…Rikaku, I’m counting on you.”
Rikaku, and also Hankyo which was borrowed from Keiki, were the two fastest shirei that would fly with Shouryuu for half a day while keeping their distance as far as possible from the land. The countless number of invisible shirei would follow them.
After seeing them off from Seikouden’s balcony, Rokuta could then finally breathe easily again. From Mt. Hou he parted ways from Youko and Risai, and directly flied back to En. There he gave orders and prepare the documents that Gyokuyou requested, and just this morning returned to Kei with the Imperial Seal of En. So this time, finally, the whole arrangements had been completed.
“…Thank you for your trouble.”
Rokuta who was putting his chin on the parapet of the balcony heard these words came from behind him. When he turned around, Youko was standing there.
“I did work a lot, considering I rarely did any works before… Is it okay for you, Youko, not attending the official duty right now?”
“Well, with this thing going on, I simply couldn’t put myself into work today. Koukan told me I wasn’t concentrating and kicked me out.”
“While earlier this morning, I did the same thing to Keiki, kicking him out.”
“Is that so… That’s because Chibi (small or small child, i.e. Taiki) was so attached to Keiki. Keiki too might have thought of Taiki as his own little brother. For Keiki that would be a surprising thing… It must be because he had taken a great care of Taiki.”
That Keiki? Asked Youko, eyes widened.
“It’s a rare thing, right?”
“…So unusual that I’m stupefied.”
It was when they were lightly laughing about it. Hanrin came running hurriedly. Without any suspicion Rokuta looked around at her, but once he saw her face he sensed that she brought a bad news with her.
“Renrin went there to check things out, and she has returned. She said Taiki doesn’t remember anything about this world.”
What the heck, mumbled Rokuta, dashing towards Ransetsu Hall. Inside Ransetsu Hall there were restless expressions of Renrin and Keiki, while Risai was standing as if she had swallowed a stick.
“En Taiho, Taiki is…”
“You’ve met him? What do you mean he doesn’t remember?”
Renrin turned her ashen face to her side.
“Taiki has no memory? Has the Esui become so severe?”
“The Esui is severe for sure, but that’s not it. He’s fine. Yes…At any rate, he’s still alive. But Taiki doesn’t remember anything about our world. He doesn’t know what he is, what his shirei are, what had happened… Everything.”
Shit, Enki spat.
“Is it his horn? Is it because of that?!”
“Yes… It might be caused by his missing horn. …En Taiho… What should we do?”
“There’s nothing to do about it.”
Whether Taiki had his memory or lost it, they still had to bring him back. If they just left him there, obviously Taiki would die. Moreover there were his shirei who had lost their senses. If the shirei stayed there, they would only cause disaster, and it couldn’t be imagined what a completely free, liberated Toutetsu would do there.
“Has anyone tried to inform Shouryuu about this?”
I’ve taken care of that, said Hanrin.
“I’ve ordered a remaining shirei to chase them. It’s a shirei that possesses the power to vanish so I think it will catch them up in no time.”
Yosh, muttered Rokuta.
“No matter what, we must bring Taiki back. Even if he refuses to return, we must kidnap him and bring him back. What to do after that… we surely don’t know. There’s a chance he would regain his memory when his horn is healed.”
Having that said, Enki looked at Risai.
“Is it fine with you? Can you prepare yourself for the worst?”
‘Yes’, with a painfully pale face, Risai nodded.
---That night, on a far ocean in a country called Hourai, something unusual happened to the moonlight reflected on the water surface. From all directions, no light from any shore could be seen. The perfectly calm water extended so broadly as if boundless, without a single movement tainting its surface. No sign of living creatures could be seen, let alone figures of ships. There’s only one single reflection of the moon that looked like a white rock on the water surface, in the middle of that ocean.
The distorted, twisted reflection of the moon that’s cutting the silk-smoothness of the water suddenly swelled up into a perfect roundness.
From the middle of that perfectly round moonlight, from under the water, dark shadows suddenly emerged out. Countless shadows soared into the sky, and up there they paused for a single moment. Below them, after the moon’s reflection shrank and returned to its previous shape, the reflection was crumbled by new waves. The lull was broken. It then changed into a chaotic current, turning the water into a sea of violent waves.
The newly emerged shirei were all heading towards a far away shore. These youma that were split using the Kouyoukyou, including the youma summoned from the Yellow Sea, were in a really large number—one that had not been seen before. ---
--- They silently surged towards the shore and once there they started to speak. Inside the buzz of wind, their shouts of ‘here!’ invited even more of seething winds. Voices calling for the person that was going to be fetched, and voices calling for the person who was doing the fetching, all were mingled with the wind and scurried to the beach. And before long, these voices called over a figure from the shore, as well as another figure on a mount from the direction of the vigorous ocean.
The person who wandered around the shore finally realized that these secret voices were actually calling for him. These voices reached his long sealed beast-nature, sending in a ringing sound. He didn’t understand what these voices were saying. He didn’t know why they were calling for him either. …However, they were telling him to come.
…The one to retrieve you is arriving.
The heavy lid that had been sealing his instinct for a long time was moved. Strangely enough, what moved the lid were the invisible golden threads of those who were searching for him. Without intending to, while wandering around the shore to search for him, they left tracks like spider webs everywhere, surrounding the place where he was. These webs were like his own barely flowing, thin golden life force that was surrounded by jet-black shadow.
And then, the lid was finally forced open, also by a person who was searching for him. Renrin made certain with her own eyes that it was him arriving to the seashore. She didn’t know herself why she immediately cast off the Koseisan and transformed. Probably she wanted him to see her the way she had been when they once met, or she probably wanted to say that ‘you are a kirin’. She didn’t know the importance of that action to him. ---
--- She had no way of knowing that once when he’d been brought back to Mt. Hou, he had been called a kirin but hadn’t understood it, and he who had had no idea what a kirin really was, had begun to understand it for the first time when he saw Keiki transformed. That was one of the events that marked his gradual change from being ‘him’ to ‘Taiki’.
When Renrin dashed off from that place leaving her golden trace behind, he remembered.
…about himself as Taiki, about Tai, …about his emperor.
The winds, joined by the rain, were rushing towards the shore. As if swept along by these winds and rain, a figure on a mount was arriving. The figure was blown to a gray, gloomy beach. On that beach, among the scattered pebbles where the water broke, a person was standing still.
Shouryuu simply looked down upon that person from Rikaku’s back. And the other person also did nothing but looking up at Shouryuu.
“Are you Taiki?”
The person he’s asking was apparently trembling.
There across the Empty Sea, both being Taika, they couldn’t have recognized each other’s appearances in this homeland. Even when Taiki remembered everything about the world across the Empty Sea, there’s no way he could recognize Shouryuu, and Shouryuu had no way of knowing how Taiki looked in this world either. …It’s just, seeing his drenched hair glowing dimly while being blown by the wind, Shouryuu was reminded of this special person’s rare color.
And also his two jet-black eyes. Eyes that had been sagged by heavy things; that color of them.
“Do you understand if I call you Taiki?”
The other person nodded. He didn’t open his mouth. Still from above Rikaku’s back, without another word, Shouryuu raised his hand. He put his fingers over the other person’s forehead.
“…By the power in me as the emperor of En, I bestow upon you the rank of Taishi.”
As soon as he said that, the other person instantly shut his eyes and retreated one step. Shouryuu gripped that other person’s outstretched arm and dragged him up onto Rikaku’s back. Shouryuu himself hopped off to the ground, and then slapped the beast’s back.
Rikaku fluttered its body, left the beach that broke the water, split the seething, pouring wind and started to speed up. Shouryuu saw them off, and Hankyo who’s on his feet urged him. Shouryuu hopped onto Hankyo’s back, and from there he looked behind. He cast his eyes upon the shore from the speeding Hankyo’s back.
He looked at the shore that tossed the waves back and forth and the city that’s spread before it. His country and his people were no longer there, there wasn’t even a single acquaintance of him left. Such being the case, that place had obviously turned into a foreign country to him.
Submerging through space and time into another country, he nodded lightly at the foreign country behind him.
…This had turned into a funeral for his old country and its people.
Cloud came flooding from the east. The wind was blowing, bathing the top of mount Gyouten of dawn. Seeing a dark cloud approaching, Rokuta absentmindedly stood on his tiptoes. ---
--- The cloud split into two, and as if blown by the wind, they were coming in such high speed that it seemed like they’re going to crash on that mountain top. Arriving on the vast balcony, in arc-shaped movements they landed on the further part of the balcony. Before the eyes of the people who were running to approach, there was a pair of shirei with someone on each back. One figure, together with the shirei, looked back at the approaching people, while the other person remained drooping on the back of the other shirei, his position became slanted and then he fell to the ground.
In spite of himself, Keiki ran and fought to get there before Rokuta, but then he stopped on his track. Rokuta also, from running he’s now only tottering. He then let out a short moan.
The person that fell on the white stone pavement was smaller than he’s supposed to be at his age. His eyes were rigidly closed, and his pale face that had nearly no life was thick with decaying color. His hair of steel color, spread on the white stones, was cruelly too short in the eyes of Keiki and the others. His sprawled arms also, were thin and obviously showing the color of sickness. From the moment they saw him they wanted to help him and bring him up, but they couldn’t get any closer to him, not even one step closer.
…The overwhelming smell of corpse.
While saying that, Rokuta slightly withdrew. Keiki, too, unconsciously took a step back.
Thick, heavy malevolence surrounded Taiki. It was like a wall, keeping Keiki and the others out. Strong blood scent and sickening smell of corpse, the evil was so rigid that it was almost surprising that it hadn’t materialized into a visible substance.
“What happened? Such terrible…”
Rokuta mumbled so, and as if losing a fight he took several steps backward. With a lot of effort Keiki managed to stay where he was, but no matter how he tried he couldn’t get any closer.
“Is that Taiki?”
Keiki looked back. He nodded to Youko, saying yes. Youko easily pierced through the invisible wall. Following Youko was Risai who seemed like she’s going to topple down.
“Say, what in the world is this?!”
Hanrin who kept leaning on her master, shouted.
“This is not Esui—it’s not that he’s only tainted by blood! Isn’t this malevolence coming from Taiki himself?!”
Taiki was immediately brought to Mt. Hou. When Gyokuyou—who had been waiting in front of the gate just like before—took a look at the figure that was being laid down on the ground, she knitted her eyebrows.
She muttered and stopped as if words failed her.
“How is it? Can he be healed?”
Risai asked. Though Shouryuu said that while they were in Hourai Taiki had walked with his own feet and even got onto Rikaku’s back, ever since Taiki reached this world he hadn’t opened his eyes even once. The nyosens who came along with Gyokuyou saw that Taiki was still very pale, and that it seemed like he had fallen into a deep coma.
Gyokuyou knelt down and with a pained expression looked at the haggard face.
“He’s hornless… and suffers from filth. Still, somehow he managed to become an adult beast. This is possible probably only because he’s a black kirin.”
Muttering so, Gyokuyou raised her face. She looked up at Risai and Youko, and then Shouryuu, staring at their faces. These three people were the only ones who brought Taiki here, none of the other kirin had been able to come along.
“…I can’t handle this with my abilities. There’s no other way, we have to rely on Oubo.”
At the same time, the three people returned Gyokuyou’s gaze.
“Oubo? By Oubu you mean… Could you be talking about Seioubo?”
Answering Risai’s question, Gyokuyou nodded with certainty.
“If it’s Oubo, she might have some means to help Taiki.”
“Seioubo… she really exists? For real?”
“Why, of course she does.”
‘Come’, leaving this instruction behind, Gyokuyou walked towards the Shrine. Youko and Shouryuu both had entered that place before. Inside the shrine, on the altar, there were only figures of Oubo and Tentei.
The altar engraved with countless figures, a silvery throne with silvery screen planted on its back, and a white stone statue that sat on that throne, all these were concealed by bead curtains hanging between four pillars surrounding them, revealing only the statue’s torso and below.
Gyokuyou took a bow at the statue, and then walked towards the inner part of the building. On the wall behind the altar there were two white doors, one on the right and one on the left. Gyokuyou knocked on the door on the left. After that, she waited for a moment. Before long there was a sound of tinkling jewels. Gyokuyou opened the door. Judging from the size of the shrine there should be nothing behind that door, but nevertheless that door led to a white shrine.
It seemed like Gyokuyou prompted them to enter, so Youko passed the door.
That place was like a shrine (Byoudou), but it wasn’t one. The size of the white floor was similar to a shrine’s. In the middle of the building, just like in a shrine there was an altar and also a silvery throne, but the bead curtains weren’t lowered.
It was really like two identical rooms. But this one had no roof, and there’s no wall on the backside. The pure white ‘wall’ behind the throne was actually a very big waterfall, so high that the top couldn’t be seen. Because everything was fogged by the spray of water, even when they looked up they couldn’t decipher anything besides knowing that a white light was shining down on them from a place far above. So there’s no way to know where the water was falling to, either. On the throne that was shone by the white light, there was a woman. While following Gyokuyou’s lead and worshipping the woman, Youko and the others tried to take a peep at her.
….So this is Seioubo.
Even for Shouryuu that was the first time he looked at the woman. Real gods just don’t intersect with the human world. As for Youko and Risai, they didn’t even know before that the goddess actually existed.
Hekika Genkun’s beautiful face was acknowledged by most people. In comparison, Seioubo’s appearance was rather surprising. …It’s not that she’s ugly. But she was really mediocre.
The nyosens who had been carrying Taiki put him down near her feet. She simply rested her gaze on Taiki while remained sitting leisurely without making any moves.
“This is an unsightly thing.”
The voice was completely lifeless, not holding any tones or intonations whatsoever.
Gyokuyou bowed deeply.
“As could be seen, this is beyond my humble hands. I wish to rely on Oubo’s strength.”
“This seems like a multiplied grudge. There hasn’t been any previous case where a kirin gets sick from malevolence in his own body, has it.”
The reason why no emotions could be heard from that voice might be because the strange feel of the sounds were all absorbed by the waterfall that’s falling soundlessly. Or it might be because from the beginning she hadn’t moved her body at all, or perhaps it was her unchanging expression.
“His shirei lost their minds and became reckless. It’s not Taiki’s sin or mistake. Taiki lost his horn and got sick so he didn’t possess the power to stop his maddened shirei.”
“…I will take his shirei. I will try to purify them.”
Silence fell upon them. She stopped moving. It seemed to Risai that she had managed to alter Oubo’s expression.
Nothing moved but the falling water behind her. It looked like some snow-white, fine spray falling down. It also looked like the fine spray was flying upwards.
“Please don’t abandon Taiki.”
Hearing Risai, Oubo only moved her eyebrow.
“This person is important for Tai.”
“Even if his illness is removed, he won’t be able to do anything. …You, can you take revenge on the villain with that body?”
Being asked with such emotionless voice, Risai gripped the upper part of her missing right arm.
“Taiki is just like you. He can’t do anything anymore.”
“Even so, we need him.”
“For saving Tai.”
“Why do you wish to save Tai?”
Hearing that question, Risai was lost for words.
“That’s… Because that’s only natural.”
“Why is it natural?”
Risai opened her mouth, but then words left her. Why did she want to save Tai so badly?
“Do you miss Tai-Ou and Taiki? Or are you missing the government with you in it?”
…Those were indeed some of her reasons, thought Risai. She of course honored and respected Gyousou, and thought about Taiki dearly. She took pride in being useful for these two people, and she missed that place that had accepted her as a member.
However, Risai knew. She knew that what’s lost could never be regained. She had lost many soldiers. She had lost many officials who gave her their friendships in the government. She’d heard that Kaihaku the minister of heaven still hadn’t been found. She had also heard that Eichuu the chousai had been wounded to death. She also knew from spreading rumor that Senkaku the minister of earth and Haboku the minister of summer had been executed. About what happened to Kaei whom she parted with in Sui Province…she hadn’t had the courage to think about it.
The lost people, the six years time. Risai looked at Oubo’s feet realistically. Taiki who’s lying there was no longer a small child. The younger Taiki could no longer be found anywhere.
“Or is it that you can’t forgive Asen?”
That’s for sure, thought Risai. Asen had at least assailed Taiki while having his trust. ---
--- He usurped the throne, and pushed Tai into the bottom of hardships. So many people lost their lives because of Asen. There’s no way these cruelties could be forgiven. Asen staying in power was against righteousness, benevolence, charity, and sincerity, negating these very foundations upon which the whole people’s lives had been built.
“Do you want to clean your tainted name? Or do you miss Tai?”
Risai couldn’t answer. None of these were correct, she thought.
“…I don’t know.”
“Aren’t you just being childishly fretful?”
That was… not true. Risai raised her eyes. Though unwanted, this all-white place reminded her of Tai, the country covered with snow.
Countless regions were conquered by snow, mountains and fields and cities were covered completely with snow. Snow absorbed all colors of sounds and the world fell into a soundless, coma-like stagnation.
Risai indeed felt humiliated by her tainted name. She’s holding wrath towards Asen who had tainted her name, she had sworn revenge on Asen who had trampled on her hard-earned honor. It’s also true that she had thought that if the Heaven wouldn’t correct things, she would correct them herself. Then, thinking she might have the chance, she carelessly made a move in Jou Province and lost many acquaintances and sympathizers because of that. Risai’s deeply wounded heart could only be healed with Asen’s destruction.
…Risai might have thought that way.
But all these thoughts were soaked up by the snow of every passing winter.
“I don’t know myself why I am doing this…”
Risai followed the water spray drifting from the waterfall with her eyes. It also looked similar to mist of smoke rising up from crumbling buildings.
“It’s just… If this continues, Tai will perish…”
“You think Tai must not perish?”
“Yes. …That alone I will not accept. I can’t bear it.”
Why? …Risai thought about it, and the answer that came out from her mouth surprised even Risai herself.
“If you ask why, that’s because if Tai perished, that would be my fault.”
“I can’t explain it well. But I feel that way.”
Of course, Tai didn’t fall into this kind of devastation because of something that Risai had done.
“If Tai perished, I would lose many things. … The land of Tai that I’ve been missing, the people there, and all the memories surrounding them… Everything. But still, I feel that I would lose something even more precious than all these…. For sure, before I miss all the things that would perish, before I cry over my loss, I would firstly detest myself. I would curse, have a grudge at myself. I’d never forgive myself.”
“Yes… This might seem insignificant. Eventually, I’m just struggling to escape the misery of these forthcoming moments. I’m only… trying to protect my own feeling.”
Risai stared at Taiki, and then averted her eyes towards the altar.
“It’s not that I’m hoping to gain something from Taiho. I’m not wishing for any kinds of miracle. How could I want a miracle from Taiho, when even the gods who could actually perform miracles do nothing to help us?”
The goddess flipped her eyebrows.
“However, Tai needs a light. If even that we can’t have, Tai will surely freeze to death…”
Oubo unsurprisingly didn’t say anything. Without showing any expression she stared fixedly at the blank sky. Finally she looked at Taiki.
“…I will cure his illness. For now, anything more than that cannot be done.”
After saying that, she raised one arm in a mechanical gesture.
“You’re dismissed. …You can return later.”
As soon as she said that, with a thundering roar the waterfall flowed down to the front of the throne. Everything was swallowed by the water; there wasn’t even the time for Risai to let out a sound or make any movements, She closed her eyes and when she opened it, she was on the vast stone pavement behind the shrine. ---
--- At the green mountainside, on the vastness of the stone pavement, the sounds of gently approaching waves from the Sea of Clouds could be heard.
Risai hurriedly took a look around. The nyosens surrounding Taiki, Youko and Shouryuu who both looked agape— Gyokuyou was the only one who had been prostrating on the stone pavement. Gyokuyou who had been lowering her head deeply then stood up. She turned back to look at Risai.
“It’s good that you've brought him here. It seems like Taiki will remain asleep for a while, but since Oubo has said so, this Esui will definitely be cured.”
Risai looked back at Gyokuyou. On Gyokuyou’s refined face, there was this deep look of sorrow that was similar to what Risai had seen on a girl in I Province, the girl that Risai met in Gyousou’s hometown, who had gone for eternity.
“So… I guess that’s all?”
Gyokuyou nodded without another word.