The Twelve Kingdoms
Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Maze
by Ono Fuyumi
translated by Cheng Jianrong and Mina
and then translated again by Retrooo
©ONO FUYUMI, KODANSHA LTD.
last modified, 09.22.2004
"Lady Gyokuyou!" called out Taiki suddenly, just as he finished his lunch at Rosen Palace.
Rosen Palace held a total of five rooms, and Gyokuyou entered the center room with a golden-haired young man behind her. Seeing this scene, the bowing Teiei couldn't help but secretly admire Gyokuyou.
(Genkun had already thought of this.)
"It hasn't been long since the last time I saw you, but you've already grown so much."
Gyokuyou smiled as she stroked Taiki's hair.
"Your mane has grown long. Are your days here good?"
"Very good," replied Taiki to Gyokuyou, as his eyes drifted over to the young man behind her. Other than that time he encountered Goson, this was the first time he had seen a man on Mt. Hou, so he was very curious.
"This is Kei Taiho, Keiki."
Taiki's eyes widened. "Is he a kirin too?"
Taiki looked up at the expressionless Keiki, who nodded at Taiki.
Even though he looked like he was very uninterested, Taiki was still very happy to meet another kirin. After all, Taiki knew that he was a kirin, but he still wasn't sure what kind of a creature a kirin actually was.
Gyokuyou looked at the surrounding nyosen.
"Rosen Palace looks very busy."
Youka hurriedly lowered her head and replied, "I'm sorry. Since Taiki doesn't like to eat alone..."
Gyokuyou heard this and laughed.
"Very good. Taiki is the master of Mt. Hou right now, so you should listen to his instructions."
"Kei Taiho will stay here for a little while. You should prepare for this."
After watching the nyosen bow and leave, Gyokuyou took Taiki's hand.
"I heard that a boorish person intruded upon this palace. What a terrible misfortune! You didn't get injured, did you?"
"Oh, good." Gyokuyou smiled and invited Taiki and Keiki to sit. "Kei Taiho stayed upon Mt. Hou previous to you."
"Really?" Taiki looked at Keiki, but Keiki simply gave him a quick affirmative glance.
"You were both born on Mt. Hou, just like brothers. Kei Taiho will stay on Mt. Hou for a little while, so you can treat him as your older brother. Anything you don't understand, just ask him."
"Okay." Taiki smiled at Keiki. "Kei Taiho, have you eaten lunch yet?"
"Yes, I've eaten."
"Do you want to drink some tea?"
"Don't trouble yourself."
Taiki tilted his head a little bit. "Kei Taiho, which palace are you going to live in?"
"I used to live at Shiren Palace."
"Do you want to go over there now? Can I come walk with you?"
Seeing Keiki stand up, Taiki stood up as well. As he was about to leave with Keiki, he turned to look at Gyokuyou.
"Lady Gyokuyou, are you going to stay here as well? Or do you have other things to do?"
Gyokuyou smiled. "I don't have anything to do. If you'll agree to it, I can eat dinner with you."
Taiki smiled happily and then quickly chased after Keiki. Gyokuyou and the nyosen laughed as they watched him run outside. When they couldn't see their figures anymore, Teiei timidly spoke. "I would like to ask a question that may be improper..."
"You may ask it."
"I know it is impolite to say this, but Kei Taiho isn't someone who is easy to become close to. He and Taiki..."
She was not finished when Gyokuyou gave a laugh. "Kei Taiho is definitely someone who is hard to approach."
Teiei was silent. Keiki was also born on Mt. Hou and also lived there not too long ago, so Teiei very much understood him. Etiquette required that she should have denied Gyokuyou's words, but she couldn't ignore her conscience in order to say something.
"This could just be destiny. I originally wanted to ask Ren Taiho to come, but because the Kingdom of Ren was currently in turmoil, there was no way I could ask the Taiho to leave her kingdom at a time like this, not to mention that I had just asked her to help."
Renrin's native kingdom, Ren was facing internal disorder. Teiei had also heard this, so she could only nod.
"And also, I recalled that Kei Taiho was closest in age to Taiki. Though his native country has also been unstable recently, perhaps spending some time with Taiki will make him a little easier to get along with."
Hearing this, Teiei only forced a smile. "Yes."
Gyokuyou laughed lightly and suddenly smiled again. "The Queen of Kei very easily gets herself into unnecessary trouble, and Kei Taiho's personality sometimes makes it even worse for Keiou. I hope he can learn some things from Taiki's friendliness."
Teiei silently nodded in agreement.
It seems that in the places outside of Mt. Hou, the unrest never ceases.
Together, Taiki and several nyosen followed behind Keiki. It wasn't easy for a child like Taiki to keep up with Keiki, especially since Keiki didn't think to slow his pace down for Taiki. When the line of them arrived at Shiren Palace, Taiki was already out of breath.
Shiren Palace's layout was basically the same as that of Rosen Palace. After Keiki entered the palace, no one knew what he was pondering as he walked through and looked at every room. Taiki guessed that he was thinking fondly of the days that he had spent here before, so he stood quietly to one side.
After Keiki had gone around the palace once, he entered the center room and sat down. Taiki still said nothing.
There was furniture inside of Shiren Palace, but the curtains and decorations had all been put away. Keiki sat like this and watched the nyosen busily begin to arrange things.
Seeing that Keiki seemed like he had completely forgotten about him, Taiki began to get restless. However, Keiki's face showed a mood of contemplation, so Taiki didn't dare open his mouth to bother him. He just waited by Keiki's side, but that also felt a little bit too impolite.
When Taiki was uncertain about what he should do, he spotted a nyosen carrying in a tea set and couldn't help but let out a big sigh of relief.
"Excuse our disorder. Please have some tea," said the nyosen, as she passed over a cup of tea. "Because you haven't said anything, Taiki doesn't know what to do."
"Oh..." It seemed as if Keiki had finally remembered that Taiki was at his side and looked over at him. "Excuse me." The expressionless Keiki gave Taiki a nod, which was meant as an apology.
"Um... am I bothering you? If so, then I'll go back first." Taiki asked this very cautiously. However, before Keiki could open his mouth, a nyosen spoke for him.
"Oh, not at all. Come and drink some tea as well." The nyosen pushed a chair out for Taiki, and he sat down very hesitantly. Yet, he really felt that this situation was extremely awkward.
"Um... Might I ask where you live, Kei Taiho?"
"What kind of a place is Kei Kingdom?"
"It is a kingdom in the east." Keiki's answer carried no feeling, and afterwards, he didn't say any more. Taiki still had absolutely no idea what kind of a place Kei Kingdom actually was.
"Did you used to live on Mt. Hou too?"
"Did you live here from the time you were born? I just got here not too long ago."
"I lived here from the time I was born."
"Then, for how long did you stay here?"
"I left two years ago."
"Then did you choose a ruler two years ago?"
"I didn't encounter my ruler until last year."
"Oooh..." said Taiki. "So you left the mountain two years ago to go find your ruler."
"Might I ask..." Taiki lowered his head and looked at his flower-scented tea. "What is choosing a ruler like? Youka said that we receive a revelation, but I don't quite understand..."
However, Keiki's simple answer approached indifference. "When the time comes, you will understand."
"Will I also be able to choose a ruler for sure?"
"Yes, you can as long as you are a kirin."
"Even if I don't know what a revelation is?"
"It is hard to describe a revelation in words. When you meet your ruler, you will understand."
"What if I choose the wrong person, or pass by him and not know it?"
"That is not possible, because the ruler will have ouki."
Keiki nodded with no expression showing on his face. "It is the will that the ruler emanates, or you could also call it an air. At any rate, they are not like most people, so there is no way you can make a mistake."
"But I don't think I'm like most kirin. Does that matter? Could it be that the way I choose a ruler is different from other kirin?"
"I don't know much about black kirin, so I can't answer that."
Taiki was at a loss for what should do now. Beads of sweat seeped out of his forehead.
Before, he had really wanted to meet another kirin, but now that he had one in front of him, why were none of his many doubts eased even a little bit?
"When you left Mt. Hou, how did you kind your ruler?"
If he was asked to pick a ruler out of a group of people it might be easier, but to not know where they were, that must be extraordinarily difficult.
"I relied on the ouki to find her."
"Did you meet with a lot of people, and then checked to see if they had the ouki?"
"Even if the ruler was not right in front of me, I can still feel their ouki, so all I had to do was look in that direction."
"So it's like that..." Actually, Taiki still didn't quite understand what he meant. "You can transform, right?"
"There are no kirin who cannot transform."
"But I can't. I don't know how to transform..."
Keiki looked at Taiki, and Taiki realized that his eyes were bright purple.
"In the beginning, did anyone teach you how to raise your hand? Did anyone teach you how to walk?"
"It is the same principle. You ask me how to transform, but I have no way of telling you. Even if I did explain it to you, you wouldn't necessarily understand."
Taiki lowered his head. According to that, perhaps he would never be able to transform.
A deep silence followed. Taiki felt that Keiki had already decided not to say any more, thereupon he stood up and suddenly felt like returning to Sanshi's side.
"Please excuse me for bothering you."
He took a bow towards Keiki, and Keiki silently nodded his head.
"Will I see you again at dinnertime?"
"I believe Lady Gyokuyou said that we would eat together."
"Okay... I'm sorry I asked so many questions."
Taiki took another bow and then turned to leave. He walked briskly out of the palace, but before he could get to the entrance at the top of the stone steps that lead to the gate, he began to cry. He felt so discouraged and dejected, but he suddenly stopped walking, because he had heard a nyosen calling for him from behind.
A nyosen gently put her hand on his shoulder. The warmed and weight of her palms made Taiki feel even worse.
"Maybe I'm not a kirin."
The soft hand pulled Taiki into an embrace.
"If I am really a kirin, then I must be a really stupid one."
"That can't be, Taiki."
"I'm sure of it." Taiki pressed into the nyosen. "I'm sorry..."
He felt very apologetic for being a stupid kirin, for only being able to receive all the good things the nyosen offer him, and for not being able to repay them at all.
"How could a child like you have been born?" His grandmother always said this about him.
"Don't worry. You don't need to be sad," his mother would always tell him as she lightly stroked his hair. His mother's hands were just like those of the nyosen, all very warm.
"Don't listen to what your granny said. You just have to be a kind child like you are now and everything will be fine. As long as you are like that, your mommy will be very happy." Then why did his mother always secretly cry?
Every time he apologized to his mother, she would always tell him not to feel at fault. She would look at him while she held back tears and smiled, lightly stroking his head.
"You don't have to worry."
A nyosen had said this to him too, as they gently patted his back. And then she would use her warm hand to hold his while they returned to Rosen Palace. Youka and Teiei comforted him in the same way.
"You don't need to be impatient."
"Exactly. It doesn't matter if you can transform or not. You are most definitely a kirin! So, you don't have to worry one bit."
(You don't need to worry.)
"That Kei Taiho, he doesn't know how to behave."
(Granny's temper has always been bad.)
"Please don't cry. It doesn't matter even if you can't transform!"
(You don't need to feel guilty.)
"That's right, you don't need to worry yourself over such a small matter."
Even Sanshi had come to comfort him, gently patting him. She picked him up with the hand that she had been patting him with, and looked at his face.
"Why don't we go outside for a stroll? The evening wind is very comfortable."
Everyone was treating him so nicely that it made it even harder for him to bear. Their warm hands and tender words only made him feel even worse.
"Then you should take a walk." Youka draped a robe over him. "Come back before dinner! Today, Genkun will also be eating with you, so it'll be very exciting."
Youka sent them off. However, even though Sanshi had carried him outside, he kept crying.
"Really, Kei Taiho," sighed Gyokuyou who had gone to Shiren Palace. Keiki silently stood at one side.
"Taiki is still so small. How could you make him cry!?"
"Please don't say it like I was bullying him. That was not my intention."
"Of course, I know this...but you could have said things more tactfully."
"I was only speaking the truth. He asked me how to transform, and there really is no way I can teach him."
Gyokuyou sighed again. "To say it like that is too cold. Taiki's fortunes are not good. He grew up in Hourai, so he's not like you. You should have..."
"Because of that, you should have asked En Taiho to come, since he was also born in Hourai. I don't think I am qualified for this."
"Keiki..." Gyokuyou spoke slowly in a voice full of dignity. "I asked you to come today, because I felt that in doing so, both you and Taiki would benefit."
"Don't you think that I, Gyokuyou, would know your troubles?"
After hearing Gyokuyou say this, Keiki could only give a heavy sigh. He thought of the ruler of his native kingdom.
Keiki's master grew up as the daughter of a common merchant family. To speak well of her, she was a slender woman; to speak badly, her spirit was weak. She did not have the determination to be the ruler of a kingdom. Everyday she would only get more and more depressed. She neglected the affairs of the kingdom and hid deep inside the royal palace, never coming out. No matter how Keiki encouraged or reproached her, no good came out of it. On the contrary, she became increasingly distant.
"Everything you say is accurate, but you have to understand, the accurate method is not necessarily always the best method!"
Keiki was baffled. He didn't understand why something that was clearly accurate was not the absolute best.
"You should first learn how to discern other people's moods. Taiki is a child who likes to interact with other people, and even he is afraid to approach you. Then how do you suppose Keiou could confide in you!?"
Keiki sighed again.
"Where did Taiki go?" asked Keiki to a nyosen he encountered as he was walking on a path. She pointed behind her, towards the perimeter of Houro Palace.
"He went to the daylily garden. Don't go teasing Taiki again!"
Along the way, every time he inquired about Taiki, he was reprimanded, making him feel very discouraged.
"I never meant to tease him."
"Even if you didn't mean to, you were still too cold to him."
"I will pay more attention to what I say."
That was all he could reply with.
He walked gloomily along the path between the rocks as he continuously encountered the nyosen on the way who either scolded him or otherwise expressed their disapproval. It wasn't easy to reach the small garden that was bursting with daylilies.
Keiki stopped. In the middle of an area occupied with yellow flowers in full bloom, he saw a nyokai sitting with bent legs on the ground. Taiki was laying face down upon the nyokai's leopard portion.
Taiki really was a strange kirin, he thought.
He was certainly a kirin, but since the color of his mane was different from the other kirin, his appearance gave Keiki a strange feeling.
There was another reason that made Keiki feel unusual, and that was that he was not used to interacting with small children. Their small bodies and slender limbs made Keiki feel like they were a different kind of creature. Taiki's huddled figure, which made him look even smaller, especially caused Keiki to feel uneasy throughout his whole body.
He hesitated, wondering if he should speak, when just then, the nyokai noticed him. Taiki followed his nyokai's line of sight and saw Keiki. His dark eyes widened and he hurriedly wiped his face with his sleeve. Then, he stood up and took a deep bow towards Keiki.
"I'm really sorry about what happened just then."
"Don't be," said Keiki, and then quickly added, "I should be the one apologizing to you. My manner towards you was too cold."
"Oh, it wasn't." Taiki shook his head. Keiki saw this and couldn't help but think how incredible it was. How could a neck so thin hold up his head?
"It's because I'm worthless. I'm really very sorry."
"No... May I sit next to you?"
After Keiki sat down, Taiki did the same. Keiki watched as Sanshi lowered her body in respect to him.
"Is she your nyokai?"
"Yes, her name is Sanshi."
"She looks like a very good nin'you."
Hearing Keiki say this, Taiki blinked his eyes.
"Are there nyokai who aren't good?"
"There are. The more forms of beasts that are mixed, like Sanshi, the better the nyokai. Sanshi, you may leave. I will accompany Taiki."
Hearing Keiki say this, Sanshi bowed deeply towards him and walked towards the path.
Keiki watched Sanshi's leaving figure and creased his brow.
"She is a good nin'you, but her powers have not yet been released."
After Taiki heard this, he tilted his head as if he didn't understand, and his mane touched the daylilies, causing them to gently sway.
"It should be because you have not displayed your full power. The nyokai and her master are very closely connected. If the kirin gets sick, the nyokai will also be unhealthy."
"Then...am I sick?"
"This was only an analogy. However...perhaps your condition could also be considered an illness."
Seeing the child in front of him hang his head in hopelessness, Keiki sighed heavily. He was really helpless in these situations.
Keiki spent a little bit of time figuring out what to say. Taiki had lowered his head in silence.
"May I ask you why you cried a moment ago?" This question may have been too blunt, but Gyokuyou had told him that he had to comprehend Taiki's mood.
"I'm sorry..." The small kirin contracted his body.
"I didn't want you to apologize. I just wanted to know the reason."
Taiki lowered his head further. "Because I feel like I'm so worthless."
"Because I feel like I'll never be able to learn how to transform, but the nyosen are all expecting me to..."
"Do you care that much about the nyosen's feelings?"
Hearing Keiki ask this, Taiki lifted his head with an painful look on his face.
"Yes, because everyone treats me so well. My being able to live on Mt. Hou, and my receiving everybody's extremely thoughtful care, is all because of the fact that I'm a kirin, but I can't do any of the things a kirin should be able to do. To show everyone my appreciation, I hope that I can at least transform for them to make them happy, but when I think that maybe that day will never come, I feel so useless..."
As he was saying this, Taiki's eyes began to fill with tears.
"Please don't cry, or else the nyosen will scold me again."
Taiki heard this and blinked his eyes.
"Kei Taiho, you get scolded by the nyosen too?"
"Of course I do. The nyosen do not hold back when it comes to kirin."
After Taiki heard this, he finally smiled a little bit.
"You do not need to mind the nyosen so much. They are here to take care of you. You are their master."
"But..." Taiki lowered his head again and spoke haltingly with a quiet voice, "Without the nyosen by my side, I can't do anything. I have to rely on them for everything, so it's so hard to think of myself as their master."
"Your way of thinking is very strange."
Taiki's voice sounded once more like it was full of sadness, causing Keiki to panic again. In his mind, he couldn't help but think that he clearly wasn't suited to play this part, just like he had told Gyokuyou. He didn't know what she had been thinking when she asked him to come.
"Ah, I was not criticizing you."
"Yes..." Taiki nodded his head, and said in a small voice, "It's like this at home too."
"Yes, at my home in Hourai. I could never win the love of my granny or my mom. I always made mistakes and granny would get mad, and my mom and dad would always sigh."
The occurrence of the shoku that swept Taiki to Hourai was still clear in Keiki's memory. He had still been on Mt. Hou at that time.
"And then, Sanshi came to get me and I arrived at Mt. Hou. The nyosen all told me that my real home was Houro Palace, and then I suddenly understood. Because I was not originally my parents' real child, so nothing I did was ever right. But...it's the same at Houro Palace. Though no one lectures me or cries because of me, I still have no way of making everybody happy. I often think that perhaps I'm not a real kirin. If I'm not, then I'm not supposed to be staying at Houro Palace, just like I wasn't supposed to be at my other home."
Keiki finally understood. Taiki had left a place he had lived in for ten years before coming to Mt. Hou. Keiki thought that it was just like the bit of sadness he had felt before, when he had to leave Mt. Hou. Not to mention that the small child in front of him was someone who cried and became discouraged very easily!
"You are a kirin. This fact, you need not doubt."
"A kirin can recognize other kirin. You definitely emanate the spirit of a kirin."
Taiki looked up at Keiki.
"It is something like a golden radiance. I can see it very clearly, so I'm sure that I am not wrong."
Taiki heard this and looked at himself, and then he looked around Keiki.
"But I...can't see it."
"That's probably because your powers have not yet been completely released. At any rate, it is absolutely certain that you are a kirin."
"Then...can I stay on Mt. Hou? Even though I can't do any of the things a kirin should do?"
Taiki let out a sigh of relief and then blinked his eyes again.
"Could it be...that you miss your home in Hourai?"
"Yes, I think about it often, but then I feel guilty toward the nyosen again."
"I don't have a mother, so I don't understand... Do you miss her?"
Keiou missed her late mother very much and often thought of her home. So much so that sometimes she would yell at Keiki and demanded that he let her return to the life she once had.
"You don't have a mother?"
"Most kirin do not."
"Then I guess I'm lucky."
"But we have our nyokai and nyosen... However, you have a mother. Do you very much hope to see her again?"
Taiki didn't say anything. He just nodded his head vigorously.
"You don't need to feel ashamed toward the nyosen."
Hearing Keiki say this, Taiki lightly nodded his head.
"But I'm not that family's child, so there's no use in thinking about my mother."
"The nyosen are so good to me. If I keep thinking of home, there will definitely be a punishment."
Taiki began to sob quietly. He hugged his knees and buried his face between his legs. At this, Keiki panicked and wondered if this counted as him making Taiki cry.
"I'm sorry..." After Taiki said this, he shrunk his body even smaller. Keiki was at a complete loss as to what to do. Taiki's steel-colored hair hung down, revealing his thin neck, making him look that much more helpless, as did his shoulders, which were wrapped around his knees. Keiki hesitated a little and then attempted to put his hand upon Taiki's shoulder.
"I'm sorry..." apologized Taiki again, which confused Keiki.
"You do not have to apologize."
Hearing Keiki say this, Taiki began to bawl. Keiki emulated the nyosen and pulled Taiki into an embrace, and Taiki also hugged him tightly. Seeing Taiki so sad, of course Keiki empathized with him, but it was Taiki's warmth that caused Keiki to feel fondness for him. He lightly stroked Taiki's head and Taiki hugged him even more tightly, saying between sobs, "I...really want to go home..."
"I miss my mom..."
Hearing Taiki say this, Keiki felt very deeply that this little kirin was very lonely.
The sky had already become an orange-red color. The rays of the setting sun reflected off the sea of clouds and created an incredible glowing.
Keiki held Taiki's hand as they went through the paths of the maze, which were filled with the lights and shadows of the setting sun. As Taiki walked, he thought of his hometown.
He had played throughout the maze everyday, spending his days very happily and very quickly getting used to not having to go to school. Also, he had never had any friends that were his age, so even though he was the only child on Mt. Hou, he had never felt particularly lonely.
Sanshi and the nyosen treated him very nicely. Here, there was no grandmother to yell at him, nor did he ever see his mother argue with his grandmother because of him. And of course, he never saw his mother secretly crying after an argument. He would also never again see his mother fighting at night with his father over him, and then having his father call him out to the front and sigh in disappointment as he lectured him.
The nyosen had told him that Mt. Hou was his real home, and he never once doubted this statement. The nyosen took care of him meticulously, welcoming him from the bottom of their hearts, which contained all of him. Taiki knew that they had really been very happy with his return to Mt. Hou.
And thus, he felt that he shouldn't be longing for a place in which he didn't belong, and that that wasn't fair to the nyosen.
However, those thoughts still frequently flashed into his mind.
Thinking back now, the long hallway in his old house seemed more interesting than this maze; the yard seemed more beautiful than any of the small gardens at the palace. Compared to being surrounded by nyosen, his days at school where no one paid him any attention and where he just stared blankly at other people playing seemed happier. In the end, his impressions of his mother, father and brother were even better than Sanshi and the nyosen.
It was probably dinnertime there. Was his mother sitting with his grandmother and brother around the table? When would his father get home today? Would he return a little earlier and let him help him wash his back as they bathed together?
When he recalled these things, he would always remember them that much more fondly.
Have the hydrangeas in the backyard bloomed yet? Has grandma taken the parasol out of the storehouse and used it yet? After mom and grandma argue, will one person still hide in the bathroom? Can his brother go to the bathroom in the middle of the night by himself yet?
Do they occasionally think of him?
How sad would it be if they did already forget about him! What if they didn't forget about him, but were very happy that he had disappeared? That would be even sadder. However, if everyone still thought about him... that thought made him saddest of all.
He suddenly felt like he was about to cry again, so Taiki quickly blinked his eyes.
"Would you like to come to Shiren Palace for a bit?"
Taiki lifted his head to look at Keiki. Keiki still had no expression on his face, but the hand with which he was holding Taiki's was very warm.
"But we have to go eat with Lady Gyokuyou..."
"It's only for a little bit."
Keiki walked straight to Shiren Palace and told the welcoming nyosen to withdraw, as he took Taiki into the bedroom. The small yard to the east of the bedroom was surrounded by a towering cliff wall, the top portion of which was bathed in the light of the setting sun, causing the green moss to radiate. The light reflected into the room and highlighted the entire room with the color of the sun.
Keiki lightly patted Taiki's hand and released it. He stood in the center of the room, lifted his head slightly, and closed his eyes. As Taiki looked at him, with his head cocked to the side in uncertainty, something happened.
It was an unimaginable sight. Keiki's body began to shake and melt. It looked like the melting of glass or metal. The melted portion appeared to flash with a golden light and extended in all directions. After it extended, it seemed as if it was an article of clothing being flipped. Before Taiki could even shout, he saw only a beast standing in front of him.
It happened in the matter of a few short seconds. The clothes that had originally been on the beast fell to the floor with a plop. The beast lowered his head a little bit, which had been held high, and turned to look at Taiki.
He still had those purple eyes, and that golden hair, no, mane. His neck was not as long as that of a giraffe, and his legs were like those a deer, more slender than those of a horse. There were a few warmly yellow stripes upon his body, but only on his back. Also, it would be better to call them stripes, than to say that it was an interweaving pattern in his fur that appeared to change colors when looked at from different angles.
Taiki finally understood that he and a giraffe had nothing in common. They were, in fact, completely different creatures. His face was more similar to a deer's than the long face of a horse. On his forehead was a diverging horn, which made him feel even more like a deer, except that he only had one horn and it was shorter any deer's. His color was white and it was as if he radiated a pearly white metallic luster. Under the twilight, he emanated a muted red light.
A golden mane rested in a line upon his beautiful neck. Taiki remembered that Keiki's hair had grown all the way down to his knees, but it had obviously become much shorter after it changed into a mane. Besides becoming shorter, it had also become finer. The fluttering golden mane looked like a burning golden flame.
His hooves resembled a horse's, and his tail was longer than a deer's. The portion of the tail that was connected to the body was very thin. Again, it was not quite like a horse's tail; its length and thickness felt like it was somewhere between that of a cow and a horse.
"Kei Taiho... Is this...a kirin?"
He was not originally expecting the kirin to reply to him, but he heard the reply in Keiki's voice.
"It's not like I thought at all."
He walked closer to get a better look and realized that the kirin was a big animal. Even though it looked thin, it was probably a little smaller than a horse. He wanted to reach out and touch the kirin's soft sparkling fur, but when he recalled that this was Keiki, he couldn't help but hesitate.
"I had no idea that the kirin was such a beautiful creature."
Taiki just stood and stared, whereupon Keiki lowered his head so that it was closer to Taiki's nose.
"Do you like it?"
Taiki felt his face becoming red.
"Will I transform in this too?"
"You are a black kirin, so your color will probably be different."
He didn't know what it felt like to change into the form of a beast.
"Do your forelegs feel like arms?"
"No, the forelegs are just forelegs. After you've transformed, you will no longer feel like a person."
"The horn and tail don't feel especially different or anything?"
"The tail does not have much feeling. As for the horn...the base of the horn feels like a fire burning. It should be because your consciousness is all concentrated in this portion. Yes... When you transform, your entire consciousness comes together in your forehead."
Taiki tried to imitate Keiki and closed his eyes, as he tried to bring his consciousness into his forehead. Unfortunately, nothing happened. Taiki heaved a sigh.
"I don't think this is something I can learn very quickly."
"You don't need to worry."
"Yes. When you transform into this, you must be able to run really quickly, right?"
"Right. Also, kirin can gallop about in the Yellow Sea. If we ride the wind, we are faster than any sort of bird. As long as we're happy, we can even circle the entire world."
"Can you go to Hourai too? I heard that Hourai was at the most eastern edge of the world."
"We can, as long as you want to."
Taiki blinked his eyes.
To turn into such a beautiful beast and gallop across the entire world in the air, that must be a very satisfying experience. As long as he learned how to transform, whenever his loneliness was too hard to bear, he could secretly return home to look around!
"If you will consent to it, tomorrow morning I can let you ride on my back for a stroll."
"Yes. All right, you should go back to the palace first. Lady Gyokuyou is probably waiting for you. I will arrive shortly."
Taiki bowed deeply.
"Kei Taiho, thank you very very much."
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