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, 05.27.2005
"Madam Risai, are you feeling better?" Taiki poked his head into the tent and saw Risai sit up.
Because it was long distance travel, there was a limit to the number of attendants one could bring. Thus, they had to think about how many of their belongings they could take along with them, and their tents could not be prepared too comfortably. The equipment in the tents were very simple, and most of the things that are brought out would probably be daily living necessities. However, the weather on Mt. Hou was pretty good, so the tents were pitched with a thinner cloth material. Though this was the case, the interior did feel very spacious, and there were no worries about those from the outside seeing inside of the tent.
Originally lying down on a simple bed, Risai immediately got up and draped a coat over her shoulders. Taiki hurried to stop her.
"I think it would be better if you laid back down." Taiki gave some water to an attendant inside the tent. "Today, I helped the nyosen run errands. I brought you some water."
In order to avoid being impolite, Risai straightened up her appearance a bit and bowed her head, saying, "Thank you for your concern."
Under an attendant's arrangement, Taiki sat nearby Risai and looked at her face. "How are your wounds healing?"
"Many thanks to you for bringing the Sensui. The pain has already gone away."
"...Oh, good." Taiki sighed and cocked his head to the side. "I hope they don't leave scars."
Risai smiled. "Please don't worry. With the additional support of the Sensui, and taking into consideration that I am a sennin, even if my wounds were more serious, I would still be all right."
Taiki blinked his eyes. His face was full of bewilderment. "What do you mean? Madam Risai, you're a sennin?"
"Even though I'm in a provincial army, I only needed to be a general in order to enter the Immortal Register and become a sennin. If I didn't do this, then I could not have served the provincial Kou."
This time it was Risai's turn to look surprised. "Do you not know? The provincial Kou is not a human, but an immortal. At the castle of the provincial Kou, if you are not a sennin, you cannot enter or exit. The provincial Kou has a very long life, and if those who serve at his side do not also have longevity, then they would not be of much use."
Risai saw that Taiki's face was still full of confusion and was extremely amazed. She had heard that this kirin had been raised in Hourai until not too long ago. Could it be that there are no sennin in Hourai?
"Shinsen do not have a life span."
"Is that so?"
Risai sighed softly. "...Kou, you are also a shinsen. Didn't you know that?"
"Yes. The ruler inherently holds a position in the Divine Register. When he becomes the ruler, he will no longer age. Moreover, it is not very easy for him to die. At the very least, he will not die from disease."
"So that's how it is."
"Kirin are also in the Divine Register. Like the ruler, you will not grow old, nor will you become sick. It is not easy for you to be wounded, nor for you to die. There are also a few illnesses that will only affect kirin."
Taiki suddenly opened his eyes wide and thought for a little bit. "Then... will I grow older and older?"
"After you become an adult, you will then not continue to age."
"...I feel like...this is a little strange."
"The nyosen won't grow old or die of sickness either. I think that they have forgotten to tell you these things... This is pretty much it."
"The sennin support the ruler. Ordinarily, those who serve at the side of the ruler, or the provincial Kou as well as those who serve at the side of the Kou, they are all sennin."
"If only the king can live forever, then he can't accomplish much."
Risai smiled wryly. "I'm not too clear on the reason either. However, sennin won't become old or die of sickness either, but this is only within the time that they are sennin. The difference between the Immortal Register and the Divine Register is that one can enter or leave the Immortal Register at any time. One can decide whether or not they want to be a sennin."
"If you weren't a sennin, then would you grow old like most other people?"
"Yes. Hence, very few people will leave the Immortal Register of their own accord. For instance, I was promoted to general and then entered into the Register, but if I quit or am removed from the position of general, I must withdraw from the Register. In other words, my place in the Register is granted to me by the ruler. All the sennin that work under the king are called chisen."
"Aside from this, there are people who voluntarily vow to become sennin, those who are not appointed by nor serve under a ruler. These sennin are called hisen. For example, the nyosen of Mt. Hou are considered hisen."
"So that's how it is..." After Taiki said this, he sighed. "Before, I had asked Teiei about her age, and she said that she had forgotten it. Maybe she has really already lived so long that she has forgotten her age."
"Perhaps." Risai smiled slightly. "So, you don't need to worry about my body. Compared to that of a regular person, I am much stronger.
"That's right, I shouldn't only speak of me. What about you? Your body is all right?"
"Yes, I'm very good. I just feel really tired, and also I'm still afraid of seeing blood. Just those things. Actually, I could have come to see you earlier, but the nyosen wouldn't let me go out."
"I really am very embarrassed..."
Taiki snuck a look at Risai's ashamed face and lowered head. "Madam Risai, this was not your fault. If you must, blame the fact that I am a kirin."
"No..." Risai shook her head but could not speak.
She had taken the Yellow Sea too lightly. She would never have thought the youma that lived in the Yellow Sea would be too vicious even for her. She relied on her incomplete skills, and, full of confidence, she wanted to go and defeat a youma. She really had too low an opinion of her opponent.
--In addition, she was with another who was a general like her, and even if a little bit, she felt competitive with Gyousou. In fact, at the time she had anticipated that the cave would be dangerous, but she did not want others to mistakenly think that she did things hesitantly or that she had no courage.
"I'm really very sorry."
"Ah... I said before that this had nothing to do with you, Madam Risai. Who would have known that a toutetsu would be hiding in a place like that? Also, you even used yourself as a shield and urged me to get out of there quickly. And if this hadn't happened, I would not have understood how to tame shirei."
Risai looked at the child in front of her, who thought up all sorts of things so as she would not feel guilty. "You are too kind..."
"Everything I said was the truth."
Seeing the stern and serious expression on Taiki's face, Risai couldn't help but laugh a little. "I still need to thank you for the Sensui that you brought over. Thanks to your help, I can descend the mountain smoothly when the autumn solstice comes."
Taiki was a little taken aback. "Descend the mountain..."
--Why was this so strange to him? It was a very ordinary thing.
It wasn't as if Risai was like the nyosen and lived on Mt. Hou. The autumn solstice was the next Ankou Day, and when the time came, the Reison Gate on the southeastern side of the Yellow Sea would open.
He calculated that there was only probably half a month's time remaining that Risai would be staying on Mt. Hou.
Taiki left Risai's tent, and was giving perfunctory responses to the people who were greeting him, when he suddenly stopped.
"What is wrong?"
A pair of hands rested on Taiki's shoulders, and after he came back to his senses, he discovered that it was Gyousou. As if he were unconscious, he had followed the path that he regularly walked and ended up in the area of Gyousou's tent without thinking.
"Oh, it's you, Sir Gyousou."
--It's a good thing Gyousou's still here.
When he realized that Risai and Gyousou would be going down the mountain soon, Taiki felt ill at ease.
Perceiving that he had been staring into space, Taiki felt a little embarrassed and half-heartedly laughed a bit. However, when he saw that Gyousou was wearing his black armor, he wrinkled his brow. This was the attire he had on his body when Taiki had seen him for the first time on Mt. Hou, as well as the time Gyousou had gone hunting for sugu.
"Are you doing all right?"
"What is the matter? You have a very serious expression on your face."
Taiki immediately sighed and haltingly said, "I was just thinking that...right now, there isn't even a month's time before the autumn solstice..."
Gyousou nodded in agreement. "It is already time to climb down the mountain. Those friends of mine who are unexperienced in martial skill have said many times that they would like me to decide on a time to descend the mountain."
"Is that so?" Taiki looked at Gyousou's face once again with fresh eyes. "Why are you wearing armor?"
"Ah, this..." Without finishing what he was saying, Gyousou knelt down in submission in front of Taiki. "You've come at just the right time. I was planning on going down the mountain in a short while."
"Huh?" Taiki stared blankly at Gyousou. The words that Gyousou had said to Taiki struck him hard. His face suddenly lost all color.
"I was just about to go and bid Madam Risai farewell."
"...You're going down the mountain in a short while?"
Gyousou casually laughed a little. "Yes. I intend to search for sugu again on the road back. Many people have said that they wanted to come with me... I had originally thought that I would not be able to run into you again and thus not be able to bid you farewell. This is good that I was able to see you..."
Taiki looked around and discovered that Gyousou's tent had already disappeared. The stake that was used to tie down his mount had also been put away. The area had recovered its flat appearance.
"How did you pick this time to climb down the mountain?"
"This time, horses will be coming with us. If we don't leave now, we will probably not be able to reach the Yellow Sea by nighttime."
"But, isn't the Yellow Sea really dangerous at night?"
Gyousou laughed as he stood up. "If it wasn't at night, then the sugu would be sleeping. In order to catch sugu, we must travel at night."
As Taiki was thinking about how dangerous this was, he immediately remembered that Gyousou was already very used to catching sugu. He had already gone to the Yellow Sea more than a few times to catch sugu, which is how he had been able to catch Keito.
"Then...will you come back when Ankou Day comes again?"
"If we don't manage to catch a sugu on this return trip, then there might be the possibility..."
Taiki wasn't sure if he should say this, but in the end, he couldn't keep it in. "Then...will you have an opportunity to pass by Mt. Hou?"
Gyousou looked at Taiki.
"No, because there is only one opportunity a year for coming to Mt. Hou like this." He smiled as he reminded Taiki, "First of all, if I really wanted to pass by Mt. Hou, I would have to do it within the length of an Ankou Day."
It wasn't even necessary to think about it. There was no more certain answer than this. Even with Keito, whose speed was like that of the wind, it was an impossibility to make the trip to Mt. Hou from deep within the Yellow Sea in a single day. In order to really meet, they would have to do it before the Reison Gate opened at noon; however, rushing back to Mt. Hou after the hunt at night would be just about the time the door closed.
"...Sir Gyousou, since you are the general of the Oushi, there should be further opportunities for us to meet, right?" Taiki looked up at Gyousou and forced himself to squeeze out a smile. Gyousou laughed bitterly.
"It is possible we will not."
"I do not plan on returning to the Oushi. I am going to withdraw from the Immortal Register and leave Tai Kingdom."
Taiki unconsciously clenched his hands. "...Why?"
"There is no way for me to endure the feeling of disgrace."
Taiki widened his eyes and then lowered his head.
"I do not mean to blame you. I just do not feel that I ever had the qualities required to be a ruler."
"Do not worry. There will always be opportunities for a person like me, and a kingdom that needs to borrow my skills. After all, I am a warrior. I cannot now change and become a merchant."
Taiki lifted his head and looked at Gyousou. "...So you're saying that we will never have an opportunity to meet again?"
"I am afraid so." Gyousou smiled as before.
--It seemed as if leaving Taiki didn't make him sad at all. If Taiki had still been sleeping now, he would probably even have left without saying goodbye and descended the mountain.
"Even if you wanted to go hunt sugu...there's still a stretch of time before the autumn solstice..." It wasn't easy to say something that might persuade Gyousou, who then smiled.
"I cannot do this sort of thing, since I was not chosen, nor do I have any reason to shamelessly linger upon Mt. Hou. I do not want people to mistakenly think that I yearn for the position of ruler and refuse to leave the mountain." After he said this, Gyousou took his big hand and lightly patted Taiki's head. "Do not look so sad. You have nothing to worry about. Believe that you can find somebody who is even greater than I. At the very least, I have now become a bit more modest."
Gyousou laughed, but Taiki could not do the same. Suddenly, they heard a person looking for Gyousou, who then raised his hand and motioned to the other person. He bowed towards Taiki. "I am going now to bid Madam Risai a farewell."
Gyousou left to visit Risai and returned before long. Within this period of time, it was as if Taiki had swallowed a stone. He stood where he was and didn't move.
"Please take good care of yourself. I wish you a long life and prosperity for the kingdom." Gyousou stood at Keito's side as he said this.
--These were words of parting. As soon as Taiki nodded, Gyousou would grasp the reins and ride away on Keito, and they would never see each other again.
Even in his imagination, it made Taiki feel extremely pained. However, he had no means by which to stop Gyousou.
"So long." After Gyousou paid his respects, he turned around and walked away. Taiki looked at his back. He hoped that Gyousou would turn around and look back at him. But Taiki was very clear on the fact that Gyousou was not the kind of person who would do something like that. If it had been Risai, she would have given honor to a child who admired her and would certainly have delayed a day, or perhaps in the end, for Taiki's sake, she would have stayed until the conclusion of Ankou Day before she left. But this was not something that Gyousou would do.
Gyousou mounted Keito, and after the people around Taiki paid him their respects in succession, they departed one by one. After waiting for everyone to climb on their mounts, Keito started to stride slowly away.
Gyousou didn't look back and headed off without any hesitation.
The moon was out.
The moonlight entered through the thin curtains and shone on the bed.
Gyousou and the people with him had probably already arrived at the base of Mt. Hou.
Was camping going to be dangerous for them? Or were they going to be chasing sugu during the night, waiting until almost daybreak to set up camp?
"You...can't sleep?" Sanshi asked. Taiki unconsciously stop moving his hand, which had been stroking Sanshi's fur.
"Madam Risai's going to be staying for a little bit longer, right?"
Taiki could not put his mind at rest. He turned about in the bed until he finally couldn't bear it any longer and got out of bed.
"I would like to go on a walk... Can I?"
"You cannot go to the Yellow Sea at night."
With Sanshi having seen through his thoughts, Taiki lowered his head. "Then...traveling there would be pretty dangerous too, huh?"
Perhaps they would encounter youma that are like toutetsu. Taiki had previously heard about many people losing their lives on the road to the Yellow Sea. Not to mention the fact that Gyousou's group was not large.
"Yes?" The sound came from under the bed. Gouran's voice was low and deep. At first Gouran was a little dog, but recently he usually changed into a red dog that Taiki had not anticipated.
"Gouran, can you see Sir Gyousou to the Reison Gate for me? I want him to get there without any trouble."
"I cannot," replied Gouran, strongly and concisely. "I cannot leave Taiki's side."
"You can't...even if I ask you to?"
"Right now, your safety is more important than anything else. Moreover, Gyousou is not the king."
...There it is again. Taiki bit his lip.
Whether it was a way to stop Gyousou from leaving, or trying to find a way to get him to turn back, or even wanting him to reach one of the Four Gates safely, nothing that Taiki did was successful.
If only Gyousou was the king.
Why hadn't there been a revelation? How good would it be if there had been.
Taiki was so sad he almost cried. When certain thoughts appeared in his mind, he would firmly swallow his tears.
(This matter...only kirin know about it...)
Taiki opened up his eyes wide and then hurriedly shut them. His heart was beating very quickly.
(Why are things like this?)
Taiki was also a little surprised. Why was it that whenever he thought about being separated from Gyousou, he would feel so awful inside? The person he had originally liked was Risai, and he had also previously wished that Risai could be the queen. The strange thing was that Risai was going to descend the mountain, but this didn't make Taiki feel that kind of sadness.
He silently got out of bed. He constantly felt an oppressive sensation and lying on the bed was not relieving him of that ache.
"I'm just going outside." Wearing his pajamas, he despondently walked down the stone steps of the palace.
There was only one road that one could walk to the foot of Mt. Hou, but once in the Yellow Sea, a countless number of roads extend outwards. Not to mention that Gyousou was going to be hunting as he traveled, so he might not have taken a main road. Once they reach the Yellow Sea, it would be extremely hard to find them.
He would pass through the dangers of the Yellow Sea to get to the Four Gates, and after Ankou Day came, he would go outside of the Kongou Mountains. When that happens, there would be no way to catch up to him.
After Gyousou returns to the Kingdom of Tai, he will resign from his position in the Oushi and leave Tai Kingdom. In the end, no matter where he goes, Taiki would probably not even be able to contact him.
...This could not be stopped now.
Taiki hadn't chosen Gyousou, so he was leaving Tai Kingdom. In this way, with regards to Gyousou, Taiki was but a worthless 10-year-old child. A person like Gyousou, who is unafraid of what lies ahead of him, will probably never condescend to looking back at a worthless person.
There isn't much of a difference between this and a separation by death.
Gyousou's distance from Mt. Hou is increasing step by step, just like he will also slowly forget about Taiki. The link between Gyousou and himself will become weaker and weaker. After one of the Four Gates opens and closes, without a doubt, the connection between him and Gyousou will be severed.
Taiki stood up.
"Taiki!" Sanshi saw Taiki, who had been sitting silently hanging his head, get up suddenly. She hurriedly reached her arms out and wrapped them around his body. "Don't go! The night--"
The night was incomparable to the day. Not to mention that now, it was already very late in the night, just as the shiki was spreading. Thus, youma were becoming more and more active.
Taiki shook off Sanshi's arms. He just couldn't bear it. At the thought that he might never have another opportunity to see Gyousou again, he couldn't suppress the agitation in his heart.
"What's going on, Sanshi?" Youka looked out from Rosen Palace to see what was happening. A few nyosen stood behind Youka and watched for further occurances with doubt all over their faces.
He knew very well that no matter where he ran, the nyosen, Sanshi and Gouran would most certainly try to catch him. However, he still had to go.
Sanshi leapt and landed in front of the fleeing child. In no way could she let Taiki go to the Yellow Sea at night.
Because of the effects of Risai's injuries as well as Gouran's own blood-soaked nature, Taiki had slept deeply for a while. He had finally recovered his energy with some difficulty and was now able to walk around outside. Where there was no strength, there was then no energy. If he encountered a youma now, Taiki did not even have the power now to subdue it.
When their master's strength is weak, the strength of shirei will also become weak. No matter if it's Sanshi or Gouran, their link to Taiki was already inseparable. Besides the smaller youma, if Taiki encountered a youma that was like Gouran, there would be no escaping from it.
Carrying a mortal determination, she held onto the running Taiki's body, hoping to stop him. "Taiki!"
--He surprisingly eluded Sanshi's obstruction.
Sanshi sprung through the air and looked dully at her own hands. She thought that she had grabbed onto Taiki.
Though she felt a little taken aback, she immediately turned around and reached out for another attempt. She looked at the hand that she thought had gotten a hold of Taiki, but again she was denied success. All the child was doing was running around erratically, hiding here and there, so why couldn't she catch him no matter what she did?
--It's just like the last time! Sanshi suddenly widened her eyes.
This was exactly the same as before during the taming of Gouran. It was as if someone had cursed her. She couldn't get a hold of him regardless of what she tried.
Though he was beginning to open his eyes to the powers he possessed, he was still only a small and weak kirin.
"Gouran!" Hearing Sanshi's voice, a beast leapt out from the shadow of a crag and blocked Taiki's path. No one knew what sort of magic Taiki used, but he unexpectedly traded places with the beast that had been blocking him.
Sanshi again leapt through the air and landed in front of the boy, but just as she prepared to stop him, he avoided her. With some effort, she managed to grab onto his wrist, though he almost shook her off. After some tossing about, Sanshi finally took hold of his sleepwear.
"Please, Taiki. The night..." Before Sanshi could finish speaking, the nyosen who were rushing up behind her stopped running and couldn't help but gape.
The pajamas in Sanshi's hand lost the tightness it had from being pulled about, and fluttered around lightly as it laid in her hand.
"Ah..." Sanshi involuntarily let out a cry of surprise and heard the nyosen make similar sounds. Then, following the lines of sight of the nyosen, she lifted her head.
In the moonlit night, the rocks were black, as were the shadows. Along the lines of the ridge that made the crags distinct, there was an indistinct silver shape. What the group of people saw was a glowing beast galloping through the night sky.
His short mane was the color of steel. The black fur on his back was interwoven with the colors of silver and mica, and his head and hooves were jet black. On his forehead was a short horn of pearl.
--I must catch up to him.
Sanshi held on to the pajamas in her hand tightly.
However, in this world, one could not find a creature that was able to catch up to a kirin at full gallop.
All Taiki could think about was running.
After he had evaded Gouran and shaken off Sanshi's hand, when he began to run, he suddenly felt his body grow much lighter. Having obtained this ability, he ran forward even more quickly. When he realized what he was doing, he had already sped up into the sky.
After a few steps, Taiki discovered that he had transformed. Looking back, he saw only Rosen Palace far behind him.
Taiki did not feel any unease or pain. In his mind, he thought only of running forward, and his four legs shot him ahead.
After another few steps, he had arrived at Hoto Palace. The fires of the torches that the mountain-climbers had lit, left a trail that was dim and far away.
The first to notice him was the sugu.
Gyousou looked at his own mount. He was just planning on taking advantage of the moonlight to start hunting. He suddenly stopped preparing the saddle.
"What is it?"
The sugu looked up into a corner of the sky and called out deeply from his throat. At first, Gyousou thought it was a night attack by youma. However, the sugu did not appear to be nervous at all.
He squinted, following the sugu's line of sight, and immediately spotted what the sugu was seeing. Backed by the moonlight, there was a beast that could only be described as graceful, galloping towards him.
--A black kirin!
Just as Gyousou felt like exclaiming, a lingering feeling floated back into his mind. It was because he could not allow himself to feel such attachment to Taiki that he chose to leave the mountain early.
The others who had not yet fallen asleep lifted their heads and looked up into the sky in the same way. And as if they had previously arranged it, they let out a cry of surprise. The kirin's tail was reminiscent of fireflies, giving off a glow. He finally stopped on top of a rock from which he could overlook the encampment.
The area was a depression surrounded by bushes and rocks, in which there were tents, mounts, as well as people staring dumbfoundedly into the sky and standing in the middle of five lit torches.
"What a...magnificent kirin." The first to speak was Gyousou. He smiled as he spoke, putting the saddle down on the ground. "What is it, Kou? Have you come especially to see us off?"
Taiki hesitated a little before finally deciding to walk down off the crag to stand in the depression. He knew that he was stepping towards a criminal act.
"From appearances, it looks like you can already transform. I am very happy for you. It really is an unexpected honor to have this rare opportunity to see such a unique sight. It is hard to imagine that this is the Kou."
Taiki had no way of responding.
"Though you already have shirei now, it is still a bit careless. You should hurry and return to the palace." Seeing that Taiki was not going to move, Gyousou took a robe out from his bags. "Or is it that...you have come to see me about something?"
Gyousou spread the robe out and draped it over Taiki's body, who had then undone his beast form. It wasn't clear how he knew how to recover his human form. In reality, it was as if he didn't put any effort into changing back. There was only the sudden feeling that his body had become heavier.
He looked up at Gyousou, who had laid a robe around him. The two looked at each other and Taiki saw only warmth in Gyousou's eyes. They was nothing the least bit frightening about them.
--The fear was within himself. Did he really know what he was doing?
(There was clearly no revelation...)
However, there was no better way than this. Taiki knelt down in submission and Gyousou widened his eyes. "Kou...?"
Taiki bowed his head down low. He was laying prostrate as if he was asking Gyousou to forgive him.
"I will never abandon you...never disobey your royal command...and I pledge my loyalty to you." He had violated the Providence of the Heavens and betrayed the nyosen, the ruler, as well as everyone else. "This I vow."
(How could I possibly do this...?)
Gyousou was silent for a moment.
With Gyousou's eyes upon him, Taiki felt so bad that he was not able to breathe.
It was not too late now to turn back! Just as Taiki thought this, a calm voice came from above his head. "I accept."
It was no longer possible to take it back now. Taiki simply lowered his head further. To be in this position was hard to endure.
What a betrayal! For all those who had up until now shown him that much love and concern, for the kingdom, its ruler and its people, and even for Gyousou, it was all a deception for which there was no way out.
Taiki pressed his forehead upon Gyousou's feet. His body was now pierced with the feeling of having committed a crime, and he all he could see in front of him was darkness.
--I want to take it back.
This is all a lie, he nearly shouted. He felt an unreal sense of drifting away, and he stopped himself from almost crying out.
Gyousou helped Taiki get up. Taiki looked at Gyousou in surprise, for the latter had revealed a smiling face.
"Let us forgo formalities... Taiki!"
Taiki didn't know how to respond. The surroundings were stirred up into a commotion. Gyousou picked Taiki up and turned in a circle, letting everyone take a look at him. As if there was nothing else in the world worth feeling pride over than the kirin in his arms, he smiled at Taiki. "Though you are young, you have quite a good eye for things."
Taiki could no longer withstand Gyousou's direct gaze, and by accident his eyes fell upon the arrival of the pursuing Sanshi.
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