Chapter 46

6-2 Having confirmed this much, Youko gave up on the effort. Maybe Rakushun had left the city without her knowledge. Maybe the woman had overlooked him. There was no way for her to know for sure.

Standing on the highway outside Goryou, Youko faced the city and bowed. She understood only that this was some sort of divine retribution. And that here, in this place, she had come at last to the line she could not cross.

She traveled during the night, slept during the day. Her old life resumed. Having traveled this way so often, Youko's experiences of this country were of nothing but night.

Because Rakushun had been carrying the purse, she had no money. The nights she spent fighting the youma, the days she spent sleeping hungry in the undergrowth. The days all ran together. She didn't have time to feel sorry for herself. This time around she had a goal, she had a destination. She was going to Agan and then sailing to the Kingdom of En. She couldn't be bothered to think about anything other than how she could come up with the money for the voyage.

After the old kaikyaku in Takkyuu ripped her off, Youko figured she'd wandered around for at least a month. With nothing to eat or drink, drawing on the powers of the jewels, that had proved her limit. With that understanding, this time around she was far more confident than on her previous adventures.

The blue monkey did not reappear. Since reclaiming the scabbard, the visions had gone dormant as well. The faint sounds of falling water would chime and light would shine out of the narrow gap where the scabbard rested against the hilt, but she didn't dare to draw the sword from the scabbard to see what the visions had in store for her. Instead, she forged on in silence, persistently pushing herself forward.

What a despicable thing to do. Do you really think your own life is so precious?

As she walked along, the blue monkey's words echoed in her heart. He was the substance of her own conscience to begin with, so she didn't need him around to hear his voice clearly.

So precious. But still the kind of life that throws a Good Samaritan to the wolves, no?

"It may not be worth much, but right now it's the only life I've got. That's the way it is."

You should have turned yourself in. That would have made up for everything, no?

"I'll consider it once I get to En."

It seemed she could even hear the monkey's cackling laughter. In other words, your life is the only life that matters around here.

"You got it. As long as I'm being hunted down, staying alive is what counts. Once I don't have that to worry about that anymore, once I'm back to living a real life, on my own terms, then I'll think about what sort of life I should be living. Then I'll have time to think things over and make amends."

Right now, all that mattered was staying alive.

And killing youma and assaulting people.

"For the time being, I don't have a choice. The only thing worth thinking about is getting to En as quickly as possible, no time for detours. If I can get to En, then at least I'll be able to face my enemies and settle things without using a sword."

So once you get to En, you think all your troubles will go away?

"No likely, but I've got to find Keiki, I've got to find a way home. There will be plenty of other things to think about then."

You still think Keiki is your ally? Really?

"I'll decide when we meet. I'm not dwelling on it in the meantime."

Even if you do meet Keiki, you're not going home.

"Until I know that for certain, I'm not giving up."

You want to go home that badly? Nobody is waiting for you.

"I don't care. I'm going home."

Back in her old world, Youko had conducted her life based on what she saw in other people's faces. She lived to be liked by everyone, disliked by no one. Confrontation terrified her. The thought of being scolded scared her to death. After this, she didn't think that anything would be very frightening.

Or perhaps it had never been about cowardice at all. Perhaps she had simply been lazy. It was easier to do as other people said than think for herself. Rather than go to the wall for somebody or something, it was easier to go along and avoid confrontation. Being the good girl everybody wanted her to be was easier than following her own mind and taking things on as they came. She had lived a lazy, cowardly life. That's why she wanted to go back. If she could go home now, she could make a different life for herself. She wanted to at least have the chance to try.

She quietly pondered these thoughts as she walked along.

The rains increased. It may have been the rainy season. Camping outdoors was a pain when it rained so she often stopped at one of the secluded hamlets along the way and asked for shelter.

There were those who would let her stay in the corner of a barn and those who wanted money. There were those who called the constables on her, as well as those who looked in the mood to give her a good beating and throw her out in the street. On the other hand, there were those who, despite their meager circumstances, would give her a meal to eat.

Along the way she figured out she could work in exchange for a night's room and board. In exchange for lodging, she'd put herself in the employ of that family. She found herself all types of jobs. She worked in the fields, cleaned houses, did odd jobs, looked after livestock and mucked out the styes, dug graves, and anything else that came down the pike.

Thanks to these jobs, she got herself a bed for the night and put aside a bit of money as well.

She wandered from hamlet to hamlet, picking up work along the way. If trouble presented itself, she drew her sword and got out of there. If the constables were called out, everybody would get skittish for a while and it was back to roughing it until things cooled down. She was often attacked by youma, their numbers increasing bit by bit, but she was also getting used to fighting her enemies.

She'd been traveling for a month when she spotted what seemed to be a bunch of gendarmes coming up the road after her. If she sought lodging, she'd leave a trial that could be tracked. She couldn't go leaving her calling card behind while she was being pursued or they would catch up with her eventually. But she knew all this and didn't let it knock her off her game.

She headed up into the mountains and managed to shake them, but after that she saw soldiers on the road more and more often.

The only thing that concerned her was if Agan had been locked down in the meantime. When she got closer to Agan, she did without lodging. She separated herself from the main road and became more careful about attracting unwanted attention, forging through the mountains instead.

Rakushun had said that it was a month's walk to Agan, but by the time the harbor came into view, a full two months had passed.