8-2 The next day, Youko was awakened by her lady-in-waiting. When she took her seat for breakfast, to the question on everybody's face, she shook her head, no. Rakushun came as a rat. He nodded and fluttered his whiskers. The En and Enki showed only small signs of disappointment.
The En said, and some bitterness was mingled with his words, "Your kingdom and your subjects are yours to do with as you wish. But in any case, I would like to see you reunited with Keiki. If you still intend to abdicate, that is another matter. At the very least, for the sake of the kingdom, you should want the Saiho back safe and sound. Do you not think so?"
Youko nodded. "I haven't come to any conclusion in my own regard, but I don't object to rescuing Keiki. But how?"
"We have no recourse but to force. Keiki is being kept in Sei Province, in the midst of the pretender's army."
"If Keiki can be rescued, then can I go home? I am asking a simple question."
The En nodded. "Keiki can precipitate a shoku. Because you have the constitution to cross the Kyokai, there would be no difficulty. Rightly or wrongly, if you wish to return and Keiki refuses, I shall have Enki carry it out."
He was a fair person, Youko thought. He could equally have threatened not to if she refused to become king.
"Frankly, I'd rather not," said Enki. "When the time comes, I'll get Keiki to do it."
The En glared at him. "Rokuta."
"Since you're playing dumb, I'll fill her in. Calamities occur whenever there's a shoku. If it's only a kirin crossing over, a windstorm, maybe. But in the case of a king crossing over as well, we're talking massive destruction. And it'll happen over there, too."
"Yes. Here and there. Because here and there are not meant to mingle together. When you were brought here, the shoku caused widespread damage in Kou. But that was when your kingship wasn't so big a deal. That's not bound to be the case next time. If it was up to me, I'd have no part of it."
"If I am able to go home, I wouldn't want to impose so on Keiki."
"Suit yourself," he said with a rather sardonic smile and a bob of his head.
The En spoke up in sterner tones. "Even if you do return to Japan, Youko, you will by no means be beyond danger."
As long as the Royal Kou refused to relent, he could still send youma after her. Her return as well would likely occasion natural disasters. She was bad luck, a jinx. Here or there, going home would be no good for anybody. But even knowing this, she couldn't make up her mind.
"Do you think that before I go back, I ought to settle the score with the Royal Kou?"
"That you cannot do. I would not help you in the least."
The En nodded. "If nothing else, remember this. There are three sins a king cannot commit. The first is to reject the Mandate of Heaven and stray from the Way. The second is to choose suicide rather than accept the Mandate. The last is to invade another country, even, for example, to suppress an internal rebellion.
Nodding, Youko said, "Yes, but what about you? What about invading Kei in order to take back Keiki?"
"If the Royal Kei herself stands at the vanguard and leads the way, then it shall be done in her name. In such a case, we are only answering her call and assisting her as her allies."
The En laughed heartily. "In order to secure Keiki's release, I shall grant you the use of the Imperial Army. What say you?"
Youko bowed, a thin smile on her lips. "I thank most kindly. I apologize for giving you nothing but reasons to be disappointed by my presence."
Enki scowled, then smiled. "Shouryuu wants there to be more taika kings. But it's nothing to get worked up about. After all, up till now there's been only one."
"There's only one?"
"For the time being. There have been any number in the past, but their numbers were never that great."
"Aren't you a taika, too, Enki?"
"Yes. Me and Shouryuu and Taiki. You make it four."
"Taiki is the kirin of the Kingdom of Tai?"
"Yes. The hinasa of the Outland Kingdom of Tai.
"A fledgling. A kirin who has not reached adulthood."
"I am an adult kirin. When a kirin reaches adulthood, his outward appearance stops growing as well."
"In other words, you grew faster than Keiki did."
"That's it," he said, with no little pride in the fact. The En smiled to himself.
"So Taiki wasn't fully grown?"
"Wasn't, as in the past tense?"
Enki responded to Youko's question with a strained expression on his face. He exchanged glances with the En.
"The Taiki died. At least, that's what was communicated to us. The Kingdom of Tai is in the midst of chaos. No one knows what happened to Taiki or to the Royal Tai."
Youko sighed. "So it's a bad situation, like it is here."
"Where there are people, there are complications. His name is Kouri. In human years, he would have been about your age."
The ki in kirin indicates a male. The Tai kirin was a beautiful black unicorn."
"A black unicorn?"
"Have you ever seen a kirin?"
"Just artist's versions."
"The coat of a kirin is an orange-yellow, the back variegated, the mane usually gold."
"Like your hair?"
"Yes, but this isn't hair, really. It's a mane."
Makes sense, Youko thought to herself.
"The Tai kirin was black, the color of polished steel. The coat was jet black and the back silver. This variegation was rather unique."
"Is it rare?"
"Indeed. In all our history, there's nothing quite like the black unicorn. There have been red unicorns and white unicorns, too, but I have never seen them.
"After Taiki was said to have died, the Royal Tai could not expect to live long. So he went to Mount Hou where the Tai-ka--the fruit bearing the Tai kirin--should have been ripening, but he found nothing there."
"The tree that bears the fruit of the kirin is on Mount Hou. When a kirin dies, at the same time, the ranka of the new kirin should begin to grow. If Taiki had died, it would become the next Tai kirin. In the case of a female, then Tairin, from the second syllable of kirin. That ranka is bestowed with its royal name, in this case designated the Tai-ka. However, there was no Tai-ka to be found on Mount Hou. So he still must be alive."
"Don't kirin have parents?"
"No. Being a taika is beside the point. That's why kirin don't have names. Only titles."
Enki nodded. There seemed something quite sad about that fact. As if knowing what was on her mind, he put on a deliberately sullen face.
"The kirin are sad creatures. They live only for the king, have no parents or siblings, not even names. If the king chooses, he can work you half to death. In the end, you end up dying because of the king. And not even a grave awaits you."
Enki shot a look at the En. His lord turned the other way. Enki frowned and sighed.
"No grave?" Youko asked and Enki averted his eyes as if in self-reproach for having brought the subject up.
"You can't get somebody to prepare a grave for you?"
The En said with a forced smile, "It's not that he does not have a grave. King and kirin are interred together. He means there isn't a body."
"Why?" Perhaps, she thought, because the kirin were supernatural beings, no physical body was left behind.
Enki said, "Look, it's no big secret. The kirin employs the youma as his servants. The kirin and the youma make a pact. The youma who accept the pact promise to obey the kirin. In exchange, when the kirin dies, the youma get to feast on his body."
Youko looked up, first at the En, then at Enki. Enki shrugged.
"That's what it comes down to. Kirin sure must taste good. Anyway, I'll be dead by then, so I can't say I really care. If it seems a sad end to you, well, then take good care of Keiki. Try not to let him down."
Youko didn't know what to say. So instead she said, "The Royal Kou apparently wasn't scared of letting down Kourin."
The En smiled sardonically. "Who knows what the Royal Kou is thinking."
Enki shrugged as well. "Interfering in the internal affairs of other kingdoms will lose you the Mandate of Heaven. Despite that, he couldn't refrain from launching on this idiotic course. He must have a powerful reason."
"You would think."
"And yet, acting without a thought in their heads, save knowing that at some point they'll have to face the music alone, humans go rushing in where angels fear to tread. They're fools. The more it hurts, the less they think."
His words hit home like a punch to the solar plexus. Youko could only nod. "It's scary."
"Yeah. I can't imagine doing something like that."
The En smiled softly. The kirin cannot deny the king. But that doesn't mean that he will carry out every order without complaint. Never forget you're just a dumb human. That's the best way to help out the other half of you."
"The other half of me?"
Youko nodded. She glanced at the chair to her right. The sword was sitting there. The Suiguu-tou, the Water Monkey Sword, that could see the future and the present and what was far from her.
The En hadn't said as much, but if she could control the sword, shouldn't she be able to tell what the Royal Kou was up to?