Chapter 62

8-3 The kingdom had two armies. The Provincial Guard was entrusted to the province lords and garrisoned in their various locals. The Imperial Army answered directly to the king.

The regular cavalry would push toward Iryuu, the provincial capital of Sei in the Kingdom of Kei. This campaign, however, would take a month, and when it came to saving Keiki, a month was too long to wait. So it was decided that a combined squadron of a hundred and twenty elite horsemen, skilled at riding pegasi and other flying beasts, would be mustered for an aerial raid on Iryuu.

En and Enki left at once to make the preparations. They weren't back by lunch or supper. Leaving Rakushun to his own devices, Youko returned to her room. She placed the sword on the table and sat down in front of it.

She was the lord of the sword. Although she understood this in theory, what it meant in practice perplexed her. It must be quite difficult, but as she hadn't the slightest idea what to do, it couldn't hurt to give it a try and seeing what happened.

She didn't know how to deliberately bring about a vision. But if all she had to do was call it forth, perhaps it wouldn't be that hard.

Long before she had come to this world, she had seen the dreams and had heard the sound of falling water. When she asked the En about it, he told her that those visions had undoubtedly been shown to her by the sword. Most likely, the sword had predicted the enemy attack, and had been warning her, the lord of the sword, of what was going to happen.

But at the time, Youko hadn't yet met Keiki, had not covenanted with anybody. Yet the sword knew that she was its lord. Before receiving the Mandate of Heaven, before being chosen . . . .

The En ventured that perhaps she had been born with the Mandate of Heaven upon her shoulders. Or perhaps the burdens of the throne had become her own as soon as Keiki made his decision.

"Who knows?" Enki had chimed in. "I can't say why I picked him. There weren't any obvious reasons, except that he was the one."

Enki said that a kirin chose a king by instinct. In any case, Youko did not think that communicating her intentions to the sword should be all that difficult.

She extinguished the lights in the room, drew the sword from the scabbard and stared at the blade.

Show me the Royal Kou.

Up till now, the sword had continued to show her nothing but visions of her life in Japan. Youko had the feeling that it was because there had been nothing else on her mind but the intent to return to Japan.

Show me what the Royal Kou intends to do. Or, his intentions still being up for grabs, show me what makes the bastard tick.

The blade of the sword began to flicker with a phosphorescent light. Faint shadows played within the light. She heard the sound of falling water. She concentrated on the shadows, waited as the shadows coalesced into recognizable objects.

She saw a white wall. A glazed window. A yard. She recognized the yard. It was the yard of her house.

No, not this.

She focused her thoughts and the vision vanished. She looked at the dark blade in front of her eyes. She had failed.

"You're not going to try this just once," she lectured herself. Again, she stared at the blade. Before, she had not seen multiple visions on a single night, but sooner than she expected, the sword began to glow.

Yet, once again, she found herself looking at the yard of her house. She didn't let herself get discouraged. She concentrated on pushing her conscious thoughts away from the image in front of her. Not this, she repeated to herself like a mantra. The vision wavered like the calm surface of water when disturbed.

What appeared next was her room.


And then her school.


As many times as she tried, she saw nothing but the other world. Scenes of her house, her school, her friends' houses. Nothing of this world.

It's this scabbard, Youko thought. The scabbard was toying with her the same way the blue monkey did. Still, she knew it was her fault as well, not being able to put old thoughts behind her. And knowing that, she didn't give up.

Patiently, trying over and over, she finally recognized a vision that came from this world. At last! she rejoiced. But then she recognized what she was seeing. The gates of a city surrounded by piles of bodies. The road leading up the gates soaked with blood. From among the fallen, came wrenching moans. In their midst stood a young man with a dark expression on his face.

God, that's me.

"Stop!" she cried, hastily extinguishing the vision.

It was Goryou, where she had abandoned Rakushun. Even though she knew it was herself, she found her appearance astonishing. Had she really looked so miserable? She threw down the sword. Then conscious of how frightened she was of the sword, she laughed derisively.

But it's the truth, isn't it?

If the blue monkey were here, that's what he would tell her. This was the real world. She didn't have the right to avert her eyes. Better to face it head on. If she kept ignorantly looking away, who knew when she would ever wise up.

Again, she gripped the hilt. She steadied her breathing and concentrated on the blade of the sword. The gates of Goryou soon appeared. In the vision, her visage was suffused with malevolence. At a glance, she knew what she was thinking. She was looking at Rakushun, debating whether or not to kill him.

The guards came rushing out of the city. Youko beat a fast retreat. After running away, the vision wavered and changed. What next appeared before her was a mountain trail. Youko watched as she turned her back on the mother and child who had been so kind to her.

She saw Takki and the old man from Japan and the two men driving the horse cart who were devoured on the road from Hairou. She saw their weeping families. It's the fault of the kaikyaku, she heard them curse her.

She was shown the city of Kasai and the horrid aftermath of the attack by the youma. At Goryou, the bodies stacked up like cordwood. Refugees from Kei squatting at the foot of some wall outside some city somewhere.

Youko watched all these visions. She realized that if she tried to reject what the visions were showing her, they would rage against her all the more. If she accepted what they were showing her, the visions drew closer to what she wanted to see.

A palace, and in the palace, an emaciated woman.

"I wished no women to remain in Gyouten."

"But . . . . "

That was Keiki, trying to voice a contrary opinion. Youko guessed that the woman was the Late Empress Yo.

"Criminals refuse an imperial order. Why do you hesitate administering justice to criminals?"

The only life left in the Empress Jokaku was in her eyes. She had the skin of a corpse, sunken cheeks, the tendons stood out in her neck, there was a sickly pallor all about her. Youko sensed these were the woman's last days. She must be suffering much to be that shrunken and skeletal. Despite the mounting pain and knowing the foolishness of her crimes, she was not able to stop herself from committing them.

Youko saw the ruin of the Kingdom of Kei. She thought Kou was poor, but it was nothing compared to the destitution in Kei. She saw villages decimated by youma, the burning huts of the poor caught up in the conflagrations. The land and fields overrun with rodents and locust, rivers overflowing their banks, inundating the paddies with mud and sludge, countless bodies bobbing in the water.

This is the destruction visited upon a kingdom that loses its king.

"The kingdom will fall into ruin," she had heard over and over. The stark reality of those words finally came home to her. Living in Japan, they would have meant very little. Here, she understood what she had been repeatedly told with such passion.

The next thing she saw was a mountain road.