8-5 Youko went out onto the terrace for a breath of night air. She saw she had a guest.
He was gazing out at the Sea of Clouds. He glanced over his shoulder, waved hello with his tail.
"Can't sleep?" she asked.
"I've been thinking about things."
"Thinking about things?"
Rakushun nodded. "How to get Youko to change her mind, things like that."
Youko smiled wryly. She joined him as she had the night before. She leaned against the railing and looked down at the Sea of Clouds.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Why do you want me to be king?"
"It's not a matter of me wanting. You are the king. You've been chosen by the kirin. But you keep trying to abdicate. So I keep trying to think of ways to stop you. When a king turns his back on his country, it's bad luck for both."
"If I became king, it'd probably be even worse."
"Not in this case."
"Because you have what it takes to do the job."
"You can," Rakushun said and sighed. "Even now, why do you think so little of yourself?"
"Because it's not just about me." Youko looked down at the waves crashing against the shore. "If it were just about me, then sure, I'd give it my best and see what happened. That is, if the responsibility were all mine and I'd be the only one who'd end up dead when I really screwed up. But that's not the case here."
"The people of Kei await the day when they can return to their country."
"Sure, to a wealthy, peaceful country. But that's not something I can give them."
"It's not only about being chosen by the kirin. The Royal En says that anybody has the ability to become an enlightened monarch."
"If that were true, then why is Kei in chaos? Why should Kou be? Even if that ability is there, it is no easy task bringing it to the fore."
"But you will."
"Groundless self-confidence is arrogance."
Reproofed, Rakushun bowed his head.
"This isn't about my self-esteem. If you think that's what my lack of self-confidence comes down to, then so be it. But I've got reasons for thinking so. I've learned a lot here, the most important of which, to put it simply, is that I'm an idiot."
"I don't get any pleasure from criticizing myself. I'm an honest-to-goodness fool. Knowing that much about myself, I've finally gotten around to searching out the less stupid parts of me. That's what comes next, Rakushun. If I try my best and bit by bit can make myself an even slightly better person, then it'd be worth it. If being chosen by the kirin to be a king is proof that you are a good person, then that's something I ought to strive for. But that isn't me now. That's me a long time from now, after I've become a little less of a dunderhead."
I see, Rakushun muttered to himself. He let go of the railing and paced around the wide veranda. "You're scared."
"I sure am."
"This big responsibility fell on your shoulders, and now you're scared stiff."
"That's pretty much it."
"Then you'd better hurry up and get Keiki back, Youko."
When Youko looked at him, he was standing behind her, in her shadow. "You're not doing this all by yourself. What do you think the kirin are there for? Why do you think Heaven made it so that the kirin chooses the king and not the other way around? You call yourself contemptible, you say that you've acted despicably. If you say so, then who am I to contradict you? But when Keiki chose you, he must have thought those aspects of yourself necessarily as well."
"What are you saying?"
"Bring all the parts together to make the whole. You are insufficient by yourself, and so is Keiki. Isn't that why king and kirin were made to exist together? A kirin is a kind of hanjuu, half-human, half-beast. You say you are, too. Two halves make a whole, don't you see? The same way as with the Royal En and Enki."
"There are people who'd be ecstatic to become a king. Having the good sense to get scared thinking about your people means you have the qualities to sit on the throne."
"That's not it."
"But . . . . "
"And trust yourself more. If it will take you five more years to grow into the crown, then why not start now? What's there to be afraid of?"
"But . . . . "
"Keiki chose you as king. Right now, no one else on earth will look to anyone but you as the Royal Kei. The Divine Will of Heaven is the will of the people. That means that no one else can bring about the happiness of the people of Kei. But let's not start things off so seriously. The people of Kei are your subjects. By the same token, you are a subject of Kei. So perhaps the place to begin is with yourself."
"Yeah, but . . . . "
"If you wish to become a better person, accept the throne and become a better king. Do that and you will become a better person, will you not? The duties of a king are indeed heavy. But isn't it better that way? The more responsibilities a person willingly bears, the quicker the soul is honed."
"And if I don't become this better person?"
"If you have the will to better yourself, you will, regardless. The kirin and your subjects will be your instructors. With so many teachers, you won't remain a fool for long."
For a long time, Youko stared silently at the sea. "If I become king, I won't be able to go home."
"Do you want to?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
Youko nodded. "To be honest, my life in that other world wasn't so great. And I don't mind being here as much as I used to."
"Of course not."
"But ever since I came here, all I can think about is going back."
"My parents are there. My home, my friends. If you asked me, yes or no, are they good parents, are they good friends, I'd have a hard time answering. But it's not their fault. I was lacking as a human being, so the relationships I formed were lacking as well. But if I went back, I think I could do it right. Start all over from square one, make a place for myself in the world. I really regret being such a jerk. That's why I'd like to have the chance to do it over again."
Her tears spilled down onto her hands, still grasping the handrail. "Even if I couldn't make it all right, even if that is not the world I truly belong to, I still miss it. I never said goodbye. If I'd had the time to prepare myself, I don't think it would hurt this much. But I left it all behind without a single word of farewell."
"So you did."
"And not only that. I've been telling myself all along that I wanted to go home, that I was definitely going home. It's tough giving up what's kept me going this whole time."
"If I went home, I would regret it for sure. And if I don't, I'll regret it as well. No matter what I do, I'm going to hurt. I want both, but I have to choose only one."
A soft, warm hand touched her cheek, wiping away the tears.
"Rakushun . . . . "
"Don't turn around. I'm not really presentable right now."
She found herself laughing and crying at the same time.
"C'mon, don't laugh. I can't help it. My rat hands won't reach."
"I guess not."
"You know, Youko. When you don't know which choice is the best, then you should choose the path you ought to take, rather than the one you wish for. You know you are going to regret the path not taken. But regrets being more or less equal, better the one where the regret is even a bit less."
"And if you go with what you ought to do, then all that remains is the wishful thinking you had to give up to do the right thing. Such regrets should rest easier on the mind in the long run, should it not?"
The hand clasped against her cheek was warm. "I really want to see what kind of kingdom you are going to build, Youko."
"Thank you, Rakushun."