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Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Maze
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Chapter 4 (Part 2 / 5)

"I've got you!"

Taiki was startled awake by a loud and coarse voice.

He suddenly remembered that he had fallen off of the crag and into the area beyond the boundary where the nyosen had told him never to cross. When he tried to think back to why he had fallen, he heard another deep shouting. He was laying on the ground and turned to see where the voice came from, when he saw a few droplets of blood spray thru the air.

"It looks like blood..." In the moment this thought floated into his mind, it was as if his body temperature had dropped, and he was suddenly unable to move his body.

He remembered a peculiarity that he had almost forgotten after he had arrived at Mt. Hou.

--I'm afraid of blood!

Even when it was blood from his own injury, he almost couldn't stand it. If it was someone else's blood coming out of their wound, he would get so scared that he couldn't breathe.

He tried to close his eyes, but even his eyelids wouldn't listen to his commands. It was as if he had forgotten to take a breath, and all he could feel was the urgent beating of his heart. He had almost reached his limit. The sight of the blood spray kept replaying itself deep inside his pupil, which had already lost focus.

(I was originally standing on top of the crag!)

Then something had bound his hands and dragged him down. He felt that that thing was still wrapped around his hands now, like it was a chain of thorns.

He knew that he had fallen off the crag.

He was now laying on the ground which was piled full of rocks, with his body in an unnatural position. He was on his back with stones under him.

Having fallen from such a high place into the bottom of a valley, and passing by so many sharp rocks, logic dictates that he must have been wounded. However, right now Taiki was not clear on whether or not he had been injured, or if through a miracle, he was only lightly hurt.

He could only feel the strong beating of his heart. His hands and feet were already so cold he could not move them, and he was dizzy as if he had a fever. He couldn't wipe the bright red pigment of blood away. It occupied his mind and was so vivid that there was no way for him to understand what was going on in front of him.

He wanted to shake his head forcefully so that he might wake up a little bit, however he couldn't even blink his eyes. Was his inability to move due to an injury? Or was it because he had just seen droplets of blood? What was actually going on right now?

"You monster!" He heard a coarse voice calling out, and finally understood what it was that he was looking at.

It was a man. He was a big man who was holding a sword in his hands.

And that sword was pointed at Sanshi!

"I'm not going to be beaten by a nin'you! Go the hell back to the Yellow Sea!"

He raised the sword and sliced it down quickly.

(Sanshi!)

He wanted to shout, but he couldn't make any sounds.

The edge of the blade made an arc in the air, brushing past Sanshi's body. Sanshi had reached out in an attempt to grab a hold of his throat.

The tips of her white fingers had been stained red. In the next moment, Sanshi's wrist sprayed fresh blood as the edge of the sword crossed it.

(Stop!)

He shut his eyes tightly, secretly wishing that he wouldn't have to open them again. He was already not sure if he was still breathing or if his heart was still beating.

He didn't want to open his eyes, but all of a sudden a strong force tugged at his hands, and he opened his eyes in shock. Before he was clear on what had happened, he had already rolled off the rocks.

His back was struck and just as he wanted to cry out, his wrists were being tugged again. He looked up only to see his two wrists being pulled into the air. Around his wrists was a thin chain that was connected all the way to the man's hand that wasn't holding the sword. Whenever the man moved a little, a sharp pain would occur in his shoulders and elbows as if they were being dislocated. He was dragged forward on top of a crag in this way, with the upper portion of his body rubbing against the top of the stones, causing him a piercing pain.

"Who are you?"

The man was pointing his sword at Sanshi as he looked at Taiki. He looked very angry.

"Why is your hair like this?" The tone of the man's voice sounded like he was blaming him, but Taiki didn't know how he should reply.

Sanshi jumped in front of the man again. He swung the sword at her and cut her leg. Bright red spots sprayed from Sanshi's body once again.

The man glared at Taiki again and twisted his long, cruel face as he yelled at him loudly.

"Boy, you aren't a kirin?"

Kirin? Of course he was a kirin. Everyone had said so.

Could he answer him like this?

But right now, he was more worried about Sanshi!

Sanshi...

(Ah... She's bled so much...)

Whenever the man moved, Taiki's wrists would be jerked at. It was so painful, he felt like his whole body was going to be ripped apart.

"Damn it! And I thought you were a kirin. I spent all this time and I end up with a little brat and a nin'you following me!"

Sanshi lunged at the man again, but met only his sword as he swung it at her. More blood droplets splattered onto the ground. Sanshi backed up as the man moved forward a few steps, causing Taiki to be dragged along again, the sharp rocks scratching up his body.

"How did a nin'you like you get into Mt. Hou? Let me teach you a thing or two!"

He cut Sanshi again with the point of the blade, which hit the rocks.

(Sanshi...)

Sanshi's white body was already spotted with blood.

(Sanshi, run away...)

He really wanted to call this out, but he could not say anything...

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Chapter 4 (Part 3 / 5)


"Stop this immediately!"

Suddenly hearing a loud sharp voice, Taiki opened his eyes.

"How...could this happen!?"

"Taiki!"

He heard a mass of footsteps running in his direction as pale-faced nyosen entered his line of sight.

"This...is too much! Taiki!"

When the nyosen ran over and reached out their hands, Taiki broke out in tears. Warm hands picked him up and he smelled the pleasant fragrance of a nyosen, making him feel like he could sleep forever.

"What is going on here? Sanshi, stop!"

"Is she your pet dog? Quickly, take her away!"

"You're the one who should go away, you horrible person!"

Hearing a loud shouting, Taiki lifted up his head.

It had been Teiei's voice. This was the first time he had seen her so agitated. The man was also looking at her with surprise, while Sanshi hatefully glowered at the man.

"Sanshi, that's enough. If you bleed any more you won't be able to be by Taiki's side. If you don't want that to happen, then you should cool down a little bit."

After saying this to Sanshi, Teiei glared at the man.

"How dare you come to Mt. Hou and treat Taiki in this vulgar manner!"

"Taiki?" The man looked at the child who was being tightly embraced by a nyosen.

"You're saying that this brat... no, this child is Taiki?"

"Correct! Since ancient times, the only children that appear on Mt. Hou are the Mt. Hou Kou. And you perform these treacherous actions upon Mt. Hou Kou! I would like to hear an explanation now."

An expression of joy piled upon the man's entire face.

"Taiki! I can't believe I caught him." After saying this, he strode forward a step.

Teiei extended her hand to block him. "What is your answer? You are not to get one step closer to Mt. Hou Kou! I want to hear your explanation first."

"I've caught Taiki! It was me!"

"You still won't answer me? Is it possible that you want to experience the power of the nyosen?"

The man had a hateful grin upon his face. "I am the Shikou Daibu of the Bakou in Tai Kingdom. I am called Goson. I heard that the kirin had returned to Mt. Hou, so I came."

"Hoto Palace has not permitted anyone by the name of Goson to climb the mountain."

"Ah... Regarding this, I am very sorry. I was too eager to see Houro Palace, and consequently, I did not go to Hoto Palace beforehand to tell them. However, I've caught the kirin!"

"You've caught him? What do you mean by ‘caught him'?"

The man widened his eyes. "I've caught the kirin. Though my hasty rush up the mountain is my mistake, for which I apologize, but I hope that you can grant Taiki to me."

After saying this, the man laughed. "I am the King of Tai!"

Taiki felt the body of the nyosen who was embracing him begin to shake with anger. And as if it had been contagious, Teiei's shoulders also started to shake a little.

"You ignorant fool!"

Hearing Teiei's angry yell, the man couldn't help but take a half-step back.

"Who would have thought that the Bakou of Tai Kingdom would actually have allowed such a foolish person to become the Shikou Daibu!"

The man retreated another half-step backward.

"What did you think Taiki was? Did you think that the honorable Mt. Hou Kou was the same as the youju that you catch in the Yellow Sea? Don't kid yourself! You, the King of Tai? I advise you to get off this mountain before lightning strikes you as a punishment from the Heavens!"

"But..."

"Be quiet! If more nonsense comes out of your mouth, even if the Heavens don't punish you, I will tear you into pieces!"

The man could no longer speak, his mouth simply opening and closing.

The nyosen who was holding Taiki stood up and carefully helped Taiki remove the chain on his wrists.

She gently rubbed the skin where the chain had bound Taiki's wrists, and then she stroked his cheek and brushed his hair. Then she spoke to Taiki, who was near tears again.

"This makes me so angry. You must have been so scared! I am going to take you back to the palace now."

"But Sanshi..." He looked at Sanshi, who was standing quietly to one side. The nyosen shook her head.

"Not yet. Don't worry about her right now."

Though he still wasn't clear on what had happened, he did know that Sanshi was injured for the sake of protecting him.

He wanted to know if her wounds were serious and to thank her and treat her wounds, but just looking at her with blood all over her body, made his heart feel like it was being squeezed. Since Sanshi's body gave off a strong smell of blood, no matter what, he would not be able to be close to her.

He carried a mood that was hard to get over as he let the nyosen pick him up. His whole body ached, and as a result, he really wanted to cry before the nyosen had even walked one step.

- - - - -

After they entered the big gate, he saw Youka.

All the nyosen who ran over to him saw Taiki's appearance and cried out. The nyosen who was carrying him explained what had happened to them, and after they heard, they rushed outside.

"Really...this is too much!" said Youka, as she stared angrily out the gate. Then she anxiously reached her hands to Taiki.

"This is really unfortunate. You must have been so scared. Are you all right?"

"Sanshi..."

Youka nodded her head in understanding.

"Sanshi's fine. Although a nyokai's wounds might look very serious, they will heal very quickly. But did you get hurt?"

"I don't know."

"At any rate, we should return to the palace first. Sanshi will clean her body before she comes back, so you don't need to worry."

Taiki finally nodded his head.

"You don't need to be so sad. There was nothing you could do. Kirin have always been creatures that feared blood. Even to the point that some kirin will get sick when they just smell blood!"

"Really...? The other kirin are like this too?"

"Yes, so you don't need to feel so ashamed. After Sanshi comes back, I'll help treat her wounds."

"Okay..."

Taiki reached his hand out to Youka, and Youka picked him up.

Afterwards, all the nyosen who had come rushing argued about who would carry him back, all along the road to Rosen Palace.
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Chapter 4 (Part 4 / 5)


After they got back to his bedroom at Rosen Palace, Youka brought a big basin of medicinal water and let Taiki soak in it.

She carefully checked Taiki's body for injuries and then delicately washed his body as she listened to him tell her about what had happened to him. She listened and silently cursed the foolish man several times.

"Do you know what was actually going on?" Taiki still didn't quite understand the cause of the occurrence.

Youka smiled at the puzzled and anxious Taiki. "It was because I was too careless, thinking that since the spring equinox had passed, everything would be fine... Please forgive me for my mistake."

"You didn't make a mistake."

"No, I should have been more clear with you. Luckily, you didn't get any serious injuries. When you fell off the crag, I'm certain it was Sanshi that caught you. After she comes back, you need to properly show her your appreciation."

"Yes..."

"Also, please promise me that you will never, even if Sanshi is with you, cross the big gate of Houro Palace without a nyosen accompanying you. No, please promise me not even to get near to the big gate."

"I won't go out there."

Hearing Taiki say this, Youka nodded her head. And then after Taiki got out of the bath, she wrapped him up with the towel in her hand.

Youka carried Taiki to his bed and lightly wiped his body clean.

"...The kirin will choose a ruler."

"How is the ruler chosen? Shouldn't the child of the king succeed him?"

"No, the kirin chooses him."

"I don't understand..."

"Actually, I'm not too clear on it either. After all, I'm not a kirin. But it's probably like this: the ruler is decided by Tentei, who holds the highest status in the Heavens. After he compares the natures of many people, he chooses the person who most fit to be the ruler."

"Oh..."

"And then Tentei will inform the kirin of his choice... Oh, he doesn't just use his mouth to tell the kirin! It's just that when the kirin meets the person who should become the ruler, he will know naturally that it is him, because the kirin will receive a revelation."

"What's a revelation?"

"That's something only a kirin knows. If you are a kirin, it is certain that you will be able to feel the revelation. Regardless of how small the kirin is, they can definitely all choose a ruler."

"...Okay."

"After a little while, those who hope to become the ruler will climb Mt. Hou in droves. That is how they will be able to meet you, so that you can choose a ruler out of them."

"Just like...that guy today?"

Youka nodded. She put down the cloth she had been using to dry Taiki's hair and began to help him put on his undergarments.

"Yes. A lot of people will come! Then... It'll probably be around the summer solstice."

"Why the summer solstice?"

"Because Mt. Hou is located in the center of the Yellow Sea. Ordinarily, people aren't allowed into the Yellow Sea. However, there are four gates upon the periphery of the Yellow Sea. Once they go through those gates, they will have entered the Yellow Sea. Also, the four gates will open alternately at the spring and fall equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices."

The day the gate opens is called Ankou Day. Outside of Ankou Day, these four gates are so closely protected that not even a drop of water can get through.

"They only open for one day?"

"Right, from noon on the day of, to noon on the day after. The spring equinox occurred not long after you had just arrived, and I thought that even if those people had wanted to climb the mountain, they probably wouldn't have had enough time. I didn't think it could happen, so I lowered my guard. Please forgive my error."

"That's okay."

"That man today probably rushed here to make it in time. However, when the summer solstice arrives, then there really will be many people coming to climb the mountain."

"Oh..."

"To get from any of the four gates to here, no matter how fast they are, it takes half a month. Thus, once they enter a gate, they aren't able to leave until the next time a gate opens. Also, those who wish to climb Mt. Hou will set up camp in the area around Hoto Palace, and they will stay there until the day they can leave. Although there are many youma and youju in the Yellow Sea, they aren't able to enter Mt. Hou, so staying there is very safe. When the time comes, there will be so many people that the commotion will seem like a small town!"

"That many people? Then will I really know who the ruler is?"

"You don't need to worry. You will gain a revelation, so you will certainly know. Regardless of how great a person looks, if you don't receive the revelation, then they aren't the ruler."

"Okay..."

"However, among those, there will still be people like that idiot today, who think that they just need to use their savage strength to capture the kirin or force the kirin to bow down to them in order to make them king."

"So is that why Houro Palace was built at the end of a maze?"

"Probably. Because when some people hear that a kirin has been born, they will want to come and take the kirin."

"Oh..."

"When you are allowed outside of the gate, naturally we will take you outside, so until that time, you must not run out there by yourself. Even when you are inside the gates, you still need to be careful."

"I know."

Youka smiled and rubbed Taiki's head. "When the kirin receives the revelation, he will bow in front of the ruler.

Besides the ruler, the kirin will absolutely not bow down to anyone else. Even in the shrines of Tentei and Seioubo, only kirin are allowed to not bow down in respect."

"Wow..."

"And then the kirin will vow never to abandon the ruler, never to disobey his royal command, and pledge his loyalty to the ruler."

"Okay."

"After the ruler vocally agrees, the kirin will press his forehead, or I should say his horn, against the feet of the ruler. Thereupon, that person formally becomes the ruler. The person you choose will be called Taiou, which is what the ruler of Tai Kingdom is called. And from then on, you will be called Tai Taiho."

"This is so complicated!"

Seeing Taiki's sour face, Youka laughed.

"Is it? After you choose a ruler, you will ascended to a place even higher than Mt. Hou. There sits the shrine of Seioubo, where you will take the Taiou."

"How do I take him up there? Even Sanshi can't go up there."

Youka laughed even more happily.

"At that time, a road will naturally appear. You will go up and enter the shrine to receive the Tenchoku. Afterwards, you will go down to the Kingdom of Tai. You shouldn't ask me what the Tenchoku is though, because this is something only kirin and rulers know about."

"Okay."

"When it comes time, a path of beautiful clouds will appear from Mt. Hou straight to the Kingdom of Tai, and you will ride the clouds all the way down to Tai Kingdom."

"And then?"

"And then?" Youka looked at Taiki and saw only Taiki's anxious face.

"And then what happens? Am I going to live in Tai Kingdom forever?"

"Of course."

"Then will I never see you again?" Taiki looked like he was about to cry. "What about Sanshi? And Teiei? And the rest of the nyosen?"

"Well," Youka sighed. She hugged Taiki, who was sitting on the bedding. "Yes... I suppose we may never have another chance to meet. However, Sanshi will always stay by your side, forever and ever."

"Do I have to choose a ruler?"

"Choosing a ruler is your most important duty!"

Seeing Taiki hugging her tightly with his little hands, Youka gently stroked his back.

"You must become an exceptional kirin and choose a great ruler! We will all care about you from far away at Mt. Hou."

Mt. Hou was a place to bring up kirin, so once a kirin leaves Mt. Hou, on principle, they cannot come back. After all, the nyosen of Mt. Hou need to concentrate on taking care of the newly born kirin. But Taiki didn't need to know these things right now.

"Our only hope is that you can become a spectacular kirin and fulfill your duties without any problems."

Taiki nodded.

--Although, it was very forced.
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Chapter 4 (Part 5 / 5)


Finally, relative to the calendar, summer was getting closer and closer.

Relative to the calendar because there were no so-called seasons on Mt. Hou.

After a page was turned, it would be the summer solstice. On that day, the Reikon Gate on the southwestern side of the Yellow Sea would open.

"Taiki, I'll brush your hair into a topknot," said Teiei to Taiki. Because she saw that as Taiki was gathering stones from the river, he would constantly be pulling his hair out of the water.

"Okay," said Taiki as he sat down on the crag next to the river. Teiei unfastened the thin rope that was at her waist and began to tie a topknot. Taiki's neatly trimmed head of steel-colored hair had already grown down to his back, but then putting it up into a topknot made it feel like it was still too short.

"Can I trim my bangs?"

"If you must trim them, we will do it for you. However, if you end up regretting it, we won't sympathize."

"This length should already be long enough, shouldn't it?"

Hearing Taiki say this with such apprehension, Teiki couldn't help but laugh.

"When you transform into a kirin, your hair won't be this long. It will become a length that is just right. It looks like your hair is still growing, so that means that it's not yet long enough."

"If only I could transform now and see if it's long enough or not."

"That's not necessary. We are all very experienced! Your topknot is finished."

Teiei squinted and watched as Taiki jumped back into the water with a plop.

"Have you heard the story of Sairin?"

"Sairin? Nope."

"A long time ago, there was a kirin who liked to look pretty, called Sairin."

"That's a woman because she has Rin in her name, right?"

"Right. Sairin was always very envious of the nyosen's hairstyle, so she would always complain that she wanted the nyosen to brush her hair into a topknot."

"And then she got a topknot with a hairpin, like you?"

Teiei nodded as she was sewing clothes. "Right. We combed her hair with pomade and tied it up into a tight topknot, and then we inserted all sorts of hairpins. Unexpectedly, when evening came and she transformed in order to get back to the palace, her mane was still bound in a topknot and there was no way for her to straighten her neck, so it became crooked."

Taiki giggled.

"That must have hurt."

"Right. So you have to be careful. If you transform with your hair in a topknot, it will hurt a lot."

"All right!"

Taiki and Teiei both laughed. Following that, Teiei lowered her head to look at the clothes beside her hand.

Ever since that incident with that Goson from Ba Province, Taiki always had at least two or three nyosen by his side. Because when the nyokai encounters urgent situations, the only thought that goes through her mind is to protect Taiki, sometimes she will injure herself needlessly and cause injury to Taiki.

Just like on that day, after Sanshi had cleaned her body once, she had still not been able to completely wash off the smell of blood. Taiki didn't tell the nyosen and let Sanshi be by him until he fell asleep like in the past. As a result, he had gotten a fever by the next day.

(It would be better if Taiki had shirei...)

Teiei quietly thought to herself.

Relying only on Sanshi to protect Taiki isn't enough.

At times like these, she felt like the ten years that Taiki had been away from Mt. Hou was really too long a time.

The Yellow Sea around the Five Mountains was a habitat for youma, and ordinarily, a kirin would use his spare time to walk along the periphery of the Yellow Sea and tame youma, turning them into his shirei. At first he would find a few smaller youma at the foot of the Five Mountains to test out his skill and tame them.

(However, Taiki's already run out of time...)

Moreover, Taiki also didn't know how to tame youma, and there was no way Teiei could teach him, because this should have been an instinctual skill that a kirin was born with.

(If only he had come back five years earlier.)

Kirin are born in beast form and in their first five years, do not change their appearance, since they don't have a horn yet. They don't know how to speak and don't quite understand everything a nyosen says, like a small bird that has just hatched.

However, newly hatched birds can't fly, but kirin already know how to gallop through the air when they are born. Small kirin can only follow their nyokai around, wandering blithely through the Five Mountains, as they search for youma and tame them for their own amusement. Small kirin grow up only drinking their nyokai's milk, so they build up a resistance to injury and blood.

Though it is a little different for every kirin, they begin to transform every now and then to human form and speak the human language after an average of about five years. After another period of time, their transformations will last longer, until one day the sharp tips of their horns will emerge from their foreheads. That is also the time it stops nursing, and from then on, they can show their complete human forms.

Thus, from the time they stop nursing, most kirin just know naturally how to transform and how to tame youma, and they don't need anyone to teach them. Though they are not considered fully grown until their horns are completely developed, they basically already possess all the skill that a kirin should have. Also, it isn't until this time that the flag can be raised.

After a kirin stops nursing, their native kingdom--although they weren't really born in that kingdom, most people refer to it as such--receives news of this event, and every shrine in the kingdom raises a Kirin Flag. This meant that there was a kirin on Mt. Hou who was already prepared to choose a ruler. After all those that hope to be the ruler see the raised flag, they then climb the mountain in throngs.

Teiei sighed.

Taiki was no longer a small kirin. On the day that he had returned to Mt. Hou, his native kingdom, Tai Kingdom had raised the Kirin Flag. There was no way to tell the people now that Taiki was not yet ready. He had to choose a ruler. At this point, Taiki should already know how to transform, and he should already have shirei.

"What's the matter?"

Taiki asked Teiei this. He may have heard Teiei sighing.

Teiei shook her head at Taiki's curious face.

It would be better if she didn't say anything. Or else it might be like the matter concerning his transformation, causing Taiki to worry to himself. After all, this was something that no one could teach him.

It wasn't easy to cheer Taiki up, and she didn't want to make him depressed and unhappy again.

Ever since Taiki had heard Youka say that after he chooses a ruler, he wouldn't be able to return to Mt. Hou, he had been in low spirits. The closer the summer solstice got, the more he moped, making the nyosen who saw him feel all anxious inside.

He was like this up until he had heard that there wasn't necessarily a real ruler among the people who will climb the mountain during the summer solstice, and that some kirin live on Mt. Hou for several years and wait many seasons before they finally find a ruler. Then, he recovered the cheerfulness of his former days again.

"We need to think of a way to take advantage of the time we have now..."

Fortunately, there were no people at Hoto Palace right now. It seemed that the only person to make it for the Ankou Day of the spring equinox was that Goson.

Afterwards, all the nyosen had reproached Goson, and they also didn't give him any food or water before chasing him off the mountain. In order to get back to the Kingdom of Tai, he had to wait at the Reikon Gate for the next Ankou Day before the gate would open. However, setting up camp there, he had to avoid the attacks of the youma and youju, which was not an easy thing to do. Even though he would probably be able to survive, when Ankou Day arrives and the crowds enter the Reikon Gate to climb the mountain, he will definitely become a laughingstock. However, Teiei did not feel sympathy for him at all.

But the current situation could only be kept until the summer solstice. After that day passes, Hoto Palace will be filled with a multitude of people. Perhaps they could make the most of their time by taking Taiki to the Yellow Sea and letting him scuffle with the small youma, and possibly then he would be able to figure out how to tame youma. But then again, compared to most small kirin, Taiki had already lost the tenacity of an animal born in the wild, so Teiei was very afraid that something unexpected would happen that they would not be able to control.

"Teiei, do you have something on your mind?"

Hearing a voice, Teiei lifted her head and saw Taiki looking at her with concern.

"No..."

"Are you worrying about me?"

Teiei gently laughed. Taiki already knew that everything that a nyosen would be anxious about had to do with the kirin. This caused Teiei both to be happy that Taiki was smart and clever, and to adore that he was so perceptive he was able to sense what was in her heart.

"How could that be!?"

"But..."

"I've just been sewing so much that I'm feeling a little restless. I'm telling you, I don't like doing needlework at all!"

"Do you want me to help?"

"Ah! I must really thank you, but if you did sew better than me, then I would be too embarrassed. Don't worry about about and go play!"

Teiei laughed and rubbed Taiki's head, as she secretly thought, "If only we could let Taiki meet other kirin, then things would be better."

A kirin would be able to teach Taiki all the things that the nyosen and Sanshi could not.

CHAPTER 4 END
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Chapter 5 (Part 1 / 5)


"Lady Gyokuyou!" called out Taiki suddenly, just as he finished his lunch at Rosen Palace.

Rosen Palace held a total of five rooms, and Gyokuyou entered the center room with a golden-haired young man behind her. Seeing this scene, the bowing Teiei couldn't help but secretly admire Gyokuyou.

(Genkun had already thought of this.)

"It hasn't been long since the last time I saw you, but you've already grown so much."

Gyokuyou smiled as she stroked Taiki's hair.

"Your mane has grown long. Are your days here good?"

"Very good," replied Taiki to Gyokuyou, as his eyes drifted over to the young man behind her. Other than that time he encountered Goson, this was the first time he had seen a man on Mt. Hou, so he was very curious.

"This is Kei Taiho, Keiki."

Taiki's eyes widened. "Is he a kirin too?"

Gyokuyou nodded.

Taiki looked up at the expressionless Keiki, who nodded at Taiki.

Even though he looked like he was very uninterested, Taiki was still very happy to meet another kirin. After all, Taiki knew that he was a kirin, but he still wasn't sure what kind of a creature a kirin actually was.

Gyokuyou looked at the surrounding nyosen.

"Rosen Palace looks very busy."

Youka hurriedly lowered her head and replied, "I'm sorry. Since Taiki doesn't like to eat alone..."

Gyokuyou heard this and laughed.

"Very good. Taiki is the master of Mt. Hou right now, so you should listen to his instructions."

"Yes."

"Kei Taiho will stay here for a little while. You should prepare for this."

"Yes."

After watching the nyosen bow and leave, Gyokuyou took Taiki's hand.

"I heard that a boorish person intruded upon this palace. What a terrible misfortune! You didn't get injured, did you?"

"No."

"Oh, good." Gyokuyou smiled and invited Taiki and Keiki to sit. "Kei Taiho stayed upon Mt. Hou previous to you."

"Really?" Taiki looked at Keiki, but Keiki simply gave him a quick affirmative glance.

"You were both born on Mt. Hou, just like brothers. Kei Taiho will stay on Mt. Hou for a little while, so you can treat him as your older brother. Anything you don't understand, just ask him."

"Okay." Taiki smiled at Keiki. "Kei Taiho, have you eaten lunch yet?"

"Yes, I've eaten."

"Do you want to drink some tea?"

"Don't trouble yourself."

Taiki tilted his head a little bit. "Kei Taiho, which palace are you going to live in?"

"I used to live at Shiren Palace."

"Do you want to go over there now? Can I come walk with you?"

"All right."

Seeing Keiki stand up, Taiki stood up as well. As he was about to leave with Keiki, he turned to look at Gyokuyou.

"Lady Gyokuyou, are you going to stay here as well? Or do you have other things to do?"

Gyokuyou smiled. "I don't have anything to do. If you'll agree to it, I can eat dinner with you."

"Okay!"

Taiki smiled happily and then quickly chased after Keiki. Gyokuyou and the nyosen laughed as they watched him run outside. When they couldn't see their figures anymore, Teiei timidly spoke. "I would like to ask a question that may be improper..."

"You may ask it."

"I know it is impolite to say this, but Kei Taiho isn't someone who is easy to become close to. He and Taiki..."

She was not finished when Gyokuyou gave a laugh. "Kei Taiho is definitely someone who is hard to approach."

Teiei was silent. Keiki was also born on Mt. Hou and also lived there not too long ago, so Teiei very much understood him. Etiquette required that she should have denied Gyokuyou's words, but she couldn't ignore her conscience in order to say something.

"This could just be destiny. I originally wanted to ask Ren Taiho to come, but because the Kingdom of Ren was currently in turmoil, there was no way I could ask the Taiho to leave her kingdom at a time like this, not to mention that I had just asked her to help."

Renrin's native kingdom, Ren was facing internal disorder. Teiei had also heard this, so she could only nod.

"And also, I recalled that Kei Taiho was closest in age to Taiki. Though his native country has also been unstable recently, perhaps spending some time with Taiki will make him a little easier to get along with."

Hearing this, Teiei only forced a smile. "Yes."

Gyokuyou laughed lightly and suddenly smiled again. "The Queen of Kei very easily gets herself into unnecessary trouble, and Kei Taiho's personality sometimes makes it even worse for Keiou. I hope he can learn some things from Taiki's friendliness."

Teiei silently nodded in agreement.

It seems that in the places outside of Mt. Hou, the unrest never ceases.

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Chapter 5 (Part 2 / 5)

Together, Taiki and several nyosen followed behind Keiki. It wasn't easy for a child like Taiki to keep up with Keiki, especially since Keiki didn't think to slow his pace down for Taiki. When the line of them arrived at Shiren Palace, Taiki was already out of breath.

Shiren Palace's layout was basically the same as that of Rosen Palace. After Keiki entered the palace, no one knew what he was pondering as he walked through and looked at every room. Taiki guessed that he was thinking fondly of the days that he had spent here before, so he stood quietly to one side.

After Keiki had gone around the palace once, he entered the center room and sat down. Taiki still said nothing.

There was furniture inside of Shiren Palace, but the curtains and decorations had all been put away. Keiki sat like this and watched the nyosen busily begin to arrange things.

Seeing that Keiki seemed like he had completely forgotten about him, Taiki began to get restless. However, Keiki's face showed a mood of contemplation, so Taiki didn't dare open his mouth to bother him. He just waited by Keiki's side, but that also felt a little bit too impolite.

When Taiki was uncertain about what he should do, he spotted a nyosen carrying in a tea set and couldn't help but let out a big sigh of relief.

"Excuse our disorder. Please have some tea," said the nyosen, as she passed over a cup of tea. "Because you haven't said anything, Taiki doesn't know what to do."

"Oh..." It seemed as if Keiki had finally remembered that Taiki was at his side and looked over at him. "Excuse me." The expressionless Keiki gave Taiki a nod, which was meant as an apology.

"Um... am I bothering you? If so, then I'll go back first." Taiki asked this very cautiously. However, before Keiki could open his mouth, a nyosen spoke for him.

"Oh, not at all. Come and drink some tea as well." The nyosen pushed a chair out for Taiki, and he sat down very hesitantly. Yet, he really felt that this situation was extremely awkward.

"Um... Might I ask where you live, Kei Taiho?"

"Kei Kingdom."

"What kind of a place is Kei Kingdom?"

"It is a kingdom in the east." Keiki's answer carried no feeling, and afterwards, he didn't say any more. Taiki still had absolutely no idea what kind of a place Kei Kingdom actually was.

"Did you used to live on Mt. Hou too?"

"Yes."

"Did you live here from the time you were born? I just got here not too long ago."

"I lived here from the time I was born."

"Then, for how long did you stay here?"

"I left two years ago."

"Then did you choose a ruler two years ago?"

"I didn't encounter my ruler until last year."

"Oooh..." said Taiki. "So you left the mountain two years ago to go find your ruler."

"Right."

"Might I ask..." Taiki lowered his head and looked at his flower-scented tea. "What is choosing a ruler like? Youka said that we receive a revelation, but I don't quite understand..."

However, Keiki's simple answer approached indifference. "When the time comes, you will understand."

"Will I also be able to choose a ruler for sure?"

"Yes, you can as long as you are a kirin."

"Even if I don't know what a revelation is?"

"It is hard to describe a revelation in words. When you meet your ruler, you will understand."

"What if I choose the wrong person, or pass by him and not know it?"

"That is not possible, because the ruler will have ouki."

"Ouki?"

Keiki nodded with no expression showing on his face. "It is the will that the ruler emanates, or you could also call it an air. At any rate, they are not like most people, so there is no way you can make a mistake."

"But I don't think I'm like most kirin. Does that matter? Could it be that the way I choose a ruler is different from other kirin?"

"I don't know much about black kirin, so I can't answer that."

"Oh..."

Taiki was at a loss for what should do now. Beads of sweat seeped out of his forehead.

Before, he had really wanted to meet another kirin, but now that he had one in front of him, why were none of his many doubts eased even a little bit?

"When you left Mt. Hou, how did you kind your ruler?"

If he was asked to pick a ruler out of a group of people it might be easier, but to not know where they were, that must be extraordinarily difficult.

"I relied on the ouki to find her."

"Did you meet with a lot of people, and then checked to see if they had the ouki?"

"Even if the ruler was not right in front of me, I can still feel their ouki, so all I had to do was look in that direction."

"So it's like that..." Actually, Taiki still didn't quite understand what he meant. "You can transform, right?"

"There are no kirin who cannot transform."

"But I can't. I don't know how to transform..."

Keiki looked at Taiki, and Taiki realized that his eyes were bright purple.

"In the beginning, did anyone teach you how to raise your hand? Did anyone teach you how to walk?"

"No."

"It is the same principle. You ask me how to transform, but I have no way of telling you. Even if I did explain it to you, you wouldn't necessarily understand."

"Oh..."

Taiki lowered his head. According to that, perhaps he would never be able to transform.

A deep silence followed. Taiki felt that Keiki had already decided not to say any more, thereupon he stood up and suddenly felt like returning to Sanshi's side.

"Please excuse me for bothering you."

He took a bow towards Keiki, and Keiki silently nodded his head.

"Will I see you again at dinnertime?"

"I believe Lady Gyokuyou said that we would eat together."

"Okay... I'm sorry I asked so many questions."

"Don't be."

Taiki took another bow and then turned to leave. He walked briskly out of the palace, but before he could get to the entrance at the top of the stone steps that lead to the gate, he began to cry. He felt so discouraged and dejected, but he suddenly stopped walking, because he had heard a nyosen calling for him from behind.

"Taiki..."

A nyosen gently put her hand on his shoulder. The warmed and weight of her palms made Taiki feel even worse.

"Maybe I'm not a kirin."

"Nonsense."

The soft hand pulled Taiki into an embrace.

"If I am really a kirin, then I must be a really stupid one."

"That can't be, Taiki."

"I'm sure of it." Taiki pressed into the nyosen. "I'm sorry..."

He felt very apologetic for being a stupid kirin, for only being able to receive all the good things the nyosen offer him, and for not being able to repay them at all.
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Chapter 5 (Part 3 / 5)


"How could a child like you have been born?" His grandmother always said this about him.

"Don't worry. You don't need to be sad," his mother would always tell him as she lightly stroked his hair. His mother's hands were just like those of the nyosen, all very warm.

"Don't listen to what your granny said. You just have to be a kind child like you are now and everything will be fine. As long as you are like that, your mommy will be very happy." Then why did his mother always secretly cry?

Every time he apologized to his mother, she would always tell him not to feel at fault. She would look at him while she held back tears and smiled, lightly stroking his head.

"You don't have to worry."

A nyosen had said this to him too, as they gently patted his back. And then she would use her warm hand to hold his while they returned to Rosen Palace. Youka and Teiei comforted him in the same way.

"You don't need to be impatient."

"Exactly. It doesn't matter if you can transform or not. You are most definitely a kirin! So, you don't have to worry one bit."

(You don't need to worry.)

"That Kei Taiho, he doesn't know how to behave."

(Granny's temper has always been bad.)

"Please don't cry. It doesn't matter even if you can't transform!"

(You don't need to feel guilty.)

"That's right, you don't need to worry yourself over such a small matter."

Even Sanshi had come to comfort him, gently patting him. She picked him up with the hand that she had been patting him with, and looked at his face.

"Why don't we go outside for a stroll? The evening wind is very comfortable."

Everyone was treating him so nicely that it made it even harder for him to bear. Their warm hands and tender words only made him feel even worse.

"Then you should take a walk." Youka draped a robe over him. "Come back before dinner! Today, Genkun will also be eating with you, so it'll be very exciting."

Youka sent them off. However, even though Sanshi had carried him outside, he kept crying.

- - - - -

"Really, Kei Taiho," sighed Gyokuyou who had gone to Shiren Palace. Keiki silently stood at one side.

"Taiki is still so small. How could you make him cry!?"

"Please don't say it like I was bullying him. That was not my intention."

"Of course, I know this...but you could have said things more tactfully."

"I was only speaking the truth. He asked me how to transform, and there really is no way I can teach him."

Gyokuyou sighed again. "To say it like that is too cold. Taiki's fortunes are not good. He grew up in Hourai, so he's not like you. You should have..."

"Because of that, you should have asked En Taiho to come, since he was also born in Hourai. I don't think I am qualified for this."

"Keiki..." Gyokuyou spoke slowly in a voice full of dignity. "I asked you to come today, because I felt that in doing so, both you and Taiki would benefit."

"I--"

"Don't you think that I, Gyokuyou, would know your troubles?"

After hearing Gyokuyou say this, Keiki could only give a heavy sigh. He thought of the ruler of his native kingdom.

Keiki's master grew up as the daughter of a common merchant family. To speak well of her, she was a slender woman; to speak badly, her spirit was weak. She did not have the determination to be the ruler of a kingdom. Everyday she would only get more and more depressed. She neglected the affairs of the kingdom and hid deep inside the royal palace, never coming out. No matter how Keiki encouraged or reproached her, no good came out of it. On the contrary, she became increasingly distant.

"Everything you say is accurate, but you have to understand, the accurate method is not necessarily always the best method!"

Keiki was baffled. He didn't understand why something that was clearly accurate was not the absolute best.

"You should first learn how to discern other people's moods. Taiki is a child who likes to interact with other people, and even he is afraid to approach you. Then how do you suppose Keiou could confide in you!?"

Keiki sighed again.

- - - - -

"Where did Taiki go?" asked Keiki to a nyosen he encountered as he was walking on a path. She pointed behind her, towards the perimeter of Houro Palace.

"He went to the daylily garden. Don't go teasing Taiki again!"

Along the way, every time he inquired about Taiki, he was reprimanded, making him feel very discouraged.

"I never meant to tease him."

"Even if you didn't mean to, you were still too cold to him."

"I will pay more attention to what I say."

That was all he could reply with.

He walked gloomily along the path between the rocks as he continuously encountered the nyosen on the way who either scolded him or otherwise expressed their disapproval. It wasn't easy to reach the small garden that was bursting with daylilies.

Keiki stopped. In the middle of an area occupied with yellow flowers in full bloom, he saw a nyokai sitting with bent legs on the ground. Taiki was laying face down upon the nyokai's leopard portion.

Taiki really was a strange kirin, he thought.

He was certainly a kirin, but since the color of his mane was different from the other kirin, his appearance gave Keiki a strange feeling.

There was another reason that made Keiki feel unusual, and that was that he was not used to interacting with small children. Their small bodies and slender limbs made Keiki feel like they were a different kind of creature. Taiki's huddled figure, which made him look even smaller, especially caused Keiki to feel uneasy throughout his whole body.

He hesitated, wondering if he should speak, when just then, the nyokai noticed him. Taiki followed his nyokai's line of sight and saw Keiki. His dark eyes widened and he hurriedly wiped his face with his sleeve. Then, he stood up and took a deep bow towards Keiki.

"I'm really sorry about what happened just then."

"Don't be," said Keiki, and then quickly added, "I should be the one apologizing to you. My manner towards you was too cold."

"Oh, it wasn't." Taiki shook his head. Keiki saw this and couldn't help but think how incredible it was. How could a neck so thin hold up his head?

"It's because I'm worthless. I'm really very sorry."

"No... May I sit next to you?"

"Please, sit."

After Keiki sat down, Taiki did the same. Keiki watched as Sanshi lowered her body in respect to him.

"Is she your nyokai?"

"Yes, her name is Sanshi."

"She looks like a very good nin'you."

Hearing Keiki say this, Taiki blinked his eyes.

"Are there nyokai who aren't good?"

"There are. The more forms of beasts that are mixed, like Sanshi, the better the nyokai. Sanshi, you may leave. I will accompany Taiki."

Hearing Keiki say this, Sanshi bowed deeply towards him and walked towards the path.

Keiki watched Sanshi's leaving figure and creased his brow.

"She is a good nin'you, but her powers have not yet been released."

After Taiki heard this, he tilted his head as if he didn't understand, and his mane touched the daylilies, causing them to gently sway.

"It should be because you have not displayed your full power. The nyokai and her master are very closely connected. If the kirin gets sick, the nyokai will also be unhealthy."

"Then...am I sick?"

"This was only an analogy. However...perhaps your condition could also be considered an illness."

"Really..."

Seeing the child in front of him hang his head in hopelessness, Keiki sighed heavily. He was really helpless in these situations.
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Chapter 5 (Part 4 / 5)


Keiki spent a little bit of time figuring out what to say. Taiki had lowered his head in silence.

"May I ask you why you cried a moment ago?" This question may have been too blunt, but Gyokuyou had told him that he had to comprehend Taiki's mood.

"I'm sorry..." The small kirin contracted his body.

"I didn't want you to apologize. I just wanted to know the reason."

Taiki lowered his head further. "Because I feel like I'm so worthless."

"Why?"

"Because I feel like I'll never be able to learn how to transform, but the nyosen are all expecting me to..."

"Do you care that much about the nyosen's feelings?"

Hearing Keiki ask this, Taiki lifted his head with an painful look on his face.

"Yes, because everyone treats me so well. My being able to live on Mt. Hou, and my receiving everybody's extremely thoughtful care, is all because of the fact that I'm a kirin, but I can't do any of the things a kirin should be able to do. To show everyone my appreciation, I hope that I can at least transform for them to make them happy, but when I think that maybe that day will never come, I feel so useless..."

As he was saying this, Taiki's eyes began to fill with tears.

"Please don't cry, or else the nyosen will scold me again."

Taiki heard this and blinked his eyes.

"Kei Taiho, you get scolded by the nyosen too?"

"Of course I do. The nyosen do not hold back when it comes to kirin."

After Taiki heard this, he finally smiled a little bit.

"You do not need to mind the nyosen so much. They are here to take care of you. You are their master."

"But..." Taiki lowered his head again and spoke haltingly with a quiet voice, "Without the nyosen by my side, I can't do anything. I have to rely on them for everything, so it's so hard to think of myself as their master."

"Your way of thinking is very strange."

"Really...?"

Taiki's voice sounded once more like it was full of sadness, causing Keiki to panic again. In his mind, he couldn't help but think that he clearly wasn't suited to play this part, just like he had told Gyokuyou. He didn't know what she had been thinking when she asked him to come.

"Ah, I was not criticizing you."

"Yes..." Taiki nodded his head, and said in a small voice, "It's like this at home too."

"At home?"

"Yes, at my home in Hourai. I could never win the love of my granny or my mom. I always made mistakes and granny would get mad, and my mom and dad would always sigh."

The occurrence of the shoku that swept Taiki to Hourai was still clear in Keiki's memory. He had still been on Mt. Hou at that time.

"And then, Sanshi came to get me and I arrived at Mt. Hou. The nyosen all told me that my real home was Houro Palace, and then I suddenly understood. Because I was not originally my parents' real child, so nothing I did was ever right. But...it's the same at Houro Palace. Though no one lectures me or cries because of me, I still have no way of making everybody happy. I often think that perhaps I'm not a real kirin. If I'm not, then I'm not supposed to be staying at Houro Palace, just like I wasn't supposed to be at my other home."

Keiki finally understood. Taiki had left a place he had lived in for ten years before coming to Mt. Hou. Keiki thought that it was just like the bit of sadness he had felt before, when he had to leave Mt. Hou. Not to mention that the small child in front of him was someone who cried and became discouraged very easily!

"You are a kirin. This fact, you need not doubt."

"Really?"

"A kirin can recognize other kirin. You definitely emanate the spirit of a kirin."

Taiki looked up at Keiki.

"It is something like a golden radiance. I can see it very clearly, so I'm sure that I am not wrong."

Taiki heard this and looked at himself, and then he looked around Keiki.

"But I...can't see it."

"That's probably because your powers have not yet been completely released. At any rate, it is absolutely certain that you are a kirin."

"Then...can I stay on Mt. Hou? Even though I can't do any of the things a kirin should do?"

"Yes."

Taiki let out a sigh of relief and then blinked his eyes again.

"Could it be...that you miss your home in Hourai?"

"Yes, I think about it often, but then I feel guilty toward the nyosen again."

"I don't have a mother, so I don't understand... Do you miss her?"

Keiou missed her late mother very much and often thought of her home. So much so that sometimes she would yell at Keiki and demanded that he let her return to the life she once had.

"You don't have a mother?"

"Most kirin do not."

"Then I guess I'm lucky."

"But we have our nyokai and nyosen... However, you have a mother. Do you very much hope to see her again?"

Taiki didn't say anything. He just nodded his head vigorously.

"You don't need to feel ashamed toward the nyosen."

Hearing Keiki say this, Taiki lightly nodded his head.

"But I'm not that family's child, so there's no use in thinking about my mother."

"I see."

"The nyosen are so good to me. If I keep thinking of home, there will definitely be a punishment."

"There won't."

"Really?"

"Of course."

Taiki began to sob quietly. He hugged his knees and buried his face between his legs. At this, Keiki panicked and wondered if this counted as him making Taiki cry.

"Ah... Taiki...?"

"I'm sorry..." After Taiki said this, he shrunk his body even smaller. Keiki was at a complete loss as to what to do. Taiki's steel-colored hair hung down, revealing his thin neck, making him look that much more helpless, as did his shoulders, which were wrapped around his knees. Keiki hesitated a little and then attempted to put his hand upon Taiki's shoulder.

"I'm sorry..." apologized Taiki again, which confused Keiki.

"You do not have to apologize."

Hearing Keiki say this, Taiki began to bawl. Keiki emulated the nyosen and pulled Taiki into an embrace, and Taiki also hugged him tightly. Seeing Taiki so sad, of course Keiki empathized with him, but it was Taiki's warmth that caused Keiki to feel fondness for him. He lightly stroked Taiki's head and Taiki hugged him even more tightly, saying between sobs, "I...really want to go home..."

"I understand."

"I miss my mom..."

Hearing Taiki say this, Keiki felt very deeply that this little kirin was very lonely.
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Chapter 5 (Part 5 / 5)


The sky had already become an orange-red color. The rays of the setting sun reflected off the sea of clouds and created an incredible glowing.

Keiki held Taiki's hand as they went through the paths of the maze, which were filled with the lights and shadows of the setting sun. As Taiki walked, he thought of his hometown.

He had played throughout the maze everyday, spending his days very happily and very quickly getting used to not having to go to school. Also, he had never had any friends that were his age, so even though he was the only child on Mt. Hou, he had never felt particularly lonely.

Sanshi and the nyosen treated him very nicely. Here, there was no grandmother to yell at him, nor did he ever see his mother argue with his grandmother because of him. And of course, he never saw his mother secretly crying after an argument. He would also never again see his mother fighting at night with his father over him, and then having his father call him out to the front and sigh in disappointment as he lectured him.

The nyosen had told him that Mt. Hou was his real home, and he never once doubted this statement. The nyosen took care of him meticulously, welcoming him from the bottom of their hearts, which contained all of him. Taiki knew that they had really been very happy with his return to Mt. Hou.

And thus, he felt that he shouldn't be longing for a place in which he didn't belong, and that that wasn't fair to the nyosen.

However, those thoughts still frequently flashed into his mind.

Thinking back now, the long hallway in his old house seemed more interesting than this maze; the yard seemed more beautiful than any of the small gardens at the palace. Compared to being surrounded by nyosen, his days at school where no one paid him any attention and where he just stared blankly at other people playing seemed happier. In the end, his impressions of his mother, father and brother were even better than Sanshi and the nyosen.

It was probably dinnertime there. Was his mother sitting with his grandmother and brother around the table? When would his father get home today? Would he return a little earlier and let him help him wash his back as they bathed together?

When he recalled these things, he would always remember them that much more fondly.

Have the hydrangeas in the backyard bloomed yet? Has grandma taken the parasol out of the storehouse and used it yet? After mom and grandma argue, will one person still hide in the bathroom? Can his brother go to the bathroom in the middle of the night by himself yet?

Do they occasionally think of him?

How sad would it be if they did already forget about him! What if they didn't forget about him, but were very happy that he had disappeared? That would be even sadder. However, if everyone still thought about him... that thought made him saddest of all.

"Taiki."

He suddenly felt like he was about to cry again, so Taiki quickly blinked his eyes.

"Yes."

"Would you like to come to Shiren Palace for a bit?"

Taiki lifted his head to look at Keiki. Keiki still had no expression on his face, but the hand with which he was holding Taiki's was very warm.

"But we have to go eat with Lady Gyokuyou..."

"It's only for a little bit."

"Okay..."

- - - - -

Keiki walked straight to Shiren Palace and told the welcoming nyosen to withdraw, as he took Taiki into the bedroom. The small yard to the east of the bedroom was surrounded by a towering cliff wall, the top portion of which was bathed in the light of the setting sun, causing the green moss to radiate. The light reflected into the room and highlighted the entire room with the color of the sun.

Keiki lightly patted Taiki's hand and released it. He stood in the center of the room, lifted his head slightly, and closed his eyes. As Taiki looked at him, with his head cocked to the side in uncertainty, something happened.

It was an unimaginable sight. Keiki's body began to shake and melt. It looked like the melting of glass or metal. The melted portion appeared to flash with a golden light and extended in all directions. After it extended, it seemed as if it was an article of clothing being flipped. Before Taiki could even shout, he saw only a beast standing in front of him.

"Ah..."

It happened in the matter of a few short seconds. The clothes that had originally been on the beast fell to the floor with a plop. The beast lowered his head a little bit, which had been held high, and turned to look at Taiki.

He still had those purple eyes, and that golden hair, no, mane. His neck was not as long as that of a giraffe, and his legs were like those a deer, more slender than those of a horse. There were a few warmly yellow stripes upon his body, but only on his back. Also, it would be better to call them stripes, than to say that it was an interweaving pattern in his fur that appeared to change colors when looked at from different angles.

"Kirin..."

Taiki finally understood that he and a giraffe had nothing in common. They were, in fact, completely different creatures. His face was more similar to a deer's than the long face of a horse. On his forehead was a diverging horn, which made him feel even more like a deer, except that he only had one horn and it was shorter than any deer's. His color was white and it was as if he radiated a pearly white metallic luster. Under the twilight, he emanated a muted red light.

A golden mane rested in a line upon his beautiful neck. Taiki remembered that Keiki's hair had grown all the way down to his knees, but it had obviously become much shorter after it changed into a mane. Besides becoming shorter, it had also become finer. The fluttering golden mane looked like a burning golden flame.

His hooves resembled a horse's, and his tail was longer than a deer's. The portion of the tail that was connected to the body was very thin. Again, it was not quite like a horse's tail; its length and thickness felt like it was somewhere between that of a cow and a horse.

"Kei Taiho... Is this...a kirin?"

"Yes."

He was not originally expecting the kirin to reply to him, but he heard the reply in Keiki's voice.

"It's not like I thought at all."

"Really?"

He walked closer to get a better look and realized that the kirin was a big animal. Even though it looked thin, it was probably a little smaller than a horse. He wanted to reach out and touch the kirin's soft sparkling fur, but when he recalled that this was Keiki, he couldn't help but hesitate.

"I had no idea that the kirin was such a beautiful creature."

Taiki just stood and stared, whereupon Keiki lowered his head so that it was closer to Taiki's nose.

"Do you like it?"

"I do!"

Taiki felt his face becoming red.

"Will I transform in this too?"

"You are a black kirin, so your color will probably be different."

"Right..."

He didn't know what it felt like to change into the form of a beast.

"Do your forelegs feel like arms?"

"No, the forelegs are just forelegs. After you've transformed, you will no longer feel like a person."

"The horn and tail don't feel especially different or anything?"

"The tail does not have much feeling. As for the horn...the base of the horn feels like a fire burning. It should be because your consciousness is all concentrated in this portion. Yes... When you transform, your entire consciousness comes together in your forehead."

Taiki tried to imitate Keiki and closed his eyes, as he tried to bring his consciousness into his forehead. Unfortunately, nothing happened. Taiki heaved a sigh.

"I don't think this is something I can learn very quickly."

"You don't need to worry."

"Yes. When you transform into this, you must be able to run really quickly, right?"

"Right. Also, kirin can gallop about in the Yellow Sea. If we ride the wind, we are faster than any sort of bird. As long as we're happy, we can even circle the entire world."

"Can you go to Hourai too? I heard that Hourai was at the most eastern edge of the world."

"We can, as long as you want to."

Taiki blinked his eyes.

To turn into such a beautiful beast and gallop across the entire world in the air, that must be a very satisfying experience. As long as he learned how to transform, whenever his loneliness was too hard to bear, he could secretly return home to look around!

"If you will consent to it, tomorrow morning I can let you ride on my back for a stroll."

"Really?"

"Yes. All right, you should go back to the palace first. Lady Gyokuyou is probably waiting for you. I will arrive shortly."

"Okay!"

Taiki bowed deeply.

"Kei Taiho, thank you very very much."




Chapter 5 - END
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Chapter 6 (Part 1 / 4)



"Originally, I was really worried..." Youka stopped her needlework. Since Taiki had arrived at Mt. Hou, he had grown a little bit. All his clothes had to be redone or lengthened.

"He's so close with Kei Taiho right now. It's so great." The nyosen who were doing needlework with Youka all laughed, and Youka laughed with them.

Youka will never forget the excited look on Taiki's face on the day he came running into the palace and told Youka that Keiki had showed him his transformation into a kirin, and that on the next day, he would let Taiki ride on his back for a stroll. He had been so happy, he didn't get to sleep until the middle of the night. The following day, Taiki came back to Houro Palace with a messy head of windblown hair, and again, was so excited that he almost couldn't sleep.

"Genkun never makes a mistake!" said a nyosen as she began to laugh.

"Recently, Kei Taiho has been emulating Taiki and is starting to pay attention to the feelings of the people around him. It feels so fresh and so fun to me."

"I know! Even though he still has no expression on his face."

Keiki had stayed at Mt. Hou a very long time, so he was not too reserved around them.

"Don't ask for too much!"

"That's for sure!"

The nyosen laughed together.

At this time, they heard the sound of light and quick footsteps coming from the direction of the path.

"I'm home!"

"Welcome back."

Taiki ran in with a messy lump of hair on his head and a joyful expression on his face. Two magical beasts followed by his side; one was Sanshi, and the other was Keiki's shirei, a youma called Hankyo.

"Where did you go today?"

"Kei Taiho took me to Mt. Ka, and I saw a lot of weird birds!"

Seeing Taiki smiling with such happiness, Youka couldn't help but smile as well. It looked like Taiki had already thought of Keiki completely as his older brother. However, at first, the nyosen would never have thought that a child could become close to Keiki.

"That's excellent."

"Kei Taiho said that he would take me to the Yellow Sea tomorrow and show me how to tame youma."

"Oh dear!" exclaimed Youka in a high voice. Hankyo laughed.

"Don't worry. We will accompany Taiki."

"Oh... That's right."

Keiki's shirei would be there, so it should be all right. Though Youka nodded at Hankyo, in her heart, she was still a little bit anxious. In the past, there have been kirin that met their end in the Yellow Sea. There, the youma will attack anyone, regardless of if they are human or kirin.

"All right, you should go take a quick bath. It's almost time for dinner."

"Okay!"

Taiki nodded and said to Sanshi and Hankyo, "Let's go!"

After Youka watched Taiki and the two beasts gradually fade into the distance, she put down her needlework.

- - - - -

"What's wrong?"

When Youka arrived at Shiren Palace, Keiki was just getting out of the springwater at Shiren Cave after a bath. After the springwater emerges out from Shiren Cave, it flows all the way into the lotus pond in front of the palace gate.

"I hear that you are going to take Taiki to the Yellow Sea."

"Oh, this," said Keiki quietly, as he brushed his wet hair back. "Nothing will happen. I will ask the shirei to protect Taiki closely."

"But..."

Keiki smile dryly. "You nyosen really do favor Taiki."

"Because even though Taiki is already ten years old, in regards to him being a kirin, he's still too young."

"You cannot say that." Keiki leaned on the gate and looked down at the lotus pond. "The summer solstice is only a half month away."

Youka hung her head.

"I just went to the Reikon Gate and it looked like were already over fifty riders waiting there."

"That many?"

Keiki nodded. "I had originally thought that since Tai was on the opposide side of the Reikon Gate, there wouldn't be as many people climbing the mountain. Perhaps they had not just come to climb, but have been walking around near the four gates, waiting for the Kirin Flag to rise."

Some people walk around along the Kongou Mountains. If they wait this way, after they see the Kirin Flag being raised, they can enter on the very next Ankou Day. This is because on an ordinary horse, it is not possible to make it to any of the gates in time for the Ankou Day after the flag is raised. Shortly after the summer solstice, these people will arrive at Hoto Palace.

"I am hoping that before the summer solstice, Taiki will possess a shirei."

Usually, those who wait by the four gates each believe that only they are the only true ruler, so their personalities are all extremely conceited and arrogant. If a person is reasonable, they need not worry, since most of those people are not only irrational, but also overly confident.

Keiki said further, "I cannot be away from my kingdom for too long. After all, the queen just ascended the throne not long ago, and moreover, the situation in the country is not very peaceful..."

"Kei Taiho, you're the one who really favors Taiki!"

Hearing Youka hold back a laugh as she said this, Keiki creased his brow.

"Otherwise you nyosen will accuse me of bullying him again."

"Indeed." Youka laughed as she took a bow towards Keiki. "Then please accommodate my request tomorrow."

"I won't allow him to get hurt, or else you nyosen will yell at me endlessly when you see me."

"Just don't forget what you've said today!"
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Chapter 6 (Part 2 / 4)


"How about it?" asked Keiki as he handed over to Taiki a creature that was similar to a rabbit.

This was the entrance to the Yellow Sea, situated at the edge of the border between the Five Mountains and the Yellow Sea. It was a wilderness overgrown with bushes. The beast that Keiki handed over to Taiki looked like a rabbit with short ears or a big mouse with a long, thin body.

"Jakko? Or hiso?"

The youma in Taiki's hands obediently allowed him to carry it. Underneath the soft fur, he could feel its little heart beating.

"Jakko," replied the youma that he was holding in a rough voice. This was a small youma that Keiki had just tamed into being a shirei.

"Hiso is the name of this youma's species. This one is called Jakko."

Taiki nodded and scratched Jakko's neck.

"Nice to meet you."

Jakko didn't reply; he just made a few sounds.

"Does he not know how to speak very well yet?"

"Usually youma this small cannot really speak. At most, they can say a few single words."

It was Taiki who first discovered Jakko hiding in a bush and secretly watching them. When he was about to run away, Keiki directed an incantation towards him that Taiki could not understand, and when he looked back at Keiki, he glared at it for a moment. After Keiki finished another set of incantations, he called out Jakko's name, whereupon Jakko obediently came over to his side.

So this was a taming. Taiki had felt a little disappointed because he had originally thought it was going to be an exciting spectacle.

"Are all tamings this easy?"

Hearing Taiki's question, Keiki shook his head. "It was very easy because the hiso is a small animal. It won't be that way with a bigger creature. At times, the confrontation can last half a day!"

"That long?"

Taiki was surprised. Keiki nodded and picked up Jakko. He gently stroked Jakko and put him on Hankyo's back. Jakko then jumped onto the side of Hankyo's ear and began playing with him.

"For instance, I expended quite a bit of effort in order to tame Hankyo."

"Wow..."

Hankyo laid upon a rock nonchalantly, and let Jakko play next to his ear.

"Just then when you were taming him, I thought you guys were just staring at each other."

Keiki smiled dryly.

"We certainly were staring at each other. But is you so much as lose focus for even a second, the youma will immediately take advantage of this opening and run away or attack you."

Taiki understood and nodded.

"The first to be distracted is the one who loses. If it's just a small youma that runs away, then it's not critical, but if it's a powerful youma, it just might exploit your carelessness and take your life. Thus, when a youma enters your field of vision, if you are not confident, run away quickly before you begin to glare at each other. However, if it's a very strong youma, you must transform into a kirin in order to get away from it."

"Oh..."

Seeing Taiki hang his head, Keiki hurriedly added, "Don't worry, your nyokai can buy you some time."

"Isn't that dangerous for the nyokai?"

Keiki forced another smile.

"If it's a youma you cannot defeat, your nyokai will warn you before you encounter it. Actually, as long as you pay more attention, you will also sense it. After all, we are beasts, so we are very sensitive to the presence of enemies."

Taiki stood blankly for a moment and then a confused smile appeared on his face.

"That's right. We're beasts... I forgot about that."

"It doesn't really matter if you forget something like this."

"Okay. Oh, how did you choose Jakko's name?"

Keiki looked at Jakko. This small youma didn't have the power to be a shirei. He could only go back to the royal palace and play as he wished in the garden.

"I didn't choose it. This name should be what he has always been called."

Taiki tilted his head and looked puzzlingly at Keiki.

"After you've glared for a bit and your opponent concedes his loss, his aggression will subside. At that time, you will be able to discern his name. Actually, I don't quite understand everything about it either, but this is probably how it is. In the blink of an eye, a name will suddenly appear in your mind, and when you shout out this name, the youma will come to your side and serve you. From then on he will always follow your orders, up until the moment you die. At that time, he will gain his freedom."

After he said this, Keiki smiled a little.

"As far as what characters to use for his name, just choose characters that match the sounds."

"I thought I heard you saying incantations just then."

"The incantations are not completely necessary, but if you know them, it makes it easier."

"Oh..."

Taiki sat down upon the rock though he looked like he still had some uncertainties, and Keiki sat beside him.

"When we want to tame youma and make them become our shirei, we must exchange pledges with them--It would probably be more appropriate to say that we bind them."

"Bind them?"

Keiki nodded.

"Youma have been excluded from the Providence of the Heavens, so what we're doing is reincorporating them into the Providence of the Heavens and binding them, in order that they not deviate from the way for a second time. If they let us bind them, then they become our shirei."

"I still don't understand it."

Keiki sighed.

"I'm sorry..."

Hearing Taiki apologize, Keiki hurriedly added, "You don't have to apologize. It is natural that you do not understand it."

"Yes..."

"This world was created by Tentei for the happiness of the people, and he established the Providence of the World. However, if this is so, why do people die and why do they get sick? Why are there youma in the world that attack people? Why do calamities occur? ...Do all of these things exist through the deep deliberations of the Heavens, or do they pass beyond them? Regardless of how it is, all of them go against Tentei's 'goodness.' This is an indisputable fact."

Taiki thought for a little bit and then nodded.

"However, Tentei has his own intentions. They are not things that we can guess. It is like where there is life, there is also death. Because there is a Providence of the Heavens, there must also be some sort of opposite providence."

"Just like the light and the shadow?"

"Your analogy is very accurate. We kirin are shinju that exist to help the people. Still other magical creatures exist that have similar purposes. On the opposite side, there are also some magical creatures whose exist expressly to harm the people."

"Are those the youma?"

"Yes." Keiki smiled.

"So we should tame those creatures who are outside of the Providence of the Heavens and bring them back in, right?"

"That's exactly right. Speaking in terms of the analogy you used, the youma are creatures of the shadow, and in order to command them, we must pull them back into the light and bind them in order to prevent them from returning to the shadow."

"I understand now. But...how do I do that?"

Keiki sighed again.

"This is very hard to describe in words. Actually, I don't understand it completely either. I think I can only explain it in terms of will. That is, you must possess the power of a strong determination to pull these youma under your own control. However, it's not enough to simply have the determination."

Hearing Keiki say this, Taiki's face filled with uncertainty.

"Let me say it this way. All kirin possess a special 'power.' As to the magnitude of this power, it differs from kirin to kirin, but it is certain that every kirin possesses this special power."

"Is it because of this special power that kirin are all able to transform?"

"Yes, this is a power we are born with and have nothing to do with our will. Thus, no matter how much we hope to tame a youma, if our natural power is not strong enough, we will still be defeated in the end."

"It's just like people's physical strength or their running speed. They're all born with it."

"Right. You understand my meaning." Keiki sighed in relief. However, Taiki tilted his head again and spoke.

"But...using our strength to bind youma into the light side is a very difficult thing, rite? Can we not be distracted even for a second? If we do lose our attention a little bit, do our powers weaken?"

Keiki sighed again.

"I'm sorry..."

"You don't need to apologize. Perhaps...I am being too hard on you by saying these things." After Keiki said this, he deepened his voice. "You must listen to me calmly. --Shirei will eat kirin."

"Huh?"

"More accurately, they eat the corpses of kirin. After they eat a kirin's corpse, they are able to possess the kirin's power for themselves."

Taiki turned back to look at Hankyo. Hankyo, who had been resting his large head between his forelegs, turned to look with his expressionless face. Taiki couldn't tell from his behavior any changes in his heart.

Keiki smiled uneasily.

"You don't need to be afraid. Hankyo will not attack you. Kirin are part of the light, and youma are part of the shadow. Unless we specifically give it to them, they cannot take our power without our permission."

"Y...yes."

"Kirin rely on their power to tame youma and pull them into the light. However, youma have their own innate magical powers, so in order to tame a powerful youma, you must have the power to match him. Youma will, from the power a kirin uses when he is taming them, measure that kirin's abilities."

"Yes..."

"They will assume that after the kirin dies, his power will be given to them, so they will first determine if it will be worth it to become this kirin's shirei."

"I think I understand what you're saying."

"If you have successfully tamed a youma, they will never refuse your command, because they know that after you die, your power becomes theirs."

"So that's why you said it was a pledge?"

"Right. Because in order to take a creature from the shadow and put them in the light in a way that they not return once again to the shadow, it is necessary to bind up their chain, and to also protect ourselves."

"So that they can live under the light?"

"Yes. The chain that binds the shirei and protects us is their 'name.' Kirin rely on their will to draw forth a youma and discern his name. And then, the kirin formally confers this name upon the youma and accepts him as his shirei. The youma then determines the power of the kirin through the kirin's will and accepts the kirin's command while keeping the right to acquire the kirin's power after his death. This is what taming is."

"Then the youma eats the kirin's body after he dies, obtains new powers, and then regains his freedom once again?"

"Right. However, the conditions are that when a youma is the kirin's shirei, he absolutely must not defy his kirin. He can only use all his strength to protect his kirin, but never harm him."

Taiki took a close look at Hankyo. He had originally thought he was an interesting creature, but now he felt like he was completely impenetrable.

Hankyo glanced a Taiki and then opened his mouth widely.

"...!"

Taiki crouched down in fright. Hankyo yawned casually and smiled.

"Hankyo!" Keiki smiled dryly as he rebuked him.

"Actually, older kirin all use a few tricks. Do you know what divination is?"

"Do you mean like fortune-telling?"

"You could call it that. When we are hunting powerful youma, we borrow some techniques from divination or sorcery, geomancy, those types of things. However, these are all very profound areas of study. If you ask the nyosen, they will teach you, but it isn't something you can learn in a short amount of time."

"Yes."

"We must first choose the day, the land, the direction and the youma. When we subdue the youma, we seek a situation where the youma's powers are weakest, and where we are strongest. However, even if you don't plan it out like this, it doesn't mean that you won't be able to subdue the youma. It is the same with the incantations. Because the effects are not as powerful as in divination or sorcery, they are not essential. But if you are used to saying them, then when you don't say them, it will feel strange. That's all."

"Then does it matter if I don't learn them?"

"Would you like to learn them? Even a little will help you out."

Taiki nodded. Keiki then reached out his hand and held onto his shoulder to straighten his posture.

"First of all, you must have proper posture. You must engrave this in your mind."

"Yes."

"Spirit is divided into seiki, the spirit of life, and shiki, the spirit of death. The morning is full of seiki, while the afternoon, shiki. It is best to tame youma in the early morning, which is filled with seiki. The air that we inhale through our noses is seiki, and the air that we exhale from our mouths is shiki. When you're breathing, you must pay attention to this. You must never reverse this. When you exhale, you should exhale lightly. This is also something you should practice during ordinary times. Otherwise, it will be hard to make a habit out of it."

"I should breathe in through my nose and breathe out through my mouth."

"When you want to avoid youma, you should employ the Uho walk."

Keiki demonstrated a special method of walking for Taiki.

"If you encounter a youma and you want to avoid eye contact with them, then you should use Koushi, Teeth-striking. The Tsuitenban works especially well, wherein you firmly bite down the right part of your jaw. If you want to concentrate your spirit, sound your front teeth. This is called Meitenko."

Taiki sighed. "Can I really remember all of this?"

"You can remember them very quickly, but in order to perform them skillfully, you must still practice. You only need to ask the nyosen and they can all teach them to you."

"Okay."

"Just then, I used the Nine-word Mantra to stop Jakko from running away. You need to hold your hands like so."

Taiki imitated Keiki's clasped hands.

"This is called the Sword Seal. Ready your hands at your waist, draw your sword, and then perform four verticals and five horizontals."

Keiki took Taiki's hands and gestured with them.

"Now say, 'Rin, Byou, Tou, Sha, Kai, Jin, Retsu, Zen, Gyou.'"

"...This is really hard."

"You'll be able to say it with some more practice. The movements must be well-executed. Once you see your opponent lose his aggression, you need to say an incantation. However, this requires knowledge of divination. Just remember this much for now: 'Shinchoku Meichoku, Tensei Chisei. Jinkun Seikun, Fuo Fudaku. Kimi Koubuku, Onmyou Wagou. Kyukyu Nyo Ritsurei!'"

Taiki looked very anxiously up at Keiki, and Keiki forced a smile.

"Kimi Koubuku, the monster submits; Onmyou Wagou, the light and the dark unite. Kyukyu Nyo Ritsurei, quickly according to the laws."

"Um... Okay."

"And then put your right hand on your head with your palm facing outward to receive the Will of the Heavens, and your left hand should be pointing down toward your feet. Then, call out the name of the youma. Sometimes only the sound of his name appears in your mind, and sometimes the characters for them will also appear. All of this is instinctive to a kirin."

"Yes."

Taiki heaved a sigh. Keiki patted a very discouraged looking Taiki.

"We still have a bit of time before the shiki spreads through, so go find a few small youma and practice a little."

Taiki nodded. However, at the end of the day, not one youma fell under the spell of his incantations.
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Chapter 6 (Part 3 / 4)

The summer solstice finally arrived.

Taiki was sound asleep in his bed when Sanshi tried to stir him awake.

Yesterday--or more accurately, it wasn't until very early this morning that Taiki returned from the Yellow Sea, out cold in Sanshi's arms. She looked at his expression as he was sleeping deeply, and although she was not heartless enough to want to wake him up, if she had let him continue sleeping, Taiki would certainly regret it very much.

"Are you awake yet, Taiki?"

Suddenly, Youka's voice carried itself over here, and the cloth curtain was lifted open. Youka poked her head in to look around, and she smirked.

"Oh, really..." Youka smiled and looked at Sanshi. "It looks like he played until really late yesterday. Any results?"

Sanshi shook her head.

Even though they stayed in the Yellow Sea until the middle of the night, in the end he still wasn't able to subdue a youma. Keiki and the nyosen were at one side helping him out with the divination, but the youma were still able to escape Taiki's glare. Though neither of them said it, Keiki and Sanshi both knew that Taiki was not aggressive enough.

"I see... Then he must have been very discouraged. Even though we may not want to, we should still wake him up."

Sanshi nodded and shook Taiki again. "Taiki..."

Youka completely lifted up the curtain, letting the sunlight in. "Taiki, get up quickly, or else Kei Taiho will have left."

"Oh..." Taiki finally moved a little bit. However, he flipped over and again they heard his level breathing.

"Well..."

"Well, he is still a child."

Hearing someone behind them, Youka and Sanshi hurriedly looked back toward the entrance.

"Genkun!"

Gyokuyou laughed softly. "It looks like we can't wake him up."

"We were out so late yesterday. Just let him sleep," said Keiki who had been behind Gyokuyou.

Hearing this, Youka became flustered. "That would be too impolite. Taiki, it's time to get up now."

"It's no use. Let him get a good rest."

Hearing Keiki say this, Youka shook her head vigorously. "I can't. That way when Taiki gets up, he'll be very sad."

Sanshi nodded her head in agreement.

Sanshi knew that Taiki had returned last night, having completely exhausted his mind and body, but she also knew why he hadn't wanted to go to sleep. Thus, she shook Taiki's body with more force. "Taiki! Taiki!"

After being shaken three times, Taiki finally opened his eyes. He first blinked a little bit, and then suddenly jumped up. "The Taiho..."

Sanshi brushed his hair. "He's still here."

Taiki blinked his eyes again, and then he saw all the adults smiling as they watched him. He face flushed as he lowered his head.

"I'm sorry... Good morning everybody."

- - - - -

"Genkun, Taiho, we're very sorry. Taiki doesn't usually delay getting out of bed."

Gyokuyou smiled as she received the teacup that Youka had handed her, and then looked at Keiki.

"It looks like Taiki really thinks of you as his brother. This really is too good."

Keiki had only a gloomy look on his face.

"Kei Taiho, you've really helped us out a lot."

Hearing Gyokuyou say this, Youka smiled without saying anything. However, Keiki sighed.

"But I was still not able enough. For that, I profusely apologize."

"All those inherent abilities that we're born with have always impossible to explain in words. You've done so much for him already, and we're very grateful."

Keiki looked even more discouraged. After Gyokuyou finished saying this with a smile, having finished grooming and changing his clothes, Taiki and Sanshi walked out together.

"I'm really sorry."

Putting down his teacup, Keiki stood up and took a bow towards Taiki. "Taiki, I must bid you farewell now."

Taiki looked up at Keiki with his reddened eyes. "Do you really have to go?"

"I can't be away from my kingdom for that long. I'm sorry I was not able to help you out much."

"What do you mean? I should be the one apologizing to you. I was such a bad student."

"You were no such thing."

"Please take care."

"You as well."

"I will."

Keiki looked at Taiki who was holding back his tears with all his restraint, and he put his hand on his shoulder. "Don't be anxious. The Heavens created the kirin. Tentei will aid you."

"Yes..."

"I hope you meet your ruler early on. After you have descended to your kingdom, Kei Kingdom is just across the Empty Sea, so we will have opportunities to meet again then."

Hearing Keiki say this, Taiki tugged on Keiki's sleeves with his small hands.

"Will we really be able to meet again?"

Keiki smiled. Seeing Taiki so eager to see him again, it made him very happy.

"I guarantee it. When you go to your kingdom, I will definitely be the first to come congratulate you."

Hearing this, Taiki's little face glowed with radiance. "Okay!"

If he could have, Keiki would have liked to stay until Taiki had successfully subdued a shirei, and also until he had received, without any problems, all those who will climb Mt. Hou. However, that was not possible. He had already been away from Kei Kingdom for too long. In addition, before he had left, he had also informed them that he would definitely be back on the summer solstice at the very latest.

"Where are you leaving from?"

"From Hakki Palace."

"Then can I accompany you to there?"

Keiki smiled. "Of course you can. We should tell Hankyo and Jakko to come as well."

"Yes."

Gyokuyou stood up as well and looked at the big kirin and the small kirin in front of her. "Is Taiki also very close with your shirei?"

"Hankyo often plays with me."

"That's excellent," said Gyokuyou with a smile. She then looked at Keiki, whose hand was still on the little kirin's shoulder.

"Kei Taiho, your achievements have certainly not been small. You've learned how best to act towards people."

"But..." Taiki looked up at Gyokuyou. "Kei Taiho has always been very nice to me!"

Hearing Taiki's serious tone, Gyokuyou glanced at Youka. "Is that so?"

"Yes!" said Taiki with determination. Gyokuyou laughed. Keiki had a complicated expression on his face. All the other nyosen in the room, including Youka, stifled their laughter.

- - - - -

Neither the nyosen nor even Gyokuyou would have expected that Keiki's awkwardly-expressed kindness would actually be the reason that Queen Kei Jokaku lost her way.

However, that is another story.
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Chapter 6 (Part 4 / 4)



After he saw Keiki off, Taiki looked extremely depressed. However, in reality, Taiki no longer had the time to be sad.

From the day after the solstice on, nyosen could be seen everywhere, along the all the paths to Hoto Palace. The grand incense ceremony was performed at Hoto Palace, and the nyosen were all also wearing bright and colorful attire. Both the furnishings in the palace and Taiki's clothes were much more magnificent than during ordinary times.

--The festival season had arrived upon Mt. Hou.

- - - - -

Taiki was sitting on a rock near the Shashinboku. When walking inside of the maze, the winds always carried with them the scent of flowers, but at the top of the rocks, the wind held only the smell of the sea. Taiki had always considered this to be incredible.

It seemed as if something was approaching from the southwest.

Taiki thought of the views of the Yellow Sea that he saw when he was riding on the transformed Keiki's back.

Mt. Hou was a mountain that consisted of mounds of strange crags. Green rocks were assembled into a complex landscape that extended all the way down to the foot of the mountain. And though the maze that was formed by these rocks also looked very complicated, there was only one route that reached Hoto Palace. Starting from a long, long time ago, countless shousen had walked through that path and had already left a deep mark that was clearly visible from up high.

Since there was only one route, there was also only one entrance into Mt. Hou, and the path through the entrance was linked in three directions.

A road stretched across the Yellow Sea. Like the path to Hoto Palace, this road had passed through a good many years, and there was a trace left by the treading of countless people. There were tracks thru the rocks and ruts carved into the steep slopes, all made by people's feet. People had thrown stones into the swamps and streams, and even erected stone tablets in the desert. Across the wider fissures in the great crags, people had built bridges with withered wood; trees had been removed by passers-by, so that eventually there formed a narrow pathway through the dense forests.

These sorts of trails extended through the Yellow Sea in all directions to the four gates.

Of these gates, the Reikon Gate in the southwest had already opened and closed.

Where were the people now, who had entered the gate on the day of the summer solstice?

Youma and youju gathered in the Yellow Sea, so the journey through it was, without doubt, full of difficulty and danger. The people who enter the gate on the same day form a group similar to a caravan, and work together to traverse this dangerous passage. It is also said that there exists even a profession that specializes in protecting them, like a travel escort service.

"My heart is beating really quickly..." mumbled Taiki, as he hugged his knees and rested his chin on top of them.

Sanshi, who was sitting beside him, heard this, and just said quietly, "Don't be nervous."

"Okay..."

This matched up completely to his premonition.

When he was playing or learning a few easier divination lessons from the nyosen, if he so much as looked out into the southwest, he would suddenly feel as if he couldn't breathe. And when he recalled that the Reikon Gate was in the southwest, he would feel a chill and his heart would beat faster.

This was not a good premonition. He always felt something scary was making its way to him.

"Can I really do it?"

"Of course you can." Sanshi said only this short sentence. Thus, the sound of the wind seemed even clearer as it remained by Taiki's ear.

"Do you think there's a real ruler here?"

"I don't know."

"There probably isn't, I think."

"Do you wish there not to be?"

"Yeah..."

Sanshi looked at her stiff-bodied master hugging his knees.

If there really was an actual ruler here, was Taiki afraid that he would then have to leave Mt. Hou, or that he would not be able to pass this test?

Regardless of why, Sanshi very clearly felt Taiki's anxiety after the summer solstice had passed. This pained Sanshi's heart even when she was just by his side.

If the people climbing up Mt. Hou were not those that think themselves the ruler, then they were those that were supporting those with the abilities to be the ruler. Thus, the real ruler was not necessarily amongst them.

Or perhaps, Taiki was afraid to find his ruler.

After kirin go through the process of choosing their ruler, they carry the fate of the kingdom upon their shoulders. In addition, the ruler's conduct in government carries upon it the fate of the kirin.

As soon as the ruler strays from the proper path, the kirin must bear the consequences. At that time, he will suffer a sickness called Shitsudou. This is a serious illness that is not easy to cure. Thus, it could be said that the ruler holds the life of the kirin in his hands.

To entrust one's own fate to another person is naturally a very frightening prospect.

"The real ruler won't climb the mountain this early..." It was very obvious that Taiki had said this for his own ears. Thus, Sanshi didn't say anything.

Taiki didn't have any shirei, nor could he transform, and he still only understood a small amount about being a kirin. In this situation, it was normal to feel apprehensive. No one callously blamed him for it.

"Kei Taiho, he..." Taiki looked from the southwest to Sanshi. "He said it, right? That the Heavens would help me out?"

Taiki looked up into the sky again, and even though his face carried the innocence of a child, it revealed a resolve.

"Yes."

The wind on top of the rock blew by swiftly.


Chapter 6 - END
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Afterword


The Twelve Kingdoms
Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Maze, Afterword to Volume 1.
from Mina's trans. of Ono Fuyumi's Kaze no Umi, Meikyuu no Kishi.

-

Hello, everybody.

I don't know when it started, but there's been a Romance of the Three Kingdoms boom recently, and as a result, Chinese-style fantasy stories are getting popular. It startled me because I was afraid that the readers would immediately see through my superficial knowledge of China.

This story is a sequel to the previous work that I did for White Heart, Shadow of the Moon, Sea of the Shadow. They contain two separate stories, and this one happens at an earlier time than the other one, but it is still basically a sequel.

The following is something I want to say to the readers of the previous work.

It seems like everything Taiki says goes through, but actually the people on Mt. Hou can't understand him. That's right, it's just like in the last book where everything needed to be translated. Because the story this time is more complicated (there are a ton of kanji that Taiki doesn't know), and also whether or not I mentioned the translators wasn't important, so I didn't write out that portion. However, in my head, I have established that all their words go through an interpreter, so fellow readers, please keep this in mind as well. (To think that I had to ask the readers to accommodate me like this...) *pekori* [note: this is the sound of ono-sensei bowing her head quickly]

The previous book received a good response from readers, so it's because of you that there is a sequel. Thank you very much! I hope that I can write yet another sequel. However...I need to get rid of this habit of needing to separate books into two volumes... Tohoho.

I hope everyone can continue on and read the next volume.



-- Ono Fuyumi


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