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SEA OF THE WIND SHORE OF THE MAZE
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Chapter 10

"Madam Risai, are you feeling better?" Taiki poked his head into the tent and saw Risai sit up.

"...Kou."

Because it was long distance travel, there was a limit to the number of attendants one could bring. Thus, they had to think about how many of their belongings they could take along with them, and their tents could not be prepared too comfortably. The equipment in the tents were very simple, and most of the things that are brought out would probably be daily living necessities. However, the weather on Mt. Hou was pretty good, so the tents were pitched with a thinner cloth material. Though this was the case, the interior did feel very spacious, and there were no worries about those from the outside seeing inside of the tent.

Originally lying down on a simple bed, Risai immediately got up and draped a coat over her shoulders. Taiki hurried to stop her.

"I think it would be better if you laid back down." Taiki gave some water to an attendant inside the tent. "Today, I helped the nyosen run errands. I brought you some water."

In order to avoid being impolite, Risai straightened up her appearance a bit and bowed her head, saying, "Thank you for your concern."

Under an attendant's arrangement, Taiki sat nearby Risai and looked at her face. "How are your wounds healing?"

"Many thanks to you for bringing the Sensui. The pain has already gone away."

"...Oh, good." Taiki sighed and cocked his head to the side. "I hope they don't leave scars."

Risai smiled. "Please don't worry. With the additional support of the Sensui, and taking into consideration that I am a sennin, even if my wounds were more serious, I would still be all right."

Taiki blinked his eyes. His face was full of bewilderment. "What do you mean? Madam Risai, you're a sennin?"

"Even though I'm in a provincial army, I only needed to be a general in order to enter the Immortal Register and become a sennin. If I didn't do this, then I could not have served the provincial Kou."

"Why?"

This time it was Risai's turn to look surprised. "Do you not know? The provincial Kou is not a human, but an immortal. At the castle of the provincial Kou, if you are not a sennin, you cannot enter or exit. The provincial Kou has a very long life, and if those who serve at his side do not also have longevity, then they would not be of much use."

"Oh..."

Risai saw that Taiki's face was still full of confusion and was extremely amazed. She had heard that this kirin had been raised in Hourai until not too long ago. Could it be that there are no sennin in Hourai?

"Shinsen do not have a life span."

"Is that so?"

Risai sighed softly. "...Kou, you are also a shinsen. Didn't you know that?"

"I am?"

"Yes. The ruler inherently holds a position in the Divine Register. When he becomes the ruler, he will no longer age. Moreover, it is not very easy for him to die. At the very least, he will not die from disease."

"So that's how it is."

"Kirin are also in the Divine Register. Like the ruler, you will not grow old, nor will you become sick. It is not easy for you to be wounded, nor for you to die. There are also a few illnesses that will only affect kirin."

Taiki suddenly opened his eyes wide and thought for a little bit. "Then... will I grow older and older?"

"After you become an adult, you will then not continue to age."

"...I feel like...this is a little strange."

"The nyosen won't grow old or die of sickness either. I think that they have forgotten to tell you these things... This is pretty much it."

"Okay."

"The sennin support the ruler. Ordinarily, those who serve at the side of the ruler, or the provincial Kou as well as those who serve at the side of the Kou, they are all sennin."

"If only the king can live forever, then he can't accomplish much."

Risai smiled wryly. "I'm not too clear on the reason either. However, sennin won't become old or die of sickness either, but this is only within the time that they are sennin. The difference between the Immortal Register and the Divine Register is that one can enter or leave the Immortal Register at any time. One can decide whether or not they want to be a sennin."

"If you weren't a sennin, then would you grow old like most other people?"

"Yes. Hence, very few people will leave the Immortal Register of their own accord. For instance, I was promoted to general and then entered into the Register, but if I quit or am removed from the position of general, I must withdraw from the Register. In other words, my place in the Register is granted to me by the ruler. All the sennin that work under the king are called chisen."

"Oh..."

"Aside from this, there are people who voluntarily vow to become sennin, those who are not appointed by nor serve under a ruler. These sennin are called hisen. For example, the nyosen of Mt. Hou are considered hisen."

"So that's how it is..." After Taiki said this, he sighed. "Before, I had asked Teiei about her age, and she said that she had forgotten it. Maybe she has really already lived so long that she has forgotten her age."

"Perhaps." Risai smiled slightly. "So, you don't need to worry about my body. Compared to that of a regular person, I am much stronger.

"That's great!"

"That's right, I shouldn't only speak of me. What about you? Your body is all right?"

"Yes, I'm very good. I just feel really tired, and also I'm still afraid of seeing blood. Just those things. Actually, I could have come to see you earlier, but the nyosen wouldn't let me go out."

"I really am very embarrassed..."

Taiki snuck a look at Risai's ashamed face and lowered head. "Madam Risai, this was not your fault. If you must, blame the fact that I am a kirin."

"No..." Risai shook her head but could not speak.

She had taken the Yellow Sea too lightly. She would never have thought the youma that lived in the Yellow Sea would be too vicious even for her. She relied on her incomplete skills, and, full of confidence, she wanted to go and defeat a youma. She really had too low an opinion of her opponent.

--In addition, she was with another who was a general like her, and even if a little bit, she felt competitive with Gyousou. In fact, at the time she had anticipated that the cave would be dangerous, but she did not want others to mistakenly think that she did things hesitantly or that she had no courage.

"I'm really very sorry."

"Ah... I said before that this had nothing to do with you, Madam Risai. Who would have known that a toutetsu would be hiding in a place like that? Also, you even used yourself as a shield and urged me to get out of there quickly. And if this hadn't happened, I would not have understood how to tame shirei."

Risai looked at the child in front of her, who thought up all sorts of things so as she would not feel guilty. "You are too kind..."

"Everything I said was the truth."

Seeing the stern and serious expression on Taiki's face, Risai couldn't help but laugh a little. "I still need to thank you for the Sensui that you brought over. Thanks to your help, I can descend the mountain smoothly when the autumn solstice comes."

Taiki was a little taken aback. "Descend the mountain..."

--Why was this so strange to him? It was a very ordinary thing.

It wasn't as if Risai was like the nyosen and lived on Mt. Hou. The autumn solstice was the next Ankou Day, and when the time came, the Reison Gate on the southeastern side of the Yellow Sea would open.

He calculated that there was only probably half a month's time remaining that Risai would be staying on Mt. Hou.

Then...

Taiki left Risai's tent, and was giving perfunctory responses to the people who were greeting him, when he suddenly stopped.

(Then...)

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"What is wrong?"

A pair of hands rested on Taiki's shoulders, and after he came back to his senses, he discovered that it was Gyousou. As if he were unconscious, he had followed the path that he regularly walked and ended up in the area of Gyousou's tent without thinking.

"Oh, it's you, Sir Gyousou."

--It's a good thing Gyousou's still here.

When he realized that Risai and Gyousou would be going down the mountain soon, Taiki felt ill at ease.

Perceiving that he had been staring into space, Taiki felt a little embarrassed and half-heartedly laughed a bit. However, when he saw that Gyousou was wearing his black armor, he wrinkled his brow. This was the attire he had on his body when Taiki had seen him for the first time on Mt. Hou, as well as the time Gyousou had gone hunting for sugu.

"Are you doing all right?"

"Yeah..."

"What is the matter? You have a very serious expression on your face."

Taiki immediately sighed and haltingly said, "I was just thinking that...right now, there isn't even a month's time before the autumn solstice..."

Gyousou nodded in agreement. "It is already time to climb down the mountain. Those friends of mine who are unexperienced in martial skill have said many times that they would like me to decide on a time to descend the mountain."

"Is that so?" Taiki looked at Gyousou's face once again with fresh eyes. "Why are you wearing armor?"

"Ah, this..." Without finishing what he was saying, Gyousou knelt down in submission in front of Taiki. "You've come at just the right time. I was planning on going down the mountain in a short while."

"Huh?" Taiki stared blankly at Gyousou. The words that Gyousou had said to Taiki struck him hard. His face suddenly lost all color.

"I was just about to go and bid Madam Risai farewell."

"...You're going down the mountain in a short while?"

Gyousou casually laughed a little. "Yes. I intend to search for sugu again on the road back. Many people have said that they wanted to come with me... I had originally thought that I would not be able to run into you again and thus not be able to bid you farewell. This is good that I was able to see you..."

Taiki looked around and discovered that Gyousou's tent had already disappeared. The stake that was used to tie down his mount had also been put away. The area had recovered its flat appearance.

"How did you pick this time to climb down the mountain?"

"This time, horses will be coming with us. If we don't leave now, we will probably not be able to reach the Yellow Sea by nighttime."

"But, isn't the Yellow Sea really dangerous at night?"

Gyousou laughed as he stood up. "If it wasn't at night, then the sugu would be sleeping. In order to catch sugu, we must travel at night."

As Taiki was thinking about how dangerous this was, he immediately remembered that Gyousou was already very used to catching sugu. He had already gone to the Yellow Sea more than a few times to catch sugu, which is how he had been able to catch Keito.

"Then...will you come back when Ankou Day comes again?"

"If we don't manage to catch a sugu on this return trip, then there might be the possibility..."

Taiki wasn't sure if he should say this, but in the end, he couldn't keep it in. "Then...will you have an opportunity to pass by Mt. Hou?"

Gyousou looked at Taiki.

"No, because there is only one opportunity a year for coming to Mt. Hou like this." He smiled as he reminded Taiki, "First of all, if I really wanted to pass by Mt. Hou, I would have to do it within the length of an Ankou Day."

It wasn't even necessary to think about it. There was no more certain answer than this. Even with Keito, whose speed was like that of the wind, it was an impossibility to make the trip to Mt. Hou from deep within the Yellow Sea in a single day. In order to really meet, they would have to do it before the Reison Gate opened at noon; however, rushing back to Mt. Hou after the hunt at night would be just about the time the door closed.

"...Sir Gyousou, since you are the general of the Oushi, there should be further opportunities for us to meet, right?" Taiki looked up at Gyousou and forced himself to squeeze out a smile. Gyousou laughed bitterly.

"It is possible we will not."

"Huh?"

"I do not plan on returning to the Oushi. I am going to withdraw from the Immortal Register and leave Tai Kingdom."

Taiki unconsciously clenched his hands. "...Why?"

"There is no way for me to endure the feeling of disgrace."

Taiki widened his eyes and then lowered his head.

"I do not mean to blame you. I just do not feel that I ever had the qualities required to be a ruler."

"But..."

"Do not worry. There will always be opportunities for a person like me, and a kingdom that needs to borrow my skills. After all, I am a warrior. I cannot now change and become a merchant."

Taiki lifted his head and looked at Gyousou. "...So you're saying that we will never have an opportunity to meet again?"

"I am afraid so." Gyousou smiled as before.

--It seemed as if leaving Taiki didn't make him sad at all. If Taiki had still been sleeping now, he would probably even have left without saying goodbye and descended the mountain.

"Even if you wanted to go hunt sugu...there's still a stretch of time before the autumn solstice..." It wasn't easy to say something that might persuade Gyousou, who then smiled.

"I cannot do this sort of thing, since I was not chosen, nor do I have any reason to shamelessly linger upon Mt. Hou. I do not want people to mistakenly think that I yearn for the position of ruler and refuse to leave the mountain." After he said this, Gyousou took his big hand and lightly patted Taiki's head. "Do not look so sad. You have nothing to worry about. Believe that you can find somebody who is even greater than I. At the very least, I have now become a bit more modest."

Gyousou laughed, but Taiki could not do the same. Suddenly, they heard a person looking for Gyousou, who then raised his hand and motioned to the other person. He bowed towards Taiki. "I am going now to bid Madam Risai a farewell."

"All right..."

Gyousou left to visit Risai and returned before long. Within this period of time, it was as if Taiki had swallowed a stone. He stood where he was and didn't move.

"Please take good care of yourself. I wish you a long life and prosperity for the kingdom." Gyousou stood at Keito's side as he said this.

--These were words of parting. As soon as Taiki nodded, Gyousou would grasp the reins and ride away on Keito, and they would never see each other again.

Even in his imagination, it made Taiki feel extremely pained. However, he had no means by which to stop Gyousou.

"So long." After Gyousou paid his respects, he turned around and walked away. Taiki looked at his back. He hoped that Gyousou would turn around and look back at him. But Taiki was very clear on the fact that Gyousou was not the kind of person who would do something like that. If it had been Risai, she would have given honor to a child who admired her and would certainly have delayed a day, or perhaps in the end, for Taiki's sake, she would have stayed until the conclusion of Ankou Day before she left. But this was not something that Gyousou would do.

Gyousou mounted Keito, and after the people around Taiki paid him their respects in succession, they departed one by one. After waiting for everyone to climb on their mounts, Keito started to stride slowly away.

Gyousou didn't look back and headed off without any hesitation.
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The moon was out.

The moonlight entered through the thin curtains and shone on the bed.

Gyousou and the people with him had probably already arrived at the base of Mt. Hou.

Was camping going to be dangerous for them? Or were they going to be chasing sugu during the night, waiting until almost daybreak to set up camp?

"You...can't sleep?" Sanshi asked. Taiki unconsciously stop moving his hand, which had been stroking Sanshi's fur.

"Madam Risai's going to be staying for a little bit longer, right?"

"Yes..."

Taiki could not put his mind at rest. He turned about in the bed until he finally couldn't bear it any longer and got out of bed.

"I would like to go on a walk... Can I?"

"You cannot go to the Yellow Sea at night."

With Sanshi having seen through his thoughts, Taiki lowered his head. "Then...traveling there would be pretty dangerous too, huh?"

"Most likely."

Perhaps they would encounter youma that are like toutetsu. Taiki had previously heard about many people losing their lives on the road to the Yellow Sea. Not to mention the fact that Gyousou's group was not large.

"Gouran."

"Yes?" The sound came from under the bed. Gouran's voice was low and deep. At first Gouran was a little dog, but recently he usually changed into a red dog that Taiki had not anticipated.

"Gouran, can you see Sir Gyousou to the Reison Gate for me? I want him to get there without any trouble."

"I cannot," replied Gouran, strongly and concisely. "I cannot leave Taiki's side."

"You can't...even if I ask you to?"

"Right now, your safety is more important than anything else. Moreover, Gyousou is not the king."

...There it is again. Taiki bit his lip.

Whether it was a way to stop Gyousou from leaving, or trying to find a way to get him to turn back, or even wanting him to reach one of the Four Gates safely, nothing that Taiki did was successful.

If only Gyousou was the king.

Why hadn't there been a revelation? How good would it be if there had been.

(Then...)

Taiki was so sad he almost cried. When certain thoughts appeared in his mind, he would firmly swallow his tears.

(This matter...only kirin know about it...)

Taiki opened up his eyes wide and then hurriedly shut them. His heart was beating very quickly.

(Why are things like this?)

Taiki was also a little surprised. Why was it that whenever he thought about being separated from Gyousou, he would feel so awful inside? The person he had originally liked was Risai, and he had also previously wished that Risai could be the queen. The strange thing was that Risai was going to descend the mountain, but this didn't make Taiki feel that kind of sadness.

He silently got out of bed. He constantly felt an oppressive sensation and lying on the bed was not relieving him of that ache.

"Taiki..."

"I'm just going outside." Wearing his pajamas, he despondently walked down the stone steps of the palace.

There was only one road that one could walk to the foot of Mt. Hou, but once in the Yellow Sea, a countless number of roads extend outwards. Not to mention that Gyousou was going to be hunting as he traveled, so he might not have taken a main road. Once they reach the Yellow Sea, it would be extremely hard to find them.

He would pass through the dangers of the Yellow Sea to get to the Four Gates, and after Ankou Day came, he would go outside of the Kongou Mountains. When that happens, there would be no way to catch up to him.

After Gyousou returns to the Kingdom of Tai, he will resign from his position in the Oushi and leave Tai Kingdom. In the end, no matter where he goes, Taiki would probably not even be able to contact him.

...This could not be stopped now.

Taiki hadn't chosen Gyousou, so he was leaving Tai Kingdom. In this way, with regards to Gyousou, Taiki was but a worthless 10-year-old child. A person like Gyousou, who is unafraid of what lies ahead of him, will probably never condescend to looking back at a worthless person.

There isn't much of a difference between this and a separation by death.

Gyousou's distance from Mt. Hou is increasing step by step, just like he will also slowly forget about Taiki. The link between Gyousou and himself will become weaker and weaker. After one of the Four Gates opens and closes, without a doubt, the connection between him and Gyousou will be severed.

Taiki stood up.
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"Taiki!" Sanshi saw Taiki, who had been sitting silently hanging his head, get up suddenly. She hurriedly reached her arms out and wrapped them around his body. "Don't go! The night--"

The night was incomparable to the day. Not to mention that now, it was already very late in the night, just as the shiki was spreading. Thus, youma were becoming more and more active.

"No! Taiki...!"

Taiki shook off Sanshi's arms. He just couldn't bear it. At the thought that he might never have another opportunity to see Gyousou again, he couldn't suppress the agitation in his heart.

"What's going on, Sanshi?" Youka looked out from Rosen Palace to see what was happening. A few nyosen stood behind Youka and watched for further occurances with doubt all over their faces.

He knew very well that no matter where he ran, the nyosen, Sanshi and Gouran would most certainly try to catch him. However, he still had to go.

Sanshi leapt and landed in front of the fleeing child. In no way could she let Taiki go to the Yellow Sea at night.

Because of the effects of Risai's injuries as well as Gouran's own blood-soaked nature, Taiki had slept deeply for a while. He had finally recovered his energy with some difficulty and was now able to walk around outside. Where there was no strength, there was then no energy. If he encountered a youma now, Taiki did not even have the power now to subdue it.

When their master's strength is weak, the strength of shirei will also become weak. No matter if it's Sanshi or Gouran, their link to Taiki was already inseparable. Besides the smaller youma, if Taiki encountered a youma that was like Gouran, there would be no escaping from it.

Carrying a mortal determination, she held onto the running Taiki's body, hoping to stop him. "Taiki!"

--He surprisingly eluded Sanshi's obstruction.

Sanshi sprung through the air and looked dully at her own hands. She thought that she had grabbed onto Taiki.

Though she felt a little taken aback, she immediately turned around and reached out for another attempt. She looked at the hand that she thought had gotten a hold of Taiki, but again she was denied success. All the child was doing was running around erratically, hiding here and there, so why couldn't she catch him no matter what she did?

--It's just like the last time! Sanshi suddenly widened her eyes.

This was exactly the same as before during the taming of Gouran. It was as if someone had cursed her. She couldn't get a hold of him regardless of what she tried.

--Why?

Though he was beginning to open his eyes to the powers he possessed, he was still only a small and weak kirin.

"Gouran!" Hearing Sanshi's voice, a beast leapt out from the shadow of a crag and blocked Taiki's path. No one knew what sort of magic Taiki used, but he unexpectedly traded places with the beast that had been blocking him.

Sanshi again leapt through the air and landed in front of the boy, but just as she prepared to stop him, he avoided her. With some effort, she managed to grab onto his wrist, though he almost shook her off. After some tossing about, Sanshi finally took hold of his sleepwear.

"Please, Taiki. The night..." Before Sanshi could finish speaking, the nyosen who were rushing up behind her stopped running and couldn't help but gape.

The pajamas in Sanshi's hand lost the tightness it had from being pulled about, and fluttered around lightly as it laid in her hand.

"Ah..." Sanshi involuntarily let out a cry of surprise and heard the nyosen make similar sounds. Then, following the lines of sight of the nyosen, she lifted her head.

In the moonlit night, the rocks were black, as were the shadows. Along the lines of the ridge that made the crags distinct, there was an indistinct silver shape. What the group of people saw was a glowing beast galloping through the night sky.

"Taiki..."

His short mane was the color of steel. The black fur on his back was interwoven with the colors of silver and mica, and his head and hooves were jet black. On his forehead was a short horn of pearl.

--I must catch up to him.

Sanshi held on to the pajamas in her hand tightly.

However, in this world, one could not find a creature that was able to catch up to a kirin at full gallop.
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All Taiki could think about was running.

After he had evaded Gouran and shaken off Sanshi's hand, when he began to run, he suddenly felt his body grow much lighter. Having obtained this ability, he ran forward even more quickly. When he realized what he was doing, he had already sped up into the sky.

After a few steps, Taiki discovered that he had transformed. Looking back, he saw only Rosen Palace far behind him.

Taiki did not feel any unease or pain. In his mind, he thought only of running forward, and his four legs shot him ahead.

After another few steps, he had arrived at Hoto Palace. The fires of the torches that the mountain-climbers had lit, left a trail that was dim and far away.

- - - - -

The first to notice him was the sugu.

Gyousou looked at his own mount. He was just planning on taking advantage of the moonlight to start hunting. He suddenly stopped preparing the saddle.

"What is it?"

The sugu looked up into a corner of the sky and called out deeply from his throat. At first, Gyousou thought it was a night attack by youma. However, the sugu did not appear to be nervous at all.

He squinted, following the sugu's line of sight, and immediately spotted what the sugu was seeing. Backed by the moonlight, there was a beast that could only be described as graceful, galloping towards him.

--A black kirin!

Just as Gyousou felt like exclaiming, a lingering feeling floated back into his mind. It was because he could not allow himself to feel such attachment to Taiki that he chose to leave the mountain early.

The others who had not yet fallen asleep lifted their heads and looked up into the sky in the same way. And as if they had previously arranged it, they let out a cry of surprise. The kirin's tail was reminiscent of fireflies, giving off a glow. He finally stopped on top of a rock from which he could overlook the encampment.

The area was a depression surrounded by bushes and rocks, in which there were tents, mounts, as well as people staring dumbfoundedly into the sky and standing in the middle of five lit torches.

"What a...magnificent kirin." The first to speak was Gyousou. He smiled as he spoke, putting the saddle down on the ground. "What is it, Kou? Have you come especially to see us off?"

Taiki hesitated a little before finally deciding to walk down off the crag to stand in the depression. He knew that he was stepping towards a criminal act.

"From appearances, it looks like you can already transform. I am very happy for you. It really is an unexpected honor to have this rare opportunity to see such a unique sight. It is hard to imagine that this is the Kou."

Taiki had no way of responding.

"Though you already have shirei now, it is still a bit careless. You should hurry and return to the palace." Seeing that Taiki was not going to move, Gyousou took a robe out from his bags. "Or is it that...you have come to see me about something?"

Gyousou spread the robe out and draped it over Taiki's body, who had then undone his beast form. It wasn't clear how he knew how to recover his human form. In reality, it was as if he didn't put any effort into changing back. There was only the sudden feeling that his body had become heavier.

He looked up at Gyousou, who had laid a robe around him. The two looked at each other and Taiki saw only warmth in Gyousou's eyes. They was nothing the least bit frightening about them.

--The fear was within himself. Did he really know what he was doing?

"Sir Gyousou..."

(There was clearly no revelation...)

However, there was no better way than this. Taiki knelt down in submission and Gyousou widened his eyes. "Kou...?"

Taiki bowed his head down low. He was laying prostrate as if he was asking Gyousou to forgive him.

"I will never abandon you...never disobey your royal command...and I pledge my loyalty to you." He had violated the Providence of the Heavens and betrayed the nyosen, the ruler, as well as everyone else. "This I vow."

(How could I possibly do this...?)

Gyousou was silent for a moment.

With Gyousou's eyes upon him, Taiki felt so bad that he was not able to breathe.

It was not too late now to turn back! Just as Taiki thought this, a calm voice came from above his head. "I accept."

It was no longer possible to take it back now. Taiki simply lowered his head further. To be in this position was hard to endure.

What a betrayal! For all those who had up until now shown him that much love and concern, for the kingdom, its ruler and its people, and even for Gyousou, it was all a deception for which there was no way out.

Taiki pressed his forehead upon Gyousou's feet. His body was now pierced with the feeling of having committed a crime, and he all he could see in front of him was darkness.

--I want to take it back.

This is all a lie, he nearly shouted. He felt an unreal sense of drifting away, and he stopped himself from almost crying out.

Gyousou helped Taiki get up. Taiki looked at Gyousou in surprise, for the latter had revealed a smiling face.

"Let us forgo formalities... Taiki!"

Taiki didn't know how to respond. The surroundings were stirred up into a commotion. Gyousou picked Taiki up and turned in a circle, letting everyone take a look at him. As if there was nothing else in the world worth feeling pride over than the kirin in his arms, he smiled at Taiki. "Though you are young, you have quite a good eye for things."

Taiki could no longer withstand Gyousou's direct gaze, and by accident his eyes fell upon the arrival of the pursuing Sanshi.



(End of Chapter 10)
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Chapter 11

--So it turns out that he was the king.

When Sanshi saw Taiki pressing his head near Gyousou's feet, she came to that sudden realization. It was very clear to her that Taiki had felt a sort of fear of Gyousou that he couldn't quite put into words.

Taiki was now already really used to spending time with Gyousou, and he had never originally been the kind that was shy to strangers, so it didn't seem as though this was special. In terms of friendship, it was obvious that he was closer to Risai than Gyousou by far. Thus, that's why the fact that Taiki had been so insistent about going to find Gyousou had quite perplexed Sanshi.

She had followed the spirit of Taiki (in Sanshi's eyes, it was always a golden glow) and chased him to the Yellow Sea, with one part of her mind in doubt.

Why couldn't she catch the running Taiki? Why had Taiki suddenly transformed into a kirin?

Perhaps "will" was the best explanation. The will of Taiki, who had wanted to see Gyousou with all his heart, allowed him to remove with determination any obstructions that hampered him.

--Was it that Taiki had previously subconsciously hesitated in trying to avoid Sanshi's grasp, and so the transformation that had up until today been impossible became possible?

The question was, why was it only when Gyousou was involved that Taiki finally revealed an intense will that didn't quite fit with him?

The feeling that Taiki's appearance gave other people was just like that of a weak, passive kirin. But because of an unknown reason, Taiki had very little confidence in himself. At times, his excessive modesty, on the contrary, let others feel like it was self-loathing.

When a kirin with this sort of personality displays their strong will, they will always be paired with someone like Gyousou. To Sanshi, Taiki's safety was paramount, regardless of the meaning behind the awakening of Taiki's willpower, his evasion of Sanshi's hand, his subduing of a toutetsu into becoming a shirei, and even the first time he transformed.

There had been no way for Sanshi to clearly see from beginning to end the reasons behind everything that had happened. Perhaps the power that Taiki possessed could not be seen, or there were other, better explanations for this.

She needed only to hide herself in order to more easily attach herself to Taiki's shadow. Wherever he went, she would follow him. Only when she had to stop Taiki would she then appear. Sanshi carried within herself a relentless spirit and leapt across the crags with Gouran. It was not an easy thing to catch up to her master amid the foothills of Mt. Hou.

It wasn't until she saw the scene before her eyes that she completely understood.

--Taiki must have acted in desperation.

He may not have had such deep thoughts and emotions, but being pulled along by a great power that far surpassed his own abilities, Taiki desperately wanted to do what he had set out to do. --It was all because Gyousou was the king.

Sanshi walked into the basin, and Taiki turned to look at her. His face was full of a fear that he couldn't help but show. She smiled at Taiki, and then she made her own body melt into Taiki's shadow.

If Gyousou was the king, why did Taiki still reveal a fearful expression? Why did it take so long before he knew that Gyousou was the king? She was full of questions, but since she had already caught up to Taiki, Sanshi didn't insist on the answers to any of them. This was because, for Sanshi, there was nothing as important as Taiki in this world.

- - - - -

Gyousou and those with him returned to Mt. Hou and saw the pale-faced nyosen gathered in front of Hoto Palace.

"Taiki...! Everyone was worried to death!"

Seeing Gyousou carrying Taiki down from Keito, Youka immediately rushed forward. "What on earth happened? Why has Sir Gyousou also returned...?"

Gyousou smiled without replying. The servants at Gyousou's side came together to respond in his place. "The Kou came to chase back his master!"

The crowd that had gathered around Hoto Palace began to discuss this one after another, in the end it became a collective cheering.

Youka saw Gyousou smiling from ear to ear and also Taiki, whom Gyousou had brought back, showing a fearful expression.

"His master... Then..." Youka kneeled upon the ground. "Can it be that there was a revelation?"

Taiki couldn't answer her. The attendants beside them made sounds of certainty for him. Following this, they heard even more convincing news.

"He has already given the oath." This was Sanshi's voice.

Youka opened her mouth in surprise. She widened her eyes and looked at Teiei. Teiei nodded with a serious face, and then immediately knelt down. She placed her hands on the ground, and her torso lay prostrate; the surrounding nyosen saw this and followed in succession. "Congratulations, Lord Gyousou."

The man whose hand was upon Taiki's shoulder smiled and nodded.

Not moving from the position she was in, Teiei continued on to say, with a slight quiver in her voice, "Long live King Tai and Tai Taiho."

--At this point, Taiki's crime had already become irreversible.
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Gyousou's master and servant residences were very quickly moved into Houro Palace. Gyousou stayed at Tankei Palace, which was situated closer to the outside.

The area that Houro Palace occupies is very broad. Since ancient times, it has always been here that an auspicious day is chosen on which to receive the Tenchoku.

From now on, the manner in which the nyosen treated Gyousou underwent a complete change. He is considered the superior of the nyosen, as well as Taiki's master. There was no excuse to be inhospitable to him.

A great number of nyosen were dispatched to Tankei Palace in order to serve Gyousou and his attendants. They took care of each and every need of their daily life, from when they got out of bed until they went to sleep. It was simply a dramatic change.

Not long ago, when Gyousou encountered the nyosen, he had to bow. Now, the roles were reversed. The nyosen had to give Gyousou complete courtesy. It was no longer necessary for Gyousou to pay any sort of respect to any of the nyosen; the same applied even if it was the Mt. Hou Kou. At present, if he stepped outside of Houro Palace, a person who had been his friend of the same generation yesterday, today would have to prostrate themselves in respect.

--Gyousou sat at a supreme status.

- - - - -

"Congratulations, your majesty." A few days before the chosen auspicious day, Risai had finally come to offer him praise.

"Are you able to get out of bed and walk about now?"

"I am very sorry to have worried you, my lord." Risai bowed and lowered her head, and then faced Taiki. "Congratulations, Taiho."

"Thank you..." Taiki showed a lack of energy, which caused Risai to feel a bit astonished.

"Forgive my rudeness, but might I ask if all is well with the Taiho?"

The child uneasily forced out a sliver of a smile. "Everything's fine... It's just that being called Taiho is a little strange..."

Risai laughed. "I believe that you will become accustomed to it very quickly."

"Yes..."

Risai smiled at the slightly troubled Taiki and then looked up at Gyousou. "Actually, besides coming especially to congratulate you, I have also come to bid you farewell."

Gyousou furrowed his brow. "Are you leaving the mountain?"

"Yes. On the one hand, I feel as if it is time I should be returning, so I will descend the mountain with those who are leaving tomorrow."

Gyousou nodded. "That's good. You must take good care of yourself. When the time comes, we will meet again in Tai Kingdom."

"Yes. Thank you for your grace."

- - - - -

After the brief meeting, seeing Risai getting ready to leave Tankei Palace, Taiki turned to Gyousou and asked, "Can I see Madam Risai off?"

Gyousou smiled.

"Go ahead." Just as he finished speaking, Gyousou suddenly raised his hand. "Ah, Risai."

"Yes?"

"The Kingun is short one general. What do you think?"

Facing Gyousou's invitation, Risai smiled calmly. "I believe that there must be other candidates more suited to this position than I. Compared to the merits and character of each general, I am lacking by far. I believe that there are more appropriate candidates that my lord should be able to promote."

"I understand." Gyousou smiled just slightly, and with his eyes, he indicated that Risai could depart.

After Risai took a bow and exited the palace, Taiki went after her and caught up with her.
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"Madam Risai, don't you want to be a general of the Kingun?" Taiki walked with Risai upon the narrow paths amid the strange crags.

"It is not that I do not want to. I just believe that there should be other candidates who are better than I am. I would like to give the position up to an even more exceptional person."

"Madam Risai, you really are great," Taiki mumbled to himself.

Risai saw that Taiki's face was full of worry and asked with concern, "You seem to be very weary. Is there something on your mind?"

"No."

No matter how she looked at it, it didn't seem as if nothing was wrong.

"Is there something bothering you?" asked Risai once more. Taiki lifted his head and looked at Risai.

"Madam Risai, since Gyousou has turned out to be the king, are you happy?"

Risai blinked her eyes and understood what was troubling Taiki. "Of course I am happy. Do you remember? I had said to you before that Sir Gyousou would certainly make an excellent king..."

"Of course I remember."

"If it had not been Sir Gyousou, and instead been I who was chosen, I do not think that even I could have convinced myself of the fact. To become the ruler of one's own kingdom, you need to have the admiration of the people, as well as their whole-hearted respect. That is what a truly good leader is. You have made the right choice. For that, I thank you."

Taiki wanted to smile, but he couldn't.

"Kou, do not think about it too much. The ruler is decided by the Heavens."

Risai's words of comfort were like a sharp pain stabbing into his heart.

- - - - -

"Taiho, why do you look so unhappy?" asked Gyousou, after he saw Taiki coming back into the palace, having seen Risai off.

"It's nothing."

"It seemed like Risai also felt uncertain... Every time I look at you, I feel as if I had kidnapped you."

"No..."

Youka, who had been at the side holding back, smiled. "However, when the Taiho has to leave Mt. Hou, it will become very lonely here, like when he was still very little, he was initially in Hourai. Then, it wasn't easy to get used to life over here, and now he has to depart again."

Gyousou nodded. But Youka's words shook Taiki's heart. He hadn't even thought of the day he had to leave Mt. Hou and the nyosen. Gyousou beckoned to Taiki.

"...When you were in Hourai, what was your name?" Taiki hesitantly walked to Gyousou's side. Gyousou laughed, "Everyone calls you Taiho. I fear that asking you to shoulder this great responsibility in such a short time might be overwhelming. Come, tell me your name."

"...Takasato Kaname."

On the palm of his hand, he wrote out the characters of his name. Gyousou laughed. “A very good name. You are literally ‘important’ to Tai Kingdom.” [note: the character for kaname can mean ‘important.’]

Taiki shut his eyes.

"Your surname is very interesting. Did you know that there is also a peak on Mt. Hou called Kouri?" [note: takasato and kouri are written with similar characters.]

"No."

"It is said that the souls of the dead will return to this place. If you add a grass radical to the 'kou' character, then it is the name of the mountain where the dead reside. The omen would sooner be good than unlucky."

"The dead..."

To the murmuring Taiki, Gyousou nodded his head. "The shiki has finally turned into seiki; and dead things are finally returning to living things. Kouri, I hope in regards to Tai Kingdom, brings a promise of a return to life."

Taiki lowered his head in silence.

For someone who had committed a crime, this was simply a torment that never stopped. However, he could not find any ways by which he could sufficiently make it up.
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The auspicious day had finally arrived.

Youka was wearing all black when she came to receive the fully-bathed Taiki, who was wearing his ceremonial attire.

In good times, black is worn; in times of misfortune, white is worn. Taiki was very clear on the fact that these customs were completely opposite to those in Hourai, but in his guilt-ridden heart, he saw the black clothes of the nyosen as if they were suggesting something.

--He didn't feel this was lucky at all.

Youka lay flat on the floor and paid her proper respects. "Tai Taiho, the auspicious time has arrived."

"All right..." For Taiki, this felt like he was about to participate in a funeral procession.

A worried Youka looked up and asked, "What's wrong? Did you not sleep well yesterday?"

Taiki was unable to respond. He hadn't slept at all.

In a moment, he was about to climb to the summit of Mt. Hou with Gyousou. After waiting there and receiving the Tenchoku, Gyousou would formally become king with the approval of the Heavens.

...It's certain that he'll be found out to be a fraud.

Taiki wasn't clear on how the ceremony would proceed. He just knew that the Heavens would certainly not forgive him for the crime he had committed.

Later, it would be charged that Gyousou was not the king, and Taiki would be censured because he had falsely sworn an oath to Gyousou that made him the king.

He could not imagine what kind of punishment awaited him, but this was all Taiki's fault; none of the blame lay on Gyousou. At the right time, he planned to accept responsibility for all of his transgressions. It was not necessary for receive a condemnation.

With his brain full of such thoughts, there was definitely no way for him to fall asleep.

Youka looked intently at Taiki and reached her hands out while she knelt upon the floor. Taiki silently walked to Youka's side.

Youka gently rubbed Taiki's hair. "It's still too short..."

"Is it?"

"Yes. Don't think that us nyosen didn't notice. It's not easy to change into such a beautiful kirin. It's too bad your mane isn't long enough..."

Taiki comprehended that Youka was referring to his transformation, and couldn't help but nod. "Did you see it clearly?"

The night of the transformation he hadn't thought to give the nyosen a good look at him--whether it was the nyosen or he himself, they had both once anticipated his change.

"Yes. I was very happy." Youka carefully stroked Taiki's hair. "Lord Gyousou i
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Taiki was brought to Untei Palace on the south side of Houro Palace, situated at the base of a cliff.

Inside the palace, there was a great crimson gate. When he had nothing to do, Taiki would often walk to various palaces and look around. He remembered that when he had previously seen the gate open, there was a green cliff wall behind it. Now, in place of the wall, there appeared a set of steps.

The steps looked as if they were made out of crystal, and a light passed through from beneath them, brightening up its surroundings. On top of the unusual steps, a white bird that resembled a crow waited for Gyousou and Taiki's arrival.

The nyosen were prostrated and spread out in a row. Gyokuyou bowed deeply towards Gyousou and Taiki as they proceeded to the gate.

"Long live the King and the Taiho."

Gyousou and Taiki returned the bow.

At the white bird's urging, Gyousou took one step up and immediately his back became rigid. In that moment, Taiki was so frightened that the blood left his face, thinking that Gyousou had actually received a punishment. He held his breath and watched for something else to happen. He discovered that nothing unusual occurred. Gyousou continued up the stairs.

It wasn't until Taiki took the first step that he understood why Gyousou's body had suddenly stiffened up.

--It felt like an electrical current passing through.

A stream coursed from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head, and deeply imprinted itself in Taiki's mind:

"It has been said that in the Beginning, there were Nine States and Four Barbarians.

"The Common People did not know of Order. The Son of Heaven knew of Order, but ridiculed it and did not honor it. He spurned the Will of Heaven and Earth, neglected the Way of Benevolence, and exceedingly disregarded Law and Discipline. Every time Smoke took to the Wind, the Ravages of War spread for Thousands of Miles and the Four Corners of the World were covered in Ash. Men and Horses were lost and the Flow of Blood carved out Rivers.

"At this, Tentei felt Sorrow, as He could not find the Way to a Solution and lead them to Order. The People indulged in Obscene Voices and enjoyed themselves selfishly.

"Tentei lamented and sent down a Resolution: I will now completely destroy the Nine States and Four Barbarians, and return to the Past of the Creator. After the Creation of the World, there will be Order. After the Beginning of Things, there will be Law and Discipline."

It was as if someone was guiding him, and he took another step up.

"Tentei created Thirteen Kingdoms. The Kingdom in the Center was the Yellow Sea and Mt. Hou, and He asked Oubo to protect this Place.

"The Remaining Twelve Kingdoms, He distributed to Rulers, and to each, He bestowed Branches which were the Foundations of Kingdoms.

"Upon the Branch, there was a Snake that held up the Sky.

"Upon the Branch, there were Three Fruit. One Fruit fell and formed the Throne. One Fruit fell and formed the Land. One Fruit fell and formed the People.

"The Branch then transformed into a Jade Brush. This was the Creation."

There was no time to consider the meaning of these things.

"There is One Fundamental Principle. The World must be governed with the Way of Benevolence.

"The People must not be oppressed, War must not be waged, the Taxes must not be severe, nor must the Laws. The People must not be sacrificed, the People must not be enslaved, the Public Land must not be appropriated. The Violation of these is Inexcusable. Follow the Way, and Respect the Virtue. The Peace and Health of the People are the Fortunes of a Kingdom."

With every step he took, more information was written.

"This is no more than: The Duty of the Son of Heaven. The Duty of the Prime Minister. The Formation of the World, the Formation of the Kingdoms, the Formation of the System. What the Way of Benevolence is, what the Rituals are. What must be done, what must not be done. What must be established, what must not be established."

He walked up the stairs as if he were attached to them, and when he came back to his senses, Taiki appeared under the light of the sun. He immediately heard the sound of the red gate closing behind them. The two were already standing at the top of the steps. The eyes of the white bird that was watching them sparkled in the sunlight.

Just as the closing of the door made that faint sound, Taiki recovered his ability to hear.

At first, the sound of waves came to his ear. He hastily looked around him, and what unfolded in front of his eyes, as soon as he looked, was an endless ocean.

"A sea of clouds..." It wasn't until now that Taiki understood. The sea of clouds in the sky separated the heavens from the world.

Behind Taiki on the small island where he was, there stood a small shrine. The red door of the shrine closed quietly. In front of Taiki were stone steps that led to a grand temple. Around the island, he could vaguely see small islands in the distance that looked like unmoving lotus flowers in the midst of turbulent seas.

He somehow knew then how to proceed. He entered the temple and lit incense for Seioubo and Tentei. Gyousou vowed to obey the Way and follow the Virtue. After this, Genbu appeared and guided them across the sea of clouds to Hakkei Palace in Kouki, the capital of Tai Kingdom.

Taiki was stunned. He knew that his face was most certainly pale.

--It was already over.

Taiki had thought that some sort of ceremony would be held and that his lie would be exposed, whereby he would be punished. He assumed that no matter what form it took, there would have been an opportunity for him to admit his wrongdoing. He hadn't imagined that there would not be one.

It had been the climb up the transparent steps and the comprehension of Tentei's ideas and meanings that was the so-called reception of the Tenchoku.

Now, Taiki felt that his crime had become more serious. He had not had an opportunity to make up for his mistake. On the other hand, Taiki understood the significance of the ruler.

His duties were extremely important. A ruler didn't just govern the kingdom; he existed to protect the kingdom. The ruler had to keep his kingdom's Onmyou in balance and judge the Hakke. The ruler's conduct and behavior will influence the direction of his kingdom's destiny.

Taiki looked up at his master, who was gazing silently and thoughtfully at the sea of clouds.

The ruler's very existence protected the kingdom and allowed the people to live peacefully.

Taiki suddenly became dizzy.

--Under this false king's rule, what course will the destiny of Tai Kingdom take?
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Taiki's chest flooded with regret and despair as he watched Gyousou swear the oath.

--At that exact same time...

Tai Kingdom is located in the northeast part of the world. In its capital on the top of Kouki Mountain, there stood Hakkei Palace. Within the palace, Nisei Palace resided, from which a sound flowed out.

Nisei Palace is a small palace, in which the master of that palace lived with ten attendants who saw to the daily life of the master.

Inside Nisei Palace, a resounding call suddenly rang out. This sound came from the palace master: a Hakuchi, a White Pheasant.

"The White Pheasant has called out!" One of the attendants was full of joy, as he shouted while he ran outside of the palace. "It has made the First Sound!"

The attendant's voice reached everywhere and caused a great commotion. Before long, the entire royal palace was cheering.

In the White Pheasant's life, it only calls out twice, and these two sounds represent two different meanings. Because of this, the White Pheasant is also called Nisei, Two-Sounds.

The first time he cries out is called the "First Sound," and the second time is called the "Second Sound." A White Pheasant that finishes its second call immediately dies on the spot; thus, the Second Sound is also called the "Ending Sound."

The First Sound is "Sokui," ascension to the throne. The Second Sound is "Hougyo," the death of the ruler. The White Pheasant's entire life is for the sake of making these two calls.

The White Pheasant of Hakkei Palace was born ten years ago. Until today, it had not yet cried out.

--That is to say, this was its First Sound.

"The White Pheasant has called out! It has made the First Sound!"

The sound passed from the living quarters of the Inner Halls all the way to the governing offices of the Outer Halls. There wasn't a place where there were not continuous sounds of joy.

"King Tai has ascended to the throne!"

- - - - -

At the same time, in Gyouten, the capital city of the eastern Kei Kingdom, its own royal palace, Kinpa Palace also received the news.

"Open the door, Godou Palace!"

Hearing this, Keiki lifted his head up.

While laying on the floor, Keiki turned his head; Queen Kei, who had originally been listening to Keiki giving her the reports of the Rokkan, the Six Ministers, also looked up in curiosity.

A lady-in-waiting anxiously opened the window.

In an instant, a bird flew in from the window and rested on a gold-colored branch that was originally in the room already.

"The White Pheasant has called out!"

The master of Gudou Palace was a Hou, a Male Phoenix. Both a Hou and an Ou, a Female Phoenix, lived in Gudou Palace. The Hou could communicate with the Hou of other kingdoms, and the Ou called out when something important happened in another kingdom.

The Ou shouted loudly, "The First Sound has occurred in Tai Kingdom. King Tai has ascended to the throne."

Keiki held a steady gaze at the Ou, and the faintest smile rose to his face.

Queen Kei Jokaku saw the kirin of her kingdom reveal a smile that was hard to come by and was immediately dumbfounded.

- - - - -

It was after these things happened that Youka looked up into the sky while she was standing in the small paths in Houro Palace.

In the clear blue sky, looking from the summit of Mt. Hou to the northeast, she could see a line of auspicious clouds. It's just that Youka didn't know that that was actually the trail left behind by Genbu's flight across the sea of clouds.

Youka gazed at the clouds, lost in thought, while the few nyosen at her side did the same and watched the sky.

"Taiki..." She had never thought that that beloved child would leave them so soon.

That the festival was so short was a little regrettable, as the lonely seasons were coming to Mt. Hou.

--It could be a very long time until the next fruit of the kirin developed.
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Chapter 12

The Kingdom of Tai is located in the northeast. Its capital is Kouki. Only a day and a night had passed when Genbu arrived at the top of Kouki Mountain, which rose high into the sky.

Genbu was actually a giant turtle about the size of a small island. Before Gyousou and Taiki left the temple, he had waited in the sea of clouds. He motioned to the master and servant to climb onto his shell by way of his head, which was resting on the shore and looked like a great crag. His shell felt like stone and was covered with countless rocky protrusions. He felt a lot like Mt. Hou. It was not known where Genbu came from. His neck and shell were not the slightest bit damp. In the middle of the shell, there was a very small palace hall. There was no one inside, as if it was there for a night's stay and rest.

In the journey of this turtle--it wouldn't be right it a boat--Hakkei Palace, the royal palace of Tai Kingdom had already begun preparing various items for the welcome of the king.

Taiki stood in the front part of the shell, and the first thing that entered his view was a steeply shaped small island. As they became closer, he discovered that on the horseshoe shaped island, along the bay, there were an unclear number of towering buildings.

The walls and the pillars and railings were all white. The blue of the roof was deeper than that of Houro Palace. The winds around the inlet were still and tranquil. The images reflecting off of the surface of the water looked from the air like a beautiful painting.

"That is Hakkei Palace. It is beautiful, is it not?"

A little lost in thought, Taiki nodded at the sound of Gyousou's voice.

"Those are the Outer Halls of the government. The ones on the other side should be the Inner Halls." Gyousou raised his hand and gestured.

"Kouri, when the time comes, you will live in Jinju Hall. It is over there." Gyousou pointed at a structure by the water.

"I'm living there too? Don't I serve you?"

"Yes, Kouri. Although it can be said that you are a minister, you are not like the other ministers. If we were to use a boat as an analogy for the kingdom, the ruler is the sail and the kirin is the anchor. One cannot be without the other."

"Yes..."

Genbu finally arrived at the inlet. A countless number of flags had been placed all around the royal palace. A great number of people were arranged neatly in front of the big structure, all prostrating on the ground. For the second time, Genbu rested his head on the shore to let the two disembark.

Passing through the prostrated crowd, the two people proceeded towards the palace in the front. They received the congratulations of the group of people, however Taiki was in a state of dismay.

Whether if it was those who knelt before him or those who served him, he had long gotten used to it. He was already accustomed to a life of luxury. The standard of the things prepared in the royal palace were far from that of Houro Palace.

He wanted badly to call Sanshi to come out and hold his hand. But Youka had already told him time and time again that when he chose a ruler and left the mountain for his home kingdom, he would be considered an adult. Sanshi no longer performed the role of his wet nurse, but that of a shirei. A shirei could not be called out in the midst of a crowd as he pleased.

Thus, only after an entire day of ceremony ended and after he returned to his room and let the curtains above his bed down was he able to really relax.

"Sanshi..."

Eight attendants lived in the room next door and satisfied Taiki's requests as necessary. So, he quietly called out Sanshi's name.

"Is everything all right?"

Every time Sanshi would immediately appear in front of Taiki, yet this time, he heard only her voice, but he didn't see her.

"Sanshi."

"You are already an adult. I cannot appear whenever you call me."

"You can't?" Taiki sat on a big blanket, though the blankets at Rosen Palace were much bigger than this.

"Although you cannot see me, I will always be by your side."

"But..."

"Goodnight."

Since this was all Sanshi said, there was nothing for Taiki to do but to lay down obediently, but he wasn't tired at all.

Suddenly, he smiled. He could feel two hands reach out from under the bedding with his fingers. He knew those were Sanshi's hands.

Sanshi's hands tightly held Taiki's hands

"...Goodnight."

"Hnn."

It was very hard for him to calmly close his eyes. He slept very shallowly. Even the dream he had was very clear in Taiki's mind. It had been a nightmare.
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When a kirin arrived in his native kingdom, he assisted the ruler in governmental affairs in his position as Saiho. It didn't matter how old or young he was, the kirin could not avoid the responsibility he was born into.

Taiki had to begin playing the role of Saiho.

When the time came, he had to get out of bed and put on clothes that conformed with the protocol of his position; when the time came, he had to go to the Outer Halls and attend the Morning Council. After that, it was necessary for him to be present at the king's side and assist in government. For the time being, he could only sit at one side and listen, because that was the kirin's responsibility and duty.

After midday had passed and the afternoon's work was finished, the king would retire to his quarters. The Saiho could then also retire to his own room, but until Gyousou went to bed, he did not leave his side.

Currently, Gyousou's first order of business was to prepare for his own coronation ceremony.

On another side, he also had to formulate a new organization. Of the things that the previous king had left behind, the things that should be kept will be kept, and the things that should be discarded will be discarded. Other things like the appointments and dismissals of the ministers and the modifications of law are also quite important issues.

"How do you want to address the Daishi's complaints?"

Gyousou laid on a couch in his room as he looked over official documents. Taiki sat on the floor nearby.

"Pay no attention to him."

It was because the previous king was excessively extravagant that he eventually lost his way. Gyousou understood that for this reason, he had to reduce the number of those who served him to as few as possible. As a result, many attendants and court ladies did not have much to do. Even the palace halls not frequently used were locked up.

The Daishi was the head of the palace musicians. He complained that the king had dismissed too many musicians.

"I am a military man after all. I will simply tell him that I do not understand music."

"...But, it will also be difficult for those people who were dismissed..."

"Do you know how many musicians the previous king left behind?"

Taiki shook his head. "No."

"I do not know either. However, I am certain the number is extraordinarily high. It seemed like every time I went into the Inner Halls, a different piece of music would rise out of each palace hall. Also, there was never a break in the music over the course of an entire day. The musicians would play, regardless of whether or not the king was in the Inner Halls or not. We could even hear the music during the Morning Council."

"Is that so...?"

"The talented musicians in the palace should have no trouble finding other employment. We will keep a few of the best musicians here. After all, when there are guests visiting, we will want some music as to not be too improper."

"The Daishi says that there are too few musicians to perform at the coronation."

"It does not matter. In any case, Tai Kingdom is not extraordinarily wealthy."

"The Spring Minister also says that it is the coronation of the king after all. The production standards cannot be too low."

The Shunkanchou, the Spring Minister, was one of the Six Ministers. He oversaw ritual and ceremony.

"If people feel that it's inadequate, then we will let them. They are only those who put on airs. The previous king was wasteful. The treasury of the kingdom is empty. The warehouses are full of debt contracts."

"Yes..."

Taiki was young and did not yet understand the infrastructure of government, much less the arrangement of adult society. The current situation in Tai Kingdom was not very optimistic.

Contrary to what was going on, in regard to the ins and outs of the high officials in the Inner Halls, Gyousou didn't actually require Taiki's suggestions--Taiki himself was very clear on this.

"Do we need to find a completely new, suitable candidate for the position of Spring Minister?" Gyousou mumbled to himself as he glanced over official documents. Taiki watched him. "Because the previous king liked extravagant ceremonies, I worry that the current Spring Minister also favors an excessive style."

"...But, I don't think we need to replace him so quickly..."

Gyousou looked at Taiki and smiled. "You have a point. For the time being, we'll first observe the Spring Minister's performance."

Taiki lowered his head. Seeing Gyousou's smile, Taiki knew that it meant he had given in to Taiki.

"...I'm sorry. I've said too much..."

"There is no such thing. I should thank you for your questions, Taiki. They help me calm my mind."

Taiki knew that Gyousou was just saying these things to comfort him. "...I'm sorry..."

Seeing Taiki hanging his head, Gyousou stood up. "Kouri... What are you worrying about? Can you tell me?"

Hearing Gyousou ask this, Taiki hurriedly shook his head. "It's nothing."

Gyousou put down the documents he had been glancing over and suddenly embraced Taiki. "Is it that...you long for Mt. Hou?"

"That's not it..."

"If you miss the nyosen, just tell me. You are a little bit too polite."

"I don't..."

"Then...what is the reason you are so miserable? You do not have to say that it is nothing. You are still young. It is not necessary to force yourself to do this."

Taiki didn't know how to reply to this.

"When the coronation ceremony is over, I will send you immediately to Kei Kingdom, so that you can visit with Kei Taiho."

"That's not the reason either..."

"Or do you think that I am incompetent? That it makes you so uncomfortable to have given the kingdom to me?"

Taiki shook his head, even though that was not necessarily untrue. He felt as though it was his duty to watch over Gyousou. He didn't let Gyousou out of his sight for even a moment. It wasn't because he didn't trust in Gyousou's character; it was just that he was worried Gyousou might accidentally make an error in judgement.

--After all, there had been no revelation for Gyousou.

Gyousou looked at the child in his arms and saw a severe look on his face. In his mind, he secretly knit his brow.

What was it that was bothering Taiki so much? It did not seem as simple as that he just missed the nyosen. Or was it that he had suddenly taken on such a great responsibility? Or... When he thought back on it, after he had met Taiki for the first time at Mt. Hou, he wasn't sure if he was just being overly suspicious, but it seemed as if Taiki had become more and more anxious as the days passed by.

Gyousou set Taiki back on the floor.

"In conclusion, I would like you to rest thoroughly. There is no reason for you to accompany me until late at night."

"It's all right."

"I do not think it is all right. Do you realize how unhealthy your color is?"

"No... I..."

Gyousou placed his hand on the apprehensive child's head. "This is a command. Today, you may go back to your palace. For now, I am allowing that you do not need to leave your palace until the afternoon."

"Your majesty..."

"I promise you that before I make any sort of decision, I will discuss it with you first. Thus, for the time being, rest up a bit. Your response?"

Taiki looked at the floor. "Yes..."
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Besides assisting the king, the Saiho's responsibility included another duty, which was that of the Shukou of Zui Province.

Jinju Hall was were Taiki lived, but at the same time, it was the seat of government for Zui Province. Ordinarily, he would use the short period of time in the afternoon to handle the affairs of government. Though this was the case, a kirin was part of the king's division, so in reality, the rule of Zui Province was still under the control of the king.

Now, after receiving the Tenchoku, he knew just the slightest bit about governing a kingdom, but other than that, most of the time, he actually understood very little about what was said. In fact, his handling of government affairs only involved him listening silently to the reports of the officials and asking questions about things he didn't understand. He spent a majority of his time in study.

When Gyousou had time, he would visit Jinju Hall. Occasionally, he would interrupt and say something or he would watch Taiki from the side. Afterwards, when Gyousou returned to the Inner Halls in order to continue his own work, he would steadfastly prevent Taiki from following him back. At this, having no alternative, Taiki would then spend much of the afternoon in his own palace hall idling.

At first, there were eight people here attending to Taiki. After the drastic reduction in personnel, there were left only two. Considering that in the past, Taiki had spent most of his time with nyosen, the remaining two were both court ladies. This point was probably Gyousou's meticulous arrangement. For dinner, Gyousou did not forget to find Taiki to eat with, which also showed that Gyousou was thinking of Taiki.

Taiki took everything that Gyousou did to heart. On the other hand, Taiki felt even more like he couldn't take it easy.

The better Gyousou treated Taiki, the more Taiki felt like he was being forced into a corner.

- - - - -

On another afternoon of continuous sighing, Taiki was suddenly called on by Gyousou, who had returned to the Inner Halls.

Taiki rushed hurriedly to the Inner Halls--at this time, there were only a few days left before the auspicious day of the coronation ceremony.

"Taiho, you have a guest visiting." There was a visitor room that was used to receive guests from other kingdoms. Gyousou stood in this room on the other side of the open door.

It was rare for him to address Taiki as Taiho in a large crowd of people, and after Gyousou turned his head back, Taiki could see a devious smirk on his face.

"A guest...?" What sort of guest could it be? Taiki cocked his head and tried to figure it out. Suddenly, he sensed something around him.

He felt like something was nearby in his periphery. He looked around carefully again and caught sight of one faintly-glowing, golden bubble floating around. The bubble looked as if it was being pulled along by a very light and thin sash, floating up and down.

Taiki's heart began to race. Could it be the visitor he was thinking of...?

He ran into the room. The person standing inside made Taiki's eyes light up. "...Kei Taiho!"

Keiki smiled a little and then respectfully nodded to him. "I'm very happy to see that you have descended the mountain and arrived at Tai Kingdom without any trouble."

Taiki stopped running. He didn't dare to look directly at Keiki's face. "Th...thank you..."

Keiki looked on with surprise at the child who was hiding his face. He couldn't help but be suspicious of Taiki's change. He understood now why Gyousou had specifically asked for him to come.

It was basic etiquette to avoid as much as possible a visit before his enthronement; furthermore, rulers and kirin actually have very little involvement with other kingdoms. In reality, those who had a friendship with Keiki were only those who had helped him when he went in search of his ruler. They were King En and Enki from the neighboring kingdom.

Gyousou was an important official of the previous king. There was no reason for him not to know these customs. For him to break past conventions and especially invite Keiki for this meeting, it was not hard to understand his reason.

"You see? It's like I had said previously. I am the first to come and see you. Are you still doing well?"

"Yes."

The expression on Taiki's lowered face was grave. Even when he raised his head, there wasn't even a glimmer of joy in his eyes.

"But I don't feel that you are... Did you encounter some situation that has made you worry?"

"No..."

Gyousou knitted his brow as he watched the two and suddenly interrupted, saying, "I think that the two of you should have much to say to each other. I will ask to be excused for the time being."

Keiki nodded in respect. Taiki could only do as Keiki had done and nodded to Gyousou.

Following this, Gyousou probably returned to all that complicated work that was waiting for him. Taiki knew very well in his mind that even had he asked to go with Gyousou, Gyousou would not have permitted it. Moreover, today, a guest had arrived.

Gyousou lowered his head lightly and immediately exited. After Keiki saw Gyousou leave, he turned toward Taiki and said, "Would you like to take me to the garden for a walk?"

"Okay... But...I don't really know where it is."

"Are you telling me that you have been so busy that you haven't had a chance to stroll around?"

Taiki stopped his hand as it was about to open the door to the garden. He didn't know how to respond to Keiki.
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"The wind in Tai Kingdom is very cold." In the garden of the Inner Halls, there was an enormous pond. Keiki stood at the water's edge. "Would you like to sit for a bit?"

After he said this, he looked behind at the trembling Taiki.

There was an magnificent pavilion nearby that amazed anyone who looked upon it. It was built by the previous King Tai, and whether it was the floor or the pillars, it was all made of crystal. Around the pond, there had been plans to create pavilions in the same design with smoke crystal, yellow crystal, red crystal and purple crystal. The four pavilions were in the middle of building, when the previous king died and construction was halted. It had been neglected up until the present time.

"Gems are produced in Tai Kingdom... It's no wonder there hasn't been a way to stop the internal turmoil." Keiki touched one of the giant pillars made out of crystals.

The climate of Tai Kingdom is bad; no one is willing to plant crops. However, in Tai Kingdom there are countless gem springs, and so the people can be considered fairly wealthy. As the name suggests, they are springs that can produce precious gems. All one has to do is place into the spring a gem as if it were a seed, and it will grow into a giant crystal. In Tai Kingdom, gold springs and silver springs are also quite common.

"For one this big, it probably took at least thirty year's time to produce."

It is said that there is nothing left in the treasury of the kingdom.

Even under the rule of such a king, the authority of the government was able to continue for over a hundred years. It was probably due to the fact that he didn't muddle together his pleasure with the business of government. The old king had a group of attendants and court ladies that he had fun with, but he didn't thusly promote these people and give them official positions, nor did he allow them to participate in the governing of the kingdom.

"Are you lacking something?" Keiki looked at Taiki, who was silently standing at one side.

"No..."

"Tai Taiho, what's bothering you?"

"Nothing..." Taiki's responses were as if he was thinking aloud. His expression was as severe as before. Keiki got the feeling that Taiki was not telling him the truth.

"I've heard King Tai say that you've subdued a shirei."

"Yes."

"And that you can transform."

"...Yes."

"It is regrettable."

Taiki looked back at Keiki uncertainly. There was only a self-deprecating smile on Keiki's face.

"I came to see you as we had agreed. I thought that you would be happy to see me."

Taiki lowered his head.

"It really is too bad."

His calm voice stabbed Taiki in the heart.

He was finally meeting with someone he had wanted to see, but he couldn't bring himself to be happy about it. He felt miserable.

Regardless of who it was, even if it was a court lady, he would feel ashamed and not be able to look at them directly. He really didn't know when he would be able to sleep peacefully, or when his conscience would stop torturing him, or when he would be able to hold a proper conversation with someone.

--This is my punishment. Until my crime is exposed, I will suffer without end. Taiki knew that he didn't have the right to cry, but the tears came flowing out anyway.

"Taiki..." Keiki reached out and placed Taiki's hands on his knees, and then gently stroked his head. Taiki took the opportunity to rest his head on Keiki's knees.

"What has happened?" Keiki's voice was without intonation; his words were full of calm.

"...Taiho...have you ever regretted being a kirin?"

"I haven't."

"...Then...have you ever regretted the selection of your ruler?"

"No."

Taiki looked up. "But, I heard that things weren't the happiest between Kei Taiho and Queen Kei."

"Who did you hear that from?"

"The nyosen, they..."

Keiki sighed. Queen Kei had now completely given up on the affairs of government. She had lost her ruling platform and the kingdom's political situation was in great disorder. The lords looked down on the queen, and the officials were even more tyrannical.

"I have already sworn a vow. I have devoted my life to her, and I cannot abandon her. No matter where my queen goes, even if she does not want me to, I must follow her regardless."

--However, the problem was that the hardship that came from following her was difficult to endure.

Taiki looked at Keiki with his deep black eyes, and then moved his line of sight back toward the ground.

"...If only I could be as certain about things as you, how nice that would be."

"Taiki, do you feel regret?"

Hearing Keiki ask this so plainly, Taiki felt a little flustered.

"Yes..."

Keiki simply tilted his head and didn't say a thing. There wasn't any expression on his face either.

At this point, Taiki couldn't hide it any longer.

"I...have done something so wrong there's no saving me." The little kirin lifted his head, and his expression was that of despair. "I...didn't receive a revelation for the king..."

Keiki was so surprised he didn't know what to say. Taiki's confession was far from anything he had imagined. "No...revelation?"

Taiki nodded. "There wasn't any sort of sign. I didn't see any kind of ouki either. At one time, I had even told him that I wished him well, that he wasn't the one."

"...Why did you?"

"At the time...I really didn't want to be separated from Gyousou." The child who was staring down, lifted his head up and looked at Keiki.

"What...should I do?" The hands that had grabbed onto Keiki's knees were trembling slightly. "What should I do to fix my mistake? How do I make up for this?"

"Taiki..."

"It's all fake! What's going to happen? Will Tai Kingdom be destroyed? Will the king be punished? When everyone finds out about this, what will the response from the Heavens and the people be?" Taiki's tears flowed continuously.

Keiki was about to say something, but in the end, he closed his mouth. He lightly patted the hands at his knees and then stood up. Sitting on the floor of the pavilion, Taiki looked up at him. Keiki nodded in respect. "I'm not sure what to say... For today, I will bid you farewell."

- - - - -

Taiki hugged his knees as he sat in the corner of the pavilion and watched the golden hair getting farther and farther away.

Was Keiki disappointed in him? He would probably never want to see him again.

Was this going to become rumor? Or was his deception going to be revealed?

--When the time came, how would Gyousou deal with Taiki's betrayal?

(End of Chapter 12)
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