The Sea God in the East, the Vast Sea in the West
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Higashi no Wadatsumi, Nishi no Soukai

The Sea God in the East, the Vast Sea in the West


This book has not been completely translated. Im posting all the chapters that are available to read. Lets hope it gets done soon


~ Prologue ~

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「国がほしいのか?ならば、一国をお前にやる。」

これが、雁州国延王、尚隆と、延麒・六太とが交わした誓約だった。

民らが、かつての暴君によって廃墟となった雁国の再興を願い続ける中、ようやく新王が玉座に就いたのだ。それから二十年をかけて、黒い土は緑の大地にと、生まれかわりつつある。

しかし、ともに幸福を探し求めたふたりのこどもの邂逅が、やがて、この国と王と麒麟と民との運命を、怒濤の渦に巻き込んでいく!


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"Do you want a kingdom? If so, I'll give you one."

This is the promise between Syouryuu, Emperor of En, and Rokuta, Kirin of En.

The Emperor was enthroned among the people's wish of reviving En, the kingdom that was turned into ruins by the former tyrant. After twenty years, the charred land returned to lush green and flourished once again.

Everything began with the encounter of two boys searching for happiness. However, the Emperor, the Kirin, and the people of this kingdom were soon engulfed into the rampant maelstrom once again!


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~ Starting Chapter ~

***

At the end of the world, there is a sea called Kyokai (虚海the empty sea). At the east and the west of this sea, there are two countries. They normally are separated completely and never intersect with each other. However, they share the same one myth.

It is said that at the far other side of the sea stood a magical kingdom.

It is a blessed kingdom that only chosen people can visit. Abundance is promised to the land, wealth flows like fountains, old age or death is absent, and any type of pain is unheard of. One side call the other place Hourai (蓬莱), and the other side call the other place Tokoyo (常世).

The two separated countries, Hourai-koku (蓬莱国) and Tokoyo-koku (常世国), were then both midnight. In each of them, one boy opened his eyes.

***

He was awakened suddenly by some voices. The voices could barely creep into his ears in the pitch-darkness. The voices were from his father and mother outside their house.

Even it was called a house, it was a shabby structure of a straw mattress propped up by four sticks as the roof and walls. The “bed” was spread on the soil where insect sounds echoed, but it was just a piece of cloth for wrapping around the body. The only great thing about the bed was the warmth from his brothers and sisters nearby. They had a better home at where they had lived, but that home was now gone. It was turned into ash at a corner of the burnt-down city.

“There is nothing we can do...”
Father spoke in a low voice. “But,” mother mumbled.

“This is bad, but that boy is so clever that he scares me.”

The boy shook in the pitch darkness. He knew that his parents were talking about him, and his sleepiness vanished completely.

“But…”

“He has good distinction power and a brilliant mind. The kids at his age don’t even known how to talk. It is as if he is a gift from somewhere.”

“That’s true. But he is still a child, no matter what he can do. He will never know if anything has happened.”

“That’s not it. Letting such a kid die is like a curse to me.”

The boy held his lapels tighter together. He curled up himself and pretended to be sleeping in the pitch darkness. He didn’t want to hear the two voices anymore. He knew what they were talking about, despite that he only lived for a little more than four years.

The voices continued, but the boy forced himself not to hear them. He chased the voices away from his consciousness, and forced himself to sleep.

***

Two days later, Father peered into the boy’s eyes and called him.

“Father’s got something to do. You want to come with me?”

The boy didn’t ask where or why.
“Yes, I’ll go.”

“Okay then,” Father wore a somewhat complex expression as he gave his hand to the boy. The boy grabbed the hand tightly. Surrounded by the rough touch of the big hand, the boy left the house, and walked across the vast ruin of the fire. The father and son traveled even deeper into Mt. Kinugasa(衣笠山), and climbed up and down numerous times, until the father expected the boy didn’t remember where they came from. Father let go of the boy’s hand.

“Kid, stay here. I’ll be right back. Wait here!”

Okay, the boy nodded.

“You got it? Don’t move an inch!”

Okay, the boy nodded and saw his father going out of the woodland as the father looked back a couple of times.

I will not move. I will always stay here.

The boy tightened his fist, and gazed and the direction where his father disappeared.

I will never return home.

To keep his promise, the boy didn’t move a step away from that spot. At night he slept at the spot. When he felt hungry, he plucked grass and dug up roots from where his hands could reach. He quenched his thirst with night dew. After three days, he couldn’t move at all even if he wanted to.

Don’t worry. I will never return home.

He understood that if he returned, his parents would be troubled.

After the whole city was burnt down, everywhere was covered with corpses. The man who hired Father was killed by some low-ranked soldiers of the West Army. To make the whole family live on without a job and a home, the family must lose all the children, who can only eat but cannot work.

The boy closed his eyes, and let his consciousness sunk into confusion. Before he fell into sleep, he heard noises of a beast walking across the grassland.

I’ll be waiting here.
I’ll wait here for the whole family to live on, to settle down, to be happy, to suddenly remember me, and to come here to hold a funeral for me.

Before that, no matter how long it takes, I’ll wait.

***

He woke up in the middle of the night, and heard some people’s voices. He was so sleepy that he couldn’t take in what the people were saying. However, he knew only that Mother was being scolded by everyone. I must help her, he thought to himself as he was drawn into slumber again.

The next day, the boy took Mother’s hand and got out of the town. Mother cried as she took his hand and walked. This was the first time he saw his mother’s tears.

He has no father. Father has gone to a very far country, Mother told him. The hut they had lived had burnt down, so he and Mother went to the town, and began to sleep somewhere at the corner of the town. A lot of people had gathered there, but they vanished one by one, and before long, only a few people were left.

All adults except Mother were coldhearted to him. They were always playing harsh on him, and threw cruel words to him. They were all the crueler when he was hungry.

Mother held his hand, stifled her cries, and walked on a path amid burnt down, desolated farmlands. Soon, they walked up a hill, and walked across woodland. The place was so far away that he hadn’t been to anywhere around there before.

At the middle of the woodland, Mother finally let go of his hand.

“Why not rest a little here? … Do you want some water?”

He was thirsty, so he nodded.

“Let me find some water now. You wait for me right here, okay?”

He was tired from all the walking, so he nodded despite his worry about Mother being away from his side. Mother patted on his head many times, and suddenly withdrew herself, and walked quickly out of the woodland.

He sat still at the place for a long time. Finally, worried that Mother would never come back, he stepped out to find her. He called Mother’s name and stumbled and wandered around the woodland, but he neither recognize Mother’s leaving direction nor the way back.

He was cold. He was hungry. And the thirst was the most unbearable.

He cried as he walked and searched for Mother. Leaving the woodland, he walked along the shore, and finally found a town at sunset. He searched for his mother as he dashed through the town, but he met only unfamiliar people. The boy noticed only that he somehow arrived at a different town.

One man came up to the boy’s side. Hearing the whole incident from the sobbing boy, the man patted on the boy’s head, and gave the boy a little water and food.

Then, meeting the eyes of the surrounding people, the man took the boy’s hand. This time, the boy was brought to the edge of the sea. At the other side of the sea, the boy could see tall mountains surrounding like walls.

When the boy came to the edge of a cliff, the man patted on the boy’s head once more, muttered, “I’m sorry,” and pushed the boy off the cliff.

***

The boy opened his eyes again, and found himself in a dark cave. The pungent smell of tides was mixed with the rotten odor he got used to. It was the odor of dead bodies. The boy was already used to the smell, so he was not particularly frightened or suspicious.

His soaked body felt only cold and alone. A noise of something moving came out from nearby, so the boy turned to look. However, the cave was so dark that the boy could only see a hill-like shadow.

The boy burst into tears. He was of course frightened, but above all, he felt very lonely.

Suddenly, lukewarm breath brushed against his arm. He shivered, and then something smooth patted on his wrist. The touch is very much like birds’ feathers. It was a huge bird eagerly watching at his condition at this dark place.

He was so frightened that his body went stiffened, and the thing pressed its warm feathers against him. The boy was wrapped within the wings. It was so warm that the boy clang on the feathers.

“Mother…”

The boy cried, only calling his mother’s name.

***

-- At the end of Kyokai, was there a place of happiness?

In the end, both Hourai and Tokoyo are just the materialization of fervent wishes, implanted by people tortured by desolation.

At the east and the west of Kyokai, two boys who were abandoned by their own countries were to meet.

They were to shoulder the desolation, and to search on this land the mythical paradise.

-- End of Starting Chapter --

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Chapter One

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Part 1

-- It is described as “Setsu-san” (折山, Mountain-crumbling)

The desolation was so serious that even the Sky-Pillar Mountain (凌雲山 Ryouun-san), the huge mountain that penetrates the sky, would crumble.

Rokuta (六太) looked over the land dumbfounded. When he saw this country last time, it seemed that this country couldn’t be even more barren. But what about this even more serious devastation before him?

The sky was high, with some thin clouds hovering. Under this cruelly bright sky, the land had not even a trace of green or red, even though summer was coming. The farmlands were as barren as deserts. At this time, the wheat fields should be a sea of green, but now, there was not even overgrown grass anywhere. Only sparse, unattended, withered grass rustled on this cracked land. The land and the grass must have dried up long before; now they had lost even their warm yellow color.

The field roads had crumbled. At where the huts once stood remain only the stones that surrounded the lot. The stones had crumbled here and there, burnt to charcoal black, got eroded by wind and rain, and exposed to the cruel sunlight, leaving only a dull, shabby color.

At the foot of the mountain stood a town. The town walls were already destroyed, and the houses inside had all turned to rumbles. There was not even a tree to protect the huts or the town. Only the Riboku (里木) stood deep inside the town, roasted by fire into the color of oxidized silver. At its root a few people sat like stones without moving an inch.

Above the Riboku, a few birds and many bird-like youma (妖魔,monsters) were circling. The Riboku didn’t grow flowers or leaves. With only the sparse white branches in the way, there was no way the people below couldn’t see the birds above keeping an eye on them. However, nobody looked up. No beasts or youma attack living things under the Riboku. Maybe that was the reason why the people could be oblivious. In other words, those people were too exhausted to even be able to feel afraid of youma.

The mountains were burnt off their green, and the rivers all flooded. Those that were huts or towns were burnt down to ash. There was no land on which people could hope for a harvest, and nobody even bothered to hoe up the barren soil. The people were too tired to work and anticipate next year’s harvest. Even if they wanted to lift the hoe, their starved hands had no power, not to mention a supporting body to cooperate with the hands.

Those youma circling above also had cringing wings. They were also starving. In front of Rokuta, one of the youma fell from the sky. This land was so desolate that even the magical beings were struggling from starvation.

“Setsuzan no Kou, Boukoku no Kai” (折山の荒、亡国の壊)
(The desolation that crumbles a mountain, the destruction that exterminates a nation.)

It was as though this Kingdom of En had finished.

***

The last emperor was remembered as Kyou-ou (梟王). After coronation, he had governed the kingdom very well for a long time. Some time afterwards, however, his heart was occupied by evil. He turned to abuse his people, and took joy by hearing shrieks of pain. He put soldiers at all corners of all towns as secret police. Any person who voiced complaint about the Emperor was instantly arrested, and was executed at the streets along with his whole family and people related to him. If there were uprisings, he sank the whole town under water by opening the flood gates, or shot fire arrows after flooding the whole town with oil, killing everybody inside, including even babies.

There were nine provincial lords in the Kingdom. Those who had hearts were exterminated by the Emperor, and from then on, no one dared to stop the Emperor.

Saihou (宰輔) was so pained to see such deeds that he collapsed with incurable fatal disease. The Emperor then arrogantly claimed that he had fulfilled his mission from God, and ordered an enormous royal tomb to be built for him. Labor was scraped up to build two layers of long, deep moats. The soil dug up and the brutally killed workers piled up to a high hill, but the tomb was so big that one still need to look up even if they stand of the hill. The concubines entombed and the girls killed to serve the Emperor after death was said to amount more than one hundred and thirty thousand.

Kyou-ou was dead just when the tomb was finished. The nation was already barren at that time, and the people who were gasping for breath within all the tortures roared shouts of joy when they heard the Emperor’s death. So loud were the shouts that they were said to reach all other kingdoms.

The people’s anticipations fell on the next emperor, but the next emperor didn’t get enthroned. In this world, emperors are selected by kirins (麒麟). Kirins, the heavenly beast, received the revelation from heaven and selected emperors according to heaven’s wish. After selecting the emperor, the kirin will step down to become the emperor’s servant, and stay at the emperor’s side, working under the title Saihou. However, that Saihou finally died at his thirties without choosing an emperor. This was the eighth catastrophe after Kaibyaku (開闢, the Creation).

The Emperor governs the land and balances the nation’s nature. Once the Emperor is absent from his throne, the nation’s nature topples, and catastrophes rampage. This land that had turned barren by Kyou-ou was made even more barren by this catastrophe. At the end, the people didn’t even have the power to mourn for their misfortune.

-- So there comes this desolation.

***

Standing on a small hill, Rokuta moved his eyes, and looked up to the man standing beside him. The man was gazing at this barren land.

Rokuta is entitled Enki (延麒). He looks like a boy, but he is not human. He is the Kirin of the En Kingdom, and he had chosen the man beside him as the emperor.

--Do you want a kingdom?
Rokuta asked this question to the man. But the nation was turned upside down, and there was virtually no land or people for the man to rule over.
-- If so, I’ll give you a kingdom.

I want one, the man replied without hesitation. Now this man was sinking in thoughts while seeing this ruin. He would have never dreamed of such desolation.

Will he sigh? Is he mad? Rokuta thought as he looked up to the man. The man seemed to sense Rokuta’s eyes on him, and he turned back to Rokuta unexpectedly, laughing.

“What a splendid view of nothing.”

Rokuta only nodded.

“Reviving a nation from nothing, huh? That’s a big mission.”
The man said, as if he didn’t feel it difficult at all.

“If there is nothing to begin with, that means we can do things in our own way. That would be much easier to work on, wouldn’t it?”
The man raised his voice and laughed, as if nothing had ever happened.

Rokuta looked down, as he felt like crying.

“What’s wrong?” the questioning voice was bighearted and warm. Rokuta made a deep sigh. He finally realized the overwhelming weight once leaning on his shoulder. It was the disappeared present moment.

“Well,” the man said as he put his hand on Rokuta’s shoulder.
“Let’s go to Houzan(蓬山) to wrest this big mission.”

All he felt on his shoulder now was the weight of the man’s hand. Rokuta had been born for thirteen years. For a thirteen-year-old, the fate of one kingdom is a mission too heavy to bear. But now, he had finally found the man to shoulder this mission, no matter it would turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing.

Rokuta turned to the man who tapped lightly on his shoulder and stepped away.

“... I’ll leave it to you.”

The man laughed without asking what was left to him.

“Leave it to me.”

***
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Chapter One

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Part 2

“It is so green.”

Rokuta lazily gazed at the lush green of Kankyuu(関弓) through the sea of clouds on the palace patio.

The new Emperor has been enthroned for twenty years. The kingdom has also been gradually reviving.

This is Mt. Kankyuu(関弓山), a city of the Kingdom of En. On top of this mountain stands Genei Palace(玄英宮), the imperial palace of En. It is a small island floating in the boundless sea of clouds.

At the high sky, the sea of clouds (Unkai, 雲海) shields the sky above from below. Even when one looks up from the ground, one cannot see that water exists at the sea of clouds. One can only see clouds, which are the wave crests beating the peak of the Sky-Pillar Mountain. Looking from the sky above, the sea is transparent with a very faint blue, and it seems to have only the depth of a person’s height. However, if one dive in to see, it is impossible to reach the bottom. The water is transparent, and one can look straight through it to the ground. The lush green sea of wheat fields. The revived green on the mountains. The many trees that protects the huts and the towns.

“Well, you can also say that ‘Twenty years and that’s all?’”

Rokuta folded his arms and buried his chin within his arms. The water from the sea of clouds hit the foot of the balcony, resounding beating noises as it washes up the smell of the tides.

“Taiho...(台輔)”

“Well, even that’s just it, it is really some accomplishment. When I entered Genei Palace I could see nothing else except the dark black ground...”

It was once a vast piece of charcoaled land. Thanks to the last twenty years, the Kingdom was back on its feet, and the lush green stood out like now. Those people who escaped to other kingdoms gradually moved back, and the praising chorus from the farmers became louder and louder every year.

“Taihou.”

“... Yes?”
Rokuta turned back with his arms still folded. A commissioner (Tyoushi, 朝士) carrying some papers was smiling gently.

”My gratitude to my dear sir, as this year’s wheat harvest is abundant. Taihou has also been spreading his concern to the ground even within his busy schedule, and I must give thanks to my dear sir on behalf of the people. However, it would be even happier for me, if my dear sir can give a little more concern to my reports right now.”

“I can hear you. Continue.”

“It might sound rude, but it would be appreciated if I can borrow just a moment from my dear sir’s ears.”

“I’m serious. Serious.”

The commissioner drew a deep sigh.
“Please stop that childish behavior and at least turn your head to face me.”

Rokuta was sitting on a porcelain lion’s head at the patio. That place was slightly higher than chairs. His legs, which he can’t keep still when he has his attention caught, were swinging gently and kicking lightly against the fence.

Rokuta turned around, and showed a toothy grin.
“I am still a kid, you know...”

“May I know your age, my dear sir?”
“Thirty three.”

Rokuta was already in his thirties, but he looked about thirteen years old. This is not rare at all. Those who live at the sky above and can look down to the sea of clouds never grow old. In the case of Rokuta, he had stopped growing up when he entered Genei Palace, although it might be just as good if he had grown a little older: Kirins become full-grown between their late teens and early twenties. His temper also didn’t have a scant of maturity, just like a thirteen-year-old. Maybe that was because his substance stopped to grow with his physical appearance, or maybe that was because people judged by his appearance and treated him as a kid. By the way, the age Rokuta mentioned was calculated by the customary count of birthdays, because the age was used for compulsory public service related purposes.

“My dear sir, with such heavy responsibility on your shoulder, it is inappropriate to act like this when you reach adulthood. Saihou(宰輔) is to support the emperor and to carry out generous policies for the people. He is the leader, the only one who hold the title of Kousyaku (公爵 , duke) among the ministers. Please have some self-conscience towards your behavior, my dear sir.”

“I got it. Is it about the dam at Rokusui (漉水)? But why don’t you tell that to the emperor?”

The commissioner slightly raised his beautifully-arced thin eyebrows. The commissioner was a thin, fair-skinned effeminate man, but one should never be tricked by his looks. His surname was You(楊), and his first name was Syukou(朱衡). The emperor also gave him another name Mubou (無謀, lit. no tricks/plots). This name was not without meaning.

“… Well, then may I ask where your majesty has gone?”

“Don’t ask me. Didn’t he go down to Kankyuu and pick up girls?”

Syukou smiled meekly.
“Taihou doesn’t seem to understand why I come to raise the issue of Rokusui?”

“Oh, really?”
Rokuta clapped his hands together.
“Shouldn’t the issue of flood control be brought up to the responsible officials? It is not your responsibility is it?”

“No, it is not my responsibility, as you said. However, En is now around its rainy season, and if flood control is not conducted, the green farmland that Taihou cherishes right now would all turn into swamps. This is such an urgent issue that must be approved immediately, but where has your majesty gone?”

“Beats me...”

“Regarding this matter, nobody but your majesty can give instructions this moment today. Your majesty who shoulders heavy responsibility must never nullify his promise. The emperor should be the model for all officials.”

“I always say that guy is always like this. So irresponsible.”

“Your majesty is the supporting pillar of this kingdom. If this colossal pillar shakes, I’m afraid that the whole kingdom will shake as well. But your majesty is no where to be seen at the administrative meeting (朝議, Tyougi), and no one knows where your majesty is when it is time for administrative matters. Do you really believe that this is the way to build a kingdom?”

Rokuta casted Syukou an upward glance.
“I would also like to said these to Syouryuu(尚隆, the emperor's name)...”

Syukou raised his thin eyebrows again, and suddenly banged his reports onto the desk.

“How many times have Taihou come to the administrative meetings this month?”

“Well...”
Rokuta stared at his hand and bent his fingers, counting.
“Today, I’m not there... And then...”

“Allow me. Only four times.”

“Well you sure know better.”

A commissioner cannot attend the administrative meeting himself, as the position is not high-ranked enough. Rokuta looked up at Syukou half amazed. Syukou gave an extremely gentle smile.

“That is because all officials are deploring about this at every corner of the palace. Do you know that the administrative meeting is supposed to be held every day?”

”I ...”

“It was your majesty who decided that the administrative meetings would be held once every three days. That means there would be ten administrative meetings every month. Now that this month is drawing to an end, may I ask for the reason why Taihou attended only four of the meetings?”

“Well ...”

“In the case of your majesty, he has attended only once! How in fact do your majesty and Taihou think they will govern this kingdom?”
There was a loud bump of a chair toppling on the balcony. Rokuta looked at the direction, and saw that the voice was from the chief of land affairs (遂人, suijin), Itan (帷湍), who showed up from nowhere. Veins stood up on his forehead, and his shoulders were shaking with anger.

“Why can’t this master-and-servant pair be better behaved in the palace?”

“Itan, when did you arrive?”

Rokuta’s friendly smile was greeted with a freezing glance.

“What a bunch of slackers. What a mystery that the Kingdom of En can stand again!”

“Daibu(大夫), Daibu”
Syukou said politely with a bitter smile, but Itan has already turned back.

“Daibu, where are you going?”

“... To catch that guy.”
Itan left with loud footsteps. Rokuta sighed.

“He’s so quick-tempered.”

Itan had second name Tyototsu (猪突, lit. dash like a boar). This name is also not without meaning.

“What bad timing.”
Syukou laughed as he looked at Rokuta.

“I am not like Itan, but I am also very quick-tempered.”

“Oh really?”

“Your majesty didn’t attend the last administrative meeting, so nothing could be decided. When Itan and others wanted to hand in their report, they were told to wait till the day after. They were designated an appointment at this time today, but no matter how long they waited, your majesty still didn’t show himself. In this situation, they were supposed to ask for further instruction from Taihou, the support of the emperor. However Taihou is as inattentive as he is right now...”

“Well...”

“If the same thing happens again, I have also made up my mind. No matter whether it is your majesty or Taihou, I am resolved to show no mercy.”

“Ahahahaha...”
Rokuta slightly bowed as he laughed feebly.
“It was my bad. I would reflect on it.”

Syukou smiled.
“It is very splendid for my dear sir to open his heart and accept my heartfelt advice. May I I take from your word that you have understood, my dear sir?”

“Yeah I got it.”

“Then...” Syukou took out a scroll from his inside pocket and shoved it to Rokuta.

“This is Taikou no Ten no Maki (太綱の天の巻, The Heavenly Commandments -- Scroll of Heaven). In it recorded the experience of emperors and Taihous. Write about your absence from the administrative meetings as proof of your reflection.”

“Syukou--”

“Write six paragraphs by tomorrow. Do you have any objections, my dear sir?”

“Doing this will slow down the administrative work, won’t it?”
Rokuta threw an upward glance to the gentle-looking face. Syukou smiling expression shows no hint of finding fault with Rokuta.

“It won’t make a big difference if the work is slowed down for just one day.”

***
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Chapter One

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Part 3


Syukou walked along the palace paths against the wind, as he retreated from the inner palace.

The Kingdom of En is the northeastern kingdom among Shisyuu (四州 the four corner kingdoms), and is a cold country. In winter it is exposed to the dry, cold seasonal wind from the northeast, and in summer it is exposed to the cold wind from the Black Sea (黒海 Kotsukai). The season now was at the end of summer, as fall was sneaking up. The wind from the Black Sea got weaker and weaker, and the sun warmed up the land, which in turn warmed up the air as well. The summer is cool and without rain, which is not suitable for vegetation growth. However, the fall is long. The air is always warm and crisp, until the northeast monsoon wind begins blowing, making the weather suddenly become cold.

The palace is at the sky above, so it is not affected by the climate at the ground. Nevertheless, the wind now should be of little difference from the wind at the ground. From now onwards, fall would descend on the Kingdom of En, and end before a one-month rainy season. After the rain, the monsoon wind would blow, bringing the dry, shivering cold air from the Kingdom of Tai.

“Rokusui (漉水)... It would be nice if we can make it in time...”
Syukou looked far out to the west of the sea of clouds. Would the flood control be finished at Rokusui by the time the rainy season comes?

Rokusui is a big river flowing from Seisyuu (靖州), the province where Kankyuu (関弓) is located, to Gensyuu (元州), the province adjacent to the Black Sea. Gensyuu has a lot of rich flatlands, made by the repeating seasonal floods of Rokusui. The place became inhabitable when Kyou-ou, the previous emperor, destroyed the dams facing the Black Sea. However, people who were finally granted their wish to return to their homeland settled at the place, and now it is reported that a couple of villages have sprung up. The provincial lord of Gensyuu couldn’t handle the matter, and he had only the title but no real power to conduct flood control. The provincial lord who the previous emperor had designated for flood control didn’t take care of the matter even now, and thus all his real powers were now taken back.

Giving out a light sigh, Syukou walked along, and chanced upon Itan who was walking up.


“How was it?”
Syukou asked with a smile. Itan lifted his head.

“I picked him up at the neck, and took him back. He is now changing his clothes at the inner palace.”

Itan could have reached the inner palace through the forbidden gate and have had the conversation over there, but he took the trouble to return to the inner palace through the main gate. There is only one gate, the forbidden gate, to directly enter or leave Genei Palace that floats on the sea of clouds. There is another palace gate at the mountain foot of Kankyuu, in front of an uphill path to the palace. That is the main gate. Originally, the forbidden gate can only be used by the emperor or the Saihou, but Itan was granted the privilege to use the forbidden gate as well. Even so, Itan always stuck to formalities in this issue only.

“Then maybe I should return as well. I must give my advice to your majesty.”

“Just give him a harsh lesson! ...Where do you think your majesty has gone?”

“I have no clue.”

“He enjoyed himself gambling at the red-light district at Kankyuu, and got all his money scraped off. His ride was taken to pay off his debt, and would only be returned after he cleaned the garden. When I caught him, he was still holding his broom.”

Syukou laughed loud.

“That is really what Syouryuu can do. So you paid off the debt for him?”

“What can he be possbily be thinking, working like a servant until they give his ride back, just because ‘I can’t possibly skip the debt?’ I can’t even tell them honestly to forgive him because he is the emperor. If those guys know he is their emperor, I'm afraid they will cry mournfully out of disappointment!”

The kingdom of En had once been so desolate that it is no exaggeration to say the kingdom has already been exterminated once. The coronation of the new emperor is the biggest wish of the people. If they know that their biggest wish turns out to be that kind of person, some of them would definitely drop tears.

“How easygoing he is!”

Syukou gave a bitter smile. No one never use such abusive language towards the emperor like Itan.

Itan was originally a tenryou(田猟), who oversees the population and sets up the records for taxation purposes. After the revolution, he was promoted to the position of suijin (chief of land affairs). Also, the king granted him the other name Tyototsu, together with many privileges. Itan could enter the emperor’s bedroom freely, use the Forbidden Gate, get deep into the inner palace without needing to get off his ride, be exempted from bowing to the emperor... Though he shouldn't have the privilege to scold the emperor.

“But your majesty is so generous that you can still have your head safe on your neck. Am I right?”

At the coronation ceremony, all officials came to Genei Palace to gave their congratulations to the new emperor. At the middle of this honorable ceremony, Itan grabbed the population records and threw it at the emperor’s legs.

Syukou spoke, and Itan showed an annoyed look.

“... Don’t pull out old stories.”

***

--Once upon a time, the god (天帝, tentei) opened the world, and created twelve kingdoms. People are choosen to be placed on the throne. They are the emperors, and those who choose the emperors according to god’s will are the kirins.

Every kingdom has one kirin, and the kirins are heavenly beasts with very powerful mystical powers. They receive god’s will and choose the emperors.

Kirins are born at Mt. Hou (蓬山, Houzan), the eastmost of the five mountains at the center of the world. Those who regard themselves suitable to be emperors climb Mt Hou and meet the kirin. This act of meeting the kirin and requesting god’s will is called ‘Syouzan’ (昇山, lit. to climb up a mountain.)

--Why, Itan yelled as he threw the population records hard onto the throne’s stage.

“Why does it take fourteen years for you to be enthroned? Kirins can choose the emperor in six years. Because of you dillydallying and not doing ‘Syouzan’, eight years had been wasted! These are the population records of Kankyuu in the past eight years. Open your eyes and see just how many people died during these eight years!”

The place, which was in the merry mood because of the coronation, fell into a moment of silence.

Itan looked at the emperor on the stage. The emperor only sized Itan and the population records thrown onto the stage with an interested expression.

Itan might be throwing tantrums to the innocent, but he just wanted to let the emperor see how poor En had become. It was desolation beyond belief. The palace, where the throne was at, might be shining brightly, but at the ground below death and desolation rampaged. Hope would be heaped onto whoever received the throne, but Itan never believed that this kingdom can be rebuilt.

How rude, the emperor would say and punish him with death penalty. Itan was prepared for such a consequence, but he was not eager to die. He had survived through the tyranny of Kyou-ou with the feeling of walking on a tightrope. He didn’t disobey the emperor. He didn’t disregard the truth. He didn’t entertain the interest of the emperor. He didn’t go against his conscience.

All officials said that when the new emperor was enthroned, everything would be fine. However, the emperor cannot nullify what had already happened. He cannot bring back the lives lost. Itan hated those officials who got intoxicated by the joy and forgot this. He also hated the emperor, who must have been overjoyed by his coronation.

Therefore, even if Itan died, the emperor could never forget this unhappy incident happened in such a joyful situation. Those intoxicated officials, after seeing the newly enthroned emperor beheading his official immediately, would recall Kyou-ou’s tyranny, and would settle down from their joy. If Itan’s death became an unpleasant lump within the hearts of those who spread joy without proof, his death would be worthy.

Itan looked at the new emperor. The new emperor looked at Itan. For some time, even the air stopped to flow. Among the people who got frozen, the new emperor was the first to move. Ha! The emperor laughed as he stood up from the throne and picked up the population records, without being bogged down by the rude interruption. He brushed of the dust lightly and smiled at Itan.

“I’ll look through it.”

Itan stared at the man dumbfounded for some time. He was dragged out of the place by the guards, and was fired off his duty by the chikantyou daishitou (地官長大司徒, the Minister of State Affairs) at that time. He returned home obediently, and was confined to his home to wait for punishment. Itan didn’t want to escape, and he couldn’t to begin with, because soldiers guarded the front doors.

He was confined for five days. At last, the imperial messenger knocked on his door and brought with him the imperial order. He was sentenced to return to his post as chief of land affairs. Itan, astonished, entered the palace to offer his gratitude to the emperor. “What a straight-forward fellow,” the emperor laughed, and granted him the other name Tyototsu, which was used up to this day.

***

“... At that time, I was just an unimportant official who had just received my position. When I heard the rumor, I sincerely wish that I could be at the place!”

Syukou laughed like he was amused, and Itan got a little disappointed. For other people it might be an interesting rumor, but for Itan it was no laughing matter. He had really prepared to die at that time.

At first, Itan indeed respected the emperor, in such piety that he never sounded a single complaint, but pretty soon the respect died out. The emperor doesn’t have anything praiseworthy. He lost all the money he had through gambling, and didn’t return for government affairs. Does Itan need to bow every time to such an emperor?

“I hate myself who was moved by such apparent generosity of the emperor! That guy is not generous at all; he is just easy-going!”

“Itan, don’t you think it is better to speak more prudently? It is for your own sake to know yourself and never forget politeness now.”

“... Any you are the one to tell me that?”

Itan looked at Syukou. Syukou was originally a Shun official (春官, i.e. imperial affairs), working under naishi (内史). When the emperor took a visit to naishifu (内史府, the working place for naishi), Syukou said the following to the emperor.



--I have already prepared your emperor title (諡, okurina) used after your death. Kyou-ou** (興王, lit. the one to revive the country) or Metsu-ou (滅王, lit. the one to destroy the country). You can be the one to revive En, or you can be the one to exterminate it. Which title do you like? Syukou asked.

(** This "Kyou-ou" is different in kanji from the "Kyou-ou (梟王)" for the previous emperor.)



Syukou gave a faint laugh at Itan’s criticism.

“Why put up the face of a Daibu(大夫)? It looked like I did that for the sake of getting a position.”

“That didn’t reach me. What you did happened three days after the coronation, right? I was still confined at home at that time.”

“Oh was that the case? Wow, I had lived through so many years that I had a bad memory on things...”

“Oh stop that,” Itan said as he glared at Syukou’s prim face. The two looked young, but those were just appearances. They were in fact so old that it was not strange for them to say “living through so many years.”



--“I dislike both,” the emperor replied.

Syukou’s frankness has the same motivation as Itan’s. Syukou had also prepared to die. To begin with, Syukou was not an official appointed by the government, but was employed by niashi for their own use. It could already cost them their life to even speak to the emperor directly. Besides, the emperor could get so angered that he would grant death right at the spot.

Syukou watched as the new emperor before him made a twitched expression.

“I refuse both. I can not but feel embarrassed by being named using such ordinary words.”

Pardon? Syukou asked back as he threw a close glare to the emperor.

“Do all shikan(史官, all officers working under naishi) work with only that level of literature talent? Why, please think of a more clever title!”

“Oh... Y, yes.”

“You are not suited as a shikan, are you?”

Maybe, Syukou embarrassingly admitted. The messenger arrived in front of him. At least I would be discharged from my position, Syukou thought as his stomach sank. Instead, Syukou was promoted from gyoshi(御史), a middle-ranked position under naishi, to become a commissioner(朝士, Tyoushi) at the department of Syuu (秋, state affairs).

***

“...That is because you and I are assistants. Maybe your majesty simply likes those who talk back.”

Syukou laughed at Itan’s remarks.

“Really, that may be the case.”

From his laughter, Syukou changed his expression. That was because he heard coming footsteps.

It was the prime minister (冢宰, tyousai) and his subordinates (下官, gekan) who approached them. Syukou and Itan politely gave way, and bowed lightly as the prime minister and others passed through. From above their lowered heads came a voice.

“Well, I believe that this road leads to the inner palace.”

This, a subordinate raised his voice towards Syukou and Itan, and said.

“What are you both doing in such a place? Don’t tell me that you got lost.”

Syukou and Itan didn’t answer. There are restrictions on which officials can enter the inner palace. Because of Syukou and Itan’s ranks, they were originally forbidden from entering the inner palace. The two gained permission directly from the emperor, but this treatment is only specially granted to them. There are people who were jealous of their special treatments and used sarcastic words on them. Syukou and Itan were already used to such sarcasm.

“So you are heading to the inner palace, aren’t you?”

Yes, Itan answered briefly, and the prime minister and others gave a deliberate sigh.

“Well, well, so there goes the time for your majesty to attend to government affairs.”
“Now is the time for playing with those your majesty is interested in, isn’t it?”
“Don’t interfere, or you will get scolded. God knows when my majesty can go back to attend to government work.”
“Because there are lowly swindlers somewhere.”

The ridicule echoed pass the two who were bowing. The prime minister and others must be heading to their offices at the east. After the retracing footsteps died down, Itan raised his head. He let his sight follow the stone pavement that linked the buildings.

“...Who are the lowly swindlers here? That bunch who bought their position from Kyou-ou!”

Itan gave a bitter smile. To call those as evildoers is no exaggeration. When Kyou-ou lost his way and showed no interest at government affairs, the officials exploited their power to the fullest. Some people bought positions with money, and emptied the government treasury with expenses other than ordinary salary. To win the favor of Kyou-ou, the evildoers encouraged the emperor’s tyranny instead of stopping it, making the kingdom more desolated day by day.

“Let them go. They are just people who have no ability except satire.”

“They think that the emperor indulges in playing around because we incited him! We are treated as the bad guys because that man is so easygoing!”

In front of Itan with gritting teeth, Syukou only continued his bitter smile.
“We can’t help it even if we are treated as the bad guys.”

Itan was chief of land affairs, and his rank was just a middle Daibu (大夫) . The prime minister is ranked Kou (侯), four ranks higher than chief of land affairs. However, even chief of land affairs and others were granted privileges, while the prime minister himself needed to go through all the permission requests just to meet the emperor. No wonder the prime minister couldn’t withstand him. Syukou was ranked lower Daibu, which was even lower in rank than Itan.

“It’s that ‘We can’t do a thing’ talk again? That idiot just needs to do something!”

“Don’t tell that to me.”

“Seisyou(成笙) is the one to blame. He is the closest to the emperor, so just catch the emperor by the neck and tie him down to the throne.”

Syukou looked at Itan, who used abusive language to the emperor’s bodyguard, with a little shock.
“Does that annoy you that much?”

“Don’t you feel mad as well? We are described as the evil subordinate that incites the emperor to play! For example, being homosexual (龍陽の寵, Ryuuyou no Tyou)...”

“That is really tiring.”

“You idiot! They are saying that to you!”

Syukou smiled, and lowered his voice.
“Just leave those who wagged their tongues alone. It is about time your majesty thinks about how to reorganize the officials.”

Itan stopped midway from climbing the stone stairs.
“Finally.”

“The government affairs have all settled down, and the correct direction to go has already been set. The road is paved. Now it is just to let the carriers to go through. Up till now, there is no chance to reorganize the officials, but it seemed that the opportunity to change the provincial lords and other officials has finally come.”

The current provincial lords and other officials were assigned by Kyou-ou. It might be a good idea to replace all officials with new ones when the new emperor was enthroned. However, this would take a lot of time, so instead all officials were left intact. As for the provincial lords, only their real power were restricted, and bokuhaku (牧伯) were assigned to each province for supervision. In the case of officials, only the emperor’s assistants were chosen with great care and comparison. However, those who sought an easy life through flattering Kyou-ou and joined hands to abuse the people could not be left unattended.

“The government is now out of control. Those who didn’t get fired or rested on high positions were so scared that they were definitely plotting something in secret again. God knows where and how they will pull our legs. So for now it would be better to just keep our criticism down.”

“...twenty years. We have done a good job defending. Those evildoers’ also have changed their hearts more or less.”

“That’s not true. That is only because there is no money for them to scrape from the government chamber even if they want to. However, there are more unusual movements among the officials recently.”

“Those who hid themselves underground in winter will most probably spring up to action when the season ends.”

Itan looked at the surrounding buildings.
“That was a long winter, but...”

***

At the time when the new emperor was enthroned and answered the greatest prayer of all the people in En, Genei Palace was a magnificent palace with shining gold and silver. Now, it was not so magnificent any more. It could still be called a palace that inspires deep awe and affection. However, all the decorations, gold, silver, precious stones (including even the stones embedded on the throne) were sold off by the emperor to raise money. That was how poor En had become. Near half of the buildings had been gone. They were demolished, and the stone and wood were retrieved and sold off by the emperor. Only the black roofs that linked like a line and entwined among the peaks of Mt Kankyuu didn’t change.

The palace was said to be granted by god to the first emperor. Therefore, previous emperors only added things to the palace, but never took things from or destroyed the palace. The palace buildings were the history of the kingdom. As a result, to not only strip the decorations from the buildings, but also to demolish the buildings and sell the materials off were no ordinary events to the confused officials.

Do it, the emperor commanded with only one line. However, the emperor left alone those evildoers that emptied the treasures off Kyou-ou’s imperial chamber to fill their own pockets. It was possible to dismiss all the lords and officials and confiscate all their personal fortunes, but the emperor didn’t do so. There were no spare time to do so. The first priority was to make harvest possible on this desolated land, and bring order to the whole kingdom.

The fields had all been turned to charcoal. Even if production started, it took twenty years before there was enough harvest to support the farmers’ lives. For the time, the kingdom barely ate off its remaining fortune by selling imperial treasures from the palace, and everything that can be called objects from the storehouses, down to even small army knives.

--Just treat it like we deposit the things elsewhere. We haven’t got much of a loss if that bunch were enthusiastic to collect and store. Deal with them only when they conspicuously use the stuff they stole. When the time comes, we will make them repay once and for all.

“He is easy-going but not stupid.” Itan said in a low voice, and Syukou gave a faint laughter.
“He is able but irresponsible, so just leave him like that.”

***
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Chapter One

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Part 4

That able but irresponsible Emperor of En became the target of earnest admonition from a group of four at his private room at the inner palace.

“... I understand what you all are saying.”
Syouryou compared the four people surrounding him. Itan stared at the emperor with a discouraged look.

“You only understand?”
“I have reflected on myself.”
“It is the first time I feel so embarrassed. This is a grudge I would hardly ever forget.”
“That’s right, that’s right.”

There were clapping hands of agreement behind Itan, but Itan didn’t care. “That’s true,” Syukou said with a sigh.
“What does your majesty think about his own position? How is the emperor, the sail of the whole kingdom, supposed to rule over all officials like this? It is inappropriate for your majesty, the role model of all people, to act like this. I just cannot lift my face straight to the people.”

A guy who wore an emotionless face and rarely opened his mouth began to speak.

“I cannot close my mouth that is open wide with amazement. Even to me, whom an emperor this stupid uses, this is very humiliating.”

“Suikyou (酔狂, lit. drunk and mad), even you are complaining about me aren’t you?

Suikyou’s original name is Seisyou (成笙). He is a young man with dark skin and a small, thin stature, but he is daiboku (大僕), an official under shiba (司馬) the administer of military affairs and the head of the emperor’s bodyguards. Kyou-ou arrested him because of his criticism against the emperor, but even such a tyrant felt sorry of killing him and just put him in jail. After Kyou-ou passed away, the officials would like to release him from prison. However, Seisyou insisted that he must be released by an emperor, since he was imprisoned by the emperor. As a result, he stayed in the unlocked prison for nearly fifty years before the new emperor released him. Seisyou was as a strong-willed person as that.

“...I would prefer not be referred to by such a trashy name.”

“You don’t like it?”
“Definitely not.”

Itan stared resentfully at the discouraged Seisyou.
“Your name is already good. Mine is Tyoutotsu!”

There is no bigger honor than being granted another name directly from the emperor. However, this is no blessing if the honored name is Tyototsu, Suikyou or Mubou. By the way, Syouryuu granted the name Baka (lit. idiot/horse and deer) to Rokuta the kirin Saihou. The name is great for such a living thing with an appearance between a horse and a deer, Syouryou claimed joyfully. However, no one in this world will accept such a name.

How true, Itan said with a disgusted look.
“The word ‘fickle and frivolous’ is to describe him!”

“Yes, yes.”

This time, three people turned back in unison.
“Taihou is also guilty!”

Rokuta, who clapped his hands as if he had no responsibility for this, suddenly sensed cold glances throwing onto him, and shrugged his shoulders.
“I didn’t do such things as gambling like him!”

“Then I would like to hear where my dear sir had been during your absence from administrative meetings.”

When pressed by Syukou, Rokuta gave an amiable smile.
“... on inspection. To investigate how the kingdom is reviving, something like that.”
“Then, may I know the results?”
“Well...”

“Serves you right for betraying your master.”
Rokuta, upon hearing that, turned to look at the emperor.
“Aren’t these all because of you fooling around? Even I was complained. That’s no joke!”
“Hey didn’t you skip your duties as well?”
“I didn’t reach your level!”
“Do you know what it means by ‘the difference between fifty steps and a hundred steps’? *”
“Doesn’t that mean even though they are similar, there are still fifty steps of difference?”

*‘the difference between fifty steps and a hundred steps’(五十歩百歩)
Two people escape from a scene, one taking one hundred steps and the other taking fifty steps. Even though they differ by fifty steps, both of them are still escapees. The analogy means that even though two actions are different in degree or level, they are the same in nature.

Bang, Syukou slammed on the table.
“Please listen to me seriously for a little while!”

Okay, Syouryuu said as he raised a hand.
“I have reflected on my actions. I will not skip government duties. Is that enough?”

“Is you majesty sincere in saying so?”

“The West seems to have a burning smell right now. I will just sit still on my throne for a while to keep it warm.”

The four looked at Syouryuu in unison.
“... the West”

Syouryuu laughed.
“It’s Gen Province. It finally springs into action.”

Itan looked to his back. Although there are always no other people when Itan and others gather, Itan wants to reconfirm that there are nobody around.

“That is...”

“Information from the streets. It was said that Gen Province was getting much wealthier recently. Each month the soldiers from the provincial army of Gen spent a lot of money at the red-light district many times. They came empty handed, but they return to Gen with a lot of luggage.”

“What are they stocking up from Kankyuu?”

“There is no problem on food, so maybe it is weapons?”

“However,” Syukou said as he tilted his head.
“I don’t think they can raise so many weapons as to prepare for rebellion. Buying so many weapons from the streets will definitely make rumors.”

Syouryuu laughed and turned his head to Seisyou.
“Kankyuu has got the weapon chamber of the imperial army, right?”

Seisyou narrowed his eyes. Aren’t the managers of the weapon chamber letting the weapons flow out freely? Kyou-ou had raked up an unusually large amount of weapons. Selling the weapons helped supplement the kingdom’s budget, but the outflow of weapons is so large that the weapons became worthless soon afterwards. Therefore, a lot of weapons are piling up at the weapon chamber even now.

“But, the lord of Gen Province...”

Itan nodded at Syukou’s words.
“It was said that he hid deep at his residence and didn’t came out. When Kyou-ou was alive, he feared of the emperor’s blaming. When Kyou-ou was deceased, he feared of his people’s revenge. Now, he feared of your majesty’s dismissal from his post. It was also said he held grudges against your majesty.”

“ ‘Cornered rats will even bite cats.’ Those who have their minds set are much more scary. Also, the vice lord of Gen Province controlled the province’s affairs, didn’t he. He was a son of the lord of Gen Province... Called Atsuyu (斡由) or something.”

Itan blinked.

“Your majesty sure knows well.”

“I get my information from the streets. Rumors among the people are not something to make light of.”

“I see...”

Catching a glimpse of Itan’s impressed expression, Syukou cleared his throat lightly.
“May I suggest a bit more, your majesty.”

“What is it?”

“It would be better for your majesty, with such a respectable position as the emperor of all provinces, to avoid descending to the level of the general public and act like a spy!”

Syouryuu looked up to the ceiling, as if saying, “Here it goes again.” Rokuta laughed, and stood up from his seat.

“What are you doing, Rokuta?”

Rokuta turned back as he retreated from the room.
“The topic turned to something irrelevant to me, so I’ll take my leave.”

-- End of Chapter One --

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~ Chapter Two~

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Part 1

Leaving the emperor, Itan and others, Rokuta entered the patio. The sun had set, and the sea of clouds was dim. At the east, a thin crescent moon was about to rise.

“...how gory...”

Undoubtedly there would be a war. Those provincial lords and officials who have their plots underneath their skin would gather, and it would be a miracle that a civil war could be avoided.

Rokuta walked in the garden as the gory premonition was spread by the wind. His heart sank, because he hated war and bloodshed from birth.

-- Leave it to me, Syouryuu once said. However, Rokuta hated war. Many soldiers died, and innocent people got dragged into the mess.

Rokuta came to the side of a small wing, and pushed open the doors. The doors opened with a small squeak. There was a standby booth for the door guards, but there was no sight of anybody. The post was supposed to be for guards to keep vigil, but there were few people in the palace. Kyou-ou killed off nearly all the people. Also, no new officers were employed, so the palace seemed quite and deserted.

Passing the front garden, Rokuta entered the building located deep within. There was a small middle garden. At the middle of the white sand stood a silver tree. Branches drooped low from the tree, shining as if they were made of real silver.

--People are born from this tree.

Couples who want children pray under this tree. If the prayers reach heaven, fruits called ranka (卵果, lit. egg fruit) would bear on the branches. Babies are sealed within the fruit. It takes ten months to hatch the babies, but there are rankas that get swept away before they are hatched.

Rokuta was swept away like that. So was Syouryuu. In a catastrophe called Syoku (蝕, lit. erosion) this world and the other world got mingled, and rankas were swept away to the other world. Those rankas were implanted to women’s body at the other world, and were born from the mother, covered by a flesh shell similar to the appearance of the parents. The children that were born this way were called taika (胎果, lit. fetus fruit).

Rokuta was swept away like that to a city at Hourai at the other side of the Empty Sea. He had a father, a mother, grandparents and siblings. At first, Rokuta never imagined that he was a boy who should not have existed.

Their house was burnt down when Rokuta was very small. As they escaped from the smoke-filled home, one side of the city had turned into a sea of fire. They spent the whole night escaping. The grandparents and one of Rokuta’s sisters were killed.

Escaping from war, Rokuta and his family settled at the west of the city, but all the family’s savings were gone, and Rokuta’s father cannot find any job at the war-ridden city. A brother was dead, the youngest sister was dead, and Rokuta was abandoned at the mountains. That was the only way to save the whole family.

At the mountains, Rokuta was on the verge of death from hunger and thirst when he was brought to this world. He barely survived. However, the reason why Rokuta was brought to this world is that Rokuta is a very special creature -- kirin.

If Rokuta were not a kirin, he would have been dead in the mountains. There must have been many children who had the same tragic fate this way. At that time, at that place, it was not rare for children to be abandoned.

--Setsuzan no Houkai (折山の荒廃, Desolation that crumbles a mountain)

War only brings misfortune to people. This kingdom, where the green color finally revived, will face war once again. Thinking of this gives one suffocating pain.
The desolated mountains. The bloodshed everywhere. The children who lost their parents and died because of poverty.

Before his coronation, Syouryuu said that he would like to see his kingdom. Looking down from a hill, he could see nothing remaining on the land. Only twenty years passed after that. The children at that time have all become parents now, haven’t they? The emperor, the kirin and the officials who worked for the emperor all have eternal lives, so they have already forgotten about time. However, this time is stilling flowing along at the world below.

Where are those children who have been abandoned in the mountains now? What are they doing? Maybe they are the same people who are throwing such misfortunes that torture them again.

Rokuta looked up to the sky. The crescent, like a scratch by some sharp claws, had reached the middle of the sky.

“Kouya -- (更夜, lit. late night)”

Rokuta once woke up in the middle of the night and overheard his parents discussing about abandoning him. There was yet another child that woke up in the middle of the night in the same way. That is a story from this kingdom.

-- The time was eighteen years ago, and the place was right at the Province of Gen (元州).

***

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~ Chapter Two~

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Part 2


Rokuta sat straddling Rikaku(悧角). Rikaku is a youma that serves Rokuta as a servant. Only kirins can control a youma... or so should it be.

Riding on Rikaku’s back as they dashed through the sky like a gust of wind, Rokuta was wandering around the Province of Gen, as he passed somebody. To be exact, he passed a child who was riding a youma.

It was nothing surprising. It was a huge wolf with wings and a beak. It must be a type of youma called tenken (天犬, lit. sky dog). At its back sat a child, traveling like a gust of wind. The moment the two passed each other is no doubt an unplanned encounter.

“Turn back! Follow them!”
Rokuta immediately ordered its shirei (使令, lit. servant).

“Taiho, it is a youma.”

Rokuta nodded at Rikaku’s warning.
“I know. That’s why we are turning back. It is natural if the youma is a shirei of a kirin, but why does a youma allow a human to sit on it? That is plain unreasonable!

Searching on the sea, Rokuta met his target who was straddling on a youma with red hair. The boy, finding out that Rokuta was chasing after him, curled his body in fright. However, when the youma gave out a unique yell and exuded murderous intention, the boy hugged the youma’s huge neck and calmed it down.
“No. Don’t.”

The child looked a little younger than Rokuta. He was a boy with a slander stature, a pale complexion, and black hair with a light shade of blue. Kirins’ hair was golden, like Rokuta’s. This is the natural color of kirins’ mane.

Hey! Rokuta said, and the boy was shocked. Realizing that the boy was frightened, Rokuta tried his best to wear an attractive smile on his face.
“Who are you?”

The child shook his pale face. Strong cold wind blew wildly over the sea. The boy wrapped himself in only a few pieces of worn-out cloth.

“I am Rokuta. What a strange encounter to meet you here. It is my first time to meet somebody in the sky.”

The boy nodded slightly and uttered a faint “Um.” Maybe he wanted to say that it was the first time he met somebody in the sky as well.

“Where are you going? Are you on a hurried trip?”

The boy answered again by only shaking his head. Rokuta gave a gentle smile.
“I am thinking of eating lunch somewhere. Why don’t we eat together?”

The boy opened his eyes and gave a blank look.
“... Together?”

Rokuta nodded with a smile. He pointed to a shore below. Rokuta wanted to hold out his hand, but he held himself back. Anything he unintentionally did might end up scaring off the child.

“What do you think?”
Rokuta asked, and the boy looked back at the youma’s face. Cocking his head as he peered into the youma’s eyes, the boy nodded slightly.
“...Okay.”

***

“That is a youma right?”

Rokuta asked the child when they landed on the shore and unwrapped the fruits and biscuits. It is unheard of that one can tame a youma. It is said to be impossible.
The child only cocked his head.
“Really?”

That was very shocking answer.

“There aren’t anything that fly besides youma and youjyuu (妖獣, lit. mythical beasts). How do you tame it?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? Wow...”
Muttering with surprise, Rokuta drooped his shoulders. “...How shocking.”
“Really?”
“Yes.”

They sat on the shore and talked. In front of them was the Black Sea, and the mountain range of Mt Kongou (金剛山), which surrounds the center of the world, stood tall like a wall.

The boy told Rokuta his story. He woke up at the middle of the night. Then, on the next day, he was abandoned in the mountains.

“...Really?”
Rokuta nodded as he gasped at the surprising encounter. Two children from both worlds got abandoned by their poor parents at war, and came across each other here.

“Those in the city must have told the guy to abandon you. How cruel.”
“Really?”
“What’s your name?”
“I don’t know.”
He said he might have one in the past, but he didn’t remember any longer.

“So you got swept to here, and landed at the youma’s cave.”
“I didn’t get swept here. It seems that the big one took me there.”
“The big one?”

This one, the boy said as he turned back to the youma. The youma gave a protective gaze at the child patiently.
“The big one took me to the cave as a bait. Most probably that was the reason I was brought there.”
“So you were supposed to be a bait... But they eventually brought you up.”

Yes, the boy said and nodded. What an unbelievable story. This was never heard of: a youma looking after a human child.

“Is such a story possible?”

Rokuta looked at Rikaku, which was behind Rokuta looking very cautiously to the youma. Rokuta’s question remained unanswered. Even if it is a servant, a youma never talked about its own matters. No matter how one demanded them, they would not divulge anything about its own species. Youmas are such aloof creatures in nature.

Rokuta gave up on his investigation, and turned himself to face the boy.
“But it is good news that you didn’t die in the end. After that you live in the cave all the time?”
“Sometimes I go out for meals.”

“Do the big one eat humans?”
Rokuta asked, but he knew the answer already. Rokuta was standing some distance away from the youma, but he could still sense a strong odor of blood. The odor of human blood.
“...Yes he does. If not, he will be hungry wouldn’t he?”

Rokuta swallowed faintly.
“...And you eat human too?”

The boy shamefully lowered his head.
“I don’t. Neither human nor beasts. ...I told the big one not to eat as well, but he just wouldn’t listen.”

Well, the boy said as he threw a begging glance to Rokuta.
“Human are in nature afraid of attacks from other people or beasts. So the big one often gets chased off by people. Everyone chases us off and does mean things. Otherwise, they just run for their lives.”

I can imagine that, Rokuta said as he nodded. He forced himself to pat on the smiling child’s head.

“But that is very great. It is wrong to eat humans.”

“Okay... Rokuta, where do you come from? This side of the sea?”
Yes, Rokuta nodded. The boy leaned forward.
“So, do you know Hourai?”

“Oh?”
Rokuta looked at the boy’s face.
“By Hourai, you mean...”

”The country at the very east of the sea. Over there, no one quarrels or does mean things. Dad is over there. Maybe mom is over there as well. That’s why I’m searching...”
Tears swelled at the boy's eyes as he spoke. Rokuta looked at the boy painfully.

-- Most probably, the boy’s father is already dead. The mother, unable to tell that to they boy, lied to the boy that his father had gone to Hourai. --That is just too common a lie. Even such a mother could not but abandon her child, and the abandoned child still believed in his mother’s words up to this moment, and continued searching for that mythical land.

“That sea was called the Black Sea. Hourai is at the Empty Sea, a sea even further to the east. However, Hourai is so far away at the east that you cannot reach there even if you ride on the big one. The place is really, really far way.”
It is impossible to go to Hourai from here. Only the sages and the youma can cross the Empty Sea. Humans cannot cross, except ranka.

“Oh... really...”
The boy drooped his shoulders. Most probably the boy searched for Hourai in order to search for where his parents were. Hearing that it was located at the east of the sea, the boy searched around the coast of the Black Sea. However, youmas are menaces to humans. It is imaginable how people treat youmas that appear in towns. Of course, all is because youmas attack people, but this boy believed that his surrogate parent would be accepted if it didn’t attack people.


“... I’m sorry.”
Though Rokuta could not be blamed for anything, the apparent discouraged expression shown by the boy as he drooped his shoulders made Rokuta feel he couldn’t but apologize.

The boy held his breath repeatedly and made a faint sound of “Come.” The youma at the nearby rocky shore jumped off the rock and reached the boy’s sides. The boy put his face against the fur that was smeared with human blood.

Oh, Rokuta suddenly realized. The boy wasn’t talking to Roku in human language. Thinking back, the boy wasn’t using human language at all; he was making animal sounds for over half of the time in his conversation with Rokuta. Kirin know the ways to understanding the language of youma and beasts, so the boy’s sounds were heard as human conversation.

The youma tapped the tip of his beak to the back of the boy’s neck, and made a small sound. Rokuta couldn’t hear what it said, but he understood that it was a call, “Even so, let’s go home.” They boy lifted his head, and dispiritedly stood up.

“Are you coming here again?”
“... I don’t know. If Hourai is not here, there is no use coming back...”
Rokuta didn’t know what to answer upon hearing that.
“If I go to cities, the adults would wait for us and do mean things to us...”
“... You are right.”
And those mean things are not all done against the youma. The boy’s legs, extended from his ragged hem, bore a couple of spear-wounded scars.

“Do you want to live in a city?”
The boy turned back.
“... With the big one?”
“Well. Maybe not with him...”
“Then no, thanks...”
“However, should you change your mind and would like to live in a city away from the big one, come to Kankyuu.”
Kankyuu, the boy repeated to himself.

“Visit me! -- But you don’t have a name, do you.”
“No.”
“Hey, name yourself one.”
“I don’t know.”
“Then, maybe I’ll give you one.”
The boy’s face lit up upon hearing Rokuta’s words.
“--Please!”

Rokuta sank deep into thoughts, which is a rare sight. Cocking his head several times, he finally hit his hand, and wrote on the sand.
-- Kouya (更夜).

“How about Kouya?”
“What does it mean?”
“In the middle of the night.”
The boy accepted immediately.
“--Great!”
Kouya, the boy repeated to himself time and again.

They most probably would never meet again, Rokuta thought as he waved goodbye to the leaving Kouya.
“Kouya, if you have troubles, come to Kankyuu! I work at Genei Palace. Say ‘Rokuta’ and they will know.”
Okay, Rokuta nodded from far away as he rode on the youma.
“Please do come! Kouya!”

***

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~ Chapter Two~

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Part 3

At the time Rokuta returned to the palace, Itan and others have already left. Only Syouryuu was facing the desk.

“Is the bloody talk over?”
Rokuta asked. “Yeah,” Syouryuu replied without taking his eyes off the table. What are you so enthusiastic about? Rokuta asked as he sneaked a look, and saw Taikou no Ten no Maki and a roll of paper got spread open on the table.

“Ordered by Syukou, I see. --Who is the master here, I wonder.”
“I agree.”
Syouryuu said as he folded his arms, and put a reflecting expression on his face.

Rokuta peered in, and saw the string of bighearted words that reflects how Syouryou is like.

-- First, the world should be ruled with payment bills on one’s side.
“Hey, you old geezer!”
The famous first Heavenly Commandment stated that “the world should be ruled with generosity on one’s side.”

“Why must you make Syukou mad? Syukou will definitely hold grudges. Unlike simple and steadfast-minded people like Itan and Seisyou, that guy will put a smile that hides all his grudges, and shoot sarcastic remarks for hundreds of years to come!”
“So what, as long as I can bear it? Throwing sarcasm to uninterested people only makes the sarcasm dull and unchallenging.”

“I feel pity for Syukou.”
“Maybe it is good to have the decision to copy everything appropriately, but I am pretty bad at thinking like that.”

“...Sometimes, I really think that you are the authentic Foolish Highness (jap. Baka-dono).”
“Oh? Just sometimes?”
“Yes. Usually I just think of you as a simple big fool (jap. Oo-boke-yaro).”

You brat, Syouryuu said as he threw a punch that merely misses Rokuta. Rokuta jumped on a big table in the room, and sat cross-legged with his back facing Syouryuu.

“--Will there be a civil war?”
“Most probably.”
“...Many people will die.”

Then came a faint laughter.
“In the first place, things like a kingdom are built upon sucking its people’s blood as taxes. To tell the truth, it is for the people’s sake that things like a kingdom don’t exist. However, it is the ability of able officials to act as if he doesn’t know the truth.”

“What an unbelievable emperor!”

“That’s the truth. The people can still stand without the emperor and others. It is only the emperor who cannot stand without his people. The emperor feed himself by robbing of the harvests that his people earned with their sweat on their forehead. For exchange, the emperor didn’t things that his people cannot do on their own.”
“...Maybe.”

“In the end, the emperor is nothing but a person who exploits and kills his people. Therefore, within their abilities, they leniently exploits the least they can, and kills the fewest they can. If the numbers are kept at a minimum, the emperor is regarded as wise. But that never means that he does no such deeds.”
Rokuta couldn’t talk back.

“..Only five provincial lords survived. In three provinces, the provincial lord spaces created by the massacre of Kyou-ou are still left empty, as the local officials snatch control. The only provincial lord we can use is from the Province of Sei (靖州).

Mentioning that, he called Rokuta.
“Send to the provincial lord of Sei our wish to borrow their provincial army.”
“That is your stuff. I cannot command an army anyway.”

Saihou is granted control of the province where the capital is located. At the Kingdom of En, that means the Province of Sei. There are the land, the people and the army, but actually the emperor only commands the army, and the lands are all split up and granted as rewards to officials.

“... Are you really that afraid of war?”
Syouryuu asked, and Rokuta lifted his head. He turned back, and Syouryuu smiled gently.
“If you are afraid, just hide. The war won’t spread to here.”

“That’s not it. War is most disturbing to the people. I am the manifestation of the people’s opinion, you know.”
“Yeah, it is said that kirins are creatures of timidity.”
“Well, let’s put it as that kirins are creatures of deep generosity.”

“It is better to end it all by killing a hundred now than saying we cannot kill, and end up killing a thousand in the end.”
Rokuta turned back, and pointed a finger to Syouryuu.

“Don’t say such things to me!”
“Oh, you are not impressed. I thought I could took pride by saying killing a hundred is enough.”

“Shouldn't the numbers be a thousand times bigger?”
Rokuta stared at Syouryuu, and Syouryuu laughed.
“Does En have a population of a hundred thousand in the first place?”

Rokuta jumped off from the table.
“You are very much qualified as metsu-tei (滅帝, the emperor who exterminates)!”
Rokuta threw that remark behind him and stepped toward the door. Then he heard a voice.

“I have told you to leave it to me, right?”

Rokuta turned back. Syouryuu was still facing the desk as before, with his wide back facing Rokuta.

“So close your eyes and plug your ears for now. This is a path we must go through.”
Rokuta stared at Syouryuu’s back for quite some time. Finally he turned away and left.
“I don’t know a thing. Everything is left to you.”

***

Rokuta got the real punishment to attend the administrative meeting, staying still behind Syouryuu and stifling yawns as he listened to the six ministers’ reports. Finally, he was set free. But as he stepped out of the hall, a person called him to stop.

Rokuta stopped and turned back. A minister kneeled before him.
“I am afraid somebody would like to request a meeting with Taihou.”
“With me? ? A minister?”

No, the minister answered.
“There is a person at Kokufu(国府) who called Taihou’s name and asked for a meeting. He claimed the person he would like to meet works in the palace, but dubiously there is no one working in the palace who has the same name as Taihou’s. So I believed it would be best to notify Taihou anyway.”

Rokuta opened his eyes wide, and took one step forward.
“Did the person give his name?”
“Yes. He said the person will understand if I say Kouya.”

I can’t believe it, Rokuta thought to himself. He thought that they would never meet again. In fact, Rokuta doubted whether the boy had survived.

“I am going right away. -- He is at Kokufu, right?”
“He said he would wait at the gate of Chimon(雉門).”
“I am going right away, so never let him go. Understood?”

Understood, the minister replied as he bowed. Rokuta hurriedly turned back, while Syouryuu and others stopped midway and looked at the sight.

“--I’m surprised. You had acquaintances at the world below.”
“I have many friends, unlike Syouryuu.”
“Friends?”
“Yes. ? Because of that, I’ll take my leave.”

“What about the government affairs in the afternoon?”
Ahem, Rokuta cleared his throat and straightened up.

“Maybe it is a premonition of some looming catastrophe, or maybe it is a punishment of my lack of virtue, but I have somehow caught some sudden illness, and would like to request for sick leave for the rest of the day.”

Syouryuu chuckled.
“Wow that is very serious. Let’s call Koui (黄医, lit. yellow doctor, as yellow is the color of kirins and royalty)”
Koui is the family doctor of kirins.

“I sincerely appreciate your concerns, but you need not go that far. I’ll retreat to my residence and have a sleep. -- Something like that.”

Seisyou, who stood next to Syouryuu, called a subordinate standing straight by his side.
“Ekishin(亦信), accompany him.”
“No need, Seisyou. It’s not such a big deal. The guy is truly my friend.”
Rokuta said as he ran off. However, Seisyou gave an urging look to Ekishin. Ekishin bowed and followed Rokuta.

***

The gate of Chimon (雉門) is at the foot of Mt Kankyuu. At the peak is En-tyou (燕朝, the imperial court) where the administrative hall and the emperor’s residence are located. Halfway down the hill are Nai-tyou (内朝) where the high-ranked officials’ residences and offices are, and Gai-tyou (外朝) where the low-ranked officials’ residences and offices are. Going further down the hill, one reaches the foot of Mt Kankyuu. There is Kokufu (国府), extending from the gate of Koumon (皋門), the entrance of the palace, to the gate of Chimon, the innermost of Kokufu. The general public can freely get in or out between the two gates. Therefore, the gate Chimon is also called the Middle Gate (中門, the gate of Tyuumon).

Rokuta rushed down the mountain to the gate of Chimon. The Sky-Pillar Mountain (凌雲山, Ryouun-san) is, as its name means, a mountain that penetrates the clouds. However, spells are cast on the roads that penetrates the inside of the mountain, so the gate is in fact of walking distance. However, Rokuta still needs time to get out, because the palace is so huge, and he must take off his formal wear.

Gasping his way into the buildings at the gate of Chimon, he saw a person in the building for visitors to rest, as told by the messenger. He was sitting straight on a chair, staring at the garden. Rokuta met him more than eighteen years ago, and the boy that had been younger than Rokuta at that time should have now become an adult man. However, the person was still young, about fifteen or sixteen years old. The person’s black hair has a light shade of blue, though.

“Is it... Kouya?”
Rokuta asked as he anxiously stopped at the entrance of the room. The person looked back.

“--Rokuta”
The person kneeled down.
“I finally make it here, as I have longed to meet you. --Taiho, it has been a long time.”

Kouya gave a deep kowtow. Apparently Kouya had learnt about the status of Rokuta.

“It has been 18 years already. Last time I didn’t know you are Taiho. My apologies.

Kouya was nicely dressed. He didn’t make animal squeals when he spoke.
“But... you...”
Rokuta lost his head, failing to link the young man in front of him with the boy he met at the Province of Gen. The man lifted his head, and put on a smile again.

“Taiho just likes to play jokes. At that time you should have told me you are Taiho. Imagine my surprise when I heard from others afterwards that the one with golden hair is Taiho.”
“Ah... Yes.”

In this kingdom, people have all kinds of hair color except golden. The golden color is a unique property of kirins.

“And I am so honored to be named by Taiho. --However, I didn’t know what the name means even after you explained to me.”

“So, how are you doing now?”
“A very kind person adopted me, and taught me many things such as the language. Now I am working under him, as the lowest of all officials.”

“So you have been raised as a sage. That is why you haven’t grown old.”
Yes, Kouya smiled.

“Coming to Kankyuu, I wanted to see you no matter what. If I asked for a meeting with you, you might just shut the door, I asked you out instead. ...Would it be a bother to you?”
“Not at all!”

“Glad to hear that. --I was wondering whether Taiho has already forgotten about me.”
Rokuta shook his head. His heart was filled with delight that they finally met again.

“How can I forget you? It has really been a long time.”
Yes, Kouya smiled.

“Stand up. It is kind of strange when I see you do this to me.”
“Thank you for your permission.”
He stood up after a bow, and craned his head.
“--Let’s be ourselves, and keep it this way. You are meeting Rokuta your friend right?”
“Okay, let’s keep it this way then.”

Kouya walked side by side with Rokuta. Looking down to Rokuta friendlily, Kouya showed a slightly longing expression.

“I have been looking forward to meeting you for so long, but Kankyuu is a little too far away for me.”
“You are right... Sorry.”

“With that beside me, I couldn’t come close to cities. But without getting into cities and asking for directions, I don’t know where Kankyuu is.”
“That? ...You mean the big one?”
Yes, Kouya nodded.

“How is the big one doing?”
“Still hanging there.”
Touya said as he smiled jokingly, as if he is talking about his accomplice.

“I am working as a bodyguard with the big one. Just like the guy over there.”
Kouya pointed to Ekishin, who stood behind Rokuta as if he was trying to hide his presence.

“Sorry. They never leave my side.”
“I understand. You are such an important person.”
“Oh drop it.”
Kouya chuckled and bended forward, peering at Rokuta’s face.

“Are you allowed to get out of the city?”
“It’s okay. I have been called for long as a slacker.”
“Then you can meet the big one.”
“Is it near here?”
“Outside Kankyuu. -- Don’t worry, the big one always listen to my words.”

Kouya then lowered his voice.
“The big one has been keeping his promise.”
Rokuta cocked his head, and finally remembered what the promise was : to not eat humans.

“Really? Wow, that is impressive.”
Rokuta was dumbfounded by the many things before him. A youma taking care of a human. The youma keeps its promise with the human... These are just unbelievable.

“Let’s go. Do you want to leave Kankyuu? I only know the way in though.”
Rokuta nodded.
“Leave it to me. I know Kankyuu like the back of my hand. Let me show you around.”

***
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~ Chapter Two~

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Part 4

The city of Kankyuu is the capital of En, but it was not that big. At least, the capital of Hourai is bigger than Kankyuu, Rokuta thought to himself.

Rokuta wrapped a shawl around his head inside the gate of Chimon. If he hadn’t hidden his hair like that, the public would have spotted him immediately. There are no better ways; somehow, no dye can stick on kirins’ mane, so kirins cannot dye their hair.
Rokuta had changed his clothes to those of normal people, and hid his trace as he followed Kouya out of the city of Kankyuu. Nevertheless, Ekishin followed closely behind.

Ekishin was originally a soldier under the command of Seisyou. When Seisyou was imprisoned, most of his subordinates handed in their resignation, and didn’t leave their home until Seisyou was released. Kyou-ou didn’t allow so many resignations, and ordered many of the subordinates to get back to their positions. Those who refused were killed off, but quite a number of the subordinates survived the massacre. Ekishin then worked under Seisyou the Daiboku as a bodyguard. Holding deep respect to Seisyou, Ekishin refined his martial arts very well, so fine-toned that he could spot even Seisyou’s moves right away. Kouya and Rokuta tried to wait for Seisyou getting distracted, but it was so hard for them to hide their tracks from his sight that they finally gave up.

Ekishin kept surveying the surroundings with caution. The kirin is the only sacred beast for the country, and any chances of harming the kirin can never be allowed. If the people knew the kirin is around, they will rush forward for the chance of direct complaint to the government. That day, however, the lucky star was with them; no one seemed to have noticed the kirin.

Kankyuu spread like a fan at the foot of the Sky-Pillar Mountain . The city is protected by walls, and there are eleven gates. Leaving from one of the doors, one can see a vast slope of green extending from it. From not far away farmlands spread out. At least, Kankyuu is embraced by such glamorous garden scenaries.

“This way,” Kouya said smilingly as he climbed over a small hill. Ekishin advised Rokuta at least not leaving the city, but Rokuta ignored him and followed Kouya. Entering a piece of woodland that had flourished for the last twenty years, Kouya yelled “hey” with the sound of an animal.

“Hey, you still can do that.”
Rokuta said impressed, and Kouya nodded. Immediately, the sound “here” could be heard within the woodland.

“The big one, has he grown old?”
“Yeah. Hasn’t turned old as fast as humans though.”
“They live longer than humans don’t they.”
“Maybe that’s the reason.”

Maybe, Rokuta nodded. Shirei never age, and they have the high intelligence to use human language. Rokuta originally thought that this is because Shirei had struck a contract with him, but it may also be the case that youma are such creatures in the first place.

Walking towards the source of the sound, they found a red beast waiting at a small piece of grassland.

“--Tenken!”

It was Ekishin who yelled. He took a defensive stance, and grab the sword at his waist. Rokuta hurriedly stopped him.
“Stop it! Everything is fine.”

“But, Taiho, that’s...”
“It is definitely a youma. However this one is tame, and follows what Kouya tells it.”
“How can that be?”
“Mysterious, isn’t it? It is shocking, but it is true.”

Rokuta said, and Ekishin eased his defensive stance without totally letting his alerts down. However, he kept his hand on the handle of the sword. That is unmistakably a Tenken, a type of youma. Ekishin was told that youjyuu (mystical beast) can be tamed, but definitely not for youma.

“Everything is all right. See, there are people around.”
Rokuta said with a smile, and Ekishin took a look. There were several people at the youma’s side. Earlier, the youma caught his complete attention, and he didn’t notice the people around.

“Oh... Okay.”
Ekishin finally let go of the handle. Rokuta smiled, and turned to look at Kouya’s face.

“The big one, he doesn’t change a bit!”
“Yeah,” Kouya nodded, and walked up to the youma.
“--See, it is Rokuta. Do you remember him?”

He said, and turned his glance to the people standing beside the youma.
“--You find it?”

Yes, the people replied as they lowered their head, so they must be Rokuta’s servants. It is nothing suspicious for an official, Rokuta thought to himself as he looked at the people. One man in the middle held a small baby in his arms. Rokuta saw him give the baby to Kouya, and dropped his jaw.

“I can’t believe it! --Is that your child, Kouya?"

Kouya smiled as he held the baby. The baby was sound asleep.
“No, you are mistaken. I find it, so as to meet you.”

Smiling gently, Rokuta held the baby out to the youma. The youma opened its beak, complete with sharp teeth inside. Before the dumbfounded Rokuta could make a cry, Kouya put the baby right inside the beak of the youma.

“--Kouya!”

Kouya turned back and smiled.
“This is how he transports living creatures.”
Rokuta gave a sigh of relief.
“Oh, is it?”

“However,” Kouya cocked his head while keeping his smile. “If Rokuta or the guard do anything, the baby would be swallowed alive.”

“--What?”
“Tell your shirei to not move an inch. If Taiho does anything, rokuta will bite off the this baby's head.”

Ekishin moved immediately in front of Rokuta. Rokuta was dumbfound as he hid behind Ekishin.

“--rokuta,” he mumbled.
“I gave the big one a name as well: rokuta. --At that time, I didn’t know this name is so revered.”
“Kouya...”
“If you pity for this kid’s life, come with me quietly. You feel pity for him, right? Kirins are creatures with deep generosity, that’s why. So generous that they will fall sick under the smell of blood.”

Kouya looked at Ekishin.
“You may come with us. Just don’t resist. I think Rokuta will order you so as well.”
“You bastard!”

Ekishin grabbed the handed and pulled out his sword. Yes, kirins are unable to fight by themselves, but they are also not something that can be blackmailed to move around so easily! Even if he needs to shed blood before his honored one, or even if he needs to leave the innocent kid to die, he must defend the one and only one Taiho to the very end.

“Ekishin, stop! No!”
Ignoring Rokuta’s cries, Ekishin grabbed Rokuta’s wrist. Turning back in order to escape with Rokuta, Ekishin suddenly shocked stiff midway. Behind Ekishin a shadow appeared from nowhere. Ekishin was so taken aghast by everything that he didn’t notice the shadow sneaking up behind him. If it had been a person, Ekishin would have certainly noticed his footsteps. But that was not a person.

A red body, a pair of green wings, a black mouth.

A faint laugh escaped from Kouya’s mouth.

“You know, youma can call their own species.”

Before Ekishin can wield his sword around, that youma’s mouth attacked even faster. From the very beginning, the youma had been aiming at Ekishin’s throat.

“--Ekishin!!”

Rokuta’s shout turned into a shriek. The youma accurately split Ekishin’s throat, and bit off his flesh. Blood and flesh flew. Rokuta was shielded from such a dreadful scene as a pair of arms hugged Rokuta’s body and drew him away.

“Oh no, Taiho!”
A female voice cried. The arms hugging Rokuta were covered with white scales. A pair of white wings enveloped Rokuta and hid his face. --It was Rokuta’s another shirei.

“--Kouya!!”
Even though Rokuta was shielded by the wings, he knew what happened by the ominous sounds of Ekishin’s broken screams and the pungent smell of blood. Then, a loud thud of a body dropping on the ground sounded, and Ekishin’s breath of life vanished. After that, the sound of eating was hidden by the baby's sudden cry.

“--Why, Kouya? ...”
“To take Taiho to the province of Gen.”

The province of Gen, Rokuta whispered to himself.
“Please order your shirei to behave themselves, if you pity for the kid’s life. I have never thought of harming Taiho. I just want to invite you along to meet my master.”

“...Master”
Didn’t Syouryuu mention the province of Gen before?

“He is the vice lord of the province of Gen.”
“--Atsuyu, isn’t he?”

Rokuta pushed off the wings that hid his face. Standing beside the youma, Rokuta stared at the ever-smiling Kouya.

“Oh you know Keihaku (卿伯, the rank of Atsuyu) already.”
“... What is the province of Gen plotting?”

Kouya remained silent to Rokuta’s question. Only the invisible sound urged the people around.

“Taiho,” a questioning voice could be heard from the back. Rokuta shook his head.
“No, Yokuhi (沃飛). Don’t do anything.”
“But...”
“Let me go.”

Rokuta ordered, and the white arms that hugged Rokuta lost hold. Rokuta turned back, and showed a nod to the worried nyoukai (女怪, female monster, such as Sanshi for Taiki).
“Step down, Yokuhi.”

The female with white scales, white wings and lower limbs of a crane looked confusedly at Rokuta. Drawing a deep breath, she shook her snake tail slightly and disappeared. She had returned to Rokuta’s shadow. Rokuta double checked, and turned to face straight at Kouya. Kouya smiled gently.

“That is what I expect from Taiho. How deeply generous you are.”

~ End of Chapter Two ~

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