he Imperial Palace floated on the Sea of Clouds, perched along the edge of the overhanging cliffs as if to take the entirety of the world below into its field of view.
This was Gyouten Mountain, the capital of the Kingdom of Kei. At the ninth station of the mountain that held up Kinpa Palace, a small skylight was tunneled into the white mountain wall. The skylight opened. A bird flew out, turned to the northwest, and sailed away.
The bird's vivid plumage resembled that of a phoenix. It soared over the territory of Kei, straight as an arrow towards the soaring, mountainous border. Three days later it arrived at the capital of En and Kankyuu Mountain.
The broad avenues spread out from the base of the mountain. Crossing the sky above, the bird skimmed across the tiled roofs of the buildings hugging the mountain. These roofs were elevated only slightly above the rest of the city. It headed for the one furthest in, burrowed into the flank of the mountain, and alighted on the window sill.
The window looked out from a room chiseled into the rock. Kankyuu Mountain was part of the Imperial Palace and the Imperial government. The room was quite modest and simple. Though the tool marks on the stone walls and floor revealed the work of skilled artisans, the space was graced only by worn and weathered table and chair.
The setting sun illuminated the curtains drawn across the stone-carved bookcase and bed, as if shining through clouded amber.
The bird tapped on the glass with its beak. At the sound, the person sitting at the desk in the room raised his head. Or rather, the gray-haired tail falling off the edge of the chair was not that of a human, but a rat. He glanced over his shoulder at the window. Spotting the bird, he fluttered his silver whiskers.
"Come in," he called out.
The bird flew through the open sash to the book-strewn desk and lit on the edge. He patted his head. The bird cocked its head to the side and began to speak in a woman's clear voice.
"Hey, it's been a while. How's it going?"
He laughed and nodded as if she was there in person. Her voice and diction was that of anybody but an Empress.