Dreaming of Paradise

Chapter 10

The Koukyuu was quiet and apparently unoccupied. They didn't meet a single official or minister, but walked along the cobblestones and reached the other side of the gate complex. There wasn't anybody there either, not even the guards that usually stood watch at every gate. And nothing resembling a greeting committee.

"Where is everybody?" wondered Taiki, peeking out from the frame of the open gate. The buildings housing the sleeping quarters reached out beyond a lush garden, but if were people were there, he couldn't sense it. He turned to the adults around him. "What do we do?"

They looked just as confused as he was.

"Seirai?"

"I'm afraid I can't help you there."

"I've never been in the Koukyuu before. How about you, Seirai?"

"Um, if you're talking about being inside the gates, many times. The Koukyuu at Hakkei Palace is closed, but I've been in there. It's completely empty, though. As for the Koukyuu in other kingdoms, no."

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Judging by their pale expression, it was the same for Sougen and Asen. The junior ministers looked like ghosts.

Taiki took a step further inside the compound. Casting his eyes around the courtyard, he ascertained that no one was there. He shrugged and crossed the courtyard to the garden to get a better look at the other buildings.

"Taiho."

Taiki scrambled onto the stonework foundation and spied another courtyard deeper in amongst the buildings. He cautiously raised his voice.

"Um, excuse me—"

"T-Taiho—"

Taiki glanced over his shoulder. "But nobody's around. I think our only choice is to raise our voices a bit."

"Yes, but—"

"Hey, anybody home? Gomen kudasai!" Taiki said with unusual boldness. His retainers opened their eyes wide with surprise. But Taiki was only doing what he always did when he visited the neighbors back in Japan.

"Excuse me?" Taiki raised his voice. And got no answer.

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"Nobody seems to be home. What now?"

"How am I supposed to know?" Seirai grumbled.

"Why don't we just keep following these gardens until we run across somebody?"

"You can't be serious."

"We can't just turn around and go back, can't we?"

"You do have a point there."

"I think the only acceptable thing to do is to go indoors. Leave it to me."

"Wait—" Seirai started to say. He clenched his fist resolutely. "I'll go with you. Sougen and Asen, wait here."

"But—"

"I may not be much, but I'm at least a Taiho on paper. I figure they can't punish me too much. Wish me luck."

"I'm going too," said Tansui.

Seirai stopped him. "With things wide open like this, let's not do anything rash. The Taiho has his shirei, and I'll be with him."

Copyright Eugene Woodbury. All rights reserved.