hat day, a unusual flurry of excitement arose in a neighborhood of Koutaku.
“Is true they figured out the location of His Highness?” asked one of Sougen’s retainers.
Sougen nodded. “We can’t say so for certain, but we’re much more confident this time around.”
The harder you wish for results, the faster those results recede into the distance.
They kept Kyoshi’s words engraved on their minds. On top of everything else, another search of Kan’you Mountain was in the cards. They hadn’t found Gyousou yet, which meant their efforts to date had been insufficient. They had to rethink their whole way of doing things. The first step was to reexamine every inch of Kan’you Mountain.
“But Kan’you Mountain is huge.”
“No doubt about it,” Risai agreed. “Right now, even Kyuusan admits he doesn’t know the half of it, and he rules the roost on the whole mountain.”
“A thorough search will require a lot of manpower.”
“We have plenty of manpower, though I can’t say it’s what we need to get the job done.”
Sougen still had most of his division. Add to that the forces from Gamon Temple and the Hakushi.
A Taoist monk by the name of Seigen pointed out, “If you all converge on Kan’you Mountain at the same time, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb.”
The Koutaku Ordination Hall had for a long time sheltered and supported Sougen and his men. Douhan, the head priest, brought them together and made the introductions. A Danpou Temple monk by the name of Kuushou, and Seigen, a Taoist priest from the Zui’un Temple circuit. They’d both come here as followers of Douhan.
Responding to Seigen, Risai explained, “By splitting up and moving in small groups, we should avoid attracting too much attention. Refugees traveling through the area have become a common enough sight, and the roads from Hakurou through Tetsui to Seisai are largely out of the public eye. With pedestrian traffic falling off, the roads are often deserted. As long we don’t do anything to stand out, I think the risks will be manageable. Once we get to Seisai, there are places where we can lie low.”
There were abandoned mines all around Kan’you Mountain. A mining camp on the scale of Rokou could support several thousand. With the nod from Kyuusan, they could keep a significant number out of view along the way from Seisai to Anpuku. Gamon Temple had the resources to supply their room and board.
“Sekirin Temple will help too,” Sodou said. “That includes reviving the Taoist temple in Seisai. Sekirin Temple has a large temple further west of Seisai in Ryuukei. The one in Seisai was on a similar scale. Time has passed since the purges and eradication campaigns. There would be nothing unnatural about rebuilding the temple now. In that case, it’d be perfectly normal to have people hauling goods back and forth.”
“We can also assist you in that matter,” said Douhan, the head priest of the Koutaku Ordination Hall. Douhan was old man who carried about him an air of detachment from the world. His weathered features and bright eyes as well appeared well suited for his vocation.
“For a long time now, a great many shamans have sought licenses from the Koutaku Ordination Hall. Koutaku is filling up. It’s become something of a burden and a bottleneck.”
The shamans by and large did not belong to a single unifying religious organization. Most consisted of the master and a small number of disciples, and each little group wanted a license.
“Because not having a license significantly limits their activities, they flock to Koutaku. Their sheer numbers fill the inns to overflowing. They end up gathering on vacant land. A city at the bottom of a mountain valley doesn’t have more land to expand into. It’s a problem for the shire government as well. There’s long been talk of moving the shaman licensing to another location. Setting up an Ordination Hall in territory ruled by the land gangs is out of the question, but historically speaking, Ryuukei would be a good fit.”
Back in the day, Ryuukei had been a city of religion and a center of Taoist activities. Though the city depopulated during the purges, little by little, the old residents had begun to return.
“Ryuukei is pretty remote, isn’t it?”
Risai thought that Hakurou or Rin’u would be more convenient but Douhan pointed out that, “Big cities really aren’t that well suited. Thanks to the commendable officials running the shire government in Koutaku, we long ago reached a mutual understanding. But governments are not eager to share power. For Taoist temples and Buddhist monasteries that wielded considerable authority in the past, a far-flung town is more suitable.”
“Ryuukei would be ideal. However—” A stern-looking priest raised his voice. This was Kuushou from Danpou Temple. “If this starts taking a long time, the danger of exposure will only increase. Won’t conducting a survey of Kan’you Mountain in its entirety become well-nigh impossible?”
“Kyuusan controls all the entry and exit points. There’s no evidence that His Highness passed through them. That suggests we should be looking in the area where the landslides sealed off access to the mountain itself.”
To the murmur of assent, Risai added, “In that case, we’ll need Kyuusan’s cooperation.”
While Sougen prepared to mobilize his forces, Risai and her crew returned along the training trails. Kenchuu, Houto, and Kiitsu had set up shop in Seisai and were waiting for them.
The new safehouse was located in the east of Seisai, a location that provided ready access to Kan’you Mountain further east. Kyuusan had made the accommodations available so Risai visited him first thing to thank him personally. He took up residence in Seisai in order to be more accessible to them.
Risai headed to the inn where Kyuusan was staying. The almost deserted road was packed with snow, piled here and there in deep drifts.
“A search of Kan’you Mountain?” Kyuusan said with startled expression when she laid out the particulars of the situation. “That mountain is a monster.”
“I know. But it’s something we have to do.”
“Hmm.” Kyuusan folded his arms. “Well, to start with, feel free to use Seisai as you see fit. We’d prefer you maintained a low profile, but as long as you’re using Sekirin Temple and the Koutaku Ordination Hall as a front, I don’t see a problem. More people moving in should keep the place from going to the dogs. The buildings are already in bad shape as is.”
“According to the information we’ve gotten from Gamon Temple, people gathering here haven’t attracted any attention from the government. The government wrote off Seisai a long time ago as a place of no importance.”
“Yeah, I get that. But are you going to have enough supplies on hand?”
“I believe that support will be forthcoming. You’ve got enough on your plate already, but in a worst-case scenario, getting the women and children to safety would be our first priority. You can count on us to step up to help in that case.”
“I don’t have any concerns about that. Sounds like you’ve earned yourself the trust of these guys. The problem is Kan’you Mountain. However happy we are to lend a hand, that mountain is huge.”
“Unless you’ve run across new evidence worth tracking down, the place to start is the area around the landslides. Some excavation work will be in order. We can’t pay a lot, but we will pay wages to any workers you can lend us.”
“I’ve got no reason to turn down an offer like that,” Kyuusan said with a nod.
With that groundwork in place, and while preparing for any eventuality, Risai and her team moved forward with plans to refit the abandoned mining camps in the mountains. They moved in supplies and people from Gamon Temple, and little by little, additional personnel from Koutaku. Those with kijuu used the training trails and the rest came via the highways along the northern route.
There were just three of us when we left Sekijou. Risai, Kyoshi, and Houto. Half a year later, they had a whole army at their disposal.
“With these military forces aligned, we could mount an assault on the Bun provincial capital,” Seishi said.
Risai nodded. At long last, we have finally arrived.
All they had to do now was find Gyousou.