Chapter 22

The Imperial Army headed north, crossed the provincial border, and headed to Rin'u. Bun Province had been experiencing a spell of good weather. But winter returned the day before, bringing with it a bout of bitter cold. Earth that had finally yielded to the till again froze solid, covered by a dusting of snow.

While the Imperial Army marched north, Kyuusan and his recruits from the land gangs formally reorganized under Seishi’s command. At the same time, they abandoned Sokou and retreated to Anpuku. Before leaving Sokou, the miners and merchants and tradesmen and everybody else who could flee the city departed for Jou Province along the outbound highways.

With only a mobile unit comprised of the land gangs posted in Anpuku, they pulled the laborers back from Kan’you Mountain and gathered the bulk of the personnel in Seisai.

As it had all along, the Provincial Guard showed no signs of doing anything. The division deployed outside Hakurou came to a halt.

“How long do you think until they mobilize again?”

The key players in the Black Flags assembled in the main hall. Their internal organization arose organically out of the characteristics of the groups that formed it in the first place.

The Koutaku forces under Sougen’s command comprised the largest number of soldiers and made up the operational core. Alongside them were the contingents from Rin’u that Risai had brought together.

p. 235

The Koutaku forces included soldiers under the command of Sougen’s retainers and remnants of the Imperial Army divisions led by Eishou and Gashin that had disbanded in Bun Province. They comprised the Imperial Army contingent.

The Jou Province contingent consisted of units that had broken away from the Jou Provincial Guard.

Civilian rebels and chivalrous knights that gathered in Koutaku, along with members of the Koutaku Ordination Hall, made up the Ordination Hall contingent.

Four divisions in total.

Though many of the members in the Ordination Hall contingent had little experience in warfare, what they lacked in skill they made up in numbers. Furthermore, among of the Danpou Temple contingent and the chivalrous knights were master craftsmen whose skills could not be taken for granted.

From Rin’u came the forces commanded by Risai’s retainers and the land gangs led by Kyuusan. The Hakushi, chivalrous knights, and the Gamon Temple contingent could hardly be called battle hardened, but they were well acquainted with the state of affairs in Bun Province and had a strong sense for the lay of the land.

The most battle ready and best organized were the three regiments under Yuushou that had switched their standards. Moving discreetly along the highways, the gathering forces already exceeded ten thousand.

Examining the map in front of them, Yuushou said, “Will they advance all the way to Sokou, knowing we abandoned the city? Or will they march on Kakyou, aware that Kyuusan and the land gangs were gathering in Seisai?”

Sougen shook his head. “We can probably rule out Kakyou. The links between Kakyou and Ryuukei notwithstanding, none of the highways there are wide enough to accommodate the Imperial Army and the mountain roads are still covered with snow.”

“Or rather Koukyuu?”

From Koukyuu to Houtaku and past Tetsui to Ryuukei.

p. 236

“I think we can take that option off the table as well. Any attack on Seisai would have to take place on two fronts to make sense. Ideally, three fronts. March east from Tetsui and north from Rin’u and hold Kakyou simultaneously. Once the Provincial Guard has been fully mobilized, we’re sure to see them advance from the west. Hakurou via Tetsui to Ryuukei. In that case, the Imperial Army likely intends to proceed from Rin’u to Sokou.”

A division of the Provincial Guard had already deployed to Rin’u. The arrival of the Imperial Army would double their numbers to two divisions. Those two divisions from the east along with one to two divisions from Hakurou could annihilate the Black Flags with little difficulty.

“Except,” Yuushou pointed out, “the Provincial Guard in Rin’u was dispatched to support us. The Provincial Guard had to be mobilized to keep the supply trains moving. Because logistics at the provincial level cannot be redirected to support the Imperial Army.”

Logistical support provided by the province were intended solely for the Provincial Guard. The Imperial Army didn’t have the authority to seize them. If only as a matter of formalities, any provisions first had to pass through the hands of the Provincial Guard.

To prevent this from becoming a point of contention, a set of procedures had been established. The Imperial Army did not normally exercise direct control over its own supply trains. When its soldiers moved through a region, it first secured the cooperation of the local Provincial Guard. Should the province and the kingdom come to loggerheads, the Imperial Army would have to bring everything with them or make arrangements along the way.

Moreover, the whole objective of Yuushou’s expedition was to survey Kan’you Mountain. The Provincial Guard had been dispatched to that end. They hadn’t expected from the start to engage the land gangs. As a result, most of the soldiers were from the engineering corps. They had only a token contingent of air cavalry with them and even the regular cavalry had been kept to a minimum. They certainly didn’t bring along any siege equipment.

“Nobody informed them that the land gangs were occupying Kan’you Mountain. They only found out after they got to Rin’u. They didn’t have the preparations in place to remove the land gangs from the area.”

p. 237

The Minister of Summer in Kouki made the call to mobilize the Provincial Guard. Namely, Shukuyou. He had no idea that Kyuusan had occupied Kan’you Mountain. In this kingdom, that was hardly out of the norm. The unnatural reluctance of the Bun province lord to engage in governance was not due to any kind of betrayal on his part but because he’d been turned into a useless puppet.

So Shukuyou ended up mobilizing the Provincial Guard based on incomplete information.

“According to the reports we obtained thanks to Tonkou, the Provincial Guard in Rin’u hasn’t changed since Shukuyou issued the orders. The numbers are impressive but not so much as a fighting force.”

“Still, we’re talking about the Provincial Guard. We can’t take them for granted.”

“Of course not. More importantly, we’re also hearing that the Provincial Guard is not interested in fighting us. Whatever Asen has on his mind, it’s not being communicated to the Provincial Guard. Otherwise, the composition of the forces in Rin’u would substantially change. In that case, the odds are high that the army on standby in Hakurou is simply there as a show of force.”

“A bluff, you mean. They’re not actually going to deploy?”

Yuushou nodded. “They give every appearance of attacking from Hakurou and Rin’u. But only the Imperial Army is going to mobilize. In other words, they remain in the dark about the Black Flags. They still think they’re facing down an ad hoc collection of the land gangs, rebels, and veterans. A few menacing moves with a single division should be enough to intimidate a motley crew like that.”

“If threats are what they’re after, wouldn’t it make more sense to march the Provincial Guard as far as Ryuukei?”

p. 238

“Do that and they’d block a primary means of retreat. Kan’you Mountain is the goal of the Imperial Army. If the occupiers of Kan’you Mountain are that motley crew, they won’t want to make any headlong attacks. However sure the Imperial Army might be of defeating them if they did engage, they’d still suffer a fair number of bumps and bruises in the process. More importantly, it’d be more efficient to attack along a single front and leave open other avenues of retreat. That would thus create ample room for them to escape.”

The thinking was that, if the Imperial Army attacked from Rin’u and inflicted enough damage on the land gangs, they’d abandon the battlefield. But the Provincial Guard was holding back in Hakurou, so they had to make good their escape before the Guard marched out of Hakurou and launched their own assault.

“The Imperial Army presses its attack from Rin’u. At the same time, the Provincial Guard moves out of Hakurou. The land gangs have no chance of winning if they stand and fight. If they don’t get off the mountain before the Provincial Guard gets to Tetsui, they’ll lose any safe havens. This increases the possibility that they will stop resisting and flee as fast as they can, making a beeline for Koukyuu before the Provincial Guard reaches Tetsui. Done right, the Imperial Army recaptures Kan’you Mountain without drawing any blood.”

“That makes sense.”

“Any mopping up activities would be left to the Provincial Guard so the Imperial Guard could focus on Kan’you Mountain.”

“In that case, we get on board with the plan and run away. We can expect a sweep of the area but they’re not going to hunt down the stragglers with the ferocity they did before. The throne is right there within Asen’s grasp. He can’t be seen launching another inhumane subjugation campaign. Better to wait until after the enthronement and launch the campaign against the land gangs in accordance with the law. No need to hurry.”

p. 239

Sougen looked at Yuushou. “Our job here is not to wage war and win. We’re going to avoid any full-bore conflicts and keep our forces fresh to fight another day. We’re gathering soldiers from around the kingdom. Once we whip them into shape, taking Bun Province castle becomes a real possibility.”

Yuushou nodded.

Several days later, the Imperial Army arrived at Rin’u. Though in battle formation, strangely enough, the columns came to a halt. The Provincial Guard as well showed no signs of resuming the march.

“What are they thinking?”

“Maybe they still don’t know that Kyuusan and his men abandoned Sokou.”

“Hard to believe. Their scouting parties would figure that out soon enough.”

The Imperial Army should have already been informed that Sokou was deserted.

“So does that mean the reason they are not moving is because they don’t have to? They have no desire to take on the land gangs, and with Sokou abandoned, there’s no need to attack?”

“But they haven’t abandoned Kan’you Mountain. Hasn’t the enemy been after Kan’you Mountain from the start?”

“There must have been some sort of shift at the command level.”

Just then, Chouten ran in from a room off the main hall. “Sougen-sama, a blue bird arrived.”

p. 240

“From Kouki?”

“I can’t tell.” Chouten held out a small black tube. “It’s addressed to Risai-sama.”

“To Risai? Who is it from and why?”

Chouten shook his head. “I don’t know. The blue bird is a koshuu. Quite out of the ordinary.”

“A koshuu?”

The koshuu was a species of blue bird mostly used by the aristocracy. They were limited in number and few people possessed the resources to get their hands on one.


This was the first time Sougen had seen one of the black tubes with his own eyes. Based on the rumors he’d heard, it must be from the mysterious “Genkan.”

“Risai-sama is not here so I thought you should see it.”

Sougen nodded and took the bamboo tube. As with an ordinary carrier pigeon, the tube had been carried there on the leg of the koshuu.

“We should probably run this by Moku’u to make sure. But why have it delivered to Risai?”

He extracted a roll of thin paper from the tube, the same used by the military. Narrow characters written in an oddly formal style covered the almost transparent paper. The message was addressed to Risai. It stated that a highly mobile air cavalry platoon in Asen’s army had departed Kouki with classified orders and was believed to be headed to Ba Province.

p. 241

“Ba Province? Why there?”

Had Asen caught wind of Gyousou’s presence there? Except he shouldn’t yet know that Gyousou had left Kan’you Mountain.

“They could only be after His Highness.”

“It doesn’t seem possible but we can’t ignore it either. A full platoon of the air cavalry will be much better armed and equipped than His Highness and his security detail. If they run into each other, I don’t see them prevailing.”

Meaning they could kidnap Gyousou, or in the worst case, kill him.

“Should we send support?” Seishi asked.

Sougen couldn’t agree. Asen’s army was right in front of them and ready to advance. “If we move now, they’re bound to follow.”

Moreover, the forces under his command were anything but highly mobile. They wouldn’t likely be able to catch up with Gyousou in any case.

“Still, we can’t overlook this warning, not when we don’t even know how close his pursuers might be.”

“How many kijuu would we need?”

“Even making the most of Hoyou-sama’s connections, I’d say ten would be the most we could lay our hands on anytime soon.”

p. 242

“Ten aren’t enough. Our opponents are a platoon of twenty-five air cavalry. At the bare minimum, we’d need twice that to adequately defend His Highness.”

“We need to scrape together as many as can accompany us. We’ll have to make up the difference with horses.”

“Horses won’t arrive in time. We really don’t have any other options here. Let’s gather our best riders and set them off after His Highness as fast as we can.”

“That many leaving at the same time will attract attention. Especially right now.”

“We can’t help the numbers. The safety of His Highness takes precedence.”

Kouka was chosen as squad leader. He was one of Sougen’s regimental commanders and had his kijuu with him. To a core group of soldiers also with their own kijuu, Hoyou helped to fill out the squad of fifteen mounts. If they could catch up and join forces with Gyousou and Risai and their ten kijuu, they’d have a full platoon of their own.

“Fifteen kijuu taking off at once would turn into something of a spectacle,” Kouka instructed his squad. “Split off in groups of five and head for Ba Province. His Highness is following the highway toward Ba Province. If we stick to the roads, we should overtake him.”

“The immediate problem is the Imperial Army in Rin’u.”

The Imperial Army bivouacked in Rin’u still had not resumed its march. Not only that, despite having completed its preparations to sortie, the Provincial Guard outside Hakurou also showed no signs of breaking camp.

Seishi wondered aloud, “What’s going on with that? Are they waiting for something?”

p. 243

Sougen only craned his head to the side without answering.

“They could be waiting for reinforcements. From Kouki?”

“Or rather from Jou Province. In which case—”

Sougen stopped talking mid-sentence and bit his lip. Asen had revised his estimations of their troop strength and now sized them up as a much larger force.

“He may have more than an inkling about our change of loyalties,” Yuushou said. “We should assume the air cavalry heading for Ba Province is after His Highness. They already know His Highness escaped from Kan’you Mountain and fled west. Meaning that Ukou made it back to Kouki.”

“Damn!” Seishi exclaimed, his face clouding over.

Even Sougen uttered a small groan. “Also meaning the Imperial Army didn’t come here to attack Kan’you Mountain.”

Yuushou said with a start of realization, “I get it. They’re here to provide support to the air cavalry headed to Ba Province.”

Sougen nodded.

Their mission was to pursue and capture Gyousou. But how easily could they return him to Kouki? If by change he were able to escape, the whole situation for Asen would quickly go from bad to worse.

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“The job of this air cavalry platoon must be to pursue His Highness, track him down, and detain him. Asen isn’t about to trust a single platoon to bring him back to Kouki. He surely hasn’t forgotten that he let Risai slip out of his grasp. He will deploy the Ba Provincial Guard to make sure His Highness stays in captivity. Once he’s accomplished that, Asen will still have to transport His Highness to Kouki.”

“And that is where the Imperial Army comes in.”

“The Provincial Guard is on standby in Hakurou, as is the Imperial Army in Rin’u. The Ba Provincial Guard brings him to the provincial border and hands him over to the Bun Provincial Guard. They complete the journey to Rin’u. The Imperial Army takes him into custody and retreats to Zui Province. The Provincial Guard mobilizing will be the sign His Highness has been captured.”

Sougen abruptly raised his head. “Send a runner after Kouka. As fast as you can.”

“What’s that?”

“Ba Province. Not only the air cavalry, the Ba Provincial Guard is also definitely on the move.”

Nanshou was five days behind them when the rugged borderlands of Ba Province came into view. Following the highway, they continued the climb toward the summit. The last mountain range revealed the road through the pass. They sought shelter in inns at the foot of the mountains, and left early the next morning as soon as the city gates opened.

p. 245

From there, it took another day to cross the remaining peaks. Descending the deep range into Ba Province they came to the next city. Then several more days through mountainous region steeper even than on the Bun Province side. After that, they should find the highway to Kou Province.

“Keep out of view and we can make it in three days,” Risai muttered.

Houto agreed. “Given how quiet things are around here, there probably won’t be much pedestrian traffic. Pretty thick forests. We should be able to weave our way through the woods.”

Though proceeding beneath the canopy of trees cut the capabilities of the kijuu in half, doing so was many times faster than walking and reduced the danger of being spotted by civilians.

Risai nodded. After leaving the city, they stuck to the highway for a while. Confirming that there were no onlookers around, they headed into the forest. Oukou took point, now and then darting above the canopy to survey their surroundings. The third time through this routine, he dove back down, the alarm clear on his face, and raced over to Risai.

“What’s up?”

“Cavalry. They’re approaching from the foot of the mountains.”


“Kijuu. Not airborne. By my estimation, a platoon of air cavalry.”

“Unbelievable.” Risai cursed under her breath.

p. 246

“They can’t be following us!” exclaimed a flustered Kyoshi. “They shouldn’t know His Highness is traveling with us.”

“Still—” Risai looked at Gyousou.

Gyousou nodded. “If this is indeed the air cavalry, the only logical conclusion is that they’re after us.”

“Why—” Risai started to say, except if they were being pursued, there was only one explanation.

Somewhere along the way, somebody recognized Gyousou or Risai or someone in their entourage, had figured out who they were, where they were from, and where they were headed. That their hunters had come this far already meant this wasn’t a development that happened yesterday.

Houto raised his voice. “Let’s go up and over. On the other side of this pass, the ridgelines are rugged and the valleys are deep. The thick canopy will work to our advantage.”

“What Houto said.” Risai ordered, “Go as fast as we can. Don’t lose sight of each other. Take care not to stray off course along the way.”

With a nod from Risai, Oukou once again soared skyward. Practically hugging the side of a huge tree, he alit on a branch near the top and looked back. He could make out the shadows of the kijuu moving among the trees. Enough of them to make up a full platoon. Though they weren’t closing the distance, they were clearly on their trail.

Do they know where we are?

Having confirmed the course they were taking, Oukou furrowed his brows. Running to the right and left of the platoon as it climbed hillside toward them, a hoard of black silhouettes flickered in and out of view. Among the hoard, one repeatedly veered toward the platoon and then circled away again.

p. 247

Are they being pursued as well? he thought when he spotted one of the riders soaring into the air. He dove back toward the ground and flew back to Risai’s side.

“Something strange is going on.”

“Strange?” Risai queried.

A rustling sound arose from the undergrowth not far from where they were standing. Oukou spun around and leveled his lance. A rusty brown hare with white spots bounded out of the tall grass. It shot past Oukou, abruptly raised shrill cry, and tumbled head over heels as if struck by a flying projectile.

An arrow, Oukou thought at first.

He jumped his kijuu straight up to the canopy of the forest. Those black shadows picked up speed as they raced beneath the trees,


They looked like a pack of black dogs. Big, fierce dogs. One of them ran up to the rabbit—and then ignored it completely and instead launched itself off the ground. Straight at Risai. Its mouth so wide its jaw appeared to split in two. Its entire head turned into a gaping maw.


p. 248

In the moment of that realization, Oukou swept his lance in a downwards arc. Hien jumped back at the same time, crouched down, and unleashed an intimidating roar. The black doglike youma ran straight at them, mouth gaping open. Oukou’s lance pierced its head through upper jaw and lower jaw and pinned it to the earth. Oukou yanked out the lance and alit again on the ground.

“Looks like a kiki,” Risai said.

No sooner had she uttered the word but a second kiki attacked Hien head on. Hien dodged out of the way. The kiki clawed at the air, spun around, and set off at a run. Racing along, the kiki kicked the corpse of the hare into the air. No—the small animal that appeared at first to be a hare sported a beak like a bird. The short, squashed beak, the long tail covered with scales like a snake—this creature was the furthest thing from a rabbit.

A kyuuyo. A small youma that summoned other youma. A timid creature, it screeched and scampered away when threatened. If run down, it played dead. But its screech attracted other youma. The nasty beast scavenged the corpses killed by other youma.

If that kyuuyo wasn’t brought down, it’d only call in more youma.

Oukou chased the rabbit youma but it was small and nimble and escaped every sweep of his lance. He was cursing having not brought a bow when he heard a human scream behind him. He wheeled around to see a kiki taking a bite out of Kiro’s leg.

“Someone get rid of that kyuuyo!”

With that cry, Oukou urged on Kishun. Before he could level his lance, the kiki gnawing on Kiro’s leg jumped back, taking with it Kiro’s left leg from the knee on down. Kiro wordlessly slid off his kijuu, enveloped in the red mist of his own blood.

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Kishun ran towards him. The kiki opened its mouth wide. Kiro’s leg fell from its jaws. Howling like a baby, the kiki prepared to charge just as Oukou’s lance rammed down its throat, piecing from front to back. With a shake of the lance, he flung off the corpse of the youma, and wheeled Kishun around back to Kiro.

Before Oukou could reach him, another kiki set upon Kiro, fastening itself to his shoulder as he attempted to sit up. The gaping maw of its mouth snapped shut and Kiro’s shoulder disappeared, along with half of his chest up to the nape of his neck. His eyes, wide open with fear, rolled back in his head, and his body topped backward. What was left of his arm flew off with a spray of blood.

Before Oukou’s lance struck the kiki, the youma split in two and fell apart. Oukou raised his gaze. Risai was there, sword in hand, her face white with rage.

“Kiso,” Oukou confirmed, as she stared down at the corpse.

He turned Kishun around again. Until that kyuuyo was disposed of, there’d be no end to this.

Another high-pitched screech told him right where it was. The big black suugu fastened its jaws around what otherwise looked like a cute little bunny and tore the squealing youma apart before wolfing it down. Astride the suugu, Gyousou caught Oukou’s eye and nodded. And then sprinted off after another of the black shadows.

Oukou estimated there were eight of the kiki. They’d taken down three. Oukou faced off against the fourth when Kishun suddenly swerved to the side. A spear sliced through the air behind them. He glanced around with a start and saw soldier astride a kijuu coming toward them from quite far away.

From that far away—

p. 250

Hitting the target with a throwing spear at that distance should be impossible, and certainly not with enough force to embed itself into the ground. There must be another soldier above him. He raised his head and saw nothing. Without a doubt, the spear had come from behind him.

What sort of martial skills are we talking about here? As soon as that thought crossed his mind, a far worse possibility occurred to him. They caught up with us. Held back dealing with the kiki, their pursuers had overtaken them.

Oukou spurred on Kishun and sped over to the big suugu. He said to Gyousou, “You’ve got to get out of here. We’ll handle this.” He called out to Risai, a short way off. “You too, Risai-sama. Keep him safe.”

Risai at first looked around with a puzzled expression. The realization soon dawned on her. She called out, “Kyoshi, Toushi, you go ahead.” She brought Hien alongside Gyousou, urged on a rattled Kyoshi and similarly reassured Houto, who was sitting behind Toushi.

Gyousou came to a halt. He no doubt intended to stay behind with Risai and guard their rear. They still had some distance to play with, making it possible to dodge and parry, cut down the kiki flying at them, and sidestepped the arrows shot at them.

If they didn’t get away before their pursuers closed that distance, those archers would pose a real danger. She looked at Gyousou and he nodded, as if catching onto her thoughts. Urging on Kyoshi and Toushi, he turned Ragou around set off at a run.

p. 251

When Risai caught up with him, Gyousou said in a low voice, “That was Kiso.”

“Yes. A pity.”

In this situation, there’d be no opportunity to bury the body. Perished like dogs at the side of the road and ended up food for the crows.

Regardless of what happened, they had to protect Gyousou. They had to keep him safe until they could escape Tai.

A human figure leapt from the woods off to the side, moving so fast that Risai didn’t have time to react. Hien acted first, jumping back to evade the attack. As the weapon sliced through the air, Gyousou answered with swordsmanship that was equally as remarkable. All the more surprising, with an unnatural twist and turn of his torso, his opponent parried and reposted without a moment’s delay.

He seemed to be aiming at his arm but Ragou took away that target with a mighty leap. Risai thrust her sword at him and thought she caught his shoulder, but his sword met hers instead. Metal slammed against metal like a ringing gong. A numbing shock ran down her arm. Tip of her sword rebounded skyward. She didn’t have enough strength left in her arm to force it back into line.


The riposte came so fast the curse never left her mouth. So fast it was impossible to avoid. Except a blow from the side knocked away the incoming blade. The thrust came at Risai fast but Gyousou knocked it down faster.

Dumbfounded, Risai managed to level her sword and drive it forward. The enemy reared backward and escaped the thrust. The sweep of Gyousou’s sword met that evasive movement.

p. 252

With a short cry, their attacker tumbled off his kijuu. She confirmed the body lying there at the edge of her vision and raced Hien forward.

Who was that man?

Only now did Risai feel her body tremble. If Gyousou hadn’t been there—if the two of them hadn’t acted together—they might not have prevailed.

Gyousou rode up next to her. “Are you all right?”

Risai answered with a pained smile, “Thanks to you.”

Fortunately, there appeared to be no enemy soldiers or kiki in their surroundings. They climbed the slope, weaving back and forth around the trunks of the trees as quickly as their kijuu could manage. They topped the ridge of the mountain and crossed the border.

“If only those kiki hadn’t shown up.”

None of their pursuers would have caught up with them. At the very least, Kiso would still be alive. She remembered their reunion in Koutaku. He’d spotted Hien amidst the crowds and introduced her to Sougen. He rode to the rescue at Anpuku. And yet—

“I can almost believe they sent in the youma to hold us up.”

p. 253

Risai ground her teeth in frustration. She couldn’t believe bad luck like this happened by accident. A kyuuyo just happened to show up. The kyuuyo summoned the kiki to attack them. Then their pursuers overtook them while they were dealing with the kiki and attacked with martial skills far out of the ordinary.

“Who are those guys?”

“Asen’s retainers, I suspect.”

“Asen’s?” Risai asked as they hurried to rejoin the rest of the team. “Are his retainers that good?”

Thinking back, nobody came to mind. She recalled many skilled soldiers in Asen’s army but none that rose to such preternatural levels.

“Ukou,” Risai muttered. He and his men boasted of abilities that were entirely out of the norm. That must be what was going on here. Abilities that could defeat even Gyousou.

“I don’t think that squad is under Ukou’s command. The armor is not the same.”

Ukou’s platoon was called the Red Armor, which was said to describe the color of their battle dress.

“Whether the Red Armor or that squad of air cavalry after us, I don’t recall anybody on Asen’s staff with those martial skills.”

“Neither do I. They must be possessed by hinman.

“Unbelievable,” Risai gasped aloud.

Hinman were said to be youma that welled up from ancient battlefields. They possessed people and resumed their ferocious fighting ways. In that light, given martial skills made the blood run cold, this explanation made the most sense.

p. 254

“I have heard of cases like that, people suddenly rampaging like hungry wolves and raising havoc with whatever weapons they could lay their hands on. But they behaved more like savage beasts.”

Could a human being possessed by a youma belong to a military unit and act in concordance with the demands of military discipline?

“I supposed you could say they’ve been domesticated.”

“Except—except that would mean that Taiki lent a hand!”

Only a kirin could domesticate youma and make them serve him as his shirei.

“That was not the case here,” Gyousou answered flatly. “The soldiers who attacked me were also possessed. Ukou was never that talented to begin with. To be sure, his fighting skills were always above average. But then he rose to such heights overnight. Though I don’t know how, Asen figured out how to enslave youma.”

“This all seems far beyond the pale.”

“It’s only natural to think that way. Asen being able to subjugate youma to his own ends—there’s no precedent for such a thing ever happening before.” If that was in fact the case, then Gyousou’s explanation was no less baffling. “Rousan set this whole scheme in motion together with Asen.”

p. 255


Meaning what? Risai was about to ask when a fresh surge of forces arrived on the scene.

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