5-5 For a long, empty moment, Youko thought about the past and the fate of so many kaikyaku. She said, “The kaikyaku who end up here are killed because everybody automatically associates kaikyaku with shoku.”
“That’s what it’s come to, I guess. What’s your occupation, Youko?”
“I’m a student.”
“Yes, yes,” Rakushun said excitedly. “There are kaikyaku who possess skills that we do not, who know things that we do not. I’ve heard that they can survive with the protection of powerful patrons . . . don’t you think?”
But of course, Youko thought, an ironic smile coming to her lips. She didn’t know anything worth anything in this world. She said, “Do you know of any way of returning to Yamato?”
In response to her question, a frown came clearly to his face. “I don’t.” He hesitated, then added, “Perhaps I shouldn’t say this, but I don’t think there is a way.”
“That can’t be true. If I came here, then there’s got to be a way for me to leave here.”
At the tone of Youko’s voice, Rakushun’s whiskers drooped. “No mortal being can cross the Kyokai, Youko.”
“But I crossed the Kyokai. That’s how I got here in the first place.”
“Even if you were able to arrive here, there’s no way to leave. I have never heard of a kaikyaku or sankyaku returning to his home country.”
“That can’t be right.” She simply could not accept that it was not possible. “What about another shoku? I could wait for another shoku and get home the same way I came.”
In response to Youko’s spirited objections, Rakushun only sadly shook his head. “Nobody knows when and where a shoku might occur. And even if you did, there’s no way a mortal being could travel to that other world.”
No, that can’t be true, Youko again fervently told herself. If she couldn’t go home, then Keiki would have told her so. He hadn’t said a thing about it. She’d sensed nothing in his attitude or manner that suggested that it was a one-way trip.
“But I fled from Yamato to get away from the kochou.”
“A kochou? You escaped a kochou and came here?”
“That’s right. With a man named Keiki.”
“And he’s the person you’re looking for?”
“Yes. This guy named Keiki brought me here. To tell the truth, it was because the kochou and the rest of them were hunting me. He said that in order to protect me, I had to come here.” She looked at Rakushun. “I believed that once I was safe, I could go back. That makes sense, doesn’t it? He said that if I really wanted to go home, he would take me.”
“Keiki had these creatures with him who could soar through the air. Animals who could talk like you. As the crow flies, it was a one-day trip, that’s what he said. It’s not the kind of thing you’d say if you were going on a journey where there’d be no coming back, right?”
Youko spoke as if pleading her case to a judge. For a while Rakushun said nothing.
“I really don’t know. But I’d say that something quite important is going on.”
“It’s that big a deal, just based on what I told you?”
“A very big deal. If a youma like a kochou showed up around here, it’d be a very big deal. Every town within shouting distance would empty out. And you’re talking about a kochou going after one person, and going as far as that other world. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of such a thing. And then a man called Keiki brought you here?”
“It’s said that youma and wizards and their kith and kin can take themselves back and forth. As for this Keiki person, no matter what kind a being he is, taking somebody else along with him? That’d be a new one in my book. Whatever happened, I don’t think I’m the one to figure it out. But I know this much: it’s definitely not the kind of thing that happens on a regular basis.”
After pondering the matter for a while, Rakushun looked at Youko with his jet-black eyes. “So, as things stand now, what do you want to do? Keep yourself safe at all costs? Or go home?”
“I want to go home.”
Rakushun nodded. “As I expected. But that’s not something I know how to do. In any case, I think you ought to go to En.”
“I agree. And after that?”
“You can’t expect much help from government officials or the province lords. I think your best bet would be to go to En and ask for help directly from the Imperial En.”
Youko stared in amazement at the characters Rakushun was writing. “The Imperial En? You mean the emperor?”
Rakushun nodded. “The Kingdom of En has been ruled for generations by the Imperial En.”
“Is an emperor going to bother to help me?”
“I don’t know.”
You’ve got to be kidding! Youko wanted to shout but held her tongue.
“What I do know is that it’s better than staying here in Kou. At least better odds than beseeching the emperor of Kou. Perhaps it’s because the Imperial En is a taika.”
“Fruit of the womb, it means. The way children are born in that other world. It’s really rare here. A taika is a person from this world who is born by mistake in that other world.”
Youko’s eyes opened wide. “What are you saying?”
“It really is rare. But even then, I’d be hard-pressed to say whether it’s being born by mistake over there that’s rare, or just returning here that’s rare.”
“There are three well-known taika: the Imperial En of the Kingdom of En, the Saiho of En, and the Saiho of the Tai Kingdom.”
“A counselor or advisor to the emperor. There’s talk that the Saiho of Tai has died. The whereabouts of the Tai emperor are unknown. The kingdom is in turmoil and nobody wants to go anywhere near the place. You really ought to make En your destination.”
Youko found herself a bit overcome, partly because her brain was suddenly crammed with so much new information, and partly because all at once a whole new view of things had appeared before her.
Going to visit the emperor—that was on a par with visiting a prime minister or president. Was it even possible? At the same time, the prospect of getting caught up in such weighty matters left her lightheaded and confused.
As she turned all this over in her head, she heard the sound of footsteps outside.