The Shore in Twilight

Chapter 39

6-2 The fleeting glow filled the Kokinsai and winked out. Rokuta emerged first, leading the way. He scanned the faces of the assembled group waiting there and bowed.

“It is Taiki. We are certain. But he is ill and his condition is serious.”

“How is he ill?” asked Risai, her voice grating as she forced the question from her throat.

“We don’t really know. Probably the impurities in his environment. His body is being compromised by exposure to blood. The situation in that respect is grave as well, the likely reason Taiki’s aura is so faint.”

“Does that mean he hasn’t yet lost his kirin nature?”

“No,” said Rokuta, averting his gaze. “Taiki can no longer be called a kirin. The best way to look at it is that he’s lost most of his powers. And the poison is gaining on him. The shirei are all but running wild. He can’t even control them.”

“It’s that bad? But Taiki—”

“His aura was interrupted. We couldn’t follow it. But he should be there. We’re going to find him as quickly as possible and bring him home.”

Risai peered at Renrin and Keiki as they stepped out of the ghostly light. Their faces were dark with anguish. Their countenances were clearly telling her that unless Taiki was found and returned quickly, then things would get very grim indeed.

“Isn’t there—isn’t there anything else we can do?” she cried out.

Renrin hung her head apologetically. “As things stand now, we’re simply too short-handed.” She lifted her head. “Besides, when we do find him, how should we bring him back?”

“How?”

Renrin nodded and then turned to the rest for help. “If Taiki has lost his kirin nature, wouldn’t that mean that he has become a mere human, a Japanese? Is there a way of bringing such a person here?”

Listening from her corner of the room, Youko started. She’d definitely heard it said that no human could come to this world on purpose.

“If he has become a normal human, then he cannot pass through the Gogoukanda. And even if he could, there are those giant shirei to deal with. Forcing them through could trigger a shoku.”

Rokuta tipped his head to the side, as if in contemplation. “We’ll never know until we try. Except that Taiki may now appear to this world as a foreign substance, and would as a consequence be rejected him. Moreover, trying to force him through could cause great damage both here and there.”

“I—” Youko started to say. “When I covenanted with Keiki, I was not yet a duly-recognized empress. Keiki was somehow able to bring me here. So it seems to me that even if Taiki loses his kirin nature, he should be able to as well. Both of us started out as taika, after all.”

“Youko was mostly an empress. But Taiki is now mostly not a kirin. There’s no telling what would happen, or how Heaven would perceive this.” The Imperial Han continued in his level-headed fashion. “If we do not retrieve him, Tai will continue to drown. So do we bring him back at the possible cost of great destruction, or else quickly put him out of his misery and wait for another taika may grow?”

“Don’t spout such preposterous things.”

“If the thought is so repulsive to you, then you must accept the dreadful consequences that will otherwise occur.”

“I know—” Rokuta started to say when Hanrin interrupted in a tremulous voice, “If Taiki was an ordinary person, he could be appointed a wizard, couldn’t he?”

“A wizard—”

“A wizard could cross the Kyokai, couldn’t he? Other than that unavoidably caused by the shoku, the damage would be kept to a bare minimum.”

“I see,” Rokuta muttered. “But how to extend that appointment?”

“An emperor could travel across the Kyokai. That alone would result in a shoku of significant size. But it would be preferable to forcing an ordinary person across the Kyokai.”

“Reckless, but not without logic.”

“Indeed,” Rokuta nodded. He turned to his liege. “How about you? You want to make the trip?”

Shouryuu leaned back against the wall and folded his arms. “Fine by me,” he said at length, staring out the ornately latticed window. “My five-hundred year family reunion, I suppose.” The sunlight streaming through the lattices played with the shadows across his face. He narrowed his eyes, shifted his stance, and looked across the room. “Youko—no, Keiki. I’m off to Sou. A good time to patch up relations. I’d like you to come with.”

“To Sou?” Keiki echoed in confusion.

“We need to spread the word that Taiki has been found in Yamato and plead for more shirei. Rokuta, you go to Mt. Hou. Take Youko with you. Report on what has happened so far.”

Youko understood that they were to seek further instructions from Genkun about the matter. Risai, though, cast a worried look at Shouryuu.

“Why Mt. Hou?”

“To arrange a meeting with Genkun. Taiki’s condition and that of the shirei are quite out of the ordinary. There’s no telling what will happen if we have to push him across the gap between there and here. We don’t know if traveling across the Kyokai is permissible in the first place, or if we can go there and bring him back with us. None of these questions can be considered settled. We need Genkun’s thoughts on the matter.”

Shouryuu’s obviously hadn’t calmed Risai’s concerns. “But what do shoku and Hekika Genkun have to do with each other?”

“Nothing to do with shoku specifically. Heaven has its reasons and precepts. Only Heaven can weigh the rightness or wrongness of an action. But Heaven does not touch our lives directly. The only person who can reach through that window is Genkun. I appreciate the good work Ren Taiho has put in so far, and if she would continue—”

“Wait a second!” Risai raised her voice. “You mean to ascertain the Will of Heaven through Genkun?”

“That would be the gist of it.”

“But—but—is there a Heaven?”

Shouryuu nodded.

Risai felt as if some creature were assailing her from behind. “There’s a Heaven? But—then why has Heaven abandoned Tai?”

“Risai.”

“If there is a Heaven, if there is a Divine Will, if the gods exist, then why didn’t they come to the aid of Tai faster, before all this happened? The people of Tai send their prayers to Heaven while choking on their own blood and tears.”

Terrified to be seen by Asen, wrapped in darkness, they stood before the shrine in the still of the night. Forbidden to even mention the emperor’s name, they instead placed a keihaku flower upon the altar. Surviving the destruction and the deepening winters became more difficult with every passing year. Amidst poverty so dire that a single fruit could make the difference between life and death, a meager offering and single stick of incense had to bear the infinite weight of their pleas.

“Not able to do anything for themselves, the people earnestly visit the shrines. And yet, as Heaven would do nothing to save them, I sought out the Imperial Kei bearing sin in my heart. If Heaven and its gods had shown us the merest glimmer of hope, I would not have crossed the sea and lost my arm in the process.”

“And you saying so changes nothing.”

“But—” Risai started to say. She faced Shouryuu and stated coldly, “Send me as well.”

“We have no time to dawdle. You need to watch your health.”

“I am healed enough,” Risai shot back.

“Can you ride a kijuu with one arm?”

“If it’s Hien, yes, I can ride.”

“Is this creature a kijuu?”

“Hien is a tenba pegasus.”

“A tenba certainly is no slowpoke. But can you fly all the way to Mt. Hou? This will be a non-stop journey.”

“All the same to me.”

“In that case—” Shouryuu said to Risai. “Go there if you wish. This matter concerns Tai and Tai alone. Go and seize the Will of Heaven in your hand.”

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