5-3 Waiting for the ship to depart, Suzu leaned back against a bollard on the pier and examined her travel papers. Her passport was in the form of a small wooden token she was to carry with her during the journey.
The people of a kingdom made their living on the land partitions they were granted by the government. The kingdom in turn governed the people using the partition as the primary instrument of its control. Leaving a partition meant giving up the rights and protections granted by the government.
When a passport was issued, the name of the passport holder was inscribed on the face of the wooden token. On the back was listed the name of the issuing prefectural office. The passport was placed on the person’s koseki, or census record, and at three places along the edge of the token, a dagger was driven into the koseki. By lining up the grooves in the passport token with the puncture marks in the koseki, the authenticity of the passport could be confirmed.
It was not uncommon for a guarantor’s name to be inscribed on the back of the passport.
With a passport in hand, even when a person left his homestead, if circumstances required it, he could seek assistance from the nearest government office. It was the same when traveling abroad. Only an itinerant or displaced person who’d given up his rights traveled abroad without a passport.
A passport was necessary even when going to a city in a neighboring jurisdiction. Consequently, if only out of habit, people carried them wherever they went.
As Suzu’s passport had been issued by the Imperial Sai herself, the back was inscribed with the Imperial Seal. The passport was affixed to a small plaque called a rakkan, or financial guarantor. The seal burned into its face was that of the issuing bank.
The Imperial Sai Kouko had given Suzu a generous sum for traveling expenses. These funds were deposited in a bank in Yuunei, the bank that issued the rakkan. Banks formed powerful trade credit unions by establishing strong and secure relationships with banks in other municipalities and even other countries. With a rakkan issued by a bank in the trade credit union, money could be withdrawn or a line of credit established at any other bank in that trade credit union anywhere in the world.
On the rakkan, the issuing bank and the stated credit limit were written in coded characters that could not be read by anybody outside the trade credit union.
“Unbelievable,” Suzu muttered to herself. She carefully replaced her travel papers inside her jacket pocket, and secured it further with cord running through her belt.
It was too bad she wouldn’t be working at the palace. However things seemed to be moving in the right direction now. Kouko arranged for the cavalry to fly her to the port of Eisou on the Kyokai. After a journey of ten days, they arrived at the coast where passage on a ship was arranged. She was asked whether she preferred a cargo or passenger ship. A passenger ship could only be booked as far as Sou. She would have to transfer several more times to get to Kei. If she went on one of the cargo vessels that plied the Kyokai around the Twelve Kingdoms, she could sail all the way to En, with a stop in Kei.
Suzu said that a cargo ship was fine with her. The agent spoke with one of the commercial outfits on her behalf. This would get her to Kei. With the endorsement of the Imperial Sai on her passport, getting a meeting with the Imperial Kei shouldn’t be too difficult.
I’m going to meet her. Somebody from Yamato like her. Definitely the only person on the planet who could really understand her.
A tan-colored flag was raised. The boat was small and there was only one flag. A small wheel was affixed to the top of the flagpole. It was a good-luck charm issued by the Ministry of Winter called a junpuusha. The wheel-like talisman affixed to the top of the mainmast ensured smooth sailing. As there were no deep harbors on the Kyokai, large ships did not travel these routes. Primarily cargo ships, though upon request they could take on passengers.
This takes me back.
Suzu looked down at the dark sea from the side of the boat. The ink-black sea, the faint, star-like flicker of lights. Swept away from her long-lost home, the first thing she saw of this world was this ocean. Suzu still didn’t understand it. This ocean she almost drowned in, how far was it from her hometown in Japan? Told that the lights glimmering in the midst of the ocean were some kind of fish, that was good enough for her.
Glowing you-fish that lived deep in the ocean. They looked small to her, but in fact some were big enough to swallow a barge. Because they never surfaced except during storms, they were not considered dangerous. The youma that attacked people at sea were mostly beasts and birds that came from the Yellow Sea.
The boat left from a port in the south of Sai and sailed in an eastward direction across the Kyokai. They chose routes across the Kyokai rather than the Inner Seas because midway they would have to pass close by Kou. The emperor of Kou had fallen and the kingdom was in chaos.
“Usually, we don’t see youma like that but once every three of four years,” a sailor she’d gotten to know told her. “Youma are way worse than natural disasters. The Sonkai Gate up to the Reison Gate are particularly bad. They say that when sailing back to Sai from En on the Inner Seas, the flocks of youma from the Yellow Sea blot out the sun.”
The Yellow Sea in the center of the world was completely closed off by the encompassing range of the Kongou Mountains. Yellow Sea was accessible only through one of four gates. The gate in the southeast quadrant was called the Reison Gate. The narrow strait between the Yellow Sea and Kou was called the Sonkai Gate.
“He must have done something bad, that Imperial Kou. He hasn’t been dead but a couple of months and look at the state they’re in. Must be rough for the people of Kou. Until they get themselves a new emperor, you got to wonder how much worse things will get.”
“So it’s really bad . . . ”
The countries in this world are so strange, Suzu thought. It was one thing to say that God created the world. But children that grew on trees and all these strange creatures—she wouldn’t be surprised if God really existed. But if God existed, why did kingdoms go to pieces like that? If God existed, why did people end up as kaikyaku? And if God existed, it’d be nice if He’d help her out for once too.
The boat followed the coast of Sou east. Along the way, it stopped at three ports. The last was a small island close to Kou. From there, they passed through the straits between Kou and Shun and headed north. The water of the straits was a dark navy blue, somewhat bluer than the open sea.
“Why is the ocean a different color?” she mused as she rested her elbows on the railing and cupped her chin in her hands.
“Because it’s more shallow,” piped up a voice next to her.
Suzu jumped and turned toward the sound of the voice. Next to her she saw a boy stretching as he peered out at the sea. At first, Suzu had been the only passenger on the boat. After three ports of call, the number had increased to eight. He must have been one of the passengers who came on board at Bokko, the last port of call.
“Shallow seas are bluer than deep water. You don’t know much about the ocean, do you?”
Suzu glared at him. “I’ve never lived close to the ocean before.”
The boy let go of the railing and laughed. He looked to be twelve or so. With his freckles and hair the color of oranges, he made a cheerful impression. When he laughed, his whole face lit up.
Suzu asked, “Are you going to En or Kei?”
“Kei,” he answered.
“Oh.” Suzu smiled. “I’m Suzu. Pleased to meet you.”
The boy cocked his head to one side. “That’s a funny name.”
“I’m a kaikyaku.”
So there are things people here don’t know, either. “I’m from Yamato. I was washed ashore here.”
The boy’s mouth gaped open in surprise. “No kidding? That’s great!”
“It’s not great. It’s pretty awful. It means I can’t ever go home again.”
‘Huh,” the boy muttered, and stretched again. He looked down into the waves. “So your luck’s not so good.”
White waves washed the sides of the ship, vivid against the dark surface of the ocean. Shifting her gaze to the open sea, her eyes met the clear line of the horizon dividing the heavens from the water. Somewhere beyond that distant horizon was the country where she’d been born. She wept profusely when she heard she could never go back again. She knew it was possible for wizards to cross the Kyokai and had once indulged the fantasy that if she served Riyou well, she would get a promoted to the class of wizard who could do so. But when she found out that she would have to become a wizard of the air and rise to the rank of count, she gave up on the idea.
“Hey, cheer up.” The boy hit Suzu on the shoulder. “There are lots of kids who can’t go home again.”
Suzu scowled at him. “No, there aren’t. There aren’t that many kaikyaku here.”
“Even if you’re not a kaikyaku. Like when your kingdom gets all messed up and your home gets burned down, there are people like that.”
“That’s different from what I’m talking about! I can’t go back to the place I was before. If your house burns down, you can build a new one. Do you know what it means never being able to return to a place you once loved? Do you have the slightest idea what you’re talking about?”
The boy looked up at Suzu with a perplexed look on his face. “I kinda think it’s the same thing.”
“You’re just a child. You don’t understand.”
The boy puffed out his cheeks. “Kid or an adult, being sad is being sad. Not going home again would hurt the same, wouldn’t it? You know how sad it is not being able to ever go home, but so do a lot of people.”
“I’m telling you, it’s not the same thing!”
The boy sulked for a minute. “Well, then, have it your way. Go on crying your eyes out. Excuse me for butting in.”
Everybody here is just the same. Nobody understands anything. She said aloud, “Brat!”
The boy didn’t turn around.
“So what’s your name?”
The boy tossed the answer back over his shoulder. “Seishuu.”