Poseidon of the East

Chapter 34

7-6 Rokuta searched back and forth through the tunnels, in the process climbing a good distance higher up. A fair amount of time after leaving Genkai, he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. He instinctively hid in the hollow of a rock.

“Is he there?” somebody called out.

“I don’t see him.”

“Any deeper in than this and things will get chancy. We’ll get lost ourselves.”

“Then start here and work back toward the surface.”

p. 262

“Yes, sir.” Footsteps echoed off into the distance.

“The rest of you come with me. We’re taking a look further down.”

That tense command was answered by one almost airy in its nonchalance. “So he got lost down here in the catacombs, eh?”

Rokuta felt himself start—that voice.

“Kirin sure have a bad sense of direction. What a little idiot.”

“Who’s the idiot? Shut yer trap.”

“Yes, sir.”

Rokuta crawled out from behind the rock and stared through the darkness in the direction of that voice. It simply wasn’t possible—not in a place like this.

“By the way, Daiboku, if he comes wandering into our clutches, what do we do with him?”

Though Rokuta couldn’t make anything out, he could see lights in the distance. “Hey!” he called out. “Anybody there?”

A moment of silence was followed by a flurry of footsteps. Lights bobbed about near and far at the far end of the passageway.

“There he is!” one of the guards finally shouted.

The only available light came from the pine torches, but Rokuta had the odd feeling that the light itself was streaming through the air and flowing up to him.

“Imagine finding you in a place like this.”

p. 263

Looking at the guard running up to him, Rokuta almost burst into tears. The tall stature, the hint of the bad boy in that smile. But he swallowed his emotions and held up his hands in lieu of an answer.

“Daiboku, is this kid who you’re looking for?”

“That’s him,” answered the man hot on the guard’s heels. “How are you faring? The secretary and the ministers are all worried sick.”

“I went looking for Kouya and lost my way.”

“Take him with you,” said the Daiboku.

“Yes, sir,” the man answered.

Rokuta reached out and tapped him on the knee. “I can’t walk,” he said, peering up at him. “Carry me.”

A wry smile flitted across the guard’s lips. Without a word, he squatted down and turned his back to him.

What are you doing here? Rokuta wanted to ask. This was exactly the kind of thing that gave Shukou and the rest fits. What an irresponsible rapscallion the man was.

A soft voice said, almost swallowed up in the rustling of the clothing, “Don’t make me worry like that, okay?”

The Daiboku’s voice greeted Kouya when he returned from the dungeon. “Shashi, we found him.”

p. 264

The Daiboku was coming up from the lower levels himself. “He was lost in the catacombs,” he said, motioning to one of his retainers, a man by the odd name of Fuukan. Fuukan was an itinerant worker who’d been conscripted in Ganboku, or so he said. Fuukan was carrying Rokuta on his back.

Kouya let out an exasperated sigh. Not binding his horn hadn’t been entirely by accident. Rokuta had freely shared his provisions with Kouya when they first met. The only reason he would go against Atsuyu’s wishes was the thought that Rokuta might die because of his bound horn.

“Rokuta—” Kouya hurried over to him.

“How’s he holding up?” mused Fuukan. “Seems to me he’s hanging on for dear life.”

Rokuta in fact had his eyes fast shut. He didn’t appear to be conscious.

“Take him to his room. He doesn’t look well.”

This way, Kouya said with a nod of his head. He was about to set off down the corridor. Hearing the Daiboku chuckling behind him, he stopped.

p. 265

“And what became of that woman?”

Kouya glanced back at him. Fuukan stopped as well and turned his head.

“I persuaded her to leave the palace. After that, there would be no place for her here. She is free to flee to wherever she chooses.”

“Into the mouth of that youma, you mean.”

“This is no laughing matter,” Kouya answered shortly and turned on his heels.

He knew well enough how much the palace staff distrusted him. They weren’t gullible enough to believe that his prisoners had all voluntarily exiled themselves to the countryside. Kouya didn’t care. All that mattered was that those doubts did not bubble up to Atsuyu.

Kouya urged Fuukan to keep going. Fuukan cast a curious look at the youma following behind Kouya.

“So that’s a real youma, eh?”

“It is. A tenken.”

“Well behaved as well. Doesn’t bite, does it?”

“Not at all.”

“You don’t say,” he said and kept walking.

Kouya gave the man a hard looking over. However used the palace staff was to the sight of the two of them, when they appeared together everybody took a step back.

p. 266

“You’re not scared?”

Fuukan glanced over his shoulder and shrugged. “You said it doesn’t bite.”

“Yes, more or less,” Kouya said. What a strange man, he thought to himself.

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