Poseidon of the East

Chapter 37

8-2 Atsuyu asked, “How are you feeling?”

Rokuta shook his head. “Not so good.”

“Then you should probably avoid going on more long walks. Or was there something in particular you needed to see me about?”

“I’d like to go back to Kankyuu.”

p. 284

Atsuyu frowned. “I’m sorry, but that alone is out of the question.”

“Every nook and cranny of this palace is stained with the stink of blood. It isn’t overpowering, but it constantly disturbs my rest. If you cared for my well being at all, you could at least find a place for me outside the palace.”

“I can’t do that either.”

“By the way, Atsuyu—”

“Something else on your mind?”

“Why do you keep your father locked away in solitary confinement?”

Atsuyu’s surprise was only exceeded by the perplexed expressions on the faces of the assembled ministers.

“His body is a wreck, to be sure, but he does appear to be in full command of his senses. The story is that Genkai fell ill, retired, and passed his authority to you. Except retirement hardly means the same thing as solitary confinement, does it?”

Atsuyu got to his feet. He furrowed his brows, then smiled. “My father is not well. If he didn’t appear so to you, you must have mistaken him for somebody else. Where is this person? And why was he using my father’s name? Explain the circumstances of the encounter.”

“Then who do you have locked away inside the Inner Palace?”

p. 285

“The Inner Place,” Atsuyu echoed suspiciously. “That would be where my father resides.”

“You’re admitting that you bound your father in chains?” Rokuta looked Atsuyu squarely in the face. “You bound him in chains and cut out his tongue and left him there to rot? Answer me, Atsuyu!

“That was—”

Rokuta turned to the ministers. “Did any of you know? You knew and continued to serve him? If so, that makes Gen Province nothing more than a den of thieves.”

Most of the ministers reacted with alarm and looked at Atsuyu. Only a small number averted their eyes.

“You do preach a lofty sermon, Atsuyu. But for all your professions of allegiance to the Way, what are you really up to? Kidnapping? Imprisonment?”

“I do apologize for resorting to such foul means in order to entice the Taiho here. When the Shashi said he could bring you here, I never imagined he would resort to such untoward methods.”

Kouya raised his eyes and took a long hard look at Atsuyu’s anguished countenance.

p. 286

You’ve done well, Shashi. Kouya knew the true meaning lurking within those words. I wouldn’t want to lose my precious Shashi. Even if he only meant it would be inconvenient to lose the services of a useful retainer, Atsuyu was the only person who held Kouya’s life dear.

Kouya hung his head. Atsuyu turned back to Rokuta and said, “However, I am responsible for the deeds of my retainers. There are no words to express the apologies you are due. Please find it in your heart to forgive us. As for my father, again, I can only confess to being totally in the dark about his condition and who could have conspired to commit such injustices. I will see to it that an investigation is launched at once.”

Rokuta drew his brows. At that moment, somebody came running into the room. The provincial prime minister, Hakutaku.

“Secretary, what have you done?” Hakutaku stumbled and fell to his knees at Atsuyu’s feet. “Did you really order that the levees be breeched? After I pleaded with you to not take such a drastic step!”

The ministers raised the voices in shared alarm. Atsuyu waved his hands in obvious displeasure. “Hakutaku, you should leave.”

p. 287

“No! Didn’t you claim you were acting for the good of the people? And yet you are destroying the levees the Imperial Army built! Do that and what will the people think of your good intentions? Who will they think is acting with their best interests in mind and who is not? Can’t you grasp the repercussion of these actions?”


“You are fighting the same villagers who are trying to save the levees! The provincial guard raised the sword against them and the Imperial Army that rushed to their rescue. How did you think this was going to turn out? The citizens of Ganboku heard the rumors too and are leaving as fast as they can. Not only the conscripts but your own soldiers are opening the city gates and running away!”


Atsuyu rushed to the window. But the cloud cover obscured the world below.

“This is the end of Gen Province. You have achieved your long-cherished desire, Secretary. You have exceeded yourself and rebelled against the entire kingdom.”

Hakutaku staggered to his feet and faced the clearly disturbed ministers. “Run away while you still can. Surrender to the Imperial Army, confess your sins, and plead for mercy. A battalion is marching on Hokui as we speak and they’re chomping at the bit. That’s where the fighting will begin in earnest. After that it will be too late. Your heads will be adorning the tops of their pikes.”

p. 288

Atsuyu’s shoulders shook. He pushed himself away from the windows and spun around, his face contorted with rage.


Atsuyu strode up to him, seized the front of his cloak, and threw him bodily to the ground.

“The only traitors and betrayers here are the lot of you! Hakutaku!” Atsuyu glared down at him, malice gleaming in his eyes. “So now you cast aside the man you flattered as the most capable chief secretary, the man under whose feet you struck the spark? You are the prime minister! When the province goes astray, isn’t it your duty to set things right? Call me a rebel if you like, but you did nothing to stop me! When the label of traitor at last falls on you, you turn right around and abandon the man you called your leader?”

“You too,” he added with a withering glare at the cowering ministers. “Didn’t you say you wanted the levees rebuilt? Didn’t you say you wanted political autonomy for Gen Province, authority over flood control and land reclamation efforts? Weren’t these all necessary to improve the lot of our people? Wasn’t it me you pledged your loyalty to me in the first place, not the emperor?”

Atsuyu’s voice rose to a shout. Standing in front of Hakutaku, he said, “When it comes to what happened in the first place, this was all at your instigation.”


“Things as they are simply can’t be left in the hands of the Imperial En! A man with a conscious must rise up and set the world right. Weren’t you the one who told me that?”

p. 289

“Secretary, I—”

You were the one who goaded me on, saying that I was the only one who could get the job done.”

“I—something like that—”

“And you dare to lecture me about turning traitor? You fool!”


“You took advantage of my feelings for the people and provoked me to rebel. As soon as the tide turns against you, you pin the blame on a scapegoat and run away? I never imagined I would be taken advantage of by such disloyal retainers.”

Atsuyu spoke as if lamenting a great loss. Then he turned to Kouya, who’d retreated to a corner of the room. “Take him.”


Kouya’s own grief was evident in a single word. Atsuyu ignored him and addressed the his defense minister. “Initiate measures to counter this civilian uprising. Defend the palace to the last man. I shall go the Kankyuu with the Taiho and lay out all the facts for the emperor, including who the real guilty parties are, and beg for his discretion in the matter.”

Rokuta looked on in amazement. Here is a wounded man who ignores the true cause of the injury and instead does everything in his power to conceal it.

Atsuyu’s face was suffused with bitterness. The casual onlooker would truly believe he had been betrayed by his retainers, ensnared by connivers and confidence men, one misfortune after the other heaped upon his shoulders.

p. 290

“Taiho, you have already faced much adversity. I promise upon my life that I will deliver you to Kankyuu. I blame my own naiveté for being so deceived by my disloyal servants, and will accept whatever punishment is judged right and proper. But I would implore the Taiho to petition the emperor to spare the ministers of Gen Province the full brunt of their deserved censure.”

Rokuta gazed back at the anguished man. “So, Atsuyu, now we see your true colors.”

Atsuyu reacted with a suspicious frown.

Rokuta said, “You claim to be rising up on behalf of the people at the same time you breech the levees and obsess over snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. You call yourself the master of all you survey while pinning the blame on Hakutaku and Kouya. Are we seeing the real you at last?”

He scanned the herd of stupefied ministers. “So you shut Genkai away in the dungeons in order to make this man your leader?” Nobody answered. Rokuta turned on his heels.

“Where are you going, Taiho?”

He didn’t bother to look at him. “Back to Kankyuu. By myself. I’ll make sure the emperor is informed about all that’s been going on here.”

Watching from the corner of the room, Kouya let out a long breath. He was watching the wheels fall off the cart.

p. 291

Most of the ministers had really believed in Atsuyu’s integrity. That belief was the only reason Kouya was still alive. They were an idealistic if naive bunch. But when the gravity of the sin came fully to their attention, they set aside their loyalty to Atsuyu, abandoned the hoped-for glory of walking in his shadow, and chose the high road in a heartbeat.

As Rokuta walked away, Atsuyu’s lips twisted into a sneer. Kouya couldn’t bear to watch. He hugged his arms around the youma’s neck and hung his head.

“So the Taiho intends that I, Atsuyu, bear all the blame!”

Rokuta didn’t answer. It’d be a waste of breath.

Atsuyu whirled around. “Hakutaku! So you conspired with the emperor and the Taiho!”


“That’s it, isn’t it? You’ve been scheming with the Taiho from the start! The emperor was jealous of my acclaim and plotted for us to get branded as traitors! Right? Right?”

“Atsuyu,” Rokuta said with a weary sigh. “The emperor wouldn’t do anything like that. Because he wouldn’t need to.”

“Do you think I haven’t heard about the complains coming from the Rikkan, about what a fool the man is? Oh, why didn’t I trust my instincts more? I was filled with too much self-doubt to go on the Shouzan to Mt. Hou and seek the Mandate of Heaven.”

p. 292

“A waste of a trip, that would have been,” Rokuta said under his breath. “You never had what it took to sit on the throne.”

“Are you saying I don’t measure up to him?”

“Compared to Shouryuu, you are trash.” Rokuta turned and headed out of the room. Then stopped and glanced over his shoulder at Atsuyu and the posse of retainers behind him. He raised his voice and said, “Which I hope isn’t taken by anybody here as praise for Shouryuu!”

Hakutaku looked back and forth from the departing kirin to the man in whom he’d once placed his faith and trust and held up as his leader. With a sad sigh he said to the retainers, “If you have any scruples left in you, any desire to do the right thing, then arrest the Secretary!”

Then recognizing one of the retainers behind Atsuyu, he started in surprise.

“That couldn’t be—”

The soldier grinned.

“I don’t believe it—” Hakutaku shook his head.

The soldier cut through the crowd of bewildered retainers and walked up to Atsuyu.

Atsuyu watched him approach and said, “Seems you don’t know what side your bread is buttered on.”

p. 293

“Not at all,” the soldier said with a smile. He knelt down. “I thought I should bring a bit of important information to your attention.”

“Important information?” Atsuyu cocked his head to the side. “Weren’t you promoted from the provincial guard?”

“I was. Thanks to you.”

“Well, then. What important information? What is your name, soldier?”

His smile widened. “Komatsu Naotaka.”

Atsuyu shook his head at the unfamiliar sounds, as if bothered by a persistent mosquito. The soldier came to his feet.

“Though some people insist on calling me Emperor Shouryuu.”

He stepped forward, at the same time drawing his sword and pressing the cold steel tip against the hollow of Atsuyu’s throat.


“Kouya! Don’t try anything. Or this sword will see the other side of his neck.”

While reflexively going into an offensive crouch, Kouya caught the look in Shouryuu’s eyes and froze in place.

“The same goes for everybody else. You can hold onto your weapons. Just move back against the wall.”

He glanced over his shoulder at Rokuta, who’d stopped at the door. “I appreciate the compliment.”

p. 294

“I wasn’t complimenting you, dammit!”

While resting the tip of the sword against Atsuyu’s throat, Shouryuu laughed out loud.

“You bastard, what’s this about?” Atsuyu grumbled.

“You wanted to test the Divine Will, didn’t you? Well, I thought I’d give you the chance to try.”


“Call it Providence or whatever. Even without getting any innocent bystanders involved, the question wouldn’t be resolved until you and I came to blows. Don’t you think, Atsuyu?

Atsuyu glared at him. With a small smile, Shouryuu turned his attention to the ministers, standing there like a row of statues.

“Hold your horses and listen.”

Whether to flee for their lives or rush to Atsuyu’s aid, several of them had begun to stir. They stiffened once again.

“I received the Mandate of Heaven and was placed upon the throne. If you’re unhappy about that, complain all you want. But to strike down the emperor is to strike down that Mandate. If you wish to so test the limits of Providence, there’s no need to raise armies and hoard provisions for the troops, not when the people can barely feed themselves. Their exhausted stockpiles now cannot be replenished by next year’s crop. If Atsuyu kills me here, that leaves you in charge. You can work to revive En or destroy it, whatever strikes your fancy. Because that would be the Divine Will, would it not?”

p. 295


p. 296

Shouryuu next turned to Kouya. “Kouya, restrain your youma as best you can. I wouldn’t want to kill it in front of its owner. Or you either, for that matter. Rokuta would be unhappy with me.”

Now he addressed no one in particular. “If Atsuyu has any devoted followers who wish to sacrifice their lives on his behalf, it’s time to stand by his side. Somebody arm the man. Whatever weapon suits him best.”

Nobody moved.

“What? I don’t see anybody rushing to his defense.” Shouryuu had no takers, his goading notwithstanding. “I see,” he said with a wry smile. “Well, Atsuyu, it looks like you ended up on your own.”

“Sons of bitches—”

“For pity’s sakes, somebody at least give the man a sword.”

Shouryuu directed his gaze at one of the retainers. The perplexed guard stepped to Atsuyu’s, unstrapped the sword from his waist and pressed it into Atsuyu’s shaking hands.

“If you would forgive me, Your Highness.”

Hakutaku prostrated himself on the ground. The rest immediately followed suit.

p. 297

“Your Highness, I am ashamed to say that this sums what was at best a petty provincial rebellion.”

“As coup d’états go, it certainly hasn’t adorned itself in glory.”

“Yes. But while you would certainly be in your rights to strike down the Secretary, let us avert any more futile conflict and ends things here. Surely you can find it in your heart to pass on him the most humane judgment possible.”

But of course, said the grim smile on Shouryuu’s face. He looked down at Atsuyu, who’d dropped the sword to his side and fallen to his knees. “Open the palace gates and demobilize the provincial guard.”

Atsuyu bowed his head low to the ground. “I concede.”

Shouryuu glanced around him. “For the time being, somebody take him into custody.”

He sheathed his sword and stepped away from Atsuyu. Looking on, Rokuta felt a cool chill of apprehension.

Shouryuu said, “However humane a man I may be, he still has a lot to answer for. Post a guard and make sure he doesn’t hurt himself.”

From behind him came the whish of a blade cutting through the air.


Shouryuu pivoted in a flash, hand on the hilt of his sword. Atsuyu stepped toward him, swinging the sword over his head. Three paces separated them. There was no telling whether Atsuyu’s blow would land before Shouryuu could parry.

Everyone gulped at once.


p. 298


Kouya and Rokuta shouted simultaneously. Everything came down to those three paces.

Except Rikaku moved faster than Atsuyu. A spray of blood erupted as the shirei seized him by the jaw.

Rokuta averted his eyes. He looked at Kouya. Both of their cries rang out at the same time. Kouya, though, had ordered the youma to halt.

The call to save a life and the call to stop the slaughter decided the fate of Atsuyu and Shouryuu.

Rikaku’s fangs bit down on Atsuyu’s neck and just as quickly let go. His sword fell with a heavy clatter. Leaping back out of the way, Shouryuu took stock of Rikaku’s intervention and rushed forward once again.

Rikaku had torn Atsuyu’s head half off his shoulders. Because he was a wizard, he still had the breath of life in him. He lay there in a pool of his own gore, eyes staring up in incomprehension, seeing what no one there cared to imagine.

“Let’s put you out of your misery,” Shouryuu said.

The sweep of his sword cleanly severed Atsuyu’s head. The sound of steel striking the marble floor rang in all their ears.

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