Hills of Silver Ruins

Chapter 18

4-4 In Sekijou, they found shelter at a large Taoist temple outside the city. Perhaps because Sekijou was relatively well off, the temple still had an aura of grandeur about it. The chief priest was polite and hospitable.

After a warm reception, a much relieved Risai took to her bed. When she awoke the next morning, she lingered a while longer in her room arranging her traveling clothing. Her growing efficiency at the task prompted a smile of realization. When she was in Kei, doing anything took time. Well, practice made perfect.

Keeping company with Kouryou helped sharpen her sword handling skills as well. Already second nature to her, once she grew accustomed to using her left hand, she had improved faster than expected.

We really are moving forward, she thought with a small sense of satisfaction, as she knocked on the door to the room opposite hers.

“Good morning,” she called out.

She received no answer. Assuming that Taiki must be worn out by their travels, she opened the door. If he was that tired, maybe they should take the day off.

Except as soon as she stepped inside, she realized the bed was empty. The futon was neatly folded and the room straightened up. He must have already gotten up. She hurried back to the main hall and down the corridor. A young priest in indigo robes was passing down the hallway, so she asked him if he’d seen her companion.

p. 221

The portly and good-natured priest answered brightly, “Oh, he set off at sunrise.”

“Eh?” Risai said in complete befuddlement. “He set off? Set off where? When?”

The priest’s eyes widened with surprise at her reaction. “Well, he said he had to leave as soon as the dawn broke and the temple gates opened, so I showed him the way to the gates.”

“I don’t believe it!”

Evidently discomfited by Risai’s reaction, the priest explained, “He called on me before daybreak and said he was getting a head start. I helped him get his kijuu ready and saw him off.”


In the face of Risai’s unexpectedly frantic exclamations, the priest cringed and took a step backwards.

Impossible that Taiki should set off on his own. If he really had left the temple, it couldn’t been of his own accord. Risai found herself unconsciously reaching for her sword.

“Where did he go?”

p. 222

“But—you see—”

Now the poor priest simply looked terrified. Risai had taken a step forward when she heard her name being called.

“Risai-sama! Wait!”

His face pale, Kyoshi ran down the corridor and interposed himself between her and the priest, blocking her forward motion. He said to the priest, “I apologize. There has been an unfortunately misunderstanding here. You are in no way at fault. Please take no offense.”


Kyoshi shushed her with a glance. He again apologized to the priest and urged him to be on his way. Once the priest rushed off at a near sprint, he pushed Risai back in the room.

“What’s going on?”

Still facing her, Kyoshi closed the door to the main hall. “The Taiho has already departed.”

“Which means what? I’m asking you what’s going on!”

“Early this morning, he woke me and said he was setting off on his own.”

“That—that makes no sense.”

p. 223

All the more convinced she had to pursue him, Risai moved toward the door. Kyoshi stopped her again. “The Taiho made it perfectly clear that he did not want you coming after him.”

“Why?” Why would he do something so out of character? Risai’s surprise was only exceeded by her confusion. Now was the time to begin the search for Gyousou in earnest. Every day they came one day closer to their goal. Why would Taiki suddenly take off on his own now?

“It’s dangerous out there. We’ve got to find him.”

Kyoshi retreated until his back was against the door. He shook his head. “That is exactly what he said you would say. And then he said to make sure you didn’t.”


“He said not to waste your time running after him. Instead, head straight to Bun Province and start looking for Gyousou-sama.”

Kyoshi had gotten jostled awake before dawn, and a good span of time before dawn at that. When he opened his eyes, Taiki was standing next to his bed. He was already dressed in his traveling clothes.

Taiki apologized and said he wanted to leave the temple at sunrise. He hoped that Kyoshi could speak to someone in charge and see to it that the gate was opened.

p. 224

The already startled Kyoshi was all the more taken aback. He couldn’t have imagined being put in the position of doing something so risky. Risai would never stand for it. At first, Kyoshi refused, but when it became clear that Taiki wasn’t going nod and acquiesce, he implored him to talk it over with Risai. Taiki steadfastly refused that request as well.

“Please don’t tell Risai. She would do everything in her power to stop me.”

“Of course she would.”

A small smile rose to Taiki’s lips. “I’m afraid Risai will always see me as that ten-year-old boy.”

“That is not the problem here. And even if it were, there’s no way I could agree to let you leave by yourself.”

“Please don’t worry about it. I understand my own position very well. The memory of how the people of Touka rejoiced at my mere presence will be with me always. I am not about to let myself get captured or throw my life away on a whim. I know what a cruel betrayal that would be to the rest of you.”

“But—” Kyoshi objected and realized he had no convincing arguments left to offer.

“Please, Kyoshi. This is something I must do. I know I’m no good at defending myself. Fortunately, I have my kijuu. Tora will carry me out of harm’s way at the first whiff of danger.” Taiki grinned and added, “He’s a lot smarter than me, you see.”

p. 225

“Taiho—” Kyoshi stopped and fumbled for the right words. “At least tell me where you are going and what you hope to accomplish.”

“I can’t tell you any of that now. Well, no. To be honest, I don’t rightly know where I am going and what I will do once I get there.”


“But maybe you’ll understand if I put it this way—I am hearkening to the Divine Will.”

Kyoshi caught his breath.

“Heaven tells me to go and so I must go.”

Kyoshi wanted to ask what he meant, whether Heaven had literally told him. Those and so many other questions filled his thoughts. But with the kirin standing in front of him invoking the Divine, Kyoshi was at a loss for the words to form the proper inquiries.

“I understand,” he said with a bow. “But you can’t go off on your own. Take me with—” He thought better of that suggestion. “No, take Kouryou. Kouryou can protect the Taiho. If you take Kouryou with you, I will make the arrangements with the temple and keep Risai-sama in the dark for now.”

p. 226

Taiki craned his head to the side and pondered the proposal. He nodded. Kyoshi ran to the adjoining room. He shook Kouryou awake and spilled out the particulars of what was going on. Kouryou was no less startled than he had been. He was up in an instant. He earnestly tried to persuade Taiki otherwise. Taiki only said that he was hearkening to the Divine Will and couldn’t explain himself to any greater extent than that.

“I will accompany you,” Kouryou said with a clear resolve. “Wait while I get ready.”

While Kouryou dressed and packed, Kyoshi asked one of the temple attendants to bring around their kijuu and open the main gate.

Kyoshi laid out all these details. Risai slumped into a nearby chair. “So Kouryou is with him?”

“Yes. He said that if anything happens, he will contact us through the temple or the shin’nou guild. They will stay in touch even if nothing happens, so we shouldn’t worry.”

“We shouldn’t worry,” Risai muttered with a thin smile. “Talk about demanding the impossible.”

Kyoshi nodded. There was no way that Risai wouldn’t worry. He offered helpfully, “We can take heart that Kouryou is with him. He’s not about to let anything get past him.”

“Better if he could have put a halt to the whole thing.” Risai laughed to herself. “As if anybody could dissuade the Taiho once he made up his mind. That’s right—the Taiho is most definitely no longer a ten-year-old child.”

p. 227

Risai looked at Kyoshi, still showing that wry grin. “He was around ten the first time I laid eyes on him. After that, he was attacked by Asen and swept away to Hourai. Then he finally came home. He really is no longer ten years old. I know that in my mind, but—”

When they were in Kei, he had similarly persuaded her to take him back to Tai. She couldn’t stop him. She could hardly expect Kyoshi to do what she hadn’t been able to.

“Sorry for causing such a commotion.”

“Perfectly understandable,” Kyoshi answered with a quiet sigh of relief. Saying he needed to get ready to depart, Kyoshi took his leave.

In the meantime, turning these events over in her thoughts, Risai must have tied up all the loose ends. When he returned, he found her in the company of a fully informed Houto, breakfast for the three of them in hand.

“I apologize for all the excitement,” Risai said to Houto.

“Well, he’s with Kouryou so I have every reason to believe he’ll be all right. Just as the Taiho said, we should get on to Bun Province without wasting any more time.”

“Indeed,” Risai answered in a much calmer tone of voice.

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