Poseidon of the East

Chapter 11

2-3 The base of the Kongou Range that encircled the Yellow Sea was much broader than any of the other mountains whose summits jutted through the Sea of Clouds. The wide road cutting through the soaring wall of rock had to cover an equally long distance.

When the Earth Gate opened, the vast canyon threading beneath the canyon peaks—perched so close together at times they appeared to be sculpted out of stone—would continue on.

From the Earth Gate, the canyon walls gradually rose to the level of the cliffs. Winding and twisting along the bottom of the deep ravine, the road rose too, though the illusion presented to the eye was that of it sinking down into oblivion.

At six hundred yards wide, the canyon road could accommodate a line of mounted cavalry coming and going. With the soldiers bound for the fort at the lead, the people in the plaza hurried towards the Yellow Sea.

Wisps of clouds lingered here and there along the way and on the bare rock walls on either side. There was no wind and no warmth to disperse in any case.

The sun of the Spring Equinox was shadowed by the Kongou Mountains before them. The predawn darkness continued on and on. As the canyon deepened, stretching out like a winding river above them, the sky began to turn. The first faint rays of sunlight had barely brushed the ridgelines when the throngs striding along the valley floor in two and threes came to a halt and raised their voices.

p. 105

An enormous gate blocked the way. It seemed to lean inwards, though that impression was due only to its overwhelming size.

The gate had two stories. The first was hewn from a uniform slab of rock. Tightly shut before them, the red lacquer doors set into the slab rose dozens of times higher than an ordinary person.

Atop the second story, vermillion columns roofed with green tile seemed to punch holes in the sky. There was a smaller gate in the center. It had no doors. Above this gate was a placard on which was written in black ink and gold leaf: “Reiken Gate.

“That is—” Shushou said in a small voice. “That is a picture of a youma.”

The strange figure of a youma or a similar magical beast was engraved into the red doors of the gate. It had the body of a dragon and a great span of wings.

“That is the sacred beast that guards the Reiken Gate. Tenhaku.”

However high the Reiken Gate was, a humble pegasus could fly over it. Then there was that open gate in the second story, and the open sky above. But Tenhaku lived atop those soaring columns. Anyone who tried to enter the Yellow Sea in violation of the law would be struck down by lightning, their soul snatched and devoured.

p. 106

Shushou listened to Gankyuu’s explanation as she solemnly strode forward, looking up at the huge gate. The rest of the people facing the Reiken Gate sank into a heavy silence. They came to a halt in front of the gate. The tension was palatable.

The terraced sentry posts chiseled into the ledges of the steep cliffs in front of the gates were unoccupied. The gates opened at noon. There was still time. The taut atmosphere filled the canyon.

A roar rang out from the tops of the tall columns, soft and low and yet shaking the depths of the air. The kind of sound that seemed to reverberate forever. Less a roar than a growl. People cast fearful glances around them. A fretful murmur shot through the crowd. The timber changed, the growl matching the murmur and continuing on.

“What—” Shushou said in a small voice.

“The voice of Tenhaku,” Gankyuu said. He pointed up at gate in the upper story. “It’s okay. Look.”

There was no breath of wind, no sign of an alighting bird on the towering red and green edifice. The last lingering echoes of Tenhaku’s roar and the rustling crowd faded away, leaving behind a grave stillness.

A human figure appeared on the impassable gate. Only a small shadow at first. It stood on the monolithic slab, then stepped casually into thin air. The shadow descended as if sinking through clear water. When it passed the midway point, the figure became recognizable as an old man.

p. 107

There was nothing the slightest bit unusual about him. All eyes followed his descent as he landed on the ground at the foot of the red gate. This was Tenhaku in his transformed state, or so everybody said. The black steel shackles around his hands and feet said as much too.

Standing in front of the gate, he bowed to no one in particular, turned on his heels and placed his hands on the huge doors. The doors were forty times his height and two hundred yards wide. The weight was unimaginable. And yet they eased open with no obvious resistance.

A warm wind blew in, whipping up the hems of clothes and disheveling before it raced down the canyon. These were the winds of the Yellow Sea, that the people of Ken feared more than anything.

The old man’s hands spread apart. The doors parted to reveal another crowd of people with a line of troops at the fore, a mirror image of the crowd on the other side, all holding their breath.

The old man walked forward, from inside the gate to the outside, the doors appearing to yield to the force of his hands as his arms reached out, until they gaped wide open.

The old man stopped. This time he faced the gate, bowed again, and disappeared into thin air. At the same time, a great shout of joy rang out.

The shout shook the canyon walls. The wind blew and howled. The soldiers poised at the gate broke into a run.

p. 108

The cavalry outside the gate urged their mounts forward. Bows and spears in hand, they stormed down the canyon. Beyond the human tide, the stone formations of the barrier walls blocked the canyon like a dam.

At the same time, the soldiers inside the gate rushed past them, greetings and expressions of warm regard flashing back and forth. Since the Spring Equinox of the previous year, they had held down the fortress that sheltered those traveling from and back to Ken.

Departing after a one-year tour of duty, with a great cry of relief, they shot through the gate and, wielding their weapons, climbed the ledges to the sentry posts. From there they covered the retreat of the rear guard.

Kijuu skimmed past them. Taking the lead in their straightaway plunge into the Yellow Sea were the corpse hunters. They had until the following day at noon to scout the Yellow Sea and return. Their more stalwart companions followed at a more leisurely pace, planning on staying there until the Summer Solstice.

Then there were those who’d entered at the Winter Solstice and had made it safely to the spring.

Those going on the Shouzan and unaccustomed to life in the Yellow Sea watched in wonder as the scene unfolded before them. Confused by all the clamor, they mounted their rides and galloped through the gate, mingling with the thronging masses. Those on foot came to their senses and raced after them.

“Wow!” said Shushou, her own exclamations washed away by the tremendous tumult. She just barely heard Gankyuu’s response.

p. 109

“This is the Day of Ankou,” he said with a smile. His soul was steeped in the terrors of the Yellow Sea and yet he always found himself looking forward to this ritualistic Day of Ankou and the moment when one of the four gates opened.

“It really is an incredible sight.”

“This is your last chance. Turn back now and you’ll reach the Earth Gate before it closes.

Shushou glanced over her shoulder at him. Her voice rose crisply above the noise. “No.”

“You’re really set on going?”

“I am going. Kyou needs an Empress.”

“In other words, you.”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

Gankyuu looked into those unyielding eyes and sighed. He took up the reins, climbed into the saddle, and reached a hand down to her. “Up you go.”

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