The Shore in Twilight

Chapter 50

7-6 Early one morning, at the beginning of autumn, Risai and Taiki took their leave of the Taishi’s manor.

After discussing it at length together, they had decided not to raise the subject with the Imperial Kei. If they did, she would undoubtedly blame herself or the incident with the Naisai. And even if they could have managed to convince her otherwise, they would have put her in a difficult position.

In any case, keeping them here was akin to taking the burdens of Tai upon her own head, just as telling them to leave would seem like casting Tai aside. Risai didn’t doubt that the young empress would see things exactly in this light.

Besides, Risai sighed in her heart, if such an empress as Youko wished her to stay, she was not sure she could refuse her. Even now, Risai could not extricate the thought from her mind that she was acting with unpardonable incivility. Yet she understood Taiki’s reasoning for returning to Tai and agreed with it.

There was no doubt in her mind that she must return to Tai with him, just as she was certain that Taiki was a symbol of hope that Tai could not afford to lose. Except that she had no confidence in her abilities to protect him. Unimaginable dangers awaited them. If she could somehow dissuade him, she couldn’t deny that she would try.

The ordinary person in her said they must return. The general who served the Taiho said she should not. Her heart warred with itself, and finally yielded to the strength of Taiki’s resolve.

“Risai, will you remain behind?” Taiki had asked her, clearly seeing through her facade.

Risai shook her head vigorously. “Don’t say such absurd things.”

“Not bidding the Imperial Kei farewell—” he said empathetically. “After all they have done for you, leaving like this must be painful.”

Risai tried to laugh it off. “Not at all. Only some lingering regret. The Imperial Kei and all the rest have done so much to save Tai. That’s why I don’t really have the courage to face them like this.”

Everything was done for the good of Tai. Risai came to Gyouten as a citizen of Tai. To escape into a life of comfort and cast Tai aside would make light of all that care and consideration. To behave so despicably would be taking all the people of Tai for granted. That’s what it meant for her to be a part of the greater whole as a citizen of Tai.

Risai sighed again and opened the door to the stables behind the Taishi’s manor. Only one stall was occupied. Recognizing her, Hien came to his feet, bright and eager.

“Hien.” Taiki ran over. Hien shied a bit at first, but soon realized who had addressed him, and leaned forward. “You remembered who I was,” Taiki said, stroking his fur. Hien narrowed his eyes and purred gently.

Observing this with a smile on her face, Risai got the saddle and tack in order. Gently taking up the reins, she led Hien out of the stables. She looked up at the early morning sky.

“Heading back above the Sea of Clouds, we should arrive at one of the provincial palaces in good time. There’s no telling how far Asen’s grip might have reached by now, but the youma would tear us to pieces below the Sea of Clouds. No matter what, we are determined to set all obstacles aside and press forward. It really doesn’t matter which path we take.”

Taiki nodded. Hien purred softly and rubbed his head against Taiki’s shoulder.

“What are you two doing up at this hour?” a voice suddenly rang out.

Risai spun around. Rokuta emerged from the darkness of the surrounding gardens. The big shadow behind him was Koshou.

Risai and Taiki stood there stock still. “En Taiho—how—?”

Rokuta said with a nonchalant glance, “Oh, I happened to have been eavesdropping the other day—” He grinned. “Sorry. But I left a shirei to watch over you. So word was passed along.”

“En Taiho, I—”

Rokuta raised his hand, silencing him. “Don’t worry. I left Youko out of the loop. Though just taking off like this would cause a few problems. You forget that you’re still my Taishi?”

“That is—”

“The Taishi of En taking it upon himself to visit Tai would raise more than a few eyebrows. Not to mention going there to pick a quarrel or two with the powers that be. That’d be even worse.”

Risai and Taiki sank into silence. Rokuta sighed and then smiled. “In that case, I shall have you demoted from the Registry of Wizards. Frankly, I fear his sudden sabbatical is making our Taishi soft in the head. But here’s your severance pay.”

He tossed her a white object. Risai reflexively reached out before realizing that her right hand was not there to catch it. With a grim little smile she knelt down and picked it up. In the darkness she couldn’t make out the detals, but the wooden card appeared to be a passport.

“There’s no telling if you’ll ever need it, but I had it made for you just in case. The seal affixed will grant you access to funds from a trade credit union. In any case, if it doesn’t work in Tai, here’s something to cover your traveling expenses.”

This time Risai caught the purse he tossed her. “En Taiho—”

“And luggage sufficient to your needs. It’s loaded up on Tiger. He’ll accompany you.”

Risai’s eyes widened with surprise.

“It’d be asking too much of that tenba to shoulder everything by itself. When you’ve gotten to where you need to go, I’d appreciate it if you’d send him back. Tama gets lonely without him, you see.”

Risai accepted the wooden card with thanks. “Yes. I most definitely will.”

“Okay, then,” Rokuta said with a nod. He put his hands on his hips and gave them both a good looking over. “We really don’t want to see you go. Keep that in mind.”

“We shall never forget what you’ve done for us.”

“We’ll be waiting for any word of good news.”

With that, Rokuta turned around and approached the edge of the shadowed woods. Almost as if in passing, he clapped the human silhouette standing there on the shoulder. Koshou emerged from the leafy shadows.

Mixed emotions played across his countenance as he pointed in the direction of the Forbidden Gate. “The kijuu is waiting there.”

“Koshou, you’ve been a great help to us.”

“Oh, it was nothing,” he said, though not as if he really believed it.

His shoulders drooped as they wended their way through the copse of trees. His heart really didn’t seem in it. All the way from the Taishi’s manor in the Naiden to the Forbidden Gate nobody said anything. They walked along, looking at their feet.

They had almost arrived at the Forbidden Gate when Koshou glanced back at them and said, “If it was possible, I wouldn’t mind coming along with you. I don’t really know what I could do to contribute, but I am officer of the Imperial Court.”

He said all this with a very conflicted look on his face. Risai responded, “I think the Imperial Kei needs you by her side.”

“Yeah, true, there is that.”

“I would like you to communicate to her our deepest thanks and gratitude. I wouldn’t want any of this to upset her.”

Koshou nodded. They walked up to the gate. The officials waiting inside opened the doors so they could pass through to the broad ledge on the other side. The wan light of the Moon shone down and the Sea of Clouds reached out before them.

The door of the gate from the Naiden to the Forbidden Gate opened.

Toshin observed as two human shadows and that of a kijuu appeared. Standing next to him, Gaishi took hold of the reins of the suguu and approached them. Toshin followed after him.

The two were traveling light. Gaishi handed the reins to the woman general. “I was asked to make sure you took charge of him.”

“I am very grateful to you.”

“Take care, now,” Gaishi said and bowed.

The woman answered with a polite bow of her own. Toshin stepped forward and handed her the items he was carrying. She looked at him, surprised.

“This is the sword you once handed over to my care. It may have been presumptuous of me but I had it sharpened.”

“Thank you,” the woman said, taking possession of the sword with her left hand. Her right arm, that Toshin remembered as so badly injured, was no longer there. “Thank you so very much.”

“Not a big deal.”

“I don’t remember your face but I recall the voice. Weren’t you the one who interceded for me with the Daiboku when I collapsed in the Roshin?”

“Well, um, yeah, that was me,” Toshin said with a nod.

Risai smiled and bowed deeply. “As a result, I was able to meet with the Imperial Kei and receive the assistance I required. All the good that followed is thanks to you. I am so deeply appreciative.”

Toshin shook his head. He would have to find out from Gaishi where she and her companion were going and what they would do after this.

“Take care and stay well. I will pray for your safe return.”

The stone table appeared to float there in the fading moonlight. They watched as the two kijuu flew away from the ledge.

Observed the scene from a nearby tower, Youko said to her companion, “Don’t you think we should have said goodbye?”

“I don’t know what I would have said to them.”

“Yeah, you’re right. We’d only be holding them back, Risai and Taiki.”


“I hope they get wherever they’re going.”

“They’ll make it to a provincial capital somehow. Traveling above the Sea of Clouds, they’ll avoid the youma.”

“Meaning their real challenges will come later. At the very least, I wish we could have sent some shirei along with them.”

Keiki nodded silently. Rokuta had made it clear that separating the shirei from a emperor—more specifically from the kirin—and sending them into a foreign country was no different in principle than sending in troops. Youko and Keiki had to give up on the idea.

The two kijuu grew further and further away, two painfully helpless specks above the broad expanse of the Sea of Clouds. As they watched, she heard the sound of footsteps running up the staircase.

“Are they gone?” said Rokuta.

“Yeah,” Youko said, and turned her attention back to the Sea of Clouds. The two dots seemed to be merging into the cresting waves.

“I gave them the passports. I said that I was the one who prepared them and they pocketed them without a second thought. Lucky they didn’t get around to wondering when I’d had the time to think that far ahead.”

“When it comes to the En Taiho, I think everybody would wonder the same thing.”

“Hey, what’s with the attitude? Though when it gets light enough for them to read the fine print on the reverse, they’re going to be surprised.”

Youko smiled. Whatever extra help they could provide, no matter how slight, had to be worth it. It was easy to calm her thoughts with such rationalizations, but in the end it was only a salve to her own feelings of pity. Not for Tai itself, but for those hearts broken at the prospect of an unsalvageable Tai.

If Kei had only become a bit more prosperous and the Imperial Court a bit more sound. It was hard to relax and trust and seek refuge in a court where discord could arise at a moment’s notice. As a matter of fact, there was no way she could continue to detain them and somehow not make them feel responsible for all the chaos.

She had no choice but to live with the painful knowledge that she was very likely watching them go to their deaths.

“I’ve got to stand on my own two feet first.”

Rokuta stared out at the Sea of Clouds. “What’s that?” he said, glancing over his shoulder.

“I’ve got to stand on my own two feet before I can fancy myself a shoulder to lean on.”

Rokuta turned back to the window. “That’s not it. Helping others is how you find your footing in the first place.”

“You think so?”


Youko nodded. Across the Sea of Clouds, the two small silhouettes had already disappeared from sight.

previous Copyright by Eugene Woodbury. All rights reserved. next