The Twelve Kingdoms
Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Maze, Chapter 3.
from Mina's trans. of Ono Fuyumi's Kaze no Umi, Meikyuu no Kishi.
"Are you awake?"
Hearing Sanshi's voice, Taiki rubbed his eyes, and then suddenly opened them up and stared at the ceiling for a moment.
The white ceiling was made of a milky stone with a design carved upon its entire surface. A bird was cut into each corner, matching intricate flower and grass patterns that surrounded a circular design engraved in the center. Though the ceiling wasn't painted, it had been set with a multitude of different colored stones.
"What bird is that?" he asked as he pointed at one of the birds in the corner.
It looked as if Sanshi didn't know how to answer, so he responded with an "Oh!" In truth, he didn't really want to know what bird that was. It was just that because he had suddenly remembered his crying yesterday, he felt a little embarrassed.
"What time is it right now?"
He had made up his mind and turned to look at Sanshi. This was a small room, just smaller than his study at home. A thin, beautiful covering had been laid upon the floor, and pillow-like cushions filled three sides of the walls. The top portion of the white stone walls were inlayed with small stones, forming the image of a tree.
Only one side was without a wall, having layers of curtains instead. The curtains were rolled up now, and Sanshi was standing on that side.
Sanshi puzzlingly tilted her head.
"Well, what am I supposed to do right now? Don't I have to go to school?"
Taiki knew that his life had undergone a tremendous change. He had a feeling that nothing would be like it had been before, being awakened by an alarm clock, and then changing into his uniform, washing his face, eating breakfast, and going to school.
"What should I do now?"
"You don't have to do anything," said Sanshi as she shook her head. "Would you like to get out of bed?"
Hearing Sanshi ask him this, he took it to mean that he could get up, or he could continue sleeping. He didn't know if these were temporary privileges or if it would always be like this, but he didn't really care either way.
"Yes, I'm getting up."
Taiki sat up in the small room.
When he saw Sanshi stand up, he realized that this small room was a step higher than the ground. Behind the curtain were doors carved with decorative flower designs, and through the doors he could see another room.
Taiki curiously looked around at the small room he was in and the room outside. Yesterday, he had cried very hard under the tree, so hard that he had felt a little embarrassed, and afterwards he had wearily fallen asleep. Thus, someone had carried him into this room, and it wasn't until this morning that he had gotten a good look at it.
He discovered that this room let people feel at ease, while the other room also looked very comfortable. The other room appeared not to have any walls, but stone railings instead, and beyond the room were cliffs covered in green moss. The light shining between the cliffs and the building made the moss gleam. The grass and small bushes on the cliffs had grown into the room, and this gave Taiki a fresh feeling.
Sanshi walked in, carrying a water bucket and a ladle. She set the bucket on a table in the corner and called Taiki over. Taiki rolled out of bed and walked over beside Sanshi.
Sanshi smiled and told Taiki to sit down. He did as she said. He discovered that he wasn't wearing any clothes, but he didn't care. This was because Sanshi and Youka and all the other nyosen wore styles of clothing that he had never seen before, so he figured that here, things were done differently than usual.
Though he was naked, he didn't feel cold, nor did he feel hot. He thought that it must have been a moderate season.
Sanshi used a very peculiar method to wash his face. Even though this made him feel like a little kid and a little embarrassed, he didn't resist. Sanshi took the bucket outside and brought in a pile of clothes. He felt those clothes looked a lot like the kind his grandmother wore.
When she was dressing him, Sanshi kept her silence. He thought that she sure was a quiet person, but it didn't make him feel awkward. After he was dressed, Sanshi took his hand and lead him to the room next door. He saw a table in the center of the room on which a breakfast had been set, and Youka standing next to it.
"Good morning, Youka."
Youka smiled with joy. "Good morning. Did you sleep well last night?"
"Very well. Did you make this breakfast?"
"No, another person is specially assigned to make your breakfast."
Taiki looked at her with surprise. "Then is there also someone who's specially assigned to sweep?"
"Yes. Well now, please eat before your food gets cold."
I've become the child of a rich family, thought Taiki, though in reality, he didn't actually know people like that.
He raised his hand to receive the long, white chopsticks that Youka handed over to him.
He looked over the food on the table, none of which he recognized, and then he looked at Youka and Sanshi.
"Aren't you guys eating?"
"Sanshi doesn't eat, and I've already eaten."
"But I can't finish this all by myself."
There were many dishes on the table, big and small.
"It's okay if you can't finish everything."
"Is it because I slept late that everyone's already eaten?"
Youka laughed. "Sanshi doesn't need to eat anything, but if she did, her status does not permit her to eat with you."
Taiki tilted his head. Although he had heard of the word "status," he still didn't quite understand what Youka meant.
"Can't you all eat with me? Even if I woke up earlier?"
Taiki gave the food on the table a confused look. "Why?"
"It's probably a rule here, but..."
"Hm?" Taiki looked up at Youka.
"It would make be feel very strange, because... um..." Youka's head went askew as she searched for the words.
"If you're punishing me for sleeping late by making me eat all alone, then I can understand. But there are other people here and I'm the only one eating. That makes me feel weird. I think the food would taste better if everyone ate together."
"Well," Youka said quietly as she laughed. Then she nodded her head and called out towards a screen in another corner of the room, "You should all take a short break. Taiki wants to eat with everybody!"
It looked as if there was yet another room behind the screen.
After breakfast, Youka took Taiki to visit the surroundings.
Taiki held Sanshi's hand as he stepped outside and stared dumbfoundedly for a moment.
There were no walls outside of the building, nor doors or windows, and the entrance was shielded by only a screen.
Three flights of stone steps led downward onto a small path, but here, there was no courtyard or gate. Although a relatively large space existed in front of the steps, it was almost the same as coming out of the building and facing a cliff wall.
The strange crags towered so high above that Taiki could not see the sky without tilting his head back. The small paths, which extended outward in three directions, were extremely narrow, and standing on one was like standing in a small alley between two tall buildings. Looking back at the building he had just stepped out of, he felt like it had shrunk, as if it was a small house hidden amongst skyscrapers.
"This place is really beyond imagination," Taiki absent-mindedly mumbled to himself. When Youka heard this, she laughed.
"This question might be a little weird, but what is this place?"
Youka tilted her head to the side. "This is Mt. Hou."
"Oh... I wasn't asking about that. I was talking about..." Taiki wracked his brain for a way to express his doubts. "This place should be pretty far from my house, right? I would like to know just how far is it actually? Where in Japan is this? Or are we not inside the country?"
Even though no one here was speaking a foreign language, everything was so unusual that he felt like it wasn't Japan.
"Or have I arrived in a fantasy world?" It was like something depicted in a manga where a secret passage inside of a wardrobe leads to a fantasy world.
Youka puzzlingly tilted her head. "I think it should be like that..."
"Oh..." He felt that this was unimaginable. Everything in front of his eyes appeared to be reality, but there was a big gap between this reality and the real world that he recognized.
He thought carefully about what exactly was "reality" and what "reality" could be. The more he thought, the more confused he got, until he let out a heavy sigh and decided never to tackle this problem again.
"Is there flat terrain here?"
"Yes, I'll take you there."
After they took a few steps, Youka turned and looked at the building behind them. "That is Rosen Palace. It is a residence that has been specially prepared for you."
"Then, it's my home?"
"Yes. After you've been living here longer, if you feel there's a better palace, please let us know at any time."
"I can move too?"
Youka laughed a little bit. "Of course you can! You are the master of Houro Palace. You may live wherever you like."
Taiki angled his head. They followed the narrow path and walked to the intersection between a gentle slope and a tunnel.
"Actually...this is something I don't really understand."
"Houro Palace... that's right here, right?"
"Why would I be the master of this place?"
Taiki felt uncertain. No matter if it was Youka, Sanshi or any of the other nyosen, there were many that were older than he, especially Gyokuyou, who looked even more dignified. He didn't understand why he was the master and not any of the other people. No matter how he looked at it, it didn't make any sense.
Youka had a troubled smile on her face. "Because you are a kirin."
"What is a kirin?"
"A kirin is what is born from that tree from yesterday."
Suddenly, a little light popped into Taiki's head.
"Then, are there others like me?"
"Yes. Besides you, there are eleven others."
"Including me, there are twelve total?"
"Yes. Ren Taiho, whom you met yesterday, is also a kirin."
"Was it that lady who was wearing a bracelet?"
"Then do I have another opportunity to see her?"
Youka shook her head. "Ren Taiho has already gone back."
He thought that this was unfortunate. If he hadn't cried so much yesterday that he cried himself to sleep, perhaps he could have talked to Ren Taiho about many things.
"Then where are the rest of the kirin? Can I meet them?"
Youka laughed. "Everyone has already gone to their respective kingdoms. Perhaps you will run into them after you have also descended."
"You will choose a ruler, and then you will leave Mt. Hou."
"A ruler? There's a ruler?"
"Yes, and he will become your master."
"A kirin will choose a ruler, and then he will serve the ruler. And it is the duty of us here on Mt. Hou to take care of you before that happens."
So that's how it is, Taiki thought. In the future, he will work as a servant to the ruler. As to which ruler he will work at the side of, only the future can decide. And before that, he will stay on Mt. Hou, which is probably similar to living a pious life.
When he thought all of this through, he finally got a little bit of relief from the uncertainties that had occupied his mind since yesterday.
"But am I qualified enough for such an important job?"
"Well," Youka sigh again and laughed. "Of course you can! Because you are a kirin."
"Is a kirin's job to work at the side of a ruler?"
"Do the other kirin also do this?"
Youka nodded and began to list it out. "There are a total of twelve kingdoms here, and every kingdom has a ruler. There are also twelve kirin. There will always be a kirin at the side of a ruler. This is how things are."
"But right now, there are only eleven rulers. The ruler of the kingdom situated in the northeast, Tai Kingdom, passed away ten years ago, and a successor has not been chosen yet."
"Then what about the Kirin of Tai Kingdom?"
Youka smiled and looked at Taiki. "Isn't he right here?"
"Yes, you are the Kirin of Tai Kingdom, so that's why we call you Taiki. You will eventually choose a ruler. This is the duty of a kirin."
Taiki blinked his eyes. "Is it right to let me decide such an important thing?"
Youka nodded her head energetically. "This is something only you can decide. ...Ah, this is the mulberry garden."
After not too long a time, Taiki became accustomed to life on Mt. Hou: the unusual clothes, the strange customs, and the vegetarian meals.
Even though there were so many remarkable things, Taiki was still little enough that he didn't fuss over them as an adult might. Especially since he never felt that this way of life was an inconvenience or unsuitable to him, so he very naturally took to it.
If there was just one thing he had trouble adapting to though, it would have to do with the fact that his appearance had changed. The mirrors here did not reflect as clearly as they did back at his old home, but, although he understood this much, he still felt as if his reflection in the mirrors was not the same as it used to be, no matter how he looked at it.
He had never looked at himself very closely in the mirror before, so he wasn't able to say where exactly he was different, but the person in the mirror looked like someone else. He didn't know the reason, but it was as if the change had occurred when he had first gone through the tunnel full of white mist.
Right now he had also felt out clearly his own role on Mt. Hou. The nyosen would take care of the organization of an ordinary day. All he had to do was to get up at a proper time and go to bed at a proper time. When he was awake, he wasn't required to do anything. He just looked around everywhere and asked the nyosen questions, all in order to get basic knowledge about life on Mt. Hou. This was his homework on Mt. Hou.
The nyosen who protected Taiki and carried with them an unmatched love and at the same time an endless concern, could finally stop worrying.
"In the beginning I was really so fretful," said one of the nyosen who were spreading a cloth over jasmine flowers in order to dry it in the sun. The scent of the flowers covered by the cloth became stronger.
"After all, there has never been a kirin that has spent more than ten years away from Mt. Hou."
Youka also lifted a cloth up and gazed at that other nyosen briefly. "It doesn't matter how many years they've been gone. A kirin is always a kirin. It's not like they'll change."
"I guess you're right."
The other nyosen who were folding cloths all laughed. The cloths had all absorbed the smell of the jasmine flowers and were giving off a clear fragrance.
"But in any case, he did grow up in Hourai, so there are still some things that are strange about him. Fortunately, none of it makes anyone uncomfortable."
Youka heard this and put her hands on her hips. "How can you say that Taiki is strange!? He's much easier to approach than the kirin who are born and grow up on Mt. Hou! If anything, we should be grateful!"
The nyosen who were folding clothes around the area burst into laughter.
"Youka really favors Taiki!"
The nyosen completely surrounded the determined Youka and waved the cloths around her feet as if they were performing the ribbon dance, and then with another shout, they spread out.
Teiei watched them and couldn't help but laugh as well. "All right, you girls stop picking on Youka."
The nyosen of Mt. Hou are generally a very lively bunch, but because their work is to take care of kirin, if a kirin is not around, they can get low-spirited as well. Especially in a situation like before when they didn't even know the whereabouts of the kirin, they had all been like balloons that had lost their air.
Of course, there isn't always a kirin on Mt. Hou. In fact, the length of time when they are away is probably greater than when they are present. When the kirin aren't there, the nyosen still draw water, wash clothes or weave fabrics regardless. Everything they do is for themselves, so they do it all without much enthusiasm. However, right now things were not like that! Right now, a kirin was living on Mt. Hou!
Therefore, all the nyosen were also very excited. The nyosen were very fond of kirin, especially toward this one. In actuality, none of the nyosen really had the liberty to laugh at Youka for favoring Taiki, because of the fifty-some nyosen, almost all of them adored him.
In regard to their poking fun at Youka's favoritism, it was probably a little bit of envy because Taiki and Youka were comparatively closer.
"Youka!" A crisp and clear child's voice came from far away.
All the nyosen stopped what they were doing and turned to look at where the voice had come from. Just then, Taiki came down a path, running towards the open area.
"Hide me! Hide me!" said Taiki between breaths as he ran toward Youka and hid behind her.
"Taiki just wants to be friends with Youka!"
"That's what I was saying!"
The nyosen laughed and used the cloths they were holding to cover Taiki up. The little body that hid between the jasmine bushes and Youka was completely covered by the cloths in the blink of an eye.
The nyosen giggled. At this time, a shadow appeared on the ground. It was Sanshi coming down from the rocks. The nyosen then all pointed to the eastern path.
"He's over there, Sanshi!"
"Taiki ran that way."
"I almost knocked him over!"
Even though the nyosen tried to trick Sanshi, there was no way she wouldn't be able to find Taiki. She walked directly over to Youka and lifted up the cloth that was covering him. Taiki, who had been hiding inside with neck scrunched up, looked up at her and sighed forcefully. "You still found me."
Still panting heavily, he sat down and hugged Sanshi's foreleg. Sanshi handed the fabric and clothes back to the nyosen and rubbed his head. The nyosen laughed joyously.
"It's impossible to hide from Sanshi."
"I know," said Taiki, as his cheeks turned red. He leaned on Sanshi's foreleg and loosened the collar of his robe. Everyone stifled their laughter and watched him. They all thought that Taiki looked much cuter than any of the kirin who had stayed at Mt. Hou before—It was probably because of their favoritism.
Youka laughed as she stroked Taiki's hair. His hair had grown much longer since he first arrived, and his bangs stuck to his forehead because of his sweat. She gently lifted it aside.
Most kirin had golden hair, but to be accurate, it should be called a mane, rather than hair. Furthermore, Taiki's mane was the color of steel. This showed that he was not like most kirin, and it caused the nyosen to feel that he was particularly dignified.
"You should go bathe for a bit. It's almost time for dinner."
The status of a kirin is much higher than that of a nyosen, but since they take care of a kirin's everyday life, they feel as if the kirin was their own child. Thus, it follows that the tone of their voice isn't overly respectful. Even the head of the nyosen, Hekika Genkun is like this, so naturally no one can blame them.
"Luckily, there is a lot of clothes here for you to change into. I'll tidy up here and then I'll come find you."
"Okay." Taiki nodded and stood up. "Sanshi, let's go."
The nyosen smiled as they watched Sanshi leave, holding on to Taiki's hand.
"It looks like the one who favors Taiki most is Sanshi!"
Though they all agreed, none of them felt jealous, because Sanshi and the nyosen were not the same. Sanshi existed solely for Taiki. Moreover, they were all in a good mood, because anyone who saw Taiki before dinner could eat with him. This was the newest unwritten rule upon Mt. Hou.
After she put away the sun-dried clothes, Youka chose a set that smelled like sun and jasmine for Taiki and walked to the river. She used a path by a waterfall that ran beside Rosen Palace, and after she turned a corner, she heard crisp and clear laughter.
In the river, Taiki was chasing Sanshi's tail around. One moment, it floated up out of the water, and the next, it sunk back down. Even when he got a hold of her tail, she would lift it up high, sending him back into the water, and then he would surface again with a splash. At this time, he noticed Youka walking towards him and waved to her.
"I've come to see you."
A nyosen spread a cloth at the side of the river. Taiki walked up onto the blanket on the bank, and another nyosen used the cloth that was hanging at her wrist to wrap around Taiki.
"I can do this myself."
"You never completely dry your upper back, so I think you should still let me do it." After the nyosen said this, she began to wipe down Taiki's body. Even though Taiki felt very embarrassed, all the nyosen wanted to attend to him. And then yet another nyosen helped him put his clothes on, as Youka dried his hair for him.
"I think it's okay already."
"But your hair isn't dry yet."
He took a few tufts of hair in his hand as it rolled off the cloth. His hair had now become an unusual color between black and silver.
"Is my hair too long?"
"Right now, it's still too short!"
Taiki looked Youka with astonishment. "Do I have to keep letting it grow longer? Until it's as long as a girl's?"
"Usually, you let it grow until it stops growing any longer. We'll cut it neatly for you."
"Then I can't cut it myself?"
If you want to be ugly when you transform, then we'll cut it off for you."
Youka began to comb Taiki's already partially dry hair. "You are a kirin, so you can change into the outer form of a kirin."
"The outer form of a 'kirin'? Do you mean the animal?" [Note: In Japanese, the word for giraffe is "kirin." For this next part, just keep in mind that while they're all saying "kirin," Taiki is thinking of a giraffe, while the nyosen are all thinking of the divine beast.]
Then, Taiki began to contemplate. He already knew that he was a "kirin," but he thought that it was only a name referring to people who were hatched from the fruit of the tree. However, listening to what Youka was saying, it seemed as if that wasn't the case.
"Then am I originally an animal?" This confused him. Even though it's said that humans are a kind of animal, the meaning was not quite the same.
"Then, the person I saw earlier, Ren Taiho, is she one too?"
Taiki's understanding lessened even more.
Was he going to change into a giraffe like a wolfman's transformation? A wolfman's transformation didn't seem that weird, but to turn into a giraffe, his neck would have to stretch so much, so he felt that it was definitely really weird.
—At this time, Taiki had not yet figured out what kind of creature a kirin was.
Teiei had been smiling and watching Taiki and the nyosen when she discovered a look of uncertainty on Taiki's face and suddenly came to a realization.
"Oh, it's because you haven't transformed before, so you don't understand. The hair on your head is not the same as ours. You have a mane."
Taiki nodded. Giraffes definitely had a sort of mane.
Teiei motioned for Taiki to move to in front of her and gently touched the center of his forehead, near his hairline. At this time, Taiki suddenly felt a rush of strong discomfort and anxiety.
"You have a small bump right here."
When he heard Teiei say this, Taiki lifted his hand up and rubbed his forehead. There definitely was a little bump.
"This is a kirin's horn. This horn is extremely important to the kirin. Just then, when I touched your forehead, you should have felt very uncomfortable, right?"
"...A little bit."
"You don't need to be embarrassed about it. A kirin does not like it at all when someone touches their horn. When you get a little older, you'll hate it even more. You won't want to let anyone touch it, not even Sanshi."
After hearing Teiei say these things, Taiki remembered that he had never liked it when someone touched his forehead. Even if it had been his mother, he had still felt like running away.
"Then I'm really a kirin, huh."
From the side, Youka anxiously said, "Just wait until you've transformed. Then you'll understand what we mean."
"How do I transform?"
At this question from Taiki, Youka tilted her head and thought for a little bit. "Yeah... If you had been born and raised on Mt. Hou, then you would inherently know. Because those who are born here remain in kirin form for the first part of their lives. But you were born in Hourai, so you've been in human form..."
Youka wasn't very clear on matters concerning Hourai, but because there had been kirin before who had come back from Hourai, she had heard a few things."Does changing into a kirin feel uncomfortable?"
"There are no kirin who dislike transforming, so I don't think it's uncomfortable."
"Don't you think it's really weird?"
"Not at all." After Youka said this, she started to comb Taiki's hair with her fingers again. "You aren't like most kirin. Most kirin have manes are gold, like Ren Taiho's. You are a kokki, which I've heard are very rare! You need to hurry and let me see you after your transformation! The color of your mane is so pretty, you'll definitely look even better after you've turned into a kirin."
"But I can't think of a way to transform."
"I think..." Youka sighed. "I can't think of a way either. After all, I'm not a kirin, and I've never transformed. If we get a chance, we'll ask Genkun!"
Teiei looked at Taiki, who was not yet completely at ease, and could not help but silently crease her brow. Having lived in the other world for ten long years, would Taiki actually be able to transform without any problems? Though it's said that there has never been a kirin who was not able to transform, if Taiki were to be the first to set the precedent, it would be too unfortunate.
Gyokuyou may have an answer to this question, but she wasn't someone one could find just by wanting to find her. However, Taiki was running out of time!
Teiei's line of sight moved away from Taiki and Youka, who were joking with each other, as she looked up anxiously at the already darkening sky.
Luckily, the spring equinox had already passed, but when the summer solstice arrived, there would definitely be people climbing the mountain.
Is a kirin who cannot transform able to choose a ruler?