The Twelve Kingdoms
Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Maze, Chapter 4.
from Mina's trans. of Ono Fuyumi's Kaze no Umi, Meikyuu no Kishi.
Taiki absent-mindedly wandered around the small paths, not looking at where he was going at all. In addition, Taiki was still essentially unfamiliar with the roads outside of Rosen Palace. However, since Sanshi was with him, he didn't worry about getting lost.
He was walking aimlessly like this for a while when he suddenly saw a gate in front of him, obstructing the path. The door was shut tightly, preventing Taiki from going any further.
This was the outer perimeter of Houro Palace. It probably took him a while to walk here from Rosen Palace, which meant that he had already been lost in thought for a long time.
"..." Taiki sighed. The bolt for the gate was on this side, so it would have been easy to open the gate, had he wanted to. However, the nyosen had told him before that he absolutely could not take one step out of this gate.
But Taiki didn't feel like heading back, so he turned around and raised his arms toward Sanshi, who had been quietly following him.
"Sanshi, can you take me up there?"
Sanshi nodded her head and picked Taiki up. At Taiki's current age, it wouldn't be easy for most women to lift him, but ever since he returned to Mt. Hou, he was no longer as heavy as he looked on the outside. Since he now had an immortal body, he was extremely light, so Sanshi didn't expend the slightest amount of energy to pick him up. Only two or three jumps and she arrived at the top of a cliff.
Looking down from the top, Houro Palace looked like a maze. The roofs of the palace structures that were scattered everywhere reflected a greenish light. At the edge of the maze there stood a snow-white tree, which at that moment was bathed in sunlight.
Taiki held on to Sanshi as he stared in the direction of the tree.
Gazing at it from above, Houro Palace appeared to be in the shape of a fan. The Shashinboku was situated beside a cliff wall on the terrace furthest east, which was also the eastern boundary of the palace. The top of the enormous, strangely-shaped crag could not be seen, and the bottom extended into a gorge of an unknown depth. Most people could not walk its complex, intertwining terrain.
On the inner side of the terrace, there was a gradual slope, the area of which was wider the closer it got. At some point, it diverged into a countless number of small paths, and at another point it converged into one path. This path was cut off firmly by the gate that Taiki had just seen at the end of the maze.
A steep mountain peak stood on the northern side of the maze. The cliff wall of the steep mountain, as well as the soaring peak that extended past the clouds included no easy way to climb, even for Sanshi.
The eastern and northern sides were protected by towering cliff walls, so those who wanted to visit Houro Palace must first enter through that gate, and then walk the correct route through the maze in order to reach their destination.
Taiki left Sanshi's embrace and, standing on the crag, he looked back behind him.
On the southern and eastern sides outside of the maze of the palace, the confusing terrain continued.
The inside and outside of the maze formed a single gigantic labyrinth. Even with Taiki looking at it from above, he wasn't clear where the border between the two actually was.
However, the terrain on the outside did look slightly simpler than that of the inside. The small paths were wider and the open areas were much bigger. If someone walking in the middle of it mastered the direction of the sun, they should be able to reach Houro Palace.
Taiki was thinking these things as he looked around, when he saw an emerald green glimmer coming from somewhere a far distance down the mountain.
"Sanshi, what's over there?" Taiki asked as he pointed. Sanshi looked in that direction with her round eyes.
"There are palaces outside of the gate?"
Sanshi nodded. "Outer palaces."
In this way, Taiki was looking at the maze, when a strong gust of wind blew at them. He looked around and saw no oceans around, but the wind had carried with it the smell of the sea.
"What's wrong?" Sanshi couldn't help but ask, seeing Taiki stare into the distance as he stood in the wind. Sanshi did not speak up to ask him questions very often, so that meant that he appeared to be completely lost in thought.
"Sanshi, did you have to transform in order to look like you do now? Or were you born this way?"
Sanshi gently stroked his head. "Nyokai cannot transform. Transformation requires a special power in order to perform."
"Changing your outward appearance is not a very easy thing to do. There are youma that are capable of it, but their magical powers are extremely strong. Even monarchs may not be able to control them."
"They are creatures that possess supernatural powers and do not listen to the will of the heavens."
"Are nyokai also youma?"
Sanshi shook her head. "Nyokai are creatures that are between humans and youju, called nin'you or youjin. The special ones born on Mt. Hou are called nyokai."
"Then... are kirin considered youju?"
Sanshi revealed to Taiki an expression that no one else had ever had a chance to see. "Kirin definitely possess powers, but we don't call kirin by the name youju. Kirin are shinju, divine beasts."
"Because in this world, only gods and monarchs are nobler than the kirin. More particularly, only the Taiou, Lady Seioubo and Tentei hold a higher status than you."
"I...don't quite understand."
Sanshi brushed his hair. "Then just remember that since Seioubo and Tentei don't usually come down from the Heavens, you will probably never have a chance to meet them. Thus, the only one who is nobler than you is the Taiou."
"Then what about everyone else? Doesn't Lady Gyokuyou have a higher status than me?"
"If you can call her by the name Gyokuyou, that means that you and she share the same status. It is only etiquette that requires you address her as Lady."
"This is so complicated."
"Is it very complicated?"
"Yes." Taiki lowered his head to look at the scenery below his feet. After standing in the wind for a moment, he asked Sanshi another question.
"What do I need to do...to be able to transform?"
Sanshi looked at the depressed expression on Taiki's face. "That is an ability that you were born with... When the time comes, you will do it naturally."
"Really...?" Taiki lowered his eyelids. Recently, a lot of the nyosen had told him to quickly transform into a black kirin so that they could experience something new. Taiki knew that the nyosen all adored him, so that he could satisfy their hopes. However, he had no idea as to how he would do it.
"You don't need to worry... you just need to live your days with happiness."
"Okay..." Taiki leaned his head on Sanshi's wrist.
It was at this moment that he spotted two figures on a small path in the vicinity of Hoto Palace.
"Sanshi, there are people over there."Sanshi looked over toward Hoto Palace and nodded her head. "It's probably a couple nyosen who've gone to burn some incense. They're bringing flowers and sticks of incense to the altar in Hoto Palace."
"Sanshi, let's return with the nyosen."
Taiki had no way to get himself down to the path from the top of the crag, so he prepared himself for Sanshi to carry him down. At this time, Sanshi suddenly jerked her head fiercely.
In the second that it took Taiki to ask this question, Sanshi's outline looked like it had been sucked into a little crack and disappeared.
"Stay where you are and don't move."
He only heard Sanshi's voice—her voice came from beside him, full of a tense feeling, but he couldn't see her.
Taiki stood on the crag. Hearing such a nervous tone, as well as an unimaginably monstrous ferocity develop in her voice, he guessed that something was definitely out of the ordinary.
Taiki carefully looked around, not daring to breathe too loudly. He grabbed onto the cliffside, and stretched his neck out to see if he could find Sanshi's figure. At this time something suddenly brushed past his neck.
He felt something fly towards him and graze his cheek. And then, something else wrapped itself around his hands, with which he had been holding on to the cliffside. Suddenly, his hands were tugged by a strong force and it flung his body over the side of the rock face.
In that second, Taiki saw that his hands were bound by a long chain.
He began to fall.
—Someone was pulling him off the crag.
"I've got you!"
Taiki was startled awake by a loud and coarse voice.
He suddenly remembered that he had fallen off of the crag and into the area beyond the boundary where the nyosen had told him never to cross. When he tried to think back to why he had fallen, he heard another deep shouting. He was laying on the ground and turned to see where the voice came from, when he saw a few droplets of blood spray thru the air.
"It looks like blood..." In the moment this thought floated into his mind, it was as if his body temperature had dropped, and he was suddenly unable to move his body.
He remembered a peculiarity that he had almost forgotten after he had arrived at Mt. Hou.
—I'm afraid of blood!
Even when it was blood from his own injury, he almost couldn't stand it. If it was someone else's blood coming out of their wound, he would get so scared that he couldn't breathe.
He tried to close his eyes, but even his eyelids wouldn't listen to his commands. It was as if he had forgotten to take a breath, and all he could feel was the urgent beating of his heart. He had almost reached his limit. The sight of the blood spray kept replaying itself deep inside his pupil, which had already lost focus.
(I was originally standing on top of the crag!)
Then something had bound his hands and dragged him down. He felt that that thing was still wrapped around his hands now, like it was a chain of thorns.
He knew that he had fallen off the crag.
He was now laying on the ground which was piled full of rocks, with his body in an unnatural position. He was on his back with stones under him.
Having fallen from such a high place into the bottom of a valley, and passing by so many sharp rocks, logic dictates that he must have been wounded. However, right now Taiki was not clear on whether or not he had been injured, or if through a miracle, he was only lightly hurt.
He could only feel the strong beating of his heart. His hands and feet were already so cold he could not move them, and he was dizzy as if he had a fever. He couldn't wipe the bright red pigment of blood away. It occupied his mind and was so vivid that there was no way for him to understand what was going on in front of him.
He wanted to shake his head forcefully so that he might wake up a little bit, however he couldn't even blink his eyes. Was his inability to move due to an injury? Or was it because he had just seen droplets of blood? What was actually going on right now?
"You monster!" He heard a coarse voice calling out, and finally understood what it was that he was looking at.
It was a man. He was a big man who was holding a sword in his hands.And that sword was pointed at Sanshi!
"I'm not going to be beaten by a nin'you! Go the hell back to the Yellow Sea!"
He raised the sword and sliced it down quickly.
He wanted to shout, but he couldn't make any sounds.
The edge of the blade made an arc in the air, brushing past Sanshi's body. Sanshi had reached out in an attempt to grab a hold of his throat.
The tips of her white fingers had been stained red. In the next moment, Sanshi's wrist sprayed fresh blood as the edge of the sword crossed it.
He shut his eyes tightly, secretly wishing that he wouldn't have to open them again. He was already not sure if he was still breathing or if his heart was still beating.
He didn't want to open his eyes, but all of a sudden a strong force tugged at his hands, and he opened his eyes in shock. Before he was clear on what had happened, he had already rolled off the rocks.
His back was struck and just as he wanted to cry out, his wrists were being tugged again. He looked up only to see his two wrists being pulled into the air. Around his wrists was a thin chain that was connected all the way to the man's hand that wasn't holding the sword. Whenever the man moved a little, a sharp pain would occur in his shoulders and elbows as if they were being dislocated. He was dragged forward on top of a crag in this way, with the upper portion of his body rubbing against the top of the stones, causing him a piercing pain.
"Who are you?"
The man was pointing his sword at Sanshi as he looked at Taiki. He looked very angry.
"Why is your hair like this?" The tone of the man's voice sounded like he was blaming him, but Taiki didn't know how he should reply.
Sanshi jumped in front of the man again. He swung the sword at her and cut her leg. Bright red spots sprayed from Sanshi's body once again.
The man glared at Taiki again and twisted his long, cruel face as he yelled at him loudly.
"Boy, you aren't a kirin?"
Kirin? Of course he was a kirin. Everyone had said so.
Could he answer him like this?
But right now, he was more worried about Sanshi!
(Ah... She's bled so much...)
Whenever the man moved, Taiki's wrists would be jerked at. It was so painful, he felt like his whole body was going to be ripped apart.
"Damn it! And I thought you were a kirin. I spent all this time and I end up with a little brat and a nin'you following me!"
Sanshi lunged at the man again, but met only his sword as he swung it at her. More blood droplets splattered onto the ground. Sanshi backed up as the man moved forward a few steps, causing Taiki to be dragged along again, the sharp rocks scratching up his body.
"How did a nin'you like you get into Mt. Hou? Let me teach you a thing or two!"
He cut Sanshi again with the point of the blade, which hit the rocks.
Sanshi's white body was already spotted with blood.
(Sanshi, run away...)
He really wanted to call this out, but he could not say anything...
"Stop this immediately!"
Suddenly hearing a loud sharp voice, Taiki opened his eyes.
"How...could this happen!?"
He heard a mass of footsteps running in his direction as pale-faced nyosen entered his line of sight.
"This...is too much! Taiki!"
When the nyosen ran over and reached out their hands, Taiki broke out in tears. Warm hands picked him up and he smelled the pleasant fragrance of a nyosen, making him feel like he could sleep forever.
"What is going on here? Sanshi, stop!"
"Is she your pet dog? Quickly, take her away!"
"You're the one who should go away, you horrible person!"
Hearing a loud shouting, Taiki lifted up his head.
It had been Teiei's voice. This was the first time he had seen her so agitated. The man was also looking at her with surprise, while Sanshi hatefully glowered at the man.
"Sanshi, that's enough. If you bleed any more you won't be able to be by Taiki's side. If you don't want that to happen, then you should cool down a little bit."
After saying this to Sanshi, Teiei glared at the man.
"How dare you come to Mt. Hou and treat Taiki in this vulgar manner!"
"Taiki?" The man looked at the child who was being tightly embraced by a nyosen.
"You're saying that this brat... no, this child is Taiki?"
"Correct! Since ancient times, the only children that appear on Mt. Hou are the Mt. Hou Kou. And you perform these treacherous actions upon Mt. Hou Kou! I would like to hear an explanation now."
An expression of joy piled upon the man's entire face.
"Taiki! I can't believe I caught him." After saying this, he strode forward a step.
Teiei extended her hand to block him. "What is your answer? You are not to get one step closer to Mt. Hou Kou! I want to hear your explanation first."
"I've caught Taiki! It was me!"
"You still won't answer me? Is it possible that you want to experience the power of the nyosen?"
The man had a hateful grin upon his face. "I am the Shikou Daibu of the Bakou in Tai Kingdom. I am called Goson. I heard that the kirin had returned to Mt. Hou, so I came."
"Hoto Palace has not permitted anyone by the name of Goson to climb the mountain."
"Ah... Regarding this, I am very sorry. I was too eager to see Houro Palace, and consequently, I did not go to Hoto Palace beforehand to tell them. However, I've caught the kirin!"
"You've caught him? What do you mean by ‘caught him'?"
The man widened his eyes. "I've caught the kirin. Though my hasty rush up the mountain is my mistake, for which I apologize, but I hope that you can grant Taiki to me."
After saying this, the man laughed. "I am the King of Tai!"
Taiki felt the body of the nyosen who was embracing him begin to shake with anger. And as if it had been contagious, Teiei's shoulders also started to shake a little.
"You ignorant fool!"
Hearing Teiei's angry yell, the man couldn't help but take a half-step back.
"Who would have thought that the Bakou of Tai Kingdom would actually have allowed such a foolish person to become the Shikou Daibu!"
The man retreated another half-step backward.
"What did you think Taiki was? Did you think that the honorable Mt. Hou Kou was the same as the youju that you catch in the Yellow Sea? Don't kid yourself! You, the King of Tai? I advise you to get off this mountain before lightning strikes you as a punishment from the Heavens!"
"Be quiet! If more nonsense comes out of your mouth, even if the Heavens don't punish you, I will tear you into pieces!"
The man could no longer speak, his mouth simply opening and closing.
The nyosen who was holding Taiki stood up and carefully helped Taiki remove the chain on his wrists.
She gently rubbed the skin where the chain had bound Taiki's wrists, and then she stroked his cheek and brushed his hair. Then she spoke to Taiki, who was near tears again.
"This makes me so angry. You must have been so scared! I am going to take you back to the palace now."
"But Sanshi..." He looked at Sanshi, who was standing quietly to one side. The nyosen shook her head.
"Not yet. Don't worry about her right now."
Though he still wasn't clear on what had happened, he did know that Sanshi was injured for the sake of protecting him.
He wanted to know if her wounds were serious and to thank her and treat her wounds, but just looking at her with blood all over her body, made his heart feel like it was being squeezed. Since Sanshi's body gave off a strong smell of blood, no matter what, he would not be able to be close to her.
He carried a mood that was hard to get over as he let the nyosen pick him up. His whole body ached, and as a result, he really wanted to cry before the nyosen had even walked one step.
- - - - -
After they entered the big gate, he saw Youka.
All the nyosen who ran over to him saw Taiki's appearance and cried out. The nyosen who was carrying him explained what had happened to them, and after they heard, they rushed outside.
"Really...this is too much!" said Youka, as she stared angrily out the gate. Then she anxiously reached her hands to Taiki.
"This is really unfortunate. You must have been so scared. Are you all right?"
Youka nodded her head in understanding.
"Sanshi's fine. Although a nyokai's wounds might look very serious, they will heal very quickly. But did you get hurt?"
"I don't know."
"At any rate, we should return to the palace first. Sanshi will clean her body before she comes back, so you don't need to worry."
Taiki finally nodded his head.
"You don't need to be so sad. There was nothing you could do. Kirin have always been creatures that feared blood. Even to the point that some kirin will get sick when they just smell blood!"
"Really...? The other kirin are like this too?"
"Yes, so you don't need to feel so ashamed. After Sanshi comes back, I'll help treat her wounds."
Taiki reached his hand out to Youka, and Youka picked him up.
Afterwards, all the nyosen who had come rushing argued about who would carry him back, all along the road to Rosen Palace.
After they got back to his bedroom at Rosen Palace, Youka brought a big basin of medicinal water and let Taiki soak in it.
She carefully checked Taiki's body for injuries and then delicately washed his body as she listened to him tell her about what had happened to him. She listened and silently cursed the foolish man several times.
"Do you know what was actually going on?" Taiki still didn't quite understand the cause of the occurrence.
Youka smiled at the puzzled and anxious Taiki. "It was because I was too careless, thinking that since the spring equinox had passed, everything would be fine... Please forgive me for my mistake."
"You didn't make a mistake."
"No, I should have been more clear with you. Luckily, you didn't get any serious injuries. When you fell off the crag, I'm certain it was Sanshi that caught you. After she comes back, you need to properly show her your appreciation."
"Also, please promise me that you will never, even if Sanshi is with you, cross the big gate of Houro Palace without a nyosen accompanying you. No, please promise me not even to get near to the big gate."
"I won't go out there."
Hearing Taiki say this, Youka nodded her head. And then after Taiki got out of the bath, she wrapped him up with the towel in her hand.
Youka carried Taiki to his bed and lightly wiped his body clean.
"...The kirin will choose a ruler."
"How is the ruler chosen? Shouldn't the child of the king succeed him?"
"No, the kirin chooses him."
"I don't understand..."
"Actually, I'm not too clear on it either. After all, I'm not a kirin. But it's probably like this: the ruler is decided by Tentei, who holds the highest status in the Heavens. After he compares the natures of many people, he chooses the person who most fit to be the ruler."
"And then Tentei will inform the kirin of his choice... Oh, he doesn't just use his mouth to tell the kirin! It's just that when the kirin meets the person who should become the ruler, he will know naturally that it is him, because the kirin will receive a revelation."
"What's a revelation?"
"That's something only a kirin knows. If you are a kirin, it is certain that you will be able to feel the revelation. Regardless of how small the kirin is, they can definitely all choose a ruler."
"After a little while, those who hope to become the ruler will climb Mt. Hou in droves. That is how they will be able to meet you, so that you can choose a ruler out of them."
"Just like...that guy today?"
Youka nodded. She put down the cloth she had been using to dry Taiki's hair and began to help him put on his undergarments.
"Yes. A lot of people will come! Then... It'll probably be around the summer solstice."
"Why the summer solstice?"
"Because Mt. Hou is located in the center of the Yellow Sea. Ordinarily, people aren't allowed into the Yellow Sea. However, there are four gates upon the periphery of the Yellow Sea. Once they go through those gates, they will have entered the Yellow Sea. Also, the four gates will open alternately at the spring and fall equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices."
The day the gate opens is called Ankou Day. Outside of Ankou Day, these four gates are so closely protected that not even a drop of water can get through.
"They only open for one day?"
"Right, from noon on the day of, to noon on the day after. The spring equinox occurred not long after you had just arrived, and I thought that even if those people had wanted to climb the mountain, they probably wouldn't have had enough time. I didn't think it could happen, so I lowered my guard. Please forgive my error."
"That man today probably rushed here to make it in time. However, when the summer solstice arrives, then there really will be many people coming to climb the mountain."
"To get from any of the four gates to here, no matter how fast they are, it takes half a month. Thus, once they enter a gate, they aren't able to leave until the next time a gate opens. Also, those who wish to climb Mt. Hou will set up camp in the area around Hoto Palace, and they will stay there until the day they can leave. Although there are many youma and youju in the Yellow Sea, they aren't able to enter Mt. Hou, so staying there is very safe. When the time comes, there will be so many people that the commotion will seem like a small town!"
"That many people? Then will I really know who the ruler is?"
"You don't need to worry. You will gain a revelation, so you will certainly know. Regardless of how great a person looks, if you don't receive the revelation, then they aren't the ruler."
"However, among those, there will still be people like that idiot today, who think that they just need to use their savage strength to capture the kirin or force the kirin to bow down to them in order to make them king."
"So is that why Houro Palace was built at the end of a maze?"
"Probably. Because when some people hear that a kirin has been born, they will want to come and take the kirin."
"When you are allowed outside of the gate, naturally we will take you outside, so until that time, you must not run out there by yourself. Even when you are inside the gates, you still need to be careful."
Youka smiled and rubbed Taiki's head. "When the kirin receives the revelation, he will bow in front of the ruler.
Besides the ruler, the kirin will absolutely not bow down to anyone else. Even in the shrines of Tentei and Seioubo, only kirin are allowed to not bow down in respect."
"And then the kirin will vow never to abandon the ruler, never to disobey his royal command, and pledge his loyalty to the ruler."
"After the ruler vocally agrees, the kirin will press his forehead, or I should say his horn, against the feet of the ruler. Thereupon, that person formally becomes the ruler. The person you choose will be called Taiou, which is what the ruler of Tai Kingdom is called. And from then on, you will be called Tai Taiho."
"This is so complicated!"
Seeing Taiki's sour face, Youka laughed.
"Is it? After you choose a ruler, you will ascended to a place even higher than Mt. Hou. There sits the shrine of Seioubo, where you will take the Taiou."
"How do I take him up there? Even Sanshi can't go up there."
Youka laughed even more happily.
"At that time, a road will naturally appear. You will go up and enter the shrine to receive the Tenchoku. Afterwards, you will go down to the Kingdom of Tai. You shouldn't ask me what the Tenchoku is though, because this is something only kirin and rulers know about."
"When it comes time, a path of beautiful clouds will appear from Mt. Hou straight to the Kingdom of Tai, and you will ride the clouds all the way down to Tai Kingdom."
"And then?" Youka looked at Taiki and saw only Taiki's anxious face.
"And then what happens? Am I going to live in Tai Kingdom forever?"
"Then will I never see you again?" Taiki looked like he was about to cry. "What about Sanshi? And Teiei? And the rest of the nyosen?"
"Well," Youka sighed. She hugged Taiki, who was sitting on the bedding. "Yes... I suppose we may never have another chance to meet. However, Sanshi will always stay by your side, forever and ever."
"Do I have to choose a ruler?"
"Choosing a ruler is your most important duty!"
Seeing Taiki hugging her tightly with his little hands, Youka gently stroked his back.
"You must become an exceptional kirin and choose a great ruler! We will all care about you from far away at Mt. Hou."
Mt. Hou was a place to bring up kirin, so once a kirin leaves Mt. Hou, on principle, they cannot come back. After all, the nyosen of Mt. Hou need to concentrate on taking care of the newly born kirin. But Taiki didn't need to know these things right now.
"Our only hope is that you can become a spectacular kirin and fulfill your duties without any problems."
—Although, it was very forced.
Finally, relative to the calendar, summer was getting closer and closer.
Relative to the calendar because there were no so-called seasons on Mt. Hou.
After a page was turned, it would be the summer solstice. On that day, the Reikon Gate on the southwestern side of the Yellow Sea would open.
"Taiki, I'll brush your hair into a topknot," said Teiei to Taiki. Because she saw that as Taiki was gathering stones from the river, he would constantly be pulling his hair out of the water.
"Okay," said Taiki as he sat down on the crag next to the river. Teiei unfastened the thin rope that was at her waist and began to tie a topknot. Taiki's neatly trimmed head of steel-colored hair had already grown down to his back, but then putting it up into a topknot made it feel like it was still too short.
"Can I trim my bangs?"
"If you must trim them, we will do it for you. However, if you end up regretting it, we won't sympathize."
"This length should already be long enough, shouldn't it?"
Hearing Taiki say this with such apprehension, Teiki couldn't help but laugh.
"When you transform into a kirin, your hair won't be this long. It will become a length that is just right. It looks like your hair is still growing, so that means that it's not yet long enough."
"If only I could transform now and see if it's long enough or not."
"That's not necessary. We are all very experienced! Your topknot is finished."
Teiei squinted and watched as Taiki jumped back into the water with a plop.
"Have you heard the story of Sairin?"
"A long time ago, there was a kirin who liked to look pretty, called Sairin."
"That's a woman because she has Rin in her name, right?"
"Right. Sairin was always very envious of the nyosen's hairstyle, so she would always complain that she wanted the nyosen to brush her hair into a topknot."
"And then she got a topknot with a hairpin, like you?"
Teiei nodded as she was sewing clothes. "Right. We combed her hair with pomade and tied it up into a tight topknot, and then we inserted all sorts of hairpins. Unexpectedly, when evening came and she transformed in order to get back to the palace, her mane was still bound in a topknot and there was no way for her to straighten her neck, so it became crooked."
"That must have hurt."
"Right. So you have to be careful. If you transform with your hair in a topknot, it will hurt a lot."
Taiki and Teiei both laughed. Following that, Teiei lowered her head to look at the clothes beside her hand.
Ever since that incident with that Goson from Ba Province, Taiki always had at least two or three nyosen by his side. Because when the nyokai encounters urgent situations, the only thought that goes through her mind is to protect Taiki, sometimes she will injure herself needlessly and cause injury to Taiki.
Just like on that day, after Sanshi had cleaned her body once, she had still not been able to completely wash off the smell of blood. Taiki didn't tell the nyosen and let Sanshi be by him until he fell asleep like in the past. As a result, he had gotten a fever by the next day.
(It would be better if Taiki had shirei...)
Teiei quietly thought to herself.
Relying only on Sanshi to protect Taiki isn't enough.
At times like these, she felt like the ten years that Taiki had been away from Mt. Hou was really too long a time.
The Yellow Sea around the Five Mountains was a habitat for youma, and ordinarily, a kirin would use his spare time to walk along the periphery of the Yellow Sea and tame youma, turning them into his shirei. At first he would find a few smaller youma at the foot of the Five Mountains to test out his skill and tame them.
(However, Taiki's already run out of time...)
Moreover, Taiki also didn't know how to tame youma, and there was no way Teiei could teach him, because this should have been an instinctual skill that a kirin was born with.
(If only he had come back five years earlier.)
Kirin are born in beast form and in their first five years, do not change their appearance, since they don't have a horn yet. They don't know how to speak and don't quite understand everything a nyosen says, like a small bird that has just hatched.
However, newly hatched birds can't fly, but kirin already know how to gallop through the air when they are born. Small kirin can only follow their nyokai around, wandering blithely through the Five Mountains, as they search for youma and tame them for their own amusement. Small kirin grow up only drinking their nyokai's milk, so they build up a resistance to injury and blood.
Though it is a little different for every kirin, they begin to transform every now and then to human form and speak the human language after an average of about five years. After another period of time, their transformations will last longer, until one day the sharp tips of their horns will emerge from their foreheads. That is also the time it stops nursing, and from then on, they can show their complete human forms.
Thus, from the time they stop nursing, most kirin just know naturally how to transform and how to tame youma, and they don't need anyone to teach them. Though they are not considered fully grown until their horns are completely developed, they basically already possess all the skill that a kirin should have. Also, it isn't until this time that the flag can be raised.
After a kirin stops nursing, their native kingdom—although they weren't really born in that kingdom, most people refer to it as such—receives news of this event, and every shrine in the kingdom raises a Kirin Flag. This meant that there was a kirin on Mt. Hou who was already prepared to choose a ruler. After all those that hope to be the ruler see the raised flag, they then climb the mountain in throngs.
Taiki was no longer a small kirin. On the day that he had returned to Mt. Hou, his native kingdom, Tai Kingdom had raised the Kirin Flag. There was no way to tell the people now that Taiki was not yet ready. He had to choose a ruler. At this point, Taiki should already know how to transform, and he should already have shirei.
"What's the matter?"
Taiki asked Teiei this. He may have heard Teiei sighing.
Teiei shook her head at Taiki's curious face.
It would be better if she didn't say anything. Or else it might be like the matter concerning his transformation, causing Taiki to worry to himself. After all, this was something that no one could teach him.
It wasn't easy to cheer Taiki up, and she didn't want to make him depressed and unhappy again.
Ever since Taiki had heard Youka say that after he chooses a ruler, he wouldn't be able to return to Mt. Hou, he had been in low spirits. The closer the summer solstice got, the more he moped, making the nyosen who saw him feel all anxious inside.
He was like this up until he had heard that there wasn't necessarily a real ruler among the people who will climb the mountain during the summer solstice, and that some kirin live on Mt. Hou for several years and wait many seasons before they finally find a ruler. Then, he recovered the cheerfulness of his former days again.
"We need to think of a way to take advantage of the time we have now..."
Fortunately, there were no people at Hoto Palace right now. It seemed that the only person to make it for the Ankou Day of the spring equinox was that Goson.
Afterwards, all the nyosen had reproached Goson, and they also didn't give him any food or water before chasing him off the mountain. In order to get back to the Kingdom of Tai, he had to wait at the Reikon Gate for the next Ankou Day before the gate would open. However, setting up camp there, he had to avoid the attacks of the youma and youju, which was not an easy thing to do. Even though he would probably be able to survive, when Ankou Day arrives and the crowds enter the Reikon Gate to climb the mountain, he will definitely become a laughingstock. However, Teiei did not feel sympathy for him at all.
But the current situation could only be kept until the summer solstice. After that day passes, Hoto Palace will be filled with a multitude of people. Perhaps they could make the most of their time by taking Taiki to the Yellow Sea and letting him scuffle with the small youma, and possibly then he would be able to figure out how to tame youma. But then again, compared to most small kirin, Taiki had already lost the tenacity of an animal born in the wild, so Teiei was very afraid that something unexpected would happen that they would not be able to control.
"Teiei, do you have something on your mind?"
Hearing a voice, Teiei lifted her head and saw Taiki looking at her with concern.
"Are you worrying about me?"
Teiei gently laughed. Taiki already knew that everything that a nyosen would be anxious about had to do with the kirin. This caused Teiei both to be happy that Taiki was smart and clever, and to adore that he was so perceptive he was able to sense what was in her heart.
"How could that be!?"
"I've just been sewing so much that I'm feeling a little restless. I'm telling you, I don't like doing needlework at all!"
"Do you want me to help?"
"Ah! I must really thank you, but if you did sew better than me, then I would be too embarrassed. Don't worry about about and go play!"
Teiei laughed and rubbed Taiki's head, as she secretly thought, "If only we could let Taiki meet other kirin, then things would be better."
A kirin would be able to teach Taiki all the things that the nyosen and Sanshi could not.