The Twelve Kingdoms
Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Maze, Chapter 9.
from Mina's trans. of Ono Fuyumi's Kaze no Umi, Meikyuu no Kishi.
Taiki saw the ashes from a torch flying around and its light growing closer to where he was sitting. It was Risai returning on Hien's back. A sliver of a white light had just begun revealing itself in the sky to the east.
"Sir Gyousou, I've discovered a suspicious cavern."
"Oh?" Gyousou stood up.
"It's near a swamp not too far from here. I saw tracks coming out of it, but I didn't know if they were those of a sugu or not."
"Is it its lair?"
"We should go take a look."
Risai lifted Taiki onto Hien as she climbed on as well, and Gyousou mounted Keito.
- - - - -
The cavern was an opening in the crags at the edge of a swamp where a mixture of murky water and mud had accumulated. The stretch of land between the swamp and the cave was overgrown with weeds in such a way that it was as if there was a path through it.
Hien and Keito tried to get closer to the cavern. By means of the light from the torches, they saw tracks leading into the cave.
Gyousou stopped Keito. Comparing the prints that Keito had just made, he discovered that the tracks looked like they were left by a creature bigger than a sugu.
"It may not be a sugu... But then, what is it?"
Risai got off of Hien and looked into the mouth of the cave.
An arrangement of giant rocks formed the cave opening, which was about as tall as Risai. They called it a cavern, but it could also be described as a big crevice forming a tunnel underneath a mass of connected crags.
Not too far in, the tunnel turned, so the deepest part of the cave could not be seen.
"I'd gone into it a little bit before to survey it. It looks like it goes very deep. Should we go inside?"
"Perhaps we might run into a dragon."
"That reminds me. The Dragon Palace is at the bottom of the Yellow Sea."
Gyousou investigated the inside of the cave once again.
"Anyway, that's what they say..."
"This cavern looks a bit too small to be one that went all the way to the bottom of the Yellow Sea."
"...Well then, what should we do?" Risai was a little uncertain.
"Why don't we go in for a look?" said Gyousou with his back to the others, and then turned around to look at Taiki. "What do you think?"
"Ah... I don't know."
"Then let's go inside and look around."
Risai walked into the cavern. "I'll walk in front. Sir Gyousou, please watch over the Kou."
Taiki had some reservations and looked up at Gyousou. "Um..."
He was originally going to shake his head, but then Taiki decided to speak honestly. "A little..."
"What's wrong?" Risai had already walked to the turn.
"We're going in now. Kou, you must not leave my side."
- - - - -
It seemed as if the tunnel passed under the mountainous crags. The path extended slowly downward, twisting and turning, as if it had no end. Though there was no wind, their flame wavered, which meant that there was air circulation. Though this path turned so much that it was hard to travel, there were no branches to distract them.
"It's fairly long..." Gyousou's voice echoed throughout the inside of the cave. Risai, who was in the front, stopped walking.
"There's no more road in front of us."
Looking in Risai's direction, there seemed to be a small open area beyond her. Except, the ground of the open area was lower than the path of the subterranean tunnel they had walked through. The difference in the elevation of the two was almost Taiki's height.
Risai jumped down and looked around this space, uneven because it was piled with rocks.
"Strange... There's nothing here."
"That shouldn't be. There's a bad smell inside this cave."
Taiki crinkled his eyebrows. A stench permeated the air just as Gyousou said this.
The smell wasn't so bad that it disgusted people. It was just enough to be bothersome.
In this rocky area, Risai constantly stepped up and down to get through it. At the next moment, Taiki saw her squatting next to a sloped, prominently smooth rock. After her figure moved farther and farther away, Taiki began to feel a strong anxiety.
"Ah! There's another tunnel over here that goes further down."
"Where?" Gyousou picked Taiki up and jumped down into the open area. He stood on a piece of rock and looked where Risai was pointing.
—It was a dark cave.
"It looks like...there's something inside." Taiki murmured to himself.
"Hm?" Both Gyousou and Risai looked over at Taiki. He felt a chill running up his body from the soles of his feet. His heartbeat quickened and he became very distressed.
"...Let's go back... Over there... It's not safe."
Taiki grabbed Gyousou's hand and reached out with his other toward Risai.
"I don't like that place."
Risai and Gyousou exchanged looks. Risai smiled and placed her hand at the edge of the cave.
"I just want to make sure whether anything is inside the cave."
"No! No, don't go over there!" Taiki was about to go forward and stop Risai, but after he took only one step, something suddenly appeared on the rocks and blocked him from going any further.
"You can't go over there!"
The abrupt appearance of the nin'you caused Gyousou to immediately clutch the hilt of his sword, preparing to draw it. But then, Taiki let go of his hand and hugged the nin'you in front of him, at which point he realized that this nin'you was the nyokai that Taiki had mentioned before.
Risai was also very surprised, widening her eyes at the emergence of the white nin'you. Her hand was still placed upon the side of the cave as she turned the upper portion of her body toward Taiki, and just then, something suddenly took a hold of her hand.
Risai didn't even have time to react. She only heard the child next to Gyousou cry out.
Unable to hide the look of shock on her face, Risai's body was pulled into the cave. They saw her struggling legs just as they turned to look, and before they knew it, she was gone.
As if in response to Taiki's desperate cries, a scream came from deep inside the cave.
Gyousou rushed toward the cave into which Risai had been swallowed up.
The dark tunnel extended downward, as if it had no end.
"Sanshi, please take the Kou away from here and ride Keito back to Mt. Hou!"
Sanshi nodded. However, Taiki had already run to Gyousou's side.
"Taiki, you cannot go!" Sanshi leapt forward and held onto the child.
"But, Madam Risai, she..."
Gyousou's glare stopped Taiki who had been pointing at the cave. "Entrust the matter of saving Risai to me. You must leave here quickly!"
Before Gyousou could even answer him, Taiki had already shaken off Sanshi's embrace and jumped toward the cave.
Taiki tumbled his way toward the cave while throwing off Sanshi's outreaching hands. Not caring about anything, he jumped into it.
—No matter what, I can't leave Gyousou to save Risai all by himself!
- - - - -
The cave was quite deep. After she looked around, Sanshi hurried to block Taiki's way.
"No! I'm not going!"
Sanshi couldn't help but hold back the hand that she was going to use to grab onto Taiki's arm. For some reason, she just wasn't able to go against Taiki's wishes.
—Why is this?
Suddenly, Sanshi forgot where she was and looked at her own hands, lost in thought.
Taiki was Sanshi's master, and right now, the most important thing was to make Taiki's safety her first consideration. She had to take Taiki away from this dangerous place as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, she didn't know what kind of dangerous creature this was. Actually, she didn't have to pay attention to Taiki's refusal. She could be very forceful if it was to keep Taiki safe.
At this thought, she grabbed Taiki's hand, who unexpectedly shook her off easily. Not to mention, she could not help but pull her hand back.
Taiki did not have the time to acknowledge Sanshi's feelings now.
The end of the tunnel was also a wide area, filled with stalactites. The torch that Gyousou had brought was the only source of light inside of the cave, a weak fire that made it very hard for them to estimate the depth of the cavern with any certainty.
Taiki saw the silhouette of Gyousou in front of him with his sword drawn. Laying not far from his feet was Risai.
What frightened him, what had almost swallowed up Risai's body, was a giant dark shadow!
The shadow appeared to take shape. One end of it changed into the shape of a sickle and swung stiffly towards Risai!
"Toutetsu!" Sanshi cried out.
—How could this be?
Sanshi looked unwaveringly at the youma. No, perhaps it should not be called a youma. Its power was far beyond that of any ordinary person, and very few had ever seen it before. It was essentially a monster of legend.
Sanshi was no match for it. Is there anything in this world that can face the toutetsu without drawing themselves back?
Risai raised her head. "Kou, run away!"
Gyousou pointed at Taiki. "The Kingdom of Tai needs you! You must not die here!"
"I don't want to be the only one to leave. We should all go together!"
A scream rang out.
The toutetsu targeted Risai with a violent force, and then followed it by turning to Gyousou and attacking him.
Gyousou flew to the ground, the toutetsu's attack roaring above his head. It then raised its claw even higher.
—I have to think of a way to stop that frightening weapon!
(How can I do it?)
—The Sword Seal.
"Rin, Byou, Tou, Sha, Kai, Jin, Retsu, Zen, Kyou!"
(I hope I can stop it.)
The black shadow suddenly stopped moving.
(And then...what do I do?)
Koushi. —Except Taiki was shaking so much that he was not able to perform it.
One part of the shadow turned toward him. In the light of the torch, Taiki could see a pair of eyes close to the ground.
Taiki made eye contact with the toutetsu.
"Use this opportunity and go quickly..."
Taiki looked back at the pair of pupils without the least bit of fear, except he didn't know how much longer he could keep this up.
"Sanshi, save Madame Risai!"
"Get Madame Risai out of there quickly!"
—There it was again! Sanshi ground her teeth.
There was no way she could disobey Taiki's words. Sanshi hurried to the collapsed Risai. She lifted the body that was lying in a puddle of blood and returned to Taiki's side. She glanced briefly at Taiki and sprinted toward the entrance of the cave.
"Sir Gyousou, you should also take this chance to leave here!"
The fallen Gyousou was outside of Taiki's scope of vision, and Taiki did not have the time to consider if he had actually been hurt.
He could not lose to this pair of blood-like eyes.
A reply came back in a deep voice. "That is not possible."
At this time, Taiki no longer had the extra energy to ask Gyousou to go.
For the first time, he understood that a person's eyes gave them such great leverage. One was the pressure he could put on his opponent; another was the force he could send back.
The struggle between the two filled the inside of the cave. It was as if time had stopped and left everything motionless.
That pair of eyes still stared at Taiki. Taiki was entirely unaware of how much time had passed. He felt the sweat on his forehead drip down along the bridge of his nose. All he could do was softly breathe in and breathe out.
He didn't know when it started, but the area between his eyebrows hurt. It felt like something hot and solid had been buried there. The sweat was actually falling from the spot on his face that hurt.
Taiki's sight had already become blurry. Taiki relied completely on feeling the pressure that the toutetsu put on him in order to determine the toutetsu's position and to hold its line of sight tightly. Except, he had almost lost the sense that allowed him to find the direction that the force came from.
Just how much time had passed?
In his subconscious, Taiki had been concerned about the passage of time since a short while ago.
(I don't know...how much longer...)
Why he cared so much about time, he didn't know himself.
Suddenly, he felt resistance. The strength of the resistance became greater and greater, and Taiki opened his eyes wide. It was as if he had suddenly understood something.
Just in that moment of comprehension, his forehead felt like it was beginning to crack. Even the air that he breathed in was like a burn that went from deep in the bridge of his nose to his throat.
The toutetsu's line of sight began to waver, and its endurance suddenly doubled. There was no easy way for Taiki to continue challenging the power of his opponent. It was as if the time that caused a person to be scared had arrived.
—The seiki turned into shiki.
"Sir Gyousou..." He didn't know if Gyousou was still there; if he was, where would he be?
"You'd better go quickly..." Taiki felt that he could not keep this up anymore.
Taiki heard a still voice come from behind him. "I am very sorry... I can no longer walk."
The little kirin widened his eyes. His breathing became erratic.
—This was the moment it had turned to shiki.
"I am wounded. I cannot move—I must ask you to save me."
In the instant it appeared that his determination was wilting, it was revived.
- - - - -
The two strengths were evenly matched; the situation became more precarious than before. Then and there, they sunk into a deadlock.
It fell from his forehead.
(I don't know...if there are any other ways?)
Taiki felt that Gyousou was nearby. He had not moved, nor did he once take his eyes off of Taiki.
(I can only...subdue it.)
Gyousou could not move, but Taiki was even less able to move.
Taiki began to mumble.
Taiki sensed the dark shadow suddenly move. The pressure that came from the shadow waned very slowly. For the first time, he felt the slightest bit of ease.
His opponent's strength became even weaker.
He could blink his eyes without much effort. His vision, originally blurred by sweat, had become clear. Taiki saw the dark shadow with a dangerous weapon raised up high and completely stationary.
His two eyes sent out an intense force, and the dark shadow began to change shape.
First, it trembled and withered, slowly changing into a giant spirit that flooded the cavern.
Taiki was not scared at all. He only felt like a heavy burden had been lifted off of him. His limbs were originally like they were made of hard metal, but they had finally recovered their faculties.
The dark shadow shrank smaller and smaller, slowing changing into the shape of a big cow. The next second, it became a tiger. Then it changed into a great eagle. And then again it turned into a large snake. Countless changes—it proved that the dark shadow itself possessed an extraordinary power. Its last transformation was to that of a small dog that sat in front of Taiki.
"...Shirei, submit..." Taiki pointed toward the ceiling of the cave and received the Will of the Heavens.
In that instant, the power that was emanating from his line of sight suddenly disappeared. He lost the power to resist, and something went straight through him. From the hand that had accepted the Will of the Heavens came a great force that shattered all the restraints in his body.
"Subdue the monster! A union between the light and the dark!"
From his palm came a sound like a flood that pounded at his mind.
GOU. Gou, gou, gou, gou, gou, gou, gou... [note: different written characters with the same pronunciation of "gou" are going through taiki's head.]
Taiki was drawn into the sounds, and scenes were shown continuously in his mind: A person. Playing. Leaving. With the wind. A flag, fluttering. A whip, hitting, striking, water. —They overflow.
"Quickly according to the laws!"
It was simply intuition.
"Submit! Gouran!!" The dog stood up.
Amidst the haze, Taiki thought that this dog looked like a shiba inu. Just as he thought this, at every step, the shadow became smaller and smaller, and the fur on its body turned brown.
It would be good for it to be a small dog, but it would be better if the ends of its paws were white.
Gouran followed Taiki's wishes and transformed into a little dog. When the dog sat near Taiki's feet, it looked just like the shiba inu of his native land.
"Gouran..." Taiki bent down and the dog lifted its head to look at him, lovingly wagging its tail. Taiki reached out with his hand, and the dog licked it. He could feel the dog's warm tongue at his fingertips.
Taiki hugged the dog and pulled him close. His legs suddenly lost their strength and Taiki sat down in place.
"I can't believe it..." It didn't feel like he had just done what he did.
Deep inside, Taiki felt that he really wasn't a human, nor was he a beast. He was part of some power—a power both great and frightening.
(I'm not human.)
At this moment, he firmly believed that he was a kirin.
(So I'm not actually human...)
He realized profoundly just what kind of creature a kirin was.
Kirin are part of the Heavens. Thus, he was able to understand the Will of the Heavens, and also specifically express this Will.
—He was once confused. He could not believe that inside of his body, besides himself, there was another him.
Now, he finally understood.
It wasn't until after this that he discovered he possessed far more than the limits he had previously set for his own "self." Also, he had a direct connection with the Heavens. Unexpectedly, this enormous power had been poured into that little body of his.
"I can't believe it..."
Suddenly, upon hearing a voice, Taiki was brought back to his senses. He remembered that he was not the only one there. He hurriedly turned his head back and saw Gyousou in a daze, sitting amongst the rocks.
"And I thought that you would be snatched away by the toutetsu..."
Taiki forced himself to stand up though his legs didn't have strength in them. His legs shook, making it hard for him to walk forward.
"Are you all right? Are you hurt?"
"No..." Taiki held Gouran in his arms and plopped down next to Gyousou. Although the torch had long since gone out, a sliver of light shone through a thin crack in the rocks, so that in what was originally a pitch black cavern, it was not so dark that one couldn't see their fingers in front of them.
He turned to his side to check the condition of Gyousou's injuries. After he looked up and down Gyousou's body closely and carefully, he discovered that Gyousou did not have any open wounds.
"Where do you hurt? Do you have any broken bones?" Taiki lifted his head to look at Gyousou only to see him shake his head.
"I...am not hurt anywhere." His blood-red eyes revealed a mysterious look. "I'm very sorry... I did not tell you the truth."
Taiki was struck dumb for a moment and then immediately comprehended Gyousou's reasons.
- - - - -
When Taiki had strongly urged him to leave, Gyousou understood very clearly.
—Under no circumstances should he have moved.
Had he moved, Taiki would surely have eased up a bit, and had Taiki eased up, it would have been all over. He didn't want to give the kirin, who was using all of his energy to deal with the toutetsu, any reason to relax.
Thus, he had decided then that he could not move. He understood extremely well that he could not split the kirin's attention. So he quietly sat where he was, not allowing Taiki to sense his presence, and looked on attentively at Taiki from the sidelines.
He silently looked at the child in front of him and what method he used to restrain this youma that was worthy of its reputation. He also understood in this way the determination that Taiki had previously mentioned. Other than determination, a better word could not be found to describe the intensity that had filled the cave at that time. He believed that Taiki probably shared feelings similar to him as well.
Gyousou could hardly even believe the things he had seen. He began to hold in astonishment the child in front of him.
"Thank you for saving my life."
"No..." Taiki shook his head. If it were not for Gyousou supporting him from behind, he probably would have been very quickly swallowed by Gouran's ambition.
If Taiki had been dejected at that time, Gyousou would probably have lost even his life. However, in order to obtain the state of mind not to escape and to stay where he was, it required a courage and wisdom that surpassed those of other people.
"I should be the one thanking you... Sir Gyousou...you are amazing..."
"Please save that talk for yourself." Gyousou smiled. He combed Taiki's sweat-drenched hair with his hand. "Really incredible...that Tai Kingdom is protected by so great a kirin."
Taiki looked at the man in front of him, whose eyes were emanating a warmth.
(It is absolutely true; I really am a kirin...)
The hands that were holding Taiki tightly were really very gentle, but deep inside his heart, he was unable to cheer up.
(I am certain... Gyousou is not the king...)
"Ah! Just what was going on?" Teiei bit her hard fingernails and Youka's face was pale as she stood at one side.
"Has Madam Risai woken up?"
The faces on Risai's attendants were all helpless.
At daybreak, the nin'you had brought back an unconscious Risai, whose wounds on her entire body were horrible to look at. After the nin'you had set Risai down, she didn't explain anything at all, immediately disappearing without a trace.
This kind of situation was hard to deal with even without the all the noise the nyosen were making. Risai, who had originally been entrusted with a great responsibility, was now sinking into a coma. By dusk, she had still not awakened.
"It was because we believed in Madam Risai, so we agreed to Taiki accompanying her. Now, Risai has come back, but we have not seen heads or tails of Taiki. What has happened?"
No matter how much they grumbled, Risai still did not move and did not respond.
"If by chance something unfortunate did happen, neither Risai nor us nyosen could live on so shamefully in this world." Just as the nyosen were reproaching themselves, they suddenly heard a loud noise.
"What was that?" Teiei looked around. Amongst the nyosen one of them pointed to the distance.
"Teiei! Look, a sugu is coming!"
Under the light of the sun, they could only see a white light on top of the sugu, which was flying slowly towards them. Following the sugu was a tenba. One of Risai's attendants cried out. "Hien!"
They only saw Hien and a beast with a tail that was long like a whip flying past a nearby tent, and stopping soundlessly next to a group of people. The crowd saw Gyousou sitting on top of the sugu and the figure of a child laying in his arms, and all of them sent out sounds of welcome without exception.
"Gyousou!" Teiei parted the crowd as she ran to the sugu's side. "What has happened?"
Teiei shouted. Gyousou faced her wordlessly.
"He's asleep. He is perfectly all right, not a wound on him."
At hearing Gyousou say this, Teiei silently leaned forward. She saw the child in Gyousou's arms presently sleeping soundly, without any injuries on his body that were cause to worry, and there were certainly far from any signs of suffering in his appearance. With great difficulty, Teiei breathed a sigh of relief. "As long as he's all right..."
Gyousou carried Taiki down from his mount. "If it's convenient, I'll just take him like this into the palace to rest."
"Before that, I would like you to give me an explanation of what happened. We'll see if you can, depending on that."
Gyousou smiled and said, "The Kou is very tired. He probably fell asleep during the ride back on the sugu."
"You have been away until this late... I requested that you bring Taiki back before the afternoon. This could cause resentment!"
"I'm very sorry, but we should take him back to the palace first. I don't think that you could bear to wake him. Then shortly thereafter, I will give you an explanation."
It seemed as though there were other implications in Gyousou's words. Teiei looked all around her and discovered that the people surrounding them all carried lively expressions. She had no choice but to nod.
"...All right. Then, please." Teiei urged the nyosen to depart and walked in the front, leading the way to the big gate. She called Gyousou to enter Houro Palace.
"Now then, what happened exactly?" asked Teiei as she walking upon the winding paths.
"The taming took quite a while..."
Teiei opened her eyes wide, and from Youka to all the nyosen that followed behind, there rose a commotion after they heard these words.
"Tame? Are you referring to Taiki?"
"I know about the Kou not having his own shirei."
"Yes... That's right. But this matter..."
"You need not worry. I will not divulge this information. Moreover, this matter is not a disgrace for Tai, but one worthy of pride, because the Kou already has a shirei."
Teiei glanced at the smiling Gyousou and then looked at Taiki. "So..."
"He has very successfully subdued a shirei. He confronted his opposition all the way from daybreak until just a short while ago."
Teiei released a deep sigh, as if she had just put down a heavy burden. "So that's how it was... I blamed you for this, even before I understood the circumstances. I'm very sorry. Please forgive me."
"That's not necessary." Gyousou laughed and looked down at the child in his arms. He didn't know if it was because Taiki was so tired, but as he was sleeping, his color looked a bit unhealthy. However, this would not have too big an impact. He simply needed to get some rest, and he will have recovered after he woke up.
Since Taiki could already subdue youma, then transformation shouldn't be any problem for him.
The Mt. Hou Kou was not injured and there wasn't anything to be worried about, so words of comfort were unnecessary here.
"I suppose it is a good thing..."
"He is a worthy black kirin... Unexpectedly, he has tamed a toutetsu."
Teiei immediately turned back to look at Gyousou. "What did you just say?"
"I said that he has subdued a toutetsu to become his shirei."
"How can that be...?"
From within the nyosen came sounds of surprise.
This was simply impossible. Because there was no way for toutetsu to become shirei, and they were even much less a youma that could be tamed by a kirin.
"I am also very surprised." Gyousou's line of sight fell upon the child in his arms. Taiki was sleeping very deeply; even his eyelashes didn't move.
"This time, it was by chance that he was able to open his eyes. At the very least, he is letting us know that he is not an ordinary kirin. Gradually, he will let us all see his abilities."
"If you feel that what I say is disagreeable, then I ask that you forgive me. I have no secret intentions. It is just that he possesses such a great power, but is unaware of it. It's a little worrisome."
Teiei wrinkled her brow again.
"To take advantage of this situation to help him cultivate self-confidence would not necessarily be a bad thing. He put his life on the line to protect me. Had I not been there for him to protect, he might not have put in as much energy as he did. This could be very dangerous for him."
"He has such strength, but not the slightest ambition. Is there some other reason for his lack of confidence? But regardless, his development in the future will cause both happiness and sorrow."
"Thank you for caring so much about him."
"This is as it should be... Perhaps I am only a person of Tai Kingdom who should not be saying such things, but I really think that if it is possible, it may be best for the Kou to live on Mt. Hou for a while longer. That would do him good."
Teiei looked unwaveringly at Gyousou. He understood the situation very well. It was a pity that a revelation did not accompany this sort of person.
Gyousou looked at the child in his arms. "He is a remarkable kirin... It really is regrettable."