Burning skies, Burning hope

Rankei of Kokei

Time seemed to slow as they turned to see the sleeping Yoko arise. She slipped between the two large shirei, pulling out a hairpin she gripped it tightly like a dagger, charging towards Shouryu.

"Yoko!" The shouts of the two men echoed in the large room; one spinning to the side to avoid her blow, the other rushing to pull her down. Hankyo slid between the hairpin and Shouryu. The hairpin pierced through his thick hide and drawing bright scarlet drops down his white and grey fur. Unyielding to the resistance or maybe not even registering the resistance, she withdrew another hairpin. This time Rankei was more prepared for her. He sheathed his sword, not willing risk injuring her, an act that Shouryu found canting considering Rankei's position on the rebellion.

"Please En-ou, let us bring you to safety," the shirei said. Shouryu shook his head. In her blind obedience to follow the treacherous man's command, she might and probably would do anything to complete it. Bringing him to safety was putting her in more danger. Putting her in more danger would mean that the problem with the smuggled tokis would not be solved in time, thus indirectly affecting En. The smugglers probably were a bigger issue than it appeared on the surface.

Rankei knocked the hairpin out of her hand without any resistance. Gently he knocked her back, trying to tie her up so that she would not injure anyone. However as he moved towards her, she dashed for Rishou's forgotten sword. She pulled it up to a battle stance; completely ignoring Rankei, she rushed towards Shouryu. She stopped just inches before the sword touched Shouryu.

"What are you doing Kei-ou? Kill him!" Shouryu could hear the man behind yell.

Her body resisted her actions but her eyes gave her away. Her eyes dilated, filled with fear and worry gave the impression that she was begging Shouryu to move. Yoko stood over him, her movements frozen by something invisible. Beads of sweat dribbled down her forehead indicating a fight with probably herself. Shouryu turned to Jinhaku. He had forgotten how that man was the mastermind to all this. If he killed him then Yoko would be set free. He ran to him, side-stepping one of the soldier's blade, he slid beneath the soldier's legs. Seizing Jinhaku's arm, he rotated it to his back, forcing Jinhaku to move up to ease the discomfort, but what Shouryu didn't know was that Jinhaku was a competent warrior with decades and maybe even tens of decades of experience to back him up.

Jinhaku flipped, uncaring that his left arm dislocated. With expert ease, he popped his shoulder back into its socket, rotating a few times as he drew his sword. There was no hesitation in his blade as Jinhaku rushed in and neither was there in Shouryu. Jinhaku swung, his sword swinging through empty air. He missed. Flipping backward, he narrowly ducked Shouryu's sword but Shouryu bought himself time to move in. As Jinhaku rolled to his feet, Shouryu had hurled forward, his blade digging deep into Jinhaku's side. Jinhaku had miraculously dodged the stomach blow. The two stared at each other. For a moment, it seemed that there was a stand-off. They eyed each other. Jinhaku felt it and Shouryu knew it though it was not obvious to the audience. Jinhaku could not beat Shouryu.


Shouryu turned to peer from the corner of his eyes to see what had happened and in that spilt second, Jinhaku lunged. Shouryu spin a little too late. His blade diving into Shouryu's chest, drawing a red line down his chest. That was all Jinhaku could do before Shouryu's blade took him squarely through the chest. He staggered, blood streaming down his clothes. He staggered towards Shouryu with an odd smile on his face. "She'll never be free from me," he coughed, blood dribbling on Shouryu's already red robes. He fell heavily onto the floor.

The sky above was dark, save for the thin silver hanging low in the sky. It almost seemed that even the stars were missing, like the heavens held its breath in anticipation for the future of Kei. Keiki could see small puffs of clouds form as he panted. His feet cantering in the dark overcast sky, he could feel the wind twine in and out of his mane. Small white flecks began to fall, increasing in size and quantity as he flew on the wind to his queen. Quiet unlike the thunderous sound of rain that often drowned out the sound of even his own thoughts, Keiki was left with bewildering maze of questions in his head and nothing to distract him. He could see Enki ahead of him, running through the white snow. With everything going on, Keiki had prepared himself for the very strong possibility of shitsudou. Having experienced shitsudou before, Keiki had more experience with it than any other kirin. He was feeling weak, but it was not the same kind of weak. Her aura was still strong and pure unlike the wrongness that he felt from You-ou towards the end of her reign. Like Enki, he did not need anyone to tell him where Yoko was. Her aura was like a brilliant, pulsating light.

Keiki gagged as he landed on the balcony. The stench of blood wafted through the air. Though much of the stench was covered by the crisp snow, Keiki could see that the source of smell was none other than his queen.

"Your majesty!" he cried out, leaping forward and despite being too awkward of his nakedness, nothing mattered more than the well-being of his queen. He plucked Yoko from Rankei, cradling her, heedless of the blood that went onto him and Rankei's warnings.

"Oei, Shouryu! What the hell is this?!" Rokuta hollered, landing on the balcony. His bright golden mane was dampened by the layer of snow that covered it. He shook himself perhaps to clear the snow on him, although more likely in frustration at the scene before him.

"Oh! There's my kirin," Shouryu chuckled. "Leave one of your shirei and return to En, will you?" He flashed a smile at Rokuta before turning back to Jinhaku.

"Shouryu! Are you saving Kei at the expense of En?"

"I merely defended myself. Now get out of here."


"Go! Hurry!" There was an urgency in Shouryu's voice that compelled Rokuta to follow his orders.

"Keiki, hurry and get your shirei to take her back to the palace." Rankei lowered his voice, "Don't worry I'll stop this."

Keiki barely took gave Rankei a second glance before transforming into his beast form. With Kaiko holding Yoko in place, he flew back to the palace. Kirins were the fastest beasts when riding the wind after all. Rokuta followed, casting a long stare as he leapt of the balcony. There was nothing he could do to change his king's mind and nothing he could to do disobey him.

"With Heaven's Mandate, I greet my master. Henceforth, I will serve you always with utmost loyalty. This is my pledge."

"Some place green… with grain in the fields and leaves on the trees. A land where no one starves. Where everyone can sleep under a roof, safe from the cold, untouched by the dew. Where all they know will be peace, without the fear of famine or war."

"A king cannot rule on simply justice and mercy."

Rokuta could feel his tears slid down his long snout as he flew through the air. How the people of En would suffer from his king's actions.

Silence hung heavily in the air. The soldiers stared uneasily before deciding the next in command would be Rishou who had gotten up and backed near the door.

"Was she okay?" Shouryu had his back facing Rankei, his stare never moving from the frozen soldiers before him.

"She was not moving, but breathing. It was difficult to disarm her without hurting her."

"But he's dead."

"I don't think that was what controlled her." Rankei frowned. Saving Yoko had been one of his worries, but he had sidetracked and almost forgotten the real reason why he was here. "En-ou. Get out of here, before you get Enki even sadder."

"What about you? What about Sekki and Shoukei?"

"Don't worry about them. I'll deal with it."

Shouryu turned and ran towards the balcony. He could feel the shirei rising from his shadow. Rokuta had left his two best shirei behind. Sanki caught Shouryu as he leapt off the balcony and without a backward glance, Shouryu rode towards Kinpa Palace.

"So you're going to deal with the ten of us all by yourself? Did you overestimate yourself?" Rishou sneered.

"Perhaps I should re-introduce myself properly," Re-tying his sheath to his belt, Rankei said, "I am Rankei of Kokei, adopted son of Kei-ou, the glory king; student of Enho, also known as Etsu Otsu and disciple of Tai-ou, the peace king now known as the undefeated king." There was a faint smile as he unsheathed his sword, turning his brown eyes to look evenly into Rishou's grey eyes. "No. I do not think I overestimated myself. Did you overestimate yourselves?"

She hugged herself tightly, not willing to let herself give in to the growing weakness inside her. Shoukei felt her eyes burn as she buried her face into her skirts. She would not cry. Blinking the tears away, she gazed at the cold metal bars, recalling the last time she had been in a cell. It had been winter then, Hou's winters were bone-cold. Furious at world, furious at Gekkei, she had been blind to the world. Yoko had opened her eyes to the world in the span of twenty years. She watched Hou rise, helped Tai, watched Ryuu fall.

"Yoko-" she muttered. "I didn't plan this to happen."

"Then what did you think would happen by starting a rebellion against her majesty?"

"I-" Shoukei paused in her words. There was no need to prove herself to Sekki. A mere commoner like him would never understand the complexity of the issue at hand. "You'll never understand."

The doors of the dungeon flew open. One of the guards flew through the door, slamming into the stone wall. Youtashi strolled through with an air of indifference.

"Found you."

"What are you doing here?" Shoukei could not believe her eyes. She had expected Rankei but not Youtashi.

He ducked. The soldier's sword flew wildly over his head. Youtashi plunged his sword into the soldier. Blood flowed down his sword as he pulled it out. The man stumbled and fell to the ground near the soldier that flew through the door. Sekki could see an innumerable mass of soldiers struggling to enter the dungeon, but because of the door's narrow width, only one could come in at a time. The dungeon had been made to prevent people from escaping, not breaking in. Youtashi swiped to the left, the sword barely missing him. Bringing his sword up, Youtashi slashed the soldier up the chest. His sword cutting through the armor and into the man. Blood spurted onto Youtashi, but carrying stoic expression that rivaled Keiki's, Youtashi merely turned to the new opponent as his old one fell to the ground. His new opponent paused, taking in the carnage before him.

"I was charged to look after you," Youtashi said, continuing the conversation as though he had not just killed two men while in-between sentences.

He slashed at the soldier who finally decided to attack. Shoukei could hear the audible crack as the soldier crumpled. His eyes slid to the shackles on her wrist and ankles and the lock on the cell.

"Are you looking for this?" Shinzou jangled a bunch of keys.

He walked into the wider corridors. "If you want it, you'll have to defeat me." With those words, he launched forward. Shoukei had half expected him to draw a sword. Tokis and plain swords were the preferred choice followed by daitous and iron spears for their range and weight. What Shinzou pulled out was none of the above. Shinzou was trained in the arts of stealth fighting. Bare hand and extreme close range fighting was something he excelled in. This Shinzou knew and the narrow corridor with its metal bars was the perfect terrain. He threw his small darts, causing Youtashi to block with his sword. Slipping into his range, Shinzou pulled his long dagger, slashing at Youtashi's stomach. He flipped back, just in time. He jumped, spinning around, his kick clipped the side of Shinzou's head. Youtashi shifted forward as Shinzou reeled backward.

Shinzou had anticipated that. He rolled to the ground. Pulling his legs up, he kicked him in the face as Youtashi came. Youtashi took several steps back, stumbling on purpose. Shinzou pushed him. Both falling onto the ground, Shinzou pounded into Youtashi. He had not expected any other outcome. That was until a commotion came from the front doors.

Sneaking a side look, Shinzou gave all the opening Youtashi had been waiting for. He pulled the small sword, stabbed Shinzou.

"I see you've taken care of that," said the cool, low-pitched tenor voice. He wiped the blood off his face with the side of his sleeve before taking a look at the speaker.

The man, probably not a day older than twenty, stood over him. His hand stretched out to help Youtashi up. He carried himself carelessly and judging by the amount of unconscious people behind him, Youtashi was right to judge him as lethal. He was strong enough to subdue so many people without killing or fatally injuring them. It was a feat that Youtashi himself could have difficulty carrying out.

"Rankei!" Shoukei cried out happily.

"There you are, mistress. Yoko has been brought back to the palace, unconscious but not freed. Would you like to clean up?"

She frowned. Unconscious but not freed. Surely Enho and Koukan would be able to deal it. She nodded slowly, her mind busy with forming plans.

"Shoukei. Where are you two going?" Sekki asked upon noticing that they were not going the same way as Youtashi and him.

"We have a rebellion to attend to," she replied with a grim look.

"Then I'm coming with you," Sekki said.

"As I will," Youtashi added.

"What? Why?"

"I was charged to look after you." Youtashi merely repeated what he had said earlier, indifferent to Shoukei's reaction.

"In order to judge impartially, you'll have to see things with your own eyes."

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