The mid afternoon sun was drifting into the room when Sekki finally woke up. A wet towel lay over his eyes, providing relief to his merciless headache. Though his head throbbed viciously, it did not hurt as much as the rest of his body. His clothes clung to him, drenched in his sweat. Slowly testing his body, he moved to sit up. His body screamed in protest before someone gently pushed him down. Gentle hands brought a cup of cold water to his mouth where he tried to gulp it down.
"Slow down," the soft voice teased. She pulled the towel away. Shoukei sat beside him holding the towel. She dipped the towel into a small bucket before looking back at him. "Do you want a bath?" She turned and nodded to the man standing at the corner of the room. Stunned at finding Shoukei beside him, he had not noticed the man.
He was tall with long brown hair tied into a neat ponytail. With arms folded, he leaned against the window as though uncaring of what transpired in the room. His blue eyes betrayed his stance for they watched Shoukei and him with keen eyes. They flickered to the passing vehicle.
Probably a paid bodyguard.
Sekki's head hurt too much for him to think. A bath sounded good and maybe some food. Pig slop was better than the food in the jail. His stomach growled in agreement. Shoukei smiled upon hearing his stomach. "Food and a bath then. Shinzou?" She motioned to the man who moved forward to do her bidding. He waved her away and she was gone. The man was remarkably light with his touch. Perhaps he was sympathetic to Sekki's wound-ridden body, Sekki suspected that he might just be used to it. He deftly cleaned the wounds before re-applying the medication and bandaging up again. That was when he realised that bandaged in his left hand was none other than the Hekisoujo. So that was why his wounds were healing startlingly fast.
"Sekki." Shoukei stood beside the bed holding a tray of food. The man whom Shoukei called Shinzou helped him to the bed. There a spoon was pressed into his right hand and his left was brought to a warm bowl. It was porridge with chunks of meat and vegetables. His mouth watered as he dug into the bowl.
Finally clean and stated, Sekki asked, "Where am I? How long was I out? Where is -"
Shoukei held out a hand, interrupting him before he could continue. "You are in Bright Prosperity Inn which is in Tougoku. You were out for four days." She paused, a grim smile filling her pretty face. "Youshi is out and about. I do not believe we will see much of her soon."
Sekki leaned towards Shoukei, his voice was grave as he spoke. "I must see Youshi. I gave crucial information."
They looked towards Shinzou who tried his best to look disinterested. "Fine fine," Shinzou sighed. "It's a good time for a nap I guess."
Shoukei stood to pull the shades over the window and in the shadows they sat there in silence. Outside there were the sounds of the merchants calling to the passing pedestrians and every so often there was the sound of a bumping wagon. "Kei sounds lively again," She said after some time.
"Where is her-" he caught himself before calling her by her honorific. "-Youshi?"
"I have no idea. Except I was instructed to stay here for the moment. It was difficult getting you into the city." Shoukei chuckled. Her laughter spreading into her eyes and for the moment, her face chased the anxious look. "We had to dress you up as a lady. You look like such a fine lady too that one of the gate guards look a liking for you."
He shot her a look. "Not important. Can we get Youshi here?"
"Yes not important," she looked melancholic as she said that. "I believe that we can send a message to her, but I am not certain if we can get her to return since she is investigating something. Jakko."
"Yes," Jakko's reply barely audible.
"Tell her that she must not attack the house, Seikyo is here."
Yoko slowly stretched her legs. For hours she had squatted on the same branch on the same the tree, just waiting and watching. This was the right house. As Hyouki reported, there was at least one visitor every two to three days. Some came empty-handed with one or two mounts and left well-packed. Others came bearing large boxes and left empty-handed. There had been more than once incident were Yoko had been able to see the contents of the containers: toukis, all of them.
As the man with the well-packed mounts left the house, she signalled. Jinhaku sat nearby on another tree. Both barely visible in the growing darkness. Had she not known that he would be there, she might not have seen him. Now the house was empty, save for the caretaker and the seller.
They jumped over the fence and through the garden. Silently, barely rustling the grass blades, they slipped through the open window. They crept along the silent hallway, carefully choosing their footsteps to minimize the floor's creak. Cautiously, they flanked the sides of the door. There was silence from within.
Yoko considered for the umpteenth time. This was the best way to deal the rebellion in the bud, but why did she had this sinking feeling in her?
With a nod, Jinhaku kicked the door in. Swords unsheathed, she followed. There was a sharp piercing whistle that disorientated her briefly. Yoko felt the cold crawl down her spine as Joyu moved to intercept the sword. Ducking, she dropped into a side roll and eyed her assailant. He was large and burly with muscles the size of her head.
Figures his weapon is an iron spear.
They circled each other, both ignoring the fight that went on behind them. Then she leapt. Pulling her sword to a downward blow, he spun away, quicker than he appeared to be. He swung. The large heavy weapon hummed in the air. She had anticipated that and quickly sidestepped. She swung again, this time managing to catch his shoulder. He grunted and swiped her feet. She leapt. He caught her by the foot and threw her into the wall.
Yoko lay there. Her lungs screamed for more air. Her heart beat reverberated loudly in her ears. The chair had softened her fall but still every part of her back hurt.
Get up! Get up!
She watched him sauntered over. So certain he was of her defeat.
"Hankyo," she whispered, barely audible.
With a snarl, the white blur rose from the shadows. The man took a hesitant step back. The fight behind him was gone. His ally was gone and so had Yoko's. Hankyo sprung onto him, his large paw pressing onto the man's throat while his body's weight forcing the man onto the ground.
Yoko climbed to her feet, pulling herself up with the hell of Hyouki. The man had been very frightened but upon the sight of Yoko as she moved into the moonlight, his body started to tremble. It was not fear that it shook with, it was laughter.
"Tell me, who is sending these touki," her voice was sharp. She motioned to Hankyo to release enough pressure to allow him to talk.
He laughed and laughed till there tears in his eyes. "Left the palace to escape the Queen, but here she is. Again." He choked on his laughter. "H-Heaven has sent her majesty to punish me."
A chill crept down her spine as she heard those words. "Hankyo! Bring him to the light!" Hankyo dragged him and just for the moment that he released his grip on the man, the man pulled a dagger and slit his throat. Blood gushed out of his throat, pooling onto the floor. She moved towards him. Crouching, she examined him. He was none other than the daiboku that she had exiled for being in cahoots with Seikyo.
What is going on here?
"Youshi." Jinhaku called, breaking into her thoughts. He vaulted over the balcony railings. Despite his fight, his chase and his return, he was barely out of breath. "We must go now. The soldiers are here."
He looked apologetic as he explained. "Someone saw us fighting in the streets and summoned the soldiers. Sorry."
"Don't worry about it." She whipped the blade around, flinging the dirt off it. "And the man?"
"Sorry," he looked dejected. "He escaped as I moved to dodge the soldiers as well."
She could hear the thunder of footsteps on the stairs. She leapt over the railings, this time catching herself onto the nearby branch. With a signal, they scattered.
Yoko thought hard about what little information she had. If the old daiboku was here, then was Seikyo and his lackeys here?
Is Seikyo pulling the strings here?
She had exiled most of his lackeys. Koukan had argued for a more severe punishment, Keiki had pleaded for mercy. In the end she had decided to exile most of them save for the very vicious ones. Yoko could almost hear Koukan saying 'I told you so'.
Shouryu was sitting by the window, enjoying the sea breeze. He had been in Shou Province for the last two weeks. There was nothing quite unique as the pleasure house by the Kyokai. The view was unique; the people were vastly different from the rest of his kingdom.
Even the wine is-
"Shouryu-!" Rokuta entered, his hair was bundled up by the black cloth that he wrapped around his head. Shouryu continued sipping his wine, lost in his own thoughts or maybe persistently trying to ignore the kirin. Rokuta stood in front of Shouryu, arms folded with a really cross look on his face.
He sighed. "What is it?"
"It's about Yoko," Rokuta began. He knew that Shouryu was interested in what Yoko did. Compared to the other rulers, Yoko was a fairly exceptional ruler; exceptional referring to different in an unusual way, not amazing. Rather than simply worrying about feeding her citizens, she cared deeply for the welfare for them. Again, welfare here did not limit to the health and hunger, she cared for their well-being, their self-esteem and equality. Instead of just accepting things as it were, she insisted on changing the system radically even if it meant more work for her.
"So what did she do again?" Shouryu asked.
"She left the palace again."
"To En?" he looked at Rokuta with a questioning look. He had not heard of her asking for a traveller's chop.
"Keiki says she is somewhere in Bu Province, but officially, she is in the inner palace."
"Bu Province huh-" Shouryu looked thoughtful at that name.
"Why? What's there?"
Shouryu chuckled and gulped his sake down. "My other mistress. I just remembered that I have not visited her for awhile."
"Here I thought you were thinking of something deeper," Rokuta said hotly.
"Awww- Don't be jealous!" Shouryu reached over to hug Rokuta.
"Hey!" He hated it when Shouryu tried to act like he was babying him even if he knew it was a joke. Rokuta slipped under his arms and backed towards the door. "I got to go anyway. Hakutaku was looking for me." Without waiting for a reply, he hurried away.
Shouryu returned watching the void sea, his thoughts this time turning to Bu Province.
Yoko paused in the shadow of a building. Carefully scrutinizing her surroundings, she scaled the tree and crept into a room where its patron slept deeply. The sleeping patron did not even rouse as she slinked across and through the door. It was only after she entered her room that she allowed herself to breathe normally again. Yoko could feel the cold metal prick on her neck upon entering.
"Don't move," the voice growled.
Yoko squinted in the dark and faintly made out the silhouette of Rishou. "It's me. Youshi," she hissed.
He hastily lowered his weapon. "Where's Jinhaku?" He asked, scanning the hallway for another figure.
"We got separated." Yoko was too tired to think of anything else. She had spent the last four days camping out in a tree, then the next three hours fighting and evading pursuit. Tiredly, she rolled under the covers beside Shoukei and promptly fell asleep.
Tomorrow would be a better day.
Or so she thought.