Burning skies, Burning hope

Tip of the Iceberg

Koukan sat in her majesty's study under the semblance of conferring with Kei-Ou. Opposite him sat Rankei. No longer a young boy, no one save for Yoko referred to him as Kei kei. His brown eyes moved from page to page, carefully inspection the document. Oddly despite many of the hero worthy men that surrounded him as he grew up, his idol was Gyousou, King of Tai. He had gotten to know Gyousou well after he joined Yoko to a secret trip to Tai. The trip was a secret from the minister of Kei, but most of the ministers from En had known about it. In any case, that was hardly of any importance. Rankei had inherited a mix of Kantai and Gyousou's fighting skills, making him almost the most lethal minister in Kei. Not to mention that he had been under Enho's tutelage since young. Had he not have a terrible wanderlust, Yoko would have appointed him as her second-in-charge after Koukan. Now that she was not here, Koukan had roped Rankei into doing much of her work.

"See here," Rankei pointed at a phrase and then at another. "The wording seems rather off."

Koukan pulled the document over. "You're right. I had not noticed it. This minister is quite sneaky."

Rankei looked at him with a puzzled look.

"It's not his first time adding such a clause or phasing." Koukan replied, returning to his document. "Just put it under rejected."

Rankei stifled a yawn, combing his hand through his hair as he chucked the scroll onto the growing pile of rejected. He stood, stretching himself from the long hours of sitting in the office. For a queen, Yoko liked to disappear for periods, Rankei had always wondered why. Now he knew. Sitting in the office for almost the whole day, it felt like the life was being sucked out of him.

"I'm done!" he declared, walking out of the room.

Koukan looked up. Was it displeasure or apprehension? Rankei decided it must be latter. There was no one who would rather sit indoors all day and read those sombre scrolls with their flowery language that beat around the bush- no one.


Rishou looked up. He had heard Youtashi enter and being familiar with him, he had known that it was Youtashi by his footsteps.

"Your turn already?"

Youtashi nodded, taking the seat that Rishou had just vacated. It was true that their primary duty was to watch over Youshi, but Youtashi's duty was far more than just that. In the beginning of the mission, he had been sent by Jinhaku to find out more about Youshi. He had not gotten much about her; almost nothing in fact. It was like she did not exist. All he had gotten was her movements almost nineteen years ago. She had stayed at a village in Ei Province, a village that had all their people killed by a stray youma. She alone had survived then moved into Shisui. After that, any trace of her disappeared. Most of the townsman knew of her; however they were unwilling to talk about her. Had she been so scary that none of them dared to? Or was it vice versa?

Youtashi was more inclined to the former. There were only a handful of minister that had been any good in the four reigns. The new queen had taken almost all of them. If Youshi was here, then it is likely that either she had been recruited as a shadow minister or Youshi was just plain corrupted like the rest of them.

If she turns out corrupted, I'll kill her myself.

He glowered at the sleeping figure.

"Don't stare until like that. You look like you could kill someone," Shoukei chuckled. She looked up from the book she was reading. "She's not a bad person."

Youtashi turned to Shoukei. Shoukei had been an unexpected addition to the expanding group. From the way she sits and eats, the way she moves was all that of a poised palace girl. She was either a very high ranking servant or a high ranking lady minister.

Then there was Sekki, the wounded man that tested everyone's ability to act just to get him into the city. When Lady Shoukei had appeared, they had assumed that she was going to play a wife or something since Youshi was too manly to be the wife of such a weak looking man. They were rather stunned when Youshi and Shoukei dressed Sekki as a girl and brought him in as their sister. For good or bad, Sekki had pulled off the female look pretty well.

Yoko sat up, wide awake from her slumber. She had been so tired that they could not rouse her from her sleep. She turned to Youtashi who sat in the corner and asked. "Where's Jinhaku?"

"We should be asking you that," he replied hotly. "He has not returned since he left with you."

Yoko stood pacing the small room. Her three long strides reached the ends of the room. "We were being pursued, so we separated. It took me almost two hours to shake them off. I assumed that since he was better at hiding in the shadows, he would have no trouble." She stopped and spun around to Youtashi. "Send Shinzou to find out where he is now. Probably jail."

Youtashi nodded and left. Yoko pulled the blinds down and sat on the chair beside the bed. "Shoukei pack up. We will be changing inns. Sekki tell me what you find out."

"Well I paid one off one of the newly servants and had them reassigned to Baku province minister's house. Then I infiltrated the minister Gankou's house by pretending one of his newly recruited servants. During the one week period, Seikyou visited Gankou. I took the opportunity to listen in on the conversation."

"I met Rantai at the house yesterday."

"The ex-daiboku? What did he say? Where is he now?"

Yoko nodded. "He killed himself. Do you think Seikyou is pulling the strings?"

"I think that's highly possible."

She looked sharply at Sekki. "You don't believe so?"

"I do. But don't you think it's a bit convenient?"

Yoko sighed. Their investigation seemed to lead to dead ends. No one of a major suspicion turned up even after assigning Hyouki and Hankyo to investigate. Things were not just bad, it was terrible. Coupled with the fact that Jinhaku had now disappeared, she knew that there had been a possibility of this happening. She had expected it to be her not Jinhaku.

"Yes it is- " She stopped and waved a hand to silence them. "Come in."

The door opened and Rishou entered.

How long had he been listening?

"Youshi. After Youtashi took over my shift, I had taken the liberty of searching for Jinhaku." He paused as though waiting for response. When neither of them said anything, he continued. "I found him in the cellar of Minister Aoya."

Yoko considered it. It was important to retrieve Jinhaku but it was only because she felt responsible and it was the right thing to do. He held no important information.

Would they believe them?

She glanced at Sekki. If they had tortured Sekki for the information, what was stopping them from doing the same for Jinhaku? Time was wasting.

"Rishou. I will deal with that. I want the three of you to assist with moving to a new inn."

"I don't think that requires three people."

"There is something you need to do after you've done that." Yoko pulled out a piece of paper. "This list of names. I need you find as much information on them as you possibly can. Then I need one of you to track a man down. He goes by the name of Boshi. He carries the touki to and fro from a source that I cannot determine. I need you to find that source or sources."

She smiled grimly. "I'm sure you need three people for this."

Keiki was standing in the gardens watching the fish when one of his shirei had returned to him. The little flying rodent was one of the most useless shirei of the lot. She was not as clever as Hankyo and was not as strong as Jyuusaku. She could not even assist in transporting people like Hyouki. Perhaps her only redeeming quality was that she ran absurdly fast. This made her an excellent messenger if only she would stop getting her recipients wrong.

Bearing this in mind, Keiki was hardly surprised when she came bearing a message that was not intended for him.

"Jakko." Keiki stopped her from running away by grabbing her by the neck. "Tell me what her majesty has been up to."

Her whiskers twitched nervously. Not only had she gotten the recipient wrong again, she was being asked for the very details that Yoko had specifically told her not to mention.

"I was told by her majesty not to mention any of the details to anyone."


She quivered and writhed in his hands. "Taiho- I was instructed specifically not to tell you."

He sighed a long sigh.

Just what has her majesty gotten herself into?

"Very well."

Keiki sagged against the pillar after Jakko had left. There was a heavy weight in his heart as he worried for her. There was nothing more that he could do for her. Except-

"Jyuusaku," he said. His voice was tight, betraying his attempts to hide his anxiety.

"Yes," the disembodied voice replied.

"Go to her majesty."

There was no reply, but Keiki knew that he had left to obey. Now he could only hope that she did not involve herself the same way the rebellion at Takuhou.

The room had been cleaned out. Jinhaku's men were efficient. In fact they were a little too efficient. Yoko had planned to take the time it took them clear out to finish the conversation with Sekki. So now she had to depend on Shoukei and the shirei to watch out for any eavesdroppers.

"I did not catch all the details that were discussed between them. But I know that they discussed about the touki at length. They said that the supplier, I think his name was Banko, was having difficulty procuring more touki. They were behind about 5,000 pieces behind their targeted amount." Sekki reached over and grabbed Yoko. It was as though he gained a certain kind of enlightenment.

"This is important Youshi," he said, his voice dropping even lower. "They were almost at their target. 5,000 is only a small fraction compared to the amount they have amassed."

She felt her body go still at his words. The silence in the room seemed to smother her. Placing her head between her hands, she forced herself to breathe normally before finally speaking. "A small fraction?" Her voice was scratchy as though she had screamed all her voice out before speaking.

A small fraction?

The three words echoed in her mind.

"Youshi." He tugged at her, breaking her from her thoughts. "They plan to move soon."

There was a look of disbelief as she looked up at him. Her clear green eyes mixed with confusion and maybe fear. Sekki had not seen fear in her eyes before. Not even when she led only a hundred men to meet the two battalions. He could hardly fault her for doing so. 5,000 soldiers was enough a cause to worry about, but when you take into consideration that 5,000 was only a small fraction of the actual sum. It could mean 20,000 or 30,000. Or worse yet, 60,000. That amount alone was close enough to rival the King's Army.

Yoko stood abruptly. Her face stared passively out the drawn windows. "They are waiting for you."

Sekki knew a dismissal when he heard one. Bowing, he left the room with Yoko deep in her thoughts. With that amount in consideration, she would have to trash most of her plans. She would have to draw up new plans.

The time has come for her to move.

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