Burning skies, Burning hope

Where's Yoko?

There had been no news of Yoko. Rather than no news, it seemed that Bu Province and Tougoku had absolutely no news. There was usually the underlying politics within the provinces and cities, but there was absolutely nothing here in Tougoku or even Bu Province as a whole. There was no unsaid resentment or unhappiness. It seemed that the people here were perfectly happy. Then why on earth was there an incredible amount of toki here?

Shouryu puzzled over it as he drank his wine. It seemed like a bad situation for Yoko. Where was she anyway?

He looked up and caught the sight of a very familiar back. Chucking some coins on the table for his wine, he weaved his way through the bustling crowd, chasing after the man. He turned into an alley. Shouryu leapt back, narrowly dodging the sword.

"Whoa!" He spun away. His assailant was probably better than an average thug, but by not much. Shouryu moved half a step, the blade missing him. Grabbing the hand at the hilt, Shouryu stilled his assailant's movements. "Calm down," he said, gazing sternly into Sekki's eyes.

Sekki nearly dropped the blade when he realized that the man he had attacked was none other than En-Ou. "En-"

Shouryu quickly clapped over his mouth before he could finish his word. Shouryu whistled and from behind, his Suugu came. Hoisting Sekki on, they spun away high into the air.

A silence settled over them as Sekki struggled to keep his grip on the suugu. His teeth chattered incessantly as the cold sunk deep into him. It was true that Kei's autumns were mild, but no matter how mild they were, at the speed the suugu flew it made the mildest wind feel like a cutting blade.

"Where is Kei-Ou?" Shouryu asked. They had landed in a clearing in the middle of nowhere. Unlike Sekki, Shouryu had been largely unaffected by the wind. He was used to flying on the back of his suugu in colder seasons. Sekki pulled the hekisoujo out onto his hands. It was only until a slow warmth filled his chilled body that Sekki could finally stop shivering.

"Where is Kei-Ou?" Shouryu asked again.

Sekki shook his head. "When we changed inns, her majesty had gone to rescue someone. Since then it had been a week. There has been no news."

"Do you know where she went?"

"We know where she was supposed to go. But after a few days of no news, we sent someone to check the location out." Sekki sighed as he remembered what happened. It was as though there had been nothing out of the ordinary for the last one month; no one trying to break in, not even new captives – nothing. Given the state of things, there had been hardly anything he could do besides attempt to pick up new information by eavesdropping. Shoukei had done most of the footwork by using her womanly charms. He too had not seen even the back of Shoukei after they had separated to find her majesty.

Shouryu mused on what little information Sekki had provided. It seemed that the fastest way to find out anything was through the tiger's mouth. He leapt onto Tama's back.

"Let's go."

"Where to?"

"Through the tiger's mouth," he chuckled.

Rankei flipped into the courtyard. The moon was high but blanketed by thick clouds. His footsteps made no sound as he crossed the courtyard. Trained in the arts of stealth by Gyousou, it was hardly surprising that no one noticed his presence until he placed his hand onto the lady's small shoulder. She looked back in shocked, her face relaxing with relief upon the sight of him. She had expected him though not so early and not unnoticed. He gazed at her intently, waiting for what she had summoned him for.

The room was dark and unlit. There was no one but her in the room. Though the seat beside her was empty and clearly put out meant for him, Rankei chose to stand. It would be easier to hide or escape should his presence be noticed.

Perhaps she was used to his preferences for she did not seem to ask him to.

"We are 5,000 short," he finally said.

"I know."

He looked at her with a questioning look at her reply.

"We can leave it. 5000 won't be that big a difference. More importantly, she has already begun to move." She sighed.

"So what's the next plan? If her majesty's starting to move, then we cannot afford to dally."

She passed him a tiny scroll that she had hidden in her hoh. "Give Boshi this and assist him."

Rankei nodded. Taking the scroll, he leapt out of the window and disappeared into the night.

"Just so you know, you're supposed to be my younger brother, Akayu and I'm Endori," Shouryu whispered.

Sekki had not really believed the rumours about En-Ou until today. Shouryu had brazenly walked into the servant's courtyard asking for a job. He begged for steward to allow his brother and him to stay and work and without even blinking an eye, he had came up with a sad story on how they had lost everything. No land, no possession, the only way they had to survive was to find a job. However there were not many shops that would take two siblings without any experience or any recommendations, so they had come to the great Minister Aoya's house to beg for a job after hearing how great and benevolent he was.

Sekki had not really expected the steward to buy the story, but maybe there was something in En-Ou's tone that made people want to believe him. So here they were.

There had been one point of time where he had shovelled waste out of the kijyuu stables but he never expected that he would be doing it beside a king. Sekki cast a dubious glance at Shouryu. The king of En strolled down the stables, whistling as he shovelled the waste into the buckets for Sekki to remove. He looked like he was born into this rather than being a king for over five hundred years.


Shouryu turned to the direction of the voice. He saw the steward beckoning him.

"Yes sir?" he bowed.

"We're a little short on cleaning crew for the basements so you'll have to follow them." The steward pointed and left. To the right of the courtyard was a mangy group of servants. None of them looked pleased to be assigned as the basement cleaners, in fact most looked rather apprehensive.

"Is there a reason why everyone looks so scared?" Shouryu leaned in to the man nearest to him. The man looked at him startled.

"Oh. You're that siblings."

Shouryu nodded and looked expectantly at the man. He seemed like a chatty sort of man.

"Well-" the man started, casting a furtive glance at the others. "They say there's a ghost in the cellar."

"A ghost?"

The man nodded and continued. "At night, the guards say you can hear it moaning. I don't know how true it is, but they say no matter how many times they search for the sound, they cannot find it."

Could it be Yoko?

A small hope lit in Shouryu's chest. He had planned to go to another minister's house if they still could not find anything about her. Knowing she was there but probably injured was better than no news.

Rankei tapped on the large wooden gate.

"Winter swallows fly into the sky."

"They will land when summer is right," Rankei replied.

The gate opened a cracked and Rankei slipped in. A greying man stood before him. His eyes were thin to the point of almost being hidden.

"Boshi," he nodded at the old man as he passed him the scroll.

"What's this?"

Rankei shrugged. "Only told to assist you."

Boshi stared at him with pursed lips. "We're going to bring the army."

"So it's beginning," Rankei said with an indecipherable smile on his face.

"Go to Hokyuu and rouse them. I will go to Bakushou," Boshi turned and left.

Outside, the lonesome silvery orb hung heavily in the dusky sky. The smell of incoming rain and the end of autumn hovered in the air. Rankei paused to ponder on his reasons and her reasons for doing this.

Was there no better way?

Soon, there will be the smell of blood in the air. He could feel a chill run down his spine as he thought of it. Whether it was from fear or anticipation, Rankei could not tell.

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