Burning skies, Burning hope

The Ring leader, the Spy and the Kirin

She perused through the various records. The armies were ready and they were lead by the best possible. Everything had fallen in place as she had planned, except for her majesty. Her majesty should have taken the bait and rode out or at least sent out one of her generals, but she had not done anything. Somehow she had this nagging feeling that there was more than just her majesty that was wrong with her plan.

The candle dimmed as it begun to splutter out. She had not noticed the time passing. It was almost time for him to come. There was the slightest footfalls behind the curtains. Looking up, her purple eyes met into the brown eyes of Rankei.

"Hello Keikei."

He grunted unhappily at that name. "You know only her majesty is allowed to call me that."

She smiled. "I brought you up as well. Am I not allowed as well?"

"We had this conversation before," he said, sliding into the chair opposite her. "Why did you call me back anyway? I thought you wanted me to lead the armies?"

"Well we have a problem. Yoko is not moving and I have no idea why. I need you to find her and tell her that there is an army of 50,000 people sitting on her doorstep."

"I thought we had more than that-"

She waved him off. "Just go."

"Yes yes, my lady." He bowed and was off.

Shoryu took a while to get adjusted to the dim lighting. The numerous torches that they carried failed to properly illuminate the basement. There was an eerie feeling in the basement. There might have been really nothing in the basement after all, except the over-active imaginations of the ones working here. He would be hardly surprised if that was the truth. He was, however, not going to discount the fact that there may actually be something. Like they say, where there's smoke, there's fire.

Quietly without anyone realizing, Shoryu had managed to leave the tightly clustered group. The rest of the dungeons were dank and dark. He had no idea why basements were so bad in a minister's house in Kei none the less. Mentally, he noted to bring it up to Yoko when he finally found her. That is, unless she is really here and if she was, she would definitely already know how bad the dungeons were in her kingdom.

The hallway seemed to stretch out endlessly. There was no way of telling how long it truly was with the light huddling close to its source. It almost seemed that the darkness was eating away at the light. He must have walked for hours and was about to give up when he heard the soft clank of chains and the almost inaudible moan. He could not really understand at its first call but as he moved closer to it and paid more attention to it, it seemed that his universal immortal translator had kicked in. All it said was two words.

Save me.

He inched forward, his hand trailing the rough granite walls. Heart pounding, fearful of what he would find he came into view of the cell. Shoryu breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing the figure had dark grey hair and was a man, gaunt and haggard. He was considerably clean and quite unlike what Shoryu's imagination had conjured up. The man stood abruptly causing his chains to clang.

"Who are you?" Shoryu asked futilely for upon asking, the man opened his mouth to show the stump of where his tongue had been.

Why was there a prisoner so deep in the dungeons?

Before Shoryu could turn to look at the other cells, the man grabbed onto his sleeve, moaning and shaking the bars.

Save me.

He was not very sure if the man was truly convicted for something heinous. The man moaned again as though knowing what went through Shoryu's mind.

Save me and I'll tell you everything.

Shoryu looked thoughtfully at the man. In the light of the lack of any information, something might be better than nothing. His hard brown eyes catching the gaze of the man.

"What do you know that can benefit me?"

The man smiled or smirked, Shoryu could not quite tell.

I know you are looking for Sekishi and you'll never get her unless you save me.

The air was dank. The weak autumn light wheezed through the small high up window though it could not quite reach the bottom of the cellar. Much of the cell was left in the dim darkness and the piercing cold. The small rats nearby did not dare to stray to him though he sat there so still that he could have almost been mistaken for a statue. He could see small puffs of mist as he breathed. Maybe it was because the cell was located further down. Small and narrow but with a high ceiling, Keiki could almost imagine that the cell was several feet below ground. The shackles on his limbs weighed him down, but it was not the physical weight of it that bound it. Rather it was the inscriptions on it that bound him down. His hand unconsciously moved to where his horn would have been in his beast form.

The small red stone that bound him gave him a peculiar feeling. There was a lack of power and try as he might, he could not even summon a single shirei. He sighed. There was still him. Perhaps he might just be able to summon one. Leaning forward, he eagerly moved to inspect the motionless body in front of him. There was no sign of life. Not yet at least. The body was clearly breathing, slow, shallow and seemingly painful breaths.

Wake up soon.

Keiki brushed the boy's stray hair from his face. The fate of two nations may fall squarely on their shoulders. He pursed his lips as he gazed down at the young boy. Her majesty had been right, though he had gone about a roundabout way to defy her orders; his current position certainly had placed her in a much more perilous position.

I must apologize to her when I see her. She must be furious now. I promised to always trust her in spite of that I still did not trust her enough.

The boy's eyes fluttered open. His green eyes roaming his surroundings as they slowly adjusted to the dim light.

"Are you awake?" came the stoic voice from his left.

He tilted his head to see Keiki in shackles. "Keiki?" He raised a heavy arm to his forehead. It was the strange bead tied to his head: a mirror of Keiki's. "Who? What?"

He tried to think on how he got here but all he drew was a blank.

"Enki, can you call your shirei?"

He shook his head.

"It's that bead again," Enki muttered. "What the hell is wrong with your country? Don't they know it's against the heaven's mandate to take another country's kirin?"

Keiki stared down at his wrists, utterly silent. He was now not only endangering his master but the fate of another country. Enki sighed.

His master would come for him. Enki knew of that without a slightest uncertainty.

"There is an ARMY out there, General! Why are we not moving?" they demanded. When they heard that Sekishi had joined the rebels in order to regain control of her country, their respect for her as a warrior queen rose tremendously. She was a queen unafraid to bleed for the throne and knew exactly what it meant to have the throne. Yet here with more than 50,000 people practically sitting outside in the province of Bu for everyone to see that they were clearly a rebel army, the queen that they respected seemed to sit on her thumbs. Had the rule of twenty years softened her warrior edge? During the short twenty years, she had become the queen of many firsts: the queen to begin establishing some sort of "international" assistance, assisting Tai-ou to regain his country, etc. They refused to believe that she had been softened. It was just the wait while an enemy army sat just right outside was so maddening.

Kantai took a step back from the angry mob. He too was frustrated. Without orders, he would simply be taking advantage of Yoko's absence. Yoko's last orders were to prepare the army. Now it seemed that she had done it too hastily. The soldiers were anxious to get on the way, maybe the term thirsty for blood would have been a better fit than anxious.

"Silence!" Kantai's voice rang clear and sharp.

It was not the time to be filled with doubts about his queen. He shook his head and said, "I have no idea what the Queen is thinking, but I'm certain that there is a reason why she has not sent us out. She is the queen who joined the rebels to weed out the corrupt. She is the queen who led the armies to take down the rebel minister of law. Is there really a need to doubt her? No. All she asks is that we prepare to set out when she calls for us. So prepare. I want to see all of you stripped down in sweat from training by the end of today."

He turned and headed towards the inner palace. Keiki would know better what she was thinking.

Koshou saw Kantai approaching from a distance. The only people he had seen all week had been Enho and Koukan.


"Koshou. I need to see Kei taiho."

"He is not here. He has not been for the whole of this week."

Kantai looked confused. "Where did he go?"

"I believe he went to find her majesty."

"For a whole week? Did he not leave word?"

"Well-" Koshou started. "About that. He said he was not going to fetch her majesty but rather assist her. He told me to use those words specifically."

Kantai stifled an inaudible groan at the realization of Koshou's words. "He somehow defied her order." Now Kantai knew without a doubt that there was something had gone wrong.

"En- Elder brother-?" Sekki looked up. His eyes widened at the large wrapped package across Shoryu's shoulder. He had stayed up all night to wait for Shoryu after he heard from the cleaning crew that Shoryu had gone missing.

"Quickly," Shoryu said, wasting no time for explanations, he threw a cloak at Sekki and hopped out of the window that he came from. Tama was waiting for them at the shadowy corner of the courtyard.

"Is that-" Sekki's words were cut off when he was forced to clench his teeth as Tama sped into the air. They raced through the air at a furious rate as though someone was chasing them. Sekki looked back cautiously to check if they were indeed being pursued. The sky was empty.

It was only when the sun had begun to rise that Shoryu finally slowed their pace and stopped at a small village. The large package was left on the back of Tama as they walked slowly into the village. Shoryu greeted them with a large smile. Even with his cheerful attitude, Sekki would tell he was exhausted. His acting was half-hearted at best and dark lines circled his eyes on his ageless face.

"-just a place to rest and some food." Managing to catch the last bit of the conversation, Sekki returned his attention to at hand. Shoryu motioned to Sekki for some relevance to their conversation as he passed the village elder a small sum of money. It was not very much, but probably much more than what the villagers would see after working for a year. "We would just like some privacy. We travelled all the way from Sei province to be in time for our sister's wedding." Shoryu chatted away with the village elder as the village elder showed them to their rooms.

This man is a natural.

It was good that this man was currently their ally. There was no telling how long it would have taken him to source for information the way Shoryu was doing.

"Oh, I heard it's really peaceful in Bu Province. I'm glad my sister is marrying that man after all," Shoryu chuckled.

The village elder face stilled at his words. "I don't think it's that peaceful," he muttered.


"Here's your room." The village elder ushered them into a decently sized room. Pulling the futons out, he hastily backed out. "Someone will bring you food when you wake. There is water by the well."

And the man was gone. "That was quick," Sekki could not help but comment.


Shoryu turned to the package. He pulled the cloth off to unravel a man. The man was so thin and emaciated that it didn't seem logically possible on how he was still alive.

"I have kept my promise now tell us what you know."

Sekki glanced at Shoryu in surprise. He had somehow guessed that must have been what it was. He turned back at the man. There was something oddly familiar about him but he could not put his finger on it. The man made some guttural moans as though saying something.

"En-" Shoryu quickly clamped his mouth before Sekki could get the last syllable out. He quickly knocked the man out before turning to Sekki.

"Yoko has been taken to the big castle but it seems that they had given her something to drink or eat. I'm not sure if we can get her out in time."

"You understood him?"

Shoryu nodded. "We don't have much time left. There is an army readying to march on the edge of Bu province. My guess is that they were trying to draw Yoko out and sending in the real army to attack the Kinpa palace. Looks like something went wrong."

Sekki blinked.

But he went on. "This has become a full-fledged rebellion. What's stranger is that neither Keiki nor Daishiba has moved. Did Yoko give them some orders? We can assume that she has but was not able to carry it all the way due to unexpected circumstances."

Shoryu turned to Sekki. His face was impassive and empty of emotions. "Would you rather go and save her or summon the Daishiba and kirin? We do not have the manpower nor the resources to do both. You can only pick one."

He hesitated. There would be no kingdom without the queen, no queen without a kingdom. "Save her majesty." Sekki heard himself finally saying in a thin voice.

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