More than the eye could see, Kantai could see the rows and rows of soldiers lined just within the borders Bu Province. There was the buzz of fear and alarm in the capital city, people running to the outskirts, people staying in their houses. In Gyouten, it almost appeared to be a ghost town. Those that had guts had sought out the land ministries to sign up for conscription, those that did not had shut themselves in.
"What do you want us to do, sir?"
Kantai glanced back to the speaker. The speaker was Gaishin who looked at him with an anxious look. They both were soldiers who had been through rebellions. They knew that this situation was anything but good. The queen was missing, the kirin was missing and nothing could move the king's army but the queen. Kantai sighed and rubbed his temples. Where was Kei-Ou?
"Daishiba-" the voice called out though was quickly interrupted. Rankei pushed the man aside.
"Kantai! Where is Kei-ou?" he demanded. Pointing to the direction of Bu Province, Rankei said, "There must be over 50,000 people out there and they're clearly going to attack. Why aren't you doing anything?"
"Where are your manners, Rankei?" Gaishin gazed at him. Raneki caught himself just as he was about to apologize.
"I'm not her subject so it does not make me your subordinate nor your superior. Well? Why aren't you going to do anything? If you can't move the king's army, surely you can move the provincial army!"
Gaishin scoffed at the young boy. "Didn't you know that if he moved the army, the palace would be open to attacks? I'm sure you know that at least."
"It won't matter. There's the king's army. The very least that they can do without the queen's permission is to defend the palace. Isn't that its whole purpose to begin with?"
Kantai clapped his hands onto their backs before either could reply. "Good ideas. We'll use both!" He walked off laughing. "Call my generals, Toshin."
The young soldier that Rankei had pushed aside, bowed and quickly headed towards the barracks.
"He's not serious, is he?" Gaishin and Rankei turned to stare at each other with a dumbfounded look.
"Shoukei," Sekki called out as he entered the room. He had not seen her before he was whisked away by En-Ou and even before that, she had left to find Kei-Ou.
Shoukei was sitting by the window when he entered. The three men that had followed Jinhaku was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they were out looking for Jinhaku as well, Sekki could not be very certain. She looked well though tired. Circles rimmed her purple eyes, her eyebrows arching into disbelief as she saw the figure standing behind him. Quickly, she got up and bowed.
"What has brought you here?" she asked politely. Has Yoko disappearance been known to so many people?
"The smell of salt in the air and the void seas," Shouryu chuckled. "Well-" he heaved himself onto the other chair, wincing as he did. It had been awhile since he sat in a medium grade inn. The chairs were hard but sturdy – typical of a medium class inn. "Did you find anything?" he continued after his momentarily pause.
She shook her head.
"We have received information that she is at the castle in Bakushou. We are heading there; pick her up and go back to summon the king's army. Do you know what the situation is there now? Do you have any idea why they are doing this?" Shouryu had brooded over it and could not quite find a plausible answer. "Yoko's rule has been relatively stable despite the few rebellions. There does not seem to be any dissatisfaction here."
Shoukei paused, choosing her words carefully before speaking. "There is a 50,000 strong army on the edge of province. Roughly half of them are air cavalry. Most of them are soldiers employed by the ministers of Bu Province. Previously, Bu Province was a popular place to invest with among the ministers. Now that the other provinces are doing better, they have moved away from Bu Province and into Baku Province. They believe that since her majesty prefers Baku Province people, it'd hold through for the province. Since then, the Baku Province has improved greatly."
"I see. That would make sense in an odd way."
Shouryu stood up. Turning to Sekki, he said. "Let's be on our way then. We can't waste anymore time."
"Then I'm coming with you." Shoukei jerked her chin out defiantly, glaring at the two men.
"Shoukei-" Sekki started.
"Stop." She rose her hand to stop Sekki. "I will go. There is nothing you can say to dissuade me."
The two men sighed. The sound of resignation echoing in his voice, Shouryu said, "It'd be dangerous. Yoko will kill me."
She smiled softly, her eyes taking on a gazed look as though recalling something. "Not before she kills me."
"Well do you have a kijyuu?"
Nodding, Shoukei pointed at the stables. "She left her kijyuu behind."
Rokuta paced the cell. The cell not much of a cell to be honest. It was dark and dank, yes. However it was filled with relative comforts, apart from the rats. The beds provided for them looked out of place after Rokuta had angrily yelled at the guards.
He was worried for his kingdom. Rokuta could not comprehend how they would take another kingdom's krin. Regardless whether they released him only, he admitted privately that he could not leave Keiki behind. Rokuta turned to look at Keiki.
Keiki had not moved much from his spot, choosing to sit cross legged in the corner as though meditating. Though he looked peaceful, Rokuta could see the dark lines that rimmed his closed eyes. He probably mirrored Keiki for much of the nights had been sleepless. Rokuta slumped beside the tall kirin, a sigh escaping his lips as he leaned onto the cold wall.
"Keiki," he said.
"Do you think we'll ever get out?"
"What makes you think so?"
Keiki sighed, opening his violet eyes to look at the short kirin. "Her majesty is not so weak to lose to them and neither is your king."
Rokuta grunted in agreement with his statement except he could not help but think that they had been here for so long, almost a month if he counted right. "Hey Keiki," he grabbed the kirin's arm excitedly. "I just thought of this."
Jabbing at the red thread that looped around their heads, Rokuta continued excitedly, "If we broke the red threads at the same time, we should be fine. If one of us isn't, then we can order our shirei to carry the other. Brilliant right!?"
Keiki's eyes slid to someone behind Rokuta. A man that barely looked like a man stood outside the cell. He smiled amusedly, "It might work. Except the young girl that has her head bound with the same thread would not be. I'm sure you won't want to risk a poor, innocentlife, now would you?" His smile barely reached his grey eyes as he spoke. He was neither muscular or slight but he held an air about him that Keiki knew he was telling nothing but the truth and would not hesitate to follow through with his words.
"Who are you?" Keiki demanded. "How dare you withhold the holy kirin of Kei?"
"I am nobody." The man chuckled. "My sweet Keiki. Don't worry. Your dear queen knows you two are here."
Keiki frowned at his words; but before he could speak Rokuta had rushed to the man, reaching for him, shouting. "What do you mean by that!? Why would she do nothing if she knew we were here!?"
The man moved back, Rokuta's arms just brushing his hoh as he did. He flung his head back and laughed. "You'll see. Till then," he smiled. This time, his eyes filled with mirth. "Enjoy your stay."
The two kirins watch the man's back, listening to his footsteps echo into silence.
"I think we are in so much trouble," said Enki. "Sooo much trouble."
The maids roused her just before dawn. Quickly without even needing her to move a finger, they bathed her and dressed her. The large, heavy headpiece weighed her head down. Yoko felt like she became stupid whenever she wore that headpiece. It was like she could barely put coherent sentences together when she wore the headpiece, so she sat there in the chair that the maids had set her on and watched the sun rise and set.
Just outside Bu Province, Rankei enjoying a short peaceful moment before the others woke. They had been on a back-breaking pace to reach Bu Province and they had just fallen asleep roughly a few hours ago. The small bird fluttered down onto Rankei, pecking his ear. There was a small slip of paper tied around its leg. All the paper said was, "Be there blue palace, now."
He got up, shaking Kantai he said, "I have to go. My mistress calls me."
"Wah?" Kantai sat up, eyes still heavy from sleep. "Where are you going?"
"To my mistress," he swung onto the saddle of his kijyuu and leapt into the air.
It was almost dusk when they reached the castle. The dying sunlight bathed the castle with its red glow, making it glow with a brilliance. Shouryu nodded to the two of them. During their trip, they had decided that splitting into two groups would be better. Shoukei with Shouryu would check the rooms while Sekki would check the grounds and the basements. Sekki nodded and scampered off as they entered the area.
"Shoukei," Shouryu called out as they entered. "Do you think-"
A man hurried to Shoukei. "Lady Shoukei! We were not informed of your arrival!" He turned to the two standing behind him. "Hurry up!"
"Nice to mean you, Lady Shoukei!" They bowed deeply. "Please follow us! Lord Aoya is waiting for you."
Wordlessly the duo followed the servants into a large and well decorated hall. Another man hurried in. He wore expensive and layered hoh that indicated his rank. "Lady Shoukei." He bowed as deeply as Yoko's edict would allow. "It is good for your gracious to grace these bare halls of mine. Your beauty is as radiant as ever." The man that spoke was plump with a receding hairline.
Shoukei waved her hand dismissively. "Enough of the flowery talk, Minister Aoya." She sat down in the main chair, an air of authority as she gazed at the man.
"We captured a man-" Minster Aoya motioned to his servants. The man they had captured was Sekki. Shoukei was hardly surprised. Sekki had never been much of a military man and such skills like sneaking in were largely lost on him. "Would you like us to do the same treatment as we did for the last few?"
"Just release-" she paused as the words sank in. "Last few?" she whipped around, a fierce look taking over. "What last few-?"
"Well-" the man fell onto the ground in his haste to beg for forgiveness. "Jinhaku- He-"
"Where is he?" Her voice now rising in level as her patience wore thin.
"Here."They spun around to see the slight build man at the entrance. He was not as scary as Sekki had described to him though there was a mild resemblance in his demeanor.
"Hello, Lady Shoukei." He smiled but there was no warmth in his smile. "I have a present for you. Something better to make up for the missing toukis. A living, breathing doll." He pulled from behind the door. Yoko stood there wordlessly, gazed blankly at nothing in particular.
"Isn't it fantastic?" He chuckled. "Now we don't even need to fight with the royal army. We can just waltz in with the grace of the queen." He stroked Yoko's face.
"She listens to every word I say too. Here, look at this." He pointed to the chair on his left. "Sit."
Shoukei and Shouryu watched appalled as Yoko obediently walked to pointed chair and sat down in it. Yoko would hated the ceremonial headpiece had often complained about it, now wore not just a portion of it but the full ceremonial headpiece without complain, without fidgeting. Her hands folded onto her lap, her head held high. It was a model representation of a noble queen, something Yoko had not once done since her enthronement.
"What have you done?" Shouryu broke the silence that fell upon them.
Jinhaku threw his head back and laughed. "Why don't you ask the girl that stands beside you? She's the mastermind. I only carried it out." He patted Yoko's hair, gazing at her lovingly. "The will of heaven sits here and she listens to me only."
He bent down and whispered to Yoko.
"Guards, throw them into prison." Yoko said; her voice devoid of any emotion though her body went through the motions.
"Yoko!" Shoukei screamed, trying to push the guards that came to apprehend them. "Yoko!"
Shouryu had drawn his sword and had slain two of the guards. "Wake up, Yoko! If you throw me into prison, you'll be breaking the heaven's mandate. I am En-ou!"
The man called Jinhaku stared Shouryu thoughtfully. "That is true. If she dies, my rule will die faster than it even started. Leave him, but capture the other two."
Shouryu pulled Shoukei towards him but was restrained by another three more guards. "En-ou!" Shoukei turned to look at him as they pushed her out of the room.
"Save the queen! En-ou!" And they were gone.