Wind blew in from a dark sea reminiscent of pure nothingness.
To the north of this Sea of Emptiness, fall faded and cold weather surreptitiously streamed in, settling to form patches of frost. The sea water lost warmth; the warm middle layer thinned out, and before long the sea had become uniform in its coldness. As convection took place sluggishly, the cold rose up from the depths of the seawater and congealed into frost across the surface, forming spots of white atop the dark sea. Like the ocean, the atmosphere also began to solidify because of the cold, and before long the wind was full of frozen particles. A small ice floe floating on the water bobbed in the force of the wind, and the waves were topped with foam, while at length, the current reversed itself in a tremendous undulation, and the waves crashed to the shore. —It was the wind of winter.
.: 22 :.
From the northeast of the Sea of Emptiness the advancing wind of the new season blew against the northern coast. In the northeastern part of the kingdom of Ryuu, the advancing wind ran into the mountain side, thereupon deposited a large quantity of snow and freezing Ryuu from behind. The last bit of snow fell upon the mountain range bordering Ryuu and began to drift towards the hitherto dry kingdom of Kyou.
In the capital of Kyou, Renshou, Mt. Ryouun towered over the land like a mast over a ship, living up to its name as the “skyscraping mountain.” As if controlled by a calligraphy brush, numerous overlapping peaks arched, and seemed to be entangled with the village at the base of the mountain, although a few of the peaks penetrated the sea of clouds hanging above, creating small islets. Dry, cold wind blew in between the peaks, penetrating deeply into the fissures of cliffs, producing a faint sound. Only, some of the sound was distorted in such a way that winters in Renshou were hailed as having the sound like the rumbling of the sea.
The wind blowing in and the wind blowing down upon the surface of the mountain—these winds here and there created small whirlwinds on a road illuminated by sunlight, causing the hem of a girl’s clothes to lightly flutter.
The girl held her bag under one arm as she smoothed down her clothes with the other.
As she muttered, a voice rang out from behind her.
“What’s this, Shushou, aren’t you going home?”
Turning her head, she saw a boy emerge from the inactive school grounds.
“Of course I am.”
.: 23 :.
Shushou turned to the side as she continued to lean against the gatepost.
“‘I am’ you say, but haven’t you been standing here for some time?”
“Why do you think it’s been ‘some time’?”
The boy turned pink and scowled at Shushou.
“There’s no reason. I just happened to see you. Why do you ask, Shushou? Is there something wrong with that?”
"Oh, is that right? ...I was just asking. It’s fine.”
The boy grimaced, and scowled at Shushou’s unconcerned profile. He turned on his heel began to go back, but when he reached the foot of the stone stairs in front of the gate he stopped and looked back.
“Aren’t you going home?”
“Yes. You’re on your way home, right? If that’s the case, why don’t you hurry and go.”
“If you’re really going home, Shushou, why don’t you hurry up as well?”
Shushou sighed lightly. “Because my escort isn’t here. I don’t know if they’re just off somewhere messing around, but I can’t just go home and leave them, so I’m waiting.”
Is that so? the boy's grin seemed to say.
.: 24 :.
“You’re scared to go back alone.”
“I’m not waiting because I’m scared, but because I can’t just go straight home.”
“Be honest. It’s because you’ve been brought up as a lady, right? If there’s no one by you, you can’t walk down a scary old road.”
Shushou glared fiercely at the boy who was teasing her.
“That’s right. Since I’ve been raised as a young lady, I can’t walk down the street if there’s no one to accompany me. Were I to do so, my attendants would be scolded for my disappearance.”
“You’re just scared. You could as easily order them off.”
“Jeez, you really can’t grasp the true meaning of what you’re being told, can you?”
As Shushou said that, the forms of several people could be seen running up the street.
“Please excuse us, Miss.”
The ones who had run up to the large entrance gate were three muscular men. They were joushin that Shushou’s father had hired as escort guards. Impatiently, Shushou lifted herself from leaning against the pillar and turned her eyes on the joushi, calmly raising her voice.
“What happened? Is that...blood?”
The joushin exchanged glances, looking each other’s bodies. Here and there on the hide armor of the joushin, red spots were clearly visible.
.: 25 :.
“Please excuse us. A little while ago, we heard a scream coming from over there, and got into a little mess.”
From in front of the gate, the joushin pointed directly south, along the main street. As twilight drew closer the wave of humanity filling the main thoroughfare was tranquil. Within the crowd, in the direction in which the joushin pointed to with a stiffened face, there was the figure of a hurried man.
“There were just some mushi. We killed them without too much trouble. Thank you for having waited for us.”
Shushou knit her eyebrows together in a frown. It had been twenty-seven years since the death of the emperor and even here in the capital of Renshou youma could frequently be seen. Out of all youma, the youma called mushi, were relatively harmless and generally small, in terms of size. However, Shushou understood the underlying implications. If groups of mushi were appearing, it was possible that many of the bigger youma that hunted them would appear as well.
“Well, let’s hurry,” urged the joushin. Shushou nodded in assent, and ran down the stone stairs. The boy followed her down.
“Hey, Shushou, is it okay?”
“Is what okay?”
“If I go with you?”
.: 26 :.
Shushou looked back in amazement.
“What would you do if you came? If you did that, wouldn’t it be horrible for the joushin to have to see you back after having expended so much effort getting home?”
“But...” said the boy hesitatingly, with a complacent smile. “But at any rate, ultimately, it shouldn’t be too much trouble.”
“I don’t need this,” muttered Shushou.
“Yes,” she said. “However, you’re also going to your own home. Therefore—” Leaving the rest unsaid, Shushou continued running down the gate’s stairs. The boy saw her off with a small sigh that was left unheard as it was swept away and erased by the wind.
.: 27 :.