Thanks to the certificate Rikou had procured for her, Shushou no longer had to worry about how to get a room at an inn. As she had planned, she followed the main road directly to the Black Sea.
It was Shushou’s first time seeing a sea. She’d never had the opportunity to since she’d never gone far from Renshou. Shushou looked upon the vast water with wonder, and for the first time felt discouraged. Renshou was a city nestled up against Mt. Ryouun. For Shushou, who had been born and raised there, the fine view held no sense of comfort.
“So there are lots of different kinds of places, huh… Let’s go, Hakuto.”
Stroking Hakuto, who sensing his master’s anxiety had adopted a similar feeling of unease, Shushou urged the kijuu onwards.
Shushou came to the city of Rinken after traveling for a few days southward down the highway that ran alongside the Black Sea. Rinken was on the very tip of Kyou. Isolated on the opposite shore from Kenkai Gate was Ken Prefecture, where the Reiken Gate stood in the city of Ken.
.: 76 :.
“There are still six days till vernal equinox and it’s all thanks to you, Hakuto.”
And, also Rikou.
Pawing at the ground as if he were sympathizing with the mounted Shushou, Hakuto quickened his pace. Hakuto had made great progress earlier, for some reason. If the wind blew from the south, he would lose the fatigue and forgetfulness from the journey. If Shushou didn’t hold his reins, there would be nothing to stop him from continuing to run through the vast field of blue spread out before his eyes.
“Don’t go so quickly. Otherwise you’ll injure your legs like you did yesterday.”
Though Shushou pulled on the reins, Hakuto did not slow down. Running down the highway lined by fields, Hakuto went literally jumping over forests and thickets. As they passed through one village, Shushou folded down a finger. Only one more village to go before they reached Rinken.
The sun was sinking as if it were slipping off the face of the mountain ridges to the west. There was still some time before the sky would be bathed crimson, but Hakuto’s shadow along the ground was long. Over the course of her journey Shushou had come to feel that at the onset of twilight, the colors of the seas—as well as those of the mountains—grew more profound.
As Hakuto cleared hamlets in consecutive short flights, Rinken became visible in the distance, and at the very instant it did, she saw it.
.: 77 :.
Shushou pulled on Hakuto’s reins and he stopped in the air. But that wasn’t the reason he began to descend, and Shushou’s padded kimono flapped in the empty air when she took her eyes off him.
Divining the meaning of her words, no sooner had he alighted on the ground, than Hakuto took off with all his might and soared. Hakuto’s field of vision was wide open, and at the same time the outlook of Shushou, mounted upon Hakuto, was open with life.
Sleeping spread out underneath them was countryside beginning to faintly show the first signs of spring. The blackened areas of nearby hamlets were the result of wildfires, but to Shushou’s eyes the ruined areas appeared as mere scratches. What caught here eyes was the port town that lay at the base of a cape jutting out from the coastline into the pale, white-capped sea tinged with grey.
The foot of the mountain was painted by the blue light of the sky, while the mountain ridges were barely discernable as a different shade of blue, though the true marvel was the orchid-tinged blue that formed a large, blue, wall-like shadow.
A large something floating facing the ocean.
From the sun’s west-slanting rays it drew shadows that extended like a band upon the surface of the sea. Ridges carved like a design became evident, and stretched far out on both sides from one conspicuously bright section, before at length fading into the blue.
“…the Kongou Mountains.”
.: 78 :.
So very big.
Shushou could feel the goosebumps rise on her arms. Without thinking she released Hakuto’s reins from one hand, and clung to his mane as he rose to his hind legs as if testing out the air with his hind legs.
The barrier wall of the Yellow Sea—on the other side of this giant wall lay land uninhabited by humans, in the center of which were the Five Mountains.
‘I’m here,’ she thought. ‘That’s it.’ Even for Shushou, born and raised at the foot of Mt. Ryouun, the size of the Kongou Mountains was mindboggling.
Having reached the peak of his jump, Hakuto slowly and gently, with gradually increasing speed, descended. The blue and hazy wall disappeared along the horizon.
“Those are the Kongou Mountains…” Shushou whispered.
She buried her face in Hakuto’s neck.
“Let’s go, Hakuto. Those are the Kongou Mountains.”
Hakuto shook Shushou’s face away in reply.
.: 79 :.