Behind the soldiers lining in the clearing, people began to descend the rockface. There was a single path passing through the forest in front of them. It was just wide enough for a wagon to pass through, and was paralleled by a bog that came down from the Kongou Mountains, a path that, over the course of many years, had been cut open and trodden down by people there to ascend.
Although they were all there to reach the Five Mountains with their own particular groups, the line was had no structure to speak of. It was dangerous to leave the crowd, so it would be better to say that everyone was in fact a part of one big group.
Upon descending the rockface, they entered into the forest. It was just past noon when they came upon a grassy clearing. Always, after leaving the fortress in the morning, travellers would reach this place at around the same time. It was intended this way. As soon as they reached the place, from behind them came the sound of bells and drums. Many turned back, startled. Their vision was blocked by sea of trees around them, but they all knew that behind them was Reiken Gate. Which, just now, had closed. There was no going back.
A feeling of despondency settled across the group, and they all stopped for a moment, resting. Then, snapping out of this stupor, they began to walk once again. Over the undulations of the ground, through the forest, descending the mountain. During this time, the fact that among them was girl who, at only twelve years old, had come to ascend became well known. Anyone who had the courage to come all the way to the Yellow Sea should be praised.
“Kyou’s not done for yet, if it has citizens like Shushou.”
“That’s the sort of bravery you’d wish for adults, too. If the adults and children of a kingdom were like Shushou, no way would it fall to ruin.”
There were comments about Gankyuu and Rikou, as well.
“To guide and protect a girl all the way to Mt. Hou, just the two of them, that sort of chivalrous spirit is in short supply, nowadays.”
It wasn’t bravery but recklessness, not chivalry but avarice, which drove him, thought Gankyuu, but he accepted these comments with thanks. Within the month and a half that it would take to cross the Yellow Sea, the group was sure to eventually divide into different factions. Fundamentally speaking, people who became youjuu hunters weren’t the time to form cliques, but when in the Yellow Sea, it was only natural to do so. Before long someone would become the leader would emerge, so Gankyuu didn’t want to make enemies out of anyone.
Upon the sunset, youma begin to stir. So when the sun touched the edges of the Koungou Mountains, everyone agreed that it would be best to prepare a campground, and the line of people sluggishly slowed to a stop at the clearing they’d just come upon. No one gave the order, they all just felt that it was time to stop, and twilight fell just as they began preparing for the night. Some rushed to set up tents, and those without tents scrambled to find wood for a fire.
While watching this occur out of the corner of his eyes, Gankyuu surveyed the forest, and casually chose a spot for them to rest, and a little ways into the forest from the clearing, he tied up his haku.
“Gankyuu, the open ground over there looks better.”
“Over there’s no good. Shushou, go grab some rocks and pile them up here. Rikou, you can tie your suugu to this tree here.”
Gankyuu’s brusque manner caused Shushou to glance over at Rikou, but Rikou was calmly tying Seisai to the tree Gankyuu had indicated. Since there seemed to be no helping it, Shushou also did as Gankyuu had instructed, and looked for rocks nearby, piling them up as Gankyuu had told her to.
“What’s with him, I wonder, getting all uppity as soon as we get into the Yellow Sea.”
Paying no attention to Shushou’s muttering, Gankyuu lined their campsite on three sides with standing-up dead branches, and lit them on fire. On the journey thus far Gankyuu had had Shushou and Rikou pick up small, dead branches. Once they’d gathered up a good amount, he had Shushou mount a kijuu, divide them into small bundles and tie them with grass. Once the sun set there wouldn’t be enough time to look for firewood. Looking for dead branches on the ground near one’s feet at that time was like practically inviting youma to attack.
In effect, Shushou and company were quickest to get their supper ready. By the time the ones who’d run about setting up tents had even begun to cook they had already finished eating, doused the fire, and spread a cloth between the two kijuu.
“Should we really have put out the fire?” Shushou asked, and Gankyuu nodded.
“It’s fine. Once you’re settled, get some sleep.”
“Is it alright to be sleeping so open and unguardedly?” Rikou asked.
“Don’t worry. For the first three days there will be no attacks—well, unless we run into really bad luck.
“Why is that?”
Gankyuu laughed lightly.
Because of the fortress.
“I don’t get it. Arrows can’t reach this far, right?”
“Arrows can’t reach, but the smell of blood can.
“Youma gather where there’s the smell of blood. Both human and youma died in the attack last night. So long as there’s blood spilt somewhere, we’ll be safe for about three days. Even if a youma were to come close to us, they would catch the scent of the blood and head over in that direction,” said Gankyuu, stretching out next to the haku, and the others followed suit.
“Rikou, you’ll sleep using your suugu as a pillow, right? Well, I’ll sleep next to my haku, so Shushou, you can lay in between us.”
“I’d rather sleep next to Seisai.”
“Do as you’re told. If a youma were to come, the kijuu would be the first to notice. We need someone who will wake up as soon as the kijuu get restless to sleep next to them.”
“Hmph, I would wake up.”
“Don’t know about that.”
Shushou scowled at Gankyuu as he teased her, and pulled her wataire towards her. It was warmer inside the Yellow Sea than out, and just by walking around wearing it had become superfluous, but she felt colder when she slept.
“How rude, I can wake up right away. I’m not a small child,” Shushou said as she lay down. There were some noisy people in the clearing. Shushou pulled on the wataire. Maybe it was mere bravado, or excitement at having entered into the Yellow Sea, but around a huge fire in the clearing were many adults talking in loud, boisterous voices.
The ground was uneven, her sleeping space narrow, and Gankyuu was nagging. Shushou wasn’t sure if she would even be able to sleep.
But she closed here eyes, and when she opened them again, it was morning.