As it turned out, they had lost three people that night. The deceased were three men who had been around the fire in the clearing when the youchou (妖鳥) descended upon them, and they died because of this.

As the night lifted, people cautiously returned to the campsite. Most of them had left their belongings there, taking only what they could reach at hand when they fled. Without the water, food, and medicine they had left behind there was no way they could continue their journey. Therefore they had no choice but to go back to the campsite and find the wreckage of the scattered human and youma bone and flesh. The youma they had taken down was but one giant bird, but there were also the remains of many other youma, big and small, who had come to that place seeking food scattered about, and those who returned were horrified by the gruesome spectacle. They at last truly understood where exactly it was that they were.

The troupe began to walk onwards once more. At this point there was no choice but to continue on. After all, the only safe place in the Yellow Sea was Mt. Hou. Even if they returned to the fort (城塞) the day on which Reiken Gate opened was only that of spring solstice. They would have to wait a year till the next spring, and no one of them could muster the brute courage to leave the group and return to the fort. Heading over to another one of the Four Gates (四門) was out of the question.

And so it was in low spirits that they gathered their belongings, and after giving one last look about set out. That was all they could do. As they did so, they complained to one another about Gankyuu and the others who had left them behind. Leading them was a influential man named Ren Choudai who made his living selling wares in the Kingdom of En.

“Three people died. If they had helped, those three might still be alive now. What a thing to do to run without even looking out for those around them.”

The one who responded to this was the man riding the roushoku who had spoken to Shushou last night. She thought his name was Kinhaku. It wasn’t as if the ten or so of them who had escaped ahead of the others last night had meant to go together, they just happened to end up in the same place in the file of walkers.

“Staying there was obviously dangerous, that’s all there is to it. I regret to inform you, but our job is to protect our employers, not you.”

“Then why are we all heading together as a group towards Mt. Hou?”

“Probably because we’re all cowards.”

Ren Choudai scowled in response to Kinhaku’s banter.

“If we’re calling anyone a coward, you who abandoned those unlucky men and escaped first must be the cowards.”

“I don’t mind you saying that one bit—but can you really say that those of you who stayed to the end protected those three men?”

Choudai’s blood rose to his face.

“Koubi (狗尾) is…”

“What about it?”

“ Seeing the two adults expose their wrath, Shushou pulled at the clothes of Gankyuu as he held onto the reins of his haku.

“Hey, is it okay if we don’t stop? They look like they’re going to start throwing punches.”

“Whatever you want.”

Gankyuu replied bluntly. It had been twenty seven years since the demise of the previous king. Men and women aspiring to the throne had completed shouzan and had it affirmed to them that they were not fit to be king. Nowadays those attempting shouzan all lacked the aspiration to fight to be the first to reach Mt Hou, but those who were fretted that a king did not appear were strongly encouraged to attempt shouzan, and in general those making the attempt were no great heroes, but among them were many good people. Those were weren't good people were people who, after seeing others dispiritedly return from the Yellow Sea, were suddenly stirred up by petty ambition. Those petty people hastily, whether against themselves or others, because they mended their ways for a time, they were able to make themselves out to be virtuous people. Whichever type the man called Choudai was, it's not like they were here to kill one another.

“Hey, Gankyuu?”

“If you’re going to ask me what a koubi is, then don’t. There are countless derogatory names to call us.”

“I guess that can’t be helped,” murmured Shushou. Gankyuu raised an eyebrow and turned to look back at Shushou.

“Well we did run away. That’s fact. And even though you knew that starting a fire was dangerous, you didn’t tell anyone.”

Chi, Gankyuu tutted. “It’s not like they would have listened even if I’d told them.”

“They would. After all, you’re an expert on the Yellow Sea.”

“I wonder. But in the first place, it’s bothersome to be listened to.”

“Why’s that?”

“Fire is dangerous, but also necessary. You can be certain that even if they accepted that lighting a fire is dangerous, were I to next say that it is necessary, they would panic and tell me to put it out. Then for newbies who only know that fire is dangerous, entering into the Yellow Sea would be ludicrous. It’s true that I’ve been hired by you, but I don’t want to be responsible for the recklessness of all the people here.”

“Even if it were an order?”

“I’d refuse.”

“You coward.”

“Now, now,” Rikou intervened. “Let’s stop that now.”

“Don’t tell me you agree with that coward.”

Rikou replied to Shushou’s low voiced complaint in a whisper of his own.

“To Gankyuu we are reckless people who are entering into the Yellow Sea even though we don’t know a single thing about it. Because of this, in essence we are always sabotaging Gankyuu. Which is why we should leave things to the experts.”

Shushou gazed at Rikou’s bitterly smiling face, and sighed.

“Like joushin (杖身), huh.”

“Joushin?”

“It’s like that, isn’t it? Only people who employ joushin (bodyguards) are saved. Those without the foresight and money to employ joushin are almost certain to die.”

“I see,” Rikou said with a bitter smile. “That’s it exactly.”

“Those going into the Yellow Sea who don’t hire knowledgeable guards are the real ones at fault.”

“That’s not a bad way to think about it.”

“However, I think that that and Gankyuu not telling them that lighting fires is dangerous are two entirely separate issues. Gankyuu could have saved those dead men if he’d wanted to. Because he didn’t, I don’t think that me calling him a coward is unreasonable.”

Rikou again gave a pained smile.

“I see…”

“Well whatever—I’ll tell them myself.”

“Hold it!” Gankyuu ground out angrily. Shushou looked him in the eyes.

“You didn’t tell them anything because you don’t want to become involved with them, right? Well I don’t mind. That much is fine.”

“Don’t do such worthless things.”

“Why do you say it’s worthless?”

Gankyuu looked at Shushou with a heavy expression in his eyes.

“That’s something only we need to know.”

Shushou could feel the blood rising to her cheeks.

“Are you saying that because if everyone knew how to travel safely in the Yellow Sea you would lose your prestige?”

“I don’t care how you interpret it. Don’t do worthless things.”

“It’s my choice.”

“Well, if you make public that knowledge and and something happened, if the goushi were to do something to you it’s not on me.”

“Is that a threat?”

Gankyuu looked on grimly in reply to Shushou’s scowl.

“That was a warning.”

“I’ll say it again, but you’re the worst.”

“Is that so.”

Shushou glared at, then rudely turned to face away from Gankyuu, who had turned to face forward, and she looked up at Rikou.

“Well, it seems he’s the real thing. A real coward, I mean.”

But in Rikou’s face, whom she had looked to for agreement, there was no trace of a smile. Shushou hmphed with the face of someone who had just been seriously reprimanded, and Rikou gave her a look.

Without asking why she was acting that way Rikou whispered “…you’re being immature.”

“What do you mean by that? Are you saying that I’m a child? Well I am. I know that.”

Rikou laughed and nodded.

“I meant that at this point it would be best to leave everything up to Gankyuu.”

Shushou puffed out her cheeks.

“I get it. After all, you’re also a friend of the coward. You’re trying to tell me that adults have their own brand of logic, right?”

“Is that so?”

“That’s fine. I told you didn’t I? Kings are neither adults nor children. No matter what you all might think, I’m going to be king, so remember that!”