Five days had already passed since they had left the forest. In that time their line had lost an additional two people. The forest was broad, with a shallow river cutting through it, and in that wide river a chain crossed to the opposite shore. After crossing that slippery river while clinging to the chain they once again entered into forest. Same as before, there was a road that followed alongside a marsh, but this time as they followed the road they were ascending.
Day by day, the color of the Kongou Mountains became deeper. If one left the clearings where the group stopped to rest, over the sea of trees the ridges of the Kongou Mountains were visible. They became darker in color, and gradually turned greener. The road reached the top of one mountain only to plunge once more into the greenery.
Inside the forest, the number of fallen trees and dead trees increased, and in between rotting trees covered in moss that had fallen in a heap before long they could see dead tree trunks as white as bone, and at that point they came out on the shore of a dreadfully limpid lake. A large depression that seemed to have spread rocks all over the place was filled to the brim with limpid water. When they arrived there, it had already been more than fifteen days since they had left the fort, and more than ten people had died.
Around that time, a sort of order had emerged within the line of people. Always at the front of the line were the goushi, Gankyuu, Shushou, and Rikou—the koushu (黄朱) had gathered together to form into a group. In contrast a man named Shitsu Kiwa, who had no goushi to protect him had, together with his followers continued to rely on higher ups, and in that way had created a group of nearly two hundred people that planned to rely on the goushi. The people who followed after them in the line of people, were those who had gathered around Ren Choudai. A group of about a 150 people had made Choudai heart of their group, and they often displayed open hostility against the goushi’s and Kiwa’s groups. The remaining people who didn’t fall into any of those groups simply followed the lead of the others and did their best to individually defend themselves. They had their own of baggage, and without joining any one side were scattered within the line.
Within this, the only ones somehow or another exerting some extent of leadership were the twenty people who led the koushu, Kiwa and Choudai, and the small group made up of people that weren’t taking sides. Because both the group led by Kiwa and the group led by Choudai were made up of people that hadn’t know one another beforehand but had banded together believing it to be in their interest to do so, there was no end to the quarreling that went on.
The koushu group as well wasn’t exactly made up of people that got along well with one another, but at any rate the all could agree on what they should and shouldn’t do, and if something happened they were able to work well with one another without having to follow someone’s orders.
Without a word they would work together to clear away the trees that were blocking the road they were on and would just as silently disband, each respectively continuing on at their own pace, and choose similar places at which to make camp. As soon as they’d chosen a campsite Kiwa would hurriedly order the people around them to help the koushi, and set up his tent near where the koushi set themselves. At that time Choudai would, while pretending not to look or making as if to find another road to take, would deliberately set up his tent a little ways away from the koushi.
Shushou whispered this while dumping dead leaves and grass together within the hollow of a batch of fallen trees piled on the lake shore and Rikou, who had been stringing up a nearby slanted tree with a rope so it wouldn't collapse, stopped what he was doing.
“Strange? What is?”
“Shitsu-san and Ren-san. Shitsu-san especially is an unusual person.”
"Why's that?" Rikou asked as he pushed aside a decayed tree to drive a wedge into the bare ground underneath and attached the rope to the wedge.
“I mean just look at them, he’s setting up his tent by the trees just as we’re doing, isn’t he? He’s definitely copying us.”
“He probably believes that’s the safest thing to do.”
“I get that. But, in Shitsu-san’s group at least 40 of them are his people. With that big of a group, what does it say about them that they’re copying us?”
Shushou looked over at Kiwa’s lively group. She understood that Gankyuu had been the one to choose this site as their campground. It seemed as if he always chose a campsite that would hide them. However, as might be expected there was no way to hide a group with as many people as Kiwa's group had.
“I see what you mean…”
“I think he should just ask. Ask Gankyuu or the goushi or someone what would be the best thing to with such a large group. But even though Shitsu-san always pays attention to what we do and copies us, he's never tried asking them what they should do.”
“If it were you, would you ask?”
“Of course I would. It’s only natural that the people who are used to traveling here would know what’s best to do. Although the koushu (黄朱) travel in small numbers, there’s no way they wouldn’t know what to do in a larger group.”
Shushou looked at the lake's surface, which was increasingly turning the color of twilight. It was beautifully clear water, but Gankyuu had taught her that it was if fact poisonous. It wasn't so strong that you would die after one mouthful of it, but neither people nor animals could drink that water. If she hadn't been told not to by Gankyuu Shushou would probably have drunk that water, and if they hadn't overheard Kiwa's group would probably have tried to drink the water as well.
“Ren-san’s group is strange as well. Since earlier they’ve been gathered at the water’s edge debating whether they really can’t drink the water or not.”
“I see…” Rikou smiled while coiling up the extra length of rope.
“It always seems as if they’re discussing whether or not they can get away with not copying us. I get that they’re still angry after arguing with the goushi, but copying the goushi can’t be helped, even if they feel like going against them”
“Both ways of thinking are totally wrong and it really bothers me. Are all adults like this?”
“Most likely,” said Rikou as he strapped the coiled rope to their luggage. Their stuff was always set up so that it could be strapped to their kijuu at a moment’s notice, and this was another thing that Gankyuu had strictly told them to do.
“In the first place, I think that it's wrong that Gankyuu and the goushi didn't tell them about these things. Taking on airs and keeping these thing secret is horribly self-centered and disagreeable of them!”
Without responding to this Rikou stood up and asked “Where did Gankyuu go?”
“He’s over with the goushi.”
“Why’s he with them?”
“Gankyuu always says he comes here to hunt, and doesn’t follow the road for shouzan (昇山), so he doesn’t know much about it. That’s why he’s asking. That the water in this lake is undrinkable is something he heard from them.”
“So it’s that way…” Rikou smilled, and Shushou blinked.
“Because if you ask, even the goushi will tell. I’ve seen people all sorts of people ask goushi for directions. But Shitsu-san doesn’t ask. Neither does Ren-san.”
“That’s how it is…”
“It’s not like Gankyuu is trying to keep his knowledge a secret. He just doesn’t like telling things to people who don’t ask.”
“So they won't tell unless asked? Wouldn't you call that putting on airs?”
“I think it’s a little different.”
“Is it, I wonder?”
“Three more days until the forest slopes downwards and we come to the lowest point.”
Stooped down in front of Gankyuu, Kinhaku was drawing a map on the ground. He was the muscular man with the roushoku (鹿蜀) who had a lot of experience working as a goushi, and with his chivalrous spirit had come to be the leader of the other ten goushi.
“Will it be flat for awhile?”
It's marshland. It will be muddy, so it would be best to mount up. It'll take a day just to cross that marshland, and it would be best to fly just above surface of the swamp. There are vicious leeches in the mud.”
“Are they poisonous?”
“They’re not, but they eat human flesh.”
“What’s the outlook?”
“Not good. There will be a ton of leafy and decaying trees, as well as pockets of tall grass.”
“So even if we travel during midday it won’t be a problem?”
”Well, just going straight ahead is problematic. That route has nothing but rotting trees and there’s nothing to hide us. Moreover, the rocks and fallen trees there are loose and you can’t gain a foothold. If an early-rising youma happens to fly by we’d be easy pickings.”
“And the water?”
“It’s no good. The water from here downwards can’t be drunk. You’d need manou rocks (満甕石).”
According to the knowledge handed down by the koushu (黄朱), they were rocks that could be found in the Yellow Sea. If you placed them in an earthenware pot filled with filthy water they would purify that water.
“…The problem is getting to the swampland, huh. Well, traveling at night should be better.”
“Hard to say. Night or day, they both have their dangers. The problem is whether the lot following us can endure traveling at night. No doubt they’ll complain about how dangerous it is, so it might just be better to travel in the daylight.”
“I see what you mean.”
“You have fast kijuu. They can easily make it down to the swamp.”
“But you guys—”
“We’re three of us on foot. Although our master rides a horse,” said Kinhaku, unconsciously frowning.
“I wish they’d come to their sense tonight.”
“I agree,” agreed Gankyuu in a low voice, and at that moment Shushou called out.
“Gankyuu, the food is ready!”
Gankyuu and Kinhaku stirred, and from a few steps away looked up at the girl who was looking down at them.”
“I’m coming now,” Gankyuu responded and stood up. Kinhaku, still crouching, gave a low chuckle.
“She’s got you whipped, hasn’t she, that young miss.”
“When I first met her I didn’t know what to make of her, as it turns out she’s very persistent. Isn’t that her strong point?”
“Or something like that. Although rather than saying she’s persistent, it’s more like she’s just got a stronger will.”
“That’s troublesome in it’s own way, huh.”
Gankyuu looked up at Shushou who was waiting at the top of the slope.
“She’s clever…and that’s what makes things so difficult.”