PART ONE, CHAPTER ONE
When the mountain crumbles...
The devastation was such that Mount Ryou-un, the mountain that rose beyond the clouds, began to crumble with the country around it.
Rokuta let his eyes wander, filled with dismay. The country that he had known was so ravaged that he couldn't imagine it could get any worse. He couldn't understand how it had come to this.
High above, cottony clouds floated. Beneath the cruelly clear sky, the scent of summer approached, but not a sliver of green pierced through the endless stretch of earth. In this season, there should have been verdant seas of wheat in the fields -- now, there was nothing but scattered grass. The wind rustled their withered stalks. They had long since dried up, and now had lost even their soft yellowed hue.
The roads had crumbled, and the houses with them -- all that remained were the stones that marked the property. Half-crumbled, blackened by fire, exposed to wind and rain... all that remained of the stones was a sorrowful, dull color.
At the foot of the hill, one could see a ri
, a town. Its walls had collapsed, and the homes inside were no more than rubble. There was no more than a single tree to protect the village: the riboku
, burned to the color of tarnished silver. Under its leafless, flowerless branches were human silhouettes; immobile as stones, seeming to have been sitting there for an eternity.
Overhead, some birds and many winged youma
circled. One could glimpse them through the metallic branches as they eyed their prey, but not a single person lifted their head to see. Neither animal nor youma
attacked one who took shelter under a riboku
. Was that they reason why the people ignored the danger? In truth, the people were so exhausted that they no longer had any strength to fear. The green that covered the mountains had long since burned off, the rivers had flooded, the fields and village were no more than cinders. The land was barren, and there were no hands to till it. The people were too weak to even imagine working for the harvest. Even if they wanted to grasp the hoe, they were starved, wasted, and too few in number to tackle the effort.
Even the wings of the youma
that circled above could barely keep them in the air. Rokuta watched as one fell to the ground. Youma
, too, were starving. They could no longer even revel in the land's desolation.
When the mountain crumbles...
...the Kingdom of En is finished.
The previous emperor was known now as Kyou. After his ascent to the throne, and for many years after, he governed the kingdom benevolently. But after a time, without a single person knowing why, he allowed his heart to become tainted with malice.
He began to oppress his people, delighting in the sound of their screams. At each corner of the village, he posted soldiers to spy on the people. Any who voiced complaints about the emperor was arrested immediately and publicly executed with all of their family. If revolts broke out, he ordered the canal-gates to be opened, drowning the entire area in floods. Or, he would order the entire town doused in oil and set ablaze, ordering the massacre of every villager down to the last newly-born child.
The kingdom had nine provinces, each directed by a provincial lord. Those who remained just and benevolent to their people were assassinated. None could stop Kyou. When his saiho
, grieved by these atrocities, fell ill, the emperor glumly announced the approaching end of his reign. To commemorate himself, he ordered a mausoleum to be built. Enrolling a massive force of workers, he oversaw the digging of two immense pits to serve as a tomb -- the mud and bodies of the exhausted workers piled high. It is said that the emperor ordered the sacrifice of one hundred thirty thousand young women and girls, killed to serve him in his Heavenly palace.
But, the emperor died just before the tomb was completed. The kingdom was barren, and the people suffocated under the weight of their sorrows -- but, when the emperor's death was announced, the shouts of joy could be heard throughout every province.
The people waited for their new ruler. But no one appeared.
In this world, it is the kirin
that appoints the emperor. This sacred creature receives a revelation from the Heavens that indicates the one most worthy to be seated upon the throne. When this person is found, the kirin
enters into his service, remaining always by his side.
But the saiho
died after thirty years of fruitless search. It was only the eighth time such a misfortune had happened since the creation of the world.
It is said that it is the duty of the emperor to maintain the balance between yin
in the kingdom. But when the throne is empty, the balance of nature falters and disaster runs rampant.
And thus, already ravaged by the madness of emperor Kyou, the kingdom became still worse after this eighth catastrophe. The people no longer had the strength to weep for their suffering.
...such is this disaster.
Rokuta, standing on a hilltop overlooking the land, lifted his eyes to the man standing at his side. The man gazed upon the desolation with a thoughtful air.
Rokuta bears the title of Enki. He has the looks of a young boy, but his true nature is not that of a human: he is the young kirin of the Kingdom of En, and the man beside him was the man he had chosen as Emperor.
"...do you want this country?" asked Rokuta.
A ruined country. Its soil ravaged, its people -- the ones who remained -- dying of hunger... was there anything left to rule?
"If you want it in spite of everything, I'll give it to you."
What was he thinking, this man, in this moment? He had accepted the throne that Rokuta had entrusted to him. Rokuta was sure that the destruction before his eyes was far beyond what he could have possibly imagined. Would he weep? Would he be angry? Rokuta asked himself at he gazed at him. But the man, perhaps noticing his gaze, turned toward him and broke out in laughter.
"Well, there's absolutely nothing to see here!"
Rokuta just nodded his head.
"We'll need to completely rebuild everything... what a mission," said the man with a detached air. "But on the other hand, it means that I can do things my own way."
And he let out a laugh.
Rokuta lowered his head. He didn't know why, but he felt like crying.
"What's wrong?" asked the man.
The voice was gentle, concerned. Rokuta sighed deeply. He felt as if a crushing weight on his back, a weight that he had barely even realized until now, had suddenly vanished.
The man set his hand on Rokuta's shoulder.
"Let's head off to Mount Hou to grab hold of this."
All he felt was the weight of that hand. Thirteen years had bled from him since his birth, and he could now finally entrust to this man -- the man that he himself had chosen to be worthy of the task -- the weight which he had had to bear for so many years: the future of the kingdom.
...the spell has been cast.
Rokuta stepped away from the hand on his shoulder. He turned to look at the man.
"...I'll leave it to you."
Rokuta hadn't even specified what, but the man responded with a laugh.
"You can count on me."
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