"What were you thinking of when you left your home?" A man had asked him that.
If he'd asked "why", he'd have answered "to avoid being killed." But since he'd asked something like what he'd though, Shouka unthinkingly let slip his true feelings.
'......What did I answer that time?'
'--Ah, that's right...... I remember.' Closing his eyes, Shouka gently scooped the "answer" from the depths of his memory. 'A fairy tale.'
---There's a 'music', that I've sealed away.
As a child Shouka would visit his great-grandmother and play the biwa. Even for adults, the melody was said to be virtually impossible to play, yet he'd perfected it by the time he was five.
"You're a gentle child, aren't you...... And also...... so very intelligent," Kou Gyokukan had said as she smiled satisfied at the young child.
"Music doesn't lie. Your future will be something to look forward to." Something about that smile looked almost like she was crying as well.
"And...... you're a most unfortunate child--to no longer know what it means to be innocent at that age. You above all are the most worthy male for taking on the authority of the Kou clan. You are to protect the Kou clan, Shouka."
And even though he smiled, he didn't nod at her words. From the time she was young until now, surpassing the Ran and Heki clans, Kou Gyokukan was famous for being the number one lady of the biwa. When she died and the world lamented the loss of her skill and the lack of an heir to her techniques, Shouka remained silent...
'Music doesn't lie'
---In exchange for hiding that he'd already started down the blood-soaked path that no one knew of.
Shouka snapped awake in the room where he would nap in the archives. His five senses were completely alert in an instant and was a familiar feeling. Even when waking, there was never any confusion between dreams and the waking world.
'......It's been a long time since I've dreamt of that time.'
His internal clock never went wrong and told him what time it was upon waking--the middle of the night. From a long time ago, Shouka normally didn't need much sleep. A two hour nap during the afternoon was usually enough for him, so days like this one where he napped at night, were most unusual.
"......Any time now, maybe."
Most likely there'd be a change by morning.
After crying so very much, his daughter had then raised her face and ran to Sa Province.
"No doubt you manage to get through it, Shuurei." That iron will to carry out what she'd decided to do was the same as his wife's.
"For our daughter, Shuurei's turned out almost too well." Shouka tied back his hair and noticed that his fingers were shaking slightly.
Shuurei's all right. Shuurei unconsciously and Yuushun calculating did what was necessary in the least amount of time. Having found a way to treat the illness, gathered a group of doctors together and gone into the region, there was no reason for things not to be taken care of. Even in the worst case, Ensei or Seiran would see to it that the Jasenkyou were killed. If they were unable to do so, then his younger brothers would act. There was no need for Shuurei to die. It was a matter that he should have been able to be absolutely certain of. And despite that, he still couldn't remain calm about it.
Shouka took a deep breath as he tied back his hair.
'It's not the time for me to act yet---'
As Shouka left to enter the archives, the sound of a biwa rang through his mind--the sound of his great-grandmother who understood him more than his parents ever did.
From the time he'd realised reality in that home, he was supposed to have decided. Unless you grabbed it, peace wouldn't come. Unless you protected it, happiness wouldn't continue. And if it's necessary to dirty ones hands to do so...
--I don't care if I never know peace until the moment I die.
Happiness doesn't just come. Fragile and easily broken, someone's always fighting their hardest to protect it. And despite that, it's still easily broken. The previous Emperor and previous Kokurou are no longer here. If he were to rely on Shou Taishi (that tanuki-jijii) he'd be made a fool of from time to time.
'Being able to go back to being "myself".'
Never getting carried away by feelings, that icy reasoning was above all, proof of Shouka being Shouka.
For starters, even as a child, Shouka never learned to rely on others. He'd always thought about things on his own, made his own decisions, and then acted after considering the consequences.
Shouka stopped and opened one of the screens. It was a night like this one when, despite not even being ten years of age, Shouka had left the Kou household and his two younger brothers.
"What were you thinking of when you left your home?" The instant he remembered Hokuto's voice, the quiet night air changed. Before he thought about it, his body acted, and in the next instant, Shouka disappeared from the archives.
The very air was vibrating from something almost like ripples that spread from the center of the forbidden pond behind the Sentoukyuu. In the middle of the pond, a young woman stood up to her waist in the water, dressed in a white robe and her hair loose. Her eyes stared out unfocussed on the distance.
Shusui didn't react to the sound of Shouka's yell.
The air changed again, and the waves that had been rippling out, suddenly changed converging on one point in one direction. And following that, Shusui's gaze started to focus. --That distant place. In order to see with her eyes what shouldn't be able to be seen.
Breaking through the shield and pulling Shusui out of the pond at the same time was impossible.
"You old fart (Shou Taishi)! How about being useful for a change, you bastard!!"
That instant, an old style dagger flew out striking the stone that held the shield together, destroying it. Like cutting a string, the pressure and vibrations in the air suddenly lessened and Shouka immediately pulled Shusui out from the water.
"...As always, you're a cheeky little brat, aren't--"
Shouka turned when the sarcastic comment suddenly trailed off. For some reason, Shou Taishi looked at Shouka with eyebrows raised, as though he were seeing something unusual.
"......What is it?"
"......Nothing. I was just thinking it's been a while since I saw that."
From his manner of speech and the way he brushed the hair out of his eyes, Shouka remembered how Shou Taishi was when he was in his thirties and they'd first met. Looking back, Shou Taishi's eyes hadn't changed in the least since when he was young.
"If you were watching, then how about stopping her? You are, after all, Shusui's sponsor, aren't you?"
This time, Shou Taishi looked surprised. He then peered at Shouka.
"Like I said, what is it?"
"No, if you don't realise it yourself, it doesn't matter." Shouka didn't stop Shou Taishi as he touched Shusui's forehead with his fingers. While her eyes were open, there was no consciouness in the gaze. It was an emptiness almost like her spirit had been left on the other side of the shield that had been forcefully broken. If that really were the case, Shusui would end up living like this until she eventually died.
"......How is she?"
"You stopped her right at the last minute... normally a person would either die or go mad, but most likely she'll be all right. Rather than that, she's more likely to freeze to death. Let her rest." Shou Taishi closed Shusui's eyes with his fingertips.
Shouka released the breath he'd been holding.
"But you're about the only one who'll come running being able to sense in the archives what's happening here despite having her presence muffled by the shield."
"That's because everyone else is dead."
Shou Taishi just looked at Shouka at his comment. As Shouka stood carrying Shusui in his arms, he looked a little annoyed and wrinkled his nose slightly. "...I guess I'll give you my thanks."
"If you hadn't stopped her, you would've known whether Shuurei's safe or not by now, you know?"
The next instant, a dagger flew past Shou Taishi's cheek and buried itself deep into a tree.
"--She's fine," Shouka said icily with a cold look before vanishing into the night.
Shou Taishi shook his head slightly as he went to retrieve his dagger, but someone else picked it up before he could.
"...Honestly, why are you always such a child?"
Shou Taishi choked unthinkingly letting slip an 'ack'. "......Kai Yu...... -dono."
"You just said 'ack' didn't you? To your sempai?"
"I'm sorry. It's the middle of the night and, as always, you're dressed to a tee."
Since Kai Yu didn't speak like most elderly gentlemen, when speaking to him, Shou Taishi also reverted to the way he spoke when he was younger. Kai Yu looked at Shou Taishi from top to bottom.
"As always, you're manner of dress is the worst. You're the perfect example of how bad a man can become without having a wife. How about making yourself useful to the country and standing in a museum with a placard saying "The Fate of the Single Male"? I'd throw a penny for that admission fee."
Leaving it there for the night. Eep. It's late. >_<;;