A/N: I find myself frequently reflecting back on my first attempt at this fic. I've always liked this idea, but haven't seen much done with it. A Trip to Kei was my second attempt at fanfiction, and my first attempt at a Twelve Kingdoms story, an anime from which comes both my penname and my obsession with anime and fandom. At this point in my writing career, I find this a fitting story to come back to and revisit. I've decided to try re-writing the fic with the same idea and seeing how reviewers like you think of the progress I've made (and I know I must have made at least some improvement!). Thus I ask that you read both fanfictions and review AT LEAST ONE and tell me what you think. This is a fandom I hold dear to my heart so I really can't tell you how much it would mean for me to get actual reviews for it and know people are actually reading. It only takes a moment to write a sentence and let me know that my existence is acknowledged here, so please please please do so.
Disclaimer: Twelve Kingdoms/ Junni Kouki is the property of its original creators, producers, and other people with money and connections. I, lowly college student with hardly enough money for food and conventions could not even hope to lick the metaphorical shoes of copyright ownership. Thus I write disclaimers to avoid getting sued.
In this world four years had passed since Youko Nakajima became Sekishi, Queen of Kei. During that time, many changes had come over the kingdom—many of them gradually, but enough that the kingdom was finally becoming stable. As queen, Youko was never lacking for something to do, but it was not uncommon for her to retreat to her room and stare into Suiguu, peering at images of the home she had left behind in Japan.
It was a warm, cloudless day in the middle of spring time—shortly after the cherry blossoms came into full bloom—when the Queen of Kei announced that she would be leaving for a few days. She gave careful instructions for all of the ministers to follow for the next few days, and put Shokei in charge of any emergency affairs that might arise while she was gone.
"Shokei was the princess of the previous ruler of Kou. Regardless of what her role was at the time, she knows much about politics and is already one of my primary advisors. I trust that she will be perfectly capable of making any necessary decisions during my absence. I have other informants in this court, so do not be under the impression that any attempts to take power during my absence will go unnoticed. I only plan on being gone for a few days, and on my return I will resume all of my duties as Queen."
"Yes, your Majesty," The members of the court replied in unison, bowing at the waist. Youko had made certain that only a select and trusted few knew where she would be, so in the case of any true emergency she could be contacted by Enki.
Youko was going home.
It had taken much convincing to persuade Keiki that a few days' absence would not throw the kingdom back into ruin, and even more that she must return to Hourai. She'd decided not even to tell him her intention to meet with her parents while she was there—if she did it was highly unlikely that he would allow her to go at all.
The truth was that she had just begun to accept that her old home was truly lost to her and it was better that her parents think her dead, but the previous night, peering into the silver blade of Suiguu with that thought in her mind, what she had seen had nearly broken her heart. Her parents were crying over her photograph—a version of herself Youko almost didn't even recognize anymore—and asking no one in particular why their daughter had run away from them.
They deserved to know the truth. They were not to blame, and there was no way they would be able to stop blaming themselves for a false fate until they knew the truth. It was the least she owed them for having raised her for all those years—a daughter they never should have had in the first place – and bringing them such grief.
It was for this reason she would go. She had to fulfill her duty as their daughter and pay them this one last respect before she could truly move on as the Queen of Kei. The part of her that was the high school student and subordinate daughter was still holding on to her and holding her back—in this way she could finally break free of that obligation and rule as a native of the Twelve Kingdoms instead of the foreigner taika from Hourai.
She needed this. Her parents needed this. Her country needed this.
Keiki wouldn't understand, so Keiki didn't have to know. Not yet at least.
It was five past noon when Youko Nakigima rang the doorbell to her parents' home, dressed in a long skirt and short sleeved top that were just slightly out of the norm, having been made by the royal seamstresses by direction of Queen Kei (1) a few days before arrival, and carrying a carefully embroidered, slightly bulging purse of silk with the royal insignia upon the flap. Keiki accompanied her in what would have to pass as a pair of khaki pants and a blue t-shirt. She was not unaware of the stares that she was receiving from the neighbors who had known her as a child, but she pretended as if she were.
It was her mother that answered the door, and it seemed almost an eternity before any words were spoken.
"Youko? Is that really you?" Youko could only nod. She'd not been quite prepared for the rush of emotion that found her when her mother finally stood before her again. She settled for running up and giving her mother a hug while Keiki watched awkwardly in the background.
Finally finding her words, she said "Mother, there is much I need to talk to you about." It was possibly the first time her mother actually took note of the man standing behind her daughter. The presence of an unknown person shook the formality back into her just enough to offer the man and her re-discovered daughter to come into the house. Youko bowed and walked inside, taking off her shoes in the entryway and indicating Keiki to do so as well.
The house had not changed since she had left it, Youko noticed with nostalgia. The walls were the same color of washed-out yellow, the same oak furniture embellished the living room and hallways, and the same cherry wood table and chairs adorned the dining room, covered in a dainty white lace tablecloth. Youko wondered briefly if her room was still the same, although she knew it probably would be since she had seen it but a week ago in Suiguu's reflection. She found she missed the simplicity of her old life, although it was a sort of regret similar to that of an adult reminiscing for the days of recess and freedom—a fond memory but something that was too far behind them to ever even think of returning to it.
It was then that she became aware of Keiki glaring at her in his usual passive way again—no doubt he had already figured out what his Queen's true purpose was in Hourai and was feeling slighted because she had not informed him. He could really be quite childish sometimes.
"Keiki, I understand what you are feeling, but this is something that I need to do. Will you please trust me?" Although the Kirin continued to pout, he nodded his assent. Smiling, she thanked him.
"Youko, who is this man?" her mother asked her, looking at her with a combination of reproach and joy. The question took Youko by surprise—she'd almost forgotten about Japanese etiquette and, for a lack of a better word, indirectness. Of course her mother would ask about Keiki before asking why her daughter had suddenly shown up at her door after four years of supposed death. She almost laughed at the thought.
"I'll explain everything shortly, mother. Is father home?"
"Yes. He's up in the study."
"I see. You should ask him to come down here. I will wait in the living room." Her mother seemed taken aback by the response that was so unlike the daughter she had known, but she nodded politely and walked silently up the carpeted stairs to do as she had been told. Youko led Keiki into the living room and told him to take a seat on the couch.
"Please explain yourself, your Majesty," he requested, scolding her in his own polite and subtle way.
"Keiki, I need closure and this is the only way I'll ever be able to get it. You know as well as I do that I've never been able to let go of my home and family in Hourai, and until I face that and properly say goodbye to them, I don't think I will be an effective ruler. I need to devote myself to Kei, and instead I've been devoting myself to fantasies that can never be true. Do you see now, Keiki? I've not abandoned my kingdom. I'm letting myself move away from this," she said, gesturing with her arms at the room around her, though the words implied a more broad statement that encompassed everything she had been. "I belong to Kei now, and I can't afford any more setbacks. If I want my kingdom to live to see a peace like En's then I need to stop thinking about the might-have-beens."
"…You are a wise ruler indeed. I thank Tentei for his wisdom." She found herself smiling a little despite herself at the comment. Although she may have heard it many times, it was always a compliment coming from her Kirin.
Once her father entered the room and greetings and introductions were made, Youko began to tell her parents just what had happened to their little girl.
"I know what I am about to say will sound crazy, and you may not believe me, but what I speak is the truth. Once I have told my story and answered your questions, it will be your decision to believe me or not. Much has happened to me since I left you, and once I am done here I will leave again. I do not know if I will have the opportunity to return again."
"But Youko, dear—"
"Mother, please listen to me now. I will explain everything as well as I can." Her mother nodded, too astonished to manage words.
"I don't know what the school told you about my disappearance, but no doubt there were reports of a giant bird, exploding windows, and a strange man dressed in foreign garb. The man that day was Keiki, and the birds were Koucho—a creature from another world," Youko began her story, telling her parents of the battle at the school, why Keiki had said he had come (making certain to indirectly berate the Kirin for his poor explanation of things at the time without ever saying a word to him—a task she had grown quite talented at), how Sugimoto, Asano, and herself had been taken in through a Shouko to the world beyond this, and how she had been attacked. From there she skipped through many of her adventures and confrontations, not wanting to distress her parents any more than necessary.
She told them how she had been helped by a man called Rakushun (conveniently leaving out that he was a hanjuu, that she was being hunted at the time, and that she only accepted the help because she was starving and had been stabbed through her hand by a crazy Sugimoto) lost and stayed with , traveled with a Shusei troop, and stayed with a teacher there named Hekirakujin, who had been transported to the other world by a sort of uncontrolled worm hole over thirty years earlier. Hearing herself say these things made her realize even more fully how odd her story was. She laughed silently at herself for thinking it, never pausing in her tale.
Next she told of how she had found out that she was royalty and her meeting with Shouryuu, the King of En (again leaving out the fight with the youma) and how he, his Kirin Rokuta, and Rakushun had all helped her retake the throne from the former Kei queen's sister, Lady Jyoei. From there it was a skip and dodge game to tell them of her jobs in the court, discovering corrupt officials in Kei, and meeting Princess Shokai, Suzu, and many others that she had come to trust and rely on in Kei.
The hardest part was not telling them that Asano had shown up on the wrong side of the fight and had later died trying to help her. They wouldn't understand what it had been like for him and they might feel inclined to tell his parents what had happened—something she thought Asano would feel ashamed about. For his sake she pretended as if she was still looking for him.
Her story told, Youko folded her hands on her lap and settled gracefully back into the folds of the floral patterned couch upon which she sat.
Silence followed for some minutes, during which Youko was sure that her attempt at a calm exterior was being thwarted by her racing heart—she was more anxious now than she had been since her first day in the court for morning council. The rushing of her blood in her ears made something in her scream to just start laughing and pretend it was all a joke and then have Keiki erase their memories or something to take back what she had just said and avoid this encounter all together. It was a voice that had been nagging at her since she was a small child; nervous and needing a way out so as to avoid upsetting anyone, wanting more than anything else to fit in. The stronger person she had become scolded her timid self for saying such things and pushed the voice back into the recesses of her mind, where the whispers remained but were less tempting then before.
Keiki looked sideways at her, conveying wordlessly and expressionlessly that he would help her if she needed it. She nodded back almost imperceptibly, thanking him but saying, just as silently, "not yet."
Finally her father spoke. "What you say is impossible to believe, and yet it's far too detailed and farfetched for you to have made up—I want to believe you, Youko, but…"
"It is too difficult without proof?" she supplemented. Her parents nodded back at her in a way that Youko was a little disappointed to note as wariness. "My sword," she stated, pulling a full length sheath out from the inside waistband of her skirt. She grimaced inwardly at the slight recoil of her parents at the move. "I've learned through experience that it is best to have it on me at all times. The few times I've left it behind… I've wished I had not. I shall show you my kingdom in the reflection of Suiguu. The very fact that this sword can show anything but your own reflections must be of at least some assurance, I think." Drawing the blade, she concentrated on the image she wanted to show and turned the reflection over to the sight of her parents, who were holding hands tightly as they gazed on.
The castle was first, brightly colored roof and pillars and green trees accented by the falling pink and white cherry blossoms that flurried around in the reflection, betraying the otherwise unseen breeze. Ripples flowed through the breathtaking scene, dissolving to show the throne of Sekishi, full of the court members, just beginning the evening council and being directed by the formally dressed, serious looking Shokai, who seemed to be addressing the problem of high taxes in various prefectures of Kei. Next she showed various crop fields, store houses, and town squares before letting the blue light fade from her blade, bringing the reflection back to her parents, whom the blade seemed inclined to show looking just slightly more convinced than the corporeal forms sitting in the tan couch across from her.
After sheathing the sword and handing it wordlessly to Keiki, who took it and held it gently across his lap, she took her purse from her side and drew out one of her smaller crowns that she had taken with her, along with several silver and gold hairpins with precious gems dangling brightly from the ends. "This is one of my crowns." She explained, laying it out on the coffee table between her parents and herself. So common a furnishing was immediately made to look like an insufficient cardboard box compared to the riches placed on it.
Her mother reached out a tentative hand, caressing the gold leafing of one of the hair pieces, the reflected lights casting rainbows across her face.
"You make a convincing argument, daughter," her father said, visibly recalling the small innocent baby he remembered so strongly. What had happened to that girl over the years? "I… believe you. But Youko, if all this is true, why did you never bother to contact us before now? Why? Why did you abandon us like you did? Was it a punishment for our inattentiveness?" Sekishi was taken aback by the abruptness of the plea. She had not thought of this before—always she had thought that they would see it as her abandonment of them, her going rogue as it were, and forsaking all their teachings. Never had she thought they blamed themselves like that. It shook her.
"No..No of course not! I was busy and… and there was trying to get the council to listen to me and bringing stability and… and… truth be told I was a little scared. I thought… I thought you would hate me. I didn't want to face you." The truth of her statement surprised her and flustered her enough for her to drop her Kei-ou countenance. Here she was no queen, she was a daughter coming home and trying to explain why she had left them for so long.
All tension was broken.
Her mother begun to cry, Youko found herself suddenly on the other side of the room hugging both parents as her dad rubbed her back in a sort of bewildered awareness, while Keiki politely averted his eyes from the tears of his Queen.
It was well past midnight before either parent nor child betrayed any sign of fatigue, finally ending the conversation about what Youko's living conditions were like in Kei—both in and outside the palace (her parents seemed slightly worried about the lack of any technology and the safety of their daughter in such places but relented after being told that with so many servants she was never even slightly inconvenienced).
It was Keiki's worried suggestion that "Perhaps Her Majesty should get some sleep?" At that the family reluctantly bade their goodnights. Keiki was offered the guest room while Youko was bade to retire to her own room, which made her smile. She was right—they hadn't changed a thing about it. It was odd to be back in her old room again. She stayed awake for several hours, crouching by her book shelf, rummaging through her desk and looking through the contents of her closet. These were the items of her old life, and here they would stay.
Once she was certain her parents were asleep, Sekishi crept out from her old room with her backpack, leaving her purse and a note on the bed behind her as she left to find Keiki, who was also still awake and apparently waiting for her to come get him. She smiled softly and waved for him to follow her.
They did not speak to each other until they had reached the pier, the same place that she had left from all those years ago. "I'm glad that I could finally say goodbye to them and explain things to them. Thank you Keiki."
"We could take them back to the palace. If you made them senin they could communicate here and you'd not have to leave them."
"I know that, Keiki. And I did consider it, however that was not the purpose of this trip." Keiki raised an eyebrow at her. "I needed closure. To move on from all of this," she said, gesturing openly to the sea before her and the city lights beyond, indicating Japan and this world as a whole, "and to finally become fully a part of Kei. Any story I had here has now been concluded, and it's time I moved on. Come on Keiki. Let's go home."
The waters swirled up and around her as she rode on the back of her snow-white Kirin. Japan faded behind her and the star shaped land of her world rose out before her in welcome.
She was a butterfly, leaving her dry and fragile cocoon behind her as she fled to fulfill her destiny.
When her parents woke the next day to look for her, they would find a crown, several fine hair pins and jade combs, and a note that would read:
No matter which world I am in, you are the best parents I could ever ask for, and you have loved me and protected me from so much. I hope I can watch over and protect Kei as you have done me. I will always remember you, but now it is time for me to move forward in my life.
Please, move on with yours as well, knowing that I am fine, and that I am happy.
This butterfly has finally spread her wings to fly.
(1): During this story I will be doing much name switching—I will call Youko Youko, Sekishi, Queen Kei, and Kei-ou throughout. There is method to this madness—where as Youko is her parent's daughter, Sekishi is her new found self, Queen Kei is to bring to mind her duty to her kingdom and her people and her embodiment of their needs, and Kei-ou is the powerful ruler of a rising country. The different names carry different roles and different meanings to them, and so they are used accordingly.
A/N: in case you read closing notes and not opening notes, I ask again: Please read A Trip to Kei as well and tell me how I've improved. Of course, this is not a prerequisite for reviewing, as I need reviews from anyone that can spare the three seconds to show they read this fic and liked/disliked/hated/loved this fic. Reviews keep me alive, and you don't want to be responsible for my death now do you?
Another little concluding note on why I did this story in the first place: I believe that there comes a time in everyone's life where they have to make a major transformation and break away from their old life. In the case of Youko/Sekishi it is an obvious split between Youko and Kei-ou. In most lives it isn't like this, but I find that I for one have had a difficult time making the transition between kid and adult, and it is this sort of ceremonial type of leaving behind your old life and moving on to the next that I wanted to exaggerate for that precise point. I hope that in this fic I managed to achieve both some closure for Youko as well as having the dual meanings of a transformation from girl to Woman.
So yes, this was a sort of Coming-of-Age fic for me as well as for Youko. I hope you enjoyed it.