After dinner they bathed separately and then went to bed, ostensibly... in reality, Yuka was just waiting for the time when the guards became easy enough to relax their vigilance. She very subtly and very quietly shook Kaname awake when she deemed it was safe enough and signaled him to keep quiet. He didn't quite roll his eyes at her but it was kind of clear that he wanted to. Still, he did go along gamely enough when she smiled and pointed toward the wooden screen door that led out to his private courtyard.
Yuka closed her eyes and searched within herself, searching for that feeling within her that was scented of a rain-soaked forest. When she "felt' it she pushed at it, making it swell up within her. Then, listening to the sound and feeling the feel of the wood around her, she used the power within her to resonate with the voices of the wood, blending herself into them so that she was indistinguishable from the rest, then she pushed that resonance outward just a little bit to envelope Kaname as well. The two of them walked past the two somewhat sleepy guards posted at the walls of the back garden without a whisper of sound or even the slightest hint of their being noticed. She boosted him up over the wall and he scrambled over and dropped down to the other side with a slight noise that made her freeze for a moment to see if the guards took notice. They didn't, so Yuka pulled her concentration in again, this time on her air reishin and "wind-hopped" up over the wall, vaulting with supernatural ease over the top and landing lightly on the other side like a leaf drifting down to the forest floor. The two of them made thier way out to the open area they had found earlier to relax in.
The open round meadow was bathed in the silver-white glow of the moon, its diamond-light lambency painting the world in sharply contrasting shadows and brightness. The slight breeze ruffled the long grasses in the field as Yuka perched herself on a rock and Kaname stood in front of it.
"Hey! What are you doing?!" Yuka cried, aghast in shocked modesty as Kaname suddenly started to strip down to his skin.
"If I transform when I'm wearing clothes, they get all ripped up," he replied with perfect equanimity. "The first time I transformed, Gyousou-sama had to loan me his cloak to cover up with."
"Oh..." Yuka said.
kaname stood for a long moment with his eyes closed, then there came a rush of sourceless wind and Yuka's eyes slid automatically to the side as if there were no way to be able to look directly at that particular spot at that time. When she flicked her eyes back, there stood before her a most beautiful creature. He was slightly smaller than a full-sized horse, but larger than a deer, his mane was pale moonglow with sparks coming off from it like flickering embers from a fire stirred by the wind and the rest of his coat was the shiney grey-black of hemetite, his hooves shone silver. Sadly her seemed to be missing one of the kirin's most important features, for in the place where his horn should have crowned his forehead, there was nothing but a small, broken nub. Yuka had seen enough kirin's to know what the horn should have looked like; more like a deer-antler than the perfectly straight spiral spoken of in most myths about unicorns, a beacon-like peice of magic made manifest that shone with a magical gold-white luminance like solid sunligt, instead all that was there was a stub that gleamed weakly with a sickly-pale glow. Still, for all of his missing horn, there was no denying that he was still a majestic form.
"So beautiful," Yuka breathed, happy and a little awed at the sight.
She had always been a big fan of fantasy stories even since she'd been a little girl, so having an actual creature from out of myth and legend standing right before her made her happy in a lot of ways. She loved him when he was simply her friend Kaname, tucking the thought that he was not human at all in the back of her mind and simply treating him like a friend, but when he wore his other form she was twice as happy and twice as honored to call him her friend.
Kaname reared up on his hind legs, horn-nub pointing straight into the air and then whirled to dash off to one end of the field, leaping from rock to rock, sparks of magic floating off from him in the wind of his passage, clearly hitting his stride and truly reveling in all that he was for the first time in a very, very long time. Yuka watched on, smiling in delight as he strode powerfully up into the air then hit the ground magnificently, looking like a colt cavorting about in a field playfully. He looked beautiful in the moonlight and Yuka thought that she could be joyful for the rest of her life just watching him be so free. After what probably felt like a lot longer than it was, Kaname returned to where Yuka waited with his clothes, his sides heaving and glistening with sweat. He casually turned back into the form of a nude young man and pulled on his light sleeping yukata, more out of consideration for his friend's lady-like modesty than that he felt the need to cover. They sat in companionable silence for a while, enjoying the feel of the cooling night air while Kaname caught his breath and allowed his body to cool down.
"So, what did you learn about those... that... what do you call it anyway? Are they shirei, like what I have? But I thought only kirin could...?"
"No," Yuka said, quirking her head to one side, trying to think of a way to explain it to him. "They're not the same thing at all, not really. You told me that shirei are youma that a kirin tames by a special spell and their own will and nature. These... um... I guess the closest thing you could call would be like an elemental or a nature spirit or something like that, anyway, they're closer in nature to a hinma I think, except that hinma have a semi-solid form as well as a spirit form. I'm not explaining it very well."
Yuka thought for a moment and then said
"You know when we asked Eishou about how plants are brought to life in the spring inside a seed-pod despite growing from a riboku and he told us about the Spreading?"
"Yes," Kaname replied.
"Well consider this, everything in this world has a spirit-form inside it, even the winds," Yuka said.
The kirin nodded, knowing intrinsically that this was true.
"They are called reishin," he informed her.
"Ah! well think of it like this, if every seed and stone has a reishin too, then when their life is created on the branch of a riboku tree that spirit has to get into it somehow. I think that's what the glowing pool in the cave underneath the riboku tree was, it was a mass of raw spiritual energy, waiting for the physical forms of the bodies it would inhabit to manifest. When I showed up, that spiritual mass must have reacted to my own spirit, I think. The elementals that best suited my nature resonated with me and melded into my spirit once I had come to some determination on what I would be."
"Are they like my shirei? Can you talk to them?"
"Not at all. Think of them more like pieces of my own soul now. They don't have a separate identity like a youma that was already formed into the world with a dominant personality. They can't talk and interact like your shirei do with you, they don't even have anything that remotely resembles a consciousness. The reishin inside of me were unborn, unformed manifestations of elemental power, and when I resonated with them and they melded with my spirit, we became one."
"How do they work?" he asked curiously.
His kirin nature could clearly sense the energy-resonance inside Yuka, and he had been able to ever since she had come back the night before. It wasn't quite like being able to sense another kirin but the feeling of Yuka's spiritual presence had taken on a definite weight to it that hadn't been there before.
"As I understand it," Yuka said. "The reishin have within them all of the elemental properties of the element they are attached to. These properties manifest themselves in me one of two ways... they can enhance or enable to to utilize a special sort of ability that is intrinsic to that element when I choose to summon up my spiritual power, or they can allow me to control other reishin of that element itself, provided that my spiritual presence outweighs the intrinsic spiritual presence of the reishin I'm trying to command."
Kaname blinked in surprise.
"How?" he asked curious and surprised.
"Everything has a reishin," Yuka said. "But within that there are reishin that are more powerful, and reishin that are less powerful. The same way that you can tame a youma by using the power of your personality to make it submit to your will, with time and sufficient spiritual power I'll be able to call on the other reishin that answer to the elements of the reishin inside of me and make them answer to my command..."
Yuka paused for a moment, then added
"It's sort of like having two aspects to thier use, one where I concentrate my spiritual power inward, enhancing myself," Yuka said. "For example, borrowing speed from the wind to use wind-step, that's that blurring run that looks like shunpo from Bleach-"
Kaname made a face at her for the otaku refference.
"And then one where I push my spiritual power outward, trying to command the elemental reishin around me. Each of these take thier own tithe in spiritual power, but out of the two of them, pushing outward requires a lot more power. It exacts a cost from me in terms of my own spiritual energy, these reishin are part of my spirit but in order to sustain them they require a tithe of energy, rather a lot like a baby inside the womb of a pregnant woman needing food from its mother. Using wind-step to move around is more tiring than running would be. However, manifesting the elemental power of my wind reishin to make the other wind-reishin bow to my command in order for me to shape the wind is much much more tiring. It is an ability that I don't have the strength to use just yet."
"Can you call them out like I can Gouran?" Kaname asked next. "I mean, make them manifest themselves in the physical world."
"No..." Yuka hesitated. "I'm not sure it's even possible. I can use their intrinsic properties, but it'll take time and a lot of work before I can depend on them for regular use. Feeding my reishin my own spiritual energy is sort of like packing a snow ball, but in my case there is only a limited amount of "snow" I can use at any one time, I still need energy to live from you see. Once I feed my reishin enough of my spiritual energy to make them grow in size and strength I'll be able to use more of their power for longer periods of time."
"I'm a little envious," Kaname admitted with a small smile.
Yuka smiled a little in return and said
"I'm still weak now, I can only do a little, but to tell you the truth I envy you Kaname."
"You do? Ihy's that?"
"I often wish I had your good heart and ability to trust and believe in people. You always see what best in people's hearts and you are able to accept them and show unwavering kindness, I sometimes wish I were a little more like that."
Kaname opened his mouth, clearly to tell her that she could be if she worked at it but then Yuka added
"Then I remember that I'm me, and even if I'm not Suzie Sunshine all the time, my ability to anticipate the ways my enemies will move has kept me on my feet if not triumphant most of the time. I'm not a kirin, and I'm not a pacifist and i don't think my nature is suited to being either of those things. That's why you're you and I'm me. I think we'll have to work with that. I'll learn some things from you, but I think I can only ever apply them to the way I see the world already."
"I think you sell yourself short sometimes, and you're always so hard on yourself," Kaname said. "I wish you'd let me in a little and tell me who it is that makes you that way. I've known a person with natural ambition, he was the most amazing person, Yuka, far-seeing but compassionate. I know that there is a difference between being ambitious and being driven; and Yuka, you're driven, won't you tell me what's chasing you?"
Yuka stiffened slightly and when she turned to look over at him it was with that face she wore that hid her feelings. She smiled her masking school-smile, all cynical capriciousness as though the thoughts of others couldn't possibly have any affect on her and said
"I just hate to loose."
Kaname sighed a little at what was clearly a half-truth, but decided to let the matter drop. They both laid out flat on their back atop the rock in the middle of the field and looked up at the sea of stars swirling in the skies above them.
"Hey. Yuka," Kaname said hesitantly into the dark. "Do you think we'll find Gyousou-sama? I thought he'd be with his soldiers, fighting to reclaim his throne. He's an amazing man and an amazing soldier, there's no way that he would let a usurper take up his rightful place for so long unless he was somehow incapacitated. What could have happened to him? Where could he be?"
"I've been thinking about that one too," Yuka said a little reluctantly. "I don't know anything about him other than what you've told me, so if you say he's amazing I guess I'll have to take that at face value, although it is kind of hard not to hold his absence against him."
"I truly with that you wouldn't!" Kaname said fervently. "There's no way he would abandon anyone, especially his people. Gyousou-sama loves his kingdom and it's people, he would die for them. There has to be something that is keeping him from reclaiming his place."
"Well anyway, I've been thinking about it and I believe I've come up with a plan to help us find out where he is."
"Really?" Kaname said, amazed.
"Really really," Yuka confirmed. "It's a bit risky, but here it is... If I were a usurper, taking over the rightful throne of a man who was a match for me in brains and skill, I'd sure as hell want to know where that person is every single moment of every day."
"I'm with you so far but that doesn't tell us-"
"Just hear me out," Yuka said. "So, the usurper has to keep him alive but out of the way, hidden somewhere. Eishou-dono and the others all think that the Tower of Penitence in Shin Province is that place, and for a long while so did I but I've been thinking about it some more and now I'm pretty sure that it's not it."
"It's not? but why?"
"Think about it; it's large, it's obvious, it's impenetrable and heavily guarded... it's a decoy. It's gotta be a decoy."
"Eishou-dono says that he and the others have already investigated every single other place that a usurper might keep a king as amazing as Gyousou-sama imprisoned and still have a hope of retaining him," Kaname argued.
"They've been operating in the dark though," Yuka said. "The only way to find out where Ansen is keeping his rival, your king, is to go straight to the source."
Kaname looked over at her in the moonlight, dismayed, but not entirely surprised. He opened his mouth to protest.
"He still holds court at Hakkei Palace," she cut him off. "The imperial palaces are fortresses built to withstand both siege and individual infiltration that is true... I've been in a few of them myself, so I know what I'm talking about. But I won't be rabble rousing, laying siege or trying to sneak in through the sewers or somesuch. I think I've come up with a way that will allow me to walk straight in through the front door."
"I'm listening," Kaname said after a long pause.
"I figure with him being a usurper on the throne, and Tai in the state it's in, Ansen is probably spendthrift and extravagant."
"Ansen was well known for the parties he attended with the former king, whom I have learned was given the internment name "The Extravagant King"."
"Internment name?" Yuka questioned, unfamiliar with the term.
"There are three names that a ruler is given in the course of their reign. the first of course being the name they are known by before they ascend the throne. The second being their regnal name. The third is the name that they are given after they die and are interred in their graves, usually having something to do with the reason they fell."
"Sheesh, what an epitaph," Yuka muttered. "Well any way, if that's true then it's probably to our advantage. I hate having to make assumptions about a person based on rumor without ever having met the man so I can get a read on him, but in this case there's not any other options open. I'll have to assume that this usurper-king is a man who likes his comforts and his entertainments."
"I don't really remember much of him, I only knew him a little while when I was a child, but I guess that's as good a premise to start from as any," Kaname said.
"So, working from that I thought of a way to not only get in to see him but also be accepted into his court. Remember how I told you I had that summer job at the beach-house reading fortunes? Well, I think can use that to my advantage now. I figure I'll use my tarot cards and some props to bill myself as an exotic fore-seer from Hourai, someone who can actually foretell the future. They don't know that there is or is not such a thing in our homeworld and i figure I'll make myself credible by creating something that I will then "foresee" when I get there."
"What if Ansen doesn't think you're the real deal an has you locked up or executed or something?" Kaname pointed out.
"With command of metal and wood reishin, I don't think there's a prison in this world that can hold me in. I'll just have to play the cards that are dealt to me. I think I can do this. Consider this, what is the one thing that a known usurper wants to hear?"
"That he is the real deal and that the other one is a fake who stole his destiny. Once I'm in, this is my hook. I'll use my cards to read his fortune and tell him that the gods or whatever had sent me far from my home to address this grievous imbalance in the Way of Heaven or whatever."
It had worked for her, when Kou-ou had said it, so chances were pretty good that feeding him exactly what he wanted to hear would net her an all access pass to the palace, and from there she was sure she could find some kind of map or document that would tell her where he'd hid that blasted king.
"Then once I have his trust, and I've found out where he's hiding your king I'll communicate it to you and your friends can go rescue him. Once he's free and you're all safe and sound, I'll sneak out and we can all figure out how to take him down."
Yuka had originally thought about using her status as a kaikyouku to pretend that she couldn't understand a single word of the tongue of this world and work through an interpreter while she played the meek and shy maiden, possibly impersonating one of those women from countries that kept their ladies veiled and locked away from the view of men all the time, then she remembered that Ansen was still technically a sage, with a built-in Babel-fich ability, so such a pretense would be wasted on him. All she had was the basics of the idea right then, she'd need to think it over more carefully before she tried anything, but the basics were there and she wanted her kirin-friend's opinion on things first.
"So what do you think?" she asked after a long period of silence.
"I'm not sure what to think," Kaname said honestly. "On one hand it sounds like a good enough plan to work, especially if you're right about the Tower of Penitence not being the place that Ansen is keeping Gyousou-sama. I've heard everyone say that operating in a void of information is just asking for a disaster to occur and they're all really worried about it. But on the other hand, I think this plan is way too risky. You're talking about walking into the lions den all alone and counting on your acting skill to win over a person who's going to have every reason to be suspicious of you. I don't know if that's going to work, I'm too afraid he might decide to kill you and I don't want to take that sort of risk."
"Kaname, you're not taking a risk, I want to do this," Yuka said with earnest pleading. "I don't really have any other job to do since Eishou and his lot have taken you under their wing. Send me in. I can be your ears on the inside. I know I can do this."
"It not whether you can, it's whether you should," Kaname argued, genuinely concerned for her. "Yuka, you could get seriously hurt or even killed."
"I've been in dangerous situations before and I think the advantages are worth the risk," Yuka replied. "I'm the only one with the unique skill-set that will let me pull this off, so I should be the one to go."
Kaname looked at her intense face and it matched his own intense desire to find a way, any way, to get even the smallest scrap of information about his liege. Yuka knew that that was the matter that weighed the heaviest on his heart and mind, and it was only the reason she wanted to go so badly. It was all to ease his suffering at not being near his 'd made an empathic connection with him and she hated to see him suffer, and she'd do anything to ease his mind. In her mind, why else was she here but for that purpose?
Yuka said that there were parts of him she wished she could emulate, well the same could be said in reverse for him, he often envied the way Yuka could decide upon a course of action and follow through with it with such confidence. He could sense that she'd been through things that had shaken her ability to believe in her own convictions, but that her spirit had been strong enough to carry her through it, bruised, battered, but still whole and moving forward without hesitation.
"I'll think about it," he said reluctantly.
Yuka smiled a little trying not to feel too victorious and let the matter rest. She was confident that, in time, Kaname would eventually let her do something to help him out. She couldn't have gotten this far for nothing.