It had now been five hours since Rintaro and Akiji and hopped into the small aircraft and had started pedaling. They were quite happy to discover the owner of the rice farm had afforded to buy a pretty advanced airship, as it was not only fueled by man power, but also by the deusexmachinium rocks, which helped reduce the effort by a pretty significant margin and also make the trip much faster than on a more common ride.
In front of them lied Gêmukyo. Johsei’s capital was huge and separated into three distinct areas. The commonner’s quarter was the biggest of the three, with a very anarchic structure. Buildings were placed at random and sometimes even piled on top of others just so they could be near the useful roads. The whole quarter wasn’t the safest place to live in, as it was one of the more lively in the whole country, thus one where crime was more than common.
The second part of the capital was separated from the first by a fairly conveniently placed river. The richer people and most nobles lived there. Rintaro hated this part of town, as everyone tended to look at people like him with disrespect. And since he didn’t take the time to change shirts, he knew the following hour or so would be less than pleasant, as he was pretty sure they’d take him for a drunken homeless beayern, or something. If only they knew he came here to get an audience with Yukito Sasaki, they’d fearfully respect the old man.
And finally, located much farther than the rest, rested the imperial palace. The path that lead to it was pretty hard, as it implied going up a painfully high hill, but that was the founding emperor’s intent, so that the ennemy would be tired before even trying to bang at its huge doors. To make matters worse, the palace was surrounded by a huge wall filled with hundreds of arrow-happy soldiers who didn’t like seeing groups of more than ten people, as recent rumors told of an upcoming coup d’etat, which did make the emperor quite nervous and paranoid. Then again, if it were true and someone did want to bring the self-centered nutjob down from his throne, this country would be quite well off, thought Rintaro.
In any case, approaching the palace with an aircraft, even as small as the one he and Akiji were in, would be seen as a death wish, so maybe it was best if they stayed as far from it as possible and land on the nobles’ airport, as close to the river as possible. This sounded like a more reasonnable plan.
After landing at the airport intended for the nobles and wandering around the city feeling lost, Rintaro and Akiji finally made it in front of the Sasaki mansion. It wasn’t as big as the surrounding houses, far from it, but something about it made the place feel more eerie. Rintaro couldn’t figure out what, yet he could feel something.
Panting, the grocer walked towards the guards, who naturally blocked his path. “Evening, boys. I need…” He seethed, feeling pain on his side. “Oh damn… I need to see Master Yukito… It’s really urgent.”
One of the guards raised his brow at the sight of the old man’s ripped sleeve. “Yeah right, Grandad. If you need to settle a score, better hire some smaller fry… Unless you’re loaded, cause if so, then we can talk… Though not with Yukito.”
Rintaro sighed. He knew he’d get rejected. “Now listen…” He took the bloodied pin the raion gave him and showed it to the guard, whose eyes widened. “I must see Yukito immediately. It’s about his son… He’s in grave danger and ’tis a matter of life or death now !”
The guard felt utmost terror. “But… B-b-b-b-b-but why didn’t you say so earlier !? Quick ! Come with me.”
The guard opened the huge door leading to the mansion and made the two men enter.
In a less than reassured fashion, they went through the courtyard up to the mansion’s main door. There were about twenty or so men and women wearing black clothes looking at the intruders with wary eyes.
The men’s guide knocked at the door and were greeted by a raion in black, wearing a costume quite different from Yukito’s other minions. It seemed as if she ranked higher in the hierarchy. “Yes, Kentaro ?”
“Master Fukuyo ! These two men came here with pretty bad news. We must see Master Yukito as fast as we can.” The raion lifted a suspicious brow. “It’s about Master Ryû !”
“Oh.” She saw the old man’s ripped sleeve. “Come with me. I’ll immediately lead you to him.”
Rintaro swallowed. Never had he imagined he’d enter one of the most powerful men of the Johsei’s underground realm’s mansion.
To his surprise, the interior looked like no other Johseian home. Here, the stairs were made out of marble and occupied most of the visible space. There were doors everywhere, to the point it’d be a miracle if a newcomer found the room he’d be looking for on the first try. The walls looked like they were built with some pretty solid material, which didn’t feel that sensible of a choice, given the country did know some pretty violent earthquakes. Then again, given the last one happened in the previous century, maybe Yukito wouldn’t experience one during his lifetime. In which case he’d be quite lucky.
The raion rushed up the stairs, closely followed by the konijin. The old beayern desperately tried to keep up, but only felt guilty of making the others wait for him.
Once upstairs, they went to the third door on the right.
The raion gently knocked.
“Master Yukito. You have visitors. It’s very important.”
It didn’t take more than ten seconds for the door to get wide open. A hundini with dark blond fur, black and grey semi-long hair and noticeable bags under his dark eyes looked at the woman, who wispered. “It’s about Ryû.”
The hundini’s face went from foul to worried the instant he saw the old beayern’s torn sleeve.
He told the group to enter. The room was empty, with the exception of a scroll lying on the ground and cushions next to the wall. Another cushion stood at the center, slightly crushed. Yukito discreetly closed the door, then turned around. He talked in a soft, yet perceptibly nervous voice. “What happened to him !?”
Rintaro decided to speak. “Master Sasaki, your son is in our village’s clinic. He and two bodyguards arrived covered in blood. The details aren’t known why, but my guess is that they fell victim to an ambush.”
Utmost terror could be seen on the father’s face. “He isn’t…”
“No, rest assured. That said, his status is pretty…” Rintaro had to find the correct term. “Worrying. I didn’t dawdle to know more before taking the fastest airship to come here, but from what I could see, his head’s been pretty badly injured.”
Yukito listened to the tale, horrified, his eyes staring at the void. He then looked at the closed door and whispered. “Chikayo mustn’t know…” He turned at the raion. “Fukuyo. Tell my wife I need to run an errand. Improvise something believable, whatever, but make sure she doesn’t hear about any of this. And gather twenty of the troops. We’re leaving in five minutes.” He then looked at the villagers. “You. Where are you from ?”
Rintaro jumped. “Shiba, sir.”
Yukito focused for a couple of seconds. Then his face darkened. “I very well see where it is… Wait for me in the courtyard. You’ll embark with me and my people in my airship. It’s one of the fastest out there, so we should be there in less than three hours.”
The hundini opened the door , inviting the villagers to leave before abruptly closing it.
The raion made a small gesture. “Follow me. We’re going to the courtyard.”
As he carefully went down the marble staircase, Rintaro heard a door open and saw Yukito rush towards another room of which he slammed the door shut. Never had the old beayern imagined he’d meet this man… And never did he think he’d see him like this.