Sano had managed successful meditative communication perhaps twice before, and each time had been so pleased and excited at getting it right, he’d spoiled his own concentration and broken the connection. So he had only an imprecise idea of what it was like — but that idea yet allowed him to recognize where he was now.
Well, not ‘where.’ He was nowhere, and if he tried to focus on the nonexistent background that seemed to be comprised of pure mood, he felt everything around him start to waver as if his attention threatened the very existence of the universe. Physical sensations were vague too. The feelings of walking, of breathing, of an itch on his face and the pull of gravity, were washed out and seemed to fade somewhat whenever he didn’t specifically think about them. If he remembered correctly from Seijuurou’s lectures, this was due to his mind fabricating them to accompany the false physicality of his spiritual manifestation; he wasn’t actually experiencing anything of the sort.
Beneath these fake sensations were the real ones, the ones his body actually felt: he could just barely make out the hard floor of Seijuurou’s house, the somewhat uncomfortable position in which he lay on it, and the soreness in the back of his skull. But he knew if he sought after that too energetically, he would wake himself up. Instead, he looked around for his trainer and the knight. And the moment he did, their voices reached him.
“Who are you? Where’s the boy?”
“The boy is somewhere about, probably. He’s incapable of maintaining a meditative state, so he put you in more qualified hands.”
Once Sano had heard them, it was simple enough to locate the visual aspect of their manifestations. Seijuurou appeared mostly as he did in life, with just a touch of greater presence, shinier musculature where his skin showed, and more eye-grabbing beauty here than there to set this manifestation apart from reality. The stranger wore his royal knight’s shiiya again, implying that his membership in that organization was a crucial part of his identity — crucial enough to overcome the knowledge Seijuurou and Sano had that he was currently topless, which would otherwise have forced him to appear here as they knew he did in outer life.
“The real question is, who are you?” Seijuurou was asking. “And what quest was so important you had to drive yourself into a coma for it?”
The knight seemed suspicious and a little irritated. “Why should I answer your questions when I have no idea who you are?”
At this point Sano broke into the conversation with, “Hey, what’s the big fucking idea hitting me on the head like that?”
Seijuurou barely turned to look at him with the comment, “There you are.” His succinct answer to the question was, “The off chance it would get you here, of course.”
“‘The off chance??'” echoed Sano, irate.
“I wanted to see this anomaly for myself,” Seijuurou explained placidly. “I knew your energy runs wild when you’re unconscious, but even I couldn’t have predicted this.”
The knight, who had been studying Sano with a somewhat skeptical expression, now gestured to him and asked Seijuurou, “Who is this idiot?”
Anger transferring immediately from his master to the knight, Sano raised a fist at the man and said, “‘This idiot’ just saved your life, you ungrateful asshole!”
“You didn’t save his life,” Seijuurou corrected him. “People don’t wake up from warrior’s comas. This idiot,” he went on, turning back to the knight and mimicking the latter’s gesture toward Sano, “is my latest worthless student. I assume my previous worthless student sent you to find me because he’s messed things up again.”
“Then you are Seijuurou,” stated the knight.
“Obviously.” Seijuurou’s eyes sparkled as he said this, something more than a figure of speech when the eyes in question were no more than a manifestation of a very arrogant spirit.
Sano rolled his own eyes. “Sounds like you two are gonna get along.”
“Oh, I’m sure we will.” Seijuurou flashed a suggestive smile at the knight, who looked away in annoyance. The keonmaster’s face returned to its previous serious expression as he went on to ask, “So what kind of foolishness is going on in Elotica?”
“The king has been usurped,” replied the knight, still not looking at Seijuurou.
The latter folded his arms and said flatly, “Predictable. By whom?”
Sano snorted quietly at the implication that Seijuurou had seen this coming. If the country were to be overrun by giant hedgehogs for whose nourishment worms began raining from the sky, Seijuurou would claim he’d seen it coming.
The knight, unfamiliar with Seijuurou’s ways, simply answered the question seriously. “A prince of Gontamei, of course. We knew there was some sort of conspiracy, but we hadn’t been able to pinpoint the powers behind it, and the king didn’t want random arrests.”
“He always has been too soft,” Seijuurou nodded. Sano, despite having just been reflecting on his master’s pretense of omniscience, was a little startled at the knowing tone. Was it possible Seijuurou really was familiar with the king? “Foolish boy’s probably gotten himself in trouble again…” he’d said before. Did that mean…?
“Yes,” the knight was agreeing a little helplessly. “The best I could do was stay at his side as much as possible and keep my eyes open. That wasn’t enough, but at least I was present when it happened.” He shifted slightly, and all of a sudden Sano was seeing his memories.
The knight had been sitting in some room in the royal palace — a sunlit, mural-decorated chamber larger than Sano’s entire house — in a carved chair probably worth more than everything Sano owned put together, reading something. From the awareness in the memory Sano got the vague impression that the room’s original purpose had been as a sort of morning lounge, for a great, intricately-worked bay window looked east over a fine courtyard, but these days it was used as an office. Shelves full of books and papers lined the walls, hiding great chunks of the murals, and much of the remaining floor space was occupied by a large table at which the king sat.
Sano had never seen the king, nor, as he cared little about him, wondered what he might look like, but couldn’t help some surprise at the image the memory presented: he seemed remarkably short and small, though his arms where the sleeves of his shining royal shiiya fell from them were tan and toned. His hair was strikingly red, unusual among Akomerashou, the scar on his left cheek nearly the same color.
King Kenshin and his knight had evidently just finished a brief conversation and fallen silent, and now footsteps could be heard outside in the hallway. The knight seemed to tense at the sound, but before he could do more than rise from his seat, the doors had burst open. Several men entered, carrying drawn swords and clad in royal knight shiiyao that bore the crest of the other royal family, Gontamei.
When six of them had fallen into lines of three on either side of a path from the door to Kenshin’s table, another person appeared. Like the king he wore a shining royal shiiya, and he was followed by two more armed men. By this time, the king’s knight had, of course, approached to stand protectively beside his liege, keon sword drawn and the energy blade bright and long.
The Gontamei prince, who looked to be no older than Sano, raised a hand in a cheerful wave as he stopped in front of Kenshin’s table, and, smiling brightly, said, “Good morning, highness!”
“Good morning, Soujirou,” replied the king, who still held the papers he’d been drawing up as if this were nothing more than a temporary interruption. “From the looks of things, you have grown tired of waiting.”
Soujirou, still smiling, placed a hand on the table and leaned forward to peer at what the king was working on. “I do beg your pardon,” he said. “But you must be aware of what a weak king you are… this was inevitable.”
“Well,” replied Kenshin, tapping the stack of papers against the desk to straighten them and then setting them down on a nearby pile, “that may be true. Will you be killing me, then?”
“Oh, no!” Soujirou protested, raising his hands as if to ward off the suggestion. “Kill a prince of Baranor’mei? No!” He almost seemed to be laughing at the idea. “You will be my honored guest until I decide where to send you.”
Kenshin nodded, pushed back his chair, and stood. “Then I will surrender for now.”
At a gesture from the prince, Soujirou’s men began making their way around the table to lay hands on the king; at the same time, Kenshin turned to the knight at his side and said something so brief and quiet that, despite this being the knight’s own memory and the knight presumably having understood the words, Sano didn’t catch it. Then the scene abruptly faded.
Sano shook his head to clear the lingering images of the memory from his vision, and demanded as soon as he could, “What was that? He surrendered without even a fight?? There were two of you! And isn’t the king supposed to be this great swordsman?”
The knight also shook his head. “Ever since the Refugee Issue,” he explained, “the king only wears an empty sheath. It’s supposed to be a symbol of peace. He probably didn’t want to risk my life by essentially asking me to take on all nine of them by myself.”
“Thereby rendering your presence there entirely purposeless,” remarked Seijuurou.
“Or maybe he has something in mind that I can’t guess.” The knight sounded confused and perhaps a little bitter as he added, “All he said was, ‘Find Seijuurou.'”
“I can’t imagine why,” Seijuurou said.
The knight definitely sounded bitter as he muttered, “I’m beginning to agree with you.”
“How did you know where to find him?” Sano asked.
“The king has mentioned his mentor to me many times, as well as where he lives,” said the knight with a slight sigh. “But since there was a good chance others in the court knew as well, I thought it would be best to come as soon as possible.”
“And put yourself into a coma,” Seijuurou added critically.
Annoyed and possibly somewhat discouraged, the knight again looked away for a moment before continuing. “Soujirou sent half of his men away with the king; I have no idea where they might have gone. Then he tried to convince me to join him. I think my reply was more eloquent than his offer.”
Sano got a brief image of the knight kicking the entire large, heavy, book-and-paper-covered table over in Soujirou’s face, then jumping through the glass of the bay window into one of the trees in the courtyard below, and couldn’t help being rather amused and somewhat impressed at the drama and decisiveness of the knight’s ‘reply.’ That explained all the little cuts on his arms, too.
“They weren’t able to pursue me immediately,” the knight went on, “and Soujirou doesn’t know about the King’s Flight, so escape from the palace wasn’t difficult. Getting out of the city wasn’t either, though Soujirou’s takeover seems to have been coordinated across Elotica and many areas were already openly under his control.”
“Yeah, sounds like it was all real easy,” Sano said sarcastically, then asked in genuine curiosity, “What’s a King’s Flight?”
The knight showed him a quick memory of a long, narrow spiral staircase, completely dark but for the light of the energy on his keonblade, as he answered, “The hidden exit from the palace.”
“When did this all happen?” asked Seijuurou.
Pensively the knight said, “What day is it now?”
“Kahyou.” Seijuurou, for all he lived like a country hermit, always used the terms of the new calendar… which was probably for the best when talking to a knight from the capital.
“Three days ago, then,” the knight said.
“Three days?” Sano repeated in loud incredulity. “How in Kaoru’s name did you get up here so fast?”
“Soujirou sent at least two groups of men after me, so I didn’t feel I could afford to stop anywhere for long. I was able to change horses a few times along the way, so I traveled almost without rest.” A string of very brief images flashed past Sano’s awareness as the knight spoke. It seemed he had lost his pursuers, then been overtaken by them, twice, and blows had been exchanged both times. In the second instance, when the forest landscape surrounding him in the memory had become quite familiar to Sano, he had been unseated and wounded and had barely escaped.
“Which is why you’re now in a coma,” Seijuurou finished for him.
“A fact I don’t need to be reminded of again,” said the knight tightly.
“‘At least two groups?'” wondered Sano. “You must be pretty damn import–” And abruptly he cut his own words short as a thought occurred to him. “Wait… how far did they follow you? Did they know where you were going?”
“It’s not unlikely; I lost them on Torosa.”
Of course; otherwise the knight wouldn’t have been able to make it as far as that crossroads before collapsing after being wounded. That was why that last remembered image had looked so familiar to Sano. He swore, suddenly tense. “They’re gonna come looking for you in Eloma and hear I had you there last night!”
“Even if they track him here, are you really worried?” Seijuurou wondered skeptically.
“Not about us,” was Sano’s impatient reply. “What they might do over there if they can’t find him!” He gestured wildly, probably in entirely the wrong direction, trying to indicate his village and his friends that might even now be in danger. In this communicative unreality, he was undoubtedly projecting images of Eloma and the people there far better than he could indicate those concepts even in words.
“And what do you think there is to be done about that?” The knight’s tone was as skeptical as Seijuurou’s, but with a touch more derision. “Aren’t you unconscious?”
Sano rounded on him angrily. “At least I’m gonna wake up sometime!”
“To the world’s great benefit, I’m sure,” the knight responded dryly.
With a snort, Sano turned back to his master. “Seijuurou! Wake me up already!” he commanded, reaching out to pull at a long lock of Seijuurou’s shining black hair to make absolutely certain he had his attention.
“And how do you propose I do that?” Seijuurou said disinterestedly as he disengaged Sano’s hand and smoothed his hair back into place.
“I don’t care; just do it!” Sano insisted.
Seijuurou gave a brief smirk that had an unpleasantly suggestive edge to it, then abruptly vanished from the mindscape. Sano barely had time to notice the different aura the non-place took on once Seijuurou’s presence and mood were removed from it before he felt… something else. It was a real sensation, something happening to his actual body out there in the real world, not one of these things his head was supplying to add verisimilitude to the experience of manifesting via spiritual energy. As Sano realized exactly what it was, his eyes went wide and he felt a blush creeping over his face. Seijuurou was really unbelievable. With this knight here and everything!
But at least it worked. It wasn’t a sensation he could easily ignore, after all. The skeptical look the knight was giving him, as well as the knight himself and all lingering images from the memories they’d shared, were fading abruptly as Sano found himself racing toward consciousness again.
This palace mural, obviously, depicts Tomoe, the divine lady of death, who is often referred to as “the veiled one” or “she of hidden intent” because of the mystery that death represents to humans.