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Chapter Seven

One month had passed since the return of the Suzaku Warriors and their priestess, and Kotsuki was still trying in vain to find some clue about his elder brother and his sister in law.
Much has happened, the most important thing being that the other four out of the seven celestial warriors of Suzaku had all gained both the memories of their past life, as well as the stone. (1)
Hotohori was still missing along with Yuri, although both Chichiri and Mitsukake strongly believed that the two of them would be in Kutou.
Ryoen was the only one who still did not remember, Nuriko was the only one absent.
“I hate this.” Ryoen muttered again. “Being useless because I don’t remember about being Nuriko at all.”
He was sitting with the emperor in Kotsuki’s private library, what was once his brother’s, with Mitsukake and Chiriko at the other end of the room, both absorbed in the book or scroll that they held. The two young men who were talking had become very intimate friends due to their link through Seishuku/Hotohori.
Miaka, Tamahome, Taisuki and Chichiri had left to go to Sairou, to gain the Shinzaho of Byakko, while Chiriko and Mitsukake decided to stay in the palace with Ryoen. They claimed that it was because they would not be that useful to everyone due to the nature of their powers, but Ryoen knew that they did it for his sake.
It had been a week since the others left and Ryoen had to admit, if it wasn’t for Mitsukake and Chiriko then he would have ended up being mad by now. To let everyone go and be in danger…even though Chichiri had reassured him many times that their travelling this time should not be dangerous at all.
But what worried him the most, was Seishuku…Hotohori. It was not just worrying about his brother being in danger, he was also deeply concerned that Seishuku might not wish to be acknowledged as his brother now that he has returned to the world where he had been Hotohori.
The story about how he once competed with Yuri for Hotohori’s affection did not help him at all.
Strange enough, he actually wanted to see Yuri as Nuriko had, because even though Nuriko had been jealous of her, he seemed to have accepted the end of his impossible dream with good grace. Ryoen idolised his brother, so there were times when he was so angry with himself for not approving of his brother’s marriage through his own jealousies.
“Would you really feel useful if you become Nuriko again?” Kotsuki asked softly, when he was in the company of those who trusts, his voice would drop to the quiet whisper that he used most of the time before he became the emperor. “Being powerful but unable to do what you truly want is worse then just being simply hopeless.”
“Is that what you feel?” Ryoen asked.
The young emperor shook his head. “I think that is what my brother felt, to be the emperor as well as a celestial warrior of Suzaku, but is yet unable to…”
Whatever he wanted to say next was halted by the knock on the door. Sighing, the young man draped his elaborate royal robe over the rather simple clothing he had changed into, and raised his voice as he gave permission for the messenger to enter.
It was Chinatsu who had three people beside her, two of them were covered with a rather thick cloak that draped over their whole body, concealing their faces.
The uncloaked person was not a stranger to the palace. He was Rokou, the brother of Nuriko. By chance, Mitsukake and Ryoen had met him when the two of them went to the market. From that day on, Rokou would be a constant visitor in the palace with the goal of making his younger brother remembering him.
Ryoen did not know how he should feel with this man who was his brother when he had been Nuriko. He was very soft spoken and there was a sense of fragility around him, Ryoen felt that he had to be very careful in dealing with him, as he almost shattered when Ryoen failed to recognize him.
“Are…are you that ashamed of me?” the younger man had whispered brokenly.
He was not the same as Seishuku. This was not to say that Seishuku was not a gentle or a quiet man, but Ryoen could recollect many occasions when his brother had been a protective elder brother. Something that Rokou seemed to lack.
“These two are messengers from Kutou.” Chinatsu announced, keeping her eyes on the hem of her skirt instead of facing the emperor, “Or so the guards say.”
“Perhaps they bring news of Hotohori-sama.” Mitsukake said sadly.
“Hotohori-sama?” the suffix was almost spat out by the very familiar voice. “You, Ju-An, are one of my two best friends! Why is it that you refer to me that way just because you regained your memories of our past lives? Are you saying that all our friendships are gone just because of different statuses in the past?”
Angrily, Hotohori yanked the hood of his cloak off to reveal himself, as well as the dark blue clothes that he had on. It looked rather odd on him, as he did not usually wear such colours, even in his life as Seishuku. But in a strange way it was rather fitting.
Beside him, Yuri gently laid her arm over his, understanding the pain and sadness that he felt just by returning to the palace where he had been both prisoner and ruler: the emperor, the most powerful man, but also the weakest man, because he could not do what he truly desires.
Like Hotohori she wore the cloak as a disguise, as neither of them wanted to be recognized on the streets. Although in her case, it would be her clothing that betrays her instead of her appearance.
Yuri had put on the robe of the priestess of Seiryuu, and even wore the headdress in her hair. She could not explain why but she felt that it was appropriate for her to dress this way, even though she was leaving Kutou for the country guarded by Suzaku.
The kingdom that was once Hotohori’s.
Upon seeing the woman whom she had served as a mistress, and whom she loved in the way of the perfect elder sister, Chinatsu immediately knelt down in front of Yuri, as she had done many times.
“Chinatsu…” at the sight of the girl Yuri quickly bend down so she could look at the girl on eye level, knowing the girl she would remain kneeling down for quite some times, even if Yuri told her to get up.
“Mistress…you returned to Konan.” Chinatsu whispered in wonder, now holding the end of Yuri’s gown.
“Not as the empress, only as the priestess of Seiryuu.” Yuri said softly. “So I am no longer you mistress.”
Chinatsu only shook her head and continued to hold onto the fabric even more tightly. “You will always be my mistress, it started ever since the day you saved Chiharu and I from our fate of being the emperor’s unwanted concubines.”
“A fact I wish to forget.” Kotsuki muttered darkly. There had been something almost magical the moment he saw Chinatsu with her twin sister, who he thought to be only the late empress’ maids.
Then he learnt of her true position: a woman that might not be regarded as a worthy bride for him because technically, she had had been another man’s property.
“You…you…it is not as if you even tried to marry me!” Chinatsu whispered sadly. “You…you…” tears appeared in her eyes and she turned to Yuri, to be pulled into a loving embrace.
At this moment Yuri marvelled at the change in Chinatsu, no doubt she also reflected Chiharu’s changes. When she left the two of them were only fourteen, two young girls instead of two women.
Chinatsu was eighteen now, the age when she had married Hotohori. The maid that she treasured as a much younger sister seemed to have become a full grown woman now, certainly no longer a little girl as she was in love.
“I…” Kotsuki began but stopped, there was no point in denying the truth.
“Your majesty,” Chinatsu said, facing Yuri. “Will you come to see Chiharu and her husband with me if you can? She married one of the emperor’s officials a year ago.”
Yuri nodded, “But first,” she whispered as she gently loosened Chinatsu’s hold to stand next to Hotohori once more. “First…”

The two brothers faced one another, both staring into the other’s face to find some betrayal of acknowledgement. For Hotohori, that meeting they had when he just became the emperor, was one of the only two proper meetings he had of this younger half brother.
As for Kotsuki, he had seen his brother many times when Saihitei paraded around the town, as well as being rather familiar with his brother’s appearance at the time of Suzaku’s summoning due to the paintings in the temple. But Hotohori was still a stranger to him as much as Kotsuki must be to him.
Even though both harboured hope of seeing the other, they were silent as they simply did not know what to say at all.
“I…” Hotohori finally began awkwardly. “I…I am glad to see you…Kotsuki…through my journey here I heard that you are a very good emperor. The emperor of Kutou himself told me that you are a good ruler.”
“Not as good as you.” Kotsuki replied in equal uneasiness. Even though he was draped in the elaborate robes befitted of an emperor, while his elder brother was dressed in simple clothes that peasants would wear, he still felt as if he was the subject, while Hotohori was the emperor once again.
“That much be…Houkigou.” He stated the obvious. “I have always wanted to meet her, she is your wife in your new life as well?”
Hotohori nodded, and once more a silence elapsed, Mitsukake and Chiriko were both edging towards the door, wanting to escape from this rather awkward family reunion.
“I…I wanted to meet you too.” Kotsuki burst out, after Hotohori finally let out a sigh. “I…I…oniisan…”
Hotohori’s face darkened so much at this address that Kotsuki wondered whether the other wished to be acknowledged as his brother at all.
“Oniisan is it?” Hotohori finally said very sadly, bending his head down so that his loose hair covered up his face. “I cannot blame you though, I should just be grateful that you are actually willing to admit that I am your brother.” (2)
“Oniisan?” Kotsuki repeated again.
Hotohori turned to Ryoen, and the younger boy immediately went up to hug him tightly, for a moment Hotohori looked rather blank, but he quickly smiled rather sadly with the appearance of realization, and he quickly returned the hug.
“Ryoen, it is good to see you again.” he said softly.
“Aniki, how do you know that I am Ryoen, not Nuriko?” his younger brother asked curiously. “Is it that obvious, the difference?”
Hotohori shook his head sadly as he said: “Nuriko would no longer call me aniki. Very likely he would call me Hotohori-sama too.”
“But that is ridiculous!” Ryoen yelled out. “You are my aniki, and you always would be…” but his voiced trailed off as he noticed the look of deep betrayal and sadness on Rokou’s face.
“So that is it, isn’t it.” he whispered brokenly, his hands were even shaking slightly as he raised it to point at Hotohori, so great was his shock that he didn’t even consider what he was doing, as he was treating the man who was his last emperor in a rather rude fashion. “I have to be like that man in order for you to acknowledge me as your aniki.”
This was not completely untrue, as Ryoen had compared his ‘two brothers’ and decided that he preferred Seishuku as a brother instead of Rokou. But his main reason for not calling Rokou aniki at all, even though he knew that this stranger was really Nuriko’s brother, was because he had no memory of the other being his brother.
Hotohori turned to his other brother, and began to speak again. The room was occupied by an very awkward silence: Mitsukake and Chiriko were still near the door, as even though they wanted to escape, they felt that they should be there to support their friends; due to Rokou’s outburst Ryoen was even more confused, while Rokou was beginning to feel a bit embarrassed for what happened; Chinatsu had knelt by Yuri’s feet once more; and Yuri would have stopped her had she not been too occupied with her husband.
“I think that Kotsuki…” Hotohori suddenly paused in the middle of his speech and repeated the name of his half brother again. “Kotsuki…should I be calling you that? Do you wish for me to call you by your title?”
“No!” the current emperor of Konan almost cried out in horror at the suggestion, and his gaze wandered to Chinatsu, who immediately bent her head down. “You would know what it feels like to be regarded as an object instead of a person just because of our role as the emperor.”
Hotohori nodded, “Very well, Kotsuki then. There is a favour that I would ask of you.”
“A favour?”
“Yes, there is something that I must do now that I am here in the palace, and seeing you after all these years.
“I must ask for your forgiveness.”
“Forgiveness? Oniisan, I know now that what happened ten years ago was not your fault.”
Hotohori suddenly chocked as he looked at his brother, the expression on his younger brother’s face was just like Hikitsu’s. It was an acceptance of some sort of crime that he had done to them.
But he would not let that distract him right now, he shook his head sadly as he whispered: “That is not the sin that I am talking about, although I do apologise for what happened after that walk in the garden. I truly didn’t mean any of it, as I had really wanted you to be my brother, a companion, a friend. I was so happy when I saw you entering the palace, I really thought…”
“Did you think that I was an assassin when you saw the dagger in my gift?”
“I do not know.” Hotohori admitted bitterly. “Perhaps I did but Kotsuki, no doubt you found me as much to blame as my mother at that time. After all, out family was not a family at all.”
His younger brother could only nod in agreement. A father who never cared for any of his many children, while the mothers of his children spend a majority of their life squabbling for power. They all claimed that it was for their child, but both Hotohori and Kotsuki felt that it was for themselves more.
All the emperor’s children were puppets to their mother. Mostly notably was naturally Hotohori, who actually succeeded in being the emperor, although he was a very fair ruler who was well loved and praised by his people, it was a role that he always wished to be free from.
But the very early years of Saihitei’s reign of rules were stained by his mother’s actions. In order to keep her younger son on the throne, she had crushed any sign of danger with cruelty, even ordering the execution of her other son.
Hotohori could remember little of Tendo, the brother whom he shared both father and mother with. Maybe Tendo had believed that he would have been the next emperor, after all, he was the eldest son of the emperor and empress. He used to spend many of his time thinking about policies that he thinks should be applied.
Unlike the future emperor of Konan, he actually started to prepare himself for the role of emperor. He might have been a good emperor too, as he did cared for his people very much, despite some of the radical ideas he had that might not have worked so well.
He certainly wanted the role enough to rebel against his own mother and his only full blooded brother.
Bogyoku, the emperor’s eldest son. He never spared any chances of glaring at Hotohori or Tendo in anger if he could. Unlike his younger brother, he resented his birth for being born from a concubine instead of being a son of the empress. Perhaps he would not have felt so bad if he wasn’t the eldest son of the emperor. He worked with his mother’s plan eagerly, as he wanted to be the next emperor to prove that he could, to show the empress that despite not being her son, he would still take the throne of his father.
Then there was Ogi and Kotsuki, the younger brothers of Hotohori, who were not considered as candidates in this game for power, but were certainly players. The studious and intelligent Ogi was seen as a danger by the empress, whose assassination attempt ended up killing the mother of the young boy…who was not even a man yet. This caused him to become one of Tendo’s helpers, and he willingly died for Tendo, as he believed that this half brother could avenge his mother for him.
The universe of the four gods was like ancient china in many ways, even the status of the two sexes. Most times, women were disadvantaged, but in this battle, being a female helped the emperor’s only two daughters greatly. (3)
Had they been two extra sons instead of being two daughters, then their life span might have been much shorter, even though they would not have been considered as candidates for the throne even if they were boys as they belonged to the younger lot of the emperor’s children. The two girls were both younger then Hotohori, who was the third oldest in this dysfunctional family.
The elder daughter of the emperor was only a year younger then the brother that became the emperor immediately after their father’s death, but she was wise enough to know, along with her mother, she had no claim to the throne at all, but she was still in danger for the mere sake of being the emperor’s child.
That was why her mother begged the empress to let her return to her origins, having been a rural farmer’s daughter who lived at the border of Konan and Kutou. She even engaged her daughter to one of the peasants there, knowing that this would allow them to survive as the future emperor of Konan could never have a father who was not of royal blood, even if his mother was directly descended from the emperor. (4)
She actually ended up being in love with the person she was engaged to when the empress died, even though no one in the village had believed that they would actually get married, the boy’s family agreed to a fake engagement for the sake of helping the imperial concubine who was once a part of their village. Eventually, she married this man and lived in happiness until the day when soldiers from Kutou attacked their village.
Luckily, she was only killed, instead of raped. But it almost seemed the each and every one of the imperial family was cursed.
Hotohori’s other sister, however, was not so lucky. Her mother was much more ambitious and was deeply disappointed to only have given birth to a daughter from the brief amount of time the emperor had given her some attention.
She began to work with most of the emperor’s advisors by the bribery of her body, trying to find a way to let her daughter be engaged to a man who could give her great power. Ironically, it was Hotohori’s father who ordered their execution when she began to become involved in a plot.
Her daughter was no more then a child when she was killed.
But what haunted Hotohori the most was the death of Bogyoku- the eldest son of the third emperor of Konan, because he was witness to his death.

Hotohori’s request was to be lead to one of the rather isolated part of the palace that few people knew about. He cloaked himself once again as he followed his half brother as if he was only a mere servant, but Kotsuki felt that such a thing was impossible.
His elder brother had demanded to be taken to that place alone, he even told his wife, Houkigou…Yuri, that he must do this by himself although he greatly wished that she could be beside him.
“That would make it easier but yet I must do this alone.” Hotohori had whispered.
“Is this it?” Kotsuki asked when his brother paused in front of a door. Reaching to the handle, he was deeply surprised when he discovered that the door wasn’t locked at all, unlike most of the rooms in the palace.
“What is this point of locking a room such as this?” his brother said rather bitterly as he entered.
The room seemed empty, there was no furniture or any other indication of once having a human lived there, other then a lonely chair at one corner. It seemed that only spiders and mice live here, as this part of the corridor was rarely visited by any servants to clean.
“I was sitting there,” Hotohori whispered, pointing to the chair as he walked to the centre of the room and knelt down, clasping his hands together tightly as he bowed his head down, his hair almost covering his face, but not enough to conceal the sadness in his eyes from his younger brother. “Haha was behind me. Then…”
“Then?”
“Then they brought them in, your haha and aniki. It was in this room where it had happened…”
“Their…execution?” Kotsuki was not found of his mother or his full blood brother because it was hard to love someone whom he never knew and who only saw him as a tool or something that was just there. But it was still quite hard to learn or hear about their death.
Hotohori nodded. “Here in this room…”
He was not even fifteen when his mother brought him to this room to witness the execution of his eldest brother, and the women that had bore him.
“You must see, Hotohori, how I will protect you by punishing anyone that dares to hurt you.” She had told him, towering over him with her hands on his shoulder.
“But haha…surely execution is…”
“Hotohori, they have dared to harm you and for that alone they deserve the worse possible death.” he did not knew that she actually ordered these two to be actively tortured until later on.
“So just nod when the guard ask you the question, and ignore the two traitors completely.” She crouched down to face her seated son, her gaze was so powerful and so intense that the emperor, who was but a boy, could only nod.
Satisfied, she moved to stand behind him, her hands gripping his shoulders tightly.
“They pleaded to me, your Haha and aniki.” Hotohori continued. “Do not think less of them, because only a fool would not wish for life.” At this he smiled bitterly. “In a way Yuri and I…in a way the two of us are fools as we would have gladly died in order to let the other live.”
“I do not see you as being a fool either…aniki.”
“Aniki?” Hotohori repeated this word softly and tilted his head up to face his younger brother. “Aniki?”
“You are my aniki, he was just my oniisan.” Kotsuki declared out firmly. “Bogyoku was my brother because we shared the same parents, but you are my brother because you want to be my brother. Therefore, you are my aniki.”
He expected his elder brother to smile, but Hotohori only frowned even more.
“I had caused him and your haha to die, Kotsuki.” The elder man said darkly. “If I had wanted to then I could have saved them but…”
Kotsuki realized that Hotohori was guilty not because he let his mother and brother die, but because he did not prevent them from being killed by offering any form of resistance toward the empress’ orders. It was not what he did, but what he might have done.
On that day Hotohori had heard their pleas and he was moved, but the firm grip on his shoulders prevented him from consenting to their pleas. Instead, he just watched the execution being performed. His return to Konan made him realize that he never forgive himself for this act which he labelled as great cowardliness.
Smiling, Kotsuki walked up to kneel in front of his brother so that they were at eye level.
“Aniki, I do not blame you for what happened that day just as I no longer blame you for what happened to me when you first became the emperor. It is not anyone’s fault to be tricked and manipulate by their mother. I myself, is the same.
“As for my mother and my other brother’s death…I do not feel happiness at this because after all, they are related to me through blood, and I am sad because lives had been taken by force. But I do not grief that much because who do I mourn for a brother who was not even like a brother? While my mother was only my mother because she gave birth to me?”
For the first time since he arrived in Konan, Hotohori smiled sincerely . “Then I am glad.”
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