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The Lord of the Sands of Time

BOOK: The Lord of the Sands of Time
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The Lord of the Sands of Time

© 2007 Issui Ogawa

Originally published in Japan by Hayakawa Publishing, Inc.

All rights reserved.

Cover Illustration by Bukichi Nadeara
English translation © VIZ Media, LLC
The rights of the author(s) of the work(s) in this publication to be so identified have been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

No portion of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the copyright holders.

HAIKASORU

Published by

VIZ Media, LLC

295 Bay Street
San Francisco, CA 94133

www.haikasoru.com

ISBN: 978-1-4215-3987-4

Haikasoru eBook edition: October 2010

Table of Contents
Stage 448
Japan
A.D.
248
Stage 001
Triton
A.D.
2598
Stage 448
Japan
A.D.
248
Stage 002
Earth
A.D.
2119
Stage 448
Japan
A.D.
248
Stage 003
Oulu
A.D.
1943
Stage 448
Japan
A.D.
248
Stage 004/410
Laetoli B.C. 98,579
Stage 448
Japan
A.D.
248
Stage Ω
Japan
A.D.
2010
S
TAGE
448

J
APAN A.D
. 248

“Lady Miyo! Lady Miyo!” The boy’s voice rang through the grove of trees. He sounded angry, and a little scared.
A light smile crossed Miyo’s lips. She ignored the voice and walked up the narrow game path through a stand of mixed oaks. The air was far cooler here than in the lowlying basin where her palace stood. Still, she had to wipe her brow, sweating from the steepness of the path. Her hand was sticky with the powder that coated her face, hiding her tattoo. A look in the bronze mirror hidden at her breast would not have revealed a pretty sight.

The keening of the cicadas felt loud enough to pierce her skull.

“Lady Miyo!”

The voice was closer now. The boy cutting was straight across the thicket. The sword at his waist rustled the underbrush, then he burst onto the path beside Miyo, gangly legs struggling to keep pace with her.

Miyo threw the boy a sidelong glance and almost burst out laughing. His face looked as if he’d landed in a puddle. His hair was festooned with swatches of spiderweb. A potter after a hard day’s work might have looked better.

Miyo finally paused. She turned, then gestured toward the boy’s face. “Slow down, Kan. You’ll spoil your good looks.”

“Don’t trouble yourself over me,” he replied, catching his breath. His gaze traveled over her face. Eyebrows arched, he pushed Miyo’s hand aside and touched her cheek. “My lady, your face looks even worse!”

“You needn’t be so truthful.”

“A person like you shouldn’t… Now, please don’t move.” Miyo tried to turn away, but Kan held her arm and began busily applying powder to her face, as if she were an errant daughter. The work soothed him.

Kan was the only male permitted to touch Miyo. She would not have had it otherwise; yet that was probably because he was still just a boy, too young to bind up his hair. With Kan’s motherly attentions complete, Miyo took her turn wiping his face.
Still just a sprig
, she thought.

By the time Miyo had finished carefully cleaning his face, the color had returned to Kan’s round cheeks. He was at that age when the jaw starts filling out and the profile sharpens, but those large, sulky eyes were nothing like those of a grown man. Miyo felt safe with him. Someday this fourteen-year-old would be a strapping specimen even taller than she was, but for now he was in no danger of breaking hearts.

Miyo was a virgin—in fact, as well as name—and it seemed likely she would remain one for some time.

“Just how far do you intend to go?” Kan grumbled, brushing shards of rock from his bare soles. “We’ve already walked fifty
ri
. If we don’t turn back now, we might not reach the palace before dark.”

“Why go back? If it comes to it, we can stop near Ikaruga and wait the night out there.”

“Please—don’t tease me.” Kan scowled. Teasing him was precisely the point, and Miyo was poised to continue, but his next words stopped her.

“Think of Joh. She’s so afraid when you are away.”

Joh was Kan’s sister. Plucked at random from the maids in the palace, she was compelled to stand in for the queen when Miyo was away. Of course, all she had to do was sit in the dim inner shrine, with no duties to speak of other than play the part, speak when spoken to, and be waited on hand and foot by Miyo’s capable maidservants. Yet such was not a welcome duty for youngsters like Kan and Joh, bound to a life of service and unaccustomed to being served as Miyo was.

“You’re right, Kan. It has been hard for her.”

“Well, then—”
let’s return
, he was about to say, but Miyo casually cut him off. “Yes. Let’s keep going.” She walked on. Kan brought up the rear with a sigh.

The mountain path quickly climbed higher. Here and there large boulders jutted through the moist black soil. Taller than the average male and toughened by her duties, Miyo clambered straight over them with little shortness of breath. Kan tried to scamper nimbly around them, but his meager diet betrayed him, and he quickly fell behind.

“Where,” Kan gasped, out of breath, “are we going?” Miyo had planned a surprise, but this was beginning to seem slightly cruel.

“To see the ocean.”

“The ocean!”

“You’ve never seen it, have you?” As Miyo spoke, they emerged onto the spine of the ridge. A fresh breeze hit their faces. Kan shielded his widening eyes from the glare and cried out in admiration.

The panorama before them stretched far to the west. A broad river ran north, along the foot of the mountains. At one point along its bank, an enormous host labored with digging tools, gouging the face of the plain. To the right, toward the north, stretched a lake surrounded by mud flats. The plain beyond the river was an endless carpet of paddy fields, verdant with rice seedlings. Farther out a harbor dotted with white sails, water shimmering in the sun.

The early summer sunlight flowed over the blue haze of the landscape. The scene was like nothing in the low-lying plain where they lived. There was the slightest whiff of ocean in the air. Kan filled his lungs with it.

“Is this what you came to see?” he asked.

“Yes. I heard you can see the ocean from Mount Shiki. Look there—the lower reaches of the Hatsuse River. It flows near the palace. Beyond is Lake Kusakae. On the canal from the lake to the sea is the harbor of Naniwa.”

“Are they building something along the river?”

“They’re straightening it. You gave my oracle to the ministers—the order to straighten the river’s course to the sea. Whenever there’s a heavy rain, floodwaters damage the crops. Have you forgotten?”

“Oh, that.” Kan shook his head. Such matters no doubt held little meaning for him. He was merely a conduit of communication between Miyo and her ministers; the significance of her oracles was wholly beyond him.

Yet in a sense, for Miyo it was no different. It seemed passing strange to see this mass of people, moved by her divination to change the face of the land. This feeling only grew stronger as she spoke again of the sights below.

“See there? That wide avenue coming down from the north is the Shiha Harbor Road. The town at the end of it is Suminoé Harbor. And beyond that, the Chinu Sea.”

“I see great ships. Enormous. Do they come from Wei?”

“Perhaps,” said Miyo. Then it occurred to her that the ships might hail from somewhere else. “Or from Kushina or Akuso.”

“Maybe they’re from Kentak. Or Roma.”

Miyo tried not to laugh.
Not likely
, she thought.
Innocent Kan thinks a ship can take you anywhere, but Kushina and Akuso are even farther than Wei, and they say Roma and Kentak are on the other side of the world, a voyage of several hundred days. Sea trade with those lands is decades in the future.

Yet it was a fact that ships from these distant countries had reached the Land of Wa. Half the vessels sent on the return diplomatic mission were lost, but the rest survived to make it back, perhaps protected by the scapegoats they took with them on the voyage. They returned to Miyo’s realm with astonishing articles of foreign culture from countries beyond the empires of China. Many more ships would surely ply those waters—someday.

“If we went with one of those ships, we could visit countries we’ve never seen,” said Kan.

Was that what he really wanted? Or was it something that he thought could never really happen? With one eye on Kan’s enraptured profile, Miyo sank deeper into thought. This world really was a mystery.

Her thoughts traveled back twenty-odd years, when chaos reigned the length and breadth of Wa. Wars over water and territory among the great clans—Nu, Toma, and the rest—had embroiled dozens of smaller chiefdoms. Countless people died, countless villages had been put to the torch.

Still, such terrible conflict could not drag on forever. There were men of compassion among the clans, men who knew Wa would be laid waste if the fighting did not stop. A ruler was raised over them all, the nations made peace, and since that day the Land of Wa had been free from strife. Relations were sometimes tense with the San’on lands, with Kunu and the other chiefdoms that stayed outside the union. But for the most part, Heaven and Earth were at peace, and an era of plenty was underway.

None of this would have been possible without the Laws of the Messenger.

The Laws were recorded on a single scroll handed down from a time lost to memory. Of the many chiefdoms of Wa, only Kunu did not possess a copy of the Laws. Their origin was unknown, but the meaning was plain. Calamity is part of the fabric of this world and is certain to come, but those who join hands and work together will stave off disaster. And in the end, a mighty host will come to deliver victory.

To Miyo, the Laws were little more than stale platitudes. For the clan leaders, they were sacred and inviolable, and the headmen were apt to invoke them in the most trifling of circumstances, for once invoked they must be obeyed. Had the Laws not commanded cooperation between the clans, the fighting would likely have gone on without end, no matter how great grew the weariness of the people.

Strange, too, was it that the Laws were known to each and every inhabitant of Wa. Stranger still, thought Miyo, was the fact that they were known in Wei and the other Chinese empires, as well as in Kushina, Kentak, and Maya.

It was said that seventy or eighty years had passed since the first ships from Kentak, piloted by red-skinned people over the vast ocean beyond the Chinu Sea, had reached Wa. At first, using gestures, they requested fresh water and an exchange of laws. When the leader of the small chiefdom where the visitors made landfall did as he was asked and showed them the Laws, he discovered that the visitor’s own laws, written in their language on a sheet of animal hide, matched his scroll down to the smallest detail. The headman was astonished, but the red-skinned captain merely gave a knowing nod.

Exchanges progressed, and at each port the Kentak sailors visited they demonstrated the universality of the Laws. It seemed that all peoples under Heaven were bound by the same obligation to join together and stave off disasters. Without this accident of history, collaboration among the chiefdoms of Wa might never have been possible. For Miyo, the Laws were platitudes, but their influence could not be denied. Because of the Laws, Miyo was forced to serve the state.

“Indeed,” Miyo said to herself. She looked down at the rich fields and bustling seaports spread out before her.
What would this world have become without the Laws of the Messenger?
War without end, killing without limits, each individual cut off from all others.

Throughout the land, all agreed on their good fortune. But Miyo paid for it with her freedom.

She felt a wave of revulsion at the thought of her enormous power and absently took a step forward. Then she turned, her reverie broken by the sound of Kan’s bronze sword leaving its sheathe.

“Lady Miyo—” His voice was charged with apprehension. “Lady Miyo, come back.”

“What?”

“Your domain ends here. You are forbidden to leave it.”

“Nonsense, the view is poor. See, beyond that tree…”

“Miyo!” He was pleading now, his voice rising almost to a scream. Miyo froze. She was fond of Kan, and he of her. She could not abandon him. They shared an affection for Kan’s sister serving at the palace. Neither of them was ready to escape.

So this was it. Her bond to the state, to headmen, officials, ministers. Of all the shackles they had placed on her, this was by far the cruelest.

Miyo stepped back quietly. She turned and smiled. “Forgive me. Let’s go home.”

Kan’s air of profound relief reminded Miyo how much she hated the state—and the Laws of the Messenger, bringer of peace to the world.

“We must hurry. Better to return to Ikaruga and take the post horses from there. But please step carefully,” said Kan.

Miyo kept her eyes on his back as he strode ahead of her. She couldn’t help wishing he were a little older.
If only we could run away together, escape the wiles of the state…

Something shook the underbrush close by the path. The cicadas fell silent.

In one smooth motion, Kan drew his sword again. His stare bored into the thicket. Miyo stepped behind him and to one side, arming herself with an oak branch. It was less of a weapon than the sacred staff she used in divination rituals at the palace, but better than nothing.

Kan called out, “Who goes there?”

Wild dogs make no sound. If this were an ape, it would retreat.
No
, Miyo thought,
it must be a woodcutter. Or a hunter.
She hoped it was. Then there would be little to worry about. The common folk would not know her; she could easily talk her way out of things.

Bandits? Then they would be in real trouble.

Miyo swallowed. The hair on Kan’s arms stood up. The thicket parted and a towering shape emerged as if from nowhere, its shadow falling over them.

At first they could not grasp what they were seeing.

The creature stood on two legs, like the bears that roamed the eastern lands. It was perhaps twice the height of a man. The two of them together could not have encircled its torso even if they’d clasped hands. Huge faceted eyes, insect eyes, twitched in their sockets, peering down at Miyo and Kan.

The creature was built like a bear, but everything else about it was unlike anything they had ever seen. The body was completely hairless, its hide red like a coating of rust. The way it leaned forward, long arms dangling, was more ape than bear. Here and there, whitish bones peeked through its coarse skin. The fingerless right arm was bludgeon-shaped. The left limb was like a scythe, yet sharper than any blade Miyo and Kan had ever seen. But they could not absorb all these details clearly. They were simply overwhelmed.

BOOK: The Lord of the Sands of Time
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