Kaede went out to the market, where Sachiko thought nothing of it. It was only when she came back that there was a surprise. Where it became a letter now in her hands, where she could see it on her own. It was the words of Sasaki Entetsu. And he wanted to meet her at Houya.
It was a place that she knew was under his power and protection. Even now had been the truth, where he considered it a safe place. But for what? The previous clue had not turned out well, although it brought her to her own father. But it was not to his hint, but rather the letter Masaki received.
Hence she knew that he had not helped her, and she left for Fukusei because of it. Something that she needed to investigate to the very bottom. Not a preference but a necessity, because it could mean that her father was still alive. And that there was more to their situation than it simply being a death, and with that sort of information being passed around. She needed to get to the bottom of it, rather than just ignoring it.
She was hesitant as it was not a necessity to rely upon Sasaki. She doubted that Sasaki actually had reasons to work with her, and was merely entertaining her at that point. It could have continued to some degree if she had chosen to stay in the city. But she had not, leaving for Fukusei and they did not much contact until now. In which she was holding a letter from him.
It made sense that she could see, even as she was limited now. The timing had been odd and thus suggested that he had his own motives for seeking her out. That their last meeting was friendly but was never going to be considered or taken seriously. She didn’t have the time to think about it at all, having spent most of her time either looking for her father or otherwise.
“Is there anything wrong?” Suzumi asked her, the moment she was just standing there. No sign or even thinking about anything. No sign of truly understanding.
“I got a letter.” She showed her that. Suzumi had known that she was here for one reason, to entertain the courtship of the Shogun’s son. To have a chance to meet before an engagement was announced. Left to the boy because the father simply didn’t have the time needed to do this.
“A few days, I’ll be spending tomorrow and the next with Tatsumi hence I will not be free.” And that he was more than capable of finding that out.
“Did anything happen there?” Even noticing just how she had not responded to anything. Mostly just spending it as pensive quiet moments when she had the chance to try and be more.
“It’s nothing that you should be concerned with.” Most of it had little to do with her father’s work. It was simply a missing friend of hers, one that she knew when she was a child. Before she was embroiled in this. And something that Tatsumi merely asked to keep numb about. His name was not spoken, nothing about him could ever be said. Whether it was good or it was bad. They had prevented that.
One to discourage rumors, even as she knew that it had done the opposite. But until a body was shown, there was nothing they could do. In fact, she was surprised at how no one had tried to pretend to be the boy. It was as though there was no value in pretending to be him, even as he could claim the shogunate. He was eighteen now, an age where few will doubt his birthright and ability to rule.
There was not a pretender, even as no one really knew whether he was alive or not. And he remained a memory, not a ghost that haunted the Shogunate. It was almost bizarre. Almost as though they didn’t think he was alive but at the same time, it was the possibility.
“You can tell me. I work for your father, but that doesn’t mean we agree on many things.” She looked upon her. It was easy to tell that it was a kind gesture. That it was nothing more than simply a chance to get secrets out of her.
“Why?” She asked the perfect question.
She sighed. “That’s alright, a secret for a secret. You tell me what’s worrying you and I’ll do the same.” It was something that she didn’t get. Suzumi sat down by her side, even managing to convince her further. That there wasn’t anything wrong, that there was not something off.
“Alright.” It was a fair trade after all. She did not want it, but if Suzumi was going to this degree then who was she to decline. It could be something.
“Do you know anything about Tokumoto Kazuya?”
For a moment, the older woman was unable to react. “I do, but he has disappeared off the face of the world for almost a decade with no word.”
“Why is that so?”
“There are rumors, but no one can take upon it because of the amount of work to be his pretender. The boy learned nine languages, wrote his first poem when he was seven. He was beating masters of shogi when he disappeared.” The number of things necessary to be him will either require a good education, which made it impossible to be a pretender as he will have been known. That or it will have been an elaborate plot.
“Your father thought about that once, even training up a boy or two to do it. But it never went anywhere as there were a lot more things necessary to pass.” And thus why he disappeared. “That and the possibility that they know he is still alive. Somewhere out there, the Shogun does not hate his nephew. He never has.”
She never did understand it. Or even why the assassination happened. It was sudden, even when it seemed to have been a routine visit in the country. “Give me a secret of yours.”
“I know six languages.” For her, she didn’t need to tell her any more than that. And Suzumi didn’t feel the need to push further. She turned around, even as Suzumi continued to look at her. She turned back only to find herself looking at her. Her eyes remained cold, but there was nothing that kept her from looking any longer.
But what was the point of this? She knew it was a fair trade, even as she knew that she had not revealed anything. Or even just why Suzumi was agreeing to this?
“I divulge my knowledge to you because I know that you won’t use it. You can’t.” It was the understanding that Sachiko had her own secrets. Things that she never wants to come to light. Things that she never wanted others to see or know off. “We do this the next time you need an answer.”
“Why not?” Before Suzumi took the chance to leave. She was aware of her circumstances even as her father never told it to anyone else. The fewer people knew about it, the better it was for her.
And it was only then did she guess that Suzumi had kept many secrets about many many people too. And she felt that many of her own questions will go deep into things that others did not want to know. And that Tokumoto Kazuya had been one of them. As much as she knew that it had been the same boy who had been a friend to her, a great friend to her.
When Kazuho stepped back into the house, Masami mostly looked up to him. She was sitting at the courtyard, uncommon for her. But today, it was not so. Her eyes were on him, aware of his sudden change. His withdrawal and unwillingness to talk at all. With her sitting out, clear that she noticed and will not have let him go on like this.
She was holding her blade. The same way as before. Even as he knew that it was uncommon for her to give this a shot. “Tell me what exactly happened during that night that pushed you to buy yourself a sake.”
“I didn’t drink it. It was a gift to someone else.” He admitted that. Even as she looked at him. Before it is clear that she had not been lying at any point. It was the truth.
“Kaede, if I’m not wrong.”
“You have been rather wrong since that night. And even when you met with Sasaki.” She narrowed her own eyes on him, clear that it could not have been more clear. Clear that she knew something was off with him.
“Yes, of course, I know that.” She knew that at the same time, about his own choices with him. And knew just what it meant to him. She had noticed, as much as he had not told her about his comings and goings. Or even what he stumbled into.
“I’m sorry.” Before he sat down. Shinrou knew to a certain extent. But he had not said anything about his own speculations. The possibility that Daishin may have entered the Saitou clan and taken control. “I’ll tell you what is on my mind.”
“Don’t forget that I work for you, I won’t ever betray you.” She gave a smile. Something that had torn down most of it.
“Daishin may have assumed the identity of the Daimyo of Senwari. I haven’t come to any conclusions, I haven’t figured anything out as of yet.” He wasn’t close. “But Kaede gave me a clue. I visited her today because I felt that she may have some answers.”
“It’s unlike you to be so desperate.” She was speaking the truth here. It truly was unlike him to try this, do not think this through. This wasn’t just a spur of the moment decision, he had given thought to who he will go to. But rather the fact that he chose to enter a dangerous territory. The Saitou household was precisely that.
“But that clue gave something important. It is true and Kaede is being held ransom to the knowledge.” Which to her was a reckless move, as it depended on no one noticing them at all?
“Don’t worry, we went out to the forest and chatted.” It was not without knowing precautions, but it was still rather risky.
“Why?” She was asking the good question. She knew him long enough to know when this was not common. He always gave a good decision.
“Ayakazu forced me to make a deal with her. To bring down the shogunate in exchange for understanding why Rin became Sachiko.” Shinrou had not spoken of it, and he had hesitated for a while. It was a bizarre price, it was something that she couldn’t tell. And he knew that she will have tried to ask this of Shinrou first before coming to him.
Both of them had weaknesses they could exploit. Shinrou was tight-lipped but give enough of a push and he’ll start talking. As for him, the weakness was something she was prepared for. She was holding that blade, possibly threatening him if he refused to tell her.
She didn’t say anything for a moment. He knew that even she was still processing it. “Rin accepted Daishin’s deal and her price was to set me free.” And it was almost ironic to know that it will never have been fulfilled, he was Kouya then pursuing a needless path of revenge. Only to see her eyes widen for the moment.
He almost wanted to stop. He didn’t want to say anymore, this was why he didn’t want to share anything with her. This was a burden she will carry, something that could never be told. It was better if she carried it alone. Her face was still the same, the same sort of face. The same sort of expression.
“So, he must be using the Saitou clan to bring down the Shogunate.” It made the most sense.
“The conclusion that I came to, but I didn’t have any evidence.” Nothing clear at all. And why he was looking to Kaede, for a chance to have known more. To learn. “And Kaede’s reaction gave me more reason to believe that it is Daishin pretending to be the Senwari Daimyo.”
“You don’t have to follow me, from here on out it will be tough.” He didn’t want to drag her in this. And why that he had kept this and refused to tell her anything more. And why he had wanted to break the question of her leaving. She had been a step earlier and knew he hid secrets.
But it was not concrete. Bringing this to light was enough to condemn the man, was enough to end this conspiracy. Before finding himself smacked by Masami, using the hilt of her blade. He rubbed it.
She remained pensive. “I’ll still follow you. I accepted that there will be something like this the moment I left with you on that boat.” Even as behind, they saw that Yuki has overheard. But she used her parasol as a signal. “You don’t need to care about our wellbeing.”
Even as Shinrou came out, also rubbing his own head. Apparently, Masami did that to him as well. He sighed, he was glad to have it off his chest after so long.
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- Victorique Crawford
An aspiring writer, who spends her time writing serialized fiction, as well as short stories set in the same world. A student and a blogger in her remaining time, you can find her on WordPress.
Lover of Gothic fiction and all things dark. She enjoys reading such things in her free time, as well as mysteries and historical fiction.