He took in a deep breath, coming to the all familiar location. The geisha house One which he had taken much to think about before finally choosing this. It had been quite a while, but now the price he needed to pay did not matter. Not when his other methods had not brought him anywhere, either way, it seemed that Shinrou and Rin were without a doubt cautious about who knew.
Not that he blamed them, just as it was almost as difficult to track her. Which brought him back here. And the price was something he prepared for, it could be anything, but he knew that it needed to be about this past. Ayakazu could have an inkling, but also not understand fully. And perhaps why she was insisting on that price for him.
“Are you sure about this?”
He nodded. “I am. Didn’t you also strike a bargain?”
“My price was relatively easy since she asked for some things that I knew of but was not of much for me to reveal. You, on the other hand, have juicy, powerful secrets.” Which was the difference, because he was choosing to trade in something that was not only dangerous but also lethal for him.
“That is true, but she wants it from me. And only I know the correct questions to ask.”
“And even if I were to try, it would be difficult. And it would still circle back to you.” They had entered, mostly ignoring everyone around them.
“I thought you had an interesting run of events.”
“Yes I do, but none quite like or even close to yours. I mean, if you were to tell it as a story many would enjoy it, but I doubt few would buy it as the absolute truth.” Which he was right, and why even then he targeted him.
“Either way, I’m prepared. And I’m sure she can take the chance to bargain over how long before it can be bought.”
“If you want a solace, she tends to make them only accessible by asking her the right questions. And even the slightest change in words can change the sort of answers you got. I got the chance to ask a different question if I didn’t like it.”
“Really?” He turned his head, even as they were now climbing up the stairs,.
“She gives a boon if it’s your first time, and tells you not to play with her. You are far more cautious with words, and thus it’s not useful, but allowing you to purchase it keeps you interested and if you are satisfied, it tends to make you more willing to go back to her.”
“Agree, for some, secrets are a currency they would almost refuse to trade in. Simply because they are valuable and almost certainly lethal.”
“And I’m on the level of dangerous and potentially lethal.” Which he knew was the truth, given just how difficult it was to be with Sasaki. A man who—rightly—was asking about what he was doing here at the very least. It made sense to be questioning this at the very least.
“You’re right about that.” Even as they had finally came to the room at the top, mostly exchanging words. Before they reached her office at the top. Shinrou knocked for him since he wasn’t entirely familiar with it. A way to tell whether they were here for information or more.
“Come in.” The door opened.
“It’s a pleasure to see you both again.” She was holding her cat, petting it carefully. “So, you have decided to take upon my proposition.”
He nodded, as it was the truth. “I am.”
“Good, very good.”
Even as he was prepared to take precautions against her. To ensure that what he revealed was protected and it was still to his benefit. “What is it that you want to ask?”
“A name. The name you assumed before you left. By ship, if I’m not wrong if your involvement with Rin is to be believed.”
“So, you know my name?”
“Yes, I think I have an idea of who you might be. But how about I just confirm it.” A piece of paper there, with two words written in hiragana on them. It read Kouya.
“Yes, this was my name.” He closed his eyes, knowing that he could not much except accept it.
“That is enough. This is something that is indeed powerful, and I’ll not reveal this for a month. Since you’re here on business and consider it a gesture. It is worth two secrets.” She poured sake for them. In which they accepted.
“Ask anything you want.” She took a sip of her drink. Allowing them to finally say it while they could.
“Did Rin leave the city?” He asked.
“Yes, she did.” Which meant that she was now a part of a powerful Daimyo clan. “With the same palanquin to leave. Your next question?”
“Who?” He asked.
“It’s a man you may not like.” He narrowed his eyes, knowing that he could not do much but accept. There was only likely one answer. To give it to her, was not someone which he wanted to. She gave him this moment to brace himself for a chance to answer. At least at this point.
“It’s Daishin.” He held the cup with a tight grip, for this was the name he least expected but knew now to be the one which he feared most. Of all the people, it had to be him. But he knew better than that now. There was no reason for him not to. “And from your own admission, you have quite a bit of history with him.”
“Yes, I do.” He sighed, this made it all that harder.
“If you want to know, he vanished off the maps shortly after you left. Also, retreating in fact.” And not a coincidence, taking the chance of his infamy. One which the man had a large hand in crafting, and ensuring that he had no other way than to run. “There hasn’t even been a matter of him recently, and finding him has become even worse than you.”
“There are other pretenders of me?”
“It can be a good thing since others saw fit to imitate you.” Shinrou gave a laugh, knowing the full irony itself. He was never entirely in control, for the strings had always been pulled by another. And that man was Daishin, the one who extended his hand to him to join. And the one who thrust him into the spotlight once he felt he was ready.
“Not exactly, some have tried, but few have truly succeeded better than you have.” She took a small sip from her cup.
“Although I will still find it funny, given that they were imitating a child. And trying to replicate his success. Even if he was mostly helped by another, and the execution was in the hands of a grown man and not entirely on a child. But it still could not be discounted how Kazuho was the man who contributed and always helped.
“I wonder, will this be a point where you talk about me in front of them?”
“Yes, even as they will forget that it’s been years since you chose to make your appearance. And if you were a child back then, doesn’t mean that you’ll be one now.”
“Just that you’ll be very very young as a strategist.” Not unusual, but not entirely making it impossible to buy himself like that.
“Any hint on the palanquin?” He asked.
“None. He did a pretty good job to ensure that none of this would become a reality, the reality of someone piecing together just what has happened. But it’s clear that his ambitions for her are far reaching considering the precautions he took.”
“Or he’s paranoid. I worked with the guy, he always seemed to have that sense of nothing is safe and trying almost every precaution possible.” Something that he knew was the reality and somewhat the truth here at the very least.
“It would be both, at least for me. He would want to creep to his new identity, and something that she is serving a part in. At least in how he is treating her. A palanquin, it goes way beyond just say being his servant.”
“And that he is likely moving to a title of a Daimyo.” Since the only Daimyo made a choice to leave, them having land they needed to tend to and govern. Unlike most Samurai who were now mostly landless, as the Daimyos saw their properties diminished and divided. Eventually, making most of them owning small patches. And leaving none for the Samurai.
A small one, or a large one. That was something Kazuho needed to find out. Even then, he’ll still be searching through dozens of families until he could find her. This was not something that would always be easy, he only changed the way he was looking for her. But the leads will still be hidden, small and buried. All he managed to do at the very least was narrowing it down.
But he doubted there could be any more known.
“Thank you for the information.” Even as he took a step and leave, there was no way he was going to trade anymore. He had the largest of all clues now, a bright idea. It would take a while, but he knew that he could not purchase anymore.
Before he stepped out. “It was exactly as I thought.” He gave a smirk. “That means I win that bet you made.”
He paid the man since he had indeed done so. He had thought that she would have asked another question, something which dug far more profound than just this. Whereas he was merely guessing now, rather than anything else. But all she needed was something vague as the name, even if would rightly say that it was a name which many feared rather than liked.
“Either way, I traded away somewhat more and less than I thought.” But to him, it was worth it. Even as he knew where to draw the line of practically painting himself a target and finding her. He was not here for long, but best to always hold his secrets for as long as possible. And hesitate when revealing anything about himself.
He was right about this since it was still this valuable. “Either way, it means that we might have to find what we can of Daishin. Even going to the place of his operations, Fukusei.”
He closed his own eyes, knowing of all the places there. Something that he was familiar with, and knew where to look. But it was something that he needed to consider, especially if he were to look for information concerning the man and his whereabouts here.
“You aren’t sure?”
“See what we can find before we make this decision. Since I’m not so familiar with it any longer.” Both of them left the geisha house. Having found many and at the same time quite a little.
She kept a final breath. At least about what to do with the information Misaki released to her, it could not be said that it wasn’t worth a look. But she was unable to tell who to send. Suzumi was always needed around the house, and she rarely left it, other than on her day off. And she did not feel that it was best for her to do this.
But she could trust none other than Kaede. Who was quick in her mind, as much as she was nimble on her feet. But she was still unsure that she was the best choice in such a matter. But she didn’t have many choices, and Kaede often helped out with the marketing. Which meant that she was at the very least, had a reason to be out and about.
And after much discussion, she and Suzumi came to the agreement. That instead of saying basing it on trust was to test her. Closed the door, as did Kaede. Both of them eyed each other warily. “Kaede, I have an errand that I need you to run for me?” And now as she placed it to her. It was heading to the local shogunate and needing them to find the contact. As well as the bribe.
“I can do it.” She said, without even blinking twice.
“How?” Suzumi asked.
“Do I need to explain?”
“I think it’s best if you do so. Your plan can go wrong, and let’s see how good it is even before you stepped out here.” She had agreed to this measure.
“I would likely buy a bottle of wine and pretend to be someone who is passing a gift. I’ll ask you to meet alone because it’s best. And if they ask, I’ll say it’s a friend. I’ll be hiding the bribe there.” It wasn’t an evil plan, given how things went. And in most cases, they didn’t really refuse men visitors to women.
She knew that even in the shogunate and those who served, often had dalliances. Or even romances. He could marry, just that their work meant that it was often hard to find someone. Since they were always in danger, and their families prime targets. Not to mention, their less than stellar reputations for honesty. And many took bribes.
Why they were able to use this in the first place. “A sound plan, what if it goes wrong?”
“Well, I could simply walk away. And if necessary, dispose of him.” She took a pistol from the inside of her sleeves. Something that she quietly has hidden away. In a way that surprised most of them while they were here.
“Have you been carrying that around you this whole time?”
She nodded, not giving any intention of lying. But it was true that it was well hidden since they did not notice it. Including her, when she was not even shown it.
“Did you always carry it with you?”
“Can’t be too careful.” Even as she took it up, mostly to grab a cloth to clean it. Well kept and maintained, even as she could see that it was of great quality. “But yes, it has always been with me.”
And then it was the best occasion to be asking about her past. Since she had gone more than just be a girl with a penchant for drinking. This was far more than that. She kept it, knowing full well that the atmosphere around her had changed. It became necessary for her to choose to reveal it.
“I can tell you about my past. Anything which you would deem necessary. But I won’t talk too much, there are just some things which I simply won’t and never will reveal.” This was the reality, she knew that too. It was not as though she wasn’t without her own secrets.
She would never demand that, not that she asked Kaede too. Mostly to be truthful with her when it necessary, but little else otherwise. Always within what she wanted. “I was a girl then, picked up from the streets and given the name Kaede by someone. Someone who has long been feared and disappeared off the map for quite a while.”
“Is it Kouya?”
“No, I knew Kouya, but he was never really able to. I’m talking about Daishin.” And this meant that she was likely raised to oppose him, she knew that this was a man who fought the shogunate. Who wanted it gone, and also the Emperors went as well. He wanted to create a new sort of governance for the country.
Effectively removing any political power or influence from an inheritance, officially. But unofficially, it was always there.
Even as Suzumi narrowed her eyes. “He’s a lot younger than many would imagine. He’ll still be fairly young now. But from the method, it’s possible he has a hand, and at the same time, he does not. I can’t tell, it has a little of his own influence and choices. But I need more to know.”
“You can leave. Make sure you handle it well.” She gave a wink before taking the chance to walk out. Leaving only Sachiko and Suzumi there.
She held back some of her questions. “Do you think it’s former or latter?”
“It’s possible, but also unlikely. But then, we never really knew what they looked like. Chichiue never looked into any of this.” And thus she did not make any ideas on this. Just as she knew that she did not understand why he created this, or entirely.
To go to this extent just to protect a family inheritance. It was a little severe and rather extreme. “I have a question.”
“What is it?”
“Do you know why my father created this?”
“I don’t know. To be honest, he had never told me this truth. So, I can’t answer your question.” This was something she doubted her father would have done. A little strange, almost bizarre even in the choices. It just didn’t make any sense together. Her father had a reason, and it was something that she only could not find it out now.
“But I have speculation before his death he was asking me to look more into the spies of the shogunate and to secure them. And also, possibly start looking into the imperial court.”
She turned around, with a full idea of what it meant. He was making a play, a power play for control or influence. It could go many ways, and be used to many ends. But to the shogun, this was dangerous. The man who was primarily the most powerful after the shogun. Any movement was strange, and they had many restrictions in an attempt to do so.
A smaller clan might only get the other way, because merely upsetting the balance was unlikely. Changing the tide was even more difficult. They were a clan who could topple them and if they supported the cause for a republic.
“Thank you, that is all I need from you for now.” The woman left, knowing that the lady had many things to think of, and it was best in private. She sighed, before taking up her cup and taking a sip of water.