Chapter One: To A City

He had not expected to see this place again. But here he was, standing on top of a ship waiting for his companions to come down. From high up, the first had been a girl named Masami wearing dark blue kimono. With her black hair tied into a braid on her right side. She looked down at him, even as the passengers were getting off and he had came down first.

Having been at the upper decks and left faster than most; because he had been dragged down against his will. She was followed by a girl with red hair, carrying around a parasol lined with lace. Her eyes were a deep blue, while choosing a light green kimono. She was called Yuki.

He looked around to find himself looking at the man claiming their trunks. Which was around only three in total. But Shinrou could only take two at any point due to the large size. He was wearing rough garments, his hair despite its shortness, messy. Kazuho had long hair tied up, which was far more difficult to keep. As though he had not combed it in a long while. The only difference between Kazuho and him was that Kazuho added a haori to it. The man was named Shinrou.

It became a necessity for him to look for something which could help them to carry it into the inn. Walking was rather dangerous and it was best if they avoided it, personally.

Shinrou came forward, having finished at last. “I’ll look for something.” Kazuho offered to look for something to carry it.

“Do it quickly Kazuho, since it’s already afternoon.” He went down into the streets. Not far as the docks were still in sight, with it being apparent due to the sheer size and emptiness. Compared to the rest of the city which was built with high buildings, rooftops and even further decorations at the top. And in the middle, was a large palace. The Shogun’s palace.

He had to find a market, it was needed. “The market is that way.” A young trader with black hair, somewhat short. While carrying a horse with all his wares packed on them. He looked at the horse, which was rather light by all means. Making sense if the distance was far and he was staying here. Such was the norm, to have young men seek their fortune by moving to a new city and bringing their trade with them. Kazuho could see an opportunity.

He took out some cash, which could be enough to buy him bed and board for several days. “Do you want anything?”

“Can I borrow the horse? It won’t be long since I’m just finding lodgings.” He looked at it in hesitation, he would lose his transport. And if he was here for the day, it would backfire. At the same time, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. It was giving away money. And so, he gave a nod. He had taken everything off, before handing him the horse.

“Bring them back when you’re done.” He gave a nod. He took the horse by his reins, walking with him back. All the way back to the docks again.

As much as the ship had anchored and was preparing for the next trip. With the girls came down and standing right beside Shinrou. In which he passed it over the man. Before watching Shinrou take up everything and putting their items securely on the horse. Answers could be given later as to how he acquired the horse. But the city was a place where many walked, the exceptions were traders bringing wares. They needed somewhere to stay, before buying a house.

Even as they began their journey to find a place to stay. Shinrou had walked ahead of them, with Kazuho close behind. He was someone who knew Okiban the best; even as it was years since he stepped into the city. Things would have changed, traders marveled at how a city could change in a single year much less several.

“What did you do?” They were walking down to main streets, where all was strolling about their day. An inn could be found here, or at least somewhere.

“I rented him. And I need to return him once we’re done and settled.” He could guess that it won’t be any longer than early evening. If they could find it fast. But the trader had not asked specifically for a time, and only asked to return it when they were done.

Shinrou nodded even as he headed inside. Masami was behind the horse, taking a stance of looking out for any who might steal the horse. All the while Yuki was busy looking all around the city, for any place that she might like to frequent. Though the girl was barely understanding the language.

“I wonder where are the sweet shops?” He should have guessed. The moment came where neither of them were available and Yuki knew he was the one who could figure it out.

“A couple of them are sweet shops.” But what they served was something else. There was no regulation on what they served, having been through many of them as a child. All the while figuring out that each often served their own renditions with a couple of fairly normal desserts. While warm desserts won’t really become popular until it was in the freezing winter.

“Do you know anything about them?”

“Not much. As I said, I didn’t spend a lot of time here.”

“Then what about that huge castle over there?” He was about to go, even as she held his hand. Making them fall behind. He knew what the place was.

“The Shogun’s palace. And they don’t accept visitors.” It was only by invitation. Even as he could see that there were no events to open the place. Nor was he keen to really go to any one of them.

“Figures, it looked like the kind a king might stay in.” With high walls, higher than any other building of the country. Even as the current residents of the palace was not more than perhaps ten. “I wonder, who came up with the title Shogun?”

He rolled his eyes. “It means ‘General subduing the barbarians’, a title granted by the Emperor of Kyokuhi. Think of us as something of military rule. The Shogun can only rule with strong military control. Although even that isn’t necessary and in reality a Shogun’s word was not absolute but depended on the control he had over the Daimyo clans and the Samurai.”

“Then what does the Emperor do?”

“Unity. Ridding the country of the Emperor is a dangerous precedent because many revere them as living gods because of their descent.” She blinked at it. To some extent it was believable, and in some cases it wasn’t. But such was the way, tradition had been seeped in their bones. Though the Shogunate was the only one which was always rather novel.

Just as he saw that Shinrou was on the other end of the street. And the both of them ran, knowing that they will get lost otherwise. Catching up to them was exhausting, as each time they were getting closer he made a turn. And each of them had been rough to work with.

Until he had stopped. And Kazuho ran to the back of the horse, holding the trunks in an attempt to catch his breath. While Yuki was in much better shape, and still able to jump all around.

“I found a place.” It was a normal sign, with a normal name. Even as Shinrou shot him a puzzled look at how he was sweating, despite it being in the breezy autumn weather. And why he was leaning at the back of it. He looked up reading the sign. Hotaru, perhaps the name of the owner since it was common. Even as many preferred to use a family name.

After a few more breaths and some wiping of sweat, he opened the door. He needed to open the door since he was the one who had the most amount of money, and had the ability to find more. The innkeeper was a couple, a woman helping to serve food up the stairs and in the chairs outside. Where traveling traders or warriors came to have a seat and a quick meal.. While the man sat at the counter looking over his accounts, as it was the best time as it was still in the early afternoon. He stepped forward to them. They looked normal enough.

The tables were worn, although kept in good condition. The place showed signs of age despite being well maintained. He knew that it could not be too expensive when observed as he waited for the man to take notice of him. And it was the best way to judge.

“Welcome, what would you like?”

He turned around, giving a soft gentle smile. “How much does it cost a night for two rooms?”

“Ten silver coins.” He took out a note. Enough to last him here for ten nights. And it was far easier than taking a hundred coins. Those were heavy, while these was far easier to steal as it was to hide them. It was collected before two keys were given to them. He would take one while Masami would take the other. No copies, but he figured that it was the case.

He opened the door, even as he gave Masami the other key. Followed by her taking one of the trunks, even as Kazuho took one with Shinrou taking the other for them. He opened the door, entering inside and placing the trunk. There was a small table inside, with the futons neatly laid out. There was extra, perhaps guessing that some of them were here with others.

He took two of them, knowing how it was to be laid out. Unrolling on the floor, while placing the trunk at the other corner of the room. The table would have to be the corner south of the door. Shinrou would unpack everything first while he was looking at their plans first.

Once he was done he sat down, fishing out the maps from the inside of the trunks. It was easy to spot, due to it being ink and keeping it at the side. Filled with Shinrou’s scribbles all over it, in a way that would have baffled many of them now. Shinrou entered at this moment, finding the room already finished and done.

“You arranged everything quite fast.” Shinrou scanned the room, before taking a seat.

They were not done yet, even as they needed Masami. Their next action was one they needed to think about. He had a couple of ideas, but it was best to discuss. He did have an ability for plans, but those times were when he had plenty of resources. Now, he needed to ensure that he was discreet.

His eyes turned the moment he heard the door open. It was different as it was sliding. Masami entered inside, “What did you do?” Shinrou asked. “Because the last time I was with them, Yuki had been fussing over the decor.”

“I gave her full rights to redecorating.” It was strange for someone to give such a benefit, but for Yuki, it was the best and only excuse they could come up with. It was a necessity for her to do something to keep Yuki on the side. She had been here because she simply wanted to do some sightseeing, along with helping him on his search. Even as Kazuho was tempted to believe that was an excuse, it was simply a chance to see a country which was far on the map and be able to see the best sights of it.

“I do hope no one enters the room and realize what she has done to it.” She gave a shrug. Even as she sat down across the two men. He handed her the map, in which she looked at it from a fair distance. Before moving closer and closer, clear that she had no idea how did anyone read this.

“How do you see this? My apologies Shin-san, it is like someone had left a child with ink.” The man’s eye twitched, even as she looked at Kazuho. “And passed it to his friend who decided to make sense of the doodles.”

“Because we were discussing just where it is.” As he took out another copy of the map, fresh from any of the ink that had covered the previous. She nodded and looked at it, getting a better view of the city. Even as the other had been because both Shinrou and Kazuho had spent years away, so there was the possibility of it having left was certain. Or something more while they were here.

They needed to plan their moves carefully. Too blatant and they’ll attract the wrong sort of attention, too restricted and they’ll head nowhere. It needed to be considered with all the factors especially if they did not want others to become aware; one where he needed to exercise discretion. Even as he picked it up, knowing just where to go first. Finding a place to stay was the most important thing of all. But they also needed to know who they should look up first.

“And the first person we should meet is Ayakazu.” He pointed to the district of the Geisha, even as they traveled to different locations they always needed a home. And also a place where men could enter without any fear, or without any worries at all.

“A Geisha, are you certain that’s a good idea?” Masami looked at Shinrou.

“Geishas can become privy powerful secrets. That’s because they often entertain powerful men, mainly because of their talents. And many of them can get quite close to them and thus know a lot of information that few others can. Many Geishas tend to be spies, either for the Shogunate or other factions.” It was a smart move, but wouldn’t it serve as a reason to go to her. She could still do the same to them as well.

“I know that she won’t betray me. So far, she has not.” Even as they had fell out of contact for years. Not at any given point, hopefully so. He had known just where the woman was from, and perhaps their relationship had been much more than what was known on the surface. Even as Shinrou had not spoke of how he had met her. Masami gave a nod, knowing that it was important. Even as Kazuho noted it down, in a fast almost quick manner.

“We should ask her about the Sasaki clan, and their movements.” It was something which he had to keep an eye out. “And how the situations is here politically, since we don’t know what is going on here. It has been years since we stepped into this place.”

“I do know a few people, but it might be difficult for me. And Yuki will be better for it.” It was likely something about the higher class, even as he never did ask where did Masami came from. Or even what she had known.

“But first of all, we need a place to stay.” He sighed, even as he had gotten a great idea.

“How about you get the horse back to the trader? It’s already in the mid-afternoon and I’m sure you’ll get lost.” He was right, even as Kazuho realized that this was simply what he had needed to do. He could ask him, it was not too much and he was sure that he must have found somewhere if he had brought his horse. That was a sign of long traveling—it was practical to find a place to stay while he sold his goods.

In which he had gotten up, just as he ran out to take the horse hung on the outside. It was a good choice, since it was better than paying a visit to Ayakazu first. She was difficult to see and could suggest a deeper relationship than before especially if they were staying at an inn as compared to a house.

It was a fast trip to see the same trader again, he knew where to go roughly. But the docks were rather prominent, thus it was easy for him to figure it out from looking around the streets. The trader gave a wave when he saw him, even as Kazuho brought him over.

“Thank you.” He held the snout of the horse. Kazuho knew it was time to ask the question.

“Where do you stay while you’re here?”

He took a moment to think. “There’s a district for traders to stay in. Although it’s mostly shared, where a landlord buys it and rents it to us. Here’s the address.” And was better than inns at all points. He nodded. Thanking him for the information even as he took his horses and left. At least they would know where to go next.

The address was in the district where merchants mostly made their homes and bought properties. The best place for something like this.

He had come back to the inn. Using the same route he had done so before, it was easy enough. And it was early evening when he had arrived in his room. As they were eating dinner. With a bowl set aside for him.

“I found us a place.” Sitting down, while taking up the chopsticks to start eating. “I asked the trader for some information.”

“That lucky?” Which was to his benefit too. Even as the man had ripped him off in some form, but it had not been too much.

“So, we have to move again? I just finished decorating.” Just as Masami was struggling to keep herself from bursting out in laughter. He had no wish to see the place.

“Either way we need to make a decision, what should we go as?” A family was out of the question. None of them looked alike. Kazuho had a prominent nose while Shinrou and Masami had flat ones. Yuki had large eyes, something that none of them could compare. And her red hair. Shinrou was lean and broad-shouldered while Kazuho was lithe and gave others the impression of a scholar.

“A group of traders?” The only thing that was necessary for them was to find something to sell while they were here. Or at least look as though they were doing it. And it was a profession which women could enter without any strange looks. Many women often worked as weavers or artisans.

“It’s easy to. I can make a couple of things if you get me cloth, and perhaps metal.” Although Yuki was the tough one as she fit neither.

“And I can explain with ease why I’m carrying a ridiculous amount of money.”

“You mean the amount of money that screams ‘rob me’?” To anyone who could tell how much he was bringing.

“It’s a risk I have to take. I can’t afford to go broke. You may never know when you need it.” Shinrou rolled his own eyes at that.

“When are we looking at the houses?” Masami asked. Even as she continued their meal. “Do you even know where it is?”

“I took the address from him.” He took out the piece of paper from his sleeves.

“When are you bringing me to see the sights of the city?” As hunting for houses could mean that since they would be walking all over the city

“Tomorrow.” It was something they all agreed upon as they continued with their meal.