Chapter Seven: A Price To Move Forward

The letter came back soon enough. On it had only a sentence, I’ll be waiting for you on that night. And thus, he had waited until the day came. This was the first step to finding Rin, his childhood friend. The owner of this pendant which he had kept for safekeeping. His friend had stayed with Ayakazu, during the duration of her stay here. And thus, it made the most sense to ask her first above anyone else.

He stood outside the district of the Geisha. A place where he had known, but was unlikely to step into it. But he entered inside. His last visit to this city had been where he was nothing more than a child, and thus was never going to really see what went behind. Shinrou had walked the place with an air of familiarity, but as he knew the men had never really shown the interest.

Or even explained what sort of connection he had with Ayakazu. Even as the woman was a full decade older than he was, and in some ways old enough to be Kazuho’s mother. But he had never felt the need to ask, even until now.

He followed Shinrou’s step, as he knew the place well enough. Something which he figured to trust him on. As they went through the bright streets, with lanterns shown and people all around. Houses of all sorts were open to them. This was a flower town, one of the only in the city. Side by side, with the Yukaku which were for the Oiran. But these two were different places. The main difference was Geisha not selling their bodies, something which the Oiran would do.

Even as both the Oiran and Geisha were incredibly well educated as a result of their trade, despite many people seeing them as far lower than honest women. They were frequented by all men with the exception of the Shogun, who had never taken a companion from either of them. It was not forbidden, but rather Shoguns had felt the need for such a companion.

It had been a quick walk when he had eventually looked at one of the biggest houses amongst them all. As he remembered, Tohana was one with the largest history. The best that could be seen in the place itself, it was five levels. Entering inside, he looked around just to see the performance of one Geisha. They were artists and entertainers predominantly, before they walked further in.

“Do you have an appointment with any of them?” It was a young Geiko. She was dressed in a light peach kimono, and the more elaborate styles. Asked to observe her younger sisters, but there was something about her which suggested that she was not. Other than the fact that she was not sitting with the others down there, observing the performance.

“It’s with Ayakazu.”

“So, you must be Kazuho-sama and Shinrou-sama.” Even as she led them to the back of the building. And a back entrance was noticed, and a staircase. He could understand why this became the location in which they chose to make their entrance, as it allowed them to make a way up that was not too obvious. It was five flights of stairs, where they reached the top of the level. Obvious as to why she was all on the top, for it only contained a few rooms. But most of them were on the left side, and two on the other.

Kazuho could tell in that instant just which side was the office. She opened the door on the ride, perhaps taking the chance to talk to Ayakazu. The woman whom they were about to see. Wordlessly, she invited them in in the next instance. Coming inside, Kazuho came face to face with the woman. Shinrou was behind him.

She was in a dark green kimono, her hair in a bun adorned by various hairpins. On her hands, was the kiseru pipe. Her powdered face gave the illusion as youthful, with her lips painted a dark red. The same could be said for the girl as well. But the dark kimono gave an air of maturity to her, suggesting her age.

“Take a seat. You must have came from afar. How long have you been here?”

“Barely half a month.” Half a month because of the amount of time which was required of them to settle, and to finally get started.

“How about some wine in this setting?” They would not find any reasons to agree to it. “Though, would you be able to handle it?” Her eyes looked to Kazuho in particular.

“Worry more about him, he can barely take three glasses of regular wine.” While could last a whole bottle, but rarely did. Instead, he sought for stronger wine rather than drinking more.

“You still have poor tolerance.”

“I just prefer to remain sober. Unlike this guy who sometimes wished that he can be drunk for eternity.”

“And yet I rarely do.” He could count the number he did have on his own hands. He liked them but erred on the side of indulgence or testing the limit of his alcohol tolerance.

“Ask the servants to bring a wine from the wine cellar.” She bowed before leaving. Also being certain that nothing could begin until it. Ayakazu didn’t seem to continue the conversation, and Shinrou had done the same. Until the girl had entered inside with the bottle of wine in her hands. And three cups. Pouring it for Ayakazu first, before Shinrou and finally him.

“I mean it is a surprise to see your handwriting after nearly five years of nothing. I was thinking that you might not be coming back.” She put down her pipe.

“It just took longer than I expected. And I wonder, is she still with you?” Kazuho could guess that it was not likely. Especially if she was not here, because Shinrou mentioned that she was staying with her. And the first time he wrote his letter, the contents inside also included her name. There was none of that in her reply to them. And if she was here, she would have written them a letter. Which suggested that she had left if she was not around.

But Shinrou had kept hope of course. For he had grown up with her, and asked Ayakazu to take care of her. “She left, even as I said that I could make a place for her. But it would be dependent on whether she will become a Geisha. She was rather suited for it, but she did not and thus had to leave.”

She took a sip of her drink. But not more, was she asking them to prod deeper. “Where did she go?” If she had not brought it up, then it was up to them to question.

“That would require a price.” A price in which he must be willing to pay. “Information like that is valuable. I trade in secrets, and not even Shinrou can convince me to not make a trade. That was what I would give for free, a lead. But for something more substantial, a price would have to be paid.”

It was to be expected, she was a Geisha. Often served as companions of many men, and in many cases, they were also convenient spies. Around during important events, but never serving a central role. Their work was not limited to their own quarters and could travel around and enter private homes. Much unlike the Oiran, who were restricted to just a few districts in the city.

“But for this, I’m willing to take money.” Even as it was clear to him that to her, money meant little. She had earned enough in this trade to demand secrets, which meant that she had enough revenue to support it. It was a favor, something that she would only give to people she knew.

He took out his checkbook. Passing it to her, where the girl brought over a brush. “Are you sure you want me to write the amount?” She gave a smile. He nodded.

“If you have decided to lower your price, I’m sure that you won’t have the need to demand an exorbitant sum of money.” To him, he understood the power of secrets. Secrets could be in turn used to blackmail him, and could sometimes equate his entire fortune. Money was something he could earn back, but secrets was not something he could easily give. They could entangle him into worse things, as at most losing his fortune would mean being unable to partake in anything. The same could not be said for losing his reputation.

She wrote it, before passing it to him to check when he was done. He returned a smile, the amount was not a lot. It was just what one would expect from spending a typical night here. Where he sighed it, and passed it to her. “Very well, she left in a palanquin, but to whom I can’t tell. The man had kept his identity a secret, unless you would like to pay more. But it was with a man not of high standing, and of mysterious origin. All I know is that he came through the back gardens and met her.”

But to him it was a direction, one where he could figure out where from there. Even as it had not been a lot. Clearly not enough to do it, but told him that it was something she had dealings with. And understood how she would not do it. Unless something was given in return, and a price was attached.

“Mind if I ask another question?” He asked. Shinrou looked at him, in which he gave a nod. The man took up the drink to take a sip, knowing full well that Ayakazu was not willing to give this sort away for free. Trading in secrets was far more dangerous, and thus it made more sense why she would have kept it secret. Unless of course she had another to profit from. It was an exchange that always depended on whether anyone was willing to trade them.

“How would you reveal secrets?”

“Something of equal weight must be given. For that, you must be willing to tell me a little more about yourself.” He returned a smile. Knowing that he would have no intentions to do so. “Just like how Shinrou can tell me where he has been these past four years, you can tell me your true name. And your secrets might not be something that I might even give out”

It was easy for her to know why, as long as she took in Rin. They were no more than children then, and he was not using the name Kazuho then. It was merely a courtesy to not be seeking it. “I suppose you do already know that, how would you use it?”

It’s just rumors, not a true secret.” So, it has no weight unless he admitted it to her. But he would not hand something like that over, Shinrou had given him the chance to not give up anything he had not wanted. But it was to be fair, connections could only bring them so far. “I would only give away secrets which had been told to me by them, because only those are the truth.”

So, no way to trade in other secrets either. And he most certainly knew that fake ones would be told. “That’ll be all I will do for today.” The price range was something he would need to weigh in if he ever wanted to come here. She had been lenient, he had not given anything in which he needed to be careful of.

“How about you stay? Since Shinrou and I would most definitely like to catch up for a while.”

“Either way, I spent a lot of my childhood here. Raised by the Geisha.” He looked at him, with a raised eyebrow. It certainly was a strange way to grow up.

“I thought you spent your childhood moving all around the world.”

“That was after I was six, but most of my early years were here. Where onee-san had found a Samurai family to adopt me into them.”

“So, you didn’t have a liaison with her five years ago?” He asked, somewhat surprised. Shinrou had not mentioned much, but the first time he had met he had left to meet with someone else. And happened to buy some flowers to send to her, on Rin’s suggestions.

“Is that what you thought?”

“Well, I don’t judge anyone for their preferences. And I assumed that Ayakazu was her the moment I saw you writing her a letter. And after I read of how intimate it had been.” Even as he could almost swear that Shinrou was baffled, and possibly angry. He raised his hands, as he had never asked much about this and if he had not said it, then the younger man had not been wrong to assume it.

“That girl was another girl, and she’s a year younger than I was. She is almost a full decade older than I am now.” Which placed her in her mid thirties, from suggestions alone.

Ayakazu gave a small smile about this. “I wonder, would you like to spend a night with me? I can most certainly have a good time with you and you are able to pay for the fees. If you do, perhaps I can share with you some secrets. I mean, you’re the same age as Shinrou was back then.” Even as he certainly did have the cash to do so.

“No thank you.” He looked away, preferring not to say much about it. Even as Shinrou gave a laugh, deriving amusement from his whole situation as it was.

“So, you were adopted into her family?” He nodded. There was never much said about who she was from, and that she had spent most of her life traveling. “From what I knew, he had been something of a diplomat and a courtier of sorts. A member of the shogun’s circle, and also with the imperial court at times.”

Which was highly unusual, even as he had an idea within it. But Ayakazu mentioned that he was not a man of high standing at all and if it had been her kinsman: it would have been information that she would have given to them. “He had taken me in out of charity, nothing suggesting that I had a connection to him. I mean, you clearly know that.”

“But we lost contact with him after a while, he disappeared off the coast a couple of months just before Rin was born. And Mama had decided to take us on a ship beyond.” He knew it was highly unusual, something enough to placate a small child but nothing that could be said upon a further look into. “I don’t remember the clan name any longer.”

Which could have a link of its own, and suggested where she had a lead. “It’s Kobayashi, Shinrou.” The family name itself was not of any importance to her, which to Kazuho told him that it may have been two separate clans. Perhaps with a link, but one which they must find on their own. And even if he were to choose this route, there would still be a price paid.

“Hisaei, show them out for the night.” Even as Kazuho took the chance to drink his cup of sake. Just as Shinrou finished his cup before they stood up and leave. The girl had lead them down and showed them the way out, which was through the back gate. Outside, it was a garden and a place to study.

Something which Shinrou looked fondly at. “I certainly still remember running around here as a child.” Touching the table set in it. Before he stood up and choosing to leave. Just as Kazuho had been thinking about their next move. He did have a direction on his choices, and he could tell where to go first. A man of not high standing would have meant that it had nothing to do with the Shogunate.

Not that he thought about it either, being in the Shogunate drew a lot of attention. Even adopting a child often meant rumors being spread like wildfire. And thus, it would have made it to the news, and he had read it throughout these few days. And so far, it was nothing which suggested that she might have been there. But the Daimyos were possible, despite their influence and wealth, most had been private in their life. There was not much documented about their children.

Unlike the Shogunate where the children itself were often paraded, shown off to the others. Sons more so than daughters, as it suggested that the Shogunate had an heir. And tradition mandated that the whole clan had to be present for a wide variety of festivals, and the Shogun could send the side branches head as proxies if he could not make it.

It meant that he was looking at merchants, someone wealthy enough to afford such a lifestyle. Or the upper classes Samurai, as most of the ronin had often been used by the shogunate as soldiers in an effort to have their debts written off and gain monetary compensation.

Once they were out, he was walking the streets in the darkness. “So, what do you think we should do next?”

“There are three places, wealthy merchant families, influential Samurai families, and prestigous Daimyo families. To begin with, the merchants would be the easiest to enter. As I can prove that I’m doing business.” He could do that by doing investments, as he had decreased his number of investments before coming here. Even as he knew that they were a closed group, and it would take time. But he had promised to do it no matter how hard it was.

But the same could not be said for the rest. All he could do was take one step at a time. “It’s decided as it is.” A man of not high standing, but that didn’t explain much. And he couldn’t just make assumptions on them. Though he focused on the lower end first, not because they were easier but because she had mentioned it. It didn’t eliminate the last, but it could not be considered first until he had seen them.

“So, how would you enter?”

“Let me think of it when I reach home, and see whether there are any of those events where the richest convene. If there are, I probably can enter.”

“That would be enough for now.”

They walked back to their home, with a clear idea in mind of where to head next.