In the streets of Okiban, it took a while to find Houya inn. She had not brought any companion although asked directions from Kaede before coming here. Dressed in her simplest kimono, one made of rough silk and in a faded blue color. Something which would not have drawn much attention and so far it was the truth.
She knew that coming here would only require her to ask about Enyou and she would be brought to them. It was clear since they mentioned that it was at their expense, even as Enyou was treated to the hospiality provided by the Saitou household in return. To ensure that they were on level ground, something which had been shrewd of Masaki to do.
The lady took a step in, before coming to the interior. Inside had been filled with a staircase at the front, and a hallway further inside. Tables lined the floor and close to the barrier on the second floor. With a great view of the city, even if it was in the early afternoon.
“May I know what you’re here for?” He asked.
“I’m looking for Enyou.” A name that he nodded before he brought her up the stairs. Into the hallway, and Sachiko knew that it was where private rooms were located. The place here seemed like one where any could approach but at the same time had so much which allowed those with more to enjoy it. It was in terms of the tables, where they were placed and of course the hidden rooms.
He took the room which was in the last corner, opening the room for her. Inside, she saw Enyou. Sitting beside her had been a man. The room was empty save for a table, and seats laid out. With parts of books hung on the sides, ones which were no longer viable and thus cut up to be hung. She knelled before them.
Enyou and Sasaki were both dressed in red, no designs which suggested anything more. And she had done the same as well, not finding much use for them. The table was still empty save for a bottle of sake already on the table itself, and a vase of flowers. Reminding her of the ones she received. Marking this entire place as his territory.
She picked it up, the flowers here used were the forget me not. But there was something more. A scent that was not of the sake. She knew it, having taking a chance to smell it when Kaede gave it to her. And this had been refreshing, with a smell of citrus. But it was not something which she had found with Enyou.
“So, you’re the one who arranged the flowers?” She asked.
“I don’t have much to do, and besides plants can be dangerous.” Flowers could be used to hide something, as there was a language with them. She had done so out of boredom, but this was the first time she saw it used as a form of communication. The flower from its scent had been verbena. Which meant cooperation and in this case could be said that he wanted to work with her.
“Indeed it can, and you also seemed to know that I like a garden.” Clear that he knew quite a bit about her, or at the very least had heard quite a bit about her. Even as she had been mostly in the countryside. Which gave her an idea that it had been through her brother, who had been here for quite a while and letters would have been easily intercepted.
“Did you learn this through my brother?”
He nodded. Confirming on how he had done it. “And that you hate tea, I mean you were detailing on how much you disliked that beverage. And also a long essay about coffee as well.”
She looked away, knowing full well of how real it had been. She knew that the letter had a lot of personal details, and nothing which was important to him at all. “Well, I learned most of this second-hand from a maidservant who told me. Her name is Ayame.”
“So, she would be our point of contact?” She asked. It was easy enough to have her serve as one, even as it was a warning that perhaps her household was more infiltrated than it was. Perhaps why Suzumi had been so secretive and spoke in such a cryptic manner. There was no way to tell just who was listening and what had been their allegiance.
“Indeed. But that is if we form the alliance.” He had a price, she should not find it strange. Just as Hajime brought in the food. She took a sip of the wine first, thirsty. “And a great choice on the refreshing scent of the peppermint.”
“It’s slight although these are an interesting choice for the room.” Nothing very very specific as it seemed. Or anything which had been most certainly true. The flowers sent to her then had been funeral flowers, which was out of respect. But here was his territory and thus he suggested more using his surroundings.
“It’s the decorations.” Even as it had not fitted with the room itself, where there was a lot more simplicity in terms of the design.
“Indeed it is.” Since she was not familiar with how the architecture was. But here there was a difference and showed a taste for it, and knowing that now was the best time to ask about what he would gain. “What is your price?”
“Allow me to use your network to find someone. And I can be sure to help you.” He may have had his own network, but it was no doubt not as extensive as her family’s. Thus why he asked this, it had benefitted him at now cost.
“Would you reveal the name of the person to me? Perhaps it might ring a bell?” She asked.
“Kouya.” He took a sip of his wine. The name had not been something which she remembered at all. But there was no doubt it was strange. “It means God of the Night.”
An unusual name choice, more of an alias or even a title than an actual name. “Is it linked with Fukusei?”
“Indeed it is. But I have my own reasons for seeking this man out.” Something personal in fact, and she could guess that it had quite a bit to do with his father’s death. Something told her that it was so, as that death had been responsible for the loss in his family’s prestige. Even as he took a further drink. Enyou had opened her fan, expressing no emotion in this.
“And all I need from you is your family’s expertise and loyalty in this.” They served the shogun under similar terms, but theirs would be one of convenience. To their own benefit, because Sachiko truly needed him as much as he benefited from the arrangement. Without having to lose anything, it indeed was the perfect solution. Not going to question just why he would have chosen to do this.
“A toast to our alliance.” She raised the cup. And he did it as well with Enyou. Even as they both took the chance to drink all as they could. And that she would need to seek a maid named Ayame out once she went back.
Once they were settled, it was time to suggest more on how they were going to do this. It was of utmost importance they do it now. “I’ll start. The main point of our relationship would be through Ayame and as a beginning I can tell you that there are a total of five spies in that household itself. One for the Shogun, a shinobi who has been under him. And a few others, some of which I can’t discern the loyalty yet.”
And he took out a piece of paper. Inside, these were the names of the men and women she would have to avoid. And also get Masaki to avoid. “And in my household, there is someone who presides over all the networks and she is named Suzumi. I’ll get her to send you a letter on the list of all contacts she has to do as you wish with it.”
He gave a nod. They had not touched the food, even as it was mostly light snacks. The real main course was not yet here. Which she wasn’t looking forward to as of right now, perhaps once they were done. Since it was often raw and needed to be eaten as soon as possible, even as she had always been fairly adventurous.
“There is also something more. The Shogun has a lot of secrets, even as he destroys any evidence of them we keep information about them. It is up until the recent decade and our release, but it holds a lot of secrets that any family would be willing to kill for and a man might perhaps choose to kill his entire family for.”
“As it leaves the Shogun at the mercy of whoever it is.” Which had been the main reason why it had been so secretive. “Does anyone know about it?”
“No. But I would need guards for it.” And that he wishes to have her find them and have them on her payroll. “And if you hear of any rumors about the shogunate, I can confirm the legitimacy of it. But it would be a separate price.”
Because that would mean that he had truly thrown everything with her, and the price would be much higher. The shogun would know that the secret revealer was none other than them, as they had been their loyal servants. Getting rid of them, but not foolish either to keep those copies. He was telling her this as they could be trusted.
“Have you read it?”
“We both have read it. But it’s the sort that even a whisper might get us killed.” And clear that to have them finally reveal it would be a lot more than even she anticipated at the end of the day. But it was the beginning of their alliance, and she would agree to send them what they had wanted. She was indeed, in their terrain more so than hers.
Even as the waiter had brought in the main course.
Kazuho stepped into the courtyard of the building. Before him was one of the taller buildings of the place, and inside an event was there. A place for the merchants to connect with each other, whether they were old, young, new and experienced. The only measure of success was their wealth and sales. That was all that mattered. It didn’t matter whether they were male or female, foreign or a native.
He came here on his own, with only Masami as his companion. She was dressed in a simple dark blue kimono, the same for him. Even as the display of wealth was lined beneath the kimono. One which was how merchants always showed their wealth. More so in recent times where thieves used clothing as a sign, and it was easier to obscure the intricacy but also flaunting it. To any who could
Not needing anyone else in this time, as he had merely wanted to ask about the pendant. And figured that the best chances was with a gathering of jewelers or artisans. Which happened to be available, even as he brought Masami along. They exchanged a look before stepping in.
“May I know who you are?”
He took out a piece of paper, the invitation which it was printed and written on. They looked at it, in an attempt to find any sign of forgery. As almost anyone would have wanted to enter such a sight. A chance to know some of the best people, and form a relationship with them. Nothing was found, thus they opened the door for them.
Inside, there were many tables. All of which were occupied as well as many choosing to stand. His entry was not met with strangeness. Allowing him to make his way through. Looking for someone who might be willing to talk to them. It was not flocking to any person in particular. it would be strange given that he knew almost no one here but waiting for someone to speak to him.
“Nagisa.” Masami who was now talking to a woman. He turned around to see her. The woman was dressed, with plenty of hairpins. The only way for them to really show off, necklaces and pendants had few uses and were easy targets. While earrings from what he could see where rare, and perhaps only among those who were foreign or had foreign blood. But the hairpins was something which was noticeable, glittering in the sun after being carefully arranged.
“Masami.” She gave a smile. “And you are?”
“Kazuho. We’re a pair of siblings who came from Fukusei and have been selling mostly jewelery and accessories.” He took out his pocket watch, one where many could agree that it was finely carved. One of the best in the entire country.
She took a chance to look at it. Anyone could tell that it was not something the normal could afford. The plating had been in gold, an unusual choice. But it told them Kazuho and Masami had belonged here despite their youth. Even as she
“It’s a gift from my father.” And in times of need could be sold and melted down to have some emergency cash. Masami’s hair was still in a braid, except that it was piled up using hairpins. One was a bira-bira, one which hung from the top and the flowers of the white chrysanthemum. The other was a comb but in the colors of black.
She closed it before handing it back to them. “What brings you to Okiban?”
“A little business and also catching up with a client before my father’s death.” Leaving it at that because he had not known her enough and asking her of something would have been strange.
“Yes. I can see that, so I assume she’s of Samurai birth?”
He gave a shrug. “Perhaps, perhaps not. These days there are more merchants pretending to be them and more Samurai who became merchants out of necessity. And that we have been settling everything and this is the last, having almost forgotten about the existence of this and that no letter has been received to inquire about it.”
“Indeed. It has become harder, even as I associate Fukusei with the former and Okiban with the latter.
“Even as the pendant we were supposed to gift her had been made out of gold, and we received word to come here. So we might as well see what the city has to offer while we look for her.” Not suggesting that she take a look, which would have been a telltale sign of desperation. Or rather something stranger.
“I see. Perhaps I might know who it is.” She had kept a small smile. He took out the pendant, which had been something far more unique in its making. The pocket watch was merely to affirm that this was not unusual to be in his possession, as it would be if he had simply presented one made of nickel. As it suggested that the maker was a great craftsman and more than capable of something like this.
“The design here is indeed excellent. Although the style seems to be a fusion. This is more akin to a wedding present, an engagement gift. Unusual too, as pendants are uncommon as gifts unless the bride was foreign. Or the woman is marrying abroad.”
“So, you think she might have left for marriage abroad?” He asked. Clearly knowing that it was not the case, but he knew it was best to play along. But to request something as exquisite as this and forgetting it was uncommon.
“Possibly.” Even as she focused deep into pendant itself. As though there was something more. Something which Masami and Kazuho held themselves back from looking, it was before them. Just as he saw her reaching for her dagger, perhaps as a precaution. In case she was going to run with it. Which had been why he took Masami as opposed to Shinrou. It was less flashy and less strange for them to be here.
“There is an inscription in the pendant. It’s a small one, but is the name of the Kobayashi family.” He had been surprised, Kazuho spent many a day looking at it perhaps for any clue long before he took the ship here. And yet he had not noticed it. “It’s unclear, melded. But is often a clue as to who commissioned it. And there is another which doesn’t make any sense either, the alphabets are just strange.”
In which he read it, and knew that it was mostly because she had not known the language. But to him, it didn’t matter. The name Kobayashi meant the name of the family Rin’s father came from, and a clue to helping him figure out where to head next. “It’s probably nothing. Since even if it isn’t the right one, I would find the owner as long as I seek them out.”
“Indeed, happy to be of help to you. Come by my shop anytime, I sell and make almost all types of jewelry.” Even as she had given them her business card and in a whirlwind she had been gone. Even as it included a copious amount of details about imitations, funeral accessories and also selling precious jewelry.
They kept it. Even as he had looked at the position which she had pointed at, and noticed the fine kanji characters next to the mostly incomprehensible string of letters. He closed it and placed it into his pocket.
“So, are we going to take her word?”
“She’s right about that. Even as she was trying to make a sale with us. Or hopefully, we’ll sell it to her if we can’t find her.”
“What does the incomprehensible letters say?”
“It’s Blavatsky and I most certainly do not want to be finding that in Severya as opposed to Kobayashi in here.”
“Is it because of the bears?”
“You do know that if we wanted to go and hunt bears, we could have just went for Kaisei, there are a lot of bears there. And you’ll also get the chance to understand how cold it is. And if I ever wanted to improve my marksmanship. I certainly would not want to do it in Severya where it is freezing and is mostly speaking a language I barely understand.”
“Did you need to do that? Because I certainly don’t need the speech, since my first rule is to never enter a place where I barely know the language and you also don’t speak it well.”
He took a deep breath knowing that it had been a little too much. “Actually, there is someone who can speak the language well. It’s Shinrou.”
“Oh. But still I don’t want to be hunting bears in the middle of nowhere. So yeah, I’m preferring we look for the Kobayashi clan and Shinrou told me that she was still here. Guess that was just a stupid question.” Even as he knew that Masami learned that this was somewhat of a sore spot for him, where he winds up talking about the bears and unrelated things. “What does bear meat taste like?”
“I have no idea. I have eaten horse meat, and all sorts of things but bear meat never ranked high.”
She shrugged. “I’ll just ask Shinrou then.”
“Or we can have it? I remember that Okiban had a couple of these
“I’m pretty sure that we can.”
Even as they had left, going back to their house. With a clear idea where they needed to go next. The Kobayashi clan.