The same inn they passed by, hidden among the city. And it served a purpose, now more than ever with the location used by the Sasaki. It also told him that the man funded it to a great extent, the only real and authentic way for it to have been under his thumb. Also, it explained the youth of the owner as he remembered that the waiter from the last time was one of them.
Inside, this time around he did not see anyone. Instead, it was a young woman. Who sat on the table, holding her kiseru. She got off once she saw him, and upon seeing her face. He knew the likeness of the adolescent he had seen. “Kazuho, if I’m not wrong?”
He nodded. Even as the woman turned around, bringing them up the stairs, which meant that it was none other than at the top. And into the hallway, and thus indicating a room. One reserved perhaps for those who would prefer not to have their conversations overheard, and a much larger price tag of privacy here than anywhere else.
She stood out ready for them to leave, before standing aside. He stepped in first, without any fear of what laid inside. And looking forward, he saw Sasaki. He was seated with his sister, Enyou who raised her fan. Knowing that he would remember it above all. Yuki, unlike all the times, remained two steps behind him. Perhaps somewhat wary.
Since anything could happen to her at this point, with her parasol still wide open despite being in an enclosed space. Usually a terrible choice for such an occasion. “Take a seat.” He looked on all sides.
“I’m not going to kill you.” He looked, raising an eyebrow.
“Let me take a look, I rather want to know if there is a gun being held to my head rather than my back.”
Something that he knew few would concede, this was something few would want to. Especially if he wanted him to be comfortable. The man gave a sign, just as all of them came down from behind them. One of which was holding a crossbow to his chest, and the other a pistol behind Yuki’s head.
“Drop the weapons and leave.” They both left, even as Yuki had finally closed the parasol.
Before they took a seat down. “Won’t even let that pass? Guess you’re sharp, or you have a friend who is?”
They both shrugged, both denying and accepting everything. An agreement they came to, to mostly confuse them. At least to keep them unsure of what was their skills, and their weaknesses.
“I’m Sasaki Entetsu.” There wasn’t any need to tell who he was, given that his identity was already known by all.
“So, what brings you to ask me here?”
“You showed just why I asked you.” Noticing when something was lodged behind his head, not something that most normal people could tell.
“I’ll give you that, any other reason.”
“Other than the fact you’re traveling with two people who would seem to make the list of wanted people, and there is almost nothing to you behind the name?”
“What about me?” She asked.
“I literally have no idea what’s she doing here. But why did you pick her?” Yuki gave a wide smile, before looking at Kazuho. Since he knew that Shinrou now would need to keep up his end of the bet.
“Well, she seemed the most harmless of them all,” Enyou answered. “I mean, compared to his friend who was able to pinpoint exactly where was Oboro and Makoto. She seemed like a good choice to pick.”
He nodded, which had been earnest in that sense. Since Yuki was the only one of them to have simply decided not to do anything and seemed to have been in the best position for such a situation ad it was. Her brother nodded at her, knowing that it was fairly true right now.
“You can consider her that.” He gave a small wink to her.
“But back to you, your name has been something of an enigma. I can only dig up onto your country of origin, but little else. No place of education, family and parents.”
“What does that mean?”
“You have something to hide, and you know how to hide them well.”
Kazuho nodded. “Very good, you are aware that I’m hiding. I have a reason why I choose to go to such lengths.”
“Then, tell me what they are.”
“Only if you make sure no other soul here knows this other than you and me.” He gave a smug smile and thinking that there might be more. Or rather to see that it was important enough to him. This was how he could manage to turn this to his own advantage. At the very least, he would be able to gain quite a bit from it.
He nodded. Clearly knowing that negotiations wise, he was someone who knew his game. Even as Kazuho saw how easy it was. There had to be something more, other than to chat and ask his reasons for being here. Which was flimsy, at best.
“Close the doors, and make sure you’re standing a foot from the room.” His own certainty of safety precautions. Something that he knew full well was real.
Now, they were alone.
“I’m looking for someone. All I know her is by the name of Rin, nothing else in fact. I knew her from childhood but we lost contact and that’s what brought me here today.”
He burst out laughing. The man was rolling in laughter. “So, despite everything all you’re doing is looking for someone?”
Not exactly the sort of reaction he expected, but it was the best of them all. At least now he didn’t think any more of it. As much as he needed to draw away from him the fact that it may be his real identity. And focus on her name, and the lack of anything else.
“So, that’s why you went to the Kobayashi clan?” He asked.
“They made my list.”
“Well, I had a memento from her, and that was why I had a clue.” He took it out since there won’t be anyone to see it. And no one could really tell who an object belonged to unless of course, they knew the person or had owned it once. He didn’t notice it, mostly because it never mattered.
Until, it was all that he was left.
“And why you were looking for a jeweler?”
“Just how much did you find out about me?” He raised an eyebrow.
“I know your every move since you stepped off the ship from Itoro.” He nodded, that was fair game since he did not make any attempt to hide them. As long as they looked, it would not have been difficult. And with his resources, it was even easier to find them.
“However, you can’t find anything else.”
“Yes.” It was not surprising given that it would mean he needed to have ears as far as the city itself, and at best he only have entry records. And if there was nothing about him, then it was unlikely he would learn more.
“Do you know anything about me?”
“If I can’t figure him out, what do you think that I can do to you?”
“She has red hair and happens to be carrying a parasol around. I’m sure you can find a clue, given that he has done a more thorough job in hiding it than she ever did.” Enyou pointed it out at this point.
“Fair point. But it will still require us to look into countries in which we have no idea how to.” Since just a cursory look would have ascertained her as foreign. Or at the very least told that she was as such now more than ever.
“So, other than looking for this girl, you have no other motives?”
“You have seen my activities, can you tell anything about it?”
“Other than you were looking for her or into a Geisha who is twice your age?” He asked, with a slight smile. Knowing that it was intentional.
“Do I look as though I’m interested? And don’t you know she also deals in information?”
He shrugged. “Hard to tell, and even then it hasn’t really stopped any admirers from knocking on her door. But she is one of the best, and also the most pricey given that she doesn’t want actual money.”
Even as he had literally no idea where all of this came from, other than messing with him.
“That’s true, money to her is a cheap resource. And what she wants, is often something that we are also plentiful of.”
“As well as the way she gets to keep herself in business, by asking for exact payment. In a way that would ensure that even the most powerful man would be keen not to do anything with her.”
“I’m sure they don’t because they tend to have the most secrets to hide.”
“And is that why you didn’t ask her as well?”
“I didn’t pay much of a price, just so you know.” Still wanting to keep that up, even as he knew that he still kept his suspicion. “But what about you, then?”
“Because it isn’t worth it to trade of our secrets for the person I want. And it just makes me feel better to personally look for him so that it will be my job and I can truly call it my doing once I finish him.” Kazuho took a drink up to sip.
“Is it for revenge?” He asked. He knew the signs, the drive and focus onto it. The only that mattered and cared for pursued only by one who has lost so much that they could no longer gain anything from not falling into it. And for him, it seemed so.
“Yes. But like you there isn’t much progress on the man I’m looking for. He’s a phantom, someone who only made his name a mere five years ago and then disappeared not long after. But the terror he inflicted into many, can still be felt today.”
“In that sense, we’re alike. But I’m looking for her to return her something that she’s lost, nothing else.”
“I can see that, although in earnest, do you know Kouya?”
“No, I do not.” He said it straight to his eyes, pursing his lips.
“You may leave.” He stepped out without looking back, with Yuki following him. Once he was out, he did not do so until he was a full street away. Before letting out a deep breath, one which he did not know that he was already holding.
“Who is Kouya?”
“Five years ago, he came out as an insurgent. Someone who went onto murder two powerful Samurai clan heads, out of nowhere. Some say that it was to aid the republic cause, to replace the shogunate into a system where it is inherited not elected. While others say, that he was also an ally to them, and they were responsible for the assassination of the previous Shogun… Tokumoto Shoyasu. Either way, he is mysterious and elusive and disappeared merely a year later, with some suggesting that it’s the latter as it fitted better.”
“Sounds complicated. Well, I don’t think you’re him.”
“Of course not, I was only thirteen then.” He looked away before they left for home.
Sachiko received an unexpected visitor. It was Saitou Misaki. Misaki wore a simple kimono, nothing which marked her for her identity at all. She sat across her, mostly out of a surprise. “I’m here to give you something.”
Something that she could not send as a letter and required it for her to come in person. Inside, was an entire investigation about her father. Or rather the shogunate records behind it. She flipped it open to read. “Take your time, you will probably need it while you’re reading this.”
But it was impressive enough, for it was the report done by the bureau there. It was nothing surprising, reaching a sudden storm and sinking. Even as there was a little more behind it, where later it mentioned that there was a sign of a scuffle. Where it was escaping an attack.
With the next page, itself dedicated to eyewitnesses accounts on what was happening, and it was mostly about the chase of the ship. The storm was simply the last straw, with them needing to go into deeper seas even when the weather was not good.
And many saw the ship as no ordinary ship, even if it had the appearance of a regular boat. One which could travel across the world without any issue, and of a similar size. But it was noted that the cannons were dispatched and used there as well. And further investigation leads them to believe that they were hired to assassinate him.
These methods were normal choices, as well as it is almost strange. They were highly skilled and did not attempt to enter the ship. There was some loss of control, where it had hit another taking out both. And the report listed all the deaths, even as there were no bodies to confirm for many. Even as most of them had sent out search to try and find them.
Mostly by casting fishing nets to catch any as most would have drowned in that scenario. Some had been found and identified, but the others remained at large for almost a month or so before they concluded the case and eventually declared him dead. She closed it, there was a lot of things which aroused her suspicion.
“Faster than I thought you would take to read it.” Misaki finished her cup of tea, and Suzumi stepped up to help her pour another.
“It is enlightening. And gives me a lot of clues on where to head to.”
“Either way, through my own further investigation the likely people hired for this. Their methods seem to only fit with one group, especially with the tactics and the success rate. They are known as Seiyou, most known for their form of sea executions, blackmail so that they will eventually choose to flee the country.”
And most did it by sea, simply because that was the only option in Kyoukuhi. In another country which was not surrounded by it, this would have failed. But all methods of fleeing here would require going through a ship.
“So, they have made a name for themselves.” She nodded, clear that it could not really get any better than that. Not to mention fitting with them, melding into one specialty and simply exploit it. And blaming it on the weather offshore had been a great idea, as even experienced sailors would tell that the sea was one unpredictable beast.
As such, this was something they could easily frame provided they know how. And it would need clear eyewitness accounts to tell otherwise. She flipped it open again, trying to tell where it came from and whether it had been reliable. “What are you looking for?”
“Isn’t it strange that they were seen, I mean it makes the most sense to not let them be seen.”
“Most of these were fisherman who had passed them by before the weather changed and went back to the shore, and eventually were found by the Wariya.”
“You verified all of them?”
“Took a while, but decided that this was a sign of our alliance after all.”
Even as she knew that this could not come free. “What are you looking towards?”
“As of now, nothing. But in the near future, I may call back this favor.” This was something that helped her, but she knew of the hidden costs.
“Of course. But why don’t you call it in now?”
“Because you may never know when you need it, and I don’t need your help now. But maybe in the future perhaps.” She took up the cup of tea, finishing before she left. Not giving her any time to react. Sachiko knew that this was not something good. A favor could be turned into anything. And thus she would not choose to have this. Something concrete and something she could use.
“She is a lot more dangerous than even Sasaki.” Something that she knew was true, simply because she was a woman on her own. Sasaki had a younger sister to share it with, and even someone to rely upon was important.
“That is true. But that information, is almost groundbreaking and difficult.”
“And that she has plenty of connections in Fukusei.” Something that had to be rather obvious from the beginning. Since all of this would require them to look into the Wariya, to even interrogating the fisherman. “It seems that their alliance is longstanding, allowing them to really focus on two important cities and building their strength.”
“I know quite a bit about the Seiyo, they have always held an auction. This auction usually sent out to those who have shown an interest, either a repeat customer or perhaps someone they knew. They also did not always carry them out by sea and are willing to change things provided the price provided is right. But this has been always how they did things if the request did not ask for any specific methods, or that the person would never be in a position to leave.”
“Can you get me on there?” She asked. This was a clearly important clue in this, and the next piece of the puzzle in the larger scheme of things.
“I most certainly can try, but I can’t be certain. They also have a requirement, to submit a name when they appear and to enter with the full intention to have someone killed. They only come in twice a year, once in Fukusei and once in Okiban. Mostly because the cash they earn is more than enough to cover their expenses for half a year and more.”
“That is enough.” She looked aside, it not being perhaps the most important thing on her mind. She could figure it out later, about how she could trick them into the entry and eventually get them to tell her who had hired them to do their job.
“Hime-sama, they also have no qualms about betraying their former bosses and revealing to you their identities. And the names need not be named, it can also be descriptions.”