Chapter Fifteen: A Different Way

She remained outside the building. Still needing to remember just why she was here, and of course how she should be doing things. This was not anything that would be easy on her part, except for her to settle it all. Leaves no clues, and by all means, keep herself from being identified.

This required her to act, something that she was familiar with. She pursed her lips together, before giving a slight nod. The door opened to a young man, to the back door. Unusual but not painful, even as she raised a bottle of sake.

“Yamazaki Gorou, I have a gift for him.” She spoke in a tone two pitches higher than her real voice. The man scanned her, perhaps somewhat curious as to why she was here. His eyes went to her basket, she lifted it up to show a bottle of liquor there. And another.

When he hesitated and did not go, she took out a pouch. “There is something private which I wish to discuss with him. We met last night.”

She gave a light blush. Something which made the man uncomfortable. “I’ll see if he’s free.”

That was enough for her, even as she dodged questions asking as to why she was here. Also as the man came out, in skepticism. At this point, she showed a seashell to him. One which was the association of the clan, and a bottle of sake from Houya inn. One which became popular because it was affordable as well as being of high quality.

“I’ll be chatting with her on the outside. Make sure nothing goes wrong.” Even as the man knew that he could not dodge her. Not now at least.

“What is it that they want?” Not bringing up any names, which was often the way it was done. Needing to have all the knowledge, to be able to converse and understand it.

“About this man.” She showed a name and a portrait, better not to speak of any. Keeping everything vague was the best after all. The man took the paper, close to his chest. Even as she looked around while feeling her pistol. Just to be sure.

“His case is still being looked into. The Wariya is still investigating this, and there have been a few findings.” But not much progress. And a clear hint as to what it meant. They are not leaving this alone, which would be strange if the shogunate did have a hand.

But far from enough.

“How much is it being looked to?”

“Investigations are done every day, which is strange given the whole scope of this matter. Many would assume he drowned. But the shogun doesn’t seem convinced.” And of course, still announced his death to the world. Even if almost no one could be sure of whether he was alive or dead.

They would simply benefit from keeping it hushed, not spend all their time scouring for this. And for the Wariya to be expending all effort, it meant that the Shogun wanted him found. No matter the sort of means they went to. And a full suggestion that he did not have a hand.

This was merely common sense.

She took out the document hidden in the small basket she brought along, how she kept her sake. “This is simply all the official documents that I have access to, even if there were any extra findings it would only be added once it’s closed.”

This was merely to see the chances of survival and further scouring. Enough for the public eyes to be real and trusting that he was dead. But of course, perhaps upon a more profound look could mean more holes. He had taken a look into it. “Whatever this is, it is quite accurate with some adjustments. Since in our documents some of it was cleaned out.”

She took it back to read. The language was somewhat hard, dry and using plenty of jargon only they understood. But she knew she had to. This was mostly about the chase, the fact that another ship was spotted by eyewitnesses to have come close. In a way that would have aroused suspicion.

It did so, in this case from them. But wanting it to be kept away, was logic. Even as the local authorities here were under their control, and yet most of their reports was only released several years after. Requiring quite a bit of cleaning up.

This was done from the start. In her own mind, meaning that it was a lack of trust. That they were keeping this out of specific hands. Except that it got into them in the first place. “Thank you for your time.” Even as she still passed him the cup of fine sake.

It was still payment, even if it was far from useful. Information, as she learned the trade in was not always something easy to work in. It was always to an extent difficult and requiring caution and dedication. And such skills were still in scarcity. Suzumi had suggested that the money could be spent on this, or a gift or sort.

And she still liked her job enough, to be willing to do this. Even as questions would be asked, but she showed that she was still their ally. And to keep in control, the sort of information that she would reveal.

This was an appreciation of efforts, not so much of their results. Focusing on the latter meant that they could lose many more, and the only failed spy was the spy who was caught and revealed. The one who hasn’t managed to find any information yet was not one, simply because they were doing their job. Make sure not to get noticed, and find information without risking themselves.

She walked back to her mistress. “So, was there anything?”

“The shogun was hiding this, really well. And that they had cleaned the documents, to the degree that there won’t be anything to suggest foul play.” It wasn’t much but told a lot. “I gave him a bottle of sake since this could only mean one thing: the shogun has not touched this.”

Sachiko nodded, in agreement to it. It was an assumption, but one which was rather substantial in its evidence.

She sighed. “Either way, this would not have been easy. To catch chichiue off guard requires quite a lot of skill.”

That was the truth as it was. Just as this had been the reality of their situation as it was now. And it meant that there was someone behind it. “So, you think that he might not be responsible.”

“It is certainly a possibility. A strong one, but it is only based on what we know and guess. Not on any solid evidence yet, but we would have to keep it in mind since it is a significant part of it.” And the shogun looking into it could never be a good thing. It was only one thing, they in return were also limited by their options.

“You know what this means?”

She asked. Perhaps to see if she knew or noticed. “That even we’re under investigation, that I know.” And this could be taken seriously, as it meant that any strange behavior would put them under suspicion.

“It makes sense on his lack of interference with us, but still unlikely to let anything go.” And particularly her brother.

“This could mean something.” And an idea was what it could be voluntary. A little strange and a strategy was undertaken to counter that. That her father chose to make, this happens, putting them through that anguish.

But it was not her place, and Kaede left soon after.

            ———————————

He traded the information. A trade which he thought was worth it. Even as many might disagree, but he bought himself quite a bit of time. That itself was enough for him as it was. And of course, he knew that he did not do it again. It would be to his own detriment if it were so.

He did have many, but that itself was harmful but only somewhat. The next would be asking for something more concrete, perhaps even further back or anything about his involvement. Better to keep it in control, and loom to other sources. Which brought him to this book shop.

On his own, while holding a freshly printed copy of an old classic. One which was, again and again, passed into the hands of young children for their reading. To learn the wisdom of the man, who was revered by all in the country. Even if it had been millenniums since his passing. And the first thing they would start from.

He opened the door, where the bell rang. And from the side, he came to see a young woman at the counter. The owner, Bunka as she was called would be well into her sixties by now. And her eyesight was fading a few centuries back, and now was no different. “I’m looking for Bunka.”

She nodded, before heading inside to look for her. An old contact and people could be looking for them for a good reason, any reason in fact. It was a short while before she came, and indeed she was relying upon a cane. The maladies of the old age were such, even as he still knew that she was still sharp.

“Bring him into the study.” She had said the command, even as she turned her back. Perhaps out of necessity. And hosting him. The room he was brought to was comfortable, a set of tables and chair. Probably out of old age and convenience. Even as they served with a cup of tea.

They were now left alone.

“Why did you come back?” The woman asked the question. Back then, as Kouya, she had given him some aid. Some help.

“I still have things which bind me here, I can’t leave.” And neither would he choose to leave either. He wasn’t lying.

The woman did not ask, as she chose to take a chance to drink. “Of course, you said back then that you wanted to leave and once things settled to come back. So, what do you want from me?”

“But I want only one thing. I can pay you if you need to, I want to know what happened to Daishin.” Her breath stiffened, which could be taken in two ways. Perhaps finding out about her involvement or something else.

“After you left, he began the withdrawal of his network. Handed most of it to someone else, and so far it is Ayumu has been someone without any vision. The place is split between two, Mamoru and Kaede and of course, the leader. Arguing about where to go from here, they in favor of more mild tactics and gaining support to overturn them at the council level. The latter is a revolution.”

This was the most worrying part. Why, just why did he do that? “Almost no one could guess or know why he had done it or even so at this point.”

“But do you have any clues?”

“He had a man supporting him, who withdrew it shortly after. He was the recently deceased Daimyo Saitou.”

Saitou Akinobu. The man she was referring to, one of the wealthiest feudal lords. And of course, one who had held the most sway. A clan which could change how the shogunate did their work. One of the only who could have done so now, with most clans losing their assets and with their lands eventually lost to them.

Either bought by the wealthiest or being sold off piece by piece with the liberation of the serfs. And with laborers becoming a common sight, necessitating wages and soaring ones too. Or inherited by heiresses wedded to the side branches of the family, often increasing their influence through encouraging younger sons to take local brides.

Or choosing to marry into foreign nobility if it was possible. There was something more there, even according to her own suspicions. She was right to have thought so, as he would agree. Something could be found here. And why he chose to look for her.

Someone who was on the inside, and knew enough about whole matter thoroughly. She also did not question why, other than perhaps what he sought was something that Daishin may have took. He took another sip of tea.

“I can’t really say for definite, as he closed up everything. Made himself look tired, and wanted out of it. Even as most could say, it was otherwise.”

And he knew that it was far from the reality, given the man’s own convictions. But this meant that he was setting it up for something else.

“Thank you for the information.” It was vital, most famous. As it gave him a clue on where to begin his search. Even if it was still far from any at this point.

Even as he left the room, but mostly looked around the shop. Perhaps for anything that might interest him and help her. He wanted to repay her after all, something that he had never managed to find what. He looked around the shop, and for the location of notebooks. Bound before they were sold, picking one up to be sure.

Inside was empty, which was what he was aiming for. He looked for one with the best cover, or the most exquisite. It served him either way, he did always have a love for the more unusual book covers. Either illustrated or decorated extensively. And one did catch his attention, even as it was hidden behind.

The book was shining, in the color of silver. Nothing was written, still empty and ready for anyone to fill it in. Such books were used as manuscripts sometimes, or as notebooks. With most of it left blank, for the author to decide to name it when he or she was done.

This was something he was satisfied with him. He took it up, even as the woman raised her eyebrow. “This would cost quite a lot.”

“Not an issue with me.” He pushed a large amount of cash, making a rough guess on it. Paper was cheap, but this was merely a premium price for the cover. She accepted it.

“Well, you’re the first one who bought something like that. We don’t stock that much mostly because it isn’t cheap, and the demand isn’t high. But something that the mistress loves to bind in.” He took it up and left. Knowing that they shared it with him because he was trusted by Bunka.

Outside the streets, where this had taken him a while to finally come home. A few roads across, taking him quite a while to find. But it was still where it was. Found during the only time he was in Okiban when he was with Daishin.

He came inside with a small book, and mostly with the perplexed faces of Masami and Shinrou. “Well, I expected a lot more when you said you were paying her a visit.”

“I did get something. I simply bought it because I already owe her quite a lot.” Not really delving into the details, although they could quickly put it together. At least by now.

“So, you knew her back then?”

“Well, she was introduced to me by Daishin. Mostly because I needed someone to take care of me, and help me should there be a need. And where better than a book store, since it was also a favored place of mine.” Which wasn’t all too strange given that he was already holding one in his own hands.

“What are you going to use that for?”

“Keeping track, this was still expensive after all.”

“Please don’t tell me that the paper is layered with gold or something like that.” He opened it, it wasn’t. But was made with far thicker paper that was the norm. Masami went to take a touch in it and knew that it was still one.

“So, this is repayment?”

“Well, she liked making this sort. But the demand is always low.” Mostly because most people didn’t really need it, or felt that they needed to have a thick paper to write on. Or the money to afford this.

“Since it can come up to hundreds of yen just for one. I have to say, I agree.”

Even as Yuki took the chance to look at it. Feeling the cover, and also a possibility as well.

“Back to the main question, what did you find?”

“Not much, he had covered most of his tracks well. Other than perhaps one thing, that he once had a supporter and this person was now no longer supporting the cause.” It was a coincidence, but one which they knew could be more than that.

It was a clue, their only clue. “Are you going to take it?” Shinrou asked the rather obvious question. This was something that could be nothing or everything. And he did not want to go back, and this was a possibility. Daishin was a man who was cautious, incredibly so. He would not have left much behind, and this was likely the only one.

“It couldn’t hurt since we’re only tapping into the family history.” Just as he was thinking of how.

“What do you know of this clan?” Masami asked.

“They were a powerful Samurai clan, and now one of the wealthiest landholders in the entire country next to the shogunate.” He could think about more conventional sources of information, but it could also be closed. It was not unusual for them to choose to hide it, as some did.

Clans such as theirs always had many secrets behind it, even the shogunate had them. Buried by the Sasaki, but still there nonetheless. Also as their silence was because of that. This could be a hornet’s nest. And waiting for him to say something.

“We have to see first if they are truly guarding their information. If so, then we figure out what to do from there.” And as of now, he always knew that it was best to go one step at a time.