[Note: I actually wrote this story a while ago, but recently upon writing the other short story featuring Jin I thought it would be interesting to work my way through modifying the old story a bit and giving it an ending as I only ever wrote about half of it.]
“Where is he?! Where is this hero?”
The man was apparently drunk.
“Bring him out here! Let me see what color the hero of Kawajima bleeds!”
There was no use in my provoking the drunkard. In fact, the last thing I wanted to do was start a fight in the tightly packed Sake house.
“What? Are you afraid?! My brother wasn’t afraid when you cut him open!”
So that’s what this is about.
Shiina, the bar’s owner casually placed another cup of sake in front of me. Looking up I could see her dark eyes watching the drunk. “I’d take it as a favor if you’d deal with him before he hurts any of my customers Jin-dono.”
“I know,” I responded downing the cup as the man let out another outburst. I didn’t know much about Shiina. I only knew that as long as I’ve lived in Naoshima, she’d had this bar. Other than that and her unkempt and unfashionable exterior she had always been friendly to me, oh and she served some damn good Sake. I wasn’t going to make trouble for her now if I could help it, even though it wasn’t me exactly causing the trouble.
As I turned around to get a better look at the drunk, he was already starting to wave his sword around furiously at no one in particular. I guess he didn’t know what I looked like, though at this point I decided it was best if I stepped in for the sake of Shiina’s bar if nothing else.
“You should be careful with that.” Clichéd I know but give me a break we’re not all quick with words.
“Why? Do you know where I can find Yashimuro?” As he said this, he waved his sword in my general direction, knocking over a patron trying to sneak past. The drunkard didn’t seem to notice.
“Yes, you could say that. He’s no hero though.”
“I couldn’t agree more!” The man spat, literally, spit came out followed by vomiting for a few moments. I could hear Shiina groan at the mess while I took the time to stroll over to the vomiting man.
Placing my arm around him, I tried to haul him toward the door. “Come on buddy, you need to take it easy. If you were to fight Yashimuro in this state, you’d be no match for him, let alone a child with a stick.” He flinched at this, and I got the impression he was about to argue before more bile came out of his mouth instead. Thankfully I was able to quickly steer him into the street outside.
“Need help home?” I was trying to be helpful to the drunk who wanted to kill me, but I still hoped he would say no.
He nodded yes.
Sighing to myself I motioned for him to wait a moment while I stepped back inside, placed money on the bar with an apologetic nod to Shiina and returned to escort the man home. Wherever that was.
Thankfully, people wanting to kill me out of revenge for my renown during the war had become infrequent in the last few years. Who knows if patriots like him would ever really forgive me though? I honestly didn’t blame them.
After a confusing series of directions, the drunk was finally able to give me an idea as to where he lived. Between that and asking a few people who ended up recognizing him I was able to deposit him in a small cellar room to the side of an inn. By the looks of the place and the man himself I doubted he had a coin to his name. Guess he figured fighting the hero of Kawajima was a one-way trip and likely “solution” to his problems.
Sighing, I left a few coins resting next to him. I didn’t like giving to charity on average, but it’s hard to see the results of something like that and not do something. Righting my past was why I came to Naoshima anyways; righting other’s wrongs and all that.
“Revenge is easier than forgiveness… I can’t forgive…” The man muttered from his drink-educed sleep as I began to walk away. Maybe he’s right, though it wasn’t getting him very far it seemed.
The city streets were busier than usual that night, Naoshima was the center of the most dominant trade route for the Empire of Xian, so even at night, it wasn’t strange for a certain level of activity. The business that came through Naoshima was from all corners of the known world, from the frozen wastes of Scythia, the jungles or Mara, to the edge of the world in Albion. Suffice to say, Naoshima was always busy. However, tonight there was something else in the air. I couldn’t place it, at last not until two large men dressed in the robes of the Xian Imperial guard strode directly up to me out of the crowds of milling around the streets.
“Yashimuro Jin?” The larger of the two asked me, though to be honest, it sounded more like a command.
“May I ask what you want?” Would you want to just say ‘yes’? Ok, maybe that would have been a smarter option.
Letting out a disgruntled sound the man continued “If you are the man known as Yashimuro Jin, you are to come with us immediately.”
“Why? Under whose authority?” Dumb question. I did just mention what they were wearing right?
“Emperor Li Xian, now come with us.”
“You didn’t answer my first question. Why?” I’m somewhat to think headed for my own good at times… I know I’m going to regret this.
“That is not for me to say, you must come.” The one man had begun to circle behind me.
Hold on for a second here. I don’t like imperials that much despite having fought for them in the war, not that I chose it initially… but honestly I just don’t enjoy being ordered around, and when it’s as suspicious at this, I get worse. I was about to do the stupid thing and refuse when several kids came running past us, paper windmills spinning in their hands as they ran. No need for violence, I reminded myself, not to mention I was on the up and up.
I let out a slow breath and pictured my frustration floating away in the wind. “Alright, fine. I’ll go with you.” were the words that finally came out.
“Good choice” The guard grunted, and the two of them begin leading me through the crowd toward the castle at the other side of Naoshima’s bay. You see, the best way to describe the city to one who’s never been there is that it’s built in a crescent along a deep bay that runs out into the Wakoku Ocean. The bay starts at the shoreline where most of the trade comes in, and the city winds its way up the gradual slope into the mainland. It was built in rings or sections that led up from the bay to the top of the city. If one ventured inland from Naoshima, the terrain settled into grassland and farmland for a couple miles before leading abruptly into forests at the base of the Hirota Mountains. On either side of the bay, however, there are steep cliffs, which hem the city in; this also gives it a fortified position. Whenever the Emperor or someone important decided to grace us with his or her presence, they would stay in the home of Naoshima’s magistrate, Kioji Castle, which was built on the West cliff. It was to this castle that the guards were bringing me to.
It was a beautiful castle. With the wealth that flowed through Naoshima, its no surprise that it’s magistrate would have one of its quality. As we walked inside, I noticed many more servants and others working who I assumed must be part of the Xian entourage.
The guards led me through several gilded corridors and finally into a reception room, complete with a waterfall, which flowed into an indoor garden. The garden had plants and ornaments from all over the Xian Empire as well as distant countries that traded with Naoshima. Around the room, there was seating in the form of various cushions made of luxurious fabric and carpets spread out under them. An intricate skylight brought in a stream of starlight and added to the light cast by the iron lanterns and braziers spaced around the room. My mouth might have dropped for a second. I’d never actually been inside the castle, for all my previous talk I was used to paper walls and woven mats.
More guards hemmed in a group of people dressed in beautiful clothes. Nobles all speaking in hushed tones began glancing over at me. The men who had escorted me stopped, and I took their cue I stopped as well.
One of the nobles broke away from the rest followed by another guard. He was tall, I’m not short compared to most, but he was at least a foot taller than me. His long hair was speckled with gray he had one of those faces that made it hard to tell his age. The nobles from the group became quiet, and I gave the man a respectful bow. He regarded me through dark eyes. “Are you Yashimuro Jin?”
“The guards here asked the same thing. I don’t think they’d insisted I’d go with them otherwise.”
The man raised an eyebrow in a quizzically. “It is said, that the hero of Kawajima is able to see things that others do not?”
“That’s what they say” I responded. “I simply pay attention and help when I can.”
If his already strained expression could have been more strained, it would have. “Humble, is that what the Monks of the north taught you or a gift of your own?”
“Maybe not so humble.” A smirk spread across his face, and I remembered the grin of the man who killed everyone I knew. The condensation of this noble was something I was used to, however. The practice of investigating a crime rather than merely hearing the grievances and pronouncing judgment was still a new concept in Xian. The Monks who raised me believed that everything and everyone held a piece of truth. Those who could see all aspects of a thing could begin to know it. Of course, this enlightenment didn’t save them from being slaughtered.
Since the war ended, I’d called on their teachings to help the people of this city find help in the few ways I could offer. Justice was a small thing, but it was the least I could do. Judging by this encounter though I must be making a name for myself here besides my dubious title as the “hero of Kawajima,” at least I could hope.
“Well, Yashimuro-dono, I am Shi Fan, advisor to his majesty the Emperor of Xian.”
I gave Shi Fan another respectful bow and waited for him to continue. It was wise to let men such as him do the talking. I can be wise at times.
“It seems we have a need for your ‘rare gifting’ today. Before I agree to let you help, however, I must have your word that you will breathe of this to no one outside of these walls.”
Was this guy kidding? Before he let me help?
Who does he think he is?
A voice in my head said, but I shut it up quickly. “Yes, Shi Fan-Sama.” I replied, adding the ‘Sama’ honorific to indicate lordship seemed appropriate. It made the corner of his mouth almost smile at least, that’s an improvement.
“Very well. Follow.” With that, he began making his way back into the castle hallway. I followed along with the guards making a small procession through the narrow corridors.
The smell hit me first. It was like walking into a tangible wall of stench. I gagged and tried to breathe through my mouth. Even the guards with us seemed unnerved by it, only Shi Fan seemed not to notice as he motioned for the guards to stay at the base of a narrow stairway leading higher up into the castle. At the top, he motioned me into a small room that before must have been a lounge with finely painted screens and cushions. I say that it must have been as it was difficult to tell from all the blood. The smell of it is something that everyone knows, it clings to you, and even if you haven’t smelled it before it’s not hard to recognize. I’d been no stranger to blood during the war, and seen some grizzly things, but this was something else. In the middle of the floor lay a woman, at least what was left of her. Pieces of her had been taken apart and laid out in a pattern on the floor in the character of a written character, “death.” I threw up in my mouth but continued to look. It seemed as if her limbs and innards had been seamlessly cut or removed respectively, by something razor sharp. The blood coating the room looked as if it had been thrown onto the walls as some kind of bizarre form of art.
Shi Fan just stared at me. I considered how jaded he must be to seemingly have no reaction to the mess. I had been in a war, and it still wasn’t something I felt comfortable with.
“So what does your rare gifting say about this?”
“I need some background first” I responded while moving to a different place in the room to look at the gore from a different angle.
“You cannot simply ‘deduce’ what this is?”
“I’m afraid it’s not that simple. I need to be walked through the proceeding events, Shi Fan-sama.” When I said this he seemed to frown somewhat, maybe he was beginning to doubt my authenticity.
Who cares what he thinks anyway? I bet his clothes cost more than a year’s wages…
I stopped the voice in my head again.
“So be it Yashimuro-dono. The Emperor was in this room being entertained by two local Geishas, one being the one before you. At the stroke of midnight, the candles in the room blew out despite the absence of a draft or wind of any kind. Shortly after that, they felt as if an unknown presence had descended upon them and suddenly the candles relit, and the scene was as you see before you. There had been little to no sound while this occurred. The only exception is the other Geisha was gone.” As he spoke, he kept the flat monotone from before, as if he were reading a shipping manifest.
So she was a Geisha, I thought, “Death huh?” Examining the word for “death” she’d been shaped into.
Not very original, but appropriate at least.
“Your skill certainly is, particular” With this he arched a skeptical eyebrow again.
Asshole. “It seems like this could be the work of some sort of Kami, but there are several possibilities, I’ll need to look into it more. May I ask whom the Geishas worked for? It could be a place to start.”
“You will I trust honor your word and keep the nature of your inquiry discreet?” He asked.
“Of course.” It would make things a pain, but I could do it. Should, at least. Besides I had given my word.
“Very well. The Geishas were procured from a Ms. Natsumi Yoi. Must I point you to her place of business is?”
I can’t wait to get away from this guy. “No, that’s quite alright, I’m familiar with the name.”
“Is that all then?” Impatience began creeping into his voice. “May I have the room cleaned or must it stay in this state for whatever it is you do?”
What does he think you do?
The voice said to me before I answered him. “It is quite alright, I think I can remember the scene just fine, thank you.” I began to bow and walk out when he said one last sentence.
“If you’re a fake Yashimuro-dono, I’ll make sure the emperor hangs you from the highest cliff in the city and lets the birds feast on your entrails. I will not allow you the honor of a warrior’s death.” His dark eyes were boring into me.
Yuck, that wouldn’t be good.
Shut up. “I assure you, Shi Fan-sama, I will do what I can,” I responded and left the room as quickly as possible.