[Skipping back and forth, but so is the nature of this kinda writing. Been struggling with inspiration and motivation lately]
After having tied up Chihiro and fed the cat who seemed happy and content to purr and rub his tail all over her face, I left the two of them and headed toward the castle once again.
You know what you have to do. Ikiru whispered in the back of my head. This was not going to be easy. For anyone. I walked straight up to the guards at the entrance.
“I’m here to see Shi Fan-sama,” I told them.
Holding out their spears they approached me. “You’re under arrest, Yashimuro Jin!”
You have got to be kidding me, that was unexpected. “What?”
“Please come with me, or I will execute the Emperor’s justice here.” The guard’s knuckles were white against the spear he carried. He was holding it far too tightly to be effective.
“What have I done?”
“This is not for me to say, come with me peaceably.”
This definitely is an unexpected turn of events. Maybe Shi Fan got sick of waiting for you? Said Ikiru in the back of my mind.
Waving me inside the guard escorted me into the barracks and detention block of the castle. This section was near the top level of the city, most likely so they could get to the more defensible parts of the city quickly. Now it was home to both the Xi’an guards as well as the Taihoji police who acted as both law enforcement and city defense troops. The latter was rarely needed, however. The building itself was like a small multi-layered castle though indeed not as large as the Magistrate’s main castle building.
While the Magistrate’s castle building for his own personal household, nobles, retainers, staff, and guard, this building was solely for the Taihoji. The enforcement of the Emperor’s will in not only Naoshima but similarly in all of Wakoku. Ever since the war they were mostly staffed by those from Xi’an, leaving many to harbor a distrust of them, however, there were some exceptions from those who truly believed in the rule of law.
The man behind me, undoubtedly a man originally from Xi’an by his sharp accent led me into the complex. I had been to this area of the castle before in regards to a couple of my cases but not often. Mostly the Emperor’s justice was dispensed in the streets.
Many of the Taihoji were staring this time, however. I likely made quite a sight in my current state. Partially covered in mud, mostly ripped clothes, blood speckled throughout.
Inside the castle building itself, my escort led me into a barred off room reserved for criminals and wordlessly fastened me into a board that held my neck and hands. “Can someone tell me what I’m accused of?” I asked, not too hopeful.
“That is not your right.” The guard answered as he locked the bars of the room. “However, you will be quested directly.” The man had barely looked at me in the eye over the past few minutes, but as he walked off, he shot a glance directly in my direction. Fear?
Well, this is going perfectly. Ikiru said while I questioned his definition of perfect.
It was several painful, but welcome hours of rest before anyone but a guard came walking by my cell. In fact, it was the head Taihoji or Gashira himself flanked by several other officers.
Doing my best to stand and give a respectful bow I greeted them as best I could. “To what do I owe the honor?” In my experience being polite with the law couldn’t hurt, more so when they had you in custody.
The Gashira didn’t blink as he stared back. I’d never met the man before, but I was just starting to wish I still hadn’t. “Yashimuro Jin, what is your connection to Akira Kenshi?”
Who? Was my initial reaction, but I thought for a moment. Could he have been a past client? Someone I interviewed? “I’m sorry I don’t know him.”
A few of the Taihoji with the Gashira muttered in his ear. I noticed that one of them in the group was Taihoji Shinya who I had met yesterday. Wow, that felt like ages ago I thought to myself.
“Yashimuro Jin, you were witnessed by several citizens to be in the company of Akira-dono two nights ago in the vicinity of his room at the Amagi Inn.”
“Wait, the drunk soldier?!” I asked, and I doubted I’d like his answer.
“The witnesses were uncertain, but you were reported in his company shortly before he was found.”
“Alright, I don’t know what you’ve been told but I left this guy by what people said was his room. I’d never even met the man before, I didn’t even know his name!” I yelled back.
“Yashimuro Jin. Akira Kenshi was found murdered in the same manner of the other murder that you reported last evening, the murder of a merchant identified by his sister as Toshiro Ayumu.”
That’s three, one more to go. Said Ikiru.
“Sister? Merchant?” This caught me off guard.
“We only knew it was him since his sister had reported him missing, she identified his face since there wasn’t much else left as you must know.”
“I suppose you think I murdered him as well?” I asked, taken aback.
“Did you Yashimuro-dono?”
“No! Of course not!” I yelled disrespectfully at the Gashira as strained my ribs. The potion might be starting to wear off.
He was silent for a moment then, I likewise held myself back. What could I do? Xi’an justice was warped to focus on enforcement, not actual truth.
Maybe, this was a bad plan? Repeated Ikiru as I wished I could shut him up.
“Yashimuro Jin.” The Gashira began again. “You will be held for further questioning until the Emperor’s justice is dispensed.” And with that he turned swiftly and walked away, the rest of the Taihoji followed him. Shinya, however, stayed for a brief moment gave me a polite bow and followed. A native of Wakoku willing to join the Taihoji was usually an honorable man who cared about real justice; I had a feeling that Shinya was no exception.
The next few hours passed slowly. I was tempted to drift into a painful sleep but thought better of it. It was about midday when Shinya came walking up to my cell. At first, it seemed like he might only walk by but he paused for a moment on the far side. “They’re going to execute you upon sunrise tomorrow. The Gashira is telling the Shi Fan that it was you behind all the murders.”
I was about to question him further when he walked off as if he hadn’t stopped at all.
Well, that was interesting. I didn’t think you’d meet your death again so soon.
“Can’t you be more helpful?” I asked him out loud. “It’s your continued existence on the line as well.”
For now, it is, I’ll find a way to come back… you, however…
“It escapes me why at such as life or death moment you’re this unreasonable.”
Maybe because it’s entertaining? It’s mostly your life anyways. Besides, do I have to always do all the work?
“When you first showed up in my thoughts after I after I took you, you said you had power over death. I had no idea what you meant then but now I do, but I have a feeling your little trick won’t work if my head is no longer attached to my body!” It had been a long day, and execution for a crime I didn’t commit the next day wasn’t something I was looking forward to.
Ikiru was uncharacteristically silent again for a long moment.
Now someone else holds the sword. You’ll have to solve this problem yourself. And then his voice was gone in a way it hadn’t been since he started. I could tell he was still there, just farther in the background, veiled somehow.
I’d be lying if I said I understood Ikiru but this was a first for me. I guess I really was on my own. The world suddenly felt empty, though I knew if Ikiru were indeed gone so would I.
Slumping back against the wall of my cell I tried to clear my thoughts. The old woman hadn’t mentioned she had a daughter, and it was the sister of the man who had reported the disappearance, let alone the victim was a merchant not some sort of ex-con. But how do I get out of here with my head attached was the real question? Also, how did the old woman tie into what Chichiro had told me?
I struggled to get my brain into submission, but only the pain and the case came tumbling through my mind.
Shortly I realized my brain just wasn’t going to submit. Crossing my legs and doing my best to sit upright with pained ribs I began to recite the mantra the monks had taught me. It always allowed them to slip into meditation as easy as sliding beneath a sheet. I’d only had the self-control to do it successfully twice, however, but now I knew it was my only chance.