Chapter 22: That Shapeshifter, A Ninja
Yoka noticed the informants leaving the hall just as the rest of Silenthawk’s team were discussing the failed mission with Whitemoon and his men.
The two women and three men entered another wooden building.
There were no windows for Yoka to peek inside with. The only shoji window was by the entrance, on the side of the large courtyard that made up the rest of the base.
She had no choice but to guess what was happening by sound alone.
‘Here it is,’ came Sugimoto’s voice. Paper rustled as it unfolded. ‘Magistrate Haku delivered it to me at the secret checkpoint inside the city.’
Yoka heard paper being passed around or flipped over as it was examined.
‘How did he learn of our existence?’ Fujiwara asked.
‘He told me he learned of the code from Radiance,’ Sugimoto replied.
‘Magistrate Haku knew the patrons?’ Scarletmoon’s voice was filled with disbelief.
There was a momentary silence.
Yoka pondered the meaning of this.
But without knowing more about these “patrons”, it was impossible to be certain.
It looked like she would have to be here for a long time in order to bring back substantial information to her young mistress.
She didn’t have any time to waste.
The young daimyo would sulk if she was away for too long.
Suddenly, an unfamiliar voice spoke up among the informants, ‘Come with me.’
This unfamiliar person led the group of Saga informants down a wooden corridor into another room.
‘We keep all the requests of completed missions here,’ the person continued, ‘and the failed missions are just these.’
More paper rustling.
The Saga informants didn’t speak for a long time as they looked through the papers.
‘There’s nothing,’ Scarletmoon’s androgynous voice lamented.
Shuuko sighed. ‘Since that’s the case, then it’s probably with Master.’
‘Are you sure you’ve seen it?’ Fujiwara asked.
‘There’s no mistake.’ Maiko was firm. ‘The handwriting is exactly the same.’
Another silence filled the room.
‘If he did submit a request to Master, how would Maiko have seen enough of his handwriting to know it’s the same?’ Sugimoto asked.
‘I don’t think Master was involved. There was no mention of Radiance in that letter,’ Maiko added hurriedly.
‘But none of the requests here have Magistrate Haku’s handwriting,’ Shuuko pointed out.
Before Maiko could protest, Fujiwara cut in, ‘Why don’t you try to remember when you handled that request. It’ll be easier for us to search if we have an approximate date.’
Maiko agreed to this.
The others wandered out of the storage room, discussing how information was leaked to the daimyo of Karatsu and when they could return to Saga.
Only, Maiko was silent the whole time.
Then, a little while later, she emerged from the building.
Yoka followed as she left the base and made her way towards the small village at the foot of Mt. Ishitani.
The mercenaries had a secret checkpoint here as well—not for receiving requests, but for informants to send messages back to the base from different parts of Kyūshū.
It was an extensive network of information for such a small mercenary group to possess.
Whoever “the patrons” were, they were not simple people at all.
Yoka waited until Maiko left the village again before she devoured the informant’s soul.
As she swallowed the remaining dregs of Maiko’s memories and took her form, Yoka learned many interesting things about this mercenary group.
There were a total of five patrons. These patrons were the first clients of the mercenary group long before Maiko herself was a part of it.
Only Silenthawk, Whitemoon and the man everyone called Master knew who these patrons were.
Any requests bearing the codenames of these patrons had to be sealed and delivered directly to Master.
But they had not received a request from the five patrons for a long time now.
In Maiko’s memory, the massacre of the Terazawa clan was not a sealed request but it was a large undertaking handled by both the ronin1rogue samurai that do not serve under a daimyo under Whitemoon and Silenthawk’s shinobi2covert agent or assassin, ninja.
Even Master was involved.
But that was all Maiko knew about that mission.
She had just been assigned a role inside the city and was busy getting into character during that time.
The only way to find out more was to meet this “Master” person.
Thus, Yoka put on Maiko’s form and drafted a request for the elimination of her young mistress.
Using the codenames of the patrons would be a surefire way to get Master’s attention, but Maiko was not permitted to know the details of these requests, so there was no way for Yoka to copy the patrons’ handwriting.
It was also unlikely for Silenthawk, Whitemoon or Master would discuss a letter from the patrons with a lowly informant like Maiko.
Yoka decided to keep it simple and make use of the bakeneko case.
And as expected, Silenthawk took the bait.
He recognised the connection between the new request and the failed mission from before.
In Maiko’s voice, Yoka asked, ‘Are you going to consult Master before we accept this request?’
She lowered her light-grey eyes and handed the letter back to him.
Silenthawk sighed warily. ‘He hates dealing with such unimportant requests. But it looks like I have no choice.’
‘Isn’t the daimyo of Karatsu is a member of the Terazawa clan? Someone requested for the extermination of her clan before. Could this be from a person related to that client?’
Silenthawk’s eyes darkened. His brows furrowed thoughtfully.
‘Or perhaps this request is a trap,’ Silenthawk suggested, ‘sent by Terazawa Rin in an attempt to find her clan’s killers.’
Yoka had no fear of being discovered. What could a mere human do to her, an immortal shapeshifter?
The team leader’s suspicion flew right over her head.
She hummed and nodded. ‘That’s also possible.’
Her expression turned grave.
‘Silenthawk, I find Magistrate Haku’s handwriting extremely familiar. I am certain that he has made a request of us before. However, we were unable to find a request like it among our records. Is it possible that he previously wrote a letter on behalf of the patron and I happened to recognise the way he wrote the patron’s name?’
After consuming Maiko’s soul, Yoka understood why the informants believed her wholeheartedly when she said she had seen Magistrate Haku’s handwriting in another request before.
Maiko had a photographic memory.
She could remember anything after seeing it once.
However, her picture-perfect memory only captured images, not time. So as the years passed, these memories became vague and timeless.
That’s why she remembered the handwriting but not the moment she saw it.
It was Maiko’s ability that made Yoka certain Silenthawk didn’t doubt that she was truly Maiko.
Moreover, aside from Master, Whitemoon and Silenthawk himself, only the informants were aware about the existence of “the patrons”.
Ordinary agents in the group were not privy to this.
After a moment of silence, Silenthawk nodded. ‘Very well. Follow me.’
On the other side of Saga, an express letter was delivered by hawk to Edo Castle and handed straight to the shogun.
In it, Rin had written:
‘Esteemed Shogun, I heard the rumour and had a good laugh. Then, I caught the stray cats pretending to be the bakeneko and disposed of their owners. Rest assured, there are more ordinary things for the people of Saga to entertain themselves with now. Terazawa Rin.’
Iemitsu hummed under his breath.
He looked up at the old samurai sitting across from him with a wry smile. ‘My feisty little rat killed some wild cats I’ve found useful once upon a time. General Kotashi, what should I do about this?’
General Kotashi lowered his tea cup and stared into its shallow depths. ‘The rat needs to be tamed before it turns around and bites you.’
The shogun stroked his grey beard thoughtfully. ‘You’re right… I think it does need some taming.’