Chapter 31: That Shapeshifter, Pressured

If the one making the silent gun was a Japanese gunsmith and the one buying the gun was a Dutch merchant, then testing the weapon’s efficacy on a Dejima nightwatchman would make sense.

He was showing off his masterpiece to the client.

Only, the silent gun didn’t meet that person’s requirements, so the gunsmith continued working on it. That was why there were no other deaths until Nobuyuki’s.

At this time, Lord Terazawa came to Nagasaki to reinvestigate the deaths of the two samurai guards and began asking around about a silent gun. His project had been discovered, so there was no need to mask the death of his target practice anymore.

He probably also heard from his client that the bugyō also seemed to think the culprit was a Dutch merchant, which made him bold enough to test his weapon near the police headquarters.

Killing Nobuyuki right under their noses was a mistake, Rin decided. If the culprit thought he could brazenly continue his work and sell it to the Dutch for his own profit, he was sorely underestimating the shogun’s eyes and ears.

That’s right. Commissioner Inoue wasn’t just sent by the shogun to be her babysitter.

He was here to weed out the sinister foreigner who took the liberty of conducting this private trade right under the shogun’s nose.

Daan Vandervort’s words at their first meeting made sense now. ‘Perhaps your people might succeed before we do. We’ll be asking you for a favour then!’

The Dutch shapeshifter had known the situation all along and even ventured to give her and Yoka a hint.

On the other hand, she was here suspecting that he was the culprit.

Who is he? Why would he help us? She wanted to ask Yoka these questions, but Tsuguru was still here.

He didn’t know her maid was a shapeshifter and she wasn’t about to tell him about it now.

‘You’re looking for a Japanese gunsmith?’ Tsuguru interrupted her thoughts eagerly. ‘I can help you find him. My uncle is a blacksmith here in the city.’

Rin turned to him, a rejection on her lips.

‘Actually, aside from meeting you, I also came to Nagasaki to deliver some raw materials to my uncle. He’s not famous, but he should be familiar with most of the gunsmiths here. Shall I bring you to meet him?’

The young mistress stared at him for a moment, her dark eyes running over the anxious expression on his face, the tension in his grip on the handle of his katana as he waited for her response.

Unexpectedly, she was unable to speak the harsh words she had prepared.

She spun on her heel to avoid his eyes and headed for the city. ‘Let’s go.’

A foolish smile broke out on Shinji Tsuguru’s face and he chased after her with a few quick strides. ‘Okay!’

Yoka sighed helplessly. She instructed Yuzuru to return to his research and followed the young couple at a polite distance.

You said you wouldn’t marry him, but your affections for him are overflowing.

Humans were different from yokai in that they developed affections for one another easily. It was rare to find a human who had no attachment to anyone in this world. Even Buddha, who had reached nirvana, cared about the fate of the common people.

Terazawa Rin was the closest Yoka had ever been to a person who could be called a truly heartless human—and only because her hatred for humanity overwhelmed her love for anyone.

A person who was more yokai than human. Was it really possible?

Will my experiment end here just like that?

Tsuguru’s blacksmith uncle was a part of the Shinji clan, one of the few aside from Tsuguru to survive the massacre at Karatsu Castle.

He was a lanky man whose wrists looked slimmer than the width of his hammer. Rin could tell from the pallor of his face that his health was the reason he didn’t train to become a samurai. Beads of sweat lined his forehead from being exposed to the heat of a furnace all day long, but he was still pale as a sheet of paper.

His uncle’s workshop was located at the end of the street, which coincidentally happened to be at the opposite end of the street where Nobuyuki’s corpse was found.

When Tsuguru called him out of his workshop, he wiped his hands on the mostly black apron that he wore over his kimono which was probably once a lighter shade of hemp and bowed to the ground in obeisance to the young mistress.

Rin ordered him to stand and the man stood up, trembling.

He kept glancing at her face, then lowering his eyes hastily, as if he wanted to be sure of her identity.

‘I am indeed Terazawa Rin,’ the young mistress said at last, ‘the daughter of the Lord Terazawa your elder brother lived and died for.’

‘You’re the Terazawa girl Tsuguru-kun was engaged to?’

‘…’ Why must you remember me by that identity?!

‘That’s right!’ Tsuguru responded before she could think of protesting. He even thumped his chest proudly and added, ’She’s my fianceé.’

Rin ignored the words of her self-proclaimed fiancé and addressed his uncle gravely,

‘Shinji Makoto-san, what do you know about the silent gun and where have you been last night?’

Tsuguru’s uncle was startled by the directness of her inquiry. His mouth formed words but he wasn’t able to make sentences with them.

Tsuguru quickly stepped in to soften the blow of her harsh words. ‘Rin-chan isn’t accusing you of anything, ojii-san. She’s investigating the murder of the yoriki from last night and the case seems to be connected to a foreign gun that’s being modified by a local gunsmith. So I thought you might know who could be working on something like that.’

‘Tch!’ Rin glared at Tsuguru who interrupted the man’s flustered reaction to her question.

His explanation gave Shinji Makoto time to compose himself, which made it more difficult for her to ascertain his involvement in the case.

‘I’m not interested in any information you can give until I know for sure that you are not the culprit involved,’ she refuted bluntly. Tsuguru flushed with embarrassment beside her and decided to keep his mouth shut.

Shinji Makoto’s eyes shifted between the two of them in bewilderment before reluctantly settling on the young mistress.

He scratched the sparse beard on his chin absently and mumbled, ‘I’ve got nothing to do with anyone of renown in Nagasaki.’ He spread his hands. ‘You know my family, Terazawa Ojou-sama, they are all samurai, trained in the way of the sword rather than smithing.

‘I started out as an apprentice to my father’s acquaintance here in the city and relied heavily on resources from my older brother to start my own workshop. Then, after he died, I’ve had to depend on my nephew and his mother’s family because a small blacksmith like me doesn’t earn much. All I do is make a few tools for merchants to sell in Edo. I was working on those last night with the ores Tsuguru-kun sent me.’

Rin narrowed her eyes. ‘Then, do you know of any blacksmiths who specialise in making guns?’

Makoto shook his head immediately, then slammed a closed fist in his opposite palm. ‘Ah, I do know of a gunsmith, but I’ve never heard him mention anything about a silent gun. Isn’t that something best left to the foreigners?’

The young mistress turned to Yoka who received her silent order and acknowledged it with a bow.

Yoka gave Shinji Makoto a polite smile. ‘Pardon the intrusion,’ she said and stepped nimbly past him into his workshop.

‘Hey!’ the lanky blacksmith cried.

Rin’s ink-black eyes flashed with a dangerous light. ‘Are you working on anything inside that can’t be shown to anyone, ojii-san?’

Before he could respond, Yoka emerged from the workshop with a gun that looked exactly like the one she handed to Yuzuru, but with a lengthened muzzle.

The young mistress gestured for Yoka to hand the gun over to Tsuguru. ‘Is this the kind you samurai typically use.’

Dazed, the young samurai stared at the weapon in the maid’s hands and shook his head. His expression darkened and a storm began to brew in his dark brown eyes. ‘Ojii-san,’ he called in a trembling voice. ‘Where did you get this gun? What is the meaning of this? Are you…’

He didn’t dare to finish asking the question.

Shinji Makoto let out a long sigh. He sat down on a wooden crate by the door and rubbed at his sore knees with a calm expression on his face.

He gave Rin a wry smile. ‘I didn’t expect to be discovered so soon, and by my own hapless nephew no less!’

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