Chapter 34: That Shapeshifter, Torn

‘You wanted to see me?’ Tsuguru burst into the main hall with a forced smile. ‘Did you need more information about my uncle?’

The young daimyo seated on the dais had no expression on her face. Kii, Yuzuru and Reika stood beside the dais in a straight line.

Ink-black eyes turned to him. ‘No.’

Yoka placed a second plate of wagashi on the table in front of her young mistress. The Imperial Commissioner walked over languidly and helped himself to another one.

Rin scowled at him.

Tsuguru’s smile faded. He marched over and swiped the wagashi from the older man. ‘Don’t take from Rin-chan’s plate! Get your own!’

Commissioner Inoue held up his hands in surrender, but the corner of his mouth quirked up in a smile. ‘Your fiancé is so feisty, Little Terazawa. How are you going to deal with him?’

‘Can you guarantee this is all the evidence the shogun needs?’ Rin asked gravely.

A full smile of anticipation bloomed on the Imperial Commissioner’s face. ‘Yes. This is good enough.’

The young bugyō sighed.

Then, without looking at Tsuguru, she told him, ‘I’m sorry about this, Tsuguru. It’s an order by the shogun.’

The young samurai gave her a baffled look.

Just as he opened his mouth to ask her what she meant, Rin gestured at Yoka. ‘Execute him.’

The room plunged into a stunned silence.

Finally, Yoka took a step forward and took a kitchen knife out of her sleeve. ‘Forgive me, Shinji-dono. There is no appropriate tool available in the bugyō’s residence except this. I can’t wield your own katana against you, after all.’

Yuzuru understood what was happening before Tsuguru did.

He bolted forward and blocked Yoka’s way. ‘You can’t do this, Ojou-sama! Even though his uncle committed a crime, Tsuguru is innocent! He didn’t know anything! Why does he need to die?’

Yuzuru was trembling, cold sweat forming on his forehead, yet he stood firm, standing between Tsuguru and the sharp weapon he feared with all his heart.

‘Can’t you spare him?’ he whispered. ‘He’s your fianceé.’

Rin’s ink-black eyes darkened. ‘If I don’t kill him, the shogun will continue to suspect me. Then, I won’t be able to get my revenge.’

‘There’s no way your parents will be satisfied if you have to kill Tsuguru in order to avenge them!’ he burst out. ‘There has to be another way.’

The young mistress seemed to have become an inanimate doll. ‘This is the fastest way, Yuzuru.’ An unnatural smile lifted the corners of her red lips. ‘In any case, my revenge has nothing to do with my parents or the Terazawa clan. Not even to give justice to the innocent.

‘I’m doing this to avenge myself.’

Yuzuru began to shake more violently, his clenched teeth chattering. But Rin couldn’t tell if it was because of his aversion to the kitchen knife in Yoka’s hand or because of his fear of her. He repeated his previous words, ‘He’s your fianceé.’

‘It doesn’t matter who you are,’ Rin responded calmly, as if talking to a stubborn child. ‘Even if I have to sacrifice you, or Kii or Reika, in order to achieve my goals, I’ll do it. Now, get out of the way, Yuzuru.’

The samurai guard shuddered. Despite sitting on the dais, his young mistress still had to look up when speaking to him. She looked no different from usual—beautiful and small—yet her words scared him more than the point of the sword did.

She had never said such cold, heartless words before in all his time as her samurai guard.

Fear crawled down his spine and paralyzed his limbs.

Then, with stiff, numb steps like a puppet on a string, he moved out of Yoka’s way and turned his head so he wouldn’t see what happened next.

Tsuguru laughed bitterly and collapsed into a kneeling position. ’You were right after all. You have her face, but you’re not my Rin-chan after all.’

With a deep, abyss-like gaze, the young mistress smiled. She lifted her chin and declared, ‘I already told you: Terazawa Rin died a long time ago.’

The maid flashed forward, like a nocked arrow let loose by its archer.

She dropped the kitchen knife that served as a ruse midway to her target. Her right hand morphed into a tiger’s claw that plunged through the young samurai’s leather breastplate and dug out his heart.

Yoka crushed the still-beating organ and blood dyed the whole room red.

Tsuguru’s kneeling body fell sideways into a pool of his own blood and spasmed once.

Even after he died, his eyes remained fixed on Rin, the energetic intensity of his gaze fading slowly into an emotionless blankness.

Rin met his stare with her own ink-black gaze.

Yoka thought with amusement that the young mistress looked like she was refusing to look away just to prove that she didn’t care that he was now dead.

But her fingers had broken through the bandage wrapped around her palms and dripped blood under the low table, giving the truth away.

Numble, like a mechanical doll, Rin turned away from Tsuguru and looked at the three servants standing on the side, haunted expressions on their faces.

‘I’ll give all of you one last chance to leave. You know the truth now, so if you don’t want to stay and serve this daimyo, leave now. Run as far away as you can.

‘If you stay…’ Her voice trailed off, but she gestured coolly at Tsuguru’s corpse, her chin still tilted defiantly. ‘…this might be your end.’

It didn’t look as though any of the servants heard a word she said. All of them were spacing out and trembling.

The Imperial Commissioner was the first to break the silence. He clapped politely, a self-deprecating smile replacing the surprise on his face.

‘I thought the shogun was making a big fuss about nothing. How hard can it be to rein a little girl in?’ His eyes gleamed. ‘But I understand now.’

‘Although,’ Commissioner Inoue continued with a mocking bow, ‘it looks like he can rest easy after this. Since you’re willing to go to such lengths to earn his trust…it looks like he’s found himself a loyal dog.’

With a wave of his hand, the Imperial Commissioner left without being dismissed.

‘I’ll leave the rest to you, then.’

‘…’ Rin scowled. ‘Pretentious b*stard!’

She turned her head to her servants, about to repeat herself.

But Reika was the first to kneel on the blood-soaked ground, firm resolution gleaming in her eyes. Even though she didn’t speak, her gaze conveyed her message.

My life is yours, Ojou-sama.

Kii was next. She knelt beside the mute laundrymaid, an ironic smile on her face. ‘There isn’t a single person in this world who doesn’t live for themselves. Everyone is selfish; it’s not just you, Ojou-sama.’

Yuzuru hesitated, his fists clenching and unclenching distractedly. His dark eyes flickered over the corpse and the small figure of his young mistress.

She never treated him badly in the one year he had served her—in spite of his incapability to protect her like a proper samurai. Not once had she complained or scolded him for his fanatical obsession with crafting.

Killing her fianceé…wasn’t it because she had no choice? It was the shogun who ordered it.

Because she was a child, and she was a girl.

So there’s no way she could be trusted as a daimyo.

How could he run away just because he would have chosen differently if he was in her shoes? Her tolerance for him had made him forget his place.

His stiff knees regained their ability to move. He knelt beside Kii and Reika, bowing his head in reverence. ‘I won’t run, Ojou-sama,’ he said in a hoarse voice. ‘My life and allegiance belongs to you, my lord and daimyo. Even if you ask me to commit seppuku1a form of Japanese ritual suicide for samurai (by disembowelment]–’ he swallowed his pride, ‘…I will obey.’

Yoka resisted the urge to laugh at the pathetic sight before her.

Humans are so interesting!

No, it wasn’t all humans.

Her light-grey eyes glowed with fondness as she met the gaze of the doll-like girl who was being worshipped like a god.

It was just this particular one.

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