Chapter 17: That Shapeshifter, Investigating

Once they had the names of the places the three merchants had seen the bakeneko1a single-tailed ghost cat, they left to investigate.

Well, to be exact, Yoka went to investigate. Alone.

Yin and the others settled into the best room of the largest inn in Saga.

Yuzuru stood guard by the door, leaning against the shaft of his ōtsuchi[/mfn]a large wooden war mallet used by samurai2, the head of which lay between his feet.

Meanwhile, Reika and Kii unpacked the chests of belongings they had brought along, filling up the place with familiar things from Shin-Karatsu Castle.

Yin sat at the low table in the main hall of the outer room with the map of the city unfurled in front of her as she began to think.

There was no pattern to the places selected for slaughter. Some were residences, others were family businesses.

Most likely, the people there were as the rumour said, those who supported the Nabeshima clan when the Ryūzōji family was still in power.

Tracking the rumour to its source was impossible—it spread too quickly and was replaced by new ones as soon as they came out. Furthermore, the gap between the rumour’s appearance and the execution of the hidden order was too fast.

The perpetrators weren’t concerned about covering up their deeds. If anything, the rumours were the evidence they wanted everyone to know what they were going to do.

Whoever the culprit behind this scheme was, he was not afraid of being identified or he was certain he could not be found guilty no matter how the shogun’s yoriki2police officers investigated.

Yin thought about the death of her own family.

The culprit really couldn’t be found, with such a powerful mercenary group doing the dirty work for him.

Yin was not interested in who this person was. It was probably a different person.

Finding out that information was a very simple matter, with all the clues he was leaving behind everywhere. Moreover, her agreement with the shogun meant she didn’t need to follow protocol in order to get rid of this person.

What Yin wanted to do now, was to uncover the secret mercenary group working for the culprit and have Yoka torture them within an inch of their lives.

As she sat there thinking, an idea came to mind…

It didn’t take long for Yoka to visit the places where the bakeneko appeared and examine the corpses of the dissected cats.

There was nothing supernatural about these cats at all. They were just ordinary cats, killed by humans, sliced apart by a worldly knife.

Yoka peered into the corpse of the last cat, a young tortoiseshell female that didn’t resemble a stray at all. Its digestive tract had been slit open neatly, but its contents were spilled onto the street as though rummaged through by the killer.

Why?

The maid picked up a scrap of half-digested parchment that was smaller than a fingertip.

Her light-grey eyes glinted.

Humans had always been amusing, but these days, they’ve become more and more innovative with their methods of treachery.

Yoka walked down a dark alley. A few seconds later, a golden eagle took flight, soaring from the alley through the night sky to Saga Castle before finally landing on an open window sill of the largest inn in Saga.

Yuzuru lifted his ōtsuchi when a shadow slid the door open from the outside, but he quickly lowered it as Yoka walked into the room with a tray of steaming, hot food.

Kii, who was trying to get the young mistress to eat some snacks while waiting, ‘because who knows when Yoka would return…’ didn’t finish her sentence before Yin gave her a smug look.

‘Please forgive me for the delay,’ the maid said politely as she uncovered a small bowl of miso soup and handed Yin a delicate pair of chopsticks. 

A pair of ink-black eyes looked derisively at her and made no move to take the chopsticks.

‘What did you find?’ the brat demanded instead.

‘How did you get back so fast?’ Kii asked.

The maid knelt beside the low table and personally began to feed the fussy young mistress. ‘It is as we suspected, those who were killed did indeed support Nagashima’s rise to daimyo over Ryūzōji’s domain.’

‘What about the cats?’

Yoka smiled and refused to talk until Yin ate another mouthful of rice and fish.

‘They’re just ordinary cats, not real bakeneko,’ she reported. ‘I suspect they have been bred—they don’t have the muscles of wild cats.’

She took out the tiny parchment scrap picked from the stomach of the last cat and said, ‘This is what they were using the cats for.’

Yin ignored the spoon of food held out to her, ink-black eyes shining as she laughed in excitement. ‘How smart! They forced the cats to eat the message and left the corpse at the entrance of wherever they wanted the assassins to strike!’

Kii sucked in her breath. She clutched at Reika’s arm and complained, ‘How cruel!’

The maid handed the tiny parchment scrap to Yuzuru who had come over to join in the fun. ‘What do you think was written on the note?’ he wondered aloud.

Yin replied easily, ‘A list of all the people there they want dead.’

A chill ran down Reika’s back and she began to tremble. Kii squeezed her hand, knowing that she was thinking about the massacre of the young mistress’s family three years ago. She patted her back soothingly.

The laundry-girl gave her a grateful look, then turned to her young mistress with determination and gestured, ’Ojou-sama, what are you going to do next? Let me help.’

I was not able to do help you last time, but today, I will do everything within my power for you.

Yin stared at her, unseeing. Her own mind was filled with the blood and screams of the same incident, trying to recall the silhouettes of those who slaughtered her parents. Was she one step closer to unveiling who those people were today?

The young mistress’s doll-like face cracked a small smile. ‘Tomorrow, follow Yoka and find out who’s breeding cats or selling them in the city. I want to buy one.’

‘Ehh? Ojou-sama wants a pet cat?’ Kii asked. ‘Then, I’ll help too.’

Yuzuru looked startled. ‘Kii-san, I don’t think the cat will be a pet.’

Yin laughed. ‘That’s right. That cat is going to help us find the culprit of this incident.’

Kii blinked blankly. ‘Huh? How will it do that?’

The young mistress lifted her head proudly and began to explain, ‘The majority of people here are retainers of Lord Nabeshima. And after the daimyo himself began to get rid of cats just in case, his people would follow suit.

‘In this situation, whoever continues breeding or selling them not only doesn’t fear the bakeneko, he probably also hopes the Ryūzōji family will be revived. This person can only be the culprit or is selling cats to the culprit to show his support.’

Reika gestured a question, ‘But couldn’t the culprit be bringing these cats in from outside the city?’

Yin smirked. ‘That’s unlikely. There’s no way so many cats (dead or otherwise) can be brought into Saga without raising suspicion at this time.’

Kii still looked confused. ‘Then, why is Ojou-sama getting a cat?’

The young mistress put down her chopsticks and let Yoka wipe her mouth. ‘I’m going to catch those assassins in the act.’

‘Time for bed,’ Yoka announced.

The maid escorted Yin into the inner room, sliding the door shut behind her with a soft click. The three other servants were stunned, horrified by what they heard.

After a long time, Reika moved, frantically gesturing, ‘Ojou-sama will be fine, right?’

Kii forced out a laugh. ‘Hahaha, what could go wrong? Hahaha, she has Yoka by her side. Yoka is very capable. She won’t let anything happen to our young mistress…’

The freeloaders lapsed into silence, each with their own thoughts.

Then, Yuzuru asked, ‘How many assassins do you think will turn up?’

Extra Scene

Kii grabbed Yuzuru’s ōtsuchi to bonk him on the head. ‘Don’t jinx it! There’ll only be one!’

Yuzuru glared at the ‘cook’. ‘You’re the one who’s jinxing it! I wasn’t expecting an answer to that question.’

Kii growled, ‘If you don’t want an answer, don’t ask the question!’

Yuzuru bolted from the room. ‘I was just saying what everyone’s thinking, what’s wrong with that? Also…’

‘That’s my hammer! Why are you trying to hit me with it?!’

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