Chapter 24: That Shapeshifter, Cheated
Master, who said he wasn’t fond of physical fights, jumped up and took the initiative to attack her with his kunai1metal throwing knife. Yoka countered with her own weapon, her morphed hand reaching out to crush his throat at the same time.
He evaded the blow with reflexes an old man his age shouldn’t have.
After a quick scuffle, she tied him up.
Only to realise Seventy-One had been diverting her attention this whole time. While her back was turned, Silenthawk had disappeared.
‘Hah!’ the bound shapeshifter spat from where he lay wheezing on the ground. ‘Don’t underestimate the weak, Soulshifter. That has always been your weakness.’
Yoka knocked him out with a decisive blow to the back of his neck and chased after the human shinobi2covert agent or assassin, ninja.
She flashed past the guards to Master’s dwelling like the wind, following the barely visible silhouette of Silenthawk in the distance.
He was headed for the barracks. Probably to warn Whitemoon and help him escape.
Seventy-One’s mention of Whitemoon must have been a hidden command to Silenthawk.
She really did underestimate that cowardly shapeshifter. How annoying.
Yoka caught up to Silenthawk at the private courtyard for team leaders by throwing one of Maiko’s shuriken and pinning the shinobi to the door.
The man looked up and met her unusual light-grey eyes with no fear in his own.
Was he pretending to be brave or was he truly unafraid?
‘I usually kill cockroaches like you immediately,’ she told him, ‘but my Ojou-sama wants to kill you herself, so I’m forced to run after you carefully like this. How annoying.’
The corner of Silenthawk’s mouth quirked up. ‘That’s too bad. I’m only the distraction.’
Yoka laughed. ‘I’ve knocked your “Master” out before coming after you.’
Silenthawk let out a puff of laughter and said no more.
Just to be on the safe side, Yoka caught Whitemoon and tied him up as well before she returned to Master’s dwelling.
This time, the guards were no longer at the entrance.
She burst into Master’s dwelling. Only a puddle of ropes remained in the middle of the room.
The unconscious shapeshifter had vanished.
Yoka searched the area around Mt. Ishitani all the way to the cluster of villages by the river. But there was no sign of Seventy-One or the two guards who must have released him.
She considered expanding her search area to continue hunting him down, but it was possible that he had hidden himself nearby, waiting to extricate Silenthawk and Whitemoon.
After contemplating the best course of action, Yoka decided to return to the young mistress with the two mercenary leaders.
It was noon of the third day when she arrived at the inn.
Rin was playing Go3an abstract strategy board game for two players in which the aim is to surround more territory than the opponent with Yuzuru when she threw the two men, bound and gagged, on the floor in front of her.
The young mistress looked up and met a pair of familiar dark eyes.
She remembered this face very well. The slant of his eyelids, the shape of his brows—even the length of his lashes.
That night, he had grabbed her by the collar from the arms of her mother and tilted her head this way and that. His voice had been muffled by the headscarf wrapped around the bottom half of his face, but she had a clear view of his eyes and the top half of his nose.
With the gag Yoka put on him, Whitemoon was the splitting image of the mercenary leader who took her away that night after slaughtering her parents and setting the castle on fire.
The scowl on her face she had prepared to express her displeasure with Yoka morphed into a pretty smile.
Her doll-like face flushed with excitement and her ink-black eyes glittered with malice.
‘It’s really you,’ she said, pinching the man’s bearded chin and forcing his head up to look at her. ‘Do you remember me?’
Whitemoon stared back at her without fear in his eyes.
Back then, she had cried and screamed until snot ran down her face and her throat filled with blood. Now, he was the one at her mercy, trussed up unceremoniously on the tatami floor before her, yet he remained silent and serene.
The smile on her face faded as she wiped her fingers on a white handkerchief and tossed it at Yoka.
‘Why did you bring these two men here? Didn’t I tell you to take me to their base and line them up before me, so I can slaughter every single one of them with my own hands?’
Yoka knelt before the young daimyo and bowed her head. ‘Ojou-sama, my deepest apologies. I was unable to capture the head of the organisation, he escaped. I had to bring these two mercenary leaders with me in case he tries to save them while I was gone.’
Her left eyebrow twitched in annoyance. ‘You let them all go?’ A huff of sarcastic laughter escaped her pale, pursed lips as she jeered, ‘You’re not so powerful after all, are you?’
‘He turned out to be a shapeshifter as well,’ she reported, even though it sounded like an excuse.
Rin raised her hand to slap Yoka across the face.
The shapeshifter raised her plain, featureless face to make it easier for her to mete out the punishment. But the moment Rin looked into her maid’s glowing light-grey eyes, she couldn’t do it, even though her fingers trembled with rage.
She balled her porcelain digits into a fist and stomped her feet angrily.
‘Hmph!’ she scoffed. ’You really do have a soft spot for your kind. Last time, you failed to kill Matsukura’s shapeshifter and now you let another one get away.’
She stepped on Yoka’s knee with one foot and put all her weight on it.
‘Tell me honestly, shapeshifter, are you reneging our oath? You told me you would kill your own kind for me, but those were just honeyed words you’d say to anybody, isn’t that right?’
Yoka felt a jolt of pain in her knee but it didn’t hurt at all. She was enamoured by the distorted expression on the young mistress’s doll-like face and the black fire raging in her eyes.
Humans were such entertaining creatures.
Rin was obviously insecure—she was finally face to face with one of the people she had wanted to kill for a long time, but she wasn’t able to do it.
Because it wasn’t satisfying.
Yoka took the hand of her young mistress and uncurled her tense fingers. ‘Why would I renege an oath I sealed with my own immortal blood?’
Rin pursed her lips unhappily, but she let the shapeshifter trace her fingers with a rough hand.
‘In order to obtain your soul, I will kill a fellow shapeshifter if I have to. There’s no such thing as friendship for creatures like us. But you should know that shapeshifters cannot cease to exist. When they are killed, they are stripped of their power and abilities and become a shapeless ghost that can only scream. They are more useful to Ojou-sama in their current form.’
Rin raised her chin, unimpressed by this explanation. ‘I have no use for the rest of your kind.’
Yoka’s light-grey eyes gleamed with amusement and a smile lit up her plain face. ‘Rest assured, Terazawa Rin, I will fulfil our blood oath because I desire your beautiful soul very much. You will soon see that a subjugated shapeshifter is more useful than a dead one.’
The young mistress pulled her hand back and hid it inside her sleeve, her doll-like face expressionless again. ‘This is an order you must keep no matter what. Shapeshifter, you must never lie to me.’
The indulgent smile on the maid’s face morphed into a slight, formal one. ‘I understand, Ojou-sama.’
Rin turned to the two mercenary leaders who had unwittingly eavesdropped on their conversation.
‘Bring me a knife,’ she ordered. The young mistress turned to Yuzuru. ‘You should leave.’
Her samurai guard had an inconvenient fear of sharp weapons and would become nauseous even at the sight of a kitchen knife. Yet, he hesitated. Even though the dangerous-looking men were bound and gagged, they were enemies of his young mistress.
What kind of samurai would he be if he left now?
‘Go,’ Yoka ordered, patting Silenthawk along the leg as she searched for the assassin’s kunai. ‘Ask the innkeeper for a few buckets of hot water to clean up the mess.’
That’s right, he thought reluctantly, Yoka-san is here. She was more than capable of protecting the young mistress from a whole legion of enemies.
Rin looked into Whitemoon’s impassive eyes once more.
This burly man had stabbed her mother casually, like a fisherman spearing fish from a flowing river. Her mother’s warm blood had splattered onto her face from the deathblow, searing her skin with a shocking, red heat.
Killing him just like that didn’t seem enough to avenge a single one of his victims from that night.
The young mistress thought for a while and then said, ’Pull down his pants.’
Yoka hesitated, but only briefly, before the corners of her lips rose in a knowing smile.
Rin grasped Whitemoon’s manhood with a small, pale hand and emasculated her mother’s killer.