Chapter 33: That Shapeshifter, Tested
When Rin returned to her residence, Kii reported that Tsuguru had closeted himself in the guest room with three bottles of sake.
The young mistress frowned. ’Leave him be,’ she told her servants. ‘Have his meals delivered to his door for the next few days.’
Now that the culprit had been identified and the case had come to a close, she had to write a comprehensive report detailing the events and results of her re-investigations.
She had no time to coax Tsuguru into a better mood.
Besides—she glanced the maid who entered her study with a tray of wagashi1traditional Japanese sweets—if she paid attention to the young samurai, this damned shapeshifter would accuse her of having feeling for him even if she really didn’t.
‘Tch.’ She accidentally wrote a wrong character because she was distracted and had to start over on a new sheet of parchment!
Rin finished writing her report in the evening and handed it to Yoka to get it delivered directly to the shogun in Edo. However, just as the maid stepped out of the bugyō’s residence, she came face to face with the Imperial Commissioner who was on his way home from dealing with Jan-Willem.
‘Is that Little Terazawa’s report for the shogun?’ he asked. Then, without waiting for an answer, he continued, ’Don’t bother sending it. I’ve already sent word back. The shogun has already responded and he’s got another request for Little Terazawa.’
‘And what’s that?’ Rin asked brusquely, a scowl on her doll-like face when her maid returned with a deadweight in tow. She put down the hand that was reaching out for the wagashi, clenching it into a fist.
She couldn’t wait for this pretentious b*stard to get out of her sight now that the case is over.
Commissioner Inoue flicked a speck of dust from his lapel, unperturbed by the young bugyō’s unfriendliness. ‘Just a simple clean up job,’ he said casually.
He reached across the table to pick up a dusty pink nerikiri 2a type of wagashi made with glutinous rice flour and bean paste and popped it into his mouth.
Rin opened her mouth to complain about his manners when the Imperial Commissioner continued, ‘You’re to oversee the execution of the clan that worked with the perpetrator and his family.’
Her blood turned cold.
Commissioner Inoue licked the traces of flour from his fingers. ’Umai3delicious in Japanese! Your maid is so talented,’ he commented carelessly.
The perpetrator’s family…
There was only one other person in Shinji Makoto’s family.
For a moment, the young bugyō looked like she was about to burst into tears. Her bottom lip trembled and her eyes misted over.
The Imperial Commissioner felt a prick of remorse for breaking the news this way. What would he do if Little Terazawa really cried?
He looked at the beautiful doll seated before him. Her pale as porcelain head peeking out of a kimono that was slightly too big for her.
She looked so fragile and naive. What part of her was the vicious and manipulative vixen described by the shogun? Perhaps the old man’s mind had become muddled by the illness that plagued him.
But then the corner of the little girl’s mouth curved up in a mocking smile and the confusion in her eyes cleared, revealing dark, penerating orbs of black that seemed to burn holes into whoever looked into them.
‘So that’s his real objective. No wonder he sent you to watch me.’
‘Hah?’ The Imperial Commissioner feinted blankness. Inside, he was taken aback by the derision in her voice.
The young bugyō stood up, her long, dark hair falling around her like a cloak of shadows. ‘I should have expected this. It did feel a bit too easy for the great monarch of Japan to trust this little girl just like that.’
Her trademark scowl reappeared on her face.
‘Okay, you’ve delivered the news. Can you scram now?’
Commissioner Inoue regained his composure quickly. ’Eh? Why? I want to eat more wagashi.’
Little Terazawa exploded, ‘That’s my wagashi! Get your servant to make them for you if you want to eat it!’
He was kicked out of the room and the door slammed shut in his face.
Inside the study, Terazawa Rin stared blankly at the Imperial Commissioner’s fading silhouette on the other side of the shoji door, slowly pulling her fingernails out from where they had become embedded into her palms.
Yoka quietly unfolded the silk handkerchief she had pulled out a while ago and gently wiped the dripping blood from her fingers.
The young mistress’s dark gaze traced the maid’s actions.
She frowned when she caught sight of the ugly wounds in the bed of her palm.
Yoka covered them up with a clean bandage immediately, so she wouldn’t keep looking at them. ‘What will you do now?’ she asked in a low voice.
Rin’s eyes flashed. She lifted her chin defiantly. ‘What else can I do?’ she retorted.
‘You could let him live,’ the shapeshifter suggested, her light-grey eyes glowing.
‘And give the shogun a weakness to exploit?’ the little girl laughed sarcastically. ‘There’s no need to make this harder for myself.’
With a determined stride, Rin reopened the study door and turned back to give her maid an order.
‘Have everyone gather in the main hall. Let’s get this over and done with…’
Inside his room, Shinji Tsuguru sat cross-legged in the middle of the room, his back as straight as a rod, his eyes staring at the wall.
After the death of his parents, his uncle, Makoto, became one of the most important people in his life.
Every time he travelled from Kokura to Nagasaki with a wagon of metal ores for his uncle’s little workshop, he would think happily to himself, I’m glad you never became a samurai.
He never thought that deep in his heart, his unasertive uncle always wanted be one.
Why had he never noticed it before?
A tear leaked out of his eye and trailed down his face.
It wasn’t just his uncle. His beloved Rin-chan, had also changed without him knowing it.
He remembered hearing the announcement with Lord Ogasawara that Terazawa Rin had been reappointed daimyo of Karatsu.
At that moment, he wanted to drop everything and sprint back to Karatsu to see her for himself.
Obviously, that was impossible. As a samurai under the daimyo of Kokura, he had duties to attend to. He could only devour any news about her that he could get his hands on and wait impatiently for an opportunity to visit her.
When that day finally came, a year had gone by. The castle had been rebuilt exactly as he had remembered it, giving him the illusion that nothing had changed at all.
He was simply back home from learning martial arts from the warrior monks in his mother’s clan. He’d look for Rin-chan in the servants’ courtyard and find her playing with Reika, a temari ball in hand.
Only, there were no guards at the castle gates. No one answered when he knocked on the large iron doors either.
He had to climb over the walls himself, which was how he met Yoka, Rin-chan’s grey-eyed maid, and fought with her.
When he finally reunited with Rin-chan, reality hit. Hard.
Karatsu Castle was cold and empty, with only his little fianceé living on its premises—alone. Her large, black eyes looked at him like he was a stranger and her words were harsh and fierce.
She said to him dully, ‘Terazawa Rin has already died.’
The Rin-chan you knew doesn’t exist anymore.
The little blushing girl whose love for him couldn’t be hidden no longer smiled at him. Heck, she didn’t even want to see his face.
A soft knock interrupted his depressed reverie.
He cleared his throat and wiped his face before calling, ‘Come in.’
Yuzuru slid the door open. This absentminded samurai who served his fianceé grinned at him awkwardly. ‘Pardon the intrusion, Tsuguru-san. Ojou-sama asked for you in the main hall. She wants to see you.’
Immediately, the dark cloud hanging over his head dissipated.
There was no need to think so much. Wasn’t she still here? Wasn’t she still alive and well?
He got up quickly, the words “she wants to see you” echoing in giddy circles around his ears.
The Rin-chan I love is the Rin-chan who’s here now.