Chapter 8: The Quick and the Dead
After lunch we all more or less split up to spend the afternoon as we wished. We needed to find out what we could about Rika, and that would be the men's jobs that night. Until then, there was little to do. Sitting around and talking incessantly about what we knew and what we didn't led only to more and more convoluted and improbable theories. So we all tried to stop thinking for the afternoon. Least I did.
I went off on my own, leaving even Mehli behind. I'd had little time alone since we left the ship. It seemed like a long time ago, though it was really not much more than a week. I walked a little while, until I found a place by a small stream under a few trees that spoke to me. It was quiet and tranquil here. I sat down and settled my drum across my knees. You don't get the best sound that way, but it was enough for my purposes. I wasn't playing for this world, and it sounds completely different in the other anyway.
I closed my eyes, grounded myself, and opened myself up to the spirit world. And I beat the complex rhythms on the drum as I walked along the edge of the veil. Time is different there than in this world. I was not there long, really. But it was early evening in this world when I returned and walked back to the Golden Peony.
My short time in the spirit world, or the long one depending on your perspective, cleared my head. As it always does.
I am the daughter of a spirit, now the lover of a spirit as well. I have a purpose. I am the go-between for spirits and people. I also currently serve Lady Miyara.
I will have to speak with the spirits of the swords. It is what I am here for.
The men were already gone when I got back to the inn. Mehli and the Lady Miyara and I had a quiet dinner. Although we tried to avoid talking ourselves deeper into theories, we couldn't really help it. Mehli asked if one of the nobles here for the festival had brought an assassin with him instead of his wife. Who then disguised herself further one night as Rika. The lady said the assassin, as Rika, would have had to have sent the wine up already poisoned, since her disguise could not have fooled Tsume Takashi himself. She still thinks the deed was done more directly rather than by an outside assassin. So, where was Rika that night? At the Pine or at the castle? If at the castle, then it had to be her and not an assassin.
Why, though? I thought the reason would lead to the assassin, but motives are opaque here. Everyone, it seemed, had a reason to want Tsume Retsu dead. Except, perhaps, for the one who actually killed him.
Eventually, the men returned and shared what they discovered. Not a great deal, but each piece continues to point towards Rika.
None of them spoke to or saw Rika: she was "otherwise engaged". I wasn't sure if that meant she was at the castle or she had another client that evening. Didn't really matter I suppose. Tony said he asked if the rumours of Tsume Takashi and Rika are true, and he said the Pine's proprietor did not answer directly; only that the Pine is "very proud". Corroboration of the relationship, although indirect.
Lady Miyara seemed a little disappointed to learn that Rika had been at the Pine most of her life. Mistress Kumiko had bought her as a child. Bought. I shuddered at that thought. How can one being own another? One may as well speak of a tree owning a nearby rock. I suppose once we forget we are all spirits -- infinite beings -- it's easier to believe we're nothing.
Peter's geisha told him Tsume Takashi and Rika had been an item for some eight months. She said once he was with her, he never looked at another. She thought, but wasn't sure, that Rika might have been at the castle the night of the murder. Mistress Kumiko refused to answer the same question asked by Tony: discretion is her primary job, after all.
Mehli wondered, what if we had it backwards? What if Tsume Takashi had actually drugged Rika? It would have been simplest for him to drug his own wine, after all. He could then either have gone directly to Tsume Retsu's room, or remained hidden, going through the ceiling. I shook my head. Then what about the hair comb? Something about Rika was not as it appeared.
Someone asked what would happen if Tsume Takashi were the murderer. The lady explained. If Tsume Takashi were the assassin and that became known, someone would have to care and accuse him. The matter would go before Tsume's lord, daimyo of Crane. Instead, either party could appeal directly to the Emperor. What actually happened depended not on guilt or innocence, the truth of what happened, but on the political situation. Tsume Retsu was not in favor with Crane. If Tsume Takashi convinced Daimyo Crane that he would do a better job, then Crane might very well overlook the matter. That would mean that it never happened. Only the emperor could determine differently, but only if he actually cared.
Because we didn't have enough conspiracies, Mehli wondered if Daimyo Crane actually had Tsume Takashi kill his father? The Lady said that was certainly posible, but why wouldn't he just have one his own flunkies do it? Mehli said quietly, maybe as a test of his loyalty?
Our assumption is that either Tsume Takashi or Rika (or someone pretending to be Rika) is the assassin.
I wondered if Tsume Retsu would tell us who killed him.
When the conversation stopped and everyone stared at me, I realized I said that out loud. Mehli asked if I thought the spirits would tell me, and I gently pointed out that he was now a spirit: I could, maybe, talk to him directly. If he wanted to speak to me, of course. I cannot command the spirits.
I asked Lady Miyara where they bury their dead, and she said they burn their dead. I asked where they keep the ashes of their dead, and she answered they generally scatter them according to the dead's wishes. They visit with their dead's spirits in the shrines; the mortal remains are meaningless. Just when I think these Nipponese are hopelessly tied to the mortal. Absent remains or ashes, I think the best way to get close to Tsume Retsu's spirit is where he died.
The Lady Miyara said tomorrow, we return to the castle. Although she pushed Tsume Takashi, she said she believed he would ignore the matter on their next meeting. As long she also ignores the matter and manages not to insult him again, it will be fine. She also believed we'd better show some progress quickly, or he will stop cooperating with us.
That ended the evening, except for Mehli's admiring gaze. She'd not thought of contacting Tsume Retsu himself. She's attached herself to this world very strongly. Sometimes it's as though she isn't a spirit at all. But I know better.
We were all eager to see if I could end this thing. If I could find and speak with Tsume Retsu, perhaps I wouldn't have to receive visions of mayhem and death from a sword. I was going to try very hard to contact him. The Lady Miyara stated her business at the gate, and we were taken to Tsume Takashi. True to her guess, he was cordial if not overly friendly. He welcomed her and asked what she required.
"I would like to visit the site of the murder one more time," she answered.
"It hasn't changed since you were last here."
"No, but what we are looking for has." He gave her a long measuring look, but in the end simply said, "Follow me." And we did, right back to Tsume Retsu's room.
He was right: nothing had changed.
I knew what I needed to do. I sat myself down on his blood stain. In one way it might not make any difference, but in another, this was as close to him in this world as I could get. The last place he was alive. The place that would be the last thing he saw.
I didn't see what anyone else did, but Mehli sat down in front of me, so she would be the last thing in this world I would see, and the first on my return. I smiled at her: my anchor, my ground.
I closed my eyes, steadied my breathing. I have not tried to contact a spirit of the dead in a very long time, and it is challenging. Preparation would be key.
I shut out this world and just breathed. There was nothing else, just me. My flesh, my blood, my bone, all housing and protecting my soul. And anchoring it to this world.
I felt my body, grounded it firmly to the here and now, so it would stay put, and stay safe, and be here for me later. To the wood I sat on, to the blood soaked into it, to the beams holding up the wooden floor, to the foundation the beams rested on, to the earth that cradled the foundation, to the rock beneath everything.
Then I let go, and set my spirit free.
The veil glowed, easy to find. I walked up to it, and then through it. This was the easy part. Now I had to find Tsume Retsu. I called for him, putting myself into the call. I felt for him: using all those senses that simply don't exist in the same way on my side. He wouldn't know who I am. I hoped he would be curious enough to answer an unknown who sought him.
I searched for a long time, and finally a spirit approached me. He still looked much as he did in life, I think. He was still sharply in focus and holding onto his mortal shape. He was not long dead. He was a very imposing man, a warrior. Although he died in his nightclothes, here his spirit wore warrior's clothes and armor, and two spirit swords rode his hips as Lady Miyara's did.
To be sure I had the right Nipponese warrior -- I expect they die at an alarming rate -- I asked, "Are you Tsume Retsu?" He said he was, and I stretched out my awareness of the spirits that floated unseen all around us. He told the truth. I was speaking to Tsume Retsu himself. Suddenly I had no idea what to say.
"I am searching for your killer. Is there anything you remember from that night?" The man was dead, after all. Why beat around the bush?
"I was killed by the geisha my son is seeing." Well. He apparently saw no reason to dissemble either.
"If you'll excuse my asking, how did she kill a warrior such as yourself?"
"The old-fashioned way. She used a sword." He paused a moment, then admitted, "She is not unskilled."
"Did she bring her own sword or did she use yours?"
"She had her own.".
"How did she get that close to you?" I truly wondered how she had managed it.
"I am an old man, and I was off my guard and half asleep. And stupid enough to believe that a geisha would not be carrying a sword and not be able to use it."
"Why do you believe she killed you?"
"Because I saw her." We looked at each other in confusion. I forget one ought to be unambiguous with spirits. "Oh, you mean the reason. I'm not going to tell."
"Are you certain it was the geisha and not someone pretending to be her?"
"Yes, I am certain."
"Do you think your son might have been involved?" I was hesitant to ask this, but I really had no other questions anyway.
And so that was that. I bowed to him politely and said, "Thank you for your time, and I wish you the best on your new path."
"And the same to you."
"Is there anything I can do for you on the other side?"
"Tell my son I am with him."
"I will, and farewell."
He faded into the spirit world, and I returned to myself.
Opening my eyes, I saw Mehli waiting for me. "That went well," I told her, and she smiled at me. We stood up and I stretched. I don't think I'd been gone that long on this side, but I was as stiff as if I'd spent hours sitting on the floor.
Tsume Takashi stood in the door, looking at me. I gave him his father's message. "Your father says he is with you."
"You've spoken with my father?" I confirmed that I had. "And he told you that?" Again I confirmed. "Did he seem happy?""He seemed content, yes."
"Did he tell you who killed him?" I said, "Yes," and he looked at me expectantly. Oh. I supposed I should have realized he'd ask me who. I found myself reluctant to tell him his lover killed his father.
So I threw it to the one in charge. I said, "I'm sorry but I feel I must speak with the investigating magistrate before telling you." He accepted that and moved his expectant gaze from me to her. By this time, of course, everyone else was staring at me.
I told the lady, "I believe we have found everything here there is to find." Meaning that I didn't have to speak with swords.
Lady Miyara arranged with Tsume Takashi to speak with us privately, and he left the room, closing the door after himself. She said, "So Tsume Retsu at least believed it was actually Rika who killed him. It still might not have been, but he believed it was so."
Mehli said, "If that was the case, then someone trained her for this."
"If we are honest with Tsume Takashi, I wonder what he will tell us about that night."
"Probably nothing -- he was drugged. And we still don't know who killed Tsume Retsu."
"No. Will he believe it was Rika or will he believe it was someone else?"
"I think we need to find that out. His reaction could depend on that."
"Depend on what?"
"On whether she killed him or somebody else did. Somebody trained her."
"Or it was someone else."
"Possibly. Phoebe said Tsume Retsu was sure." Mehli turned to me.
I clarified. "Yes, he was sure, but that does not mean that he was not mistaken. He truly believed it was the geisha his son was seeing."
"We can't answer who killed him, and if we tell him Rika did it, our options for questioning her reduce dramatically, if he reacts first," Mehli pointed out.
Lady Miyara mused "If we don't tell him now, we're going to have to close this out quickly. We can try speaking directly to Rika, since Phoebe can tell whether she speaks the truth or not." I nodded agreement, not bothering to correct her: I could not tell, but the spirits might tell me. From her point of view, there wasn't really any difference.
"That's really the only lead we have. If it's someone else, we don't know which direction to go in right now." The lady Miyara was thinking out loud.
"It seems pretty clear we have to question Rika next." Mehli stated.
Lady Miyara nodded. "That is the next thing we do." Of course, we had to now leave Tsume Takashi's castle, without telling him what he knew we knew.
Mehli smiled slyly and pointed out what Tsume Takashi himself had told us. "We know who his father thought he saw. We know who struck the blow, but we don't know who killed him." And he was interested primarily in who was ultimately responsible, not merely the one who struck the blow. I smiled appreciation at my clever Mehli.