The entirety of the Resistance in the village stood before me, nervous and chattering quietly. It reminded me of the opinions of non-Japanese I had heard long ago, that our culture was based around the concept of shame and duty. In circumstances like these, it was both true and helpful – we were a collective of individuals, doing our best to survive. A traitor to one was a traitor to all.
A bell sounded to call this meeting to order, the townspeople looking upon their supposed protectors with discomfort. Given the day’s events, I didn’t blame them.
“On this day, our location was discovered by a lone infiltrator, an enemy with technology far beyond the reach of normal nations,” I said aloud, raising the rifle above my head by its integrated carry handle. “The infiltrator destroyed any evidence of their existence rather than be caught, leaving naught but a question – who led them here, and why?”
There was nervous chatter among the people, and then all heads turned towards Anayama, who had something clutched tightly in her hands. Of course it would be the child, the one who hated me. She stood up, slender legs shaking. Branches in the wind, knocking together and somehow staying solid in spite of it. “I believe it was this that led them to us, some sort of device. Hi… I mean, Mochizuki said he had found it attached to one of his men, Nakayama Shunsuke, I believe.”
As if it hadn’t been difficult enough with Anayama alone, I now had a decision. Would I punish her for not informing me sooner? Would I punish Mochizuki as leader of the expedition? Or was this all upon Nakayama, the one who had allowed it to happen to him? But then again, perhaps this was all a ploy for the little couple to cover their rears.
Mochizuki stood up from among the crowd, pulling the one named Nakayama to his feet. “Indeed, dear leader.” His title for me was pure theatrics, not an ounce of seriousness in even a syllable. “It is as Anayama says. This one fell behind, and when he caught up to our group, this item was attached to his cloak.”
I frowned as I inspected the device. It was a radio transmitter of sorts, fitted with a small series of hooks. Not the kind of thing a trained warrior would allow to be clipped onto them. But perhaps something a young girl with a lack of athletic prowess… it was all very hard to believe. That being said, the whole town was present and they wanted to see justice. Anayama had fallen behind, that much was certain – she was trembling, couldn’t even make eye contact with me. Nakayama on the other hand seemed calm, like someone who had accepted his fate in spite of it not being true. To execute him would put this whole thing under wraps, but it would be killing an innocent. To execute Anayama would be the height of controversy – Mochizuki would likely try to kill me again, the townspeople and the resistance would be shocked at the death of their little idol wonder girl. Letting an innocent man fall for someone else’s mistake… could I truly allow it?
“A decision must be made, Okita,” the magistrate said from his seat behind me. “Our town has been put in danger, and the one who allowed it to happen must pay. The people seek blood.”
I turned around to face him, silhouetted in the lantern-light. “And blood they shall receive. But you know as well as I that this situation is not as it seems.”
Smirking, he opened his fan and began to waft a gentle breeze towards himself. Gold rings glinted upon his fingers as he moved, and I felt myself become increasingly frustrated. “So you would fracture the Juuyuushi? Kill a child to suit your own ideals of justice? The warrior in front of you has accepted his accusation in silence; he wishes to place his life on the line in spite of the truth. Do you accept his offer? Or would you sooner break the heart of your comrade by killing another?”
At my side, the sword weighed heavy. Drawing it would mean drawing blood, and a betrayal of this caliber, even accidentally, meant that someone had to die. But, were there fates worse than death? Fates embarrassing and shameful enough to be considered a fitting punishment?
“There will be no execution tonight,” I said loudly, facing the crowd with my arms folded. The crowd roared in indignation, throwing around insults suggesting I was cowardly or weak. “However! However… justice will be served. I hereby sentence Nakayama Shunsuke to labour and indentured servitude at the damaged onsen.”
“And the girl?” Mochizuki said, a hint of hope in his voice that I might let her get away with her obvious transgression. “What becomes of Anayama?”
I glanced away for a second, unsure as to whether I should really do this. She required punishment; she had threatened the safety of the entire village and kept the transmitter for assessment without obviously disabling it. “Anayama Kiriko,” I said, pointing towards the girl, “You are now stripped of your Juuyuushi rank, for the Juuyuushi does not accept slaves into its ranks. You are to report to me, and serve the rest of the group as I see fit.”
Mochizuki looked heartbroken, but then bowed his head. I stared at him, and when our eyes met, he gave a weak smile. This had all been for him. He turned away and left the crowd, and I was sure for a moment that he brushed tears from his eyes.
The magistrate chuckled behind me, still clutching the fan between his fat fingers. “So you’re enslaving the girl? You do realise that is against the laws of this village… surely executing her would have been more merciful. Or perhaps you think you are above the law?”
I clicked my blade from it’s sheath, revealing an inch of metal. “No, Magistrate. I don’t think I’m above the law.” With all the speed I could muster, I span and sliced the blade vertically up his body, rending fat and cartilage in one sweep. “I am the law.”