“You enslaved me?!” Anayama was beyond angry. Small hands were balled into fists, knuckles white. “You are insane, Okita! Insane! All you had to do was execute that Resistance creep, and he threw his life on the line for me. Why couldn’t you just do what everyone wanted you to?!”
I looked away, out of the window of the inn where I had taken to staying. “It wouldn’t have been right.”
Justifying it like that was weak, I knew that much. But I didn’t want to admit my own weakness at the time, my own inability to draw blood from those who didn’t deserve it. That night, I saved two lives and dealt justice. We didn’t have the population to execute someone for a simple mistake. Though, the Magistrate had it coming – whoever was there simply by bloodlust’s call had it sated; there was no man guiltier than the one who simply sat around and handed out sentences. At least I did it by my own hands.
“Don’t talk to me about what’s right,” Anayama spat bitterly. “You were just too weak to do what was necessary.”
A crack echoed through the room as the back of my hand hit her face. She stumbled, and fell to the ground, her wedge sandals offering little support. “I saved your life, you ungrateful bitch! And I don’t think highly enough of you to execute an innocent man when you were clearly the one at fault.” I leaned down and grabbed her by the collar of her kimono. “You are enslaved because you’re worth more to the Juuyuushi alive than dead. I can free you whenever I wish, but until you realise that this this me doing you a favor, you’re under my command. Got that?”
She nodded carefully, still nursing her hit cheek with one hand. The other drifted to the metal ring around her neck, fixed in place by a complex locking mechanism. Like slavery itself, the concept was archaic, but effective. Her place, her punishment was visible for all to see. “I understand. I apologise, Mistress Okita.” There was an odd sincerity in her address, which made me feel a little more comfortable with a most definitely uncomfortable situation.
I offered her a hand up, which she refused, and awkwardly pushed herself up from the ground. She asked for leave and I gave it to her – to my own shame, I’d put her through a terrible ordeal. One that could have been far worse overall, but with less drawn out suffering.
I returned to reading my book in the candlelit room, the bedside lantern still bright upon the table. All things considered, it was difficult to concentrate upon the content. Setting the book aside, I blew out the candle and decided to head out, hoping some fresh air would clear my head. Okutama was cold that night, the breeze running through the mountains cooling the moisture in the air. It was a little unnerving, given the warmth of the day. Superstition told me it was a sign, one that my own warmth was failing, that I too would become cold and dark. I never was one for superstition though, so I simply pulled my cloak from my pack, swung it over my shoulders and continued.
I made my way down the hill to one of the many bridges that crossed the Tama River, leaning on the varnished wood and staring up at the moonlight. The stars, like brushed metal amidst coal dust, glinted in the distance and for a moment, I wished that I could vanish somewhere out there, somewhere far away from the accursed country I constantly fought to protect. Footsteps brought me back to earth.
“Contemplative isn’t a look that suits you, Okita.” The sardonic male voice was too familiar. I couldn’t escape the bastard. “What are you doing out here this late?”
“I could ask you the same thing.” I stood up straight and brushed off my cloak. The pale bluish-white of the uninterrupted moonlight made everything feel strange and dreamlike. “What do you want, Mochizuki?”
He came over and stood next to me, stared up at the sky with dreamy, half-asleep eyes. “I wanted to thank you.” No eye contact was made, but the tone was sincere. “I couldn’t have dealt with Anayama being killed, and that would have made me leave the Juuyuushi and the Resistance. By sparing her, you spared me by extension, and I will forever be grateful for that.”
Smiling warmly, he turned to look at me, and I looked away quickly. Heat rose in my cheeks and I folded my arms. “Don’t think I was doing it for you or anything. I wasn’t. I just didn’t want to kill an innocent or a teenager tonight. The Resistance doesn’t have enough men and women to kill people over minor transgressions. That’s all.”
The man shrugged and began walking away. “Say whatever makes you happy, Okita. Fact is, tonight you made a great leader. One as suited to politics as to battle. Maybe you should be the new Magistrate?”
Whatever words would have been a suitable response didn’t come to me, so I stuttered pointlessly until he had disappeared. I sighed and slumped down against the bridge’s guard rails. Magistrate? Me? Naturally, I’d always said that I could do a better job than the now-deceased one, but to actually have the opportunity and the support to do it was… exciting.
The next day, I formally took the post as Magistrate and mayor of the town, and began drawing up plans for how it could be developed in the wake of the attack. We didn’t have the manpower to wage a war, but we did have the manpower to build a solid defense. And that was what I intended to do.
“So, you want to build a castle?” Mochizuki said with a smirk, at a meeting a week later. Anayama rolled out the plans I had drawn up with the help of the town architects. Some it involved ‘acquiring’ resources from various enemy locations or friendly trade partners, but it was our best bet. “Not even a castle. A citadel, practically.”
I pulled out another scroll and laid it over the top of the blueprints. “Take a look at this. This is the nation they call ‘Suspiria’ which takes up parts of Shizuoka, Kanagawa and Yamanashi prefectures. It started as a citadel for a politically-allied group of British, German and Russian settlers. Nobody thought they’d survive, and yet they are considered one of the strongest nations. A practical modern day Oda clan.”
“And you want to emulate their success, I see. As your deputy, I’ll arrange for all resources to be put towards that,” Mochizuki said with a bow. “I’m impressed, Okita. You’re less a Magistrate and more a Daimyo.”
The constant compliments would do nothing for my ego, I told myself. And yet… things would soon change.