12-2 In the dead of night, Suzu led the sansui to the inner loop road. She turned down an alleyway adjacent to Shoukou’s house and stared up at the multistoried building rising over the wall.
She’d leap across the wall and charge into the building. She would dispatch Shoukou and then jump down onto the road and head for Gyouten. There she would arrange an audience with the Imperial Kei.
I won’t forgive them. Not Shoukou and not the Imperial Kei.
She repeated the words as if to convince herself and took up the reins of the sansui.
A hand closed over hers. “No.”
Suzu sprang back, colliding with the sansui. The sansui neighed a discontented growl. She looked behind her. The shadow at her back had the height and width of a boulder.
Another person appeared behind her and tore the reins from her grasp. A man she recalled seeing at the inn.
It just wasn’t Koshou and the other man. A number of others were hiding in the shadows along the narrow alleyway.
Koshou softly wrapped Suzu on the knuckles. He said in a low voice, “Shoukou isn’t the only one inside that house. There’s guards all over the place. You gonna kill all of them?” He pulled on her arm. “C’mon. We’re going home.”
“No. Let me go.”
Koshou glared at her. “If Shoukou finds out you’ve been staying with us, we’re all dead men.”
Suzu caught her breath.
“They wouldn’t kill you right then and there. That’s the problem. It’d cause all kind of trouble.”
Suzu looked at the building rising over the wall and then back at Koshou. She hadn’t intended to cause Sekki or Koshou any grief, but right there in front of her was the house of the enemy.
Koshou patted her on the back. “I know how you feel, kid. So I’m asking you to come back with us.”
Men were camped out in front of the inn. When Suzu returned together with Koshou, Sekki ran up to them holding a lantern. He said, “Suzu . . . thank God.”
The men echoed this opinion. Suzu bowed to them. Koshou again patted her on the back. He said, “Sorry about this, everybody. But we brought her back okay.”
The crowd sighed in relief. As they left in ones and twos, they patted her on the back as well.
“Good to see you’re okay.”
“Now, don’t you be going off half-cocked like that.”
“Gave us a hell of a fright, girl.”
She had really put Koshou and the rest of them in a tight spot. But as she watched them walk away, the lack of censure in their voices perplexed her.
At Koshou’s prodding, Suzu went into the inn and sat down in the tavern. One of the men took the sansui around back.
A number of men were in the kitchen. Ten more came into the tavern with her. An older man hurried out of the kitchen and placed a steaming teacup in front of her. She realized that her body was chilled to the core and her teeth were chattering. She wrapped her hands around the teacup and warmed her frozen hands.
“So,” said Koshou, resting his hands on the table and looking down at her. Her eyes focused on the steel ring on his finger. “You hate Shoukou?”
Suzu tore her eyes away from the ring and looked up. “I hate him.”
“You’re not the only one. Not the only one who knows what it’s like to have that kind of hate in your heart. You got yourself a mean weapon there. Do you even know how to use it? What exactly did you think you were going to do to Shoukou?”
“Do you know how many bodyguards he’s got in that house? And how many of them you’d have to fight to get to his room?”
She bowed her head.
“Suzu, it ain’t possible. He’s not the kind of enemy that anybody can take down in a fit of rage.”
His eyes softened. “It’s really too bad about the kid.”
Suzu stared up at him. Her vision blurred. All at once, everything bottled up inside her came pouring out. “Seishuu . . . ” she sobbed. “He was . . . really sick. And I killed him. He had to run away from Kei and escaped to Kou. Then his village in Kou was destroyed and he had to run away again. His dad got killed by a youma right in front of him and then his mom died. He was sick from getting wounded by the youma. He was really, really sick. A little scratch like that and he suffered so much.”
“I know.” Koshou patted her tightly clenched hands.
“I was going to find a cure for him. We were on our way to Gyouten. He just got worse and worse every morning. No matter what he ate, he couldn’t keep it down. He was getting so thin. He couldn’t walk straight, could hardly see . . . ”
The hot tears burned down her cheeks. “I shouldn’t have let him there. I was looking for an inn, but I should have carried him with me. If I had, he wouldn’t have ended up getting killed.”
He was so thin he weighed hardly anything at all.
“I shouldn’t have come here in the first place. I should have taken him to a doctor in another city.”
“Don’t hate yourself so, Suzu,” Sekki said. Suzu turned to him. He sat next to her, watching her intently. He said, “You hate yourself more than you hate Shoukou. More than punishing Shoukou, you want to punish yourself.”
Suzu blinked. “Yes. That’s true.” The tears continued to well up, falling like rain. “I shouldn’t have left him there. I shouldn’t have come here. It’s my fault. If only I hadn’t brought him with me!”
She’d been all wrapped up in her fantasies, and Seishuu had died because of it. “He didn’t want to die. Oh, he never stopped cracking wise about it, but he was scared about dying, too. But he did. It’s my fault, and there’s no fixing it now. It’s no use saying I’m sorry or asking for forgiveness now!”
Wracked by sobs, she couldn’t speak for a long moment.
“That girl, she told me that he forgave me. But I don’t forgive me!”
“But, Suzu, no matter how hard you struggle and suffer, you can’t resurrect the dead. That’s just the way it is.”
“What you tried to do would have amounted to nothing, and that’s wrong. If all you are is your anger and resentment, if you think it’s okay to kill people to revenge a personal grudge, then you’re no better a murderer than Shoukou.”
“So you’re saying I should forgive him? I’ve heard what kind of person he is. He’s made lots of people suffer just like Seishuu. That’s why I was going to kill him. You expect me to forgive something like that?”
Koshou slapped her on the back. “Didn’t say nothing about forgiving him.” When she looked up, he laughed. “Show your hate for Shoukou and you’ll taste his retribution. That’s what everybody’s afraid of, why they all keep their mouths shut. See no evil, hear no evil. But don’t you be thinking there’s nothing but cowards in Shisui.”
“Koshou, you . . . ”
Suzu raised her head. She glanced at Sekki. Then at the men in the tavern who were all quietly watching over her.
“All of you . . . ”
They all wore those same steel rings.
“Shoukou will fall. We’re waiting for the right moment. We were afraid you were going to tip our hand.” Koshou took a chain from his jacket pocket. He unfastened a link from the chain and presented it to Suzu. “Forget Shoukou and go somewhere else and live a carefree life. Or take this.” He added, a severe expression on his face, “But if you do, you may never remove it. Betray us and be prepared to accept the consequences.”
“Give it to me.” Suzu reached out her hand. “I’ll never betray you. I’ll do whatever it takes to free myself—and Seishuu—from this grudge!”