Phoebe's Journey Part 3

Chapter 5: The Cold Kiss of Death

We still had a little time before lunch, and I needed to settle my mind. I had too many unconnected pieces of information buzzing around in my head. I had just settled my drum in my lap when Mehli came into my room and said that Miyara Katsuda wanted to speak with Miwa, and we were all supposed to go with her to his rooms.

Before we started up the stairs, a guard spoke to us, saying that the princess was on her way down and didn't want to be disturbed. We got out of the way, and in a few minutes, the princess walked by with some guards and two of her maids.

Upstairs, Miyara Katsuda greeted us and immediately asked Lady Miyara, "Miwa, if I charge Miyara Ryuden with Miyara Himitsu's death, would you stand for Miyara Ryuden?"

"Yes," she answered him simply.

"How so?"

"He didn't kill Miyara Himitsu."

"Why do you say that?"

"I've spoken with Ryuden and I believe him when he says he didn't."

"Would you be willing to die defending your belief that he's innocent?"


"In that case, I won't bring formal charges. But it's possible that someone else may soon, and I may have to carry out my response. Do you know who actually killed him?"

"Not yet."

"Will you know later today?"

"I don't know."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

"I don't know of anything now. I will come and ask if I think of something you can do."

"I eagerly wait for good news."

He politely dismissed us, and we went to the stairs up to send a message to Kakita Nantoko. She's the one who spoke with Ryuden last night and dissuaded him from accosting the princess. She's also the one maid who was missing when the princess came downstairs.

The guard said she wasn't to be disturbed. Miwa said she needed to speak with her about Ryuden's murder, which she was helping Hiruma Usigo look into. But the guard said it was the princess herself who said the maid shouldn't be disturbed. Miwa looked at me, and I nodded. He said the truth.

Tony asked in Imperial. "Why would someone tell the guard at the bottom of the stairs that a fairly low ranking samurai who happens to be the maid to the princess?" Miwa didn't answer him, but she repeated her request to the guard, reminding him a trifle sharply that she was doing so on behalf on Hiruma Usigo. His name seemed to be a key of sorts. One that didn't work this time. The guard replied in a careful tone that the Princess herself had directed that no one was to disturb her maid.

Miwa glanced at me, and I briefly dipped my head. The spirits told me he was speaking the truth, as odd as it sounded. With nothing else to do in the brief time before our lunch with Hiruma, we returned once again to our suite.

In the privacy that granted us, Miwa took the time to explain the Nipponese concept of justice and honor, as it applied to Miyara Ryuden's case.

If someone decided Himitsu's death stained his honor -- Miwa explained that Asako himself or any Phoenix could easily enough -- he could challenge Ryuden to a duel. The winner prevails, and that's the end of the matter. That I understood. Although justice is a simple matter with my people, I knew trial by combat was common elsewhere in the west. Perhaps the spirits would stir themselves on behalf of truth; perhaps they wouldn't.

For this case, Miwa didn't think that was likely. Instead, someone would stand for Miyara Himitsu -- Asako Kagetsu or Isawa Tomo most likely -- and charge Ryuden with his murder. Asako, being the host, would be the judge. Even if he were the one to charge Ryuden. He could stand as the only judge, but Miwa said that wasn't likely either. He's almost obligated, politically, to call in others. The judges would almost certainly be Asako, Isawa Tomo, and Hiruma Usigo.

The judges might decide on a trial by combat between the accuser and the accused. But again, Miwa thought that unlikely in these circumstances.

It could be a peaceful court. One argues Miyara Himitsu's case; Miyara Ryuden or another argues his case. Others might be allowed to argue on either side. The judges could decide anything, depending not just on the cases argued but on what they believed was the best outcome. Truth, as always here, takes a poor second seat to political expediency. If Ryuden is declared the killer, he might be allowed to take his own life and save some small honor. Or he might simply be executed as a criminal. If they decided in his favor, then all is well.

If during the trial, anyone who feels his honor is impugned -- by someone stating either side of the case -- can demand satisfaction. The judges decide whether or not to allow that duel. Since Miwa had just pledged to stand for Ryuden, she could be challenged by anyone who preferred to have Ryuden blamed for the murder.

Hiruma Usigo was alone in his room except for his assistant Hiruma Arawa. Or servant. Sometimes it's hard to tell. Arawa served us lunch, and the conversation, primarily between him and Miwa, was entirely inconsequential. Grieg and Tony managed to say entirely the wrong things once or twice, and after that, Hiruma carefully didn't include them in the conversation. Without being rude, somehow. The rest of us were quiet, but managed our parts without embarrassing ourselves. At no time was any hint of Himitsu's murder made. It was interesting to listen to his take on court events before last night. Once lunch was complete, he waved towards the balcony, and suggested we enjoy our tea out there, as it had turned into a warm, sunny day. Not coincidentally, the balcony also offered a far more private space than his room. Arawa served the, then disappeared back into the room and out of sight. And presumably out of hearing. With that, Hiruma got to business without hesitation.

"What do you know?" he asked Miwa.

"Miyara Ryuden didn't kill Miyara Himitsu."

"Who did?"

"I imagine whoever would want to hide the information he promised to make public."

"Who wouldn't?"

At that, Miwa related Niban's story of the princess' father, all without naming any names. She made the point that it was the unnamed daimyo who is dishonoring the emperor.

"If such a story were 'true'," Hiruma said thoughtfully, "it would bring, in addition to disgrace on the house of the unnamed lord, great dishonor on the house of Otomo, and dishonor on the house of Hantei."

"Hantei is the soul and center of Nippon. What happens if the emperor is not Hantei?"

Hiruma nodded and allowed that it would not be good.

Miwa said more forcefully, "That cannot be allowed to happen."

Hiruma replied somewhat poetically, but his gist was that "truth is belief, and belief is truth." So if everyone accepted the emperor, if Otomo became the emperor, was Hantei, even though she's not, it wouldn't make any difference? My head hurt. He seemed a wise man: was he not aware that deceptions are perfectly clear on the other side? Their kami, even Hantei himself, would certainly know the truth, however mortals foolishly might delude themselves.

As I was puzzling that out, Miwa pointed out that others higher than she could, and should, solve the whole problem more quietly and discreetly.

Hiruma said, "But this is the way to clear Ryuden?"

"These events don't have to be connected."

"So your 'theory' is that this unnamed lord is the actual killer."

Then Miwa explained the neighbor lady's story.

"I know her story. How would that work to clear him? Miyara Ryuden was the last one seen fighting with Himitsu. Just before Himitsu was killed."

"I believe one person, not two, and not Miyara Ryuden, killed Miyara Himitsu. And of course, the murderer climbed down the wall and left the castle while Ryuden is clearly still here."

"I agree they are interesting pieces of information, but they are not conclusive of much. Miyara Ryuden could have gotten back into the caste in any number of ways, including walking by the guards openly."

Tony, attempting to redeem himself, apologized for being a foreigner, and then asked, "Can't Ryuden just say he was just drunk and picked the fight too early? Would that be less dishonor?"

Mehli pointed out, "A fight between a man with a sword and a man without one?"

Tony said , "It was the word of the woman looking through a hole in the wall, and how is she to know when the sword came out? Perhaps it would be less dishonor."

"Who do you believe did this?" Hiruma asked Miwa, not impressed with Tony's thoughts on the subject.

Miwa answered, "I don't know why this person would do so, but I believed Shosuro Tage has the ability, and she was missing from the skit after the poetry contest, although she was there beforehand. Why would she disappear?" She also mentioned her suspicion from the earlier play, that the actress at the very end was specifically watching the princess for some sort of reaction. Now after the fact, Miwa thought that perhaps Tage knew and wondered if the princess knew.

"All interesting," Hiruma said. "I believe that either Asako Kagetsu or Isawa Tomo will bring charges against Miyara Ryuden this evening. If you intend to present a case for Miyara Ryuden, it needs to be better than what you've got so far. I wish you luck with that endeavour. I also suggest you be very careful handling the other matter." He paused. "And I have one more piece of evidence for you."

He continued, "I was away from my rooms all morning. When I returned just before lunch, I found amongst my writing tools a small note." He pulled out it from somewhere and handed it to Miwa. "I didn't write it, and Arawa can't write."

Miwa read it:

Three little kittens

And the Emperor's Cat

Stares in the mirror

And sees two.

"So, someone else knows and wants it public?"

With a playful smile, Hiruma said, "I think I know the answer, and I want you to find out the answer for yourself."

Tony asked, "Miyara Ryuden spoke to Kakita Nantoko last night, but we have not been able to speak with her. Were you able to speak with her and confirm his story?"

Hiruma answered rather sleepily, "No," still looking at Miwa. While we considered the poem for a few minutes, his eyes closed, and he slept.

Mehli said quietly, so as not to disturb him, "The kittens are Hanteis. One is an illusion and not really Hantei."

Suddenly I realized the sleeping Hiruma wasn't breathing. I leapt to him, Peter right behind me, and I felt for his spirit.

But he was dead. How had I not noticed him die, right in front of me? Why had the spirits not warned me? Had they, and I just didn't understand their mutterings in my head?

While I tried in vain to find Hiruma's spirit and reunite it with his body, Tony discovered that Arawa was missing entirely: he'd left five minutes ago to run a message. He asked Miwa, looking sorrowfully down at Hiruma, who we should notify. She said, "Asako." Tony took care of that, telling the guard to bring Asako immediately.

Miwa asked Peter what killed Hiruma.

"He was poisoned. The poison was in his cup, but not in ours."

Asako arrived within minutes and quickly ascertained what happened: Arawa poured tea and left, Hiruma died from poison within his cup. He told his guards to search the castle for Hiruma Arawa.

After setting that in motion, Asako stood looking down at the body for an uncomfortably long time. Stands looking at body for an uncomfortably long time. Then he looked at straight at Miwa and asked her, "Did you do this?"

"I did not," she said in her clear voice.

He stared at her for a long time, and she took it and stared right back. Finally, when I almost couldn't stand it anymore, he part ordered and part requested her, "Find out who did quickly and quietly." He left.

Mehli quietly asked if I could find and speak with Hiruma Usigo's spirit. I told her I would love to, and she smiled at me. She sat with me on the balcony's floor, facing me, and I stepped across the veil past her.

I didn't even have to look for him: his spirit hadn't gone anywhere yet, and he looked across the veil at his dead body, with some curiosity.

I asked him, "Who do you think Arawa really was?"

He turned quickly and looked at me in surprise. I don't think he expected to see me on that side. "Do we ever know who anyone really is?" he asked me.

"The spirits always know."

"Arawa did not do this."

"No but someone pretending to be him did."

"A skillful imposter."

"Unless you did this yourself." I couldn't think of a delicate way to ask that, but after all, it's easy to poison yourself.


"You don't know who did?"


"Is there someone here you don't trust?"


That surprised me. There were some 200 guests here, never minding the Asako family and all the servants. He's been around court for decades, and there was no one here he mistrusted? I asked him, "No-one at all? You trust every single person in this castle?"

"You must understand, child. I am no longer in this castle. But as for your question, when I was in the castle, even then I trusted everyone to act in their nature."

"Someone is acting very much in his nature." Brutal murderers act according to their nature, after all.

"Everyone always does," he agreed with me. "Perhaps you would like to know if I had any enemies or suspect anyone of my murder."

"Of course."

"No, I had no enemies that I know of, and I was very careful to let no-one know my opinion on Himitsu's murder, so I don't believe anyone killed me because of that. In short, I don't know why I was killed."

"And yet you were killed, and someone sent you that cryptic poem."

"True," he admitted.

"And what is your opinion on Miyara Himitsu's murder?" After all, it wasn't like I could kill him for it.

"I no longer care. It is no longer important."

"Is there anything you do care about?"

"I care that Miwa learns who murdered me." That was interesting.

"I'll let her know. What's your opinion on the meaning of the poem?"

"I believe Shosuro Tage wrote and delivered the note."

"Why do you believe that?" I knew Miwa was suspicious of her, and she could look like anyone she wanted to.

"This morning when I left my room, I told Arawa that I would not need his services this morning. When I discovered the note, I asked the guard outside my door who came and left the room. Only Arawa, he said. Arawa had little need or desire to leave the room today, and he certainly didn't write the note. Of the people I know, only Shosuro has the skill to have looked like Arawa."

"Where do you think Arawa is now?"

"I don't know."

"Do you think he's still alive?" I didn't think so.

"I don't know."

"I'll see if I can find him. What do you think Shosuro Tage's purpose in writing that note for you was?"

"Child, why do you think she wrote that note?" Old, wise men can be such a pain, never wanting to answer anything directly.

"Why would she write you that note and then kill you?" That didn't make sense to me.

"Why indeed?"

"Nipponese politics are very confusing."

"No, they're not." I looked at him with complete disbelief: he'd been murdered and he didn't even know why. He allowed, "Well, if you insist."

"Are there any other messages you'd like given to anyone else on the other side?"

"No thank you, child."

"You know where I'll be if you wish to speak to me."

"OK." He looked a little confused, but I knew he'd find a way to speak to me if he needed to.

I bowed, thanked him, and walked away through the spirit world. I searched for Arawa, because I was sure he was dead. I couldn't find him, and decided it was time to return. I felt for the thread that connects me to my body, and I felt Mehli there, a bright and shining beacon of serenity, waiting for me.

"I found him!" I told her happily.

While I was across the veil speaking with the dead, Peter was busy inspecting the poison. He said it was some clear, sticky stuff smeared inside his cup. It was also obviously powerful, subtle, and fast-acting.

Miwa recalled that Arawa was missing this morning after the murder, when Hiruma was wandering around by himself and called on Miwa to help him.

Tony opened the door to the guard's knock. "Arawa's body has been found. In an empty room not too far from here. Miwa nodded, and Tony closed the door. Tony, Mehli, and I wanted to accompany Miwa, and she said we'd all go, as there was nothing more to look for in here.

As we got ready to leave, Mehli said to Miwa, "We're forgetting one thing. Might not be important, but we don't know what Koan can do." Miwa nodded thoughtfully and said, "True."

I swiftly summarized what Hiruma told me to everyone. Then I asked, "So who else besides the Shosuros is wandering around pretending to be other people?"

Tony said, "Maybe Tage means that there are three heirs and the emperor only sees two. Tage is the third heir." Miwa shook her head at that suggestion.

The guard led us to a room nearby, set up as a public sitting room. The door was closed, but the guard outside let us in. A large clothing chest in a hidden corner of the room, held the curled-up body of Hiruma Arawa. Miwa said the chest was marked as belonging to the family Hiruma, and it was obviously out place here, in a public room.

Peter looked at the body and said he was strangled by a rope or a cord. As far as he could tell, he'd been dead a while: between 2 and 4 hours.

Mehli wondered if more than one person would have to carry this thing. Maybe not, but it would require one very strong person to move by himself.

Tony asked if there are other Hirumas here, but no, Usigo and Arawa were the only ones. Miwa asked the guard to bring the captain to us so we could speak with him.

I settled myself on the floor near the chest. I wondered if he were killed here or elsewhere. I closed my eyes and wandered across the veil, where I tried to find spirits attached to this room or to the chest. I found some, and they were serene. No killing had occurred here. Arawa had been killed elsewhere, then placed into the chest. Whether the chest was here first, or if the body was moved in the chest, I couldn't tell. I supposed the killer moved the body in the chest, since one can't just walk through hallways with guards at every door carrying a dead body. I thought about seeing if I could find Arawa's spirit, but decided not to waste the time and effort. I'd already tried to find him once and failed, and I still didn't know where he had died, which would be a better place to looking for him.

By the time I got back, the captain of the guard -- who'd been with Asako at Hiruma's room -- was there. He said Hiruma Usigo had also asked who came and went from his room, and when. Only Arawa. What Hiruma hadn't asked was if Arawa was carrying anything. Like the chest that held the real Arawa's dead body in it.

The captain answered, "It is clear that this is Hiruma Usigo's chest. It is clear that Arawa didn't carry his own body out of the room." Actually, that's exactly what happened.

Miwa said, "I would like to know if he carried this chest out of the room this morning."

The captain agreed to inquire for us.