Mikawa, summer 1545
The night came with an unpleasant surprise. Waves of raindrops threw themselves at the castle wall like a thousand piercing arrows, dancing on the rock and wooden surface as if they were fighting on their own bloody battlefield. Thunder and lighting came racing to their deaths, creating a perfect background music for the already deafening rain. It was the kind of storm that could interfere with wireless connection needed for Rene’s call, had it happened back in his hometown. But that said, he didn’t even know if there was wifi in this place in the first place. He was sitting in his study room, safe and sound from the raging war outside, screaming into his Bluetooth earphone.
“Can you hear me now?”
“Yes, better. Don’t you think someone will hear you screaming?” The Oda clan daimyo, also known as James Halcyon, replied.
“No one would understand English. Besides, the storm is bad enough already and I have all the servants gone to sleep. Who in the right mind makes them stay up this late? Anyway, how is your body count so far?”
“A few shinobis and about thirty or more rebels a couple of days ago. Speaking of that, aren’t you afraid of an assassination attempt? And do you want to count all those that died by my orders as well?”
“No, I feel safe in the castle. And I don’t like people suffering for me, like standing guard in a night like this. And no, who cares how many your men have killed. How does it feel?”
“The killing? Or the conscience that comes afterward?”
“Well, we are in a game. I don’t want to discuss the morality here, it only worsens the mood.”
“Yeah, I know.” He heard James’ quiet laugh. “Strangely satisfying and terrifying at the same time. It was like I was born to do it. I don’t know mate. My body just reacted on its own, as if I were a samurai from the beginning. Well, it was cool, really, holding a katana and fighting on a horse like that. But the killing that came with it, it’s just something else.”
“Murderer detected.” It was his turn to laugh it off. “Maybe you were to become a killer back in that world. Yeah, that would explain how you can wield a sword to kill while I’m still struggling.”
“As if you are any better than me.”
“Hey, you know how nice and friendly I am. Seriously though, don’t die.”
“I’ll keep myself safe. I have faith in my entourage. That said, what about yours?”
“The number of people I can trust is limited to a pair of siblings and some thick-headed retainers who are too stupid to do anything on their own. The rest are either corrupted or planning against me. I’m about to purge the running council in a few days. This is something you can do as well.”
“What is it?”
“Ask for the financial records from your local villages and compare them with the game sheets. You remember the financial tab in the game? Apparently, it includes more details in the game sheets than it does in the game, as minute as a household income, which is both pretty amazing and tiresome to verify. But thanks to that, I managed to find some corrupted retainers and bugyos where the numbers didn’t add up. Yeah, they call the samurai governors “bugyo”. I had no idea and ended up making a fool out of myself asking that in front of the court.”
“That is good intel, I will try. But for now, I’m good with my politics. As I said, I trust my retainers. Can you do something about the noise?”
Rene walked away from his usual seat near the window, which was being bombarded by the heavy rain, and sat in the opposite corner.
“I have an extra layer of wooden cover installed for the window since your shinobi attack but it isn’t enough for the storm. Can you hear me now?”
“Yeah, much better. Anything else interesting you discovered?”
“I haven’t touched on the military, been delegating it to a guy name Hidenage. I think he was one important general. About constructing buildings and infrastructure, it’s a bit more difficult than in the game. You would have to issue an order through your court so that they’ll do something about it, then it would take roughly the same amount of time to finish like in the game. A way to cheat the system is writing the commands in the game sheets and bypass all the politics. You can do the same for recruiting. Oh, assigning commissioner works differently. You know in the game we can just assign the commissioner role to our generals and get bonus stats. We don’t have that instant bonus anymore, regardless of using the cheating method or directly appoint it in the court. Yeah, again I humiliated myself in the court to learn this, playing with Hidenaga. He was quite pissed and eventually settled with commissioner of warfare. Oh, and I discovered that I have a wife.”
“Seriously?” James asked with a sarcastic voice that went unnoticed.
“Yeah, I had no idea. I didn’t bother to notice the wife’s picture in the game sheet and the other day she went into the study room, asking me why I didn’t spend time with her like I did. Hell, I don’t even know who I am in this game. I mistook her for a maid. I think I have made enough bad impressions for enough people that there are rumors in the castle about how I become cursed or sick. The only good thing is the siblings and the servants are still nice to me, seeing how, and I quote, “caring and less ruthless than I was”. Who was I?”
“Tokugawa Hirotada. Hey, I have a wife, too. And she is too old for my taste, honestly. But you have to see them as people, not as a game. We are living in this world right now and the game, it’s just a cheating tool. You keep treating them like that, you’ll get a taste of metal real soon. Try to live the world as it is, not as how we used to see it. There is a history behind us, if you forget.”
James’ words sunk in, making Rene space out for a moment.
“Yeah, I need that. But you know I suck at dealing with human.”
“Get your backward ass out of the shell. You are a clan master now.”
“Will try to learn. But truth be told, I prefer being in the backstage.”
“Don’t use the game sheets for a few days, see if you survive.” Rene could hear his friend’s laughter loud and clear despite the rain.
“Enough with the joke. Have you talked with your court about our clans?” James was talking about the Oda and Tokugawa clan war. History dictated that the people of the two lands must fight and so did the game. For all Rene knew, there wouldn’t be a scenario where the two clans united and walked through hell together like he and James would. That meant if nothing changed, he and James would face each other on the battlefield not as friends. To begin with, he wasn’t fond of going to war anyway.
“The situation isn’t really good. They respect the Imagawa clan much more than they do yours. I’ve been devising a plan but still waiting for a good time to discuss it with them. You?”
“A bit better. At the very least, they trust me. You should gain their trust first. Being a daimyo doesn’t automatically reward you with their loyalty. That aside, what do you have in mind?”
“I will tell you once it succeeds. Should it fail, well you’ll see an army or two marching to your castle.”
“You’d better do something about it. If we are to fight, you’ll know I’ll win.”
“Yeah don’t get cocky. But this whole situation means that we can actually change the history right?”
“When we play the game, we don’t usually follow the history, do we? But it’s good to know it so that you won’t mess things up beyond fixing.”
“Walk me through it, I don’t even remember my name or yours.”
“Well, you were originally named Matsudaira Hirotada…”
“Wait, so I’m from the Matsudaira clan?” Rene cut in.
“Come on, mate, seriously? Have you done any of your family members wrong?”
“I think I might have. Then why am I bearing the name Tokugawa?”
“I didn’t read that part of the history. Anyway, Hirotada’s father was assassinated when he was ten due to the political feud between the two halves in the Mikawa province, those who favored the Imagawa clan and those who favored the Oda clan. That explains the situation we are caught in. Your side of the family asked for the Imagawa support and if I recall correctly, their daimyo put you in as head of the land. In the next three years, history would have the Oda clan invaded the Tokugawa land and your clan ask for the Imagawa’s support. You’ll die from illness then. Oh, and you fathered a son two years ago, when you were around fifteen…”
“When I’m what?” Rene exclaimed.
“Don’t be too surprised. You know how the ancient time had marriage and birthing done. The important thing is your son, Ieyasu, will become the Shogun. He will be the ruler of Japan in the future, or at least our past. So keep him alive, and train him well.”
Rene stood up and walked around stacks of sheets of papers, trying to absord the amount of information.
“Ok, let me get this straight first. I’m just seventeen now? And I’m already a husband and a father?”
“You aren’t stunned by the fact that you are a clan master but this? I’m disappointed. Yes, you are correct. Oh, that’s not all. You’ll survive an attempted assassination and have your son kidnapped by me. But the important thing is we can control the flow of history. No, let me put it this way, we can control this world, the way thing will become. History as we know is just a background. Find a way to translate the game and the history into information in this world, mate. Do the things you’re good at. And remember, we are living in a game. Don’t stress out.”
“Yeah, I need that.” He sighed heavily, trying to regain his usual composure. “Wait, then how old are you now?”
“Probably forty five. Maybe that’s why you suck as a samurai and I’m not. I’m just experienced by default. I have to ask, have you ever had the idea to look at your face or ask the other?”
“Yeah, I don’t use mirrors. And I asked, but maybe they thought I just wanted to be seen older than I look. No wonder they gave vague answers. I didn’t even see enough people to realize the physical differences. Most of the time when I met someone I sat and they sat. Oh, damn it, I’ve been treating Inagi and Kake like they are decades younger. And then that Hidenaga guy….”
“Ok, hold on, calm down. Things can be fixed. After all, they think you are weird anyway. And here’s a piece of advice. There are no mirrors. Use the water reflection. Don’t you wash your face?”
“I refuse to disclose such crucial information.” He heard a laugh.
“Calm down yet?”
“Will. I think I need some time. Go get some rest, mate. And thanks for the intel. Don’t die, tell me when you’re going into battles.”
“I won’t. Same goes for you. Out.”
Rene turned off the earphone, threw it onto the coffee table and lied down. Compared to what he just heard, everything he had discovered in the past few days seemed like nothing at all. He was shocked. And now he needed to deal with it.
“Kake? Kake. Bring me a bowl of water. I want to wash my face.”
He put on his earphone and yelled. A few minutes later, a maid came. As usual, she just left what he needed in front of him then retreated to her favorite corner of the room, staying silent until he dismissed her. But Rene didn’t care at all. He was too busy staring at a reflection of a teenager, looking a bit dull and average-looking in his opinion. And a bit similar to his real face.
“Kake, thank you. Were you sleeping?” Rene finally stopped staring at his face and got to his seat at the coffee table.
“No, my lord.” She murmured.
“I’m sorry I woke you up at this hour. It’s just that I found something too hard to grasp.” He sighed and forced a laugh.
“I wish for your best, my lord. And I’m afraid you are talking about something beyond me.”
“Do as you will but keep me accompany.”
“As you command, my lord.”
He usually felt annoyed by the polite and “programmed” responses given by the maids and servants in the castle. So far, only Inagi had somewhat got rid of the habit of talking like that. But Inagi had a long day already and for now, he figured just a trusted maid would help calm him down while he find soemthing to distract himself from thinking about the several mistakes he had made since day one. Regardless of what he was doing, Kake remained still in her seat, staring at the floor or simply avoiding looking at him. It would have been awkward for Rene had it been an ordinary person from the old world. But he found the atmosphere strangely serene.
The night went on. The rain persisted but the background music was tuned down and turned off. Kake had fallen asleep in her corner, under a blanket or two which Rene put on her just because he couldn’t sit tight for so long. Ever since he got here, he had gradually lost his sense of time. He slept less and spent more time doing nothing. Maybe something was wrong with his biological clock but no matter what he tried he just couldn’t bring himself to sleep some nights. That night was one like that.
As he was sitting in the opposite corner from Kake, staring blankly at her sleeping and dully mocking his decision to do so, he heard a creak. Before he realized what it was, the wooden cover of the window opened up and the wind from outside blew the candle light off. He felt the raindrops swarmed in and the cold came along with it, filling the room with both darkness and the chill.
“My lord, what happened?” It was Kake.
“Don’t worry, it’s just the window. Can you light the candle back on?” He stood up and walked to the window.
“Yes, my lord. I will go get the light.” He heard the footsteps then the sliding door slid. But after that, he heard more.
“I am not here to kill you. I am here as an offering.” It was a male voice, one he hadn’t heard before. Instantly, Rene jumped over what he hoped is the coffee table, kicked the surrounding stacks of papers while frantically searching for the katana sword hidden under the table. But as he stood with his sword raised, he felt the metal on his neck.
“Don’t do anything stupid, daimyo. I am here to talk. When the girl get back in here, tell her to leave. The more people know, the less safe you’ll be. Understood, daimyo?”
“Understood.” Rene lowered his sword and tried to swallow his fear.
A few moments later, just as Kake came in, the metal disappeared. The light of the candle on her hands lit up the room but Rene couldn’t see anyone else. His best guess would be he was hiding behind the sea of papers.
“You may be dismissed now. Thank you, Kake.”
“As you wish, my lord.”
He saw her off, never knew he could desire something so strong.
“You did wisely.” The man in a shinobi outfit stepped out to the light, facing him across the table just as her footstep got out of range. He was only a bit wet on the surface despite being out in the storm.
“Sheath your weapon and we will talk.”
“A bold one. You are truly a daimyo.” He did as told and sat down. “Forgive me for the rude entrance. It is the nature of my bidding that I had to do so. I am from the Hattori clan, a ninja of the Mountain. I come here as my lord instructed, to offer you a deal. If you are wise, you will take it.”
“What are the terms? And if it is coming from your lord, why didn’t he send an envoy?” Rene felt his sweat dropping from the cheek. ‘What a timing you gave me that advice, James. This isn’t a part of the game.’
“We are safer this way. Or so he said. But before I say anything of the terms, allow me to show you this, as proof of what I am about to say.” He took something from his outfit and put it on the table. It was a Bluetooth earphone. The mere sight of it shocked Rene but he managed to appear calm.
“Let’s discuss that later. Here are the terms. My lord offers his information and myself as your discreet loyal servant. As your servant, I will not kill you and two more people of your choice and keep your secrets safe but I will act on my own when I deem necessary. That is, I will kill or torture but I will not sell secrets. I am not a man of politics. In return, you will offer me things that I need, including information and a place to stay. I am skillful enough to avoid detection so a quarter in your castle won’t be a problem. And the information I need won’t be what the Hattori clan needs. Or so he said. Do we have a deal?” He put the earphone back in his outfit.
“I have my questions.”
“I will answer those I feel necessary.”
“Do you know what this is? How do you get this thing?”
“It is a possession of the Hattori daimyo who trusts me enough to give it to me. I don’t know what this thing is but I do know what it can do. Listening to you is one thing. Gaining your trust is the next. As he said.”
“What is your name and where are you from?”
“They called me Ataki Yasahigi. You won’t know where I am from, despite knowing the name of the place. Or so he said.”
“Will you betray me?”
“I won’t take away your honor or your life.”
“What about that of those I name?”
“You have only two. That is part of the term.”
“How old are you?”
“Older than you. As he said.”
“Who is he that says thing?”
“My lord. My former lord now, as he said.”
“When do I name those I value?”
“Anytime you want, but be quick, or I may kill them before you even know.”
Rene sighed. It had been too much for one night.
“And you will take orders from me?”
“As long as it won’t hurt my name or my life.”
“Very well then, we have a deal. You can go back and tell your lord…”
“It won’t be necessary. He has already known. For now, I’ll get out the same way I got in. Tomorrow when the sparrows sing, you shall ride north with an entourage. You will meet me disguise as a traveler and you will take me in. Fail to do so and I will have your head as a gift to the Hattori.”
“So be it.” Rene held his breath as Ataki rushed pass him, quickly climbed out of the window and vanished under the cover of the rain.
‘So much for security.’
Author: Minh Vu