Japan, the meiji era
The shogun lost his power, the tenno got his power back. The country was upside down and started to find its way into the modern world. Japan was open now for the rest of the world. New things overwhelmed the people, shortly after all this fighting and dying. Carrying a sword got forbidden, the system of the samurai gone, ultimately killed in Hakodate. Now there were industrialists on the way to power and the government was in charge of protecting all people of japan equally.
The night was silent and a bit cold. Fog entered the area from the sea. It swashed through the ships in the harbor and fought his way into the dark city. The darkness in the small place between the shabby walls of the barracks was still almost completely. Only the glow coming from a pipe was visible. The only one there was the owner of this pipe, so the light didn't matter anyway. He was there to do his job, as shabby as his surroundings. Nothing he would have done in the daylight, so this unpleasant night suited him well.
The man lit his little lantern and waited. But it seemed this was a night nobody wanted to buy his goods. Or perhaps the fog was keeping his customers away after all. The sky was beginning to lighten to gray when he heard a sound behind him. He took the still glowing pipe out of his mouth as he turned around. But there was nobody there. Only a strange smell was hanging in the air, different from the smell such places should have normally. This new smell slowly embraced him completely, together with the everlasting darkness.
“Ahhhh!” A woman's scream pierced through the foggy morning air, quickly followed by the dampened sound of whistles. Hasty footfalls turned into a group of men, erupting into a small alley. Between the onlooker and the city people running their morning errands, the group in western clothes, all wearing swords, stood out. After the country started to open up the wearing of a sword got forbidden. Only the new established police was allowed to do so and it let them look proud in their fancy black uniforms, even more standing out against the town folk.
“Search the surrounding area!” One of them, the commander, an older man with a long scar across the face and a fierce mien, stopped in front of the corpse. He taped the dead body with his foot a few times. “Another dead opium dealer. Not a real reason to get sad.” He let out a small sigh and whispered, “But, a murder is still a murder, isn't it?”
Another man stepped beside him, aggressive and almost distressed. “It wasn't him! That's not how he works!” He doesn't seemed to be bothered by the corpse itself. It was more the unsaid criticism of his boss against the unknown murderer that troubled him, like he wants to protect a nameless hero.
The first man looked at the second. A long glance. “Ryuma, it isn't that era anymore. To murder other people, even the bad guys, is wrong…”
The addressed, Ryuma, miffed and turned around. “It wasn't him!”
The city was dark again. On the roof of one of the higher buildings crouched a man, dressed in darkest black, a pair of black swords on his broad back. He watched the street in front of him silently. It was one of the brighter streets where shops and inns were located. After a while of observing the people bustling back and forth he saw a policeman leaving a bar and followed him.
The slender policeman walked down the road, away from the brightness and activity of the town center and into the darker and poorer regions. He seemed a bit lost in his proud uniform, wasn't he not only a bit shorter than his coworkers as well as his long hair was still tied up in the old way of the samurai. But the darkness of the outskirts swallowed him with all his differences. Almost at home, the man, Ryuma, casually raised his gaze to the roof beside him. “Come in. I'll give you a drink.” He opened the door of his house, going in without looking at the tall person closing the door behind the both of them.
“It wasn't me.” The husky voice came from the dark entrance.
The small corridor opened into a single room. A stack of bedding in one corner, a fireplace at the far end and some cushions in the middle of the room. Ryuma was already searching for tea leaves in a cardboard next to the fireplace. “I know.” He answered without turning around.
The man in the shadows of the corridor was his friend. They were fighting for the same thing, back before the Restoration, before the world changed and the old values became nothing. Then life went on, the shogun run away, the land opened up to the world and people are trying to keep up with the foreigners. So now, one of the friends was a guardian of the new law and the other a killer in the shadows.
They were sitting in the almost dark room together, drinking tea. Neither of them bothered to put on more light than the fireplace made. The homes of policemen were small and both knew where the little furniture were. Cushions under them, teacups in hand, both had put their weapons off. Ryuma had put his katana on the wall beside the entrance to the corridor and the wakizashi under the only window of the room, shins twinblades were lying beside him. And so they remained silent for a while. Shin started to spoke. He told him that this wasn't the first victim of this case. All the murdered people had a connection with opium. At the moment, it were only the low ranked dealer and middlemen found dead in the streets at morning, like the one Ryuma saw this day.
“Once,” Shin told “ i was quick enough around to see a shadow leaving, but a strange smell stopped me from following it. I analyzed the spot. There, in the mud under the corpse, i found an unknown branch.” he sipped on his tea and tried to describe his discovery. “A little thing, a bit like a corn stalk.”
Ryuma was thinking about all he heard while blowing on his already cold tea. “So, Shin, who do you think he'll target next?” he wanted to know. “It seems he's going up the ladder …”
The tall man in black looked tired. “There's a so-called nobleman wanted to hire me for protection. They say he has his hands in every opium deal in this town… “
Everyone was gathered at the police headquarters the following day, to arrange the further actions of investigation while eating fresh made Taiyaki. Whispering and smacking filled the air of the large room in the basement of the two storey building. Despite the murder at the day before everyone was in a good temper until Ryuma spoke to the commander.
They couldn’t make out what was said, but the room went silent just by seeing the commander's reaction. His head went through every shadow of red till it stopped at a unhealthy crimson and he was snapping for air like a fish on the ground. Everyone's eyes were now on the both of them.
“What do you mean ‘We have to look into Mr. Woo’?” The commander asked raspy, trying to suppress his anger. “You know where our paychecks really come from?”
“But…” Ryuma seems a bit lost in front of the clearly taller and impressive figure of the commander but anyway tried to speak up.
“No! No ‘but’! Get your nose out of his affairs and out on the streets to find the real murder!“, the commander screamed. He pushed Ryuma hard in the direction of the door. Quickly everyone else got busy, too, leaving the room behind, getting out on the streets. The commander was left alone, standing in the center of the room, face still red like the bean paste in his Taiyaki.
And Ryuma, in the crowd of his comrades, slunk out of the building and onto his route to watch the town. Just like he was told he walked down the busy main road, across the river and through the silent outskirts. Watching the people around him he was walking from the center of the city and the middle of the day to the end of the outskirts and into the sunset. But his mind wasn't with all the little problems of the town folk. He didn't pay much attention to the poor thieves stealing from equally poor people or the foreigner bothering the concubines. His thoughts were with the murderer and the corruption keeping him from catching this castigator of the evil.
Between the poor looking buildings and poor people in the last poor light of the day he stopped his walk. “Shin, help me. We have to stop this murder spree and get this opium out of the town, don't we?” he whispered to the shadows surrounding him now.