During the same hour…
Toshizou Hijikata was enjoying himself in the pleasure district of Ashtaroth town.
The eastern style brothel was called Yoshiwara, and Toshizou was practically the person who built it. That being said, he did not put on airs or act like he owned it.
He only went as a customer. The women there were told to not give him any special treatment, but that order was difficult to obey.
Even in his past life, Toshizou had been very popular with the ladies. He had been working as a regulator in the town called Kyo, but had been so popular that important men and subordinates alike despised him.
When Toshizou showed his face at the brothel, the women would leave the other customers and come to him. So it was no wonder that he was disliked.
Well, it was also Toshizou’s fault, for he never reprimanded them, and let them do as they pleased.
So when Toshizou went to the brothel that day, he called for his favorite and had her play the shamisen as he rested on her lap.
He had no intention of lying with a woman today. And he would not drink much either.
And so the elf woman, who was a high-ranking courtesan, asked him,
“Toshizou, are you feeling ill today?”
“Hardly. But I have a feeling about something…”
“That a friend is going to visit me today.”
“Aye, an old friend. And I don’t want to meet this person as an insensible drunk.”
“I see. However, that does make me feel rather jealous.”
“Yes. I’ve never seen you be so considerate with someone, unless it is the Demon King.”
“Indeed. You might be right about that…”
Toshizou was also surprised as he pondered this. Just then, a lady called Kamuro, who was still in training, walked in.
“Sir Toshizou. You have a guest.
“Oh, Toshizou. It seems that you were right.”
“Yes. I’ll be receiving this guest now. Could you prepare some drinks?”
“Very well. Will hot sake do?”
And then Kamuro dashed towards the kitchen.
She was rather pretty, he mused. And then the elf pinched his hand.
“You are targeting her, aren’t you?”
“Hardly. I am not fond of those with no experience.”
He said, before heading to the back room. He would wait for his friend there.
The sake arrived first, and then the man appeared shortly after.
It was an old man who wore a fox mask.
“So you’re still wearing that mask.”
“So you still haven’t realized who I am.”
“I do have an idea. It’s you…isn’t it?”
He said the old man’s name.
The old man listened quietly. He didn’t agree or deny it. And Toshizou didn’t try to confirm it.
After the old man was silent for a while, he continued as if nothing had happened.
“Well, my identity is of no consequence. I have come here with a proper purpose.”
Purpose? Toshizou didn’t ask, but he had already guessed why the old man had visited.
“Tonight, I have come to drink with you for the final time.”
“…Heh. The final drink, eh? In other words, you have no intention of switching sides and joining the Ashtaroth army?”
“Aye. Because it would mean going against the master who helped me.”
“Is your master more handsome than mine?”
“She is a beautiful girl.”
“There is no comparison then. However, my master is one who inspires loyalty.”
“I will not disagree with that. Had I met Demon King Ashtaroth first, I would have happily given him my sword.”
“So it was the order that was bad.”
“Aye. Both you and I were unlucky to have met that fool, Kondo Isami, and so we constantly got the short end of the stick. It is similar to that.”
“I understand that analogy completely. And so I won’t ask you to change your mind.”
“So you do understand. Then pour me a drink.”
The old man with the fox mask pushed his cup forward.
Toshizou was not in the habit of pouring drinks for men, but knowing that this would be the last time, his hand moved without hesitation.
He filled the cup, and then the old man returned the favor.
And then without exchanging any words, the two drank.
The sake had been imported from the port city to the south, and it tasted of fire.
It reminded him of the days during the Bakumatsu.
The days of killing. The days of thinking that it may be your last. In the end, he had been used and discarded by the Bakufu, and treated like a rebel.
They had been unbelievable days. However, for Toshizou and the old man, it was also their youth.
Toshizou reminisced about the past as he and the old man drank until the morning.
They drank until the brothel nearly ran out of sake, and then they slept until midday.
When Toshizou later woke up, there was no one in the room.
He looked dazedly at the spot where the old man had been sleeping, and then went off to the bathroom to relieve himself.
Bonus chapter. Thank you, SFcipher!