The moon over the hot springs is just a tiny sliver, almost new; Warrant Officer Kikuta remembers it being the same moon when he and Private Ariko were lying in the trenches of Mukden. But once the moon is new, Ariko is suddenly bursting out of the side of the inn and landing in the snow covered in bruises, then led through the dark by Toni, who is not dead.
So what gives? Tsurumi knows the skin Ariko brought wasn’t Toni’s and decided to give Ariko the opportunity to steal the other skins for Hijikata Toshizou. Rather than kill Ariko, he reminds him of the difference between how he’d rule Hokkaido and how Toshizou would, appeals to his Ainu heritage, and makes Ariko into a double agent.
He has Usami rough Ariko up, then sends the burly private back into the mountains with Toni to meet with Hijikata and his men, earning their trust by “stealing” Tsurumi’s skins and presenting them to the old samurai. But while the skins are human, Hijikata can tell they’re clever fakes. Even so, Hijikata sees the value of having skins that, while not “full truth”, are still incredibly close half-truths. And so the chess game between the two leaders intensifies.
Sugimoto and Asirpa’s group ends up sledding into Enonoka’s village, where they say their goodbyes to her, Henke, and the ever-trusty Ryu, now a lead dog. Cikapasi shares a tearful farewell with Enonoka, but when he falls off the departing sled, he decides to remain with her after all. He and Tanigaki then share a tearful farewell, with Tanigaki giving Cikapasi his rifle (to be used to hunt only when he grows up) and telling him to stand straight and tall—like the boner that gives him his name.
While it was heartbreaking to say goodbye to Ryu and the kids, I daresay they’ll be far safer in that village than staying with the rest of the group. As much as Sugimoto wants to protect Asirpa, the fact they’re cooperating with Tsurumi and the 7th at all means things are about to get a lot more dangerous and volatile.
Either on the dusk or dawn before Tsurumi arrives to meet with them, Koito has a serious talk with Tsukishima, asking him if Tsurumi had anything to do with the death of Ogata’s father, the only general opposed to the Manchurian annexation hastened by the gaining of the railway in the Russian war.
In so many words, Tsukishima confirms Koito’s suspicions and then some, while also declaring that he never considered his life worth enough to get upset over being used by a man as great as Tsurumi. He wants a front row seat to watch the lieutenant’s big plans unfold.
Koito initially seems overwhelmed by all this truth, but he then revels in just how cool Tsurumi is, even correctly deducing that the good lieutenant staged their meeting and his kidnapping years ago.
The next morning, drunk on booze and the company of a woman, Shiraishi gives Sugimoto a piece of his mind. He doesn’t mince words saying Sugimoto has gone soft in his crusade to protect Asirpa, someone who is neither lover, wife, or daughter. Shiraishi tells him Asirpa changed and grew when she was in Karafuto, and Sugimoto does her a disservice by treating her like a delacate flower to be sheltered from life itself.
As far as Shiraishi is concerned, Asirpa should be allowed and encouraged to lead the Ainu—in battle, if necessary—if that’s what she wants. Sure, Shiraishi undercuts his gravitas by booting into the snow, but they’re words he wouldn’t have said when sober or blue-balled, and they needed to be said.
I hope Sugimoto heard them. Tsurumi and Hijikata may be great men with big plans for Hokkaido, but Asirpa has the potential to be an even greater woman. As her friend, not her savior, Shiraishi won’t let her potential be stifled.