The Moonlit Corridor

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 29 (v.1) - viper

Submitted: August 27, 2019

Reads: 23

Comments: 1

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Submitted: August 27, 2019

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Sleep escaped Sanada San, as he reclined on a large chair in his equally large bedroom, brooding and pouting like a petulant child. He was accustomed to having his way and if things did not go as planned he was frustrated to the point of uncontrollable behavior. If others disappointed him, they were beaten into submission by his ruffians. If an employee disappointed him they were either severely punished or simply done away with. He had neither remorse nor regret when it came to that.

Presently, he still fumed over the death of Kasumi’s father. He had ordered the giant to punish him for being slow repaying a loan, but he didn’t want the man killed. It simply wasn’t good business, and could discourage others from borrowing from him to begin with. To complicate matters, Ichiban was rumored to have done something unacceptable to Kasumi’s mother, which led directly to the woman’s suicide. As far as Sanada was concerned the only redeeming outcome of the two incidents was that he could sell Kasumi to Madam Snow, providing the girl’s grandfather was subtracted from the equation.

Sanada never expected such a turn of events, and adding to the dilemma was the fact that the renowned and feared Left Hand of God had become involved, and the unpredictable Silence. Of the two, Sanada was unsure who he feared most. To matters worse, Ichiban had a grudge against the samurai. Even without emotional involvement the giant was reckless and prone to mistakes, but the fervor he felt over Miyamoto’s death, Sanada believed, would only lead to his downfall. These thoughts brought to mind something Mizaki’s daughter said after his men kidnapped Kasumi; “Why do you do these things?” she boldly asked. “Do you honestly want to draw unwarranted attention to yourself?”

He casually dismissed her words then, but now they gave him pause for thought, prompting him to contemplate the possible outcome of his actions. He spent years slowly building his little empire, doing things secretly, stealthily moving behind the scenes, attracting little attention. But now, because of the ineptitude of his henchmen, hidden truths were beginning to rise to the surface. Even the chief of the local protective forces was having difficulty evading questions from superiors concerning the death of Kasumi’s father. High-ranking government officials recently put pressure on him to quickly solve the case. The longer it took, the more the possibility investigators from a central agency would be sent to look into the matter. The village had very few violent crimes, and never before had there been an unsolved murder.

“Curses!” screamed Sanada as he threw another crystal wine glass, shattering it against the wall. As he watched the red liquid run down the polished marble tiles, the crimson rivulets triggered something locked away in memory; it reminded him of why he feared wizards, and why he did not want to alienate Mizaki.

It was long ago, when he was just a boy. His father commanded the castle then, and employed a magician of black arts, with whom his father became enraged. In a fit of anger he ordered a guard to slay him. As he lay dying the wizard uttered a curse. When guards removed the body they discovered a spider shaped bloodstain beneath it. As onlookers fearfully watched, there was movement within the crimson stain. It pulsated, gyrated then suddenly came alive, as hundreds of black spiders emerged, each with a single red dot on their underbellies. They swarmed over the guard who slew the wizard while those in attendance ran screaming from the great hall. Later, when guards returned to the chamber the spiders were gone. All that remained was the bloated body of the executioner. Two days after, Sanada’s father was found dead in his chamber, with a single bite mark from a black widow on his neck.

Thus Sanada had a healthy fear of wizards and magicians. Although Mizaki did not practice black arts, he still had powers the rich man feared, and was capable of doing things that defied logic. The only hold Sanada had on him was his daughter. Mizaki knew if he tried to escape from or angered Sanada, Ai would be in danger. If she knew this, she would understand why her father tolerated the despot’s abuse.

 

 

Kenji Tanaka opened his eyes to a beautiful sunny day. He yawned and stretched as he began to move, while admiring the view of the trees to his left, through which bright beams of sunlight shone, dispelling the previous night’s shadows. He was alone, the adjacent pallet beside the burning embers of the campfire empty. Reaching for his walking stick he arose, calling out the samurai’s name.

“I’m here!” Sung Ji answered as he stepped from the thick bamboo forest on Kenji’s right.

The old man turned to look his direction, and saw that he was carrying new wood for the fire.

“There are more fish to roast,” Sung Ji said as he approached.

“You’ve been up long enough to catch fish and gather firewood?”

“You were sleeping soundly,” said Sung Ji. “I didn’t want to disturb you.”

“Ari gatou (Thank you),” Kenji responded. “How long have you been up?”

Sung Ji eyed him a moment, then said… “Long enough to catch fish and gather wood for the fire.”

It took Kenji a moment to realize the samurai was teasing him.

“I mentioned last night I believe we’re being followed,” Sung Ji continued. “There are signs in the grass and on the ground in the bamboo forest, precisely where I heard sounds last night.”

“Then it’s a fact…” Kenji remarked.

“Hai. Perhaps only one person,” said the samurai. “Someone small in stature.”

Kenji shuddered.

The samurai saw fear in his eyes; not for himself, he was certain, but for his granddaughter… “What is it?” asked Sung Ji.

 “Could it be the one who killed old Takahashi?”

 “Perhaps,” reasoned Sung Ji. “But it’s useless to worry about it. You prepare the fish,” he said as he walked toward the stream, “while I bathe. Once we’ve eaten we’ll be on our way.”

 Tanaka, obviously nervous about being left alone, quickly scanned his surroundings, then called out… “Mind you, that I don’t eat the fish before you return. They need not be fried. We Japanese love sushi, you know!”

 

Silence, well hidden, watched the pair from a distance. She was impressed that, in spite of her efforts to remain invisible, the samurai knew they were being followed. It served to remind her that he was more than samurai, and she knew she would have to exercise extreme caution from now on. After two days of trailing them she realized that she was developing a fondness for them, and their mutual teasing. Such feelings were foreign to her, with the exception of those she had for her shinobi sisters and their guardian, the nun Chiharu. Sung Ji and Tanaka were different than the evil men she erased in the past, and after two failed attempts to eliminate them she was beginning to believe they were being guarded by angels, which inspired her to sincerely question the morality of what she had been sent to do. Perhaps it was time, she reasoned, to do some serious reflection regarding her life as a ninja. Even her conscience told her that if duty demands she take the lives of honest men, perhaps that duty was flawed. It was impossible for her to maintain emotional detachment when it came to something like that.

Because she knew Ichiban was responsible for the death of Kasumi’s father, and perhaps her mother as well, her feelings of contempt for him and Sanada were growing. Especially considering the plans he had for the little girl. Orphaned after losing her own parents, she felt an affinity for Kasumi, and believed she should be with her grandfather.

It angered her that Sanada planned to sell her, and to a Geisha House, which made it all the more despicable. The very thought of it roused something deep within her, fanning the fires of righteous indignation, and brought to mind Ichiban, a parent killer and orphan maker. While at Sanada’s castle she overheard a conversation between two guards, something about a vendetta the giant had against the samurai over the death of an old friend, Miyamoto. She had heard that name somewhere before, when she was much younger.

Out of the blue a vagrant image flashed in her mind; a man with a sword, standing over the prone figures of her parents, another man pulling at his sleeve. She gasped audibly, and startled by the sound, her thoughts returned to the present. The images came and went quickly, but left an impression that made her wonder if Fate was playing a hand in the events leading up to the moment. Perhaps it was Destiny; and all part of a puzzle she was being challenged to solve.

Distracted by her introspection, she failed to detect a viper resting on a branch of the tree beside which she crouched. Just inches from her slender neck and coiled to strike, when a feathered arrow sped past her face, piercing the head of the snake, pinning it lifeless to the tree. Shaken, she quickly looked in the direction from which the arrow came. She strained her eyes and ears but saw and heard nothing, which made her wonder. In the past there were times when Sensei Hawk covertly sent a second assassin unbeknownst by the first, to make certain a mission was carried out. If not, the second would complete the directive, and possibly became executioner of the one who failed, if the situation demanded.

But that didn’t make sense. Silence found it difficult to believe Sensei would mistrust either her skills or loyalty. Also, if he had sent another, why had she failed to detect their presence.

Half a kilometer away, Minori smiled contentedly as she watched Silence search in vain for the owner of the arrow. Although the two had never met, the archer recalled having seen her in the past when she accompanied Sensei Hawk on a visit to her bow-master.  She knew her name was Silence, she was a follower of Sensei Hawk and rumored to be the best assassin he had. Presently, Minori was inclined to protect her from harm because, after all, it was she who would lead her to Hawk’s hidden headquarters. 


© Copyright 2019 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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