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Hitogoroshi no Ame
By Jacob Severin

Genre: Pulp Fiction

Several people burst into the room. Sonoda Kenji walked up to Kojima Akira, who was just now getting up, and looked at him silently, his eyebrows rose with a questioning look. Akira paused and looked back down at the dead gangster and then looked back at Kenji and explained, “Erm, I got him.”

“I guessed as much,” Kenji said as he smiled. Akira ignored his jest, “Your deductive prowess is incredible. Help me up.” Kenji gave Akira his hand and pulled him up to his feet. “So what did he ever do to you to deserve a taste of your blade?” Akira stalled for words as he remembered it was not the plan to kill the gangsters that were higher up in the gang, “The conversation got a little heated, I realize, but I got the information we need.”

“You mean: 'I tortured him for information and killed him after'?” Kenji started laughing at the decapitated body on the ground. Akira cleaned his blade against a cloth after he whipped off blood and said, “No, actually he was insulted when I refused to stay and drink after I got the information.” Kenji walked over to the table with sake on it and picked it up, “Maybe you should have, at this point we could be one gangster richer and have sake in our cups. Remind me never to get into heated arguments with you over sake, though.”

Kenji and Akira had been working on this case for the Daimyo for several months. Though they were the Daimyo's ninja, they were most often assigned to internal affairs. It was not uncommon for them to be assigned to spy on the Daimyo's own vassals, due to the leader's paranoia of mutiny. This case was coming to a close, possibly tonight.

There was an assassination on a government official dealing in the prohibition of smuggling swords to non-military groups. Akira and Kenji were assigned to this case to infiltrate the group behind the murder and find their trade route.

"Kenji," Akira began, "The store houses are on the property of the innkeeper, Asikaga Yasuo." Kenji looked at Akira, confused. Akira continued, "Yasuo organized this gang."

Kenji sat down under the cover of a tea-shop. "Ah! fascinating, I stayed there just last week. Yasuo was playing checkers with a guest at a table..." Kenji paused, and seemed to think more about it. "Wait now, Yasuo doesn't look like much of a ringleader. He's such an old koot--what, in his nineties?" The rest of the samurai who were in this operation came to rest as well, their stake-out ended with some success.

A samurai came directly to Akira, "Kojima-san," he said, "Good work. The daimyo has given you a new assignment. You are to go to Taiki's restaurant, order the duck and let them know who you are, and you will receive the details in an egg roll."

“Is this an especially sensitive mission?” Akira asked, curious about the specific instructions.

“Do not think that the involvement of egg rolls in a highly classified mission briefing makes it any less important. Those egg rolls are not just any plain egg rolls. They are the most proverbial egg rolls in Japan, and thus worthy of our great cause.”

An awkwardness ensued, Akira halted in his speech, trying to decide what to say, “last time I just met with a contact in the castle.”

“Yes, well,” he said, “we're moving on to bigger and better things. The daimyo recently dined at this restaurant, and he liked the egg rolls....”

“Now I'm excited!” Kenji broke in, he overheard the conversation, “I've never been to Taiki's! Can we get some complimentary rice cakes, too?”

Akira decided that management was entirely too odd these days.

* * * * * * * *

A sudden disturbance broke the world reflected in the crystal clear pond; red droplets ran off Akira's fingertips. A hint of blood mixed into the water in the pond, swirling and dissipating. The splinters weren't that bad, but getting them out caused his side to open up. He gently cut the skin over a large splinter and lifted out the finger-sized piece of wood that impaled his side this evening as his opponent threw him through a wall. He spent several hours removing several more splinters, and cleaning the cuts with the pond water in the garden. For a moment he left this world, for a moment there was no living in shadows, constant shadows, always killing or thinking about killing; for a moment he was sitting near the pond and there was nothing else.

Sunshine beamed into the hallway in the late afternoon. The setting sun warmed Akira's skin, but left his body cool and fresh. He walked quickly yet he still maintained a strong stance. His training scarcely evaded him, even in normal everyday life.

A door slid open and a pretty girl stuck her head out, looking around, “Ni-sama!” said the girl, with a grin on her face. “Oh, it's so nice to see you!” Ema ran out into the hallway and bowed toward her brother.

“It's nice to see you too, Ema-kun,” Akira said grinning, “I heard you returned from visiting Noburo, I trust your husband is alright.” Ema blushed. Newlywed for nearly a month, she and Noburo had been living apart because of his work in the next town, organizing matters of the state.

Ema rubbed her neck and looked around for something to do, seemingly distracted. “Please, come in and sit down. The water is almost hot.”

Akira walked in and settled down at the table, sitting down on a mat. Ema came back with the tea, pleased to use the set of cups she received as a wedding present, though she seemed inexperienced in the formalities and gracefulness of the tea ceremony. Slowly she went through the motions, a bit sloppy, yet without leaving any minor detail undone. Akira watched her carefully—not that he was any authority in tea ceremonies. He enjoyed watching his sister go through such a practice in her own home.

A cup of white tea was given to Akira. The soothing taste of the steaming hot liquid filled his core, rejuvenating his life. “Ah, perfect, nii-san,” he said to Ema. She smiled a warm smile, but said nothing. An awkward silence fell on the room, only the sound of the cups chiming against the plates beneath them, only the smell of the tea, and the smell of grass from outside, mixed subtly with the smell of cut wood.

Ema got up and watched children playing in the garden. Akira still sat at the table and watched her for a bit, sipping his tea and wondering if there was something on her mind. She seemed to be more reserved than usual. Knowing Ema, he knew better than to press her. She would reveal what was on her mind if he simply waited.

An hour passed by. Akira and Ema talked about their family and things that they had been doing, and Ema played the shamisen for him. The sound of the three string instrument reminded him of spring blossoms growing, their mother played a certain piece just for them in the spring.

“So,” Ema began, “do you have a steady girlfriend?” Akira paused in mid sip and thought for a moment, preparing himself to go along with another one of those conversations that sisters must have with their brother every time they meet. It isn't that Akira hated talking about women, he just foresaw the inevitable end; Ema demanding that he go out and get married to someone the first chance he has. Akira cleared his throat and said, “Ah, no. I'm too busy these days.” A frown set upon Ema's face so Akira decided to add “though, I have received an offer from the Yasuo family.” The frown went away but now Ema went straight into it, “Do I know the Yasuo family? Who is the girl? Is she pretty? How old? What does she do?  Does she write poetry, paint, or arrange flowers? Is her family well off?” The mind of a male never found it easy to multi-task, but the male mind found ways to conveniently find efficient ways of answering more than one question at once: “I haven't met her, but the family is well off. I work with her brother so it seems her father was told about me through him.”

“So...” Ema looked hard at Akira before finding her words, “They know of you, but you know nothing of this girl that you say 'there have been some offers from.'” Akira began to feel the lecture coming, a stone dropped in his stomach and he suddenly didn't want to really be around, but he stayed anyway, for the sake of his sister, “Yes, her father wrote me a letter asking that I visit. When I wrote back I explained that I may not not be back in town until later in the month. Now that I'm back in town, though, I'm given another assignment. Come to think of it, I'll be meeting your husband.”

Ema was indifferent at the mention of her husband, though she acknowledged it, “Don't try to change the subject; what was this offer. What did the letter originally say? Is a marriage being arranged?” There it was, Akira heard the the word “marriage.” Now he knows for certain where this conversation will go, exasperation flooded his mood. “Don't jump to such conclusions—I haven't even spoken to her father yet. I think he already has in mind that we will court, but don't be saying words like 'marriage' so soon.” Ema rolled her eyes at her brother and began to say something but Akira cut her off, “That annoys me though, about the courtship. I won't be able to ever be around, so I don't think the courtship would go anywhere.”

“Hummm...” Ema made a sound of thinking, it is actually quite cute when one isn't frustrated with her, “So the offer is vague.” Relief peeked out of it's hiding place, sensing the end of the storm. Akira was more at ease, and was ready to change the subject, but Ema continued, “Do you view any women of your own? Of your own choosing?

“You need a family and heirs. You need to think of these things, Ni-sama.” Ema's beaming smile shown innocently on her face, “I can help you!” And with that, the itch in the back of Akira's mind demanded that he get up before Ema has him on a pilgrimage for a woman. “I'm afraid I must leave, Ema,” Akira smiled at his sister. Ema looked up from her music playing. “Next time I'll have you over at my house, you and that husband of yours!” Ema paused a moment. “That would be nice...” she said unenthusiastically. Before Akira stepped out he looked back at his sister and watched her.Nii-sama,” Ema looked upset, “I just don't know what's going to happen, I feel so alone... I just...”

It'll be ok, Ema,” Akira said softly, “Noburo will be back—“

“I can't bear to see his face now,” Ema's eyes watered and turned red and she turned her head. Akira couldn't summon any words to say, his mind was swimming with theories and conclusions.

* * * * * * * * *

Akira's feet sank into the mud of the street. It was raining heavily and the street was crowded with people trying to quickly get to their dry homes. Akira was wearing a straw raincoat. His hat was soaked, but it still redirected the rain from his face. There was a certain crispness to the world when it rained; everything smelled stronger and everything was cleaner, the color came out and seemed to breath in the icy chill from the wetness while being more pronounced with the darker shadows. Akira's katana was tucked underneath his raincoat vertically to keep it dry. He also had several knives throughout his clothes, including the one at his belt. There were several shuriken hidden behind his lapel. The faces around him faded into the background as he was absorbed into his own mind, in reminiscence.

Kojima?” rang the voice of the Daimyo, “what has your sister told you?”

About what?” Akira searched in his mind for what seemed an hour, but he hadn't moved more than a block. Things that the daimyo said during their conversation floated in and out of his mind. “Noburo is a traitor...; Ema knows all about his plight!; She didn't want to betray him, but she can't stand his presence... Whenever his name is mentioned she acts—”

She was unsettled.” Akira said back.

Around other people, such as yourself, she was—” Again rang the voice of the daimyo in Akira's memory.

She seemed happy.”

Go to the next town down, you will find Noburo, he is still at his traitorous schemes as we speak.” The Daimyo's voice was ever calm and sensitive of Akira's relation to Noburo, as his brother in-law.

Akira was the only one the Daimyo could have do this job. Akira was the most talented assassin in the clan. He was extremely skilled in not only fighting but in the way he could get close to any target and not let a single soul know he ever existed. Noburo was a fine warrior himself, having been trained in Kouu Ryu, as well as Akira, by the same swordsman, Sonoda Seiki—a master of death. Noburo also kept a vast guard with him at all times.

Akira had been watching Noburo all that day, tracking his route, finding his schedule. He knew that he had an appointment the next morning, though he went to a dinner party that evening, so he was expected to come back late—no doubt his body guards would be with him. Akira stared hard at the house he knew Noburo was in. The candle-light revealed a party inside. There was music. All of the men there were drinking their fill in saki.

In the soft spring sunshine
Cherry blossoms fall ceaselessly
Like the busy mind

Several men came out of the house, both wearing the banner of the clan and two swords, alert for trouble. Akira decided this was his best chance.

The eyes of a hunter took to work: He examined all angles, imagined a thousand different attack routes. Without hesitation, he knew which one to take. Immediately he bolted from underneath the edge of the roof, taking two shuriken. The long needles shot from his hand with the flick of his wrist.

Cool breeze
Eventide at a stream by an oak tree
Misogi is a sign of summer still

The two samurai who took the shuriken in their necks were shocked for a split second. Like a snake, Akira's katana whipped from his saya; as the sword escaped from it's finely carved home it glided through the air weightlessly. He moved on before blood touched the ground, holding his katana in a low guard, ready for the next opponent. Just as he turned the corner a fist landed in on his face and Akira fell limply onto the ground, though as he touched the ground he regained composer. Akira looked up at his opponent, who was drawing his katana.

Deep in the mountains, walking on fallen leaves
Hearing deer cries makes me feel
the sorrow of autumn

Several kicks landed on the bodyguard's knees and he was forced to collapse. Akira grabbed his label and landed a strike to the man's face. For a split second the man was dazed, Akira pulled him down into a grappling guard, he wrapped his legs around the legs of his opponent to keep him down. Holding the man's head under his armpit he yanked and the neck easily broke as he simply leaned back.

In a mountain village
Loneliness pervades in the winter
Deserted by visitors, only withered grasses

The musicians stopped playing as they heard several screams coming from outside. Akira strafed into the room, his katana on guard, there was a stain of blood all down the front of his rain coat and blood dripped off the ends of the straw tips. His eyes were focused on the men around him, they drew their swords, tense from the ominous threat of this man before them. Akira was breathing heavily, excited by the dangerous atmosphere. Slowly he stepped forward, keeping his guard up, he inched ever so slightly up to the bodyguards. Looking around, he spotted Noburo, also on guard but behind the rest of the men in the room—the only escape was through Akira.

“Damn it, who are you?” asked one of the bodyguards. Akira considered stating his purpose for attacking them and said, “There is no point in introducing myself to a dead man.” With that, the score of bodyguards began to advance, surrounding him. By the way these men stood, none of them took the mind of a mob, but an individual warrior fighting one other man. The hairs on the back of Akira's neck stood on end and he breathed in slowly, putting his mind in the right setting. One of the men made their move, striking fast at Akira's head, but he stepped to the side and cut at the man's arms. Several limbs fell to the ground, and the katana was swung into the floor. The whole room came alive all at once, and the score of bodyguards all attacked Akira at once. Instead of defending against every katana, Akira went straight for Noburo escaping the pool of a dozen swords. Before he knew what was going on he was thrown down by Noburo, “damn you, I know who you are, Kojima, why are you here?” Akira spat into Noburo's face, and from the ground grabbed Noburo's neck with his legs, pulling his head down and getting Noburo off of himself. Now that there wasn't someone on top of Akira he was open to the bodyguards who were all pointing their swords at him. As they all advanced quickly, to save Noburo, Akira picked up his katana off the ground and hacked off one bodyguard's feet, making him topple over, then he jumped up and cut off his head before he could turn to Akira with his katana.  Before the others could react Akira escaped, running through the open door.

It stopped raining but the street was still deep mud, Akira evaded his pursuers, but now he is after Noburo. Surely they would be finding a safe place for him, and Akira knew just the place he would be. The raincoat and hat were left behind, his traveling clothes underneath were clean and scarcely stained with blood as opposed to the straw clothing he had before. Running made noise enough to alert anyone, as one can hear the sucking of the mud every time Akira lifted his foot from the mud. Silence was no longer a tool he could use, now he was moving as fast as he could, using back alleys and whatever short cut he could find.

Now he was still, the drizzle of the rain came back, clouding the little sounds of any minor movement, but Akira could hear the rush of half a dozen men running through the alley around the corner, and with them was Noburo.

Akira stretched his fingers around, he wanted the warmth to come back to his hand, to have some feeling again. When he was satisfied he wiped the water from his face and stepped around the corner, watching the group of men running closer. He drew his katana and ran straight into the bodyguards. There was a distinct sound of flesh being severed from flesh and someone's head was toppling to the ground in the direction that the man was running, and then there was a warmer rain falling on Akira's shoulders. Soon after that there was a clang, a katana was knocked out of the way and a stomach was sliced open. Akira was still advancing, amidst the confusion of the battle the bodyguards still ran on. Three of the Bodyguards attacked Akira; a shoulder fainted to one side and caused him to revert back to his alley, stumbling over each other, Akira ran his katana straight through into one's head and through into the other's abdomen. There was a click, a turn of a blade, and Akira's katana cut clean out of the bodies and into the armpit of the third bodyguard. “Son of a bitch!” screamed the last bodyguard. Akira saw his attack coming from a mile away, a katana whizzed by his head. He raised his katana again and Akira caught his cut with a cross parry and he rotated around his opponents katana, pushing down between his arms and hooking his handle on his opponents handle, Akira pulled, letting his blade cross with his opponent's neck as Akira yanked him to the ground. The blade met resistance at the center of the neck, so Akira used his other hand to push down on the blade, there was a shunk, and the man's head was separated completely from the spine.

The ground was flooded with a mixture of rain and blood. Akira stood up from the mess of fleshy disfigurements scattered through the alley. It was only the two men, Noburo and Akira, facing each other with swords drawn, in the same stance. Noburo winced at the similarity they both had in their styles, both being from the same school of swordsmanship. The two samurai evaluated the situation at their own pace, seeing everything that was happening in the slightest movements in the arms, in the feet, in the eyes, in the hips. Not a single hair was left unconsidered, yet neither could manage to spot openings in the other's stance. Slowly angles changed and accommodated every reaction to every movement in the situation. The two samurai were matched.

Weightless, suspended bodies of cuts held a flurry of shapeless flutters. Rain passed by the cuts as though they were transcendent. With every cut it was without fulfillment, meeting air and nothing more, faithlessly trying to find flesh, each katana failed again and again until they seemed to resonate and the swords no longer could keep any account of difference of either piece of steel. A slight turn of a blade, a nick, and a change in path caused both warriors to react without circumspect; resounding steel glided cleanly through flesh and Noburo's arm fell, still clenching the katana. Before the arm touched the ground Noburo pulled a tanto from his belt and swung, but a repost removed the only arm he had left.

Akira's katana lay gently against Noburo's neck, he realized he could not be granted the honor of ritual suicide. Noburo clenched his teeth, breathing heavily, “Kuso!” he looked up at his executioner with hatred and lament, he let out a grunt and said, “So, one of Takayama's dogs have come to execute me without giving me the privileges of a respectable clansman, that bastard.” Akira raised his katana, readying for the final blow, “Traitors have no privileges.”

*        *        *        *        *            *         *         *         *           *        *       *        *

Ema's chores that morning hadn't been nice to her, but she blamed the missing buckets that she used to clean the floors, and she blamed the broken door frame that fell off by a stick being thrown at the house by some of the kids that live in the area, and she felt sore for some reason. She took it slow, only putting in as much effort that was required to get things done, but she felt too tired to get her chores done before noon. By the time the clothes were hung and the floors were cleaned she began splitting wood and she acquired a blister on her hand from the rough ax handle. She wrapped it with a cloth to let her keep working, but it hardly worked, she still felt it hurting under her wrap. Akira should be back sometime today, perhaps he visited Noburo while he was there. Ema bit her fingernail, a bad habit, she knew it, but she was still anxious, “I hope Noburo didn't tell Akira anything.” She looked up, the overgrown brush in the garden needed trimming. Her mind traveled back to her worries, “Does Noburo even know?” As her mind was wandering between realms a man came walking through the gate.

Akira's men were tending to the affairs of his visiters as family came to check up on him. Ema was an expected guest, she and a few other officials were the only permitted visitors, the rest were given a message of absence. Akira stood under the branches of the cherry tree, there were no blossoms, it wasn't that time of year, rather there was only the rough naked branches, riddled with an ambitious number of nodes; ready, waiting for the weather to be a bit warmer. His hand ran up and down the handle of his katana as he thought. He was silently writing a haiku in his mind, discriminating every word he considered, but his feeling couldn't find thought and his thought couldn't find words. Ema's torment was terminated now, but she may be surprised to find Noburo dead. How would I know if I did the right thing? He thought to himself.

Kenji walked into the garden, he came at a steady pace, no hurry at all. His kimono was clean, a noticeable contrast to the dirty and blood stained kimono he wore while under cover. Akira nearly didn't recognize him after spending several months with him as a mole in a crime syndicate. “I hope you're enjoying your leisurely rest,” said Kenji, grinning. “I am,” Akira drew out the words that he hardly put effort into composing. His eyes lingered on the dormant cherry tree before him, his eyes burned the imprint of the rough bark into his mind, inspiring images of violent waves on the beach and the feeling of bugs crawling down his neck. “Akira, I hate to disturb your peace, but something has come up.” Akira turned around and looked at Kenji, “what is it?” Kenji began to look grave, he swallowed hard and looked square into Akira's eyes, “Ema.”

“Is she here?” Akira said, beginning to be impatient with Kenji while he walked past him. “She isn't here,” Kenji responded as he walked after him. Akira didn't stop, his mood was sour, “What is it about her?” Both the men were walking through the house, down the hallway and out onto a balcony built onto the side of a hill. Kenji looked back into the house and made sure no one was there, he looked back at Akira and shushed him, “Akira, Ema is dead.”

A rush of denial swept over Akira; he couldn't believe that his sister no longer lived in this world. Slowly, like his heart began working again, realization set in and panic ensued, “what?” Kenji reiterated himself;“Ema disemboweled herself this afternoon after receiving  word of Noburo's death.” Akira felt weak, as he slowly sat down on his knees his breathing quickened, his eyes closed shut and his mind raced, “what has Ema's relationship been with the Daimyo?” Kenji frowned and considered how Akira asked that question before answering, “You know, don't you?

“Ema loved Noburo with all of her being, the thought of betraying her husband burnt and churned her heart. The fact that she had indeed betrayed Noburo was like yanking out her heart with a chain. The developing child in Ema was her sin, and she couldn't bare to let happiness come from the murder of her husband.” Akira sat in the same place. He was still. On a random spot in his room, staring at the wall, contemplating what his life meant now.

*            *           *            *             *               *                    *                *                  *

“Kojima,” the daimyo, Takayama Shigekazu, said, “Aren't you paying attention?” Akira's eyes focused again, his eyes met the daimyo's. Dull air breezed through the room, making the atmosphere unsettling. The Daimyo continued, “Did you hear about the information our ninja have brought in?” Akira suppressed his intention and said, “No, my lord, I have just returned from my mission this morning.”

“Oh, of course, that's right.” The daimyo nodded and continued, “Well it seems that the Ikawa have been corresponding with the Katayama, our ninja have intercepted some of their messages and we have reason to believe they are planning to betray us.” Akira's mind was elsewhere, he could hardly concentrate. “As you know, we and the Ikawa are long time allies,” said the daimyo. “Ikawa...” Akira's eyes stared into the man before him and said, “They have hardly ever liked us, regardless of our friendship, we all knew this.”

“Yes,” the daimyo nodded and looked down, “but still, one of my daughters are married into the Ikawa clan, so we need to confirm the information.” Akira thought back and said, “I have several dispatches in several of their provinces, but I haven't been receiving any vital information regarding their plans.”

“That's true, and it will remain a matter of speculation,” the daimyo bent back straightening his posture, “I think someone needs to contact someone higher in the clan to get more information.” The daimyo gestured to Akira, “That is why I have called you here: I want you to visit their castle pretending to pay your respect to my daughter.”

“Will this be strictly an information gathering mission?” Akira inquired. “Yes, I want you to meet my daughter and get any information from her, since she's their lord's wife, she must know something.” Something began prickling at Akira's mind, but the daimyo continued, “Be careful, their lord is still young and he's intelligent, also, he has an impressive skill with the sword. Act naturally and don't cause suspicion.”

“This will be done immediately, but my lord, I wish to bring up a matter of my own curiosity.”

“What is it, Kojima?”

“Is Noburo involved in this matter?”

A crease formed over the daimyo's brow, he glared at Akira and said quietly, “Why do you ask?”

“Information I gathered from my dispatch that was spying on Noburo confirmed that he was investigating the Ikawa clan and even had one of the Ikawa being interrogated.”

“I see,” said the daimyo softly, “well there's a possibility, but it doesn't relate to your mission directly, so you should concentrate on only what I have told you.”

“Sir, I'm still curious about why I was ordered to kill Noburo.”

A droplet of sweat rolled off the daimyo's brow as Akira's voice became insistent, “You weren't clear about why I was to assassinate Noburo, but now you are giving me full details on this new mission.” The Daimyo straightened his posture, regaining confidence and opened his mouth, but he was interrupted by Akira, “My sister is dead.”

The breathing of the Daimyo was noticeably faster, the breeze no longer passed through the room so it began to feel stuffy. There was a long pause, both samurai stared at each other, trying to decide what to say. Akira broke the silence by finishing his sentence, but a lump in his throat began to show his hurt, “My sister is dead because she found that Noburo died, so she committed suicide.”

“When have you assassins asked for reasons to kill?” The Daimyo said, “You have been trained to kill for your clan and that's it; a reason is not something you need, or decide.” Akira now burned with hatred for the daimyo, “My lord, forgive my impudence, but my brother in-law, Noburo, was my target, now my sister, Ema, has killed herself.” The daimyo began to interject a word but Akira went on, “I was told that Noburo was a traitor, but I found no evidence of this fact after the mission had passed.” Again, the daimyo began to interject, but Akira cut him off, “What is your relationship with my sister?”

“Silence, Kojima!” The Daimyo arose, his face was flush red and getting redder as he said, “I know nothing of your sister, and if she is a samurai's wife, it's natural to die with her husband; even if he's a traitor, if she hadn't killed herself she would have to live as a traitors wife. Respect her choice and stop poking into the matter.” At this moment Akira's face was low to the ground, but his respect for the daimyo broke, “Kuso, I serve under the rule of a manipulator,” Akira arose as well, “I know that you fell in love with my sister, is that why you had me kill her husband?”

“Silence!” screamed the daimyo, furiously. Akira went on, “Ema is dead now, maybe you should have had someone guard her and stop her from taking her life—yes, then your agenda would be fulfilled.”

The Daimyo scoffed at the pitiful samurai before him, his face became softer knowing how the man before him was a fly compared to his power, “Your speech is all too humorous, but I don't understand these ideas you have about your sister and I.” The daimyo's hand waved as though it were a gesture, or a signal, in the direction of the walls. “Your remarks cannot be disregarded; you are dead, Kojima Akira.”

“If I die I will bring you with me, Takayama Shigekazu!” At that moment Akira drew his sword, but it was not the daimyo alone he faced. Akira raised his sword above his head, ready to strike, but within a split second of his first move there was a samurai beside him. A sudden stiffness in his side and a warm substance ran down his leg. Akira looked down; there were two swords protruding from his kimono. A samurai screamed and kicked one of Akira's legs from under him and he landed in a puddle of blood. The swords were slowly removed from his body, the smooth, polished metal glided against his skin and scraped against bones. “Kenji?” said Akira, recognizing the face of one of his attackers, but as Akira looked into Kenji's face the other attacker placed a wakizashi up against Akira's throat.

*     *        *           *             *                 *                       *                                 *

Ema held a baby in her arms, a handsome baby. The young child was now two years old and already showing signs of becoming a great samurai one day. She caressed the top of his head as she sang a song, but the child would have nothing of it. The child wanted to be upset, so that's how it was going to be. It seemed once a child decides to be upset you can't do much about it except wait until he gets tired and falls asleep. “Your father would not be happy with you if you cried all day,” said Ema, thinking about her husband, Kenji, and she recited to her little child a haiku that she liked in particular; “Harusame ni   Nureta Sakura ni   Chi no nioi.”