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2005 Samurai Fiction Entry
Samurai of the South
By N. Boswell
"Buddha forgive me!" a man said before the blade cut through him and ended his life. He had never enjoyed killing anyone. The dead man was number three hundred something. It gets hard to remember after two hundred. The assassin's sword had met many foes and been the victor after every battle.
The blade was still dirty with blood. It dripped the deep red liquid rhythmically. The assassin lifted it then flicked it downwards with his wrist to get the blood off. The blade reflected bright red. He ran the fat end of the blade on his sheathe. Once the tip got to the opening he shoved the blade into the covering. It made a satisfying "tink" when its hand guard hit the metal edge of the cover.
The assassin looked around in the bloody water. The few that remained were either dead or dying. He was the healthiest person there. Everything around him was destroyed, except one thing. There was a tattered flag waving violently in the wind. It was the flag of the Tokugawa.
Tokugawa Ieyasu had sent a scout to find the greatest assassins that were
near by. He found five. They were to fight in a battle with Tokugawa Ieyasu
and Oda Nobunaga against Asai Nagamasa and Asakura Kagetake. This was the first
big battle that the assassin had heard about since he had left his town in the
south, so he decided to join the fight. The battle had started because Asai
Nagamasa and Asakura Kagetake had broken there alliance with the Oda clan. Tokugawa
was an ally to the Odas so he helped them fight.
The assassin had fought against the Asakura army with Tokugawa while Nobunaga fought the Nagamasa armies. The enemy had retreated after one thousand of their men had been killed in the Ane River.
The assassin looked around one last time and saw that only one of the other
assassins had lived. When there eyes met they gave each other the slightest
of nods. Then the assassin started to look for any valuable goods lying around.
After finding none he consulted his map. He looked for the nearest village.
He found one that was close enough that he would not need a horse to get to.
It was Otsu.
As the assassin walked he thought. He thought about the life he lived before he met Lo Pi. It was only four years before. He had met Lo Pi at a trading market in China. The soon to be assassin was on a trip from Japan to see the nation to the west. At the time, though, he was not yet an assassin, he was just a young man trying to make a living by selling his goods. One day at the market a fight broke out. The merchant saw the fight start between a man and a woman. He jumped over and tried to get in between the two of them, but he could not. He tried to talk them out of fighting but could not. After much struggling and talking he became so angry that he hit the man in the throat. This was kill number one for the soon to be assassin. The crowd around them gasped and stood, watching him, as he stood there as the man fell to his knees then to the floor. The merchant's fist was still in the air, slightly trembling. He looked down at the twitching man, then at the woman. She was staring down at the man, crying.
"That's my husband," she stammered. She fell to the ground and wept. The merchant felt a chill run down his back. He had ended this man's life with a single motion. He felt sick, as if his stomach was turning inside out. He needed to throw up. He looked to his side to see how many people had seen him do it. They were all staring in fear at him. Some women started speaking in Mandarin, which he did not understand. He felt dizzy. The ground was swirling around him. Everything was turning black. He was falling when something caught him. It was an arm that pulled him along with it. They rushed through the crowd of people. They kept running until the reached a hidden place where no one could see them in the shadows.
"You are very skilled in the art of death," the anonymous person said.
"I did not mean to kill him, I just wanted to subdue him," the merchant stated while catching his breath. "Who are you?"
"My name is Lo Pi, I am a trained assassin."
"Are you a Samurai?" The merchant said in fear.
"No I am trained in ninjitsu," he said calmly.
"So you are a Ninja?"
"Yes," he said "I saw you hit that man and knew at once that you would be needed."
"Needed, for what?"
"To become an assassin as well."
"What, never! I can not leave my life, I have a business to run."
"You would be paid more money than you could possibly dream of for just one kill, at least twelve times as much as you make daily." This was surprising to the merchant because he thought that he was doing pretty well for himself at the moment. He was beginning to feel a little better than before.
"If I did decide to join you what would I have to do?" He asked slowly thinking out every word carefully. He did not want to join, he just wanted to know what someone would have to do.
"You would have to go through intense training for about one year, after that you would take a test."
"What sort of test?"
"The test is of skill and wit, after you pass the test you become an assassin."
"What if I don't pass the test?"
"There are two ways to fail the test. First you could die in either one of the battles, or the judges might fail you."
"Not more killing, I can't even handle one!"
"You grow accustomed to it after awhile," He said while glancing around to see if someone was listening in on their conversation. "Let's go somewhere more secluded to talk" he said hastily. Beyond the market was a forest of bamboo that they could hide in. Going through the market would be hard since the merchant had just killed a man. But the Ninja knew a way to get out without being seen. It was surprising to the merchant that this man did not speak mandarin, but instead that he spoke perfect Japanese. This was a treat after listening to a language he did not understand for so long. This was also confusing because his name led the merchant to believe that he was Chinese. After a short walk into the bamboo the assassin spoke again. "As I was saying, if you fail your tests then you either will be dead or have nowhere to go," he said this calmly even though it alarmed the merchant.
"And what if I tried again after training for another year?"
"The tests can only be taken once." The assassin looked strait into the merchant's eyes, "Will you join us?"
The merchant thought carefully, "Yes, I will."
The assassin smiled, "Good, just one more thing."
"What is it?"
"What is your name?"
The merchant had been so afraid and exhausted that he had forgotten
to introduce himself. "I am Hamano Kumiko."
Hamano Kumiko was at the outskirts of Otsu now. The town was small but nice. Hamano looked for the nearest restaurant that had sake. He had an inshuheki, or an addiction to alcohol. He had tried to quit, but the call of the brew is hard to resist.
While walking through the peaceful town he heard a man talking of the war he had just been in. The man seemed to be talking fairly loudly about it too. He was talking about the enemy's plans. He was speaking of them as if he knew what the next plan was for them, he must have been part of the Asai Nagamasa or the Asakura Kagetake! Hamano pulled his katana out. He started following the sound of the man's voice. This wasn't hard because he was so loud. He was getting closer when he heard another voice, it was deeper than the other. This person claimed to be Oda Nobunaga! Hamano started to run to the voices. He had found them. The two men were pale faced. It was a play. Hamano laughed and sheathed his sword. He looked for a place to sit and watch. The play was very funny. As Hamano sat and laughed, enjoying life, he felt a hand grab his shoulder. Hamano tensed his body and prepared to fight. When he leapt and turned he breathed a sigh of relief. It was Lo Pi.
"There you are old friend!" Lo Pi said while smiling, "How have you been?"
"Fine, just fine. How have you been?" Hamano said cheerfully.
"Let's get a drink, unless you would like to stay and find out what happens at the end." He was referring to the play.
"I know how it ends." He got up and left. They walked to the nearest sake bar and got a table.
"How would you like to retire?" Lo Pi said after they had gotten there drinks.
"Are you serious?" Hamano asked putting his drink down, "I thought that I couldn't quit, I thought the only way to stop was to die."
"Well the rules have changed." He said smiling, "All you have to do is kill one more person."
"Why is this happening, why am I being let go if I do this?"
His friend smiled and put his drink down. "Do you want to quit or not?" He asked knowing the answer.
"Of course I want to leave. Who do I have to kill?"
"Nobunaga Oda." Hamano's eyes widened and his heart stopped. He dropped his glass which shattered all over his lap. He didn't notice though. The thought of even touching Nobunaga was frightening. He was the most powerful man in Japan. Not only was his army vast and his allies many, but he himself was strong and smart. Killing such a man was for an entire army of elite men. They would have to be at least twice as large as the one Hamano had just fought alongside with.
He looked around, making sure no one was listening then said, "Are you insane, how many drinks have you had?"
Lo Pi leaned back and smiled, "If you don't want to do it you will be replaced easily, I came to you first because you are my friend and I trust you."
"This is crazy, you can't really believe that I could do this, can you? If you had said anyone else I would have gladly agreed, but Nobunaga? No." Hamano stood and the glass in his lap fell to the floor and shattered into even smaller pieces. These cut Hamano's foot badly but he did not notice because of his shock and the feeling of betrayal. As he turned and prepared to leave Lo Pi spoke again, "If you leave I will have to kill you."
"Why?" He asked but he knew why.
"Because you know something that may be handy for Nobunaga to know." Lo Pi said this as he looked down, "I don't want to kill you." He looked up pleadingly. Hamano had to think about this. He either died then by the sword of a friend, or by the sword of the greatest warlord of all time.
"I guess I have no choice." Hamano said slowly.
Lo Pi looked up happily, "Thank you." Hamano looked at his bloody feet and thought of what he had just agreed to.
"I just have one more question to ask." Hamano said looking up.
Lo Pi looked into Hamano's eyes and said, "I can not tell you."
Hamano's new journey would start tomorrow. He would ride on horseback to Nobunaga's temporary castle and attack at night. He would get into the castle by climbing the wall farthest from the main gate so there would be few guards to kill. Once in he would make a bird call five times. Lo Pi would be outside waiting for the call. Once he heard the call he would be able to leave. He was needed to go incase there were too many guards to handle.
At this time Hamano asked, "Why can't you go kill him on your own, you're a Ninja, you could sneak around the guards."
"No, it must not be me."
"I just can't okay?" He said this hastily while grabbing a map of the castle. They were in Hamano's room at the inn. They were drinking and planning the assassination. Hamano felt something was being hidden from him but kept quiet. It was not far to where Nobunaga was temporarily staying at his castle near by. It was not close enough to walk in one day but close enough. He would bring his own food and water and ride until he was near the palace. After that he would tie his horse to a tree and climb to the top and watch for guards. Lo Pi would then make a bird call, once the moon was directly above him, from his perch not to far from Hamano's. Then Hamano would begin. Everything had to work exactly as planned or else it would surely fail.
The two of them planned for many hours. After the plan was
gone over and over again until it was as close to foolproof as it was going
to get. Lo Pi left just as Hamano fell asleep.
As morning broke the horizon Hamano prepared for the trip. The horse Lo Pi had left behind was waiting outside. Hamano paid the inn keeper and got on the horse. He kicked its sides and he was off on the most dangerous mission he had ever been on.
As Hamano rode he noticed all the beauty of his surroundings. He stopped and got off. He pulled some parchment, a brush, and some ink in a bottle. He wrote some things down then put his stuff away. He got back on his horse and started going on his way again. Soon, it seemed, it was dark, and he was not quite at the castle yet. He sped up and had to jump off the horse so it would stop once he got to the palace. He climbed the tree nearest to him and waited. Not long after he heard the bird call. But so did his horse. It whinnied loudly. Hamano looked around, frightened. Apparently no one noticed. After waiting a few minutes, just incase, he climbed down and went to the wall. It was made of stone, easy to climb. He looked up at the top. It wasn't too tall. He began. At the top he looked around to see who was nearby. Right underneath him was a guard. The guard didn't see the assassin above his head. Hamano leapt down. He unsheathed his sword in the air and killed the guard in one movement. He ran into the shadow of a nearby tent. Then he gave his whistle call. He waited a few moments then moved towards the main building. Hamano still couldn't believe that he was about to try to kill Nobunaga, the man that just the day before he was fighting beside. He felt that he was betraying Nobunaga. He saw the window nearest to the bedroom. He leapt into it then looked around quickly. He saw the bed. He pulled his sword and lunged downwards to the lump. It went in too easily. He heard a voice.
"Fool," the voice said from the dark.
"Who's there?" Hamano looked around in the dark.
"Did you think that you could kill me just like that?"
"Nobunaga?" Hamano was very afraid now, there was no way to kill him when he was awake.
"Did Lo Pi send you?"
"How did you know that?"
"He works for me. He sent you to die." Nobunaga lit a candle. His face was illuminated.
"Never!" Hamano turned and faced the warlord.
"Why else would he send a friend into a Samurai's castle?"
"You lie! Why would he want me dead?" Hamano asked sarcastically, knowing that his old friend would never do this.
"The man he and you work for is a traitor, he used to be one of my men," He went to the torches near to his bead and lit them. The whole room was illuminated, "He turned against me though. He said that I had no heart and was merciless. So he started his own army of assassins. You are not the first sent to kill me."
"If this is true how did you know I was coming?"
"Let me finish, one year ago he joined forces with one of my allies without knowing it. My ally found out about your master's betrayal to me and told your master to send his best men to come and kill me."
"So your ally also betrayed you, you are not the luckiest of warlords are you?"
"He was a betrayer, but not to me. He would warn me every time your master
would send one of his men." Hamano started to believe what was being said,
even though it seemed insane. "This time it was you, and you will die like
the rest." He said while turning away. Just as he turned five ninjas jumped
from the ceiling to the floor and surrounded Hamano. By the time Hamano could
move he was dead. He fell to his knees and then to the floor. A paper fell out
of his pocket, it was the poem he had written while going to the castle. Nobunaga
picked it up. He laughed then tore it up.