Summary: A ninja named Kartudo (translated means Hunter) takes a job from the black dragon clan, of which he is a prized member, to kill Johnathan Raven. The prologue"Le jeu commence" means the game begins. In this chapter Kartudo begins "the game" by luring Johnathan from Hawaii to Japan by taking hostage Johnathan's son Alex.

Disclaimer: All characters in the story belong to the creators of Raven and their affiliates.

Himatsuri

Le Jeu commence

Prologue

Sunset is the best part of the day, Alex thought to himself as he sat comfortably in his favourite chaise lounge chair watching the sunset sky unfold like a rose opening to drink in the morning dew. No wonder man loved colour. How could he not with a painter like God? Living here, Alex believed he now knew where Michael Angelo derived his inspiration. Colours like the pastel peaches and blues, oranges and yellows, could only be seen here, he thought, sitting on the shore of his island facing the Pacific Ocean. He had been to other places in the states where there were supposedly beautiful sunsets, but none could compare to this vibrant grandeur.

This was the time of day where he could most relax. By now, whatever project he had would be completed or he would have stopped so he could start again the next day. This was private time, not necessarily alone time, just private. He would then spend time with Lyndsey and they would talk. They would share the day's thoughts and concerns and just be with each other. For Alex, this was the time he would retrospect about his life and himself. How could he not while in the presence of something so majestic, breathtaking, humbling and startlingly beautiful? Now was when his thoughts would drift, as they always did, to Lyndsey, when she was not with him. Today Lyndsey was staying on the Big Island with her Mom, helping her plan her father's retirement party and she would be home tomorrow afternoon.

As it turned out, he thought God was also a magnificent sculptor he smiled as visions of Lyndsey sashayed through his mind. Lyndsey was definitely easy on the eyes he thought . There was nothing "goddess" like about her she wasn't even a "classic" beauty with her raven black hair, dark Hawaiian skin, and almost golden brown eyes. You would not see her on the cover of a magazine but her beauty was nonetheless, undeniable. She was the girl next door, wrapped in a loveliness that would make men do a double-take. Alex would notice this from time to time, mostly when they were on the beach and libidos were ever present, yet Lyndsey would be oblivious to the crooked necks she caused. He never was jealous though; he knew he didn't have to and he would never let Lyndsey feel that way.

She knew he thought her as precious as his life. He enjoyed loving her, he thought as a smile crept on his face. He imagined her smile as he would brush the hair from her face. For Alex, it was like having a mirror to look into; not that she was the same as him, but that she would show him who he was, unvarnished. Lyndsey was his rock, his shelter, and the one person who could hold him like no one else could. When he was in her embrace he knew what heaven must be like. Loving her and being loved by her was like breathing, or thinking. Not walking though...walking was a learned trait ... loving her was something born in him.

Alex smiled to himself and said, "I am content, my life is where it should be, happiness was finally here, I am the lord of all I survey." No, it was more than that, he thought humbly. I am blessed. Yes, that was it and I am grateful.

Alex got up slowly from his chair still reveling in the moment, feeling the warmth of the evening sun fade from his sun-tanned skin, being at peace with his God, with himself and his love. Staring at the sunset for one last long moment, he finished his iced tea and turned slowly back toward his home contemplating what he was going to make for supper. Steak and a baked potato sounded great. He loved the feel of the transition from the warm sand to the cool grass as he crossed into his yard from the beach. I will make some dinner, give Lyndsey a call, see how her day has gone then head to bed a little early so I can make it to the gym before the crowd, he thought as the comforting shade of evening crept in around him.

The air was warm and slightly moist as Kartudo opened his eyes but did not move a muscle. Night had fallen and darkness enveloped him, comforting him like a mother's cradling arms; a child of the night he is, here he is loved. This time of the daily cycle was when he felt most alive. This was when he could be whom he truly was born to be, because the night loved him and cared for him; the night was his protector, his secret keeper. When the sun is shining, he has to be discreet, concealing, a shell hiding the true him like a dark secret. When the moon rises and the blanket of darkness shrouds his world, he is free, allowed to go anywhere and do anything; even on this island far from his own in a dangerous place, it was the night that kept him safe. Night to most people was a time for fear, a place where danger lurked, and kami roamed; a time when bad things happened. Yes, for people it could be a nightmare, because he was one of those nightmares, but for him the night was a place of refuge and the time when Kartudo the hunter, hunted.

The moon shone bright tonight, but to no benefit for his prey. He was dressed in his uniform: a hood and mask with a slit for his eyes, jacket and pants made of heavy cloth, dyed a black/deep charcoal grey from head to toe. He wore traditional tabi a soft soled, split toed boot that allowed stealth, and maneuverability. The only parts of his body exposed to the night were his fingers from the palm forward and a slit around his eyes; his exposed skin was covered in black make-up so as not to be distinguished from the shadows of his environment. It did not really matter though he knew he was hidden. He had been in this situation a hundred times before, given a mission meant for him and his skills, for which he was well paid. Careful, he berated himself, "Complacency is the breeding ground for mistakes," he remembered his sensei saying. Although this mission was personal for Kartudo, who refused payment, his clan was being paid and neither he nor his clan tolerated mistakes.

He closed his eyes, exhaled a long slow breath and inhaled the same way. Out with the bad, in with the good, he thought to himself. Control, listen, be one with the night, a shadow. He could feel the pockets inside his jacket containing his small weapons and the two sleeves on his trousers containing a readied blowgun and a flashlight, as he perched in a pine tree overlooking a house on the beach. The house had been dark for hours now. He had been there since before dawn, waiting, watching, and becoming one with his surroundings. The woman left early that morning, an overnight bag and purse in one hand, a muffin in the other. The man of the house had been up for awhile. He was aware of this because he had been under the man's bedroom window in the hours just before dawn to hear him wake and shower. The man did not come outside until mid morning though for anything but to get the weekend paper. He had been watching this man and his woman for two weeks, seeing their comings and goings, passing them on the street, eaves dropping, hunting them, and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He knew that this man was neither aware of him, or his reason for being there. Most people, Kartudo thought laughingly, lived their lives like this man, oblivious the workings of the world around them. The man would know soon enough, Kartudo thought.

He breathed out and in again, long and slow lowering his heart rate, calming, listening...he heard nothing but the insects, making their night music. Even here, on an island far from his own, nature welcomed his presence. He grabbed the branch in front of him and began the climb down, 15 feet dry pine needles and branches brushing him, he reached the ground and stopped, listening to the night and hearing no change he continued. The distance to the house was exactly 320 feet, but he had two trees to stop by before he completed that distance. He began his sprint on the balls of his feet, slightly hunched forward, keeping his center of gravity low. Normally he would be holding the scabbard to his sword so it would not make noise, but he did not bring it tonight knowing he would not need it. Though somehow he felt naked without it, it was bound to his soul, his most favoured weapon.

He stopped at each tree, looking and listening to the night again hearing no changes to the night's rhythm, continued the last 30 feet to the edge of the single story, ranch style house. He stopped at the edge of the short side of the house, not touching anything, making no contact... no noise whatsoever. The man's neighbors were not close enough to notice his stealthy shadow moving like a ghosts' breath along the outside wall. He flattened himself along the wall knees bent and moved his feet heel to heel moving slowly, stepping on the outsides of his feet as to lower the noise of his footsteps. He approached the corner of the house facing the ocean; a window over the sink stared out darkly about 20 feet from him, then a large glass door, and lastly tree windows in a line to the end of the house. The man's bedroom window was the last window on this wall, although open, was far enough away so as not to alert him to his presence. All the windows in the house, which the man had courteously left open to enjoy the warm night and slight breeze, had screens which if necessary could be cut, with some noise but could still be used to gain entrance. He crept as he lowered himself even more to pass below the window in the kitchen. The large glass door would be his entrance, noisy yes, but less so than cutting or forcing the screen. He approached the door and froze; listening once again to the night. The rhythm of the tide crashing onto the shore and the smell of the refreshing salt air made the night even more peaceful, paradise had a way of doing that, he thought. He put his hand gently on the vertical wood handle of this door as he supported his movement on the balls of his feet.

He was ambidextrous, which aided in his movement, and his skill. He put pressure on the door handle as he leaned forward and the door moved, making a low noise, not loud enough to be heard over the tide. He opened the door enough to step through, stopped and listened again...no movement from inside the house. He moved away from the door and left it open, this is would be his extraction point from the house when the time came. He shut his eyes, and let his body and mind feel the house...the kitchen table, the chairs, the chandelier hanging from the ceiling. He opened all of his senses, which allowed him to move with more freedom around the room because he could sense the presence of the furniture before he touched or bumped into it. No one was perfect and mistakes could be made, but he would not make them.

His eyes, already adjusted to the darkness allowed him some sight of the room and he could see the hallway leading to the private areas of the home. He proceeded forward slowly, semi-crouched, keeping his weight on his rear leg, and placing his left foot down, toe to heel on the outside of his foot. Down the hall a door stood slightly ajar, this was his destination. The moonlight seeped out through the crack in the doorway as he continued down the hall, thinking, listening, and being one with his surroundings. Moving down the center of the hallway gave him the greatest vantage of the doorway as he could already see the man lying in his bed as he approached the doorway.

A light coloured, floral comforter draped over the man on the bed. He knelt at the doorway and watched the comforter rise and fall, watching and listening to the rhythmic pattern of his breathing; the man was in deep sleep now. He was not worried about the man waking up, but you never knew, and being prepared was the way in which he worked. He elongated himself on the floor and raised himself up on his fingers and toes. This was not an easy feat, but he was in excellent health and his stamina was strong. He did a crawling motion, but only his fingers and toes touched the floor. He did not want to risk the man waking up and yelling by feeling his presence, so he did this maneuver for 12 feet until he reached the side and head of the bed the man was sleeping on.

He carefully reached in the right side of his jacket where one of many pockets held different items: flash bombs, shuriken, and a length of linked chain with weights on the ends for other possible scenarios. The one he reached into first though contained a thin cloth towel not much larger than a man's handkerchief, but thicker, and a capped bottle containing an inhaled anesthetic called Desflurane.

His ilk had many contacts for such things and the substance was of great use. He pressed down on his knees and was in a kneeling position as he applied the drug to the rag. In one motion he placed the rag over the man's nose and mouth and his other hand on the man's forehead. With a horrified look that lasted only a few seconds, the man's eyes flew open and he inhaled deeply in his fright. The man tried to sit up but was forced back down by Kartudo's other hand. The man's eyes rolled back in his head and his body relaxed as the drug took effect. He hoisted the man's body over his shoulder and noticed he could smell the man's fear exuding from his pores; he was rank.

He made his way out of the moonlit room down the darkened hall and out the glass door as noiselessly as he had entered. He was glad to be breathing in the night again, comforted by her sounds and rhythm, this was his indicator nothing was alerted to his presence. Across the lawn and down the slope of the beach to the shore line he traveled cautiously the 20 yards or so from the back of the house. He did not like being in the open but this was the safest extraction point. His body tensed as his ears picked up a soft rhythmic pat—pat—pat noise coming from his right-side down the shore line. He laid the man down and "spooned" behind him.on his left side.

The runner came within sight of them, changing the speed of his run yet keeping a safe distance as he wasn't able to really process what he saw...a half naked man in his boxers laying on his side on a beach in the middle of the night with an unusually dark shadow behind him. He cautiously approached the situation slowing down to a walk.

"Hey are you..." his words were cut off as he felt a pin prick just below his jaw line on the left side, but before he could even touch the dart protruding from his neck, he fell unconscious to the sand, his head bouncing up as he hit full force. The runner never saw the shadow move slightly drawing out a tube and never heard the dart blow from it hitting him in the neck. Kartudo stood up and withdrew a small matte black flashlight from a pocket on his pant leg. He pointed it out to the blackness of the night covering the ocean and clicked it on and off three times, waited a moment and saw a signal returned of two light flashes. He heard the zodiac engine cut out a way from shore and watched the boat ride the tide in. The man piloting the boat jumped out as the boat hit shore, bowed to him and asked in Japanese about the runner.

"Leave him" he whispered. There was no need to kill him. His testimony to the police would reveal nothing and there would not be any evidence on the dart. He got in the boat and was watching the shore recede, shrinking away until the boat turned away. Le Jeu commence, Johnathan, and laughed quietly to himself, as he looked over at the unconscious man in the boat and knew that this was the son of the last man whom he was going to kill, the son of Johnathan Raven...