The rope had broken once. The slim swordsman had dropped through the platform, stumbling in shock, and now stood upon it again, waiting, while a new rope was reeled into place. His silent composure stood in sharp contrast to the yelling demon who had been apprehended three months before, and many in the attendant crowd marked it, puzzled. This demeanor was not what they looked for here. The man stood patiently, gaze set far away across the roof tops, as the tall man beside him drew wax carefully over the new rope.

"What are you thinking?" the tall man asked, as he set the wax aside beside his feet.

"I was thinking," replied the other, "of swallows. There was one diving outside the window before I was brought out here, but I can't find it now. It must have gone."

"Swallows," said the tall man. He bent the waxed rope into a loop and began to wrap the free end around the length. "Better than some things I've heard. Pretty. You know," he went on, as he finished his knot, "in Europe they used to have a rule that if the rope snapped three times you would go free."

"Really?" asked the condemned man.

"Yes. We didn't import that part, though."


The redhead's bound hands were clenched tightly in front of him. Nothing else about him betrayed any feeling. The tall man tested the knot and the slide, and picked up his wax again.

"If we had," offered the executioner, "I would have doctored the ropes."

The condemned man looked at the stranger beside him in silence for a moment, brow distempered. "Why?" he asked at last.

If the hangman had not already been avoiding his eyes, he would have looked away. "For your father's sake," he admitted, quietly, his tone tendering an apology.

The condemned man closed his eyes, nodded, and neither said any more as the noose was dropped over his head and the hangman made it neatly tight over his left shoulder for a clean break. The tall man stepped back. The trap door opened.

The rope did not break a second time. The crowd who had come to see justice done withheld their breath in horror and delight. In silence broken only by a single plunging swallow, Himura Kenji died.