As the world came down around them, they moved at nearly superhuman speed through the narrow, unstable corridor. The air was thick with the smell of sulfur and almost stiflingly hot, but both effects were fading the closer they moved to the light--and more important than freedom, success.
Rikkimaru, the older and more experienced of the two, carried their precious cargo; young Kikyo, the only daughter of the Emperor, taken by the king of hell in a ploy to swing the war in such a way that he would be overthrown. Ayame, along with Rikkimaru, were tasked with the assignment of bringing Kikyo home--at all costs.
The sounds of the collapsing chamber quickly overtake them and before they could move any further, a two hundred pound boulder dislodged itself from the ceiling, landing solidly in their path. In its position, there was no getting around it.
"A ninja's ultimate duty is to the mission and not to themselves."
gently set Kikyo down and lay his sword to rest on the western wall.
Pressing his back against the boulder and his hands beneath it, he
grunted as he hefted the large rock--opening a crawl space just
enough for Ayame and Kikyo to get through. Rikkimaru trembled with
the effort, every muscle in his body about to burst from the effort.
"Ehhh...Ayame!" Rikkimaru managed, struggling with the
great weight. "Take my sword and go!"
With only a second's hesitation as Rikkimaru's words came back to her, Ayame picked up Rikkimaru's sword and scooped up Kikyo. Giving her comrade a final look, she bolted through the opening.
Devotion to duty kept her from looking back, even as the shudders began again and the chamber continued to come down. In horror, Kikyo watched the boulder fall before more rubble came down, obscuring the view. It was then she spoke her only word, calling for Rikkimaru, who could not answer as Ayame cleared the opening and returned them to feudal Japan.
Through the dense fog, Ayame could make out the castle, and the approaching Emperor. She set Kikyo to the ground, who eagerly raced up to her father, and the two embraced tightly as Ayame, still clutching Rikkimaru's sword, moved to stand beside her liege. The Emperor could only look at her, weighing the tragedy that had not only befallen the kingdom, but the ninjas who had returned his daughter. As the three looked to the clearing fog, Ayame staked Rikkimaru's sword in the ground as a marking point for an empty grave, where one ninja gave his life in the name of his mission.