It's that question that has always and will forever haunt us all, What if...? What if Tatsumaru hadn't forgotten who he was? What if they thought they fought for honor, but instead it was something darker? What if, just as the Azuma Shinobi Ryu had begun to rebuild their clan just as things were looking up, they realized that nothing was as it had appeared? What if the ninjas weren't the only ones engulfed in the shadows of death?

In a time of peace, the Azuma clan began working to rebuild their numbers, starting with a boy that Gohda raised, who resembles Rikimaru very much. The two had no connection, so Rikimaru and Ayame believed he was striving to live up to his leader. The junior member from a few years prior was somewhat distrusting of the boy, though. Things seemed fine for a few months, with a total of two new additions to the clan, one male and one female. Suddenly old enemies came back, under a new master, and the clan is faced with memories they'd wished wouldn't surface, a weakness that was used against them in every new encounter.

Disclaimer: I do not own Tenchu. The three new clan members are not belonging to the series, however, two are based upon characters used by friends of mine in the past, while the third is my own.


The Darkness Within

The noble Gohda Matsunoshin had given him one task – it couldn't be considered anything more. It was not a mission, it was not a request. It was, in all actuality, a lesson. Rikimaru and Ayame had trained together for ten years. There was nothing more they could teach one another. They were, in all essence, the perfect partnership. Except for the jabbing, sarcastic remarks they enjoyed tossing one another.

So Rikimaru was to complete a task, assigned by Gohda. This would enable him to fully become the leader of the Azuma clan. It was a task which would allow him to train the newest member of the clan, an orphaned child Gohda had taken in long ago, kept secret from everyone but Counsel Sekiya. And so Rikimaru was brought into the situation, as a teacher. He was told that the boy had been given minimal training by an outside source, and it was up to Rikimaru to do the rest, starting with a small test to see if the boy would be able to cut it as a stealth assassin.

Rikimaru's first impression of the teenage boy was that he seemed too alike to himself. The boy had pale hair, even paler than Rikimaru's, it was almost snow-white. It was next apparent that the boy was at the very least capable of staying alive. Although, Rikimaru wasn't even trying to sneak up on him, Rikimaru didn't normally even make footsteps in a 'casual' setting, whatever that was for him. But the white-haired ninja turned quickly, halting in his motions – he had been reaching for his katana – as soon as he recognized Rikimaru, based on Gohda's description of him, Rikimaru assumed.

"Hello, I am Rikimaru, leader of the Azuma." The greeting was plain and formal, Rikimaru giving half a bow as the boy followed suit. He waited patiently for the boy to give his name in return, using his eyes and knowledge of the human body to assess the boy's physical structure. He was definitely toned, and had wiry muscles running along his arms; he was unable to tell about his legs, but he doubted that the boy had neglected them.

"I am Hiroki. Please do not misunderstand. Even though my name is one which does not seem like a shadow's title, I am a dedicated pupil, and look forward to your guidance." He spoke with a soft tone, his volume lowered, the same way Rikimaru spoke. He seemed very respectful, which would be a nice change from the ever-fiery Ayame. Although, this cool-headed student might frustrate her as well. Oh, it wouldn't matter too much in the end, for Ayame would be angry with Rikimaru for quite some time.

Before leaving their new dojo in the middle of the bamboo forest, Rikimaru had left Ayame with instructions to disguise herself and go into town, searching for women who seemed to be good fighters, but were also very beautiful. It would be a difficult job, but Ayame would accomplish it. She would also be too dense to realize that Rikimaru intended to have her also study geisha, to learn the ways of seduction to teach to the new recruits, in the hopes of expanding their mission acceptances. Ayame herself would not be required to perform these missions for very long; just until the new students were able to perform them on their own.

Rikimaru reflected upon his task, as he led his pupil to their dojo. Rikimaru knew the danger in bringing some boy to their place of training. However, it was his lord. He had to obey, for he lived to serve Gohda.