I tried to convince myself that I was seeing things. But I knew I wasn't deep down inside. The word "Iga" was deeply carved in that dark grey gravestone. And there was nothing I could do about it. However, there could be more than one Iga family. One never knows, but an annoying pang in my gut (which I actually felt in my stomach) told me otherwise. Should I tell my family? Or shouldn't I? It seemed like a stupid question since my discovery revealed that the burned salary man could pose a threat to my entire family's life. I decided not to since I loved my family too much to send them all in a panic. I eventually discovered that that choice indirectly saved me form being killed.

I left the graveyard not only to get away from that one damned gravestone, but because I had my ninjutsu class at the family dojo. The family dojo was very small for a once great ninja family. It was dark brown on the outside with windows all around the white, single room so potential customers could observe the class. It was this observing that made them join the class instead of the great Kouga name on the front of the dojo. After all, the ninja are dead. Why would the observers know the Kouga name?

Before I entered the dojo, I went to the family home and into my room to change into my black cotton outfit I usually wear to class. Even today, I find it stupid how ninjutsu students wear black martial arts outfits. Why would a ninja make himself distinct form his target?

On my way to my room, I purposely avoided the eating room because of the incident that occurred there. Once in my room, I quickly changed into my martial arts outfit and zoomed to the dojo (avoiding the eating room again).

The class felt empty without Yukiko. I bet all the other students felt the emptiness, too due to the solemn looks on their faces.

"Ok, students. You have a new classmate. His name is Hanazaki Yoshiko. Respect him just like anyone else in the class. 'Cuz I can expel you from this fine establishment at any time," said my instructor/father. Even though he was my dad, he didn't cut me any slack. As a matter of fact, he pushed me harder than anyone else in the class. Now that I'm older, I realize that he did this because he loved me.

The new student resembled an ogre. Dad said he was 15, but my first guess was that he was 17. He had a scar on his upper lip and had a buzz cut which made him look even more intimidating.

"Let's see what ya got, kid. Akira, show him what Kouga-kyo is all about."

As Dad called my name, I was terrified. No way was I going to fight this monster. I nervously stepped to the front of the class. Beads of cold sweat already formed on my neck.

"Did you take any martial arts before this class?" asked Dad.

"I'm a black belt in karate," the boy answered.

Right when he stated that, I urinated in my pants a little. But before I knew it, Dad told us to shake hands, and the fight started. He glared at me as we moved around each other trying to figure out what to do. Out of the blue, he threw a right roundhouse kick. I evaded it, but it grazed my stomach. His long toenail had created a tear on ym outfit. One second later, he launched a front push kick at my face. I ducked and he lost his balance. I tried to trip him, but he elbowed me right in the ribs. I urinated a little again when I heard a crack. I fell to the floor in agony. Even though I wasn't crying, my eyes started to water for a second before I expertly held the tears back. It turns out Grandpa, an expert ninja and an expert in medicine, was watching in the doorway. He immediately ran into the class and guided me down the stairs to the basement of the dojo. As Grandpa guided me down the stairs, I saw the astonished faces on all of the students except for one. The exception was my opponent. He was smirking. If my ribs weren't cracked, I would've run over to him and clock him straight in the jaw.

Grandpa told me to sit down in the chair in the basement while he went to the house to get some bandages. To keep myself occupied, I reached for the cardboard boxes next to where I was sitting. These boxes contained the ancient documentation of the Kouga clan. I put the closest light brown box on my lap and rummaged through its contents. I was about to put it down until I saw something that I hadn't seen before. It was a withered journal. It was the same light brown as the boxes yet more withered. The binding had worn over the years, so I carefully picked it up so the numerous pages wouldn't fly out. I flipped to a random page in the middle. It turned out to be a journal since the writing began with a date. It read as follows:

January 26, 1900.

We went to the residence of the Iga last night. We burned the entire damned place to the ground. But before that, we tore each family member apart limb by limb. There was no retaliation from them. They had obviously left their ninja past behind. How pathetic. Anyways, the other party members were too scared to kill a 10-year-old Iga brat. Instead of mutilating him, I left him to burn in the fire. I doubt he got out alive. Even if he did, the little pig doesn't even know ninjutsu. I fear no retaliation for what I did. But more importantly, I feel no remorse.

That one passage left me terrified. I was so scared that my face just froze. Just then, Grandpa walkeddown the stairs with white bandages and various wooden bottles of ointment. He saw me with the journal, dropped his load, immediately grabbed the journal, and closed it without looking at the page I was reading.

"Oh-ho-ho. This is my journal. Sorry, Akira, but this is off limits."

TO BE CONTINUED…