WHAT SHIGEKO SAID

1. Overture

The shock was axiomatic as he slashed through thin air; his brain barely with the time to register my disappearing second self before I jammed the knife into his lower back. The silent death: pain so sudden and intense you forget to scream. I made doubly sure of no incriminating sound with the garrote and swiftly placed the newly deceased behind a partition of the guard house- a sanctuary where I felt sure he would not be found. Using the bed sheets I cleansed my knife and began to unpack several items from my linen. As I began to mix, I closed my eyes, channelling my hearing- a double-edged sword on a night like this. The rapidly falling rain on the guard house roof sounded like a battalion of galloping horses to my ears. I brushed it aside. I focused.

Kenji's information was incorrect. Thirty-two he had told me, including the guards. After a few brisk moments I was left with no doubt that there were as many as twice that amount in the village alone. This, and the pounding symphony of the rain blurring my hearing made me feel on edge. I did not doubt Kenji's allegiance for a moment, a feeling I would never have thought to have comforted me, however I knew this was no coincidence. Somebody had known I was coming. This explained the relative silence of the village: with the exception of a few rowdy rank and file, obviously intoxicated and with little or no clue what they were facing, no other voices could be heard. Just ever so slight turns of breath, slow and deep. In the effort of taking down the guard I had thought those turns of breath to be of sleep but now, knelt down and head bowed I knew for sure that nobody was sleeping in this village tonight. They were waiting for me.

I added the water to my freshly mixed powder, taking extra care not to make any splashes, though I doubt they would've been heard over the rain. I meditated. I knew retreating now would be pointless. My mysteriously easy entry into the village now becoming clear, I knew that returning the way I came would lead me into a death trap. They had drawn me in, and now they knew I was surrounded. The rain intensified and I heard drops begin to leak in from the roof. The rain. They had planned for the rain. They were counting on it, they knew I couldn't spot them completely with it. The cold steel of the Kikuta began to stir within me, the fierce beast of death demanding me to unleash it and let it run free. I stood firm. I let my hands run a pull through it's hair, whilst whispering in it's ear. Not yet. Not yet. Rain didn't last forever.

In the darkness I waited. My hearing fell into a secure current, waiting for the rain to ease, probing for any sound of movement. My Otori nature took over- the inherent patience sustaining me. My thoughts shifted to Kaede, sat as she would be in Hagi, singing Shigeko to sleep, the soft melodies reverberating in her mind. Again, for what must've been the fifteenth time that day, I replayed in my mind the look that had crossed her beautiful infant face as Kaede had told her she would soon have a little brother or sister. The slightest flicker of a smile almost breached my lips. I remembered the plea in Kaede's voice when she'd kissed me goodbye three days ago, I knew she dreaded the thought of those children growing up without a father. The beast within stirred again, that idea making it roar with rage.

A foul scent roused me from my musings, and I flicked my eyes open. My powder had finally bonded within the fluid, and the stench was repugnant. I quickly turned away from the bowl, and began to withdraw my arrows from their quiver. I had just placed the tip of the first within the fluid when my hearing caused my body to stop dead. It was there, concealed partially by the rain but there without question. The cushioned pressure of footfall over the soggy ground. Stealthed, and drenched with commited lethal intent. I drew into my mind, as my body disappeared from sight.