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"Don't touch that. It may be contagious."
Lord Nozomi smiled and bowed his head slightly to the five black and azure clad shinobi kneeling before him. They were all male, except for their leader, a lithe woman who went by the name of Kusaru. He noticed that while the other ninja carried an assortment of edged weapons, she had none, not that he could see at any rate.
"Tokugawa dispatched three of his best samurai and the legendary Yaggyu Jubei himself to inspect your handiwork, I trust you left enough clues for them to deduce what happened, but not enough to implicate me in any way?"
"Hai." Kusaru whispered sharply, not lifting her eyes, "It was done exactly as you ordered, Lord Nozomi."
"And my wife?"
"Her body will never be found."
He was pleased. With his wife, Kaori, gone, he could finally make the lovely and talented Lady Kaede the new, official Lady Nozomi, after a proper period of mourning of course… Initially, he had been somewhat apprehensive about hiring these ninja, as they belonged to a shadowy sect that operated out of China, the Lin Kuei. He hadn't been sure he wanted to trust foreign assassins, but ultimately, because of the touchy nature of the crime, he thought it best to use outsiders. They had come highly recommended, and he had to admit, he was not disappointed with their services. Unfortunately, they were rather expensive as well…too expensive.
"Begging your pardon, Lord Nozomi, but as your are pleased with the services of the Lin Kuei and we have fulfilled our obligations to you, I must speak of the matter of our compensation…" Kusaru began.
He laughed, casually signaling his best six archers, hidden in the deep shadows cast by the large, ornate screens strewn along the walls of his chambers where they had been silently waiting for this moment, to rise and take aim. After they finished with the ninja, they would be ordered to commit seppuku, and thus, no one would ever know of this arrangement but him. Lord Nozomi's smile broadened as he though of how Lady Kaede and the other court nobles would so enjoy hearing about the assassination attempt on his life by these dastardly ninja who had murdered his beloved wife and how his brave samurai all gave their lives to protect their Lord! Oh, I really am too clever for my own good…
"Ah, yes, of course, payment! I'm sure you'll find you'll get all you earned and then some, my shadowy friends!"
"What do you think they're doing in there?" Kazuki asked his elder brother, Sogetsu, as he scratched his wild, red hair, "They've sure been in there a long time...and where the hell did you get these clothes? They itch something fierce; I wouldn't be surprised if they're full of lice!"
"Collecting payment for whatever black task they were employed for no doubt." Sogetsu replied, never taking his eyes off of Lord Nozomi's magnificent city house, "Patience, Kazuki. They'll be slinking out of there at any moment, and when they do, those Lin Kuei dogs will curse the day they set foot back in Japan!"
Kazuki nodded. The Lin Kuei ranked amongst the Kazama clan's most bitter and hated enemies. Over fifty years ago, the Kuei had ambushed a small band of Kazama ninja, stealing a priceless relic the Kazama had been hired to "acquire", and then collecting the reward money for themselves that had rightfully belonged to Kazuki and Sogetsu's forefathers. Ever since, there had been very bad blood between the two ninja bands, which infrequently erupted into bloody violence when one or the other dared to accept a job on the other's turf, as the Lin Kuei had just done.
As soon as knowledge of the Lin Kuei's presence in Japan had reached the ears of the Kazama elders, which hadn't taken long, Sogetsu, Kazuki, their sister, Hazuki, and another fifteen of their ranks had been dispatched to eliminate them. All eighteen ninja were dressed in simple peasant's clothing and were now stationed all around Lord Nozomi's city residence where they had tracked the Kuei, waiting for the inevitable bloodshed that would soon begin. They would have to strike quickly and viciously and then melt back into the shadows again, as ninja were not well loved by the thousands of samurai in the Shogun's employ who would converge on them like a horde of ants once the fighting began. Under ordinary circumstances, the Kazama ninja would never stage an attack so blatantly in the open like this, but the message to the Lin Kuei had to be made very clear and very public.
"What the hell…" Sogetsu suddenly growled, leaping to his feet, his long, blue hair spilling out like the water it resembled from underneath the broad hat he wore.
A body had suddenly been thrown out of the window of the top floor of Lord Nozomi's house. It twisted and flapped through the air like a broken rag doll before striking the ground with a wet, snapping sound. Women and children on the street began to scream and yell, and almost immediately, roughly two-dozen samurai came on the run to see what all the commotion was about.
"Shit!" Kazuki spat, "We've gotta get out of here!"
"No!" Sogetsu countered, "If we run, we're as good as dead. You're dressed like a commoner, act like one!" Kazuki's brother pushed him out of the shadows and into the street, "And commoners don't skulk about in the shadows, particularly when a murder has just taken place! Blend in with the others and we'll be all right." Sogetsu continued, joining Kazuki in the street.
Kazuki followed Sogetsu's lead, wandering into the taggle of chattering and gaping onlookers, both ninja wearing comical, mock looks of surprise and horror on their faces.
"That was Lord Nozomi's body that came out of the window, did you see?"
"Are you daft, that black and rotten thing? That's not him!"
"The hell it ain't! That's his crest on the robes, ain't it?"
"Oh my! First, Lady Nozomi, and now him, what's going on?"
A shopkeeper grabbed Kazuki by the shoulder, "Did you see? Was it really Lord Nozomi?"
"Uh…I don't…that is…I didn't…" Sogetsu elbowed Kazuki painfully in the ribs, coughing, Kazuki continued, "Uh, I mean, no, I didn't see."
A great shouting and the clash of steel came to everyone's ears, demanding silence, and almost immediately, a tangle of bodies burst forth from the front entrance of Lord Nozomi's home and spilled out into the courtyard. Kazuki instantly recognized the telltale black and blue costumes of the three Lin Kuei ninja amidst all the samurai, as did his brother.
"They're finished." Sogetsu nodded, pleased, "There's no way they can fight off that many. And even if they did, there's hundreds more waiting between them and the city's gates." No sooner had Sogetsu finished the sentence when one of the Lin Kuei collapsed in a spray of crimson, cut in half by the sharp sword of one of Tokugawa's horde of samurai warriors. The other two ninja lasted a few more seconds before they two were butchered. The Kuei had accounted well for themselves though; nine samurai lay dead or dying in their wake.
Sogetsu laughed and whispered in Kazuki's ear, "Nothing like having the Shogun's loyal goons do our dirty work for us, eh Kazuki? The elders will be pleased that the mission was accomplished with no Kazama deaths!"
"I'm surprised there were only three…"
"Hai. There's probably more Lin Kuei corpses rotting inside though, Kazuki. We'll mill about for a bit and get a body count from the town gossipers before we head home. I truly hope Tokugawa's butchers sent more than three Lin Kuei to the Pureland…"
"Yeah…I guess…" Kazuki replied sadly, his eyes wandering over all the dead - the samurai, the ninja, and the twisted, black thing that had once been Lord Nozomi himself, "Hey, let's go see if Hazuki and the others are all right!"
Unnoticed by all, a samurai separated himself from his comrades and disappeared into the crowd much as Kazuki and Sogetsu had done. He only grunted when questioned by his superiors, and pushed aside the commoners roughly when they got in his way as he randomly navigated the twisting streets and alleys. No one saw that this warrior was really a woman, nor that she wore the garb of the Lin Kuei underneath the Tokugawa crest…
Kusaru smiled to herself as she did what ninjas do best: Vanish.