Written by Gohda
Dawn approached swiftly. For the guards on watch, this was like a sign from heaven. Having watched the grounds of the merchant’s complex from sundown to now, most of them were exhausted. Most stood wearily alert, but a few had dosed unwittingly off. One of these guards, snoring gently with his back against the wall, was supposed to be watching a certain stretch of rooftop. He wasn’t, and that one mistake would soon cost him his life.
On this certain stretch of rooftop a shadow sat. Melted into the background, it was hardly distinguishable from the gloom around it. It gauged the distance from the eave of the roof to the ground, chose a spot to drop and swung down. The guard was still snoring gently as it hit the ground in a crouched position. After that, it worked quickly.
It came up beside the sleeping guard and spun him around, clamping its hand on his mouth. Before the guard could utter a sound, it drew a long, shining sword from a scabbard on its waist. Flicking the blade out and high into the air, it brought the sword down and plunged it into the guard’s heart. The sentry struggled for a moment, and then was still. Dropping the lifeless body to the ground, the shadow searched it for anything that would be of value to him. Finding nothing, the shadow hurried through a door opposite the wall.
It entered the long hall and crept along the shadowy wall. Stepping briefly into the flickering light of a wall brazier his features were momentarily revealed. A long ponytail hung down behind his head, vying for supremacy with a strong face and high cheekbones. A muscular chest tapered to a lithe waist, and behind this waist hung his sword.
The blade still intrigued him. Given to him by his master and surrogate father only the night before, it was the sign of his leadership of the Azuma Ninja and his mastery of the fighting arts. Called Izayoi, it was rarely used by him, only for silent kills and running enemies. The rest of the time he used his hands and feet, often bringing foes down with a single kick or a well-placed punch.
Moving quickly out of the torchlight, he once more became a shadow. Seeing a small, barely noticeable but man-sized hole in the ceiling, he reached into a pouch at his side, From this he drew a long rope ending in a claw, a hook he used to get virtually anywhere. Swinging it with alarming precision to the edge of the hole, he pulled back hard and fairly flew up towards the roof, where he sensed his real adventure would begin.
He emerged into the predawn light with barely a sound. A light drizzle was just setting up, and the roofs and eaves were slick with rainwater and mist. Any untrained man would have slipped and fallen off the roof to a probable death, but this man ran across the slippery tiles without a falter in his step. He moved onwards, seemingly incautiously determined but inwardly alert.
About halfway along the roof another level jutted about twenty feet upward. Flattening himself against this wall he sneaked silently along it until he came to its edge and peered around. On the other side of the wall a figure stood on the slippery slope of the roof, seemingly unaware and unprepared for an attack. Crouching low, the man advanced along the wall. He crept along silently and saw that the figure was clothed in the deep blackness of the Nyosai ninja, the so-called “merchant’s ninja”. Although this clan was deadly in numbers, their unfaltering alliance to the merchant and nobleman classes made them a subject of constant ridicule.
Standing up silently behind the ninja, the man tapped him on the shoulder. Whirling around, the black-swathed figure was met with a fist in the chin, sending him catapulting off the wall to a sure death far below. The man looked after the falling form, shook his head and whispered
“I wish one of these fools would put up a fight”
Turning slowly, he ran down the roof to an open window that seemed to beckon to him.
Swinging inside this window, he landed silently and looked down the long room. An uninterested-looking guard stared out the door with his back to the man. The ninja on the opposite side of the room selected a shuriken from a pack next to his mysterious sword. Flicking it over his shoulder, he aimed it at the wall beside the guard and let it fly. The star-shaped projectile embedded itself in the plaster alongside the sentry, causing him to turn. Seeing the pony-tailed ninja across the room, he drew his sword and charged.
Anticipating the head-on rush the ninja somersaulted over the guard’s head and landed with his back to him. Spinning, he caught the guard in the back with a vicious roundhouse kick that sent him flying. Struggling to his feet, the guard charged again at the unprepared ninja, catching him in the back with the sword blade and drawing blood. The ninja, grimacing at the painful slash, whirled and said
“So you get a free shot. Well, that was the last straw. Goodbye.”
He grabbed the guard around the neck and lifted him up off the ground, his face expressionless. The guard gurgled as his neck snapped, and then was dropped heavily to the floor. The ninja turned away and listened carefully into the next room. He heard a voice that sounded like it belonged to someone used to giving orders. He couldn’t make out the words, but he knew something was going on. He was about to find out what.