Next morning, Bushika was greeted with the sight of Aniko stretching her shoulders by clasping her hands behind her back. She was dressed the in sand-colored, loose-fitting pants the monks wore for their morning exercise and her blonde hair was falling freely over her shoulders. Another, somewhat unlikely reason, would be that the dragon tattooed on Aniko's back had an itch on its nose.
"Good morning," mumbled Bushika as she got up from the futon.
"Good morning," answered Aniko. "Last night's climbing have left me a little stiff." Bushika closed the distance between them and gave Aniko's shoulders a good rub-down.
"Is that better?" queried Bushika.
"Yes. Thanks." Aniko replied and put on a sand-colored jacket.
"What did you find last night?" asked Bushika.
"A scroll containing the symbol of the clan as well as a secret passage to the library from the main shrine."
"May I see this scroll?" queried Bushika.
"Yes. I put it in the saddle bags. Now, I was just about to go to the dojo and lead the monk's morning exercise, as Guzen requested."
"But he will not be there..."
"No. But I will honor his request none the less. Would you like to join me?"
"Yes. To keep you out of trouble. Besides, I could use the training." Bushika began to put on a similar sand-colored outfit and tucked her swords into her obi.
Aniko and Bushika bowed when they entered the dojo and Bushika removed her dai-sho from her obi and placed the swords by the wall.
Aniko stepped up in front of the assembled monks and clapped her hands to signal the start of the session. A few eyebrows were raised as Aniko gestured Bushika to stand in the front row. Aniko began with a few simple warm-up exercises.
After the warm-up Aniko showed a kata in parts then lead the others through it part by part. She then observed their performance as Bushika and the monks repeated it. Her gaze kept drifting towards Bushika as she saw the dark-haired woman execute the different moves. Even though Bushika didn't have the same experience as the monks in the art of unarmed combat she displayed a high level of control of her body and mind, sharpened by living the life of a warrior.
Still, Aniko wasn't satisfied. She demanded perfection. She had Bushika and the monks repeat the kata over and over again. Aniko observed the others trying to see if one of the monks stood out from the others in terms of technique. If this was the case she believed that monk might be the elusive assassin. But she found nothing. Either the assassin was not present or he managed to hide his skill well. Aniko was just about to start a new exercise when the abbot entered the dojo.
"You can stop your investigation", he stated. "We've found the evidence we need."
Aniko called out "Stop" and gestured that Bushika and the others could take a short pause. "Clarify" she added, addressing the abbot.
"A wood-cutter's axe soiled in blood and a blood-stained jacket was found this morning just outside Guzen's cell," the abbot stated with a triumphant smile.
"I don't see how that points to Guzen," Bushika interrupted.
"He has obviously tried to hide the evidence against him," the abbot continued. "I'm confident he is the murderer."
"Your confidence will be your downfall," Aniko spat out.
"You can not make me change my mind" retorted the abbot. "The high priest of our order will visit our monastery for a few days. He will arrive tomorrow. I will leave Guzen's fate to the wisdom of the high priest. Your services are therefore no longer needed. Good day." With this the abbot turned and left.
"This lesson is over!" snapped Aniko. The monks bowed to her deeply in thanks for her instruction and began leaving the dojo.
"He's a fool," muttered Bushika as she picked up her swords. "What do we do now?" Aniko didn't answer.
"I think I know what the assassin's mission is," Aniko stated when they were alone.
"You do? What is it?" queried Bushika in surprise.
"The assassination of the high priest," whispered Aniko. Bushika gasped.
"Killing a priest? Why?"
"The high priest might have revealed some daimyo's dirty secret and threatened to tell the shogun. This might be a good reason for the daimyo to have the priest killed. Using the clan ensures that no one can trace the murder back to the daimyo."
"How do we stop him?" asked Bushika. "We don't know who the assassin is!"
"How do you find a single rock in a rocky riverbed?" replied Aniko.
"That sounds like one of the riddles the monks meditate over," smiled Bushika. "I have no idea!"
"You wait until the rock moves!" answered Aniko.
"This will be very dangerous," muttered Bushika. "Still, you are right. There is no other way, now that the abbot have cut us off. Come, we must prepare. Furthermore, I must see the scroll and the secret passage you found."
"We will succeed," stated Aniko calmly.
Bushika and Aniko made their way to the bath house. It was occupied. Bushika argued they should walk in there and shoo the others out or just ignore the fact hat they might be a distraction to the monks.
"The abbot doesn't want us around anymore," barked Bushika. "I say we have our bath despite what he told us. The sight of a naked woman haven't killed anyone."
"The last monk who saw me naked is now dead," remarked Aniko.
"No. However, I believe he is dead because of something he saw in the bath house."
"You have proof of this?"
The two women entered their small cell and Bushika sat down by the small table. Aniko retrieved the scroll she had mentioned earlier and Bushika began reading it. It was titled "Signs and symbols identifying lesser known clans and families". Bushika didn't recognize anyone of the drawings save one. A single character written over black star. It was the same symbol Aniko had tattooed on her lower back just above her buttocks. It was the symbol of the clan. The description beside the drawing was short and simple. "Symbol used by several families from the remote province of Iga. The meaning of the character is uncertain." Bushika looked up from the scroll.
"You believe the librarian was killed because he had seen someone in the bath house having this symbol tattooed, like you have?"
"Yes. I also found this inside the scroll, supporting this idea." Aniko handed Bushika a small parchment. I appeared blank.
"No. It is not. Smell it." Bushika lifted the parchment up to her nose and she detected a slight scent of lemon juice.
"It smells like lemon juice!" Aniko nodded and lit a small candle.
"Hold it up to the candle." Bushika did and writing suddenly appeared on the seemingly blank paper. The message was horrifying.
"One of the newly arrived novices has the black star tattooed on his right shoulder. I saw it yesterday in the bath house. Someone is going to die. The abbot must learn of this."
"The librarian was going to tell the abbot but the assassin figured it out and killed the librarian before he could tell," Bushika summarized.
"I concur," added Aniko.
"The other victim, who worked in the clothes storage, must have found the assassin's bloody clothing and therefore had to be silenced. When Guzen was blamed for the murder the assassin planted the evidence near Guzen's cell to strengthen the evidence against Guzen," Bushika continued.
"My thoughts as well," replied Aniko.
"Didn't the abbot say there was a witness?" Bushika suddenly remembered.
"Yes. He said that, according to a witness, Guzen was the last one leaving the clothes storage."
"I bet this so called 'witness' is the assassin himself!"
"That is a possibility. How do we confirm it? I doubt the abbot will tell us. He seems determined that Guzen is the murder."
"Yes, and he has forbidden anyone to talk to Guzen, including us. We have no other choice but to wait for the assassin to make his move. Now... I really want to have a bath and I want you beside me in it!" Aniko nodded and they left their cell.
The two women entered the bath house. This time it was empty. When they had washed each other they relaxed in the big bathtub. Bushika stroked away the wet tresses and whispered in the blonde's ear.
"I missed you last night..." Bushika then traced the blonde's jaw line with butterfly kisses. Aniko inhaled deeply and supported herself by gripping the edge of the tub with both hands as Bushika began kissing her breasts.
An unfamiliar sound caused Bushika to stop her ministrations. She looked towards the door and to her surprise four monks walked into the room. Bushika jumped out of the bath with a splash. She fixed the first monk with a deadly stare and clenched her fists.
"This is not a kabuki play. Get out or I will throw you out." The first monk just laughed. He was naked except for a loin-cloth.
"Is this how you repay for our hospitality? My brothers and I just want a little fun. It will be easier for you both if you cooperate."
"Otherwise you will rape us?" Bushika spat out. "Rape is a mortal sin according to Buddha. You four are just fine monks!" The first monk advanced on her with a hungry look on his face. The other three followed closely behind.
Bushika was about to wipe the smile of the first one's face with a kick when she lost her balance and fell on the slippery floor. The first monk dove over her in an instant and barked an order to the others.
"Hold her down. I've never been with a samurai woman before. I will enjo..." He was interrupted by a bucket being slammed into his face. Aniko had silently slipped out of the tub and got hold of a pair of buckets. She now used them to batter the wits out of the four monks. Moments later they all lay unconscious on the floor. Aniko threw away the buckets and began examining the bodies the four monks. The one who had spoken did have a tattoo on his lower arm but none of them had the tattoo they were looking for.
"I thought you said you were going to keep me out of trouble," Aniko remarked.
"I want them dead," muttered Bushika. "That's the only way to satisfy my honor."
"I suggest we leave their fate to the abbot," answered Aniko.
The two women got dressed and left the bath house.
"Four of your monks tried to rape us in the bath house", stated Bushika as a way of greeting as they found the abbot. The abbot visibly paled.
"A few moments ago," answered Aniko coldly. "I let them live so that you may decide their fate. They lie unconscious in the bath house."
"Will it never end?" mumbled the abbot. "They will be punished. The high priest will decide their fate as well. I humbly ask you to remain until they have received their rightful punishment."
"We will stay," answered Bushika. "On one condition."
"Allow us to use our weapons to defend ourselves." The abbot just sighed.
"I will allow it. The Chrysanthemum Temple no longer seems to be a place of peace. I will tell the Chief guard." With these words he nodded to Bushika who broke the seals on the wires locking her swords in their scabbards.
The tow women entered the dining hall. The eyes of the monk serving the rice revealed his feelings. He was ashamed over the actions of his brothers in the bath house.
Bushika and Aniko politely declined getting more food than the others and retreated back to their room after finishing their meal.
"Do you wish to see the secret passage to the library?" asked Aniko, when they were having a cup of tea.
"Yes," nodded Bushika. "But not now. Right now I wish to continue where we were so rudely interrupted." Aniko smirked and emptied her cup.
Bushika fell silent momentarily as she drank in the sight of the Aniko getting up from the table and pulling the pin holding her golden tresses in place. Tossing it aside she loosened the obi around her waist and let her clothing fall to the floor. Bushika didn't even breathe. Aniko tilted her head slightly and clasped her hands behind her back before speaking.
"I'm ready. You are still dressed. Do you wish me to undress you?"
"I can undress myself!" snapped Bushika. "I was just admiring how beautiful you are." With this she tore of her clothing and stood up facing Aniko. Bushika then took a step forward and captured the blonde's lips with a fierce kiss. Aniko responded by deepening the kiss and their tongues twirled around in an intoxicating dance until they finally broke the kiss from lack of oxygen.
"I still feel like drowning every time you do that," Bushika whispered into Aniko's ear. "Now... Where was I?"
Bushika kissed her way down Aniko's jaw and neck simultaneously caressing the back of Aniko's long neck with her hands and fingers. Hearing Aniko inhale deeply Bushika began to slowly caress Aniko's breasts with her lips and fingers. Feeling the blonde arc into her touch Bushika captured a rosy nipple in her mouth and mimicked the actions of her lips and tongue on the other breast using her fingers. Bushika alternated between both breasts until Aniko shuddered with pleasure.
Bushika let out a breath of cool air over Aniko's creamy breasts before kissing her way down Aniko's firm belly. Kneeling down between Aniko's legs Bushika ran her fingers through the triangle of blonde curls before letting her lips meet Aniko's tender flesh. Parting the silky folds with her tongue Bushika savored the blonde's arousal before turning her attention to the sensitive area at the apex with increasing intensity.
Aniko came with a raw, uncontrolled scream and her legs gave in beneath her. Bushika lifted her arms to catch Aniko as the blonde collapsed over her. Luckily No one but Bushika seemed to have heard Aniko's scream. Aniko quickly recovered and began making love to Bushika with an almost ferocious hunger.
Bushika awoke later in the middle of the night. She felt the warmth of Aniko's body lying at her side. Bushika turned around and looked into the Aniko's round blue eyes.
"I forgot about the passage," Bushika mumbled. Aniko's lips formed a slight smile.
"There is still time. The shrine should be empty now."
"Lets go! I want to know the secrets of this temple before the high priest arrives." Bushika got up and began putting her clothes on. Aniko put on her usual clothes except that she chose to wear the arm protectors and felt-soled boots of her shinobi outfit. She kept her hair in place with a piece of black cloth. Aniko instructed Bushika to wear her sword on her back instead of in her obi to be able to move through the narrow passage more easily. Bushika complied but mumbled something concerning about not being a murderer from the shadows.
The two women quickly made their way to the main shrine. Aniko moved silently and appeared to merge with the shadows every time she stopped. Bushika followed Aniko in in silence, marveling over the the relative ease the blonde moved.
Aniko found the secret opening and sneaked inside. Bushika followed with a small grunt. This was definitely not her style. They made their way through the narrow passage until they reached the library. Aniko checked that the library were empty before crawling out of the passage. Bushika followed right behind her.
"Someone has been here," Aniko stated as she surveyed the library.
"Are you sure?" queried Bushika.
"Yes. The scrolls lying near that small reading table have been moved. It was on that table I found the scroll and the message. Someone else must have been looking for it." Aniko pointed at the table. Numerous scrolls were scattered all around it.
"That could be the abbot, for example," Bushika stated. "Anything else?"
"No. Who ever it was, they seemed to be in a hurry."
"Let's see what else we can find!"
Aniko and Bushika looked around on the bottom floor before making their way up to the second floor. The window Aniko had used to gain access caught Bushika's attention. She opened it carefully and peeked outside. There was a clear view of the main temple yard.
"This could be useful," Bushika muttered.
"How so?" Aniko queried.
"A single archer could cover the entire yard from this position. We could use that to our advantage."
"A sound tactic," Aniko commented. "You seem to have experience in these matters after all."
"I've raided several enemy castles as well as defended my master's castle from enemy raiders. I know what has to be done. Now, let's get back and get some sleep. We have much to do tomorrow." Aniko nodded.
The two women went back into the secret passage and made their way back to their room.
Bushika awoke from an intensely erotic dream to find Aniko sitting on the floor packing their bow inside a large bamboo carrying tube. Aniko was dressed in her shinobi outfit except that she was unmasked.
"I've picked up the bow from the guard hut," Aniko stated. "The chief guard told me the high priest would arrive shortly along with his escort of warrior monks. You should meet him and be present when he questions Guzen. I will position myself in the library."
"Good morning to you too," mumbled Bushika as she got up and began dressing herself.
The abbot was visibly nervous as the high priest arrived. He bowed deeply as the old monk dressed in black robes stepped through the gates. Bushika merely nodded her head and tried to observe the surroundings for any sign of the assassin.
During his brief tour of the temple the high priest stopped outside the library.
"Why is the library closed?" queried the high priest with his squeaky voice pointing towards the sign.
"We've had some unfortunate incidents," the abbot began. "We will of course open it for you to study the scrolls..."
"I'd like something to eat first," the high priest responded. "It's been a long journey."
"Of course your holiness," answered the abbot. "This way." Bushika let out a quiet sigh of relief.
After the meal the high priest listened to the abbot as he listed the accusations towards Guzen and the four other monks along with the evidence. Guzen stood in the middle of the room with his head high in defiance while the four others kept their heads bowed and their eyes towards the floor. When the abbot was finished the high priest cleared his throat and addressed Guzen.
"Do you have anything to say in you defense?" queried the high priest.
"No, your holiness," answered Guzen. "Only Buddha knows I'm innocent."
"I see no other choice other than to surrender you to the authorities," the high priest began. "I suspect you will be crucified for your crimes!"
"He didn't do it!" snapped Bushika. The abbot was about to say something when the high priest raised his hand and turned towards Bushika.
"Do you have any evidence of this?"
"Yes!" barked Bushika. She picked up the bloody jacket and threw it towards Guzen. "Put it on!" Guzen complied. He looked rather ridiculous. The jacket strained across his broad shoulders and the arms didn't even reach his elbows.
"See," added Bushika. "The jacket doesn't even fit him."
"But we have a witness..." the abbot yelped.
"Who's lying!" screamed Bushika. "Where is he now by the way?"
"I don't know..." confessed the abbot. The high priest's face spelled out his disappointment. He gestured to Guzen to take off the jacket.
"Do you have further evidence?" the high priest asked.
"Yes," Bushika answered. "Observe." She picked up the hatchet and gave it to Guzen. This caused the nearest monk guarding Guzen to shift nervously. Bushika gave the monk a reassuring look. She turned to Guzen.
"Strike me," she ordered.
"What?" asked Guzen.
"Strike me you stupid oaf!" barked Bushika. Guzen lifted the hatchet over his head and and swung at her as if trying to split her like a piece of wood. Bushika easily side-stepped his attack and threw him over her hip. He landed on the floor with a 'thud' and Bushika pointed towards his hands, still holding the axe.
"Which hand does he hold above the other on the shaft?" she asked.
"The right one," the high priest answered.
"Precisely!" confirmed Bushika. "He is right-handed."
"The murderer was left-handed," stated Bushika with a snarl.
The high priest fell silent for a moment. Then he turned towards the abbot.
"I cannot see how brother Guzen could have committed these murders," he stated. "Release him at once! As for the others, throw them out! I don't want to see them near a temple again. They are a disgrace." The abbot simply bowed in response. The high priest now turned towards Bushika.
"May I have you name, samurai?"
"Bushika Taimatsu," Bushika answered.
"Taimatsu?" repeated the high priest. "That name sounds familiar... Anyway, would you please accompany me to my chambers and tell me who you think is behind all this."
"Certainly," answered Bushika.
As they crossed the main temple yard Bushika noticed some movement on the west wall. She threw herself over the high priest causing the arrow to narrowly miss its target and bury itself in the ground.
"Archer on the west wall," Bushika barked. "Get the old man the hell out of here!" Just as she lifted her head three hooded figures came rushing towards them. "Shinobi!" screamed Bushika as she jumped to her feet. She really hated the men from the shadows.
Then a single arrow came flying from the library pagoda towards the west wall. A short scream confirmed that the arrow had found its target. Bushika drew both her swords and faced the three assassins. She bared her teeth as she spoke.
"Come on you cowards. Let's see how good you fight in broad daylight!"
The assassins advanced cautiously.
Aniko took another aim with her bow as she suddenly heard the a faint rustling of paper. She twisted around just in time to block an attack from behind. The assassin's blade caused the bow to break in two. She quickly somersaulted out of reach as her attacker hesitated momentarily. Then he started speaking.
"You are a kunoichi? I should have expected that, after the way you handled Guzen. Still, that's no matter. I will kill you anyway. The clan will be pleased."
"You are very confident of yourself," Aniko answered as she prepared herself mentally for the upcoming fight.
Out in the temple yard Bushika decapitated one of the assassins as he left her an opening. The other two were fighting with the high priest's guards who had joined the fight once the high priest was safe. One of the guards had been killed but the two assassins still faced tough opposition. As one of the assassins fell for a guard's battle axe the last remaining assassin threw himself on his sword. He would rather die than allow himself to be captured.
Inside the library Aniko gave her opponent another well-aimed kick. He staggered backwards allowing Aniko to catch her breath. She was beginning to tire and her only remaining weapon was a tanto tucked in her boot. She wouldn't be able to keep out of his reach forever. Another tactic was needed. She easily ducked from his following attack as she suddenly felt a sharp pain in her leg.
Aniko gritted her teeth and pulled the shuriken from her leg. She couldn't avoid the following blow to her head knocking her down. As she fought to stay conscious she felt her attacker pull her pants down.
"I might just have a little fun with you before I kill you," she heard him laugh. This was the last thing he uttered. His eyes went wide as Aniko pulled the tanto from her boot and slit his throat.
"You should have killed me when you had the chance," Aniko stated as she kicked his body away and pulled her pants back on. Then she staggered out of the library via the main door.
One of the guards prepared to attack as the dark figure came limping towards them. Bushika stopped him.
"Don't worry. She's with me." The guard nodded and tucked away his battle axe. Bushika ran towards Aniko and pulled the blonde into a tight embrace. The guards began gathering the bodies of the fallen assassins for identification.
"There is another one in the library," mumbled Aniko before she passed out in Bushika's arms.
"Help her!" barked Bushika as Guzen approached. The big monk lifted up the unconscious blonde and nodded.
"Come," offered Guzen as he began walking towards the monastery. Bushika joined him.
That same evening Bushika was keeling beside Aniko's futon. Guzen had cleaned dressed Aniko's wounds and given her some clean clothes. He hadn't said a word upon seeing the tattoos on Aniko's body. He had just nodded and continued with his work. When he was finished Bushika allowed him to see to her own wounds. They had been minor. Now she was watching the blonde rest. Guzen said all they could do was wait.
The assassin in the library had been identified as the murderer. It was the same monk who had claimed to have witnessed Guzen in the cloth storage. Bushika showed the abbot the secret message from the librarian along with the tattoo on the assassin's shoulder. The way the other victim had been killed confirmed that this was the murderer. Additionally, the bloodied jacket fit the assassin and several monks confirmed that the supposed novice indeed had been left-handed, even though he had hidden it well.
Next morning Bushika's heart jumped with joy as she saw Aniko open her eyes. Bushika placed a soft kiss on Aniko's cheek and whispered.
"I thought I had lost you."
"I do not die that easily," answered Aniko weakly. "Is the murderer identified?"
"Yes Aniko-chan," answered Bushika. "It was the one you killed in the library."
"I thought so," muttered Aniko. "Now, can we leave this place?"
"As soon as you're ready," answered Bushika as she lied down beside Aniko and pulled the blonde close.
Guzen accompanied the two women as they left the temple. He had chosen to leave the temple and become a wandering monk. Aniko was riding on Bushika's horse with Bushika and Guzen walking beside the horse. Bushika noted a scroll she didn't recognize poke out of one of the saddle bags.
"What's this, Aniko?" Bushika queried.
"It's a Chinese pillow book I found in the library yesterday. I don't think the monks will miss it. I however, have found several interesting techniques in it we can try sometime." Guzen laughed hard at this. Bushika shot him an angry look.
"Don't mind me," he said. "I'm a monk, remember!"
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Bushika Taimatsu Warrior-woman Torch
Aniko Japanese for "Annika"
-chan A suffix denoting endearment.
Guzen Nick-name meaning "fighter"
shuriken Throwing blade.
tanto A knife.
futon A mattress.
kunoichi Specific term for a female assassin.