DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns all things Star Trek. The other characters are my creation. I've been inspired by various Kurosawa movies, notably Yojimbo. No copyright or trademark infringement intended.
Bushika woke up and immediately sensed something was wrong. Aniko's warm body was no longer wrapped around her own. She found her lover kneeling by the window, again dressed in her black shinobi outfit. Only this time she was unmasked. Looking out the window towards the rising sun, Shichininko spoke.
"Please kill me." Shichininko tilted her head to bare her neck. Bushika just looked at her lover in horror.
"Aniko-chan. You cannot ask me to do that!"
"My mission is to kill the silk merchant and all who witness his death. I know you are hired to protect him, so therefore I would have to kill you. I can't do that. This is the only solution. Everything would point to you having killed a menacing shinobi trying to kill you and your master. Your honor would be preserved." Shichininko's voice was calm and collected.
"Where is the honor in killing the person you love?" Bushika retorted. "I refuse. I have not sworn loyalty to this merchant. I would rather slash my belly open than having to kill you. There must be another way..."
"I will figure something out. Now go! Get out of those clothes and put your yukata on. You can't walk around like that in broad daylight!"
Shichininko nodded and began to change her clothes. When she was finished she tied everything together into a bundle and jumped out the window.
"I will hide these on the roof," she whispered. "See you later." Then Shichininko was gone. Bushika began to get dressed herself.
After breakfast Bushika went to the Oribe family. The silk merchant had just arrived. Bushika wondered how a simple merchant could afford being carried around and having four guards to protect him.
The silk merchant himself was an elderly man who gave Bushika a hungry look as Toshiro Oribe introduced her.
"Tokemono-san, meet Bushika Taimatsu, who will be personally responsible for your safety." Bushika bowed slightly, not letting her eyes divert from looking at the silk merchant.
"Exquisite," answered Tokemono. "I feel quite safe in her presence." He licked his thin lips. Bushika didn't like the looks she was getting from the old man so she politely excused herself and left. Later she requested a word with Toshiro Oribe.
"He doesn't seem to need any additional protection from me. He already has four guards protecting him. What does he need me for?"
"Yes," answered Toshiro with an evil grin. "He has another request..." Toshiro whispered something in Bushika's ear.
"No chance in HELL!" shouted Bushika. "My katana might be for hire but my yoni is not! You will have to find him another bodyguard willing to 'protect' him by going to bed with a prostitute!"
"Relax. You must be starved of pleasure yourself. He probably just wants to watch..."
"NO! This is not what you hired me for. I will remain outside or you will lose my services. Choose now!"
"I will inform Tokemono-san of your decision. He won't be pleased."
"I don't care. My decision is final!" Bushika marched out, barely being able to contain her rage. She wanted to see Shichininko right away.
Bushika found Shichininko outside the bath house, talking to one of Tokemono's guards. Shichininko looked mildly annoyed but avoided to show it directly to the man talking to her. Shichininko answered something and the man left. Bushika hoped she was wrong about what she thought the conversation was about. Shichininko acknowledged Bushika's presence with a small bow.
"I believe to have found a new solution to our problem. A unique opportunity have presented itself." Shichininko spoke with an emotion-less voice.
"Don't tell me that creep wants to pay you to share his bed?" Bushika's face spelled out her disgust.
"It wouldn't be the first time..." Shichininko stated bluntly.
"I would hate to see you naked with him..." Bushika whispered.
"He will be alone and vulnerable," Schichininko answered with a chilling voice.
"Can I help you in some way?"
"Take care of his guards for me."
"How would you like them?" Shichininko raised her eyebrow.
"Passed out drunk, preferably." Bushika grinned at this.
"That's easy. Consider it done!"
They nodded at each other and quickly parted ways.
That evening, Shichininko arrived at Oribe's house and stated she was here to see the silk merchant. The two guards outside drooled at the sight of her but let her in without a fuss.
Outside the silk merchant's room she found Bushika together with the four guards. Several empty sake bottles littered the floor, revealing that the drinking match had been going on for quite a while already.
"I told you she would come Hanshi," one of the guards barked out with drunken laughter.
"Go right in pretty one," said another. "The boss is waiting for you."
Shichininko slid the door open and entered the dimly lit room. A single lamp illuminated the old man sitting naked inside. He eyed Shichininko before speaking.
"Take off you clothes. I want to make sure you aren't concealing anything..." Shichinniko shrugged her shoulders, untied her obi and let the white patterned yukata fall to the floor.
"Turn around." Tokemono ordered. Shichininko lifted her arms and spun around. She could feel the old man looking at her body.
"Very nice. Yoshi told me you were beautiful. Gamblers gave you that tattoo eh?" Shichininko didn't answer.
"Come here my sweet."
Shichininko walked over and the old man began to fondle her breasts with bony fingers. When he raised his head to kiss her, she turned away and protested.
"No. I won't kiss you." Shichininko reminded herself to take a long bath when this creep was dead. Tokemono grumbled in response before begging her to touch his erect penis. She stroked it briefly before laying down on the futon and gesturing him to join her. Feeling the head of his penis brush against her thigh, Shichininko couldn't restrain herself anymore. She trapped his arms against his sides by hooking her long legs around his upper body. Before he could protest, Shichininko had picked up his obi, wrapped it around his neck and strangled him with it. She quenched his death gurgle with mock cries of passion.
"Ahhh.. YES! Give it to me big boy!"
The two guards still conscious outside chuckled at the sounds coming from their master's bedroom.
"It seems there is still some kick in the old goat," one of the guards mumbled
before passing out the floor.
"Let's give him his moment," answered Bushika and emptied yet another cup of sake, determined drink the final guard unconscious as well.
"You're amazingly strong for a woman," blurted the final guard a little later, before finally succumbing to the effects of consuming too much alcohol.
Bushika got up on wobbly legs. She had had quite enough to drink herself. At least she was still standing. She opened the sliding door gently and peeked inside. She saw the silk-merchant laying face down on his futon, appearing to sleep. Shichininko was standing in the corner, dressed in her yukata.
"Shichininko," whispered Bushika through the opening.
"I'm fine. Are there any guards left?"
"No. They are sleeping soundly. Let's get out of here!"
They sneaked down the stairs and left the building unnoticed. The two guards outside had fallen asleep.
"I'm having a bath," said Shichininko. "Would you like to join me?"
"Very much," answered Bushika.
Bushika was again awaken by Goro.
"They have taken her..." he gasped.
"What are you talking about old man?" Bushika vaguely remembered having a bath with Aniko last night, but she couldn't remember how she ended up back in her room at the inn.
"The tall blonde," Goro continued. "She was on her way to the bandai with some food when the silk merchant's four guards attacked her along with six of Oribe's mercenaries. She is being accused of killing the silk merchant."
"They must be insane! He was very much alive last night. I heard him, so did his guards."
"He was found dead this morning."
"And they suggest that Shichininko is responsible?"
"Yes. Although some people think he just died a happy man. There was no signs of a fight."
"Where is she?" Bushika growled as she began to put on her clothing.
"I don't know. What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to find her! And kill everyone who tries to stop me!"
Bushika got dressed in a hurry and left.
"You were supposed to protect him" greeted Toshiro Oribe as Bushika burst into the room.
"I said I wouldn't go to bed with prostitutes for him. I was not hired for his entertainment. Now, why has the blond woman been captured?"
"That remains to be seen..." answered Toshiro with an evil grin.
"What do you mean?"
"We are pretty sure that tattooed whore was the last one seeing him alive. We are torturing her for information."
"You are torturing a woman who might be innocent?"
"It doesn't really matter. We'll find out soon enough."
"Your attitude is appalling and dishonorable. I can no longer remain as your bodyguard."
"As you wish samurai. Your concern for this whore surprises me. Very well, your contract is hereby terminated." Toshiro couldn't hide the smug look on his face.
Bushika bowed slightly and bolted out the door. Her only thought was to find Shichininko and free her. Where could she be? Bushika decided to ask around to see if the town gossip could reveal anything.
Unfortunately she came up empty. No one seemed to know where the tall blonde was being kept. Furthermore, there was no sign of the silk merchant's former guards. In the evening Bushika returned to the inn to have some dinner. She asked Goro if he had picked up something she missed. To her relief he indeed had some new information.
"She is being kept in a small house by the river that used to belong to a fisherman. I overheard one of Oribe's men who had had way too much sake to drink. Be careful. The house is reportedly heavily guarded."
"I will manage," mumbled Bushika and wolfed down her food.
Shichininko slowly regained consciousness. She was hanging naked from a beam with her arms and legs bound and spread out. Her clothing was lying in shreds on the floor below her. She was heavily bruised and was bleeding from several long cuts on her torso and arms. They had been beating her severely as well as whipping her with splintered bamboo. She had been denying her torturers the pleasure of hearing her scream out in in pain, thanks to her shinobi training. She had told them nothing. They had given up shortly before she passed out. They would in no doubt return to continue.
Suddenly the door was thrown open and Bushika appeared with her katana drawn.
"Aniko!" she cried. Four quick cuts freed the tied-up woman. Bushika took of her outer kimono and wrapped it around Shichininko's body before the blonde collapsed in Bushika's arms.
"Can you walk?" Bushika whispered.
"Yes," came the short response.
"Let's go my love. We have to hurry. I set the silk storage on fire to create a diversion."
Shichininko stumbled to her feet, supported by Bushika. Outside she noted with grim satisfaction the severed bodies of her torturers. Bushika had been deadly and efficient.
Goro gasped in horror at Shichininko's butchered appearance.
"She looks more dead than alive."
"I'm not dead yet..." mumbled Shichininko.
"You have to hide. They will come looking for you. I heard that the silk storage is burning. I thought you might be behind it. There is an old shrine nearby that no one visits anymore. I suggest you go there to recuperate.
"Thank you," whispered Bushika.
"You're welcome. I see you are an honorable warrior, one of the few remaining in this world. Here, take some food and water. I have brought you some clothing as well. I don't think my wife will mind. I will try to sneak you some medicine later. Now go!" Bushika helped Shichininko to put on a yukata and a pair of sandals.
"Old man, I am in debt to you. How will I ever repay you?" Bushika mumbled as she got ready to leave. Goro just waved at her to get going. Both women disappeared into the darkness.
When the finally found the small shrine, Shichininko slumped down against the wall. Bushika made sure no one had followed them before she helped Shichininko lie down inside on a simple straw futon, originally left for the pilgrims to use.
Bushika then began to clean and dress Shichininko's wounds, swearing at Toshiro Oribe, his entire family and all his ancestors. When she was done she sat down beside her lover and tried to feed Shichininko some of the stew the innkeeper had given them. Shichininko ate slowly with her broken lips. When she had eaten most of the food offered to her by Bushika Shichininko took a sip of water and whispered.
"Bushika-chan, I'm cold. Warm me..." Then she drifted off to sleep.
Bushika laid down beside Shichininko and wrapped herself around the blonde's body before falling into an uneasy sleep.
Bushika woke up and heard Shichininko whimper in pain as Bushika got up from the futon. Bushika took of Shichininko's blood-stained yukata and assessed the blonde's injuries. The bleeding had mostly stopped, but Shichininko could only lie down on her side due the pain. The large dragon tattooed on Shichininko's back still stared defiantly back at Bushika, even though long red lines slashed across the dragon's head. Bushika muttered something inaudible before moving around to inspect the wounds on Shichininko's chest and stomach. Apart from several large bruises on Shichininko's stomach from the beating there was also long lacerations diagonally across her chest.
"They hit where they know it hurts," Bushika mumbled as she changed the bandages. "Death was too good for those bastards." At that moment Shichininko opened her eyes.
"Good morning. How do you feel?" Bushika said with a soft voice.
"Beaten," answered Shichininko bluntly. "I'm thirsty. Can I have some water?" Bushika poured some water into a cup from the bamboo flask and offered it to Shichininko, who drank greedily.
Bushika made sure the blonde was kept warm before starting a fire outside to make breakfast. Bushika was never very fond of cooking. Eventually she managed to get the rice adequately cooked. She almost dropped her precious cargo of cooked rice at the sight of Shichininko smiling from the futon.
"What's so funny?" Bushika snapped.
"You are," Shichininko replied softly.
"You might be a warrior but you are no cook. Cooking rice isn't that hard..."
"Then you'll cook as soon as you get better," muttered Bushika and began scooping up the rice into two bowls.
Goro arrived that evening with some more food and some medicine. He reported no one seemed to know where they were and the Oribe family seemed convinced that someone from Fumikura had started the fire in the silk storage. In return they had destroyed all the sake barrels in the brewery, ruining the entire fall production. The two families kept fighting as if nothing had happened. Bushika followed him part of the way back to make sure he wasn't being followed by someone.
When she got back she found Shichininko digging into a bowl of dried plums Goro had brought them with ferocious appetite.
"Save some for me." Bushika shouted. "I have to live on simple rice alone and you stuff yourself with sweets while I'm gone."
"Come and get it samurai." Shichininko teased. Bushika bolted into the shrine and charged the bowl of sweets. Shichininko tucked them against her body and Bushika pursued them relentlessly until Shichininko reminded Bushika of her injuries by whining in pain. After helping herself to some of the sweets Bushika snugged up against the blonde and went to sleep.
The following day Shichininko was strong enough get out of bed and move around. She helped Bushika cook breakfast and after eating they made a short assessment of the area. The place was an ideal hideout. There was only one road leading to the shrine and there was a small stream nearby for drinking water. As long as they were careful about building large fires no one would suspect anyone lived in the old shrine. They had a very cold bath in the nearby stream. Both women dipped themselves quickly before returning to the shrine to make dinner.
By the third day Bushika was awaken by the sound of Shichininko exercising outside. Bushika peeked outside and saw the beautiful blonde perform a sword kata using a monk's abandoned walking staff. Shichininko was barefoot, dressed in a simple brown cotton jacket and pants given to her by the innkeeper. She had tied in the jacket arms and pant legs with cord to be able to move more easily. Her long blonde hair flowed freely with her movements.
The sword combinations were unfamiliar to Bushika. She had never seen them before, not on the battle field, nor in a duel. "They must belong to a ryu known only to her clan" Bushika thought. The voice of her old kenjutsu teacher echoed in her head. "Cut with the sword! Cut, don't clobber. It's not a damn club." Bushika smiled at the thought while watching the tall blonde defeat her imaginary opponents. Suddenly Shichininko spun around and fixed her liquid blue eyes on Bushika.
"G-Good morning," Bushika managed to blurt out. "Nice to see you on your feet..."
"How long have you been watching?" Shichininko answered.
"Only for a moment. I've never seen that kata before. What is it?"
"It belongs to a kenjutsu ryu known only to my clan. I can teach you, if you wish."
"You would reveal the secrets of your clan for me? I thought shinobi took their secrets with them to the grave, or were silenced permanently."
"Yes. However, they think I'm already dead."
"Aniko-chan... What do you mean?"
"Captured shinobi are usually killed instantly or dies during interrogation. As you said, a shinobi would rather die than reveal his secrets. If not by others, by his own hand."
"You were expected to kill yourself?"
"Why didn't you?"
"I wanted to live because of you..."
"Did you tell them anything?"
"No. But not to protect my clan. To protect the ones I love..."
Bushika closed the distance to Shichininko and took the blond woman's face in her hands. "I can't believe you endured all that pain for me," Bushika mumbled.
"My training helped me," Shichininko whispered in response.
"I want to avenge you my love." Bushika growled. "I want to kill the ones who did this to you."
"Then you need my help," Shichininko stated.
Bushika answered by placing a soft kiss on the taller woman's lips.
"We'll beat them together," Bushika whispered when braking the kiss.
Bushika practiced the entire morning following Shichininko's instructions. At noon they took a break. Shichininko removed her sweat-soaked jacket and pants and marched naked towards the nearby stream carrying a bucket. Bushika put away their training weapons and followed suit. Standing by the stream they poured a bucketful of cold water over their heads followed by a couple over their bodies before running back to the warmth of the shrine.
As Bushika dried Shichininko's back she paused and traced the outline of the tattooed dragon with her index finger.
"Why did you get this?"
"I got it as a reward for completing my shinobi training. At the same time, it served as a remainder of who I had become."
"And this one?" Bushika stroked the star-shaped tattoo situated above Shichininko's buttocks.
"I got it when I was found suitable for shinobi training. I was six. It also represents the fact that the clan owns me forever."
"Aniko-chan... How did you end up with those people..."
"I was told my father was a missionary from a distant land on the other side of the world. I don't remember much of my childhood. I do remember being on a ship at sea. My father got involved in gambling and accumulated huge debts. I was to be sold to a whore house as a slave in order to pay off those debts. However, an old man named Yoshi took pity in me and sent me instead to a village in the remote province of Iga. There I was tried and chosen to become a shinobi warrior."
"What happened to you father?"
"I don't know. He might be dead, he might be alive."
"I would like to help you find him."
"I would be grateful... Now, lets get something to eat. You still have much to learn..."
Bushika grumbled in acceptance and they began preparing food.
That evening Goro didn't show up as expected. They wondered if something had happened to him.
A loud crack informed them that someone had triggered one of the trip-wires Shichininko had rigged on the road to alert them of any unwelcome visitors. They bolted outside to see who it was. They stared into the frightened face of the cooper, laying on the ground. He clutched a rolled-up blanket concealing something.
"Cooper! What are you doing here? Where is Goro?" Bushika grumbled.
"Goro was captured coming here. The Fumikura and Oribe families have come to an agreement, ending their hostilities. They both believe that you were the only one capable of killing the silk merchant's four guards. They want you to come to the town square by noon tomorrow or they will hang Goro by the neck.
"I brought you a sword," the cooper whispered as he unfolded the blanket. "It used to belong to a dead man, but the blade is still good. Goro said you might need it."
"Thank you," said Shichininko as she inspected the blade. "You have been most helpful. Now go, and make sure you take a different road home, so they don't see you coming from this direction." The cooper nodded and went on his way.
"It's an obvious trap," Bushika growled.
"Yes, but we'll have to adapt. We will be successful, as long as we do it MY way!" Shichininko's voice was sharp.
"Are you sure you are sufficiently healed?" asked Bushika with a concerned voice.
"Yes. They are expecting you... not the two of us. That gives us the element of surprise."
Bushika walked along the main street. She found Goro tied up hanging from a wooden arch with a noose around his neck. Toshiro Oribe and a large number of his people was standing beside the arch. Bushika marched up to them with determined steps.
"I'm here. Let the innkeeper go!" Bushika stated.
"Not so fast samurai." answered Toshiro Oribe. "I've got someone here who wish to see you..."
A scruffy looking samurai emerged from the crowd. Toshiro Oribe beamed with pride.
"Allow me to introduce sensei Hamma. He has agreed to help me resolve this matter..." Hamma eyed Bushika and flashed an evil smile.
"Bushika Taimatsu. I shall rejoice in killing you. Would you like a moment to compose your death poem?"
"I hope you have already composed yours." snapped Bushika in response. In reality she was feeling nervous. This man was not some untrained bandit but a samurai like herself. He might kill her. Both samurai drew their katana and began to approach each other. The crowd stepped back and formed in a large semi-circle around them. Bushika observed Hamma's movements trying to anticipate his move. They both attacked at the same time. To Bushika's surprise, Hamma avoided her attack by rolling on the ground towards it and she felt a sharp pain surge across the lower right side her rib cage. She was badly wounded and she knew it. She then felt a second cut slash across her right arm, causing her to drop her katana.
Hamma dove over his opponent and pinned down Bushika on the ground with the full weight of his body. He then placed a knee on her back and yanked up her head using her hair to expose her neck. He would cut off her head as a sign of his victory. He leaned forward and whispered in her ear.
"You fell for that trick just like your old kenjutsu master Okami. Now I've killed both the master and his student... he he he. You will die knowing that your ryu is worthless."
Bushika desperately reached for her katana as tormenting images of her old teacher's severed head flashed through her mind. Suddenly this image was replaced by the blue eyes of her lover and Aniko's voice filled her head.
"Use all weapons at your disposal. This also means using both hands..." Hamma released his grip and stepped off Bushika to deliver his fatal blow. This brief display of arrogance gave Bushika the vital opportunity she needed.
Bushika twisted her body around to gain access to her second sword. Drawing her wakizashi with her left hand, Bushika executed a maneuver Aniko had taught her called 'Ascending Moon'. The vertical cut slashed Hamma open from his navel up to his neck. Hamma's face spelled out his surprise and his dying lips formed a silent question as he fell forward over Bushika.
Bushika pushed Hamma's body off her and wiped off the blood on her wakizashi on her sleeve, before returning it to its scabbard. She then got up on shaky legs and grabbed her katana with her still functional left hand.
Toshiro just stared at Hamma's dead body before regaining his senses.
"Kill her!" Toshiro screamed and four of his mercenaries moved forward with raised swords.
Two of them suddenly slumped forward with arrows sticking out of their backs. Everyone looked around frantically for the origin of the arrows as a tall dark figure appeared on a nearby roof, holding a bow.
"One more step and the old man gets it," the shadow proclaimed in an eerie voice. The two remaining mercenaries quickly stepped back to protect Toshiro Oribe, who tried to hide behind his henchmen. The shadowy figure jumped down from the roof and positioned itself between Bushika and the watching crowd, always keeping an arrow pointing towards the old man.
"What's the meaning of this?" mumbled Toshiro. "Has someone hired a shinobi to kill me?"
"No, you old fool," interrupted Osato Fumikura, who arrived along with six of his own mercenaries. "The assassin is the tattooed blonde that was rescued by this samurai. I've finally figured it out."
"The blonde? An assassin? Osato, how much sake have you had to drink anyway? Your entire brewery?"
"Listen up silkworm. Someone wanted this silk merchant dead and hired a shinobi to have him killed. That someone was you, Toshiro. You wanted to take over the silk trade but you couldn't kill him directly because that would affect your reputation. So you hired a shinobi to have him killed and then planned on blaming me for it. You even hired a bodyguard to protect the silk merchant and not to mention covering your own back..."
"You are insane Osato. Besides, you don't have any proof of this..."
"Let me finish. What you failed to realize was that the clan might send a female assassin to kill the silk merchant, utilizing his weakness for women. The blonde killed him in bed and escaped with the aid of the samurai."
"Apparently, they are lovers."
"Lovers? There is no such thing as love between two women. Especially not between a samurai and a shinobi," retorted Toshiro Oribe.
"Call it what you wish," replied Osato Fumikura calmly. "You of all people should know what disasters love can cause..."
"I have heard enough!" Toshiro snapped. "Lets finish this charade once and for all. Kill them all." With this command his henchmen drew their weapons and charged Osato's mercenaries. Toshiro attacked Osato himself.
Some people fled as he air filled with the cries of battle and the clashing of weapons. The assassin discarded its bow and drew its sword as two of Oribe's henchmen attacked. The attackers were quickly neutralized with two quick cuts but the shadowy figure seemed determined to protect the wounded samurai and didn't counterattack as one might expect.
The two bands of mercenaries ended up killing each other and the heads of the two rival families were slowly circling each other, both having drawn the other's blood.
"It's over Toshiro," said Osato, breathing heavily. "Our businesses are in ruins and our mercenaries have either been killed or deserted. Why should we continue this meaningless fight? Haven't you lost enough?"
"Shut up," hissed Toshiro. "I will win this fight." With these words he drew a dagger hidden in his sleeve and threw towards Osato. Bushika cried out a warning but to no avail. Osato tried to deflect the dagger with his sword but failed and the dagger buried itself deep in his chest. Osato fell over backwards, mortally wounded.
Toshiro chuckled at his supposed victory and limped forward to finish off his rival. A shadowy figure holding a blood-stained katana stopped him in his tracks. Ice-blue eyes gave him a deadly stare. A single thought flashed through his mind before he felt two quick blows cut off his arms. "Osato was right..." He fell to his knees just as his two severed hands landed on the ground. The assassin lifted its sword to cut of his head as Bushika cried out in protest.
"No my love! Let me do it. I want to keep my promise." The assassin reluctantly lowered its blade and backed off. Bushika went over to the kneeling figure of Toshiro Oribe and leaned forward.
"Any last words?" Bushika whispered.
"I will wait for you at the gates of hell," answered Toshiro Oribe defiantly.
"See you in hell, then!" growled Bushika and cut off the man's head with a single blow of her katana. She then shook off the blood off the blade and returned it to its scabbard.
"A fool is cured only by dying," stated Bushika as she walked towards Shichininko. "How is Osato?"
"Dead," answered the assassin. "It's over."
"What about the innkeeper?"
"I cut him free while you fought the other samurai. The innkeeper is safe." Bushika then collapsed on the ground. Shichininko leaped over to Bushika and picked up the wounded samurai. Shichininko carried her lover to the bath house. The bandai let them in without protest.
"Put her on the massage table," he grumbled. I will fetch some bandages and such."
Shichininko nodded and did as the bandai said. She then carefully removed Bushika's clothing and assessed her injuries. The cut along her rib cage had fortunately missed any vital organs so Bushika would probably survive. Shichininko silently thanked the gods that Bushika had followed her advice and used the shinobi arm protectors under her kimono. The second blow had still broken her right arm but the protection had prevented further damage. Bushika had lost a lot of blood though. The bandai then arrived with bandages, hot water and medicinal herbs. Shichininko carefully cleaned and dressed the rib cage wound before resetting the broken arm. When she was done she began removing her own blood-stained shinobi outfit and put on a blue yukata the bandai had provided.
"How did you know?" she asked the bandai.
"Goro told me you were captured while bringing me food when I was ill. I already suspected something like this was the answer to your colorful tattoos. Don't worry. Your secret is safe with me. A person should be judged by his or her actions rather than his or her past. You risked your life caring for me. I will never forget that."
Shichininko treated Bushika at the bath house for ten days. Goro would visit occasionally to bring food and water and the bandai provided what assistance he could. Bushika finally recovered and two weeks later they were ready to leave. Goro and the bandai stood outside the inn and watched as Bushika slowly rode out of town on a horse they had bought her. The tall blonde walked beside her mounted lover, smiling and chatting.
"It's too bad they have to leave," muttered the bandai.
"How so?" wondered Goro. "They are still young and very much in love. Young love is beautiful, no?"
"Yes, yes, but now I have to find another assistant who can massage my old back."
"Always thinking about work eh?" laughed Goro. "Come on old man, let's have some sake." The bandai smiled at this and the two men went inside.
Sequel Chrysantemum Riddles
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Warrior woman Bushika Taimatsu (Warrior-woman Torch)
Tall blonde Shichininko (Person number seven), aka Aniko
Innkeeper Goro (Fifth son)
Brewery family Fumikura (Holders of wealth)
Silk weaving family Oribe (Weavers)
-chan A suffix denoting endearment.
katana Long-sword, a samurai's weapon.
bandai Bath house owner.
sake Rice wine.
shinobi Assassin (ninja).
yukata Light cotton kimono. Summer or bath wear.