Zero (Ninja)

Hideo looked over at the sleeping Yukie, caressing her dark hair softly, as he felt his body stir awake with the rise of the sun.

Gently pulling the blanket aside, he climbed out of bed and walked softly over wash basin, where he scooped up water and ran it over his face and neck, luxuriating in the cold, clean sensation.

Closing his eyes, Hideo stayed still for a moment, as he traced the sensation of water running down his neck and across his chest, calmly controlling his breathing. For Hideo, this meditative state allowed him to visualise the day ahead and everything he needed to achieve.

This was his daily morning routine, cleansing the body and mind, to prepare for the work ahead with a clear spirit, free of any distractions or lingering memories.

Achieving zero … maintaining zero. echoed Hideo in his mind, as his breathing steadied.

Opening his eyes, Hideo felt his spirit steady itself for the day and night ahead. Slipping on his dark grey kimono, he cinched the excess material tight around his lean frame, before stepping out of the bedroom and sliding the door silently, as to not wake Yukie.


The sparks from the flint scattered softly across the wood, before dancing upon paper. With soft blows, the paper caught alight, generating heat that soon engulfed the wood in flames. Stepping back, Hideo fanned the flames higher and higher, until they could sustain themselves.

Placing the paper fan aside, he walked over to the well that was just outside their home and cranked a bucket of water upwards, until he had enough to prepare the rice and tea.

Carrying the two buckets of water over, he felt something run between his legs and smiled gently at the sight of Hime, their domesticated chicken scurrying away, eager to be fed. Pouring the water into the kettle, he placed it gently over the flame, before walking back outside with a handful of feed.

Cooing softly for Hime to come over, Hideo smiled as she waddled up to him and began to peck at the feed on the ground. Stroking her back gently, Hideo walked over to Hime’s roost and plucked out the two eggs she had laid overnight.

As he prepared the breakfast, a simple omelette with miso soup, Hideo kept his mind empty still, allowing each task to be performed with a precision that could only come from a calm spirit.

The eggs were perfectly scrambled, curdled and rolled, before being spliced into 8 equal rolled rectangles. The green chives were expertly cut, and sprinkled gently atop each serving of egg, whilst his rice was beautifully fluffy and round in their wooden bowls.

Hideo’s miso soup was the perfect blend of cloudy soup and green seaweed, with little islands of tofu poking through the surface. A tiny dash of togarashi serve to create appetising colour and a hint of spice that would awaken the senses after sleep.

As Hideo finally put the finishing touches to the breakfast, Yukie sauntered out, dressed in a sky blue kimono, her long dark raven hair tousled over the front of her shoulder, highlighting the pale slender beauty of her neck and jawline. She smiled gratefully at her husband, washing her hands in the sink and giving him a lingering graze across his hand in affection.

They both sat down cross legged at the low table and clapped their hands together, before eating their food in silence. This was their custom, another way of maintaining harmony within themselves and each other.

The morning was a time of reflection, of preparedness for the rigours ahead. When they were so busy with life, especially in this difficult time, their morning meals was almost the only time they could take to relax, ponder and think.

They would clean up together, before Yukie would break away from Hideo’s side with the barest hint of sakura perfume.

Her day would always start with lunch preparation, invariably another simple, elegant meal that spoke of their humble yet fulfilling lifestyle, whilst Hideo would retreat to his room, where he would examine his tools of war.


Armed with the stalk of a bamboo cup, a bucket of water and a dark rag, Hideo would open the drawer of a large wooden cabinet and inspect his weapons.

Yukie would do likewise, inspecting her precious knives for any rust or impurities, before opening a door where they kept their smoked meats. For today, Yukie took out a smoked mackerel that Hideo had caught a few days before, as well walking into their garden and cutting some herbs and vegetables that had been grown weeks ago.

Laying them out in a semi circle, both Yukie and Hideo selected the first item to be washed, in Yukie’s case, a batch of spinach that would be simmered in soy sauce and sake, whilst for Hideo, it was his prized kusarigama, a unique weapon that consisted of a sickle and a chain, meant to immobilise swords. Then came the sharpening of radish and katana, the gentle cleaning of spring onions and quiet tabi shoes and the slow inspection of chicken stock and kunai knives.

They mirrored each other, absorbed in their meticulous tasks, focused on every step.

It would be midday, when Hideo and Yukie finally parted ways, Hideo heading into the fields to work on the local lord’s farm and Yukie making her way to the local market to shop and buy new equipment that would let her mend her husband’s clothes faster.

Before he left, Hideo softly stroked on Yukie’s cheek, before thanking her for the lunch and slinging the bag on his walking stick and setting off for the long 7 kilometre walk to work.

It would be a long day, of tending the fields and moving cattle. Like any work day, Hideo savoured his small break to enjoy the simple mackerel don that Yuki created for him, and reflect on what he would have to do that very night, rehearsing moves and routes, incorporating body stretches and martial arts movement into his field work.


It wouldn’t be until twilight when Hideo came home, to greet Yukie, busy at work at the fireplace, simmering a rich broth for their udon dinner. Placing a hand on her shoulder gently from behind, he squeezed fondly, before retiring back to his room, to prepare for the night.

Yukie sighed softly as she heard the door to Hideo’s room click shut. For months now, Hideo had been in the service of their lord as a shinobi, eliminating rivals to the clan. Tonight’s mission was going to be particularly difficult, but the lord had offered enough money to soothe their lives for 3 months.

Such an offer was almost worth the risk.

As she shook the excess water off the udon and laid the thick glossy noodles in a bowl, Yukie kept her mind focused on preparing the meal, ignoring the terror she felt at losing Hideo and the prospect of him being caught at a rival clan’s castle.

There was nothing they could realistically do.

There was only life in the moment. They had to live the best they could now.

Yukie poured the broth in, pleased with the amber colour, before slowly adding in fish cake, the same soy simmered spinach she had prepared for lunch and a luxurious slice of pork chashu she had bought from the market.

She had just finished adding half a egg and some thinly sliced spring onions when Hideo came through the kitchen, fully clad in his shinobi gear.

Even now, after many nights of seeing Hideo dressed up for war, Yukie felt an involuntary shiver run through her body, at the sight of a myth came sharply into the focus lens of reality.

From head to toe, Hideo was a shade of dark navy blue, with only his large bow creating a contrasting colour of amber-gold bands that ran across the dark cherry red lacquered wood and the white feathers of his arrows. His short sword was also another splash of colour, the wakizashi’s scabbard a similar cherry red wood to the bow, with a bright red fabric used to create the handle’s signature diamond knit.

It was tied on the left side of his body, whilst resting just above it, was the kusarigama, tucked securely into a thick fabric belt that also hid several throwing stars and knives. On his right, was a thin reed that served as his blowpipe and dangling on a strong knot was a pair of thin axes with loops that would help Hideo climb walls.

Placing his mask aside, Hideo sat down, side by side with Yukie, breaking the normal traditions. Blushing slightly, Yukie sidled closer to Hideo so that their arms were touching. Sipping the broth appreciately, Hideo gave a happy sigh.

Thank you. It’s delicious as always.

Yukie felt her hands tremble slightly. For Hideo to compliment her food, was uncharacteristic of the stoic persona he always held.

He’s nervous realised Yukie with a degree of shock. She felt an urge to ask him about how he felt, what he was thinking about … whether he was afraid. But she knew that such questions were not the way.

Instead Yukie simply replied Thank you. It means so much to me that you like my cooking.

Hideo reached over and tenderly squeezed her hand reassuringly. They continued to eat their dinner in silent companionship, with Hideo finishing first and looking at the still whole slice of chashu. Knowing that Yukie had bought this specially for him, despite their poor lifestyle, Hideo split the slice in half with his chopstick, and placed the precious, expensive cut into Yukie’s bowl.

Yukie looked up at him in shock but the protests died quickly, as Hideo wrapped his arms around her and held her tight against him.

Yukie returned the hug, tears beginning to form from the dread they both shared. But she kept them to herself, they had to be strong. Without her support, she knew that Hideo would not be able to find his focus at the most crucial of times.

So, calling upon her own spirit, she stayed strong for Hideo and returned the hug, without fear or dread, but with love and respect. Yukie closed her eyes in Hideo’s chest … her tears would come later, at a time of her own choosing, but not around him.

After a long solemn hug, communicating everything they ever wanted and couldn’t say, Hideo lifted her chin and kissed her goodbye.

The click of the sliding door closing shut, as Hideo disappeared into the darkness of the night echoed louder than it ever had, and Yukie finally allowed herself to weep for her husband.


Earlier that day, near the end of his shift, Hideo was summoned by one of the samurai retainers to see their lord. As Hideo bowed in greeting, the lord looked down upon his most prolific assassin and placed a hand on his shoulder.

Guiding Hideo to the balcony which overlooked the lord’s vast estate, the noble elder samurai pointed at the stables and whispered something courteous, before handing Hideo a pair of scrolls before dismissing him.

Hideo noted that only one of them had the lord’s official seal. Tucking the other one away in his robes, Hideo walked down to the stables and handed the official scroll to the stable-master who nodded and walked inside. Moments later, Hideo was riding one of the fastest and darkest stallions in Japan, a dark chestnut coloured horse that featured a plain saddle with no markings on it.

It’s name was Kaze. Wind.

Loyal and steadfast, Kaze was fond of Hideo, despite being one of the lord’s favourite steeds. They had been through several missions now and every time, Kaze bought Hideo home without fail, in the darkness of dusk and galloped back loyally to the lord’s stables.

As Kaze galloped along the road to the rival clan’s castle, Hideo kept his body flat along the dark horse’s torso, only looking up occasionally to see the castle of the Ashikaga clan slowly loom larger and larger in the horizon, until it was all he could see.

Why his lord, from a minor clan was tasked with the assassination of one of the top Ashikaga’s samurais, a man known only as Tadayoshi, was none of Hideo’s concern. All his focus was on feeding his beloved and ensuring their future would be easier than the present.

Touching a tiny jade pendant that Yukie had made for him on the night of their marriage, Hideo felt strengthened by her love and resilience, despite being kilometres away from her.

Slowing Kaze down, Hideo slowly cantered his way towards the camp, before stopping altogether, nearly 1 kilometre away and tying Kaze’s reins to a tree that was part of a large forest that surrounded the base of the Ashikaga castle.

As Ashikaga castles came, this particular one was spacious and well maintained. Situated on a hill that dominated the flat landscape around it, it rose above the tree lines of the curated forest that surrounded it and from the west end, it was easy to spot, as the forest had been cleared to make room for a large training and barracks area that employed the services of 30 samurai retainers.

Adorning the east face of the castle, was a large banner with the simple Ashikaga clan symbol, a black circle with two thick white lines running horizontally across it. The banner hung from the Ashikaga warlord Tadayoshi’s balcony, and was tightened on a lower balcony about halfway up the tall 5 storied building.

An attractive, if atypical castle, Tadayoshi’s personal residence to his small army of samurai retainers and his family was coloured in the typical style of the day, black accented roofs and white walls. A deep moat surrounded the castle, with 2 red drawbridges on the north and south end.

Tadayoshi’s wife, a renowned noblewoman from Kyoto, had done her best to soften the harsh military aesthetic, by hanging hundreds of lanterns that ran across the moat. At night, on special occasions, they were a spectacular light show that allowed many visitors to see the white bodies of wild carp that patrolled the moat.

From the moat, a straight footpath lead into the living areas of the samurai, which featured several long wooden cabins with square windows on the left side of the compound and a large stable with an ample courtyard for the horses to graze and wander.

Opposite the living quarters, was the training area, where bows, swords and spears were neatly lying in wait on racks and several dummies were propped up, awaiting abuse.

Towards the main gate, which was southwards, there was a large empty space with an Ashikaga vertical banner planted in the ground, no doubt, the staging area where Tadayoshi would give his men a speech and briefing before going on their sorties.

Hideo studied everything for a solid two hours, perched atop the tallest tree in the dark forest, trying to make out as much detail as possible.

The full moon that shone over the surroundings, helped enormously with his vision, a big reason why Hideo chose this night. It would also have an added bonus of drawing Tadayoshi out of his castle, as he was famous for creating haikus in honour of the moon, when it was a particularly auspicious occasion.

Using his thin axes to climb down again, Hideo set off towards his target, moving silently between trees. It was midnight now, and the night was going to be the darkest it would ever be.


The sole samurai that guarded the main gate would later swear before the Ashikaga’s head daimyo that he saw nothing, before committing ritual suicide for his failure.

This was the truth, because Hideo was never near the main gate. His long observation of the castle had revealed an even better route. On the eastern side of the castle compound, close to the living quarters of the samurai retainers, was where the forest was most dense. Indeed, upon closer inspection, Hideo actually found the secret door that Tadayoshi and his family would use in an emergency.

This door, was cleverly disguised to be a part of the wall, but for a small seam that denoted its status. Pushing it in, Hideo was astonished to see that it swung open and was just big enough for him to crawl through.

Lying flat against the grassy ground, Hideo noted that he was at the back of the living quarters, which thankfully featured no windows. Controlling his breathing, he silently shut the trapdoor and reached into one of his pouches, where he pulled out a bag of caltrops. Careful to not scatter them directly in front to the trapdoor, Hideo gave a solid metre gap before placing 5 of them down carefully.

Sneaking away, Hideo peered round the corner, noting two samurais who were talking softly to each other. Muttering quietly to himself, he looked up and noted the height of the roof above him.

Taking a couple of steps back, Hideo gave himself a running start and charged the wall, where with a silent press off his foot, he launched himself up, and grabbed the roof, hoisting himself up.

Choosing each step with care, Hideo crouched along the roof, staying as low as possible and waiting until the samurai had their backs turned to him.

Without hesitating, he launched himself from the roof and landed on the next adjoining roof, his feet scrabbling slightly for purchase on the sloped roof.

He froze, uncertain whether he made a lot of noise.

Nothing happened.

Sighing quietly in relief, he kept making his way along the rooftop, this time on a belly crawl. He was getting deeper and deeper into the compound, so the chances of him being spotted was exponentially growing.

Every couple of minutes, Hideo would pause and listen, smell or look for any sign of alarm. Fortunately and unfortunately for him, tonight was one of celebration, so Tadayoshi’s wife had requested every lantern and light in the compound to be lit up, for a gay and festive atmosphere.

It was beneficial, because up high, his silhouette would be darker and harder to spot against the roof, owning to how bright the lights were.

It also would make his ascent to the castle extremely difficult. Knocking lanterns into the moat along the way would immediately alert everyone.

But there was no other way.

To get to the line that strung all the lanterns up to the balcony of the castle, meant that Hideo had to risk a quick dash across 50 metres of open ground to the 4 metre tall wooden pole.

Patiently waiting and noting the routes of the guards, whose movements were relaxed and ambling, Hideo swore silently when he noted that one particular guard was constantly stopping by the pole to take breaks in his patrol.

With time running out, Hideo knew he had to make decision soon.

Reluctantly, he reached into his belt and pulled out the thin bamboo reed.

With gloved fingers, he took out one of his blow darts, whilst simultaneously pulling out a tiny bottle.

Dipping the tip into the bottle, he carefully placed it into the reed and aimed the blowpipe at the guard’s neck.

With barely a sound, the tiny dart flew out of the reed and pierced the nape of the guard who was making his way towards Hideo’s hiding spot on the roof.

Snatching at his neck with his hand, which inadvertently jabbed the dart in further, the guard look up with a look of horror as he saw a shadow move above him.

He tried to draw his sword, but the poison had already entered his bloodstream and was playing havoc with his nervous system.

Hideo jumped down noiselessly in front of the guard, his kusarigama drawn and without hesitation, flicked the chain over the man’s neck and began to tighten it, whilst dragging the struggling guard back towards the pole, where there were bushes nearby.

The guard’s struggles soon began to fade and Hideo loosened the knot, and checked the guard’s face, which was contorted grotesquely, his tongue a strange shade of grey, his eyes bloodshot and drool coming out of his mouth.

Careful to layer the bushes over the guard, Hideo paused for a second to check his surroundings, before taking out his thin axes and leaping onto the pole. Like a giant bug, Hideo slowly ascended the pole, before tucking the axes in his belt and reaching out for the wire that held all the lanterns.

Testing the strength, Hideo was relieved when it barely budged under his furiously yanking.

Crawling along the lantern wire was an exhausting task. His legs were wrapped right around the wire, whilst his hands slowly shimmied his torso along. Whenever he came across a lantern, he would relax his legs, looping his ankles and using his fingertips, allow the hot lantern to pass over his head, through the loops on his arms and legs.

It was a precarious climb, one that only got harder as the wire got higher and higher.

But Hideo made it. It took longer than he anticipated, but he was now hanging directly above the viewing balcony.

Inside, he could hear the sounds of music, the gay sounds of laughter. It sounded like Tadayoshi was hosting a moon party to celebrate the beauty of its full nature.

He waited patiently. Stealth was a waiting game. The process was not meant to be rushed.

Hearing or sensing nothing below him, Hideo loosened his grip and dropped to the balcony, noiselessly.

He immediately slid to the side of the door, staying crouched and peering through the open door.

The design of the Ashikaga Castle was striking. It was vertically oriented, with the 5 floors getting smaller and smaller as they neared the top. Staircases connected each floor, the “ground” itself, slabs of wood that were polished to a high sheen.

Banners, kimonos and swords adorned many of the walls, the colours of the Ashikaga clan prevalent amongst all the upholstery. The first two floors were actually the dining area, with an upper recess for private conversations, which was where the viewing balcony was.

The third floor was the training area, which was lined with hard reed mats, whilst above that was the private study of Tadayoshi, with scrolls neatly spaced on shelves and an ornate calligraphy table for his haikus.

The final space was the living quarters. Tatami mats lined the area luxuriously and there was a small window that opened out to the roof to allow natural light through.

Hideo crept out from the balcony, staying low. He peered over the lip of the recess and looked down at the party.

Around 25 people were in attendance. Most were samurai retainers with Tadayoshi’s wife entourage in tow, chatting amongst themselves. The men were seated cross-legged on tatami mats, bent at the waist, hunched over their small writing tables, doing their best to write haikus, espousing the beauty of the moon and how it shone on the castle.

As the men furiously wrote on their scrolls, the women would soothingly pour tea, before retreating and chatting quietly amongst themselves.

Tadayoshi’s wife, a classic city beauty, with ultra-pale skin and dark hair, lorded over the proceedings, her scarlet kimono shimmering under the lamp light. She teased the men who were struggling, whilst providing subtle encouragement, as she moved amongst the tables, judging the progress of the haikus.

So where is Tadayoshi then? thought Hideo.

Then he heard the the subtle sound of a brush being dropped above him.

Hideo felt his chest tighten in excitement.

This was too good to be true. Tadayoshi, alone, in his study, away from everyone, eager to create the best haiku out of all his retainers.

Silently making his way up the stairs, Hideo peered and breathed a sigh of relief at the empty space, the training room devoid of any movement or sound.

Placing each foot carefully in front of each other, Hideo crossed the open space and looked upwards, to see light shimmering through the cracks of the floor.

Tadayoshi was there. Hideo could see the Ashikaga’s warlord sitting at his ornate calligraphy desk, struggling over his haiku, his fierce face stretched into a scowl of intense concentration.

Only a solitary guard stood at the top of the staircase, waiting his lord with respectful admiration.

Looking behind him, Hideo winced slightly and crept back to the staircase he had climbed and placed the remainder of his caltrops on the steps and top of the stairs. He wasn’t taking any chances.

Taking a deep breath, Hideo walked towards the staircase that would bring him close to his target.


The samurai guard never heard Hideo climb up the stairs. Blinding pain wrapped itself around his throat and flung him down the stairs, where Hideo used the Kusarigama’s sickle to cut his throat.

Hideo charged up the stairs, and was just in time to see Tadayoshi look up in shock, his handsome featured contorted into a war-like scowl.

Hideo dodged to the side, as Tadayoshi flicked his calligraphy brush towards him. The brush whistled past and Hideo glared at Tadayoshi who now stood tall, his hands gripping his large katana.

Silence descended on the pair. Hideo unsheathed his smaller wakazashi short sword and moved towards the centre of the room.

The two men sized each other up.

Then their attention was broken by a plaintive call.

The loyal retainer was somehow still alive. His gurgling was now almost a yell.

Help … our lord! gasped the retainer to the party below, as he threw his sword down.

The loud crash the sword made as it clattered down the stairs and then into the haiku party shocked everyone.

Suddenly everyone blazed into action.

The men roared into action, their hands gripping their swords, upturning tables and charging up the stairs. Their war cries reverberated through the castle. Tadayoshi smiled smugly.

Hideo seized his chance. He leapt forwards and was immediately met with the steely defence of Tadayoshi. They danced around the private study, the floor barely enough for the two combatants.

Hideo would lunge, his wakazashi held high and sweeping down. Tadayoshi, knowing his men were coming, would defend, moving his legs away, an amused look on his face. For he had an distinct advantage, his longer katana ensuring Hideo had to commit further to his attacks, thus revealing his moves earlier.

They were barely 30 seconds into the fight, but Hideo felt desperation and tiredness start to creep into his arms. Then he made a mistake, he over-committed to an overhead cut. Tadayoshi smelled his opportunity and took it.

Without hesitating, Hideo leapt backwards as he saw Tadayoshi’s riposte come straight for his head. As the warlord’s blade came sweeping down, past his hips, Hideo grabbed one of his throwing knives, and with a flick of his wrist, slammed the kunai into the exposed warlord’s foot.

The warlord fell for his feint.

The big samurai roared in pain. Reversing his grip, he swung upwards with his katana, nearly taking Hideo’s head off, as he anxiously looked behind him at the staircase where heavy footfalls were increasing in intensity.

Gritting his teeth, as he turned his attention back at the warlord, Hideo slammed his wakazashi back into his scabbard, and simultaneously drew his kusarigama. Tadayoshi was too skilled a swordsman to keep this fight going.

He had to finish this now.

Hideo spun the kusarigama in a blur of steel, before flinging the curved sickle towards Tadayoshi. The warlord scowled, as he caught the vicious blade and chain combination with his sword.

The sickle wrapped itself around the blade, and Hideo made a vicious downward motion, causing Tadayoshi to loosen his grip on his katana.

For a second, the Ashikage warlord was exposed.

It was enough.

Hideo grabbed all of his throwing stars with a smooth practised motion off his belt, and with his left hand flicked them all.

Schwick, schwick, schwick!

The 7 bladed stars made a sickening sound as they embedded themselves into the warlord’s chest and face. 3 of them alone found his face, the fearsome, handsome scowl, disappearing under the onslaught of stars.

Blood splattered outwards, and Tadayoshi took his final breath as he toppled onto his back, the poison on the stars causing immediate asphyxiation. As the Ashikage’s warlord body dropped to the floor, the first screams of pain from the charging army of retainers echoed loudly as their feet were viciously cut open by Hideo’s caltrops.

Hideo, scanned his surroundings furiously and decided the only way out was up. He dashed up the stairs to Tadayoshi’s private room and just as he reached the top, the first overeager samurai came running, his crazed expressions, baying for blood.

Hideo, didn’t hesitate and threw a kunai right at the man, who stumbled backwards, stunned as the knife buried itself 3 inches into his forehead, causing the 4 men behind him to trip over as well.

Sprinting for the tiny window that allowed moonlight to spill into the private quarters, Hideo slammed his thin axes into the wood and climbed his way up to the open window and crawled through, barely fitting through.

Ignoring the frenzied cries of rage inside, Hideo was momentarily stunned to be standing atop the Ashikage castle. The view was spectacular, with the moon shining brightly on the lush green forest and the brightly lit lanterns.

Shaking off his awe, Hideo leapt down to the next parapet of the castle and kept repeating the motion, until he came to the bottom floor. Seeing the drawbridges had been drawn up, and that the lanterns were now too obvious an escape route, Hideo looked down at the moat.

Water swirled gently as Hideo could see huge carp moving the black depths.

But the walls of the moat could be scaled with his axes.

Taking a deep breath, Hideo braced himself and dove into the murky depths.

Immediately the shock of the cold water, nearly drove all the air out of his lungs, but Hideo steadied himself and kept diving before surfacing, making his way for the other side of the moat.

He stifled a scream of surprise, as a carp rubbed itself along his leg, its cold heavy body knocking him off his intended course.

Swimming faster now, Hideo reached into his belt and slammed his thin axes into the gaps of the stone moat wall, and fished himself out of the water, shivering and relieved to get away.

Taking a breather, Hideo climbed out of the moat, and peered over the edge.

The entire castle was now on high alert. Samurais were stationed everywhere, and there was a sense of rage and urgency suffusing the once festive atmosphere.

But there was no-one directly looking at Hideo, and the empty space between him and the emergency escape route.

Seizing his chance, Hideo rushed across the empty space, ignoring the wet footprints he left behind and stealthily avoiding the caltrops he left at the secret exit, he opened the door, clicked it shut before rushing through the forest.

He had gotten away.


The ride onboard Kaze was slow but uneventful. Hideo found himself hunched close to Kaze for warmth, as he tried to dry himself as quickly as possible after the cold waters of the moat.

Exhausted, Hideo whispered to Kaze encouragingly, but soon was asleep.

Hours later, Hideo awoke to vigorous shaking.

Opening his eyes, he was astonished to see Yukie staring at him, her brown eyes and pale face, haggard after a night of little sleep.

A soft blanket covered his bare chest, and he could feel the warmth of the fire nearby, restoring strength to his tired body.

Yukie? asked Hideo as he sat up. How …

The question died, as Yukie, unable to contain herself, hugged him tightly, tears of relief streaming down her cheeks.

Hideo felt a strange calm as he held Yukie tightly to his chest, and closed his eyes.

They would survive for another moment.

Hideo and Yukie stayed that way for the rest of the night, their silent relief slowly giving way to love by the fire.

Author’s note:

This story took me forever to finalise, simply because I had no real idea where I was going with it.

In addition, I was stuck on a very simple question: How do you write stealth in an exciting way that is tense and engaging?

As you can probably tell, I more or less gave up and ventured back into familiar “action” territory at the end. I also came to the conclusion that a fight between the target and main protagonist was much more fun to read than a silent kill.

No wonder there aren’t many stealth books out there …

Anyway, I’m glad to have put the finishing touches to this story and move onto the next one!

Until then!

~ Damocles.

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