Chiharu stepped back as her mind went blank in complete confusion. She couldn't understand what was happening or how it was possible. It froze her body with her tanto falling slightly from its previous defensive position. The electricity charged down through the hall at her slower than its natural counterpart, but still too fast to outrun. ‘…grandfather…’
An explosion of the lightning reached its target blanketing the entire area in white light before fading into a dust cloud. The scene was unreadable, but the Head of the Higoshi Clan still pulled up a wide grin in expectation of a bloody sight. “I don’t know who hired you, but it was your mistake to think that you could take the Head of the Higoshi Clan!” He gave a brief laugh, pleased with himself and the demonstration of their new power.
The thick dust in the air slowly began to settle from the ignited state. All that could be seen was a thick spread of blood on the mats and walls. Chiharu’s body was still masked by the stubborn cloud. It was enough for the middle-aged man to turn away in assurance that the threat had been eliminated. “Weaklings such as you can no longer exist in this new world!” He walked back into his room leaving the mess to be cleaned up by his men.
Chapter 69 – Blood Stained Shadow
Once everything had finally settled, the guarded ninja stood up straight from his attack. He had hit both of the assassins. Tamotsu laid over top of Chiharu and blood sprayed against the walls and floor. The man stepped forward moving to confirm his kills and if need be end their fading lives. There was not an immediate sign of life from the two bodies in his approach. However, he wouldn't leave it to chance leaning down to check on Tamotsu.
His hand reached out to the neck looking for a pulse, but an arc flashed in front of him taking him back. Another sudden arc lunged at him forcing him to jump away to safety. When he checked on his arm there was a thin line of blood from the initial strike. “Still alive…”
The body on top of the child began to move looking as though he was recovering. It pulled the ninja into a defensive stance watching the situation before making an attack, now questioning his options since it had not managed to kill one of the assassins. Soon his original assessment changed, seeing that the assassin was not so much moving as it was being shifted away. The child pulled up resting the other assassin on their back and leaned over examining the body. “I see now…you were protected by the other one…”
Chiharu spared a momentary glare for the guard that attacked them. ‘I couldn’t move…’ She internally chastised herself while trying to see if Tamotsu was alive or not. There had been no more signals from the rest of her men. The thought of another death choked her throat. ‘…Tamotsu, you protected me… I’m still so useless… Grandfather and now you…’
A dull cough shook through Tamotsu’s body harsh enough to increase some of the blood flow spilling out of him. It gave enough hope back to Chiharu. She stood up and turned to face the guard, her eyes narrowed fiercely. “I’ll make you pay for that!” Chiharu’s tanto was borne in front of her with the tip of the blade dripping blood that it had freshly tasted.
The ninja smirked back, becoming amused by the scene. “A child is threatening me? You should just run away now. This is no place for a child trying to play at ninja.”
“I’m no child! I’m a ninja!”
“Your words taint and dishonor its proud heritage. Stop now before you make me angry.”
“You can’t talk of dishonor after what you people did!” Chiharu quickly made the man just as enraged as she.
The man gave her a questioning stare for a moment before snapping back at her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, child! You’re really starting to piss me off!”
“You can’t deny it! I know the truth!”
“You don’t know anything, kid!”
Chiharu became dragged into the man’s denial. The thoughts of her grandfather only served to fuel her inferno that burned inside her heart. Chiharu’s body began to move on its own, reacting to her emotions when something suddenly took hold of her ankle. She turned down to see that Tamotsu strained his hand to get her attention. ‘…Tamotsu…’
“…it’s pointless…to…argue with…him…they’ll never…admit to it…” Tamotsu coughed through the cloth mask that covered his face. The pain from speaking was enough to send his body into convulsions.
Chiharu leaned down to Tamotsu trying to look more closely at how serious his injuries were for him. “Don’t talk anymore, just rest.” She placed a hand on his shoulder. ‘I don’t know how bad he is, but I have to get him out quickly. I doubt that they’ll let me leave so easily despite his attitude.’ Chiharu rose back to stare down the man with the strange powers lifting her tanto back up into a defensive stance. ‘I don’t know what strange tricks he’s using, but I won’t be able to take another… I’ll have to keep him from using it again…’
“So the child has a plan?” The ninja held a very confident tone that could easily be mistaken for arrogance, which it perhaps was a little. He mocked her stance by taking a very weak offensive position. “If he couldn’t take my Clawing Lightning what makes you think you can?!” His hands began to move to press together when Chiharu suddenly released a kunai at the man forcing him to dodge out of the way.
Another attempt was begun by the man to initiate his attack, but Chiharu sprinted to close the distance while he had been evading her first throw. ‘Kid’s fast and smart in reading my moves already…guess I can’t take the child lightly…’ He dodged effortlessly out of Chiharu’s thrust with her tanto.
Chiharu spun around expecting that her first attempt would fail and planned for the position that he would move to. The ninja came to a stop at his evasion, but was left in a momentary shock to see Chiharu fluidly following up her strike. ‘I’ve got him! I read him perfectly! This is it, grandfather!’
There was a hint of a pleased smile that pulled across her face as her sword quickly came to striking. The blade left an arc through the man’s entire midsection still holding surprising across his face. Chiharu straightened herself up taking a measured breath while her eyes began to turn for her next target.
A flash of blood sprayed into the air as Chiharu staggered forward suddenly feeling a sharp pain in her shoulder. ‘What’s going on?! Is it the other guards?’ While she struggled to recover her balance she turned her head trying to analyze the situation. Across the hall at the doors to the Head of the Higoshi Clan stood the same three guards remained unmoved. ‘It wasn’t them? Who?’ Chiharu tripped her foot a little, still caught off guard by the pain.
A swift breeze behind Chiharu formed into a shadowed figure. “Confused, child?”
“What?!” Chiharu spun around only to be too late. Another quick flash dug into her lower back knocking her balance off and almost bringing her to the floor. Blood slowly dripped down her back gluing the fabric to her skin. ‘How’s he still standing?!’
The man appeared behind her once again. Chiharu had only a second to react to the impending blade aimed to pierce her through her back into the heart. His blade sank into skin drawing an annoyed disgusted expression from him. Chiharu stumbled away from the man slamming against the wall for support as she painted it with her blood.
‘She’s got good reflexes, shifting her body enough to avoid the fatal blow. No matter, she’s at her limit.’ He revealed his own short sword that he had been using with lightning speed and precision against Chiharu. “You thought if you could keep me from using my Clawing Lightning that you could win didn’t you? I don’t need it to take someone like you. My speed will be enough.”
Chiharu coughed in pain feeling the deep wound that penetrated into her back. She had been fortunate it missed both her lungs and heart, but it still howled greatly. Her labored breathing fought with the pain that she fought to remain in control. “Speed? That another trick of yours?”
“No trick, child. It’s natural speed. We told you the world was no longer the same. Normal humans haven’t a chance!” He charged straight for Chiharu going for the final blow with his sword, but Chiharu rolled to the ground and out of the way. It didn’t sway his move as his eyes followed her movement and reacted quickly changing his line of attack.
An arch of blood sprayed from a shallow wound at Chiharu’s thigh. She forced down her shock at the ninja’s agility to keep herself going. All she could be allowed was a defensive position falling back with each swing made at her. Despite her best efforts every single attempt she made to avoid a wound failed leaving her littered with shallow wounds across her body. ‘I think…I’m starting to see his movements…somehow…’ Chiharu rested on one knee from the most recent of the vicious assaults.
The man narrowed his eyes as he took a moment to read the situation. ‘I keep missing…how? It’s just a normal child! Even trained, I should be faster, but my accuracy keeps getting worse!’ Confusion started to settle into his mind as he grew frustrated with his continued failure. It started to feel like the fight became evenly matched the further he analyzed the movements. ‘This child can’t be my equal! It’s not possible! It’s just a kid!’
Chiharu tried to calm her breathing that had become out of control. A prolonged battle wasn't what she was accustomed to let alone real combat. It was going to have to end soon for her. ‘I have to end it, but I don’t know how. He’s too fast for me to even land a blow.’ Chiharu clutched the hilt of her tanto preparing for her final act.
Both charged in with the man trying to use his speed to get around Chiharu for a back attack once more. Sparks flew from the clash of the two blades as Chiharu managed to catch up with his strike. He backed off and disappeared trying for her once again, however she was able to match him. It fell into quick and rapid collisions of metal sparking and chipping from the force being brought to bear with weapons not intended for such powerful strikes.
Chiharu kept pace with the man and felt as though she could do a little better. She went for an offensive strike, but missed him, taken off balance by the increase in speed not accustomed to it yet.
The man turned to prepare to strike Chiharu, but couldn’t find her. “What’s going on?” He searched around through the hall desperate to find Chiharu with sweat starting to build in the mounting tension. Even if Chiharu moved quickly he knew that she had to come out eventually, but it concerned him that there had not been an attack yet. It felt as though she was nowhere in the hall. He started to back away trying to hold himself into a defensive position. “Something’s wrong here…”
Everything was black. ‘What’s going on? Where am I?’ Chiharu tried to look around the hall that she thought that she was in, but all she could see was endless darkness. It felt empty and yet too full for her to stay. ‘Is this another one of that man’s tricks?’ She tried to move and felt as though her legs were acting while it didn't change her position.
Chiharu blinked her eyes, suddenly feeling like she was seeing a light. The light grew stronger expanding in front of her until an image appeared like a portal for her. She could see the man with his flank completely opened to her. The feeling that she had at that moment as she reached through was one that couldn't explain. It was like a reflex or instinct.
Her sword hand stretched out to the portal and pressed through. The whole moment felt distant like she was a third party watching as the ninja jumped away holding his side bleeding. ‘He’s panicked? Bleeding, but how? What just happened?’ Chiharu tried to focus back on herself to break out of the disembodied feeling that she was having.
The view that she had of the ninja suddenly changed looking up at him like she was on the ground somehow. Her instincts took over again and reached out towards the image. Another arc of blood came off the man from his leg as he leapt back looking cornered. ‘Am I doing that? Is that me? How is this possible?’
Chiharu started to panic, as she couldn't answer any of the questions. The strange magic in front of her threatened to destroy everything she understood. Her rational mind couldn’t accept what was happening. She tried to run towards the image hoping it was an exit.
“Is this that child’s doing? Does the child have powers too?” He frantically searched for Chiharu, still confused. It all happened so fast that he was afraid she might be far faster than he could imagine. As he turned to check his flank Chiharu appeared coming towards him out of the wall with her tanto held out. In his state, he couldn’t react quickly enough, forced to take the sword’s blade through his chest. He slowly collapsed to the ground unmoving as Chiharu rested on him breathing heavily.
Chiharu turned her head up and looked around quickly to get her bearings. “I’m back! And he’s…” She looked down the hall towards the three remaining guards that appeared to be shaken from the sudden reversal in the situation. The sword jerked free unceremoniously from the man’s body echoing through the corridor snapping the remaining guards out of their paralysis.
“The kid took down Takeo!” stammered the guard on the left that appeared ready to flee.
The guard in the middle punched him in the face for his cowardice. “It’s our job to protect this door regardless of who it is!”
“Right and the kid’s already injured!” It seemed to be their signal to pull out a fully-automatic machine gun each. The clicking from the guns flicked Chiharu’s eyes up reading the situation. She disappeared the moment that the guards opened fire with a heavy stream of bullets. In the seconds after their guns sounded off the directions changed as blood sprayed out from their bodies before collapsing to the floor from multiple wounds. The last of the bullet casings bounced on the mats as Chiharu re-appeared facing the sliding door.
Chiharu threw open the doors with her arms spread out. Her breath heavily paced still and her body only held together by adrenaline. Across the large lightly furnished room sat in a meditative position was the middle-aged man that she had been seeking. “Yoshikazu Higoshi! I’ve come to take your life!”
“Hrmph!” He barely opened his eyes towards her. The look of disinterest was heavily set in his face. “You, a child, think you can kill me! Burn in hell!” His eyes suddenly glowed red sharply before the entire air in the room seemed to be blown out followed by massive waves of heat that burned across Chiharu’s face. She felt as though there was a force pushing her back struggling to keep her balance. A moment later everything ignited at once into fire.
The windows blew out with flames shattering them instantly. Immediately after, the roof over the room exploded upwards into the night sky destroying everything in the room. An enraged flame towered over the mansion pushing into the high canopy of the forest itself. Even after much of the initial blast calmed, there was still a threatening force blowing out from the epicenter as Yoshikazu Higoshi appeared unharmed. He looked about the settling flames that began to recede from their unnatural ignition. “Escaped huh? Tch!”
Appearing out of the ground deep in the forest was Chiharu with Tamotsu over her shoulder. She looked back at the fire that illuminated the dark trees. “I failed tonight… But this won’t be the end…”
Morning arrived for the Chinen Estates leaving a deafening silence through the mansion. The death of many of the men had left the remaining feeling uneasy. It was no longer certain if they would be able to defend from attacks. Their only comfort was knowing that their night raid had left the Higoshi Clan in disarray and at an equal loss of men, but there was still a third clan. The Kenkyusha Clan was the strongest of the three clans and with both of the weakened positions of the other clans the threat of attack from them was without question.
Everyone feared a new ninja war.
“Tamotsu…” Chiharu, heavily bandaged, looked down at his body resting in his futon. She managed to only get him out safely from the failed mission. All of the men that she had lost were running repeatedly through her mind torturing her last nerves.
Tamotsu stirred from his sleep and opened his eyes to see Chiharu next to him. “Lady Chiharu…you’re safe…”
She nodded stiffly back to him. “Yes, but the mission was a failure and I’ve allowed my men to die and you to become injured because of my incompetence as a leader.”
“Enough!” Tamotsu coughed sharply from the strain, but forced himself to control his body’s pain. “You have failed no more than I have in keeping you safe from harm.”
“…I’m still too weak to avenge my grandfather’s, but I’ll become stronger Tamotsu. Strong enough so that you don’t have to protect me. Strong enough so that I can protect my men!” Chiharu’s face hardened in determination as she looked down at him. There was an eased look that came across Tamotsu as he relaxed in his futon.
Out in the forest of the Chinen Estates, two figures stood out of sight of the mansion and the perimeter guard. “That’s quite the show you’re putting on, Tamotsu…”
Tamotsu looked up flatly staring at the man. “Those three are not the only ones to have discovered strange powers. I don’t know why it’s happened, but the stage has been set now. Both Clans are weak and ripe for invasion. War shall be coming soon.”
“Yes, the end of the Clans will be soon.”
“I’m concerned about the power that the Head of the Higoshi Clan displayed. It could still prove a problem to the plans. Be sure to investigate thoroughly any new powers that develop within the Higoshi Clan. We’ll need to know everything before the next move can be made.”
“Still being cautious… This is our trump card…”
“It’s not a trump card if everyone has one though… I won't allow overconfidence and arrogance destroy the plan that we’ve labored so long for.”
“Understood!” The man disappeared from the tree branch he rested on leaving Tamotsu alone once more.
Tamotsu looked back in the direction of the mansion. ‘I must see more of her power, it could be problematic… She’s still soft though…’ He thought back to the previous night from the hidden position he held watching the entire scene play out with his marionette. ‘She was unable to kill the men, still missing the fatal points on purpose… I’ll have to ensure I control her development…’
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