She was traveling with a blasted hunk of a man, his weight on the opposite side of the carriage seemingly making them crawl at a slower pace, if that was even possible. She drew her satin cloak more tightly around her, annoyed. They were both part of the Ansatsusha Union, or the Assassin's Union in English. She was the top assassin of the Union, and always worked alone. This mission was annoyingly different, however. The Silver Crane, the mysterious head of the Union, had insisted that she was to be accompanied by another assassin. That ‘assassin’ had turned out to be this fool. His mere presence was a spot of dirt on her stainless reputation. She wanted to spit in his direction.
He shifted his weight on the uncomfortable carriage bench. The Silver Crane had given him an incredibly important, extremely covert mission. He had accepted with great honor, only to be told that he would have to be accompanied. He stared at his companion. She was a fragile looking thing, dressed haughtily in ruby silk. He wanted to snort. This woman was not made for battle. Tea parties, maybe. He had met brave warrior women before, and she hardly fit the description. He was the top assassin of the Union, and didn’t need this twig of a girl to accompany him.
They travelled through the forest, glaring at each other all the while. The truth was that they were both the top assassins of the Union, matched equally in skill and success. Knowing this, the Silver Crane had paired the two on this mission of utmost importance. They were to steal the Emperor’s own pendant, a relic from the Old Ages. It was worth millions, billions maybe, and was hardly worn by the Emperor. A should-be-easy steal for the two of them, the Crane thought as he wrote the mission for the assassins.
It should indeed have been an easy theft. Fusae, the woman, was an expert in stealth and quick death without gusto. She had killed dozens of men, some without even meeting them. It was clean work, as far as assassinations went. She had never been caught, and had been rewarded graciously for her work. She could have left the Union at any time she wished, for her debt was long paid. But the gleam of the poison bottle and the rustle of silk continued to hold her hostage. She licked her lips, thinking of the gold that would surely spring from stealing the pendant.
Daisuke, the man, was an expert in precisely the opposite kind of murder. He fought fierce and great battles of honor and justice, sending messages to those he considered unworthy. He was from a far away country, an enemy country to Kazuno, the country that he was stuck in. Killing for the Union was doing a favor to his country. He would never do such a thing at home in Kaishi. The Emperor’s necklace was a relic stolen from Kaishi. He would steal it, and use the Union’s contacts to buy his way back home. Daisuke shuddered with the thought of having to buy back his honor. No matter, he thought. What was done was done. He couldn’t fix the past, only apologize for it. The pendant was an object of utmost importance, and would surely allow him entrance back into Kaishi.
The carriage jolted to a stop with a horse’s snort. They had arrived in Yugara, the capital city. They were to stay in a Union safe house until a plan to steal the pendant could be properly drafted and executed. Gathering her extravagant dress, Fusae gracefully swept out of the carriage. She was greeted by a vast woodsy expanse. There was a small cottage there, the Union safe house. She walked inside. Extremely dirty and modest, it had little to no furniture or appliances. But, Fusae knew better than to judge by the visible piece of the home. Strolling around the room, she searched for clues as to where the entrance to the real place might be. Crawling on the dingy floor, her hands traced patterns in the mud, until she finally found the small trademark crane of the Union lightly engraved into the floor. Taking off her Union necklace, she twisted it into the shape. The floorboard opened with a creak.
Daisuke, meanwhile, had been scouring the territory. He checked his map, mentally plotting escape routes and places they could travel to if discovered. Fusae’s head peaked out from the doorframe.
“Hurry up, you big lump. I’ve gotten the entrance open, no thanks to you.” She shouted, smirking. He snarled, running over to the cart and grabbing their baggage. Her case was surprisingly small for such an egotistical woman. He went inside, ducking to avoid hitting his head on the doorframe. A floorboard had been removed, and now sat next to a rectangular hole. He tossed their baggage down into it, too disgruntled to care what it hit. Seconds later, there was a loud thud, followed by a stream of cursing.
“So he’s useless and stupid!” Fusae shouted, clambering out of the hole.
“I have more poisons and smoke bombs in that bag than you could imagine, as thick as you are. And what do you do but toss them into a fifty foot hole? You’re lucky I was careful in the packaging! We could both be dead in an instant!” She finished, seething.
His eyebrows raised in surprise. He didn’t think that a prissy-looking woman like her would carry anything other than clothes in her bag, let alone lethal poisons. Members of the Union hardly knew anything about each other for security reasons, but this was something else.
“Don’t give me that patronizing look. I’ve killed ten times the number of people you have, and yet the Crane pairs us.” She said, gritting her teeth. At his silence, she raised her voice yet again.
“What are you, mute?” She yelled. At that, he chuckled.
First intelligent thing you’ve said all day, he signed to her, undisturbed. Her eyes widened and her cheeks flushed. She grumbled an apology, flashing the sign for ‘sorry’ at him. She climbed back into the hole, and he followed. Because he was a traitor to Kaishi, they had cut out his tongue in payment for his unspeakable crimes. An eye for an eye, in a way.
The underground base was vast and much cleaner than the cover house. As one of the main safe houses, it had about ten other people in it. But with ten separate condos and at least twenty individual living spaces, they were well accommodated. Per Union rule, they weren’t allowed to interact with the others while they were on missions. Although few in the Union were actual assassins, technology developers, expert thieves, mapmakers, hackers, spies, and all sorts of other members were equally as important. Fusae and Daisuke were both assassins and expert thieves, and Fusae also had a technology background. They maneuvered through the halls to their assigned room, and Daisuke opened it with the key the Crane had given him. Ironically, Fusae had gotten the key to the space, and Daisuke had gotten the key to the room. It was as if the Crane knew how much they would rather work alone than together.
A month of careful preparation later, they developed a solid, tested plan. A spy had broken in earlier that year to observe the pendant. It was as the Crane had suspected. It was kept in the royal treasury, on a pile of other precious jewels. It seemed as though even the Emperor himself had no idea how special the amulet was to Kaishi. A smith had prepared a convincing fake. Without the careful examination of a forensic scientist and a historian, no one would be able to tell. Even if they did find out, by then Fusae and Daisuke would be gone without a trace. Fusae was to enter the castle as a poor woman looking to find work as a maid, identity carefully sealed by seemingly old fabric, dye, and carefully placed bruises and scratches. They had tested the plan with a dummy, and the dummy was able to infiltrate the palace without raising suspicions. A dummy was a Union member in training, and without a reputation like a real member’s they could risk getting caught without suggesting the Union’s affiliation. Fusae shuddered thinking about her days as a dummy. The dummy had reported that maids had afternoons off. This meant that after Fusae retrieved the amulet, she would be able to deliver it straight to Daisuke, who would pose as her lover to avoid raising suspicions. She grimaced at the thought. She would break a series of small rules a week after the handoff that would get her fired, and wouldn’t raise any suspicions. There was only one hole in the plan, and they both knew what it was.
Fusae didn’t know why she needed Daisuke. She could easily be in and out, minus the elaborate plan they had reluctantly created and the stupid maid gig. She was stealthy, and could steal the Emperor’s own crown from under his nose if she wanted to. Instead, she would have to split the fortune with this useless fool.
Daisuke didn’t know why he needed Fusae. He wanted to extract revenge from Kazuno for causing him to betray his country. He didn’t want stealth, or a private extraction. He wanted a battle, one that he would easily be left on top of with his expert skills, to show Kaishi his worth. Instead, he was stuck as the messenger boy, only in on delivering the pendent to the Silver Crane. No action for him. The two-way annoyance in the room was almost palpable.
Well, shall we get on with it? Asked Daisuke, signing the words quickly and sharply.
“We shall,” said Fusae, barely sparing a glance at him. She prepared the elaborate disguise. She took the small pocket knife kept in the folds of her dress and strode over to a mirror. Her most noticeable features were by far her small nose, pink lips and wide eyes. Not even stopping to think, she drew the blade against her lips and across her nose, making a series of scratches. Blood welled. She hadn’t cut deep enough to scar, but had cut deep enough for it to look convincing to a palace guard. Now for the eyes, she thought.
“Punch me,” she said sharply, ignoring the small break in her voice. Daisuke raised his eyebrows. She straightened.
“I said, punch me.” And he did. It took all of her strength to stop herself from blocking the attack or flinching. He swung, a powerful punch straight to the eye. Her hand flew up to cover her now wounded eye, head spinning. She could already feel it starting to bruise.
She got dressed in her private quarters. Daisuke watched the door. He had grossly underestimated the woman. To take his punch straight to the eye was no small feat, and to do it without flinching was nearly impossible. He was annoyed to feel a sliver of respect rising for Fusae. He quickly shook himself upon seeing her state.
She was a full mess. She had put on a terribly ugly dress that they found in the safe house earlier, and it clashed horribly with her face. Her hair was in what looked like a horrible attempt at the traditional shimada hairstyle. Dried blood was smeared on her face, and her eye had begun to bruise. They left, walking outside the safe house and into the grubby apartment. She smeared dirt on her face, completing the look. They walked to the castle so as to not raise any suspicions. He then handed her off to a tall impressive-looking male dummy, who then escorted her to the gates. Daisuke left, going back to the safe house to wait for the next week to come.
The man took her to the guards, throwing her mercilessly at their feet. On cue, she started sobbing. The man bowed to the guards, and they bowed in return.
“I found her groveling for food and water. She needs a job. Says she’s good with a needle.” He said. When the guards nodded, casting looks of distaste in her direction, he left without a word.
“Up, girl,” One of the guards said, roughly grabbing her. He escorted her through the gates and into the far left wing of the palace, which was undoubtedly the maids quarters. She continued sobbing, blubbering about how she was so grateful and she just needed this one chance and on and on, all the while secretly smirking about how she could take this guard down in one easy sweep. He tossed her in the maids quarters, where they fawned over her, tending to her wounds and showing her to her new quarters. Is it really this easy? She thought to herself, inwardly laughing. Ah, the kingdom and their relentless ability to underestimate women.
The week went by as planned. She blended in, a seamstress who was average. Not amazing, but not horrible, either. She made many ‘friends,’ all who would eventually become her alibis once the necklace was stolen. Then, not soon enough, it was the night of the theft.
Daisuke strolled the shadows of the capital marketplace restlessly, face covered in disguise. She was supposed to be here by now. Had she forgotten? As utterly stubborn and thick headed as she was, he hoped that the Silver Crane wouldn’t send him on a quest with a person who couldn’t even remember the mission. Then, Daisuke saw her. A hunched figure clothed in tan. But, something was drastically wrong. She was escorted by a pack of ten guards, two of them holding her shoulders. Against him, easy odds. But was she in danger? Fusae came up to him. Her expression was placid, but her eyes screamed for help.
“Hello, Akihiko! I brought you a gift.” She said in a sweet tone.
“These guards thought they might need to escort me. The streets are dangerous, you know. I tried to tell them that you could protect me, but they don’t understand signs.” She finished pointedly, handing him a bundle which undoubtedly carried the pendant. He caught her hidden meaning.
Get ready to duck. Nod if you understand, he signed, a fake look of appreciation plastered on his face. She nodded. In one swift motion, he took up his sword, the blade gleaming, and slit the throats of the two guards. Blood sprayed, coating Fusae’s dress. Screams echoed, and chaos ensued. The vendors ran from the market, afraid to be caught near the scene. The other guards drew their swords and lunged. But they were no match for the two assassins. Daisuke tossed Fusae a dagger. She spun around, blowing the hair out of her eyes.
“We’ll give you ten seconds to run.” She shouted. When no one moved, she quirked an eyebrow.
“Alright. The hard way it is, then.” A guard lunged at her sloppily. She quickly grabbed his sword hand and twisted, forcing him to drop it. She plunged the dagger straight into his exposed heart. Meanwhile, Daisuke cut through men like butter. An expert slice from the left hip to the right shoulder, followed by parrying the blade of a woman attempting to stab his back. He wagged his finger at her, and spun the sword out of her hand. She turned, trying desperately to grab it, but he was too quick. The blade went clean into her sternum, and she collapsed. The remaining three guards tried to run, but they had been discovered. No man or woman was to be left alive. Fusae finished one with a throw of her dagger, and Daisuke ended the two after a brief chase.
They stood atop the carnage, breathing heavily. There was no time to recover, however. They had minutes until they were found. They couldn’t return to the safe house for a risk of being discovered.
I know a place, Daisuke signed.
“I’ll follow your lead, then,” said Fusae, her nose flaring. She hated following, but what she hated even more was the trust that was beginning to form between them.
They moved for miles in the shadows, shopkeepers not even noticing the presence of intruders. They finally reached the base of a mountain. They climbed for a short while, until Daisuke led Fusae to a cave. It was dry and empty, and they would be able to safely camp there for a night. They sat in silence, scrubbing the dried blood off of their hands.
“Package?” Fusae asked. Daisuke took the package out from under his breastplate and dropped it in front of them. They stared at the pendant for a while, the object worth millions. As usual, Fusae interrupted the silence.
“You saved me back there. They had installed more security since the dummy went in. The royal jewels had a rotating staff of guards, and they suspected when they saw me cross that corridor one two many times,” she said gruffly.
No problem. Daisuke signed. You know, you’re tougher than I gave you credit for. He stopped, embarrassed by the admission. She smirked, returning to her old self.
“What, didn’t believe my kill streak?” She asked, lowering the sleeve of her dress to reveal a long tally of scars. He smirked back, lowering his sleeve to show an almost identical row.
“I know you want to return the amulet to Kaishi,” she said quietly, looking at his arm. He dropped it, frowning. “And, you can have it. The gold can wait another day. We’ll work something out with the Crane.”
He smiled, small at first, but it grew wider. He raised his hands.
I’m Daisuke, he signed, then held out his hand to shake hers.
“Fusae,” she said, gripping his hand. They shook, a sign of the end of an adventure and the beginning of a legacy.