Happy Holidays!

Posted by on Dec 16, 2016 in Book: Deadly Wish, Ninjas | 0 comments

jktThere’s a wind chill of -23 outside, so here’s a little gift to lift your spirits this chilly holiday season: a quick peek inside Deadly Wish, the upcoming sequel to Deadly Flowers:

Once inside, I shut the door behind me and stood still. It was really the kind of job I needed a dark lantern for, but that would have been too much to smuggle into the house and keep hidden from Goro’s watchful eye. The clothes and the knife had been difficult enough.


I would have to complete this task without using my sight. I closed my eyes, so that I would not distract myself by straining to see. My other senses opened up, like night-blooming flowers. Hearing sharpened. My sense of smell heightened. My skin tingled with eagerness to touch.

I could hear my own breath in my nostrils, my pulse beating against my temples and in my throat. I shifted my awareness outside my own skin and heard leaves brush against the wooden shutters, someone singing a cheerful drinking song, unsteady footsteps scuffling over the road. I heard heavy breathing coming from the room next door, where Master Sakuma slept. Through the thin rice paper of the door, I smelled the sweat on his skin, garlic and pepper and wine on his breath.

It was a pity I had not managed to drug his drink as well, but Goro had left me no chance. The rhythm of the merchant’s breath, steady but not too steady, told me he was genuinely asleep, though not deeply. Any noise could stir him into wakefulness.

I’d have to make no noise, then.

I let the room take shape in my memory. I had only seen it once, but that one time had been enough. I stood without moving until the vision was clear in front of my closed eyes, and then gently slid one bare foot along the floor.

The study was long enough for two mats laid side by side. The sole of my foot found the crack between them, and I followed it. After five steps I stopped, then inched forward until the desk in its alcove bumped against my shin.

I eased myself down so that I was kneeling before it, just as Master Sakuma must every day, calculating his accounts or checking lists of cargo.

My right fingers spread out to brush the mat. Earlier today, Master Sakuma had leaped toward his desk, stretching out his hand. If I could find the spot he had been reaching for…

There. I felt it. The edge of the mat was frayed. I took hold of the worn spot and slowly pulled the woven straw back, exposing the bare floor beneath.

Sakuma snorted in the next room. Quilts rustled and the cotton inside the mattress sighed as he turned over. I held myself motionless as a rock in a rainstorm, letting the sounds of his restlessness wash over me, until he settled into stillness once again.

I rubbed my fingertips together and breathed softly on them, giving them the extra sensitivity of warmth, then began probing gently at the floor.

When a thief had burst into his home, Sakuma’s first move had been toward this place. Toward the window, toward the man with the knife, toward danger. And he was not a man who loved danger. That told me there was something precious here, something he loved almost as much as he loved his own skin.

All I had to do was find it. In darkness and silence. Before anyone could wake and discover that their meek and cringing servant girl was something else entirely.

Each bamboo board was sleek and smooth under my touch. No hint, no clue of anything unusual or out of place—until the fourth board, the one that was raised just slightly higher than its neighbors.

The difference was too small for the eye to catch. But my fingertips had felt it. Now, there must be a lock or a lever somewhere—yes. Simple. When I pressed down on one end of the board, the other end sprang into my waiting hand.

I did not reach at once into the hole I had just uncovered. Instead, I slid my knife out of its sheath and used it to probe the cavity and to locate the three spikes that would have lacerated an eager and careless hand.

Avoiding the spikes, I groped in the hole and felt a soft, heavy bag of quilted silk, bundled with cord, of a size to fit easily in one hand. I plucked it out and untied the drawstrings, reaching inside to feel a tightly furled scroll, a string of coins, and several small, rough stones. Uncut jewels, I guessed. I slid one out, weighed it in my hand, and then tucked it into my mouth, securing it between my gum and upper lip.

Then I retied the bag, careful to use the same knots as before, and stowed it in a helpful pocket inside my jacket. After replacing the board and the mat, I rose to my feet and climbed onto the desk, moving slowly to hush any creaks from wood unaccustomed to such weight.

The loudest sound was my own heartbeat, but I focused my hearing beyond that, Sakuma’s grunts and sighs, out to what was happening in the garden.

Wind. Grasses and the long leaves of bamboo rubbing together. Cicadas shrilling. Footsteps across the earth, the soft sigh made by the woven soles of old sandals. It was Taro. I could tell by the slight hesitation in every other step as his stiff knee took his weight. Wounded in some long-ago battle, the old veteran had been glad to find a job as a guard for a rich merchant who kept a good table.

There came a sigh, and I heard Taro’s hands rubbing together, the dry skin rasping. Even in late spring, the nights could still be chilly. Then his footsteps went on.

I let my breath out slowly and counted ten heartbeats after the last footstep had faded away before I lifted the latch on the shutter and slid it open. With my sandals still over my shoulder, I slipped to the ground, reaching up to close the shutter after me. It was a shame that I could not fasten the latch on the inside, to leave no trace at all of my passing. But from the outside, no one would see the difference.

I did not have to worry about Taro returning soon. I’d spent more than one night crouched silently at a window, and one stretched flat on a rooftop, watching the two guards and learning their habits. Taro spent most of his time by the kitchen door; Chujiro rarely stirred from the front of the house. They walked through the garden now and again, but for the most part they relied on the dogs.

The dogs, that is, who were at that moment racing toward me in the dark.

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