Chapter Seven: Fallen Soul
Yonaguni Islands, Japan
So many thoughts passed through his mind that it was at times difficult to quiet his spirit, to focus only on what needed to be done, and why. His masters had given him a great deal to think about, enough that the assassin felt the boundaries of his imagination taxed to the point of irritation. On one hand he had been sent by his lords to the barbaric and often violent island of Japan to accomplish a definite goal, though on the other, he was being sent after a legend he cared nothing for.
He didn’t know why his superiors wished him to retrieve the unknown sword, though he highly suspected it had to do with consolidating their power, and to further their dominion over China’s greatly contested borders. Not since the time of his forefathers had the warring country ever been truly united, and he saw no indication that it would happen in his lifetime. Standing still upon the floating composite of stout wooden logs that constituted a raft in this part of the world, Li Long scowled as he thought upon the mission he had been sent to complete.
It was beneath him, though it was also his stock and trade.
He had been a warrior in service to his lord for many years now, and had proven him more than a few times in the service of the Emperor. Being sent to assassinate the head of the Vakou pirates that had for so long plundered and troubled the Ming Dynasty was just fine, he could live with such an order. It meant doing what he had been trained to do, what he had been bred to do, but that was all. Being sent as a retrieval hound however was not something he appreciated. If they desired an item found and brought to their step, he would have much preferred that the emperor send forth a courier or similar expert, one whose talents were not wasted upon such an endeavor.
The gentle rocking of the raft was broken in the next moment by the shrill cry of a hawk, somewhere behind him and above. Li Long did not believe in omens, nor did he put much, if any, stock in anything other than what he could see, touch, and hear. His life was not bound by the mystical forces that so many wished to believe in and live by, he was his own master when it came to such matters, and would not allow his thoughts to be influenced in such a manner. Tilting his head up just a bit he could see the rocky walls of the channel that the raft now traversed, the guidance of the oarsman steering them expertly along the swift currents that bore them along. A deep frown creased his lips as he continued to think about his mission, and what he meant to do versus what he surely would do.
Japan was a seriously flawed country in his mind, a place where the damage of civil war was always a possibility, and unity was a fading dream that very rarely ever solidified with any force. Of course, his own country couldn’t be said to be any more unified. China had more than its fair share of problems, though that wasn’t his concern now. At this moment, he was to assassinate the head of the Vakou pirates, though unbeknownst to his lord, he would soon enough decimate the dainyos’s the feudal lords that dominated much of this country.
It was not a part of his orders, though he had decided to do this on his own initiative. It would mean traveling from his current destination, the Yonaguni Islands, back to the main island, though he would make the trip easily, hiding away his own actions from his lord until it was time to return home. He knew his own level of skill, and knew that he could accomplish this mission. And when he did, his actions would be greatly appreciated back home. The Emperor would no doubt shower him with praise, in the appropriate manner, and he would be lauded as a hero.
The raft lurched a bit to the right, catching a swift eddy within the current as Li Long stood absolutely still, allowing his body weight to shift only slightly as he kept his attention fixed straight ahead. Soon enough he would arrive at his destination, and his initial task would be completed. And soon after, the legend of his prowess would begin.
* * *
1 week later…
It had been an eventful week. The head of the Vakou clan had fallen quickly to his masterful tactics, in fact it had been almost an insult how easily he had gained access to the pirate’s stronghold. His weapon, Falcon, had taken many lives without fail and performed as beautifully as always. Many thought little when confronted with the deadly twin flails known as nunchaku, though if one was skilled enough and possessed the strength of arm, the hard wood batons could crush bone and pulp flesh. Li Long had more than a few pairs within the pack he carried, each set wrapped in cloth and well-cared for. Though only in his twenties Li Long was an accomplished warrior, and had taken more than one trophy to incorporate into his weapons over the past several years.
Some were fashioned to remind him of the battles in which he had won the materials that had gone into the implements, while others were merely a hodgepodge of this and that, items that strengthened the weapons in such a way that they were either far more powerful or far more intricate than Falcon. He would always favor his original weapon however, even over the dreadfully powerful weapon he had dubbed Twin Thunder, a set of nunchaku that were created of an extremely dense hardwood and had crafted into their ends razor sharp points of metal that could flay flesh to bone with little effort. Even with all this power at his disposal, Li Long favored the simpler approach.
After disposing of the pirate lord, and thereby dissolving the clan into chaos by dint of the other minor lords arguing over who would take control, Li Long had taken his leave. There was no need to follow up the kill by eliminating any others, they would accomplish such a task all on their own. Instead he had traveled back to the main island, finding passage aboard a rather leaky junk that had taken him on without questions, and with only minimal cost. Intimidation was a useful tool, if one knew how to apply it.
Not a single day had passed after his feet had hit the soil of the island when he had discovered the whereabouts of one of the many lords he still sought. Finding and eliminating the first had been relatively easy, though not entirely satisfying. Though one feudal lord was not always the same as another, he had expected more protection, more prestige, and far more difficulty in finding a single lord within the island’s confines. But the first, Hashiro Metsurame, had been quite easy to locate, and even easier to silence. The ripples that should have emerged from the death of a noble lord should have been far greater, but thus far Li Long had been upon the island for days, and had yet to be fingered for the deed. He had left none alive within the private room of the bath house where he had found the lord, and judging by how poorly the matter had been investigated, he had obviously done a superb job of covering his tracks. It was his trade after all, an assassin who left directions on how to be found was a fool, and one no doubt eager to die.
Li Long was neither.