25th July 2073
a quiet woman
abides the storms around her
three leafs are falling
Every thief knows how dangerous it is to steal from a House as noble and honorable as the Saito Clan. The temptations of a Lord's riches might be great, and just as every mountain can be climbed, every treasure can surely be stolen. But no matter how nimble your hands or how fast your feet, not a single night you will sleep without the fear of revenge after stealing from the high and mighty. And still, from time to time, some desperate souls convince themselves that they could get away unseen.
It was an early morning when Mrs Saito assembled three of her men in the garden to ask a favor of them. A treasure most dearly to her has been stolen some nights ago, and after going through the events over and over in her head, a Quiet Woman who was among the guards that day stuck out to her. The guardsmen were asked for her whereabouts, so that the Woman could be brought in front of the Lady for questioning, but she had left the guard again already. Should there be a chance to retrieve the lost treasure, the Woman had to be found, and this Lady Saito asked of the three men.
The Swordsman was old, but not once had he revoked his promise to protect his Lady's honor.
The Rider was young and hotheaded, but rumored to be the best man in the saddle and ready for every opportunity to prove it.
The Monk was in a dark pact with the spirit world, but eager to repay the Lady for the shelter she provided for him in times of need.
Even though they formed an unlikely team, each man was determined to fullfill the task at hand. The shame of the stolen heirloom was weighing heavy on the Saito Family, but there was still time to set things right if only they would be able to bring the Quiet Woman to court.
The Woman was not easy to track at first. It was only after gathering information from all their sources that the location of a road she frequently traveled became known to the three men. And so they agreed to meet at a crossroads and wait for their target on the following day.
The Rider offered to bring horses for the team. He was surely the one among them who had the best eye for a fine mount. When the Samurai arrived in armor and equipped for battle at the crossroads, he was quite baffled at first, for the horses the Rider brought were obviously of Korean breed and rather untypical for a proud Japanese fighter like himself. Even more confused should he become when the horseman kept ensuring him that of course the animals would be from their own fatherland. Could the Warrior trust the Rider at his side? Was he mistaken the horses' breed himself, or was the man in front of him deliberately fooling him?
It was in that moment that their comrade appeared to join the party in wait. A finely dressed man in the prime of life, not as much resembling a Monk now than when they first met in the Saito Gardens. The sword at his side went well with the tattoos on his skin that the man did not try to hide. It was clear that the Monk was not only in contact with shadowy spirits, but the political underworld as well. One could imagine a samurai shocked by such company, but the Swordsman was already used to the men Mrs Saito surrounded herself with from time to time and would not let his trust in her decisions grow any smaller. They should all concentrate on the task at hand and focus their strengths.
“There she is!”, the Rider suddenly screamed after what felt like an aeon of waiting. The men immediately jumped into the saddles and found themselves in pursuit of the Quiet Woman, who was riding her mysterious horse in front of them. The animal must have been from the high north, judging by the looks of it, for it was almost twice as large as the Korean horses and wore heavy armor above its sturdy body. Luckily for the Men, it lacked their speed, and so they could easily close in.
The Monk closed his eyes and moments later, a ghost appeared right next to the Woman, beginning to suck the very life force out of his target. The Swordsman drew his balde and tried to reach the Woman for close combat, but behold, a multitude of crows suddenly swarmed around the Quiet Woman and began to attack the Men with unforeseen power, their beaks piercing directly into the flesh. Again and again and again, the Swordsman was thrown down, every time rising to his feet moments later and picking up the blade once more. If confronted with a decision between fight or flight, the samurai's code of honor describes the worthy to face death without consideration. The Swordsman did not cower once in his life, nor would he start to do so now.
Seeing his struggles, the Monk drew a bow from the horse's satchel and fired at the Woman, knowing well that they had to bring her in alive, but aiming to injure her enough to stop the resistance. No such thing was on the Woman's mind, who held her reigns straight and at the same time controlled her winged companions to continue their relentless attack with even greater force. They hurt the Monk quite badly and suddenly, the ghostly figure he summoned vanished into the shadows it emerged from. How would the Men subdue their target if this storm was to continue?
It was the Rider who had to act now if the Men were to still fulfill their mission. Waking the Monk from his shock, he encouraged him to ask another ghost for help, which then appeared next to the Woman again. The Swordsman's horse had already fallen to the murder of crows and their relentless attacks, and even though the he managed to catch up with the armored horse with all of his willpower, the slashes of his sword did not seem to hurt the Woman's mount. So the Rider went in, picked up his battered companion so he could rest on his horse's back for a second and then steered right into their target, avoiding the plummeting birds around them with the reflexes of a true master horseman.
It was obvious to the Three that they had greatly underestimated their opponent. When the horses went head to head, the surdy body of the northern breed proved to be superior to the swift and agile Korean animal. Remembering the age old teachings, the samurai found faith one last time and jumped into the air from the horse's back, blade drawn and ready to strike one last time before he would face a certain death. The Woman feared no ghosts, nor blades. She was surely in pact with the Devil herself and had to be brought down. As brave as the attack was, the injuries the birds had inflicted on the fighter's flesh were already to great and with a single strike of her own blade, the Woman made the Swordsman meet his end.
Still occasionally wrangling with the ghost surrounding her, the Woman now took over the initiative and steered her bulky mount directly into the Rider's horse. Even with all his experience in the races, he could not maneuver away in time. The smaller horse went down at full speed, spinning around him in a cloud of dust, hitting the ground hard again and again. When man and animal finally came to a stop, there was no life left in either of them.
Before the Monk could finish his next incantation, the Woman brought down his horse with a single arrow and made him hit the ground, too. The ghost vanished again and it seemed as if the Quiet Woman had finally bested all three men in combat. She stopped and took a deep breath. Were there survivors? She had to be sure. The Swordsman and the Rider were already dead, but not the Monk. Even unconsciously, he still had a dark aura about him. For reasons she may not have understood herself in that moment, she would not grant this man death, but stop his bleeding and ride away.
When the Monk awoke in the streets, he had lost his face. With his fellowship dead, his mission failed, he had but one chance to save what remained of his honor: Ending his life by himself. Where the Swordsman would have chosen a ceremonial seppuku, the Monk engaged in a different ritual, summoning an Oni of such great power that it would consume him in the process. But when the man was engulfed in shadows so dark that now light could reach him any longer, the demon decided to deny him the wish of death just a little longer. Screaming in pain as the light returned, the Monk would find the Oni sitting right in front of him. “Your will is strong”, the demon said. “I appreciate it, mortal. I will grant you three wishes. And then…” the Oni smiled, “I shall eat your soul.”