Mika Coretti wasn’t surprised Raizo brought about her second orgasm with his mouth…again.
What…the…hell…is happening here?
Even as her body clenched and tightened beneath his and her nails clawed deep into his sweaty back…even as his hips labored on, driving into her and shaking the whole bed, she dimly thought about how fuzzy she still was on the why of the situation.
Why? Why now?
His sudden low rasp cut into her thoughts. “Mika….”
She could tell he wasn’t going to last much longer. Their bed was practically shrieking bloody murder under Raizo’s frenzied assault. Long gone were the smooth, deliberately moves and soft, low gasps. Gone were his discipline and his rational calm; Raizo was a man unhinged and undone by desire…and she had brought it about.
Is that why I woke up to him going down on me? He saw my tits…and just couldn’t hold back anymore?
Fresh off the heels of her second orgasm, Mika immediately felt a third coming.
She’d done this to him—of course he wanted her! He’d just played it cool all long. Allowing her to come away with him, always slowly undressing in front her, noticing everything she changed about herself and paying her compliments accordingly, finding every excuse to say her name….
How did I miss that?
She felt the inner tidal wave building again, the familiar tingling and tightening heating her entire body as her sweat mixed with his and soaked the sheets. He was unable to focus, to keep his eyes open as he rained her mouth, neck, and breasts with hot, moist kisses, moaning her name between them.
She felt it was her turn to take command.
On impulse, Mika gripped his shoulders and forcefully rolled them both over, firmly placing herself on top and controlling the movements. She didn’t slow down and tease him; she simply bit her bottom lip and focused on channeling all her energy into her hips, riding him as ferociously as he had her. Raizo’s head rolled back, spilling black hair across pale pillows as he groaned in surrender. The great soldier, the infamously feared assassin…reduced to mindless moaning by a woman.
It was the first obscenity she’d ever heard him say and the mere utterance made them both lose it. Giving themselves over to sheer insanity, the two erupted…Mika felt her eyesight darken as her body filled with violent, scorching hot liquid bursts. Her shuddered violently before collapsing next to his, and for a time, she knew neither sight nor sound.
They slept for a time, noses pressed against each other’s, arms possessively draped across each other and legs intertwined. The sweat cooled and dried from their naked bodies, evaporating and filling the hotel room with their mingled scents. At dawn, Mika was the first to wake.
She smirked at the sleeping Raizo, amused that she’d worn him out in less time than a horde of masked killers. Triumphant and naked, she sauntered into the bathroom, blasting the hot water, taking her time to soak in the wet heat, and smiling at the slightly bruised, throbbing feel between her thighs.
He wanted her. All this time, he wanted, to the point that at the mere sight of her breasts, he could hold himself back no more.
What’s he going to say when he wakes up?
She stepped from the mists of the shower stall, drying off lightly and heading to the mini-bar. She poured the last cup of her organic pineapple juice and savored its sweetness, recalling Raizo’s words from the night before.
…you taste just like pineapple.
Mika smiled blissfully, eyes closed until she heard him stir and rise up from their bed.
“My turn, I guess,” he mumbled sleepily, sliding out of bed in his black jockeys and heading off to the shower. Mika sifted through her clothes, looking for something “efficient”, as usual, while she craved the bran muffin which usually accompanied her juice. She lived in jeans these days, it seemed; jeans and plain tops. Normally, she’d be worried, but it didn’t bother her so much this time.
It didn’t matter. It hadn’t mattered. It wasn’t going to matter ever again.
When he emerged from the shower, all friendly smiles as usual, Mika noticed he still wasn’t talking about what happened. Her curiosity kept her silent; she wanted to see how a man like Raizo handled this sort of thing. He’d clearly had lovers before; he knew his way around the female body far too well not to. And a man didn’t develop his level of stamina without sufficient practice.
Mika suddenly had a disturbing flash of Raizo throwing some unknown woman onto all fours and driving into her from behind. The image made her twitch. She tried to stop her mind before it ran away with itself, but she was too late. Now the questions were bubbling to the surface, and each one bothered her more than the last.
How many women had Raizo slept with? Was he ever in love with any of them? Did he accidentally knock up some chick and not know about it?
Did he have a “type”? Was she his “type”? Or maybe last night was curiosity thing…maybe that’s why he’d let her come along because he’d just wanted to know what she’d be like in bed…maybe he had a fetish…maybe—
Maybe this is precisely why I shouldn’t be thinking about this shit, Mika cringed, willing her anxiety to silence itself before all her girlhood insecurities came flooding back. Like…did he notice cellulite? She didn’t have much, and the seaweed soap she’d been using had done wonders so far—dear God…did stretch marks turn him off? She made sure to rub hers with cocoa butter every morning…or at least she used to, back before her new “all things unscented” kicked. And fuck—would they have to keep their sex in the dark so he wouldn’t see that ludicrous tattoo she got the drunken summer of her sophomore year….
Woman, stop! Mika yelled at herself, even as she smiled sweetly back at Raizo while they packed their belongings and headed out into downtown Bordeaux. There were more important things than stretch marks and cellulite and Pam Grier with an afro….
As soon as they entered growing cold of the outside world, Mika immediately noticed how quickly Raizo’s grimness returned. He walked stiffly, as though trying to appear “harmless” while still keeping his wits and reflexes about him.
“When we go to Hotel Red Sand,” he said lowly, “do not tell the Murasaki anything about yourself. Deflect every question, and listen closely to whatever they say.”
Mika asked him flat out, “You think you’ll think they’ll kill us in our sleep?”
“No,” he shook his head. “If there is any clan with a sense of honor, it’s the sisters of Ozunu. They have mediated disputes and ended clan wars throughout the centuries. They have promoted ideas of unity and kinship amongst the clans.”
Mika was confused. “Then…I don’t see the problem.”
“Their first priority are the clans,” Raizo replied darkly, “Their ultimate loyalty is to the clans. They will do whatever they believe is in the best interest of the clan, not outsiders like you and me. You see, from childhood, ninja are raised to think individual lives are meaningless compared to that of the clan as a unit.” He paused, as he often did, no doubt remembering some unpleasant training exercise from his childhood experience. “An assassin cannot fulfill her duty if she values the life of her target.”
“Have you met many of the Murasaki?” Mika asked.
“Several over the years,” Raizo nodded.
“What are they like?”
“Efficient warriors,” he told her bluntly, “as skilled, focused, and ruthless as any of the other clans. One tried to kill me in Berlin, while I was doing my laundry.”
“But if you killed her—and I’m guessing you did since you’re still here—how will the Murasaki receive you?”
Rain chuckled softly, which Mika found odd. What could possibly be humorous about their situation?
“The clans live by similar philosophy, Mika,” he explained, and she didn’t miss the delicate shiver he caused by saying her name. “Failure is not tolerated. It is better to die on a mission than to live…while your target also still lives.” He shrugged. “I did her favor.”
There was something deeply wrong with what he said, but Mika couldn’t quite put her finger on it. In the meantime, she had other questions. “Who runs the Murasaki?”
“They are led by Lady Kameyo,” Raizo replied, as his eyes took on a faraway look. “They call her the Tortoise Woman…for her wisdom.”
“How old is she?”
Raizo shrugged. “Sixty-something by now, maybe even seventy. I only met her once when I was a child. She came to our compound when I was about nine or ten to see Lord Ozunu. I poured their tea while they talked, and I remember she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Very graceful, very strong. She wielded shuriken and naginata with skill superior even to that of Lord Ozunu himself.”
Mika was both impressed and intimidated. It was great to hear about strong women within the clans. But at the same, they were walking into the lioness’s den and she wasn’t sure how safe she felt about that.
Hotel Red Sand, though tall and covering several thousand square feet, looked old and neglected on the outside; indeed, people walked by its faded and peeling crimson walls and boarded up windows without a second glance. Mika was briefly amused by how this clan of ninja had a safehouse in the middle of a city and nobody except them knew.
Hiding in plain sight, she smiled to herself. Amazing.
A very old woman with milky eyes and wild gray hair opened the large creaky wooden double doors. She took one look at them before wordlessly letting them in. Clearly, they were expected.
Though rather dark, the inside starkly contrasted the outside; the walls were freshly painted a resplendent scarlet shade, and the windows and doorways were draped with long, black lace curtains. Black marble fountains flowed red water over red sand, and thick incense burned on numerous altars of female deities from ages past. Mika vaguely recognized a few here and there…she knew Amaterasu by the brilliant sun backing her, and Omoikane, a goddess of wisdom, by the tortoise she cradled in her arms.
“You are Raizo, last of the Ozunu,” a voice stated crisply in a French-flavored Japanese accent, causing the two strangers to turn. “And you are Mika Coretti.”
A tall, well-built woman with a prim chignon and loose-fitting black sleeveless tunic and pants approached them barefoot from the smoky shadows. She was a beautiful, clear-skinned woman, but like Raizo, she had scars. Unlike Raizo, however, she deftly incorporated hers into her many colorful tattoos.
She clearly wasn’t asking, so Raizo and Mika didn’t answer.
“I am Noriko,” the woman went on. “Lady Kameyo says we are to house you until she arrives tomorrow night. She says you are under our protection.” She looked over Raizo coldly. “No man has ever stayed at Hotel Red Sand, much less one who brought about the death of his entire clan. Nevertheless, we have prepared a room for you in the North Wing.”
Raizo arched an eyebrow. “Mika says with me.”
Noriko rolled her dark eyes. “Unlike some, Raizo, Murasaki do not break our word, and we would never mistreat a female guest. You would know this,” she added sarcastically, “if your Ozunu blood weren’t so thin.”
“Ozunu blood was never my blood,” Raizo snickered humorlessly, “as I am guessing Murasaki blood was never yours.”
Noriko laughed, and despite the woman’s musical voice, Mika still cringed.
“We Murasaki bear our own, Raizo,” she snorted. “Not all clans are orphan-thieves. I am true Murasaki, as was my mother, and her mother before her.”
Raizo was taken aback; he blinked speechlessly for several seconds and it did not make Mika feel better. Their survival depended upon Raizo not being surprised, much less by the little things.
“Yes,” Noriko nodded, genuinely amused, “Like Takako, ‘I am warrior from the womb.’”
It was Mika’s turn to blink. I must have missed that verse in my research.
“This is Shiori; you met on the bridge, yesterday,” Noriko introduced. Shiori had appeared from nowhere, it seemed; Mika had to take a step back in surprise as the lithe woman suddenly drew abreast of her. “Shiori, take Mika to her room. Raizo, we must speak.” Noriko gestured to some shadowy doorway, and Raizo nodded.
But before they could walk off, Shiori stated clearly, “I like how this one smells. So sweet…just like pineapple.”
Raizo shot a deadly look at Shiori, who merely grinned in return.
As Noriko finally led Raizo away by the arm and Mika’s jaw lay on the floor, Shiori snickered, looking her over and cocking her head to the side. She really was a pretty woman, late twenties. Like Noriko, she was clear-skinned, dressed in a black sleeveless tunic and over matching pants, her tattoos and makeup disguising her scars. Unlike Noriko, however, Shiori was wearing her long, midnight-colored hair down. It fell in splendid waves about her shoulders.
Shiori reached out slowly, carefully and delicately fingered Mika’s coppery cornrows. Mika was used to people touching her hair without her permission, but it never stop infuriating her. In defiant annoyance, she reached out and touched Shiori’s hair right back.
It didn’t faze the young ninja, though. In fact, Shiori actually remarked, “Your hairstyle is both flattering and efficient. You must do mine the same way.”
Mika raised an eyebrow. “I’ll teach you how to do it yourself,” she offered, “if you tell me all about the Murasaki.”
Shiori laughed. “Pourquoi, Mika? So you can type up a pretty report and mail it Maslow?”
“Hardly,” Mika snorted. She wasn’t normally a sarcastic woman, but for some reason, Shiori brought it out of her in waves. “I’m just curious how an all-female clan survived the obviously patriarchal system of the ninja.”
There was a flicker in Shiori’s eyes; she hadn’t been expecting that. Mika felt an immediate twinge of self-satisfaction.
See, bitch? I can bust out the surprises too.
“Viens avec moi,” Shiori said suddenly, and headed for a shadowy doorway in the western wall.
The doorway led to some cramped stairs, which in turn led to the darkened second floor. Shiori moved swiftly and deftly through the unlit halls, and Mika had to work to keep up. They finally came to a small room with tatami-covered floors, a plain futon, and mural-painted walls. There were some blankets folded in one corner, and a table of candles and incense in another. Shiori lit a few candles and stood up, wallowing in the flickering light.
“We wake at dawn here,” she told Mika. “No exceptions. You will bathe with the rest of us in the bathhouse so we do not waste time and water. We eat all our meals together as well. Obviously,” she smirked, “you will not practice with us, but you may browse our library. We have five centuries’ worth of diaries written by thousands of members of the Murasaki.” She relished the look of awe on Mika’s face.
“Who was Takako?” Mika asked suddenly.
“You have heard of Lady Murasaki Shikibu the novelist, oui?” Shiori asked.
Mika nodded. “Murasaki Shikibu wasn’t her real name,” she said in a daze. “Some think she was the Imperial Court lady-in-waiting, Fujiwara…Takako.” Mika took a step back, blinking in shock.
Shiori shook her head. “It’s not what you think. Like many ninja, our Takako had a different name as a child. Her blood was common, and her family poor. Her parents sold her into her servitude when she was four, and the people who purchased her were Ozunu. She was given the name ‘Akane’ – ‘brilliant red’.
“When she was fourteen, a daimyo sent his daughter to the Imperial Court in hopes of acquiring a royal marriage. Naturally, their rivals would not stand for it. They called upon the Ozunu to take out the daimyo’s daughter, and young ‘Akane’ was chosen. She infiltrated the court as a maiden, where she glimpsed the beauty and the elegance of Heian noblewomen. She stayed much longer than she was supposed to, learning about poetry, music, dance from the many ladies-in-waiting to Empress Shoshi. When she had learned enough, she completed her task, returned home with target’s head and a new name: Murasaki Takako.”
Mika raised an eyebrow. “I take it the Ozunu didn’t much care for her little makeover.”
Shiori her head. “Non…they were appalled. They didn’t like for their students to be literate and appreciative of cultural finery. They thought it was frivolous distraction which would inspire students to run away, especially the female ones. But Takako argued that by combining creative arts with martial arts, many techniques could be improved—and she was right.”
“How did she get to form her own clan?” Mika couldn’t deny the burning curiosity. She was becoming deeply…in awe of the Murasaki, and she wasn’t entirely sure that was a good thing.
“When she was twenty,” Shiori explained coolly clan war broke out when two ninja from different clans broke the rules and fell in love, and sought to have a child. Takako argued on their behalf, saying it would be more efficient if clans bred their own children, but this time, the clan lords refused to listen. She—and several other female ninja—withdrew to a seaside village and stayed neutral while the clans fought. When the dust settled, as they say, many lives were lost and the Ozunu was in no shape to force Takako’s hand. She created her own, the Murasaki, and its very first law was to never needlessly take the life of a fellow ninja.”
“But Raizo broke that law,” Mika pointed suddenly on edge.
“He is Ozunu,” Shiori shook her head, “not Murasaki. He follows…different laws.”
Mika stared at her. “Different how?”
Shiori paused, as though mulling her words over carefully before replying, “Well, let’s just say that of all the clans, the physical—and mental—conditioning of the Ozunu was the most…sadistic.”