Saburo, the Third Tiger
Amnat Charoen Province, Thailand
Six Days Later
Even out in here in the Mekong Valley, news of Emiko’s death in Norway could be heard.
Saburo hung his head and sighed. He was a giant of a man, shaven-haired and muscular. But even he had a heart, and even he could sigh over news about yet another quick and nearly flawless victory.
The sun was setting now, and Subira would worry if he didn’t come home soon. He wasn’t even supposed to have a woman; Lord Mamoru of the Chiyoko Clan had expressly stated complete isolation was the whole point of Saburo’s exile.
But then again, following rules wasn’t what got Saburo exiled in the first place.
Usually, when Saburo defied his lord – and it was far more often than anyone in their clan cared to admit – his punishment was a thousand lashes of the whip, four days without water, and one full week without food. But his last bout of rebellion must have really made the old man angry, because he’d personally shoved Saburo out a helicopter and into the tangled wilds of Thailand…after they’d hashed out an “agreement”.
No friends. No woman. No one to keep him company at all. Only a messenger would be allowed to see him every few months or so with news.
At first, Saburo had welcomed the isolation. He spent his days walking along the Mekong River, hunting, fishing, and making his own weapons from wood and stone. He’d taken up residence in the Twilight Hall of the Broken Temple, a desolate cluster of buildings with shattered domes, cracked walls, and engravings so ancient and worn he couldn’t make them out. He showered in the thick, warm, abundant rainfall, and he slept beneath a blanket of brilliant stars.
It was a wondrous and spiritual experience, so much that Saburo felt inspired to shave his head like a monk, and dedicate several hours a day to meditation.
He did not go mad from silence. There was no silence, of course; the jungle was alive with all manner of chatty insects and beasts hurrying about their business day and night. But soon…the loneliness came. He sparred alone. He ate alone. He slept alone.
And within mere weeks, Saburo’s heart began to ache.
Indeed, the old man must have been furious with him, for a whole year came and went, and still Lord Mamoru refused to end the exile.
But then…Kameyo-sama arrived.
Some three weeks earlier, she’d arrived via helicopter, surrounded by lithe, masked attendants who brought tea, silken bedding, proper food, news of the civilized world, and a jewel of the African savannah: the tall, the dark, the luscious Subira.
So deep were her eyes that Saburo was immediately lost in them, so nimble and fluid were her fingers that he didn’t even bother trying to resist her charms as she rubbed his back and feet with musky scented oil.
Kameyo-sama had told him the news: should he fight Raizo and win, his exile would end. Should he lose to Raizo…well, technically, his exile would still end.
Saburo didn’t care.
It had been a year since he’d eaten noodles boiled in seasoned broth, tasted freshly brewed tea, felt soft cushions, and known the warm, wet pleasure of a woman’s body.
Never again would he defy Lord Mamoru, at least not in the manner he had before.
He could smell burning incense wafting out to him from the cracked halls of the Broken Temple. Subira was probably warming water for their bath. Already he could feel her hands on his back, on his chest. He could already taste her mouth and feel her legs wrapping around his waist.
Yes…he needed to get back to her quickly.
Nightfall slowly descended around Saburo, while a choir of crickets accompanied his footsteps home.
Raizo sighed blissfully. “Thailand is a beautiful country.”
Mika Coretti flashed him a smile, that smile which never failed to warm him. Lady Kameyo had rented them a small, flat, candlelit boat so they could spend the evening together, drifting lazily down the river. Mika herself had draped the mosquito nets over the entire boat, and then heavily sprayed the nets down with bug repellant. She’d then lined inside of the boat with rugs and cushions, creating a mini-cruise ship.
Now she sat across from him, wearing a flimsy, sheer, linen white cloth which draped over one shoulder. Her curly black hair tumbled wildly down her shoulders, contrasting splendidly with the gold and pearl headdress Lady Kameyo had bought for her.
“Mika,” Raizo murmured, looking her over leisurely, “as always…you look like a princess.”
She laughed softly, and her voice was his undoing. In a split second, he was by her side, murmuring her name and kissing her bare shoulder.
“Oh, Mika, Mika…I could look at you forever.”
She laughed again, even as he slid the cloth from her other should and began to push her down onto her back, kissing her breasts.
“Raizo!” she protested, putting her hands on his shoulders and faintly pressing. “People can see us from the shore!”
Raizo winked, leaning away from her to quickly blow out the candles in the center of the boat. Darkness surrounded them instantly, and suddenly Mika recalled her newfound dislike of boats.
“Oh, great going,” she chided him. “Now we’ll be lost in the night.”
Raizo chuckled huskily; his voice was briefly muffled, and in the faint starlight she could see he was pulling off his pale gray T-shirt. She ceased protest when his solid body pressed against hers, pushing her back onto the cushions and capturing her mouth.
“I’m sure…,” he mumbled between kisses, “they’ll find us…eventually…maybe around dawn….”
But Mika had already stopped caring. Squirming beneath him, she shed her cloth and her panties, unzipping Raizo’s black jeans for him. But before she could reach inside and grab what she’d wanted all day, he moved away, keeping his mouth on her, working his way down her neck to her breasts, where he kissed and fondled thoroughly, making her ache and moan beneath him.
“Raizo….” She tried to reach for his jeans again but he moved even further down, kissing her stomach and tonguing her navel. His hands were firmly planted on either side of her, and when she reached for his arms, clawing at them, digging her nails into his shoulders, she barely scratched the surface of his steel-toned muscles.
Patiently, he nipped at her abdomen, never speeding up or slowing…even as his mouth went lower.
Mika’s gasped loudly, her eyes rolling into the back of her head as he laved and kissed her lower lips apart. He maintained a slow, steady, unflinching rhythm, moaning lowly as his mouth worked. Each deliberate, relentless rough lick of his tongue and moist caress of his lips drove her to thrash her head from side to side.
She cried out his name as she came; it echoed across the still, starlit river waters. As Mika gasped for breath, Raizo kissed his way back up her stomach, her breasts, her throat, and finally her mouth, claiming it even as he pushed into her…pulsing, throbbing, and full.
“Mika…,” he groaned. “Mika, Mika, Mika….” He cupped her buttocks as the last of his remarkable control snapped. Impatiently, Raizo plunged into her over and over again, holding her steady, ensuring that her body received his fully each time. He bruised her inner walls pleasantly despite the liquid heat she drenched him in. Fevered, she clutched his muscular shoulders and bit his neck ferociously.
It finished him.
“Mika…I love you more and more….”
It was his sudden admission which brought them both to climax…never had he used those words until now, and they filled them both with heady, mind-numbing waves of electric warmth. Again and again the searing heat washed over them, rocking and ripping through their bodies with shudders. He erupted inside her several times, each geyser blast hotter than the last.
He eventually collapsed against her, and slowly the couple drifted back down to earth. They could hear voices on the shore, and the waters gently lapping against the boat. Their heartbeats slowed, beating almost in unison as they deeply breathed in the pure night air.
“I could stay like this forever,” Raizo murmured suddenly, turning to nuzzle her neck, his breath warm.
He could tell Mika was smiling into the dark. “Yes,” she sighed. “Just like this.”
“Kameyo-sama treats us well,” he broached gingerly. “Ozunu never showed me favor like this.”
He felt her stiffen against him, as she sometimes did these days. Every time she did so his guts twisted and his heart hiccupped in fear. He didn’t want her to fear him, but he couldn’t help the fact that he was – in truth – a very bad man.
“With the Murasaki as the Elder Clan,” he continued uncomfortably, “our safety would no longer be an issue. And you see how she cares for you, adores you, showers you with gifts. We could travel the world with her. Would you like that, Mika?”
“Raizo,” she began, and she sounded equally uneasy, “I…appreciate how you’ve fought for us. I thank you for saving my life again and again.”
Raizo raised an eyebrow. “But…?”
“I can’t live with ninjas,” Mika said, sitting up and even in the dark, he could tell she was upset. Her special heart thudded unhappily, and her whole body tensed. “I can’t survive in this world.”
“You mean my world,” he said softly.
Her head snapped towards him in the dark. “That is not what I meant.”
“This is my world, Mika,” he insisted coolly. “This is where I come from.”
“No,” she shook her head adamantly. “No. You were an orphan. You had a family once.”
“And I don’t remember them,” he shrugged in the dark. “All I remember is the wisdom and tutelage of the Nine Clans. I may not be a true Ozunu, but I am a ninja, Mika. And there’s no place for me in the outside world.”
“You mean my world,” she countered, and there was an accusing note in her voice. “The world of daylight, laughter, and ‘9 to 5’. What’s wrong, Raizo? Is that world not exciting enough for you?”
He reached for her suddenly, sighing in the night and pulling her back against him and the cool, soft cushions.
“Let’s not fight about this, Mika,” he murmured, planting soft kisses upon her shoulder and neck. “I’m just trying to be realistic. Here we are safe and well-cared for.”
“We are not safe,” she said tightly. “You’ve been blinded by Kameyo’s cosseting. So much you don’t even see the dissent it’s causing.”
Raizo stiffened next to her. He hadn’t thought about that. He hadn’t even noticed…even though it was something a ninja should.
He should’ve known…long before Mika ever did.
“Shiori?” he asked gingerly.
“Noriko,” Mika murmured cautiously, even though they were both alone. “She’s the one who approached me, but I don’t know how many others are with her.”
Raizo felt his insides twist. A wave of nausea slithered through him as he shuddered to think he’d been caught unaware, amongst killers no less. It could’ve meant his death.
It could’ve meant Mika’s death.
He cursed himself over and over again, even as he kept his mouth silent.
“She…‘approached’ you?” he asked finally, amazed at how calm he kept his voice.
“Kameyo’s favor is making people bitter, Raizo,” Mika repeated simply. “The Murasaki don’t want a male champion. They don’t want a male anything in their clan and while I normally wouldn’t side with them, our presence is disrupting their world, Raizo. Their legacy, their philosophy, their identity even. We don’t belong here.” She turned to face him in the dark, her voice soft and gentle. “Like it or not, we’re outsiders. We belong on the outside.”
Saburo cursed himself. It was past dawn on the seventh day, and yet he was almost too lazy to rouse himself from bed. Part of that was Subira’s fault; her warm body called to him even now as he rose and quickly slid into plain black cotton pants. None but the Murasaki were allowed to know she was here. If word got back to Lord Mamoru that his exiled rebel had taken a lover, victory over Raizo would be meaningless.
Saburo stepped from the Twilight Hall and immediately cursed himself again. Though no one was in sight, he could see the familiar vermillion banners of his clan lining a dirt path away from the Broken Temple. Somewhere in the tangled jungle, his opponent awaited him.
Meanwhile, his fellow clan members knew his secret. A messenger had probably already set out to Mamoru with the extremely unpleasant news.
Saburo turned back into the Twilight Hall. He retrieved his wooden staff from among the weapons he’d fashioned himself. Before setting out down the path, he paused to behold a sleeping Subira, taking in her curvy, dark, naked body. He didn’t fear for her; she was friend to Kameyo-sama and none of the Chiyoko ninjas would harm her.
Sighing, Saburo marched to the fight, unmasked.
Standing in a shaded clearing, Mika Coretti was amazed to see so many ninja in broad daylight. They were draped in sheer linen robes of pale gray, their faces appropriately masked except for Lady Kameyo and – much to her surprise – Raizo. He was shirtless, his hair pulled back, and he was barefoot beneath his plain black pants.
In short, he looked stunning.
He was armed with a wooden staff, his opponent’s reputed favored weapon. And even though it was early morning, the jungle air was already warming and growing thick, covering his golden skin with a light sheen.
Finally, his opponent approached.
This Saburo of legend truly was a giant of a man. Though he didn’t tower over Raizo by much, his muscles were much bigger and his eyes bore a deep and unwavering focus.
He was here to win.
Mika couldn’t blame him; Shiori had explained Saburo’s exile, how he’d been out here in the wilds all on his own. It was no shocker whatsoever that he badly wanted out.
A female Chiyoko commander stood in place of the clan lord. Beautifully veiled, she bore the crest of her clan and sat beneath a brilliant vermillion silk flag of the Chiyoko. It was she who commanded the two men to begin.
Saburo moved with purpose. He’d clearly been practicing a lot over the past year; after all, he had little else to do out here. The staff truly was his weapon, for he was faster than Raizo, wielding more deftly and with much more ease.
Not that Raizo wasn’t holding his own; he was slenderer than Saburo, which made it easier for him to dance around the giant. They whirled their staffs like light, and the clashing of wooden echoed throughout the jungle.
“Saburo looks well this morning,” Lady Kameyo mused, fanning herself delicately. “Exile has done wonders for his form.” She wore a thin cotton dress which bared one shoulder, and her hair was pulled up in a plain chignon. It seemed the jungle had brought out the practicality in everyone.
Next to her mistress, Shiori chuckled, “I’m amazed he can still fight a human after all these months of sparring alone. Raizo has yet to land a blow!”
Noriko’s steely tone dulled the mood. “Saburo’s style is impeccable,” she bit out. “We may have underestimated him. Exile has clearly worked in his favor.”
“Hardly,” Lady Kameyo mumbled. “Raizo will be able to handle him…just like the others.”
“Eventually,” Noriko hissed under her breath, “we will meet one who’s not like the others, Kameyo-sama. Remember Tsuyoshi? We still haven’t…figured him out yet.”
“Tsuyoshi is human,” Kameyo waved her fan dismissively. “All humans have a certain ‘weakness’ of the flesh.”
“Our contacts in Kyoto report that as of last week, Tsuyoshi’s been staying a local ryokan,” Shiori piped up. “He’s been assigned there.”
Mika noticed how Lady Kameyo slightly tensed. Stiffly, the old woman asked, “And is he…alone?”
“Alone,” Shiori nodded. “And very, very fit, Mistress.”
“Kameyo-sama, I suggest we initiate our back-up plan,” Noriko murmured tightly. “I know Raizo is scheduled to face the Izanagi Clan last, however—”
“It’s never too early to start,” Kameyo nodded, but only barely. For the first time, Mika saw doubt and worry cloud the old woman’s eyes, and her mind raced.
Izanagi Clan? Tsuyoshi? Not yet “figured” out?
She turned to see her man sweat profusely as he fended off Saburo. At some point during the fight, Saburo had cracked Raizo’s staff in two and now the slender warrior was whirling the two halves fiercely, landing blows against Saburo’s knees, back, and upper arms, but not really doing any damage. Already this fight was lasting longer than the ones with Kichiro and Emiko, and Mika was rapidly growing concerned.
It really didn’t help when Shiori sighed musingly, “Saburo truly is fit, is he not…Mika?” The pretty ninja snickered derisively. “I’ve seen him fight many times and I have to admit…he’s in rare form this morning. Guess your man’s just not the champion he thought he was, huh?”
Mika twitched. Come on, Raizo; kill him already!
Her lover’s opportunity came when whatever poison Saburo was being given finally kicked in. It made sense it would take longer with him; he was a giant of a man. But apparently he too was no match for the wrath of the Murasaki.
Saburo’s remarkable speed slowed, his defenses started dropping, and when he least expected it, Raizo broke his neck in two blows. The mighty warrior fell, his body hitting the jungle floor with a heavy thud that would no doubt be heard ‘round the world.