Monday — Shortly after Samantha Carr and her party leave

Atop the Sohei stronghold three men watched the car pull away. One was called Bushi, a short bushy man who wore a constant scowl. He had served as the right hand man to the Kwampaku of the Sohei Clan for fifteen years. Inside, a passion burned, a hatred for all who were not born of Nippa. Not for the first time he wished that the woman would make a mistake so that he could get rid of her. But until then he dared not move against her even in thought. For Samantha Carr was the adopted daughter of the man he had sworn with the honor of his family to serve. The honors that were given her caused the fires within him to smolder.

The second man was known only as Kaishakunin — the officer of death. At one time he had held another name, lived another live. Now, serving the Sohei Kwampaku was his only driving force. Once again he felt pride stir when he thought of his latest student. She was the best he had trained in a long while. She grasped and mastered technique and thought with speed and precision. He would never tell her, but her training had long ago surpassed any in the keep save himself. He watched Bushi pace. The man was never still. Kaishakunin wondered if the man would ever get the chance to pit himself against his pupil as the man so wanted to do. But that would only come at the permission of the last man on the castle.

Hiriuki Fugikaki was an old man, close to eighty, though anyone meeting him would have placed his age nearer to fifty. He had been Kwampaku, Lord and Leader of the Sohei, for close to fifty years. He had outlived all his children save one. His daughter — Samantha Carr. He was pleased at how the meeting had progressed. Mendo's messenger had reacted almost exactly as Hiriuki had thought he would. When the woman had appeared with him, Hiriuki had been amused.

Mendo Shutaro was a remarkable man. He had held his clan together after the diaster that his father had made of it. He had quickly became known as a shrewd businessman. But the enemies that his father had gained for the Mendo clan were far greater. Slowly Shutaro's position was eroding. Slowly, his shore up methods were failing, until his back was to the wall, as the gaijin would say.

Shutaro had only two choices now. He must alley himself with a large power or the Mendo clan would fall to dust. Shutaro had seeded his first choice with a method to the second. If he could not become allies with the Sohei, he would become allies with the Nara – by assasinating Hiriuki Fugikaki. A man who had lived through 32 assassination attempts.

Inwardly Hiriuki smiled. Shutaro had made a fine move. He would indeed make a fine vassal. And with his last move… Mendo Shutaro had delivered himself and his clan to the Sohei.

Bushi interrupted Hiriuki's thoughts, "Lord, if the woman is an assassin, then kill her and be done with it. And that dog of a messenger should have been killed along with her."

"Fear not, Bushi-san, death comes to all in ways often not seen." Hiriuki reached down and plucked a flower, watching the wind-blown pollen. "And sometimes many things rise and blosom from death. If one is careful he may reap a beautiful bounty."