The velvety silence of the night vibrated like the strings of a Samisen. The beetle looked around. When he didn’t see any danger, he mounted his female. A prince died.
The masked assassins moved like a dream after throwing a shuriken at the offending guard. Soundless. They crossed the bullwarks of the castle and silently crawled up on the wall. Using their customized nail claws. The leader used his fingers to communicate and sent some signals. Three of those invisible assassins silently slided in the Royal Pool. One of them pulled out a blow gun and pushed it in a lotus flower. .
Tadashi Yamashita was very angry. It was a hell that he was living! He called his three consorts and shed his kimono. He wanted the cloud and rains in his own violent style. His consorts knew what was expected of them. They silently undressed and slid beside him in the pool, ready for the torture. Yamashita moved to a beautiful lotus, which was near his arm, while pinching the breast of one of his consorts. He bent towards the lotus and was surprised! The lotus suddenly hissed and the poisoned dart from the blowgun penetrated his nose.
The beetle successfully launched his family.
The market was aghast! The Royal Prince of Kyoto was murdered. No one knew how. Some of the brags in market claimed that Ninja killed the prince.
Ninja? The Hi-Nin? The Not-Human? They do exist? Everyone laughed.
Few thousands of miles away, a bearded guy died on a cross a few weeks ago. He was trying to bring peace. He claimed himself to be the God’s Son. In Kyoto, they had their own god. The Son of Sun. In first century Anne Domini, Japan was very peaceful. No weapons were allowed in public. Samurai ruled, and justly. All lands were owned by farmers. All produces were owned by samurai, who decided the taxes. Peasants were trodden. The emperor ruled. The sun smiled every morning. God was happy.
Akimura Chogun was trying to meditate and found his mind wandering. At the age of 18, he was a trained assassin. Apart from various armed and unarmed combat techniques, ninja were trained in tricks involving poisoning, arson, camouflage etc and were accomplished actors. In Nihonga, the word Nin means night and Ja is man. Ninja were contract assassins, arsonists and sabotage specialists. In Japan, where most of the houses were made of paper and wood, fire was dreaded and feared and arson was punished by public burning of the guilty and their family. Just like samurai, ninja were hereditary. Either you are a born ninja, or you can’t become one. Ninjitsu was not just a martial art, it was a lifestyle. Kings and lords hired ninja secretly to do their biddings. These elusive night prowlers were ideal to penetrate the most secure fortresses and complete the tasks. Followers of the Amida Buddha, ninja were sworn to secrecy and death. Amida is the Japanese version of Amitabh. The Sweet Light. Amida Buddha was the form of Buddha, who was merciful. One of the five Wisdom-Buddha. All-forgiving and giver of internal peace. The religion seemed to be tailor made for the death seeking samurai and ninja. The ninja hoped for one successful operation and then they went to the Amida temple and committed ritual suicide in a great ceremony. The only way to nirvana, neh?
The training of a ninja began at the tender age of three. They were subjected to grueling exercises and meditation to condition the body, which was the temple and the mind, which was the deity of the temple. They were experts in all the known weapons, and were able to improvise most innocuous looking implements into formidable weapons. They could stand still like a statue for days, stay underwater for hours, could free themselves if tied most securely and could vanish in thin air. The latter was accomplished by their technique of camouflage. They simply blended with the background, thus vanishing. Apart from fighting techniques, they also had a vast knowledge of gunpowder -an unknown entity in Japan- deep understanding of politics, good acting abilities, a medical knowledge equivalent to a surgeon and various other expertises. They were feared by the kings and common men alike as they were shrouded in mystery. No one knew where they lived or what they could do. It’s the human nature to fear the unknown. Ninja were unknown, hence dreaded.
Chogun was practicing Saimin-jitsu, which we know today as the science of hypnotism. In that era, it was akin to magic. He was unable to concentrate. Whenever he closed his eyes and focused on his Ki, which the ancient Hindu Yogis called Praan, he saw two large and bright eyes.
This was a totally different feeling! A ninja is devoid of any human emotions. Last week he was a part of the Totomi donjon attack. It was a textbook ninja assault. They shinned up the walls silently, using their nail-claws and used their shuriken, shaken and blowguns to disable the guards. His handler signalled him, using the language of fingers and he glided soundlessly like a shadow towards the main hall. He saw his victim. He silently moved to the prone body on the bed and pulled out an stiletto from his obi. It was a matter of seconds to deftly insert the razor sharp stiletto at the top of the spine of his victim, when he saw those frightened eyes. Mute fear in them to see a masked assassin. He hesitated and his victim awoke and raised an alarm. Chogun was still staring at those fount of lights, when the guards began to shout. An owl hooted somewhere and the trained instincts of Chogun kicked in at the evacuation alarm: the hoot.
He hit his victim softly at the carotid artery, and, leaped out of the donjon window. The operation failed because of him. He was punished an year of training and practice by the Hanshi of their clan. Today was the 153rd day in his punishment, yet those eyes didn’t stop to haunt him. They were always with him. Sometimes tearful, the other coquettish. They laughed with him. Smiled and kissed him. Akimura Chogun was in love and was blissfully unaware.
He came to know that those lovely eyes belonged to Sakagawa Yuriko. The 5th consort of daimyo Kamakura Hachiman, who was able to live because of Chogun. Since that day, Chogun had seen her nearly everyday. He employed his ninja techniques to see her. He saw her as a horse groom while she was walking in the Royal Garden, he saw her undressing before going into the tiny bathhouse, where he was the lady bath attendant, he camouflaged himself as a statue in the ladies chamber and saw her getting dressed by her maids. He liked everything about her. He loved her elaborate hairstyle. He loved the way her eyebrows arch in contempt. He liked the twist of the corners of lips, when she mocked anyone. The corners of her lips had cute dimples, as if bracketing the smile and protecting it. He saw her sleeping, her misty eyes on his face, before she drifted off to dreamland, while he was stuck and blended with the roof tiles. He was besotted with her. He found her eyes accusing. Accusing him of something beyond his comprehension. He even talked to her once and was physically jolted after hearing her husky voice. Her voice was like the balmy air in a sultry summer night- faint promises of the coming rain! Her straight nose and childlike visage contrasted greatly with her erotic voice. Akimura Chogun was a killer and not a poet, else he would have written a tanka, or at least a haiku! Chogun was gone beyond redemption. He was cursed and blessed. He loved someone, who wasn’t aware of his existence. But, he had stolen her brooch and it was kept hidden behind the scroll of the master Masutatsu Oyama.
Hanshi Yamaguchi Gogei called him to his chamber. Chogun stopped his pretense of meditation and went. He was conscious that he hadn’t practice either Saimin-jitsu or Kobudera, the art of killing with a touch of hand by transmitting one’s internal ki into the victim.
Hanshi Yamaguchi was sitting on his knees. Chogun bowed low and sat in the lotus position. Hanshi began, “Weird are the ways of life, Chogun-chan! The tools are always of those, who handle it. The blessed Buddha said, karma is what we do. We are the hunters and the hunted.” His eyes lost their dreamy look, “Anyway, your punishment is rescinded. You are given a task. We are sure that this will get you the Nirvana. You will be alone. Go and finish it. Then commit seppekku. The Amida Buddha will bless you!”
Chogun couldn’t believe his luck! How old was he? 18? 19? To attain nirvana at this age was a dream! He bowed low. He was given the details of the task and he left proudly for his preparations.
The Japanese summer nights are very hot and humid. Crickets were chirping their little heads off. Somewhere a night bird was singing lustily and was suddenly strangled. May be, fallen a prey to a predator. The Kwanto palace was surrounded in shadows. One of the shadows moved imperceptibly, just like a suspicion. It reached the north tower of the castle and threw a grappling rope. He reached the terrace of the tower. The opal moon was smiling benevolently. He ran noiselessly, his paper crepe soles covering two and half yards in each step. The ninja run. A short burst of speed at 40kmph. A normal man runs at 10kmph and covers a yard in one step. He saw a guard standing at the terrace gate. Chogun pulled out his blowgun and inserted a poisoned dart, laced with an alkaloid toxin extracted from the lungs of fugu fishes. The guard felt a mosquito bite and swooned before his hand could reach the bite. The ninja was there before the body could fall. He gently laid it down and sprinted downstairs.
He saw two guards on the third floor. He stood behind a potted bonsai and stopped his breath. After an eternity, he moved silently, when he was sure that they were dozing. He threw a shaken- an arrow shaped small knife- towards one of the guards and ran while throwing his chained Manriki-gusari towards the second one. Both died instantly. One in his arms, and the other with a sickle piercing his throat, connected to Chogun through a chain. Ninja were never a great fighter. They just used the element of surprise, augmented with out of the box thinking. They were invincible!
Chogun reached his location. All the guards were neutralized. He knew that this was his only chance to resurrect the lost honor. He had to kill the princess anyhow. He was committed. He suddenly saw those eyes in the dark stairway, through which he was sprinting. Accusing, following… He shook his head. This was not the time for dreams.
He reached the first floor and found the door as described. He whispered, “If the truth is true, why to search for it?”, beginning the password.
A hoarse whisper replied, “What if it’s not true?”
He replied, completing the paradox of the ancient Buddhist monk Saran, “Then why search because, it’s true.”
The door slided open and he jabbed the ninja-to, a cheap metalled sword, unlike the Katana, which was forged by masters and used by samurai.
He crossed the hall in two long, silent leaps and sliced open the paper shoji, which was always used as walls in Japan. He saw the prone body of the princess. He drew the poisoned stiletto and his hand moved like silent death. He faltered at the last instant when he saw the face in the moonlight and instead of piercing the vertebra below brain, it hit the second vertebra. The person spasmed and stared at him, before dying. Those eyes looked back at Chogun. In pain. Those lovely eyes suddenly became opaque.
Chogun was horrified that he had killed the only person he wanted to see alive in the world! There was tumult outside. Guards were converging. He sat in Zazen. Focussed on to his soul. He saw those bright and accusing eyes again. They mocked him. He smiled and realized what was that empty feeling, which always filled his soul. Chogun was a ninja. A ninja doesn’t deserve love. He looked once towards his dead love, her opaque eyes looking at him in fear and abhorrence. His heart broke! Anyone can attain nirvana, but to get one’s love is a rare thing. He had completed his job and was eligible for the much coveted seppekku in an Amida temple. He chose his path. His nirvana was lying lifeless.
The guards broke open the door. They saw a ninja, clad in night-black, sitting in lotus position in the center. He screamed, “Namu Amida Butsu!” and thrusted a stiletto in his windpipe in the name of Amida Buddha, before throwing a gourd at them. The door and that part of tower blew away. The ninja and his love were under the stars
The Opal Moon had tears tonight.