The daimyō would not be pleased, but Urhaggha did his best. He couldn’t help it if he and Yuko’s actions were hampered by the sudden arrival of half a dozen Knights of the Purging Flame, warriors that were one step shy from monks of the sword. They were a higher breed of fighter.

He grunted in dissatisfaction. He was making excuses. Urhaggha hated excuses. They’re for weaklings, incompetents and…

That was his Hurgoran customs speaking. As a civilized individual, the assassin would have to simply admit his failure, and then by doing so, allow other avenues of approach in completing the objectives assigned to him.

However, Daimyō Hukama may not see it that way. He stopped, halted by the forward centuries.

“Who goes there?”

“Urhaggha,” he said. “I’m in the employ of the daimyō.” He removed the leather-lined billet from the inner pocket of is doublet, now stained with mud and blood, unfortunately.

There had not been time to prepare, he thought, still annoyed at the total ruination of his fine clothes.

The guard checked his billet, looked him up and down dubiously and then gave a nod. He turned, indicating that the guards behind him were to allow him and Yuko to pass. She would show her own billet, when she arrived. As of right now, she was nowhere to be seen.

Urhaggha stalked through camp, dodging soldiers and horses moving supplies up and down the narrow spaces between the hundreds of tents that lined the hills leading up to the main front where lord Hukama would no doubt be.

As hurg went, he was quite rich. Urhaggha could retire and never need to work for another coin again. He would buy new clothes, but he would still rue the waste of money. What he wore presently cost a small fortune by local standards. Perhaps he should have considered dressing in a local kimono. However, that would still do little to conceal his bulk.

He was a thin hurg, but even a thin hurg was powerful compared to the weakness of humans and most demi humans.

So far the camp was quite docile as no fighting beyond the occasional small skirmish had taken place. Each side was still feeling out the other, testing boundaries and defenses. Both forces were impregnable as things stood—the defenders unassailable because of the sheer steps required to assault the temple plateau, and the foothills equally impregnable due to the same inability to muster troops into an open fighting formation.

He made it to the front in short order, cold and wet and ready to sleep, but not before a boiling hot bath. It was the middle of the night, but like most habitually active individuals, Hukama would probably be awake poring over maps or possible strategies of attack. If not, he might be meditating or taking a quick nap. The man never seemed to sleep properly.

Urhaggha came to a raised platform with several tents and a trestle table that was situated near the river. Hukama’s tent was alight and surrounding the platform were lanterns and guards on all four corners, attentive about the protection of their lord daimyō. Even ninjas slunk in the shadows.

He smirked. They had no idea hurg could see in the dark.

There were two samurai at the front, both stepped in his path. They knew who he was, but evidentially they didn’t trust him, because they always seemed ready to pounce.

“Stop,” the guard on the right said. He was clean shaven, the top of his head shaved. In the traditional fashion, he had a top knot. “State your business, gaijin.

“I must speak with the daimyō,” Urhaggha said in a low voice. He tried not to make it carry, but that was almost impossible for a hurg. At least, as far as human ears were concerned. Apparently they could also feel the heavy vibrations of hurg vocal cords as well. They often found it physically uncomfortable and disconcerting. Hukama, however, never showed any disinclination or discomfort to hear the assassin speak. “I have an urgent matter to report.”

“You may tell us of this matter, assassin, and then we will relay it to the daimyō should we deem it necessary.”

Hukama had ordered that he have access to him at any time. The daimyō was well aware of his reputation, and even though the work of an assassin was seen as underhanded, he did keep his promises, and one of those being that he would never work for multiple clients that had intersecting interests. He reminded the two guards of their daimyō’s orders. They shifted uneasily, looked at one another. One of them nodded ever so slightly.

“Very well. You can go in to see him.”

Urhaggha stepped past them, their heads only making it up to his shoulders in height. He entered the tent to find Hukama alone, and as usual, studying his maps. The night was chilly for human standards because of the rains and the breeze, so there was a crackling brazier in the corner.

There had been heavy rains, but they had let up. The night was much calmer with a promise of further storms as thunder rumbled overhead.

Hukama looked up from his small table of which he was sitting cross legged at. “Ah,” he said. “You look as if you’ve had an ordeal, Urah. Come.” He motioned the hurg forward. “Sit and tell me what has happened.”

He sounded more like a benevolent grandfather about to ask Urhaggha to sit on his lap rather than a powerful warlord of Kachiiwara. He saw no point in wasting time, and so without preamble, informed the daimyō of what had happened.

Hukama looked about, caressing warmth into his hands. It wasn’t cold enough for that, which meant he wanted something to do with them.

No longer the benevolent grandfather, Hukama glanced up at him. “I have to say, I’m quite surprised. Your reputation normally precedes you, Urhaggha, but so far you’ve failed me twice now.”

Urhaggha was about to speak, but Hukama cut him off with a hand. The man was sharp of mind, but he seemed physically frail. Not sickly. No, he was quite healthy, simply frail of body, thin. “No need,” he said, smiling. “What cannot be changed cannot be changed. I am certain circumstances simply did not permit you to accomplish your mission, and so I have another one for you.”

“I’m willing to undertake anything you have,” he said. Somehow he felt guilty for having failed Hukama. Perhaps Urhaggha respected him. Perhaps he thought Hukama would scold him, lash out. But he did not. He was an understanding man, and though he did not suffer incompetence, he had the discernment to know when a battle was simply lost because of the superior stratagems of one’s enemies.

“Good,” he said. “I wish you to go to the harbor in the peninsula. Take Yuko with you.” He glanced about. “Where is that woman?”

Urhaggha shrugged. She wasn’t his responsibility.

Hukama chuckled. “Oh, I’m sure she’s here.” His tone changed, a more serious note entering his demeanor. “You will go there and find Lady Markovila. She will inform you of our plans.”

Urhaggha nodded. “Very well.”

Before Urhaggha left the tent, the daimyō looked at him. “Take a hot bath before you go. The onsen is quite wonderful.”

How did he know Urhaggha wanted that? He nodded. “Thank you.”

He stepped out of the tent and went to the hot springs, otherwise known as an onsen in the local language, as Hukama had just used. When he entered one of the cordoned off areas, all of the soldiers left, either out of fear or prejudice, he didn’t care, all he wished was to be alone and to scrub the muck from his skin in the hot steaming bath.

As hurg went, he was quite civilized, more so than even most humans. Wealth afforded him such luxuries, but he was not afraid to get his hands dirty, so to speak, though physical grime he did not abide. He called one of the quartermaster’s servants over and ordered that a fresh kimono for travel and fighting be brought to him.


About the author


Bio: "I’m a businessman. My family has a seat in the Dwarven Merchants Guild. Merchants buy and sell goods. Businessmen buy and sell stores. In my spare time, I manage a spy network. And occasionally, I write books."--Varric Tethras

- Blackwood Company is on going...

- Acheron is complete
- Wakiagaru is complete
- The Reconnoiters is complete
- Skydrift is complete

- Blackwood Company to be posted
- Littlehand Hakuria (short) to be posted

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