"I gave him the chance to walk away..."
Wiping the blood away, I slide the blade back into the sheath and wait for a response. The young man at my feet takes one last breath before his chest falls still. His companion, a frail old man finally moves. Ever so slowly, he begins to shake his head, but his blank expression betrays no other emotion.
"Tss-. That boy was useful...if a bit dense. Now he's..." The old man does not make eye contact directly, but I can feel his analyzing gaze despite his attempt to appear ignorant of my presence. The fact that I just dispatched his only bodyguard seems to be of no immediate concern. His feigned apathy fades. His ragged laugh cracks the newly-formed ice and soothes the brewing hostility in the air.
"Where the hell did you come from, and why did you see fit to end the life of the stupid boy at your feet?"
"He attacked me, I just reacted. It is his own damn fault for blindly charging into a fight for which he was unprepared."
"That would be my fault, as his master. Is this what you are implying?"
"Nothing of the sort. His ignorance is too deeply seeded to attribute to your tutelage. His condition was irreversible; a curse of birth."
"How do you know that? You never shared a word with the stupid boy."
"My body language was clear. Was it not? Did I not give off the impression that I was not seeking a challenge?"
"The way you are dressed...you are hiding...from something, or someone. Your mysterious appearance does nothing but attract the very attention you seek to avoid. Dressed in these dark clothes, your face covered, and armed to the teeth. You almost look like a bandit. If you've seen one, you've seen them all. No one would even suspect you are just a girl. That is, until you opened your mouth."
"I am not hiding. These clothes simply provide the protection I am seeking in these treacherous mountain paths.. They were a gift from an unfortunate bandit who tried to assault me on my way across the border. His aim was not quite as good as mine, and now he is missing an eye to go along with these clothes. I left him his life, but your friend today was not so lucky. He ran himself through; all I did was hold the blade."
"Who taught you to wield weapons with such proficiency?"
"My father's retainer, Hiro-"
"Aha! I knew that I have seen those eyes before. You are the headstrong offspring of that firebrand Sanetaka - may his soul find rest. He never could quite could get along with the snake Yoshitoyo. Something always seemed off about their relationship. Bonds of blood are not always a strong as one may think."
"Master Wakabe, I must humbly apologize for disturbing your peace this evening. Hiro sent me to seek you out. He said that he has taught me all that he could, but that his training would be insufficient to accomplish the task I have set for myself. Will you take me on as a student? I have a small amount of gold to offer. Otherwise, I can only give myself. However long I must serve, I am prepared."
"Well, this is not what I expected. I thought I might have a fight on my hands, but now you turn the tables on me and offer yourself. You should know that I only kept that boy around for menial tasks and grunt work. I fear my teaching ability has suffered in the years since I have known your father. I would do you far more harm than good. Please not take this the wrong way, but I must decline your offer. Girls are far too complicated, too difficult..."
"More difficult than finding another stupid peasant to do the dirty work? You can always change your mind and send me away. Just give me a chance to prove my worth."
"You do not realize what you seek. The road ahead is even more dangerous than the one from which you have come. There is no going back."
"I know this already. I am prepared for the consequences, whatever they may be."
"We shall see. Grab the body. We have wasted too much time as it is."