Greylands, Part 5: Ronin

by Colin F. Barnes

Geisha breathed deep, closed her eyes, and drew a map of the Sisters’ dormitory layout in her mind. She traced the corridors, the locations of her fellow assassins’ rooms, and the long staircase to the upper floor, to Marie’s room: HQ, head of operations, and the heartbeat of the Sisterhood.

Karen, a retired sister, patrolled the area in a strict pattern. If one could sneak to the far rear corner below the broken elevator shaft, one could hear her footsteps and trace her movements.

Geisha knew the exact spot. She was not just an assassin, but also a girl scout. She trained to always be prepared. Think ahead, plan for contingency. It was an ethos drummed into her from a young age.

“One day, it’ll save your life,” her father told her, shortly after cracking her eight-year-old skull with a wooden pole. It was her own damned fault; he swung the pole exactly the same way after each faux attack when leading with the left leg. She spotted it, but didn’t trust her instincts. The phantom pain that she gets sometimes in her head is a great reminder of that harsh lesson. Today her head hurts, her heart aches and her lungs feel like she’s inhaled a ton of concrete.

But that doesn’t matter. She prepared for this—and eleven other potential outcomes.

It would take her three and a half minutes to reach the destination. Assuming one of the bitches didn’t do anything stupid, like kill her. Once there, Marie would be a sitting duck. The old pig, fat and slow on profits, wouldn’t have the reactions or the skill to protect herself.

At her best, calculated guess, the chances of her dying before ending Marie’s life, and thus the sisterhood—and any chance of her beloved Tory being a target—was eighty-five percent. In her line of the work, those odds were acceptable.

She placed the katana in a waist loop, checked her back-sheaths for her twin daggers, and tightened her body armor around her wounded chest.

Every breath bloomed a new stab of pain in her lungs and chest. The virus ravaged through her system, making a mockery of her immune system. She’d have to move quickly before she weakened further and reduced her odds to zero.

She sat on the edge of her cot and took from the drawer of her narrow, wooden cabinet a turned rosewood vial. It was one of the few items she brought with her from home. From within the vial, a pungent musk emanated. Geisha breathed in the scent, reveled in the fumes that lightened her head.

She lay back on the cot, raised the vial to her nose, and breathed in more until the light-headedness transformed to a sense of clarity and calm. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on the effect of this drug as it passed through her body with each lungful. Her skin tingled as if she were lying in the long grass fields of home during high summer. She watched the mental image like a film; white clouds filled the blue sky; mist, which floated diaphanously around the mountain, burned away by the sun’s glare. Inset into the mountain a cave entrance, dark and uninviting, sat between great red oaks. From within the cave came a voice, calling.

“Come home.”

It was Tory. Geisha knew what she had to do. Snapping her eyes open, her vision took on the clarity of a bird of prey. It was time to hunt and kill. The power from her mother’s herb blend fought against the rampaging virus, giving her strength, power and speed. How long it would last she didn’t know. It was only the second time she’d used it, and the first time she remembered nothing after she woke to find herself with blood on her hands and scores of cuts across her near-naked body.

She survived that day, whatever it was that happened. There was still hope for this one.

Geisha unsheathed one of her daggers with her left hand. With her right she opened her door, and with her back against the brick corridor wall. Staying in the shadows, she edged her way down to the next set of doors. One either side: Briana and Kerisa’s dorms.

She stopped, held her breath and listened. A stifled giggle confirmed her thoughts: the two were sharing a room. Karisa’s. This was Geisha’s first piece of fortune, though any assassin will tell you there’s no such thing as fortune, only skill and manipulation of events. Whichever it was, Geisha accepted the fact: Kerisa’s room was the less secure of the two.

The bed had its back to the door. Bad Feng Shui. The kind of home planning that’ll get you killed.

Noticing no shadows under the door (the gap was five millimeters more than Briana’s, making observation that much easier), Geisha gripped the handle and waited.

A few more giggles, then the shuffling of bed covers. Geisha turned the handle, which of course didn’t make a sound due to her oiling it so very recently. Preparation 101: stealth and planning are your friends.

The two girls were busy tongue fighting under the covers. Geisha approached low before vaulting onto Briana’s back, forcing her face down onto Karisa.

It was an easy double kill. The two girls lay together like eternal lovers not even knowing what happened. Ignorance was bliss.

Leaving their bodies to bleed out on the bed in a deathly embrace, Geisha closed the door behind her and focused on the next part of her mission: break into Marie’s room and finish it all for good.

 

Geisha made her way up to the next level and took her place under the broken elevator shaft as she had done every night for the last fifty-three days. She waited for Karen, the guard, to make her rounds past Marie’s door and head off down the corridor. This was it—a window of three and a half minutes. It would be enough.

The stairs were taken two at a time. Each step sent a bolt of pain through her chest, but the drugs were just holding out, enabling Geisha to keep up the intensity. The thought of exacting revenge and saving Tory was enough, even if the drugs did run out. The adrenalin flowed through her like mercury. This was the part she loved: that pre-kill anxiety. It was as if she floated, powered by all the concentration and determination in the world. She called it hyper-focus. Her mind closed down like a camera’s aperture until just a tiny speck of thought was left fully focused.

The plain iron door to the room was locked. She didn’t even need to test this. The jingle of keys on Karen’s key ring was evident. And neither did it have a gap at the bottom. Marie might be old and slow, but stupid she wasn’t. But then neither was Geisha.

From a pocket she pulled a slither of plastic explosive. She stole it from a previous contract. Some cheap gangland boss had perfected a concoction from easy to find products to create what he called ‘Stripper.’ A low-level explosive designed to strip locks of their mechanism. Geisha had tested it in her escape. Reckless, but the risk paid off.

She stuffed the soft, rubbery compound into the keyhole and around the lock area. She trailed a length of fuse around the corner and with a small flint-and-steel hand light she lit the fuse. That Karen would hear it wasn’t in doubt. Whether she could make it back in time was another.

Two. One. Crack.

The explosion was muted against the iron. Geisha shoulder-rushed the door knocking it open. She raised her katana just in time to parry a swing of Marie’s blade. The old bitch was a wise one for sure.

Inside, the room was dark, with only the localized ambient of a bedside lamp display to give any sense of size and direction. Fine by Geisha, she’d trained in the darkness for years.

Two foot shuffles, diminishing sound… moving away and to the left. Geisha kept her blade her high; side stepped then thrust forward. Marie screamed as the blade sliced flesh.

A clang of metal against wood. Marie dropped her blade.

Geisha quickly stepped forward, placed her foot over the weapon, and waited a split second before chopping downwards. She caught Marie on the shoulder as she tried to retrieve her weapon. Her training was severely lacking. How she had made it to head the operation was anyone’s guess.

“You bitch!” Marie shouted as her heavy body collapsed the ground. Geisha pictured Marie’s position in her mind’s eye. Felt her fat body against her leg. She spun her free leg over and took Marie’s back. She dropped her katana and withdrew a dagger, holding it against Marie’s unprotected neck.

She pulled slightly so that the blade dug in and cut the skin.

“Who gave you the contract for Tory?” Geisha asked, risking the extra few seconds before Karen would return, armed with her semi-automatic.

Marie just gurgled and wheezed. Geisha let the pressure of slightly, and screamed at her again. “Tell me, who was it?”

“Fuck you!” Marie spat blood to the floor and tried to buck Geisha from her back. Geisha kidney punched her, sending her sprawling onto her face.

Footsteps rushed down the corridor creating a crescendo of echoes. Geisha looked up from the gloom, saw the swaying torch getting closer. Damn it. Not enough time.

Geisha took the dagger and slit Marie’s throat before standing and rushing to the side of the door. Too late.

Karen’s gun ripped off a short blast of automatic fire, sending bullets crashing through the open door. One caught Geisha in the side of her chest, sending her flailing over a chair and collapsing hard on her face in the corner of the room. The impact made her vision swim. She tried to stand, but the dizziness brought her back down to the floor.

The lights came on, blinding her. In front of her the formidable shape of Karen standing with her legs her wide, both arms held out, the semi-auto pointing right at Geisha’s head.

“I always knew your loyalties were suspect. All your fancy swords and daggers ain’t gonna help you now, bitch.”

Geisha winced and closed her eyes as two gunshots rang out. She held her breath for a few seconds…nothing. No pain, no shock. She dared to open her eyes.

Karen’s body was sprawled against the wall, her weapon lying loosely on her legs, which were bent at an awkward angle.

Geisha looked up, followed the trajectory of the gunshots.

“Tory! What the…”

Tory holstered her pistol and rushed across the room. She knelt next to Geisha and inspected her chest wound. “You’ve been shot; it doesn’t look good.” She ran her hand over the body armor and noticed the deep cut in the middle of her chest. “What happened to you?”

“Occupational hazard. What are you doing here?” Geisha clenched her fists trying to manage the pain. How would Tory even know where the place was? It was never something Geisha had ever revealed; none of them did, unless… “It was you! You’re the one giving Marie the contracts.” It made perfect sense. Tory was the one giving out coded messages from her boat; she was the one privy to various intel, and she would be the one who could make the most of the disruption from the contracts.

Geisha watched the gun in Tory’s left hand, certain she would finish her off.

“You’re right. But think about it. Why would I hire Marie to give you the contact to take me out?”

“You knew I couldn’t do it…you…you backed me into the corner so I would do…this.” Geisha raised an arm and indicated the room, the bodies, the death.

“I needed to know for sure the Sisterhood was finished. Doing it from the inside was the only way.”

“Who do you work for?”

Tory smiled. “I can’t tell you that. It doesn’t really matter. You’re safe; the Sisterhood is no more. We can move on, get off the boat.”

“Why would you do that? It’s the only place that’s safe these days.”

“I have a contact on the mainland. Things are changing, babe. We can have a new life, in the Shadows.”

Tory bent her head and kissed Geisha tenderly.

It all sounded so perfect; living together on the mainland, part of a wider group, safer in numbers. But Geisha knew it was impossible. Sisterhood or no Sisterhood, she was dying. The drugs had long worn off and she could sense the disease, whatever it might be, destroying her from the inside. Pain came in waves, crashing through her body, pulsing through her brain.

A fever broke out on her skin making her glossy and slick.

Geisha hugged Tory close, shut her eyes hard and allowed the pain to take her. Her time was up. She could at least rest knowing Tory was safe from the Sisterhood; had a new life ahead of her. It was time for Geisha to return home to the long grass fields; to the huts filled with honest, honorable people: her family, her village.

The cave entrance amongst the oaks in the mountain grew large in her vision until all she could see was blackness. From within came a voice:

“Come home.”

The End.

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