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Learn the sword, and how to make music, whether with a koto or with steel. One day. But right now, Hana turned as she walked down the stone corridor, and gave him a dazzling smile, and Taro shook the thoughts of the future away, like summer gnats. As long as he was here, he could imagine, even, that Shusaku still lived, and that one day he would see the ninja step out from some hidden alcove and take up his training again. Leaving the cave, Taro and Hana followed the long tunnel that led to the main hall, which was the crater of the volcanic mountain, cut off from daylight by an enormous sheet, painted with stars.

When they stepped into the wide, twilit space, they saw Hiro, practicing alone. His sword in his hand, he went through the kata, a sequence of formalized movements the ninja student was expected to master completely, so that they could be called up in a fight without thinking.


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Taro watched Hiro move, and wished that he could see him grin instead, and tell stupid jokes. But who could blame him? Taro had never been close to the girl. In fact, she had always seemed wary of him, jealous of how quickly he had been made a real ninja. He had always detected a steel core in her, sharp edges, as if she were a sword made flesh. And he had always known that she was envious of him, for being turned into a vampire so young, so quickly. He had become a kyuuketsuki —a blood-sucking spirit-man. As she tried for a strike, he parried and counterattacked, his mind half on the flashing movement of the swords and half on the future.

What was he to do now? Last year Shusaku had revealed something even more shocking than the secret of the ninjas: He had also told Taro that the man killed in the beach hut in Shirahama had not been his real father. But these were abstracts. She cursed in a very unladylike manner and bit her lip as she steadied her sword into her opening stance.

Before he died, Lord Oda had spoken of it, as had the fortune-teller, when she spoke to Taro of his destiny. It was a ball, made for the last Buddha, that gave its bearer dominion over the world and everything in it, because it was the world in miniature. Taro had thought it a tall tale, but he now had reason to believe that it was in Shirahama, hidden by his mother at the bottom of the bay. The second thing was his mother. It was a moment before Taro realized that his sword was no longer moving. Hana stood before him, arms folded, her katana leaning against her leg.

Oh, yes.

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Even frowning, like this, Hana was beautiful, and he felt a pang of guilt that instead of enjoying this time with her, safe from all enemies in the mountain, he was worrying about the ball and his mother, and how he could secure them both. Lord Oda was dead, but his second-in-command, Kenji Kira, was still abroad in the country, looking for Taro. He, or someone else, could find the ball and use it to cause untold damage. But what if Taro went looking for it, went to Shirahama, and his mother meanwhile was hurt, or killed? Someone like that weasel Kawabata, who had already betrayed Taro once … Of course, his mother might already have been killed, and when Taro thought of that possibility a thick snake would squirm in his belly and he would find himself unable to sleep, the images of his mother and the ball rotating in his head, like the Sanskrit symbols on a prayer wheel.

You have only to say. He knew she would. She would go anywhere with him—she had shown him that already. Foolish of her, really. There was something else, too. He thought Hana liked him—he was sure he could see it, in the cast of her eyes sometimes, and in the way she teased him. Her father was a monster—perhaps she would have left his castle with anyone who came along and saved her; perhaps Taro had only been in the right place at the right time.

Her smile disappeared. Taro wondered if everyone he loved would do that eventually—either die or leave him, or become changed, like Hiro. Perhaps it was what he deserved. As if to underline his own thoughts, Kawabata Senior chose that moment to step out of a hidden panel in the rock, which was made of stone fixed to a wooden door. Even from close up, it looked identical to the rock wall, and Taro had still not gotten used to the way that people would sometimes emerge from this secret passageway, using it as a shortcut to the main hall.

Kawabata stopped when he saw Taro. Scowling, he turned on his heel and vanished again into the darkness. Taro sighed. Kawabata had tried to get Taro killed, along with his companions—sending a ninja to Lord Oda to warn him that they were coming to his castle. Luckily, his son, Little Kawabata, had managed to prevent the messenger from reaching his destination.

When Taro had returned to the mountain, unharmed, he had been welcomed as a hero by the people here. All except for Kawabata, who had trembled when he saw Taro entering the cave system, Little Kawabata by his side. The son had denounced the father, and Kawabata, on seeing the contempt in the faces of his fellow ninjas, had asked for permission to commit seppuku.

Taro had refused. Besides, if there were people who gathered rice and people who gathered fish, then Taro was a person who gathered death. He had seen so many people around him die—he could not see another. But of course he had done the worst possible thing, as always.

Kawabata might have forgiven him for living—especially as his great enemy Shusaku was dead as he had intended—but he could not forgive the slight on his honor that Taro had inadvertently given. Even one who had committed a great sin could cleanse himself through seppuku, yet it was in the power of the sinned-against to grant this redemption to the sinner, and Taro had not done so.

He had denied Kawabata his purity, and Kawabata would not forget it. Taro knew that he would have to kill the man one day, or change his mind about the seppuku—otherwise Kawabata would be sure to try once again to destroy him.

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But he kept putting it off. Since his father, too many people had died on his account. He threw his sword aside, and Hiro looked up, startled, as it skidded across the sandy floor. Taro made a vague gesture to his friend, a wave of his hand that said something like, Forget it. He was entering the tunnel that led to the sleeping quarters when one of the younger women—Taro thought her name was something like Aoki—came running out of it and nearly barreled into him.

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The Betrayal of the Living

Breathless, she held out an object toward him with both hands, nodding furiously at him to take it. The object cocked its head and said, Coo. Taro stared at the pigeon. He was dimly aware of Hiro, coming up beside him and putting his hand on his shoulder. He was pleased his friend was with him. He reached out and took the bird, gently holding its wings so that it could not fly away. Its eyes darted from side to side, and it made a stream of gurgling sounds that could have been complaint or pleasure.

So when a group of these highly-trained assassins kill Taro's father, he must learn their ways in order to avenge him, evading the wrath of warring Lords, deciphering an ancient curse - and unleashing the blood-soaked secrets of a life lived in moonlight. Dangerously weakened, Taro must discover the one object Lord Oda was desperate to find before he died - and he must go to hell and back to get it.

The Betrayal of the LivingTaro is at a crossroads - no land, no title, and no hope of marrying his beloved Hana. As he sets off on another perilous quest, the future of all feudal Japan is in danger, and everything Taro holds dear will be threatened. The dead have begun to rise. Blood Ninja was inspired by his interest in the Far East, and by the fact that he is secretly a vampire ninja himself.

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The blood ninja trilogy By: Lake, Nick. Format eBook. Dewey Availability Available.