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cloudusa

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Posts: 1,447 Member Since: 01/28/10

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Dec 1 13 1:47 AM

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I would first like to thank you (dear reader) for taking time out of your busy day to go on a journey with me….Raizo and Mika’s journey that is.  These two fictional movie characters moved me like no other characters have ever before.  So much so, that I felt absolutely compelled to continue “their story.”  They deserved so much more than Hollywood seemed willing to give them.  My fan fiction speaks to the way I envisioned their story unfolding had their characters actually been allowed to fully blossom on screen.  It would seem I was not alone in my thinking.  Some loyal forum regulars supported me on my literary journey as I delved into Raizo and Mika’s story.  They encouraged me from the beginning paragraph until the very last sentence.  I am humbled and forever grateful.  I wanted to acknowledge their support as well.    

**Comments on Raizo and Mika: The Journey Continues (Revisited) from Forum readers:

LadyOrchid said:  “…...This story stirred lots of emotions within me.  I felt what the characters were feeling……”

Marisara said:  “…….Oh, I must tell you that your descriptions are phenomenal.  I could see clearly in my mind the places, Raizo’s pain and the babies.  Love it!!”

Jewelz12 said:  “Woooooh, chapter 4!!! You should make this into a book!  #jollygoodjob!”

Rain4flowers said:  “You have me captivated!! I’m running to read the next part!!!”

Terri said:  “Great job BiA.  What a teaser.  Good grief.  When are we getting more, girl?”

Rain4flowers said:  “……Your writing is simply outstanding!!  I think Rain would love to read this…..I’m becoming a fiend for your story BiA!  BiA’s fan forever…..”

Jewelz12 said:  “Oh my goodness bravo, bravo!  I read everything until my eyes started watering bloody great job!!”

LadyOrchid said:  “Great writing as always BiA!! Out of the countless NA fan fics you are one of the few writers who acknowledged Agent Maslow’s love for Mika.  It was so apparent in the movie, glad you tied it in.”

Merrick232 said:  “I love the details in this story and the depth you have given to each character……Great job as always!  Can’t wait to see how this tale unfolds.”

Rain4flowers said:  “……..Now go and get this published!”

Jewelz12 said:  “…..why haven’t you made this into a script or a novel yet?”

Merrick232 said:  “I would definitely buy tickets to see this if it was a movie.  Great job!”

LadyOrchid said:  “Thank you for the beautiful story…….I hate to see this end….Please continue to write and share your literary gift with the world.”


Without further ado, I present to you my fan fiction “Raizo and Mika: The Journey Continues (Revisited).”  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.       

                ~  BiAlamode

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                                       “Whatever happens, don’t let go of my hand.”

RAIZO AND MIKA:  THE JOURNEY CONTINUES (REVISITED)  - COMPILED STORY


Chapter 1:  The Clan of Three Feathers  

Raizo…..Ninja.  Warrior.  Protector.  Three years had passed since Master Ozunu was vanquished at the tip of Raizo’s sword.  Indescribable fury stirred in the pit of his belly, as he watched Mika fall by Ozunu’s hand, right before his eyes.  In that moment, the horror of watching his beloved Kiriko’s heart ripped out became real yet again.  Now, Master Ozunu was one with the spirit world, never to return.  As he watched Mika sleeping, Raizo recalled the last statement he made to Ozunu,  “the breath I take after I kill you, will be the first breath of my life.” She was his life…..Mika…..His Mika.  Since the days of being hunted by the Ozunu clan, Raizo and Mika retreated to a small country cottage on the outskirts of Japan towards the mountain range.  Their little cottage was tucked away in the lush mountain landscape of Japan.  This secluded province was completely hidden from prying eyes and other deadly forces seeking to silence both Raizo and Mika.  He watched her as she lay on the sofa sleeping.  He marveled at the woman who had become everything to him.  His one goal was to keep her safe….keep her alive.  He never envisioned a time when love would become a part of his world again, after his beloved Kiriko.  Yet, love was only a few feet from where he stood watching…..wanting.  Sensing his presence, Mika began to awaken from her slumber.  Her beautiful dark brown eyes met her man’s equally beautiful gaze and all at once she wanted to be near him....her Warrior…..her Protector….her Love.  

She entered the kitchen, as he was standing there watching her with the predatory eyes of a warrior in heat.  She immediately came to him.  She nestled her body into his bare chest, as she wrapped her arms around him.  He then leaned down and with practiced precision and purpose, melded his mouth with hers.  He could drown in the taste of her sweet lips, if she’d let him.  (*instantly his head snapped up*) Raizo, ever the ninja warrior, immediately sensing danger, pulled Mika closer to him mere seconds before a dagger flew just inches by her head.  Their kitchen window was the point of entry.  The peaceful serenity they had enjoyed during the last three years was over in an instant.  Pulling the dagger from the wall, Raizo examined the handle markings and immediately knew it was the call of one of the remaining eight Ninja clans.  He and Mika were no longer safe.  They had to seek refuge elsewhere.  

With only the barest of necessities and the clothes on their backs, they head out leaving behind the little cove they called home.  Never leaving each other’s side, they wasted no time heading deeper into the mountain range nearest their little cove. The brush was thick and plentiful, but it wasn’t enough to ensure their safety.  Raizo had to make sure their trail was covered, as the other ninja clans are just as adept at tracking as he was.  He left nothing to chance.  In the three years since Raizo and Mika had been together, he had trained her in the ways of the Ozunu ninja.  The only life he had known.  Raizo loved Mika deeply and would do anything to protect her.  Teaching her the ways of the ninja, he felt, was the best way. They retreated with all haste into the woods surrounding their cottage going even deeper still into the mountains. “We’ve been so careful, I can’t believe we’re running again!,” said a terrified yet steady Mika.  This she learned from Raizo….the control of one’s emotions, especially in times of great distress.  Sensing they are still being followed, Raizo knew they must keep moving until they found shelter away from danger.  This would not be easy.   “We must become like shadows Mika, stay close,” Raizo said to her….ever the protector.
Mika still had much to learn, but she had become quite skilled in the basics of the ninja.  Raizo had not felt love like this since his beloved Kiriko was killed and he vowed never to lose Mika to the enemy clans.  During their three years together, he trained Mika daily…relentlessly with every weapon known to the Ozunu ninja.  Although still a student of the art of the ninja, Mika had become adept at fading to shadow, however she was still unable to heal her own body as Raizo could.  Being well aware that these skills took a lifetime to develop, Raizo was proud of the progress she had made in three years time nonetheless.  Mika’s love for Raizo was so strong, she would “die” for him again as she almost did three years ago, when the Ozunu clan was destroyed.  She vowed to follow him wherever circumstances may lead them. Her ‘vow’ was now being called to task, as an enemy clan decided to make its presence known.
 
They had been running for a couple of hours before they decided to stop and take a breather.  Soon it became apparent they were finally in the thick of the Shirakawa-go Mountains, when they come across a small village neither had seen before.   Slowly, they tried to get a closer look.  The little mountain village was like stepping back in time.  They saw townspeople going about their day, women talking and laughing with each other and little children playing.  The homes were tiny wood huts with roofs made of wood and dried bamboo.  There were small well manicured gardens surrounding the tiny homes.   From the blossoming Satsuki azaleas and the fragrant orchids to the beautiful meticulously trimmed cherry blossom trees, the scene was quite magical.  Upon closer examination, one thing became glaringly apparent, there were no men.

‘Where are the men?’….Looking through binoculars, Mika gasps. The reality of the circumstance which they now found themselves in had become all too clear.  Raizo immediately took the binoculars to see what had shaken her so.  With a worried look on his beautifully chiseled face, he turned to Mika and said, “If we don’t get out of here we will soon be surrounded, this village belongs to the Clan of Three Feathers,” Raizo stated to Mika. “Yes, I know and they are more deadly than Ozunu,” she answered in kind, as her dark brown eyes met the light brown in his.  “If we don’t go now we will die.  I love you Mika and I will not let death come to you,” Raizo said to her.  

Soon thereafter, the two lovers became shadows in the brush, once again.  After seeing the markings on the doorposts of the villager’s homes, it had become apparent the same markings matched the ones on the dagger Raizo pulled out of the wall back at their cottage.  A cluster of three feathers was the call sign of this clan seemingly steeped in ancient tradition.  As he and Mika retreated further into the woods, they soon realized they were going deeper into Three Feathers territory and needed to seek immediate shelter or nothing else would be a concern.

 The thought of Master Ozunu still brought icy hatred to Raizo’s veins, but his was the only life Raizo knew and came to rely upon.  A ruthless teacher though he was, Master Ozunu drilled into the children of his clan the history of each of the remaining eight clans.  The Clan of Three Feathers was the most unique in that the warriors were only women.  They were identified by a small tattoo of a cluster of three feathers, at the nape of the neck. The feathers of the tattoo were white with indigo hued tips. Each feather was representative of three initiation kills carried out before the age of twelve years.  The hue of the feather’s tip represented loyalty to the clan and more importantly its queen.  Before he came to know Mika, Raizo was approached by a Three Feathers warrior while doing laundry at a laundromat nearby his apartment in Berlin.  He fought his foe with everything he had in him and left her lifeless body in one of the laundromat dryers.

These female warriors were extremely deadly and never to be underestimated.  They slip easily back and forth between living a stealthy existence or openly among civilians, as they are quite skilled in the art of Hensojutsu.  Romantic relationships were expressly forbidden, as they detracted from the overall mission of the clan, which was to exact deadly force with swift, stealthy precision.   They deemed men necessary only for the act of procreation, nothing more nothing less.  Only the strongest warrior women were chosen to conceive the clan’s babies.  Civilian men are lured into the hidden village of the Three Feathers clan with the promise of the sweet delights of the flesh.  Men who came into this village were blissfully unaware of the fate that eventually awaited them.  They would be plied with every fantasy they could ever dream of.  This task belonged to a small group of females within the clan, usually the most beautiful warriors, whose sole purpose was pleasuring these unfortunate men.  The men who were lured into the village were of a particularly strong, masculine build, so as to increase the likelihood of creating strong warrior babies.

After a night of gratuitous physical pleasure, these unsuspecting men would be drugged to an unconscious state, their seed then harvested and used for the sole purpose of artificial insemination with the clan’s strongest warrior women.  Even though the Three Feathers clan was steeped in ancient traditions, as were the other clans, they were not averse to using the technologies of the modern age.  Men who had been ‘harvested’ were kept in a drug induced coma, until the warrior women conceived.  When the warriors conceived, their male donors would then be roused and to their horror, told of their true purpose.  Three Feathers warriors deemed this the one and only merciful act they would exhibit, as the clan felt the unfortunate were owed the truth of what awaited them.  Since it was imperative the clan remain secret, these men would never be allowed to leave.  These ill fated men were only allowed to decide their own fate.  They were allowed to choose the method by which they were to die…..decapitation by sword or poison arrow through the heart.  In a sad twist of irony, many of these men opted for a poison arrow through the heart.  The clan would save its final act of cruel inhumanity for last.  If a male child was conceived, he would unfortunately and immediately be aborted.

While working as a forensic researcher, Mika had become quite familiar with this particular clan as she gathered sensitive data.  However, even as she had done extensive research on all of the nine clans, she found that this one repulsed her to the core of her inner being.  She was incensed that these female warriors could be so devoid of any human feeling.  Their cruelty on a level unimaginable, to make life and take it so easily, was beyond comprehension to her.  She even bristled inside when her beloved Raizo had to partake in the taking of life.  ‘At least his intentions are never to harm the helpless or innocent,’ the mantra that continually filled her mind, as she watched him dispatch their enemies one by one on numerous occasions.


Chapter 2:  Hidden Warrior

Raizo knew what his fate was likely to be if he stayed in Three Feathers territory and he must get Mika out of there, but how?  Three Feathers had discovered where they lived and in attempting to escape, Raizo and Mika now found themselves further into the clan’s territory.  There was no going back.  Until they could escape safely, they needed to find shelter from the elements, as well as, their hunters.  The deeper they retreated into the mountains it became apparent there were many small empty caves.  With his razor sharp ninja instincts, Raizo found the perfect hideaway…..a small cave hidden by plenty of brush, including numerous wisteria trees.  The strong fragrance of the wisteria, intended to aid in masking their scents, would leave them virtually undetectable…..at least temporarily.  Raizo held no illusions of the extremely capable Three Feathers warriors and their determined ability to find their targets, namely he and Mika.  Raizo and his lady love retreated inside the cave for some much needed rest…..rest from running…rest from the ever present fear of ‘death’ nipping at their heels.  
This was the first time since they’d been together they had to actually ‘live’ off of the land.  Mika, fervently prayed that this would only be a temporary state of affairs.  The cave, in actuality, was quite cozy, large enough for them to move around, yet small enough to keep them secluded.  After settling inside, Raizo went back outside and gathered branches and the like.  Upon his return, he then prepared a makeshift pallet from the surrounding brush he gathered.  Afterwards, Raizo laid out a sleeping bag from among their provisions, for the two of them to share. Also among their hastily gathered and very limited provisions, was extra clothing, grenades, dynamite, food stuffs and several weapons of the Ozunu ninja, namely his chain sword.  Raizo always made sure they were prepared to leave at a moment’s notice, for occasions such as the very one they had suddenly found themselves in.

They immediately hunkered down next to each other, pooling their body heat.  After a few hours, they are finally able to relax ever so slightly.  Mika, keeping her smile to herself, felt her warrior’s fierce ‘heat’ begin to grow against her plush backside, as he held her close.  Raizo had always been a man of a few words and even less emotions, but his desire he could no longer hide.  He would never leave her wanting for protection or passion.  Even in the midst of certain peril, his body was raging at him in want of Mika.  He managed to keep himself in check.  It would have been easier to bare Ozunu’s lashes to the soles of his feet than to lay next to Mika’s luscious rear end.  As he continued to lie next to the woman he loved more than his own life, he thought to himself….’at home we would not have been sleeping, sleep would have come many hours later.’  Fiercely aroused and reveling in his own naughty thoughts, Raizo finally managed to drift off to sleep.


Chapter 3:  Daybreak

Morning sunlight, peeking through the cave entrance, awakened Mika from her slumber.  Slowly opening her eyes, she gave her body a stretch and rolled over to find herself alone.  There was no sign of Raizo.  Smiling as she brushed her hand across the spot where his beautiful body laid next to her she thought…‘Why am I not surprised?’  Raizo was already up and out surveying their surroundings, or so she assumed.  Smiling to herself as she continued thinking of her love, despite the gravity of their situation, Mika gathered up their things as was the routine she and Raizo always kept.  Preparation at all times was key to their survival.  After meandering around the tiny cave, Mika realized quite some time had passed, prompting her to wonder where Raizo was…’why hasn’t he returned to the cave?’  Beginning to feel some trepidation, she went to the cave entrance to take a look outside.  She took only a few steps out, not wanting to venture too far from the security of the cave.  Her gut said something was wrong…terribly wrong.  Raizo, the ninja warrior, would have returned to the cave immediately upon hearing Mika stir.  “Where could he be?,” she said to herself.  Her heart began to pound with the speed of an out of control locomotive. “This is not like him,” she continued.  Frantically looking in every direction, Mika’s worst fear was now realized…..Raizo...her Raizo...her warrior…her protector……was gone.

In an attempt to calm herself, she whispered aloud, “C’mon Mika get it together. Think, Think!  He wouldn’t just leave you alone unprotected.”  All at once, the inconceivable came into Mika’s consciousness.  ‘Has he been taken by the Three Feathers clan?  Surely it’s not possible.’  She knew he had taken them on before and very handily dispatched them.  “Is it possible?,” she wondered aloud.   They vowed to never be apart.  Mika had to find him.  She quickly returned to the cave to get their things, to head to the only place she felt he may be….the Three Feathers village.  After an arduous trek through the woods alone near the Shirakawa-go Mountains, a frightened Mika finally saw in the distance the Three Feathers village.  At this moment, a tired and bug bitten Mika thanked her lucky stars for the extensive research expertise afforded her during her employment at Europol.  As she slowly approached the village, she began to look for possible entrances into the main interior of the compound from her well hidden vantage point.  Through her research, Mika knew that scant information could be found on the clan.  What she did remember was the clan, led by one queen, was practically impenetrable when they were within their underground compound.  
The main interior of the Three Feathers village compound was very well hidden…..and deep…..very deep below the surface.  ‘How can I get inside something built practically like an underground government bunker?,’ Mika thought.  “Oh Raizo…..baby, if I didn’t love you so….,” she then said out loud.  The tiny mountain village on the surface would give up no signs that the Three Feathers compound was located directly below.  Suddenly filled with dread, ‘What if I’m too late, Oh God….I’ve got to find a way into that compound!,’ she said as she shouted in her own mind,  becoming momentarily panicked.  Remembering the Ninja way was what she needed to do at this moment, Mika began to take slow, deep breaths…she had to calm herself and focus.  Raizo’s life depended on it.
 
Once she felt a level of calm wash over her, Mika was then able to focus on finding possible entrance points to the compound interior.  Observing through binoculars she tried to look for anything….everything that could give her clues.  Suddenly, she noticed risings in the ground on two nearby hillsides, each on opposite ends of the quaint little village she and Raizo first came upon the day before.  The risings themselves looked to be a part of the landscape very nondescript, covered in brush, nothing unusual until she took a closer look.  The risings had small window openings, easy enough to miss in haste.  Proud of herself for noticing, she began to feel hopeful that she had found a possible way in.  However, she still didn’t know if Raizo was actually in the underground compound and if he was indeed there was he alive or dead. “Stop, it Mika!,” she shouted to herself.  She couldn’t even conceive of the thought of Raizo being dead.…Raizo….her Raizo….dead?….No, absolutely not.  In her heart of hearts she knew he had to still be alive…he had to.  “I’m on my way Babe,” Mika said out loud to Raizo as if he could hear her.   Mika made her way to the rising closest to her hiding place.  She knew she had to be precise or she may never find Raizo or worse she could get herself killed.   She had to become shadow once again to get close enough to see what she was up against.

Raizo, ever the protector, arose early to scour the area immediately surrounding his and Mika’s hiding place.  He needed to make sure they weren’t followed.  He glanced over at his sleeping beauty, relieved they were together and safe, at least for the time being.  As he left the cave, Raizo meticulously examined the surrounding brush, branches of trees, nearby mountain ridges and anything that could lead them into a trap. On his sojourn through the brush, Raizo came across a small creek.  Feeling satisfied they were not followed at present, he did something completely out of character, he decided to avail himself of the clear cool waters of the creek.  As he undressed, a small smile crossed his usually stern, beautifully sculpted lips. Thinking to himself, he half-heartedly blamed Mika for ‘softening’ the exterior wall of the fortress he built around his heart.  Swimming in a creek with the enemy afoot was something he would have never, ever done.  Still smiling as he began to enter the water, he suddenly heard it…the whizzing of a passing dart.  Before he could react, another dart found its way into the side of his neck. The effect of the toxin laced blow dart was swift.  Within seconds, Raizo fell to his knees…….”Mika,” he managed to whisper before everything faded to black.

Slowly he began to awaken, sweating profusely as his head pounded.  Raizo tried to raise himself up but couldn’t.  Bound and still weakened by the toxin in his bloodstream, Raizo became angry that his momentary lapse in judgement could possibly cost him his life and Mika’s.  ‘Mika, what have I done?!,’ he shouted inside his mind.  Hearing Master Ozunu’s words echo inside his head….’you must hate all weakness, hate it in others….but most of all hate it in yourself,’…Raizo clinched his eyes shut in disbelief.  How could he have allowed himself to fall prey to his enemies leaving Mika unprotected?  Fear crept inside of him at the thought of Mika out in the woods alone.  She only knew the basics of the Ninja, even though she was quite good Raizo knew it would take a lifetime to become a true warrior.  The toxin the enemy warriors used on him was only enough to knock out, but it was indeed deadly enough to kill.  Upon capturing Raizo, Three Feathers warriors brought him into the main ceremonial room of their heavily fortified compound.
 
This particular room was where all the clans’ warriors gathered to witness all rites of passage…..and all executions.  The room was a large, open space……reminiscent of a small arena, dark yet warm.  Fragrant oils perfumed the air within the compound, but this room still carried the stench of death.  The enemy warriors laid Raizo down, took off his remaining clothing and bound him by his wrists and ankles.  They laid him on a large, round wooden table.  This table was used in the way of the ancient clan warriors of the past, during the times of enemy torture.  With groggy eyes, he tried to survey his surroundings…but he couldn’t.  Yet again he recalled from his memories Ozunu’s words, ‘You must see with more than just your eyes.’  Blocking out all unnecessary noise, he heard the pattering of small feet indicating small children or a small woman.  He scented the air and smelled perfumed fragrances found in scented oils used by some of the ancient clans. ‘Jasmine, orange blossoms and lotus,’ just a few of the fragrance oils he recognized as he thought to himself.  More specifically, oils used by the clans’ females……’Females!’  In an instant, all had become as clear as a crystal droplet of water at the tip of a melting icicle.  He had found himself captured by the Clan of Three Feathers.
 
At the very moment the realization hit home, the clan queen entered the room where he was being held captive.  ‘Queen Indigo’….Raizo, thought to himself as he watched her walk slowly towards him, he remembered Master Ozunu’s admonition regarding her treachery, especially towards men.  She was beautiful, quite tall with hazel eyes that were golden tinged.  Pleased they had captured an Ozunu warrior, she began to survey her ‘prey’…a confined and gloriously naked Raizo.  Spread eagle for all to gaze upon, Queen Indigo began circling him slowly.  The wooden table which held Raizo prisoner began to slowly rise upright.  He was soon made to unceremoniously face the crowd of warriors, still at Queen Indigo’s mercy.  Her attempt at humiliating him, would not garner the reaction she wanted.  This Ozunu warrior was at her mercy and she wanted acknowledgement of her dominion over him and ultimately his clan.  Although she was a cold, ruthless woman, she was not immune to Raizo’s unspeakable male beauty.
 
Addressing her army of warriors in a way befitting her powerful stature and complete authority, she continued to circle slowly around the table that confined Raizo, as she began to speak.  “He has the body of a god, sculpted to perfection.  His strong jaw line….exquisitely chiseled stomach…..thighs like oak,” Indigo stated succinctly while letting her finger tips caress, with precision, over each part of his body for emphasis. While audaciously looking at his manhood, of which there was no description worthy of its powerful presence, she continued, “The body of a true warrior.  He will give us the finest specimens.”  As she came closer to Raizo, standing mere inches from his face…”I will sample your virile strength myself, before I put a poison arrow through your gorgeous heart”…..Queen Indigo stated as a matter of fact, all the while suggestively touching his ‘strength.’  Without flinching, Raizo looked into her hazel eyes….”I don’t have a heart,” he said.   Indigo paused as she looked him in the eye.  Momentarily surprised by his dark humor, she found herself amused prompting her to suddenly throw back her head and let out a hardy laugh. “My, my Ozunu’s pet.  It would seem there is more to you than meets the eye and what meets the eye is quite pleasing indeed,” said an intrigued Indigo.

Upon approaching the rising, Mika found it strange there was no warrior guard on patrol….or was there? This clan was so adept at hiding they could be anywhere, anyplace, anytime.  As she approached the window opening inside of the man-made rising, Mika, still nervous, thought ‘This is too easy’ when suddenly she is grabbed from behind.   Startled….without a moment to spare, Mika’s ninja training “kicked in” and without thought threw her attacker over the front of her head rendering her immobile, by knocking her unconscious…seemingly.  With some trepidation, Mika slowly approached the warrior to check to see. Reaching out her hand to feel the neck of her attacker proved to be a mistake, as she found herself pulled to the ground and flung on her backside.  “I knew it couldn’t be that easy,” Mika facetiously said to herself as she landed on the ground.  Feigning the need for mercy, Mika’s attacker slowed her approach never noticing Mika slip her hand to the back of her ninja suit and pull out a shuriken.   Instantaneously she tossed it with all her might.   The weapon found its way between her attacker’s eyes.  Fearful that she would’ve alerted her clan there is an intruder in their midst, Mika had no choice but to silence her. 

Recalling a conversation, she had with her beloved ‘Never turn your back to your enemy, it may be the last breath you take,’ Raizo so chillingly told her. The thought of taking a life was still a daunting proposition for Mika, but it was becoming increasingly apparent it would be harder to keep her hands bloodless, if she was to save her beloved Raizo.  After exchanging her clothes with those of her attacker, Mika climbed into one of the window openings of the rising with stealthy precision.  Dropping to the floor with the agility even a feline would envy, she found herself in a long bricked corridor, dark…dank…ancient in appearance, though clearly not upon closer examination.  ‘Being a forensic researcher does have its advantages,’ Mika thought to herself.  There were many pathways….a maze of sorts….there was no clear way to finding Raizo.  Mika had to go with her gut and take a chance.  She took the pathway to her immediate right and continued down yet another long corridor.  Stealthy steps ruled her now, she could practically hear her heart beating out of her chest, “Raizo I need you…you’d know what to do,” she couldn’t help but whisper out loud.
 
She began to see doors on each side of the long corridor pathway she was on.  Each door was painted a deep blue with white numbers in Japanese characters centered precisely in the middle.  This is the first time any civilian had been inside the Three Feathers compound, other than the clan’s victims.  As terrified as she was, Mika felt a certain amount of awe at being so close inside the inner sanctum of another of the eight remaining ancient clans of legend.    For an ever so brief moment, she felt privileged to get this incredibly rare glimpse.   Her research never afforded her more than a trip to the file archives and back to her desk, when she was at Europol.  This compound was indeed, a rare sight to see.   As she continued down the corridor, Mika began to hear a voice…..unsure, she continued on as the voice became louder and more distinct.  Finally Mika reached the end of the corridor, where she came upon two golden double doors with black feather shaped handles.  Clearly, the voice Mika heard was coming from behind those golden doors.  Afraid of what may befall her on the other side of those gilded doors, Mika made the decision to try one of blue doors.  “I must be crazy….Please let this room be empty,” she said to herself.  She knew she needed to try and see what was going on behind those golden doors.  With the Three Feathers uniform protecting her identity, Mika slowly turned the knob on the closest door to the golden double doors.   Astonished at her luck, Mika stumbled upon what looked to be a room used by the clan for concocting dangerous poisons.
  
Hearing voices out in the corridor, Mika quickly ducked under a mixing table at the far side of the room and became shadow.   Two enemy warriors entered the room, neither one of them sensing Mika’s presence apparently.  Dressed in their combat regalia, they continued gathering oils and herbs and their signature poison tipped arrows from what seemed like a never ending arsenal.  These warriors were preparing for another mission Mika deduced.  When they had what they needed, they exited the room swiftly….stealthily.  Mika had no idea she was holding her breath until they left the room…….she exhaled in relief.  Amazed at the amount of various natural herbs growing within the room, Mika’s researcher mind was on overload, but nothing came before Raizo….nothing.   Close to the ceiling, Mika noticed a small opening, an arch shaped window and she heard the same voice that she heard coming from the other side of the golden double doors.  “Who knew a mixing table could be so versatile,” Mika said as she climbed her way to that opening using the table as a boost.
 
Peering from the window Mika realized she was looking into the main ceremonial room of the Three Feathers clan.  This room meant the beginning and…..the end…for warriors and their victims alike.  She gasped….”Queen Indigo,” Mika whispered to herself….”So the legend is true,” Mika continued when suddenly she saw her love….”Oh My God…..Raizo,” Mika whispered in a frantic state.  ‘I’ve got to get to him,’ she thought to herself.  Holding tight to their bag of provisions, Mika carefully climbed further into the window opening and as if she had been reborn feline, she jumped down onto a small balcony railing at the very top rafters of the ceremonial room were Queen Indigo had Raizo on display.  The warriors, while listening intently at their queen, never noticed….surprisingly.  Indigo, so engrossed in her own blatant fondling of Raizo, never sensed Mika’s presence either.  Quietly Mika waited for the opportunity to make her move, anger building as she watched the Three Feathers queen fondle Raizo’s beautiful body.  Raizo….her Raizo…..”How dare she touch him,” an angry Mika said out loud.  She couldn’t really blame her, but when Queen Indigo availed herself of the opportunity to touch Raizo’s unmistakable manhood it was more than Mika could bear. “Hands off my man, you green-eyed bitch!,” an enraged Mika bellowed from the top floor of the same ceremonial room where Indigo gathered her warriors to showcase their captured Ozunu enemy.
 
Mika, the low-key forensic researcher, forgot to be frightened.  As she screamed out, she simultaneously tossed grenades into the crowd of Three Feathers warriors, killing some and scattering others.  Relief and pride swelled his chest, he couldn’t believe his eyes…..Mika….his Mika was alive and facing an army of Three Feathers warriors alone, to save him.  A sly smile briefly touched his soft lips…gone as quickly as it came.  He taught her well.  She was able to enter the grounds undetected and found her way to him.  Her inner strength came to fore, just when she needed it most.  Before all hell broke loose, Mika had quietly watched from the rafters while the clan queen ‘dissected’ Raizo’s beautiful body.   Anger overflowed from Mika like hot lava out of the mightiest of volcanoes.  However, she wasted no time as she now had mere seconds to rescue him.  Jumping down the railings, with the agility of a true ninja warrior, Mika found her way to a tied up Raizo yet again.  She momentarily became woozy as she made her way to him….many strong scents permeated the air. “I was afraid they killed you,” a relieved Raizo said.  “Never underestimate the will of a woman in love,” teased Mika.  “You must really love me then?” retorted a teasing Raizo.  “That’s twice I’ve saved you now, but who’s counting?” a smiling Mika said, as she cut the ropes binding Raizo’s wrists and ankles. “Apparently you……Let’s go!” a confident Raizo said.  In the midst of the chaos, the clan’s queen Indigo disappeared from sight.  However, they had no time to waste speculating on her whereabouts, they had to get out……quickly…..and alive.
 
The room was a chaotic mess.  Smoke and debris filled the air, while in the midst stunned warriors began to regain their wits and came full on towards Raizo and Mika.   As they temporarily ducked for cover behind the gigantic medallion shaped wooden table that only moments before held him prisoner, Raizo managed to hastily slip on a pair of cargo pants and light weight combat boots.  The clothing was among their provisions Mika had strapped over her shoulder.   Raizo, ever the chivalrous warrior took the heavy bag from Mika….signaling his return to ‘man the helm’ leading the way.  They fought their way out of the room and into the corridor leading out of the ceremonial room.  “Raizo, this way!,” Mika shouted as she quickly lead him to the room of herbs.  “I found this room by accident,” she told him as they entered in all haste.

“Apparently, this is where the clan prepares their deadly poisons,” she continued.  Surveying the room’s contents, Raizo ironically chooses the one weapon which moments prior nearly had him by Master Ozunu’s side in the spirit world.  “We’ll need these,” Raizo says to her as he hands her a fistful of already prepped poison tipped blow darts.  Familiar with ancient herbs as well, he quickly mixed some deadly concoctions of his own.  Exhausted from fighting off their enemies, Mika leaned against the mixing table Raizo was hastily working on, both Raizo and Mika look up in astonishment not believing their luck as they made an unexpected discovery.  The shifting table weight unlatched and opened a hidden room full of stock piled weapons within the mixing room.

Wasting no time, Raizo immediately decided to relieve his enemies of some of their ‘stash’….“Take as many weapons as you can carry koibito,” Raizo says to his love.  After adding some of the enemy clan’s stockpile to their limited arsenal, the lovers prepared to do battle.   Armed and dangerous they prepare to leave the room…as Raizo puts his hand on the feather shaped handle, he looks back at Mika….”Ready?,” he asked her.  Without speaking she gave him a commensurate nod and with that small gesture, Raizo opened the door to what seemed like Armageddon.  Alternating between poison darts and his kyoketsu-shogei, Raizo dispatched warriors one by one.  Surprised at how quickly Mika adapted to a warrior’s mentality, Raizo took pride in watching her dispatch warriors all on her own, yet it angered him that her beautiful hands need touch such violence.  One by one their enemies fell by the lovers’ capable hands.
 
They both knew they needed to destroy the Three Feathers compound, just as they did Ozunu.  Three Feathers warriors, strong and unrelenting, continued to come at them hard. The duo, equally unrelenting, gave it as good as they got it.  During a momentary reprieve from the action while fleeing down an adjacent corridor, the fight weary pair decided to retreat behind yet another door.  Upon entry, they immediately met stairs…..stairs leading downward into the unknown.  There was no time to seek an alternate means of escape.  As Raizo was about to lead them into the darkness of the stairwell, Mika, all at once, became afraid at what they may have been fleeing towards.  She grabbed his arm, “Mika…we must,” Raizo said as he turned to her….understanding her fear.  She relented, but held his hand for dear life as they quickly, yet quietly, made their way down into the abyss.  Only darkness, as far down as the eye could see greeted them….cold….and harsh, but soon a welcome sight came to fore. Unable to trust they wouldn’t be silenced in death as they tread deeper into darkness, Mika hurriedly pulled out her tiny flashlight from the back of their bag of provisions Raizo was carrying to illuminate their path.  “Well, it seems we’re batting a thousand babe,” Mika said smiling as the bottom of the stairwell revealed its secrets.  This time, incredibly, they stumbled upon an underground room full of explosives.  “You thinking what I’m thinking?” a now determined Mika said to Raizo.  As he carefully…quickly surveyed the room, Raizo saw two tiny doors on opposite sides of the confined basement room.  He deduced that these doors must be escape routes, as all the clans would surely have incorporated deliberate secret passageways in their compounds.  Three Feathers warriors would need to get to their stockpile quickly, easily….stealthily.
 
Looking into Mika’s brown eyes, he spoke with angst in his voice, “We’ll have to split up,” he stated to her, as he gently caressed the side of her soft cheek.   His words left a bitter taste in his mouth, to even suggest parting from her after they’d just reunited was excruciating.  “I know,” Mika said, barely above a whisper.  In order to insure the ultimate destruction of the Three Feathers clan, at least one of them would have to remain alive to make sure this happened.  They both knew when they decided to leave the confines of the basement ‘powder keg’ they were in, there would be no turning back.  Raizo, looking at his lady, all at once grabs her and pulls her close to him….so close and kisses her as if they may never lay eyes on each other again.  Reluctantly letting Mika go, they each grab an unlit torch from among the many located around the room.  Raizo ignited both torches with some of the herb concoction he brought with them.  Holding their lit torches, they nod at each other…..“Make it count,” he said as they hurriedly lit as many explosives as they could.  Raizo gave his torch to Mika then disappeared from her sight.  He came upon his enemy within moments as me made his way down the corridor just outside of the door he chose as his exit.  “You think you can leave Ozunu filth?….no one leaves Three Feathers alive,” one of the warriors said, taunting Raizo.  “Exactly,” Raizo said to her as he continued to slice into warriors, buying Mika time.  
Back in the underground basement, Mika ignited as many more explosives as she could, managing to grab a few as she left.  Her heart pounding, Mika tossed the torches in the room and then ran like a bat out of hell’s gates to get out of the compound as quickly as she could.

In mere seconds after she flew out of the underground corridor, the compound was blown to pieces, destroying all within.  Mika barely made it to the nearby woods, desperately hoping that Raizo made it out too.  Looking back at a raging ball of fire in the middle of the mountains, Mika knew she needed to also destroy what was left of the tiny village that sat atop the underground compound, but she knew more than likely children were still in those cottages.  “I can’t kill children, I just can’t!,” she shouted to herself.  Continuing to look at the raging inferno, hope was fading that her beloved made it out alive.   The ground shook as more explosions roared from below, the last one knocking her back against a nearby tree….“Raizo!...oh Raizo,” Mika called out as her voice cracked with anguished emotion.  Tears began to well up and fall from her eyes, when she didn’t see him.  Too much time had gone by, too many explosions, too much destruction….too much death.  Now crouching on her knees, Mika clutched her stomach and began to weep….Raizo….her Raizo….her warrior……..gone.
 
“A ninja warrior never turns his back on his enemy”….she heard from behind her….a voice….his beautiful voice.  Her heart began to sing at the sound of him.  Swiftly, she turned to see her love standing there, with only a few visible cuts and bruises but otherwise none the worse for wear.  “Raizo!...Oh Raizo, I thought you were killed,” Mika said as she ran into his arms instantly hugging him so tightly, she nearly squeezed the breath out of his body.  “Oh Mika…..Mika,” Raizo in turn said to the love of his life as he held her tight and tasted her sweet lips.  So relieved they made it out alive, Mika checked his injuries as if he were a helpless child.  “I’m ok Love…..You?....Are you hurt?,” an equally concerned Raizo says.  “Only a few scratches…I think I’ll live,” a smiling Mika said in kind.  “Let’s leave this place,” Raizo said……”Gladly babe…gladly,” elatedly Mika said.


Chapter 4:  Homeward Bound

After another long trek through the mountainous woods, Raizo and Mika made it to a ryokan in Takayama, not too far from the Shirkawa-go Mountains where they lived and where they were almost destroyed.  Exhausted and hungry they needed a place to settle in for the night.  After a night in Takayama, they would make their way to Tokyo, then on to the States….at least that was the game plan according to Raizo.  “We will rest here for the night, clean up and eat.…then tomorrow we’ll leave for Tokyo,” Raizo said.  Takayama, located near the Miyagawa River, was quite beautiful and serene.  Serenity was something the weary duo was in desperate need of.  Life in the small mountain villages of Japan was far from the hustle and bustle of larger metropolitan cities.  City life, once synonymous with Mika the city chic forensic researcher, had now taken a back seat as her modern day world and that of the ancient ninja collided head on.  A collision of cataclysmic proportions created a world that brought chaos, destruction and sure death…..but it was also a world that brought her Raizo.…her beloved.  He was her world now and she couldn’t begin to imagine one without him.   ‘Why am I so dizzy?,’ she thought to herself as they approached the front entrance of the little inn.

“Are you alright, Love?,”  Raizo asked her when he felt her sway against his shoulder.  Giving her a slight shake…..”Yes, I’m fine, I guess all the explosions shook a few screws loose,” her attempt at humor, as she tried to reassure him.  Still wary, Raizo decided not to press the issue but determined he would keep close watch over Mika that evening.  Blowing up the Three Feathers compound obliterated everything within, but summarily released many deadly toxic fumes from the myriad of ancient herbs growing in the compound.  The catastrophic impact of the explosions was also aided, in part, by the liquid nitrogen used to freeze the clan’s fertilized embryos.  This fact was too devastating for both Mika and Raizo to contemplate too deeply.  However, both knew that this clan and everything associated with it had to be destroyed.  It was a necessary evil that had to be done.  However, Raizo’s primary focus was now seeing after Mika.  Since harsh fumes permeated the air surrounding the devastation, her lightheadedness was probably spurred on because of it, ‘Maybe the toxins are affecting Mika more strongly,’ he thought to himself.   ‘She will feel better once she’s had a chance to rest and had something to eat,’ his thoughts continued.  At least he hoped.

The inn’s keeper, Yoshimi Akita, greeted them at the front entrance.  He couldn’t help but to notice how battered Raizo and Mika looked in appearance, however wisdom prevailed and he kept his questions to himself.   After checking in, their host dutifully led them to their room.  “Here we are sir, I hope you find everything to your liking,” Mr. Akita said to Raizo.  With a silent nod and bow between them, the inn keeper left them to their room, but not before giving Mika the once over.  Noticing the inn keeper’s curiosity and Mika’s unease, Raizo re-assured her.  “Unfortunately, not many African-American people travel into the remote areas of Japan, so you are a rare sight here….he meant no harm. However, I will speak with him if you like or we can leave.  I want you to feel at ease,” Raizo said to his lady love.  “No babe, that won’t be necessary…..I understand.  Besides I’m so exhausted,” Mika told him.  With that, the fight weary pair availed themselves of the amenities of their room in the tiny inn.

Looking at the beautiful ryokan was, yet again, like taking a step back into ancient Japan.  The inn architecture was reminiscent of the days of old, it boasted of hues in various shades of brown, textures derivative of the use of different tree woods in its construction. There was lush green foliage, as far as the eye could see, nature’s perfect backdrop for the small village inn. The vast greenery was the color of pitch in the darkness of night, a ninja’s best friend or greatest foe. Their room was simple, minimalistic…meticulous, nothing out of place.  “The room is so beautiful,” Mika said as she eagerly went inside.  She immediately went to the small patio outside their room that led to a small bonsai garden.   Lifting the bamboo shade that separated them from the serenity of the outdoor garden was like stepping into an alternate world.  This world, the antithesis of what they had just survived.   Their bodies had suffered great trauma, Raizo’s in particular, and each was in need of some relaxation, rejuvenation and replenishment.  Raizo took it upon himself to order dinner.  “Please, have it sent to our room….thank you,” he said to the inn keeper as he hung up the phone by the bedside.  While Mika reveled in the peaceful surroundings, Raizo watched as she slowly began to let down a modicom of her guard and let the serenity of the enclosed outdoor garden wash over her senses.  He loved to see her like this, unafraid and at peace….’she’s so beautiful,’ he thought to himself.  He could stare at her for hours.   Some moments had passed and soon there was a tiny knock on the door to their room.  Raizo, always on alert, sensing no imminent danger opened the door.
 
As expected, it was the inn’s staff bringing the evening’s meal.   Gently laid on the room’s small Kotatsu table, the young ladies quickly left their guests to dine in peace.  “Oh my goodness, that smells so good…I’m starving,” Mika said as the tantalizing aroma of the delicious fare awakened her senses.  She immediately came to the table and Raizo, ever the chivalrous ninja, helped Mika to the floor chairs that sat atop traditional Japanese Tatami mats, as they prepared to eat.  Their meal comprised of succulent Hida beef, a warm vegetable soup, hot-pots of chicken and pork, sashimi….something Mika gladly left alone for Raizo to enjoy and other steamed veggies.  It felt like forever since they had eaten a hardy meal and Mika reveled in it.  Raizo smiled as he watched her eat like a mad woman.  “You should slow down, you’ll make yourself sick,” he said with a teasing glint in his eye.  Mika didn’t realize just what a glutton she must have looked like until Raizo teased.   Happy to see her give in to her appetite, he felt comfortable leaving her to enjoy the rest of her meal alone.  “I’m going to get cleaned up, you enjoy your meal,” Raizo said as he retreated to their private bath.  As with the running wooden theme of the quaint little ryokan inn, the entire wall surface of their private bathroom was made of wood….a cherry stained teak wood, as well as, the small wooden tub itself.   Rectangular in shape, the tub was only big enough for one person, but deep enough to submerge in, if one was inclined to do so.  There was also a small, white porcelain toilet and free standing basin.  The floor was made of natural stone, in hues of light browns and grays.  Small potted orchids in shades of purple and white were placed about the room adding a touch of natural beauty to its overall feeling of calm.  The private bath was a room that beckoned to anyone who entered to indulge and meet its calming peace.  

As the warm water flowed into the bath, Raizo found himself staring into the rippling water, reflecting on the day’s events.  He and Mika came so close to meeting their demise that day.  ‘I must find more secure ways to keep us safe…..keep Mika safe,’ he thought.   His mind, heavily burdened with worry, began to feel relief as he eased his gorgeous honey hued body down in the steaming water.   Raizo laid his head against the back of the bath, with his eyes closed, he was finally able to soothe his aching muscles and wash away the stench of death.  Loving Mika was his greatest joy….and biggest fear.  He couldn’t let her die like his first love Kiriko.  Slowly his thoughts became light like a summer’s breeze, so much so he practically drifted to sleep.  Soon thoughts of another kind began to drift into his mind…thoughts of the most pleasurable kind.  A sly wicked grin spread across his soft lips as he leaned further back, with his eyes closed.  He dipped his head…once…twice beneath the now lukewarm water, long black ‘silk’ clung to his head as he arose up out of the water.   By the time he finished his bath, Mika had finally finished eating.   

Feeling like a stuffed teddy bear, Mika could barely move, “Wow, hungry much?,” she said as she chuckled at herself.  Emerging from the bathroom clad in only the ‘suit’ given to him by birth, Raizo stood before her.  His hair, still damp, was smoothed back in a ponytail looking every bit the picture of a feudal lord in the days of ancient Japan……he simply took her breath away.  He walked over to her, leaning down he stretched out his hand in invitation.  She immediately reached up joining her hand with his, letting him help her up onto her feet.  Drawing her into the bathroom, Mika was touched when she saw that her love had already prepared her bath.  ‘He was so loving and attentive that way,’ she thought to herself.  He knew he had pleased her when he saw the ‘smile’ in her eyes.  No words were necessary.  Pleasing her was now his life’s mission, as well as doing everything in his power to keep her safe.  “We’ve had a difficult day, you most of all.  Taking the life of another, weighs heavy upon one’s inner spirit.  Right now I want you to wash away all thoughts of anything but our love,” Raizo said as he stared down into her soft brown eyes.  With those words, he began to undress her………………………………………………….*(You’ll have to use your imagination here)*
 *SMILES*Both spent, Raizo still laying on top of Mika, contented and satisfied didn’t want to leave the warmth of her body.  “Let’s stay like this, let’s never leave this place,” Raizo said knowing this was an impossible notion.  “There’s nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice if it could be so,” Mika said in kind.  “I wish we could just be rid of all the clans and just go on with our lives, as if none this had ever happened,” she continued.  Contemplating her words, Raizo couldn’t help but feel he was to blame for all that had befallen on their shoulders.  He brought this very real threat of death into her world.  For that he would always feel guilt….he would always be sorry.  “I’m sorry I brought death and destruction into your life Mika.  If it takes the rest of my life, I will do all within my power to amend the wrong I’ve done,” he said in a melancholy timbre.  He was indeed sorry, he hated they had to run and would probably never be completely safe….ever.


Chapter 5:  New Beginnings

Dawn arrived, finding Raizo awake first, as usual.  Sunlight broke through the bamboo shades covering the windows in their room, giving the room a bright warm glow, the kind of glow that only comes after a night of thorough lovemaking.  Raizo, quietly got up and partially opened one of the window shades, scents from the orchids and lotus blossoms in the bonsai garden wafted into their room.  Beautiful sounds and scents ushered in with the cool, crisp morning breeze.   Raizo was still hungry for more loving…very hungry.  Even as his body called out to him unable to hide its appetite, the loving warrior decided to let Mika rest.  He watched her as she slept soundly, smiling at her yet again.  ‘I’ve been doing that a lot as of late,’ he thought to himself.   ‘She’s the cutest thing when she kicks her covers off in the middle of the night,’ he continued to think.  As the still slumbering Mika exposed a silky smooth caramel-cocoa hued thigh, the warrior found that he couldn’t help himself.  Raizo reached out and caressed her soft skin, as he simultaneously slid back in bed next to her.  With eyes still closed, she smiled when she felt his touch, “Ninja’s never sleep in late?” she said with her back to him.  “No, not today” he teased back.  With eyes flying open suddenly, Mika threw back the covers and jumped up running to the bathroom.  Raizo jumped up following closely behind.  Standing in the doorway to the bathroom, he watched helplessly, as she emptied the contents of her stomach.  Fear grew within him…fear that Mika may have been unknowingly poisoned in the Three Feathers compound.  “Mika, you may have been infected with one of the toxins at the compound, I should get some herbs to counteract………,” Raizo began to say as he was cut off mid sentence.  “I think all the excitement of the past twenty-four hours is getting to me a bit, but don’t worry Babe…I’m fine,” Mika said in an effort to reassure her love.…reassure herself.   She gave Raizo a sweet smile, as he helped her to her feet, but he was worried.  As she went over to the basin to wipe her face, Raizo stared at her with deep concern in his light brown eyes…‘Maybe she is right, maybe it is just nerves?,’  Raizo thought as fear continued to grip him.  He became paralyzed at the thought of losing Mika.  ‘I can’t lose her, I won’t let her die…..I won’t!,’  he would shout inside his own mind.

They were no longer safe in Asia or Europe for that matter, so they decided to head to Mika’s home country the U.S. of A. or more to point…Raizo decided.  “Since we have destroyed the Three Feathers compound, it will soon become known among the other clans.  We need to get to the U.S.  I feel it’s the best place to keep you safe,” Raizo said.  “We’ll need new passports and documentation to get us into the country with few questions asked.  Can you still get in contact with Agent Maslow?,”  Raizo asked Mika.  “I should be able to.  As far as I know my agency clearances were never officially deactivated,” she said to him.  “No time like the present, right?  I’ll call him now babe,” she continued.  As Mika reached into their bag of gear for her cell, Raizo stopped her momentarily.  “Call him cell to cell…all phones are traceable, but office phones are most likely wired,” he said to her.  Mika had no reason whatsoever to doubt him.   Raizo had picked up many cautionary habits, while spending years on the run from the now defunct Ozunu clan.  It made perfect sense.   As Mika proceeded to call Agent Maslow on her cell, Raizo called Mr. Akita at the front desk to order a light breakfast, including some peppermint tea to help settle Mika’s stomach.   (*the phone rings at the inn keeper’s front desk, after he took Raizo’s order*)  “Yes, he is here with the woman.  They arrived just last evening and rather disheveled in appearance, some cuts and bruises…..Yes, yes miss……He ordered breakfast only moments ago.  I will delay them as long as I can,” the inn keeper said in hushed tones to his unknown caller.  “Father, you should not have let them stay.  They put us in danger,” said Midori, Yoshimi’s daughter. Looking at her solemnly “My daughter, you know they control this village region.  I am an old man and I wish to remain here.  We must do as they say or we will be in danger regardless,” Yoshimi said.  “But, father……..,” said a nervous Midori. “Midori….enough!  I will not tolerate disobedience.  We will do as we are bid until the others come.  They will handle the couple as they see fit and we will be left alone to live in peace.”  “Yes, father I understand,” said a contrite Midori as she bowed to her father and left the room.

 “Thanks, Ryan you’ve been a godsend, I don’t know what we would have done without your help,” Mika said conversing to Ryan over the phone.   After being taken into custody by a Europol swat team in an empty Berlin field, Raizo never really trusted Ryan Maslow, Mika’s former Europol colleague.  However, they had no choice but to use his connections to get new passports to guarantee safe travel back to the U.S.  Once back home, Mika would get in touch with Ryan’s contacts at the C.I.A., as instructed.  In preparation for travel, Ryan informed Mika that she and Raizo had to get the standard shots and blood tests to make sure they were not carrying any deadly diseases or toxins within them.  (*light knock on the door to their room*)  “Thank you,” Raizo said as he opened the door to the young woman bringing in their breakfast and tea.  She sat the meal on the same Kotatsu table they dined on the night before.  The morning meal consisted of miso soup with steamed rice, grilled fish and a few western options of toast with a small omelette.  Raizo at times forgot that Mika was American and sometimes her pallet missed the taste of American food.   He made a point to try and get her some of the things she liked to eat where they were available.  Mika noticing the breakfast come while she was on the phone with Ryan, smiled at her love for being so thoughtful, even though her stomach was still doing somersaults.  “We’ll get the shots done when we get to Tokyo….and they’ll be able to expedite the results?  We’d like to leave for the States as soon as possible.  Thanks again Ryan, I’ll call when we arrive….ok, bye,” Mika said as she hung up with Ryan.
  
Raizo walked over to Mika’s bed side and handed her the cup of warm peppermint tea.  “You need nourishment, my love, but first sip some warm peppermint tea.  It will help to settle your stomach,” he said to her.  “Thanks babe, just what I needed,” Mika said to Raizo as she placed a soft kiss on his equally soft lips.  Not ready to back away from her just yet, Raizo’s lips lingered on Mika’s as he deepened the kiss.  Still holding the tea cup, Mika reluctantly pulled her mouth from his after a long loin stirring kiss.  “Babe, I thought you said I needed some nourishment?,” Mika whispered to Raizo as her lips still brushed against his.  “You do…..and I plan to give you just that,” Raizo said in kind with his lips still against those of his lady love.  Regaining his composure, Raizo realized he was being selfish and Mika truly needed to get something into her stomach, they both did.  Raizo needed to make sure they were both ready for whatever came their way once they walked out of the door to the little ryokan.  Tokyo was not far away, but many unexpected things have happened before.  “Let’s eat our breakfast.  When we finish, we’ll get dressed and pack up.  I’d like to leave for Tokyo within the next hour,” Raizo said.  It was time to get back to business, after their brief respite.  After finishing breakfast, Raizo packed up their things in preparation for leaving as quickly as possible, while Mika went to take a quick bath.  “Mika, please get dressed as quickly as you can.  I’ve packed our things…when you’re done in there I should be finished out here,” Raizo spoke into the bathroom door to her.  “I’m almost done,” she said in turn.  Without any time to waste, Raizo and Mika switch rooms.   After he quickly washed and dressed himself, Raizo went through his usual ritual of cigarette smoke and pine to thwart their scent.  This is a routine habit that is not always effective masking their scent but always good to have in one’s life saving repertoire….or so this warrior felt.
  
Raizo and Mika make their way to the front desk of the inn to settle their affairs with Mr. Akita so they could make their way to Tokyo as soon as possible.  They didn’t need to linger in the mountain region, as they knew that news of the destruction of the Three Feathers clan would soon lead other clans to their door.  “Thank you for your hospitality, we will settle our bill and be on our way,” Raizo said to him in a matter of fact tone.  “It is our pleasure to give our guests every possible comfort, I will tally your bill right away,” Mr. Akita said in kind.  In an effort to keep Raizo and Mika at the inn as instructed, the small framed inn keeper tentatively continued to engage Raizo in conversation…“May I ask where you are headed from here?,”  Mr. Akita asked noticing an immediate shift in Raizo’s stance and Mika’s barely audible intake of breath.  “Why do you ask?,” a guarded Raizo asked in response.  Startled at the warrior, primed to strike, standing before him…Mr. Akita responded, “I…I didn’t mean to pry it’s just that…it’s just that the Hida express trains into Nagoya have been running slowly today,” he said nervously.  Both Mika and Midori Akita looked on with fear in their eyes, as both men regarded one another.  One a scared, elderly inn keeper and the other a fierce ninja warrior primed to kill any man within seconds.  “Umm, babe (*pulling at Raizo’s arm while speaking*) we’ll just go and…um…we’ll find a way to get to our next destination….no problem Mr. Akita.  Thank you for your hospitality, everything was lovely….just lovely (*turning again to Raizo*)…..babe, we should go,” Mika said completely unnerved as this point.
 
Raizo said nothing as he backed away from Mr. Akita and left quickly out the door with Mika.  He now knew they had to get out of the mountains as fast as they could.  “He is in obvious contact with someone, possibly other clans.  We have to get to that express train in Nagoya before his contact has a chance to track us,” Raizo said.  Unfortunately, the only options for getting to Nagoya were by bus or train.   Running toward and fading into the brush immediately off the road from the little inn, they hurriedly made their way to a small mechanic’s garage that Raizo noticed by happenstance as they made their way to the ryokan the night before.   They needed transportation to get to the Hida express train line as fast as they could.  Raizo noticed a little black Toyota on the side of the building.  They had to take the car.  They had no choice if they were going to get to the train.   Waiting for cover of darkness was not an option, so they did what any warrior and his woman would do in this situation.  They made a run for the car as stealthily as possible.   Raizo knew his way around a door lock and easily picked this one.  With no time to waste, they jumped in the car….Raizo first with Mika close behind.  “Put your head down,” he said to her.  Mika did as she was told trying not to feel the queasiness in the pit of her stomach.  Without the benefit of his hi-tech ninja ‘toys,’ Raizo had to rely on stealing a car the old-fashioned way.  He pulled the wires out, struck them against one another once….twice….three times.  (*car engine revs*) “Here we go, brace yourself,” he said to a still crouched down Mika.  (*screeching tires hit the pavement*) Raizo sped away from the little mechanic shop as two workers run out screaming…..Thief!….Stop!
 
He managed to get away but he had no way of knowing what would await them once they got to the Nagoya. Finally, they reach the Hida express train station in Takayama, abandoning the stolen car in heavy brush before coming too close.  Mika approached the ticket agent’s booth, while Raizo followed closely behind….. “Two tickets to Nagoya via Nozomi station please,” Mika said to the ticket agent as Raizo kept a watchful eye.  “Thank you (*smiling at the ticket agent*)….the gate’s this way babe,” Mika said to her protective warrior.   Raizo and Mika make their way to the gate where they will board the train.   As they walked away, the ticket agent turned from her window and made a phone call …“They will be boarding the train soon, arriving at Nozomi station.”  Raizo still had an uneasy feeling, but neither saw nor felt anything unusual.  They soon boarded the train that would take them to Nozomi station.  Comfortably in their seats neither said anything, but silently contemplated their lives.  ‘Is this how it’s going to be?…forever running, never feeling safe, never being able to put down roots? Raizo, I love you so much…but how long do we run?,’ Mika thought.  ‘I never thought I would feel love like this, not after Kiriko.  I won’t lose you Mika….I will give my life to protect you….my life,’ Raizo thought.
  
The hours aboard the Hida express passed quickly.  As the train pulled into Nozomi station in Nagoya, Mika arose realizing she had fallen asleep against Raizo’s shoulder.   “How was your nap?,” he asked her.  She looked up at his beautiful face and into his light brown eyes….’big mistake,’ she naughtily thought.  “It was good….Were you able to rest any babe?,” Mika asked in kind.  Raizo didn’t want her to worry, so he lied…”Yes, I was able to get a few minutes of sleep,” he said with a slight smile coming from his sculpted lips.  In actuality, he stayed completely awake.  He had to make sure no one would come for them on that train.  With the first hurdle passed, they now needed to board and take the Shinkansen super-express train to their final destination….Tokyo.   The ride into Tokyo was much the same as the train ride from Nagoya…without incident.  This time around Mika stayed up while a weary Raizo slept in earnest.  “My strong, fearless warrior….you lied to me didn’t you?  You didn’t sleep before or you wouldn’t be sleeping so soundly right now,” a smiling Mika whispered to him as she stroked his hair while he laid his head in her lap. “You spend so much time trying to protect me, when all I want is to protect you.  I want us to grow old together….is that too much to ask?,” she continued, lightly stroking his cheek.
 
Finally arriving into Tokyo, they disembarked the train at Tokyo Station and took a taxi straight to the hotel.   A taxi driver approached them as they exited the station….”may I take your bags sir,” he asked.  “Raizo handed their two bags to the taxi driver, as they hopped inside the opened passenger side door to the backseat of the taxi.  “While you were sleeping, I made reservations for us at Hotel Okura Tokyo babe.   It’s located in downtown Tokyo and just across from the U.S. Embassy, which is where we’ll need to get our lab work done and also pick up our documentation for travel,” she said looking into his surprised eyes.  “Yes, I know it’s the researcher in me…all about the details,” she teased smiling at him.   The Hotel Okura Tokyo was just as gorgeous as Mika remembered, having stayed there once before when she attended a conference while still working at Europol.  The lobby was warm and inviting, the architecture and overall decor was modern Japanese with a twist.  A combination of old style Japan meets modern culture.   They went to check in at the front desk…..“Reservation for two under Coretti please….(*Mika leaned over and whispered to Raizo*) try not to look so intense babe, you don’t want to scare the lady,” Mika said to him,  still teasing her man.  “Sorry, old habits die hard…..ninja school, remember?,” he whispered back with his dry wit.  “That will be room 654…elevators are located to your left, please enjoy your stay,” the reservations clerk said to Mika.  Once upstairs, Raizo gave their room the once over upon entering.   After he made sure everything was secure, Mika called Ryan Maslow to let him know they were in Tokyo and about to go to the U.S. Embassy to pick up their documents and have their lab work done.  “I know we need his help but I still have concerns about Agent Maslow, do you really trust him? He did have me arrested,” Raizo said to her.  “It really doesn’t matter if I trust him or not Raizo, he’s the only one who can get us what we need to leave the country right now.  I have no choice but to trust that he will do what he says he will,” Mika told him honestly.

“Roberts, just do as your told and get me the files I need!  You know, the last researcher I worked with was spot on….You can barely tie your own damned shoe laces!,” Ryan Maslow barked at his new research assistant.  (*Ryan’s cell phone rings as his assistant walked out…he answers*)  “Mika, you’re in Tokyo…you made it ok…no problems?,” he whispered to her on the phone.  “Listen, get to the Embassy building as soon as you can so that we can take care of your labs and paperwork as quickly as possible,” he continued in hushed tones.  “I want to keep as much as I can under the radar, I don’t want word getting back to Jameson if at all possible.  Didn’t I tell you?....I’m at the U.S. Embassy building here in Tokyo with my shit for brains new assistant,” Ryan continued.  “Damn you for being so good, you’re a tough one to replace Coretti….maybe you can give him some pointers when you get here,” he teased. (*Ryan’s assistant returns handing him a note*)  “Well, it seems I’m being summoned to a conference meeting by Ambassador Roos.  I’ve got to go now, but everything has been set up for you already, just awaiting your arrival,” Ryan said with a smile. “When you get here, just ask for Eleanor Davies and she will get you everything you need.  I really have to go, but don’t hesitate to call if you need me for anything,” Ryan said as he hung up his cell.  ‘Ryan Maslow was always kind to me and always seemed to appreciate my work, but why didn’t he tell me he was actually in Tokyo when I called only this morning before leaving the inn? What is he not telling me?,’ Mika thought to herself.
 
Raizo was ever watchful and noticed Mika’s perplexed expression when she hung up the phone from Ryan Maslow.  “What is it?,” he asked.  She didn’t want to unnerve him unnecessarily but she also knew that her love would ask her until he was satisfied with her answer.  “I’m not sure….while I was talking to Ryan it became apparent that he’s not in Berlin, as I thought, he’s actually here in Tokyo at the embassy building.  A smirked grin came to Raizo’s mouth.  He was always suspicious of Ryan Maslow, but with this latest revelation it would seem with good reason.  “I have a feeling that we are being tracked by more than just the remaining clans.  I also believe Agent Maslow may have something to do with it,” Raizo said to her.  “What his exact motives are, is not clear, but his involvement in our lives is quite clear,” he went on to state.   Renewed feelings of anxiety came creeping back, fearing what may greet them when they got to the embassy building did not help.  Would they be able to get the documentation they needed to leave for the U.S.?  Would they be detained, charged with crimes against humanity?  She couldn’t turn off the questions crowding inside her head.  “Whatever happens when we get there, we stay together……Let’s go,” Raizo said as they left for the embassy.   Upon entering the embassy, Mika and Raizo walked over to the information desk.  “Hello, I’m here to see Eleanor Davies please,” Mika said to the clerk.  “Who may I say is visiting?,” the diligent clerk asked Mika.  “Mika Coretti,” she answered in kind.  (*clerk calling to Ms. Davies’ office*)  “Mika Coretti is here to see you.  Yes, I will….very well....Ms. Coretti you may go up to Ms. Davies’ office….room 405,” confirmed the clerk.
 
Raizo, always wary….always watching, looked at every individual he passed by on the way to Ms. Davies’ office, etching every detail of every face in his mental storage.  They were in unfamiliar territory and lethal territory of another sort.  He felt as if they were walking into another trap of some kind, but had no proof….only instinct.  He always listened to his instincts as they have served him well and kept him alive longer that most warriors of his ilk.  (*elevator bell dings…door opens, they enter..…’Going Up’*) Once in the elevator, Mika leaned into her protector, wrapped her arms around his waist and held him close.  “I love you, you know?,” Mika said lovingly. “Yes, I know…what is there not to love,” he teased as he looked down into her soft brown eyes.  A light kiss greeted her lips as the elevator made its stop on the 4th floor. (*elevator bell dings.….’4th Floor’*) “Here we are,” Mika said as they exited the elevator and made their way to room 405.  Raizo and Mika entered the room and surprisingly they were immediately greeted by Ms. Davies.  Standing up from her desk she came up to them with hand extended….“Hello, you must be Mika Coretti and Raizo I presume…..I’m Eleanor Davies….I’ve been expecting you,” she said.  “Agent Maslow filled me in on your situation and I told him I would be more than happy to help,” she said smiling at Mika.  A still wary Raizo followed close behind.  “So how do you know Ryan?,” Mika asked.  ‘That’s good Love, keep her talking,’ Raizo thought to himself.  “Ryan and I met as young field recruits 15 years ago.  He was MI6, I was C.I.A.   Our agencies wanted young recruits to get a feel for interagency cooperation when chasing down the bad guys.  My squad of recruits was shipped off to Europe for 6 months of training.  I met Ryan when all agency recruits assembled to cross train.  He and I hit it off so to speak,” she said smiling at Mika as they made their way to the lab.
 
“Contrary to popular belief and much to Ryan’s chagrin, we never dated.   I just didn’t think it would be prudent since we were such young recruits and had to be God knows where at any given moment.  He did give it the ole college try though..…but don’t tell him I told you that,” she continued her friendly banter with Mika.  Mika smiled…..slightly embarrassed for Ryan as his former colleague was so forthcoming.  “So, Raizo…you’re a quiet one?,” Eleanor said trying to make small talk with him.  Raizo was indeed a man of few words and he was not about to let himself be distracted with small talk.  Besides Mika, was doing a great job of engaging the talkative agent.  “So, I’ve been told,” he answered her directly.  “Well you two, let’s get those sleeves up….time to get down to business,” she said as she smiled at them.  “Don’t worry, you’re in good hands.  Tessa will take good care of you.  I have to take a quick call, I’ll be back in a jiff,” Eleanor said to them as she went back to her office to take a quick phone call.  (*back in her office, Eleanor talked to Ryan by phone*) “Yes, they’re here now.  They’re getting the necessary blood tests and vaccines….they should be finished by the time I hang up.  That Raizo’s a hard one to figure….he doesn’t talk much, does he?  I do know he doesn’t trust us as far as he can throw us….that much is quite obvious,” Eleanor said to Ryan on her cell.  “Lines between the good guys and the bad guys have become quite blurred….have they not?  So it’s probably just as well he remain suspicious.  I doubt they’ll find out anyway.  When they leave, there’ll be no reason for further contact.  Well, I need to get back to them before they really begin to suspect.  The results will come directly to you,” Eleanor said to Ryan as she hung up the phone.
 
After their blood was drawn and all other shots had been administered, Eleanor escorted them back into her office and gave them all the documentation they would need, which Ryan had previously requested.  “Umm…Eleanor, I spoke with Ryan earlier and he said he was here in Tokyo, at the embassy as a matter of fact.  You wouldn’t happen to know what brought him to this part of the world, would you?  I would ask him myself but he said he had an important meeting with the ambassador, so he had to rush off,” Mika slyly asked Eleanor.  ‘Good girl,’ Raizo thought.  However, Eleanor was no wet behind the ears recruit anymore and knew when she was being picked for information.  “No, can’t say I do.  I was surprised when he called and said he needed me to do an under the radar favor and to put a rush on it.   Shortly after that, I got to meet you lovely people,” she said smiling back at Mika and Raizo.  “Well, thanks so much for your time and all your help Eleanor, it was lovely to meet you,” Mika said to her.  “Not a problem, I’m happy to help…..oh before I forget….be sure to call back in the morning.  Your lab work and other test results should be ready to upload to your cell by then and you’ll have that info with you before you head for home,” Eleanor said to her.  Mika was quite impressed.  This was the technological age indeed.  “Good luck to you both,” with that Eleanor said goodbye.  Raizo had plenty of time to observe while Mika engaged Eleanor in conversation.  He concluded that Eleanor was not a threat to them, however, she was keeping Ryan Maslow’s secrets…secrets his gut told him directly affected him and Mika.  “Let’s get back to the hotel, we need to lay low until we’re out of Tokyo,” Raizo said to Mika as they left Eleanor’s office.

Ryan knew the curious nature of his former forensic research assistant.  He had to let Mika and Raizo see him at least once before they left Tokyo.  Ryan also knew enough about Raizo to know that he would always be suspicious….always be deadly.  As a man, Ryan always found Mika attractive….quite beautiful in fact, but he valued their working relationship too much to ever cross that line.  When Mika worked alongside him at Europol, he made sure he kept to the ‘hands off’ approach when it came to her.  ‘I doubt very seriously that would even matter to your knife wielding boyfriend….would it Coretti?,’ Ryan smiled as he thought to himself.   Using a side entrance at their hotel, Raizo and Mika wasted no time making their way back to their room.  Laying low was exactly what they intended to do.   Raizo never let Mika enter an empty room first, it was his way.  He was a warrior…..her warrior……her protector and he would willingly die if it meant her life would continue.  “Come Love….it’s clear,” Raizo said to his lady love.
 
The room was as they left it, so he felt it was safe enough for Mika to enter.   Without hesitation, she entered the room.   She trusted Raizo implicitly, her faith in him never wavering with even the smallest of things.   All at once, she wanted to be near him….to feel him….to love him.  Without warning she came to him.  Raizo soon felt a sudden encapsulation of sorts, as small hands embraced him at his waist from behind.  Warmth, she was so warm.  A jolt hit his loins with indescribable force.  ‘So many years alone…fighting,’ he thought to himself.  That he could be so stirred by the smallest touch, made him yearn for the years he lost fighting for his life.  Years he wished they could have shared….years he wished he could have felt these soft hands caressing every part of his aching body.  Mika held him tight, as he leaned further back into his lady love’s embrace. He knew what she wanted…..he wanted it too.  He would follow her lead.  Small, soft hands gently peeled the cropped black leather jacket from his broad shoulders and slid it down his muscled biceps, only his thin white t-shirt between her lips and his war torn back.  As Raizo’s jacket fell to the floor, he felt every nerve in his body spark, with Mika’s lips brushing against his back.   She wanted more….so much more and judging by Raizo’s intake of breath….so did he.  A barely audible….“Mika,” escaped his lips.   He couldn’t think about anything….except Mika’s touch, now he was a ‘prisoner’…..her prisoner caught up in a lust filled haze.  Mika continued her exquisite assault on his senses.  Unable to contain his passion any longer, Raizo swiftly turns to face Mika simultaneously picking her up and kissing her like his life depended on it.  He carried her to the nearest surface he could find …..the side desk countertop closest to the door in their Junior Suite.  They couldn’t wait…he couldn’t wait……………………………………………………………………………*(You’ll have to use your imagination here also….They wanted it…BAD!)*
 *SMILES*
Both still partially clothed and spent, clinging to each other as their breathing slowly returned to normal.  Looking at his love with the eyes of a man fully sated, Raizo tenderly kissed her lips and reluctantly pulled himself off of her.  He didn’t realize just how uncomfortable that surface was until he saw Mika give her back a small rub, as she raised herself up.  “I’m sorry, Love,” he said as he picked her up yet again and carried her to the bed.  He gently laid her down as he lay down next to her.   He held her close caressing her cheek softly, as his tapered fingers memorized every angle of her gorgeous face.   He leaned towards her and kissed her softly….tenderly.  Each looking in the other’s eyes, eyes filled with love.  Raizo smiled at Mika and she smiled at him in return.  No words were necessary.  Regarding each other for a few moments more, the silence in their sanctuary was soon broken by Mika’s ringing cell phone.

Still peering at her lover with sated lazy eyes, Mika tried to ignore the phone to no avail.  “I should probably get that,” she said to Raizo with lips pressed softly against his.  “Yes, you probably should,” he said in kind as they continued to kiss each other ever so lightly.   “Hello (*reluctantly pushing Raizo away as she sat up*)...oh Hello Ryan, how are you…where are you?.....The Lobby?  Well, I’m just getting out of the shower and Raizo’s in there now.  (*she fibbed looking at her warrior doing naughty things while she tried to ignore him*)  Can you give us an hour?….great thanks, we’ll see you then,” Mika said as she hung up the phone. (*she sighed*)  “Well, back to business babe.  Ryan’s just out of his meeting with the Ambassador and he’d like to meet with us before we fly back to the States.  He wants us to meet with him at his office back at the embassy building,” she continued.
 
This didn’t feel right.  Raizo’s warrior instincts were again in full effect.  Trusting people was never something he did before he met Mika and in the past it seemed to serve him well.  He felt as if they were being tagged and monitored in some sort of test experiment, without their knowledge.   Being used was something he couldn’t abide, not after life under the rule of Master Ozunu.  He would live or die by his own rules…..no one else’s….ever.   Knowing they couldn’t ignore this meeting, Raizo deemed it a necessary evil….a means to an end.  Ryan Maslow was their only way out of Asia, even if he was lying through his teeth.  “Let’s shower and get dressed, don’t want to keep your colleague waiting,” Raizo said with a smirk.  “You really don’t like him do you?,” Mika asked with smiling eyes.  “It’s not a matter of like or dislike, I trust no one….except you.   Especially those who refuse to show their true face.  As with most people, I find Agent Maslow has at least two…maybe more,” Raizo said in answer to her.  “We will meet him in a more neutral location, the embassy building gives me pause….it’s a small fortress, not a place we can escape easily if the need should arise,” he continued.  Thinking for a moment, Mika had the perfect solution…“Ah, I know just the place we can meet.  The Mohri Garden….a beautiful Japanese garden located within the Roppongi Hills residential towers not too far from here.  The garden is in an open space, Babe.  It’s neutral and easily accessible and escapable.  When I was at Europol, I remember one of the other agents raving about The Mohri Garden when we came here for our conference I told you about.   I’ll call Ryan,” Mika said. “We’ll get there first.  The last time I met Agent Maslow in an open space, I was tased and taken prisoner,” Raizo said as he smiled at his lady love.  Mika needed no reminder of that awful night, she still felt guilty for taking Raizo there.  Intellectually, she knew there was no way she could have known what was going to happen, but she couldn’t forgive herself for practically leading him into what could have been sure death.  “It wasn’t your fault and I never thought it was Love.  You can’t keep blaming yourself,” Raizo said when he saw the pain pierce into her beautiful brown eyes.  Instantly, he knew her thoughts.  They were truly becoming one.

“He’s here,” Mika said to Raizo as they watched Ryan approach them in the garden.  “Don’t you trust me, Coretti? My office is quite comfortable,” Ryan said as he smiled giving Mika a small hug while looking directly into the eyes of her protective lover primed to strike.  There was no love lost between the two men, but they have a common goal and that was keeping Mika safe.   ‘What do you really want?  What are you after?,’ Raizo thought.  The Mohri garden was beautiful and tranquil, full of green lush plant life and meticulously manicured lawns.  It was beautiful there, typical as with most Japanese gardens.  This one just so happened to be surrounded by a residential complex tower and office buildings with architecture in the vein of modern Japanese construct.  “We meet underneath the cherry blossom trees I see,” an edgy Ryan said.  “Well let’s get down to it shall we,” Ryan continued as he ushered them over to nearby park benches.  (*Ryan looked over at Raizo*) “Ever since your Clan Ozunu was destroyed by Europol, government agencies around the world have been on high alert and made it their special mission to locate and monitor the activities of the other clans still out there.  Thanks to your expert research Coretti, we’ve managed to locate three more. We’ve been up to our ears in paperwork….which is why I’m in Tokyo,” Ryan said.  “I wondered about that actually?,” Mika said in turn to Ryan.  “I never knew Europol to have direct dealings with the U.S. embassy,” she continued.  Ryan was very methodical about what he told them.  He could only say so much.   After all, technically Mika was no longer a Europol agent.  More importantly, things had been set in motion that could upset the delicate balance of global power.  If Raizo and Mika continued to play hero and heroine, they could end up in the middle of a brewing clan war with global implications and would be seen as expendable.  Yes, Ryan knew without knowing the two were responsible for the destruction of The Clan of Three Feathers, as soon as photos from the scene came through the wire to Europol from the Japanese.

 Mr. Akita and his daughter had been quite helpful with their detailed descriptions of the two strangers who spent the night at their inn.  That ‘little incident’ placed the two of them on government watch lists worldwide, as well.  A little detail he would keep to himself for now.  No sense in causing excess worry, besides he could track their whereabouts and protect them more easily from a distance and without their unwitting interference.  Raizo was damned good at disappearing and kept them off the map for three years.  But Ryan was determined to never completely lose track of them again….lose track of Mika again.

One of the clans we had identified was the Clan of Three of Feathers.  A particularly ruthless all female ninja clan, which I have on good authority, has been recently destroyed…very recently as a matter of fact.  You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that would you Coretti?,” Ryan facetiously said to her, while he looked Raizo in the eyes again.  Mika tensed immediately, but managed to keep cool.  Raizo….was a different story, he was ready to take Mika and make their escape within seconds, if the need arose.  “Well seeing as Three Feathers are no longer a threat, the other two clans that we’ve managed to identify have been bumped up on priority lists globally,” Ryan told them.  Tiger’s Eye and Children of Desert Pearl are the other two clans positively identified.  “I flew out immediately and came straight to the U.S. embassy to ‘compare notes’, if you will, to sort out our next moves and strategies as we monitor these clans.  Then in the middle of all this chaos, I happened to get a frantic phone call from my long lost favorite research assistant.  Why imagine my surprise?,” Ryan jokingly said while smiling at Mika.  “I trust everything went well when you met with Eleanor?,” Ryan asked already having knowledge of the situation.  “Yes, she was great.  She said to call first thing in the morning and all our lab results should be ready to upload to my cell.  I must say government agencies have vastly improved their hi-tech gadgetry these last few years,” an impressed Mika said to Ryan. “Where was all this stuff, when I had my head buried in research notes?,”  she continued with a light hearted smiled on her face.  Raizo regarded them both and couldn’t help but to notice a certain camaraderie between the two that was undeniable.  He decided not to regard it too closely.  The thought of what it could mean might very well find Ryan Maslow waking up without his head, he devilishly thought.
 
“We shouldn’t be seen together for too long, I’d prefer if Mika and I kept a low profile until we leave tomorrow,” Raizo dryly said to Ryan.  Ryan knew that was guy code for I’m uneasy with you being so chummy with my woman…...’I’m backing off now so down boy,’ Ryan thought to himself.  However, Raizo was right, the three of them did themselves no favors by lingering in broad daylight together.  “Raizo’s right, we should get out of here there’s no telling who’s watching.  Oh Mika, before I forget, you’ll need to call Tessa at medical and speak with her again before leaving, there’s further medical details she needs to provide you with,” Ryan said to Mika with a slight lilt in his voice.  With a question in her voice Mika responds, “Uh...ok...will do Ryan,“ Mika said.  “Oh and uh Raizo, I hope you like the name Nakamura, because that’s going to be your new last name.  We can’t have you flying about the world with only a first name, now can we?,” Ryan said lightheartedly.  “Thanks for everything Ryan, I really do appreciate it,” a relieved Mika said giving Ryan a goodbye hug.  “Well, you two head for cover and have a safe flight back home, Mika...I’ll talk with you later,” with that Ryan left the garden.  Like the true ninjas they were Raizo and Mika slipped out of the garden effortlessly, mere seconds after Ryan Maslow.  “Let’s get back upstairs Mr. Raizo Nakamura,” a smiling Mika said as she teased her love. (*Raizo sighed*) “I’ve always used the name Lin, what’s wrong with Lin?,” a perplexed and slightly annoyed Raizo said.  Mika couldn’t help but giggle.  (*mysterious stranger watches from the Roppongi towers talks on cell…the three of them are leaving the gardens now…..right, will do*)  Curious, Mika wasted no time in calling Tessa at the embassy medical facilities, once the two were safely tucked away back in their room.  “Hello, may I speak with Tessa please?  Oh…hello Tessa, I’m sorry to call you so soon but Agent Maslow said there’re further medical details you needed to give me?”  (*Moments go by*)…… “Thanks, Tessa…enjoy the rest of your day…bye,” Mika said as she slowly hung up the phone, color completely drained from her face.   After the sheer shock wore off, Mika’s mouth began to curl into a smile.  “What is it?”  Raizo asked.  “Oh…nothing, just relieved that we’ve been cleared of any dangerous diseases and deadly poisons.  We’ll be able to leave at any time, babe,” Mika answered.   His warrior instincts told him Mika was lying, but why?  He knows she loved him, but was her trust in him fading?  The last couple days had been tumultuous most certainly, but he never wanted Mika to lose faith in their love…..lose faith in him.

The next morning, Mika called the embassy as instructed.  “Yes, Eleanor the information is uploading now….hey, it’s already finished…that was quick.  Thank you again for all your help,” Mika said to Eleanor after obtaining their medical information via her cell.  After gathering up their belongings and settling the bill, Raizo and Mika got in the hotel taxi and made their way to the airport.  Fifteen minutes later, they entered Narita International.  (*They’re inside as we speak.  According to the woman, they’ll be boarding soon*), the taxi driver said to an unknown caller on his cell as he drove off.  The always watchful Raizo stayed alert as they made their way through security.  Standing in a long security line was absolute torture to Mika and compounded by her nausea and light-headedness.   Feeling woozy, Mika sat quietly by their departure gate with her head in her hand, as Raizo made sure everything was in order at the ticket agent’s counter.  “Thank you Mr. Nakamura, you and Ms. Coretti are all checked in.  The flight will be boarding shortly,” the smiling ticket agent said as she confirmed their ticket information.   Raizo, was becoming quite concerned to the point he relented on his ‘no hospital’ rule, suggesting they delay their trip so she ccould get to one, as soon as possible.  “Mika you’re not well, you need a thorough exam,” Raizo said fearing she may have indeed been poisoned.  “No, I don’t”…she tells him.  “Mika, I don’t want to sound critical…but,” Raizo said to her with deep concern etched across his beautiful face.  Cutting him off before he could finish his statement, Mika continued.  “I don’t need further tests babe, I’m not sick.”
 
A puzzled Raizo looked at Mika with questioning eyes.  “What do you mean? Since the explosions at the compound, you’ve been dizzy….nauseaous.  I think we really need to be sure your blood is free of toxins,” he continued, becoming slightly annoyed that she didn’t seem concerned.  “We’ve had our blood drawn just yesterday at the embassy’s lab, a fully equipped, state-of-the art medical facility.  There’s no need to worry,” Mika said to him.  “Of course there is!...those toxins are….,” Cut off in mid sentence by Mika yet again, Raizo was becoming angry.  Mika knew his temper was beginning to rise, along with his voice.  Her safety and well being were the only things that mattered to him.  They were a constant in his mind.  ‘How can she be so cavalier?,’ he thought.   Silencing him with a simple touch of her finger against his sculpted petal soft lips, she couldn’t contain her ‘secret’ any longer.   “It’s ok, it really is.  (*Raizo, unconvinced, regarded her in silence*)  Ah, my very own personal and forever protective ninja warrior has struck gold,” she teased as she faced him….smiling brightly she continued as she caressed his cheek…….Raizo.…(*bringing his hand to her stomach*)...babe, I’m pregnant!”  For the first time in the whole of three years since they’d been together, Mika saw sheer terror in Raizo’s eyes.  “You’re with child?” Raizo said barely above a whisper.  She couldn’t help herself, Mika laughed out loud at his bewildered reaction.  “Don’t worry babe, women have been having babies since the beginning of time.” (*Airline announcer….’Flight 1223 service to Washington, DC will now begin boarding’*)  “That’s us,” Mika said to a still shaken Raizo.  “I know nothing of babies,” Raizo managed to say.  “Well you’ve got seven and a half more months to do extensive research,” she teased.  Raizo had never contemplated becoming a parent.  The thought of parenting a child had never been a consideration or a possibility, especially in his world….the world of the ninja.  How would they care for a child in a world shrouded in death and destruction? This was brand new territory, totally unfamiliar to Raizo and it horrified him.  Nothing he has ever learned in his lifetime, so far, could’ve prepared him for this…..nothing.   As they prepared to board the plane, a sudden feeling of unease pricked Raizo’s warrior senses.   It was a feeling he was unable to shake, a feeling as if they are being watched. (*You’ll never get away from me Ozunu warrior…you or your pregnant whore*)  However, he soon returned his attention to his extremely happy and glowing lady love.  Raizo, Mika along with baby ninja to be set their sights on their new home in the U.S.THE END…………………or is it?
Chapter 6:  Broken Warrior

Agent Ryan Maslow, Mika’s former colleague and good friend kept his promise.  He would always keep his promise where Mika was concerned.  Standing in front of a run down abandoned apartment building in a desolate part of East Newark, Ryan couldn’t believe this was where Raizo chose to hide.  The Raizo he knew was one of unbridled focus and discipline.  He was as responsible as they come.  ‘Why would he choose this piece of shit place?,’ Ryan thought to himself.  Quietly, he entered the weathered building standing before him.  The smell of wet rotting wood underneath cracked paint on the walls permeated the damp air.  Cobwebs were in nearly every crevice (*Ryan swatted away the cobwebs from his head…off his hands as he walked through*).  The unmistakable stench of dead rodents was almost unbearable.  Covering his nose and mouth with his jacket, Ryan…still perplexed had no idea what he could be walking into.  “An unpredictable ninja warrior could be anywhere in this hell hole,” Ryan said out loud.  With his gun drawn, Ryan continued up the rotting staircase carefully watching his step…(*the cries of a child reverberate throughout the building*) “Is that a baby?,” Ryan whispered out loud as he continued up the staircase hoping it could bear his weight.  The further he went up the louder the cries of the child became.  Coming upon a door at the end of a long very dark hallway, Ryan very quietly…very tentatively continued his approach with his gun still drawn.  Reaching the door, Ryan continued to hear  the desperate cries of a baby inside the room.  Without hesitation, he broke down the rotting door, which was barely on its hinges.  “Good god!,”  Ryan shouted.  Shocked and appalled by what he saw.  Disbelief and repulsion came to his eyes.  Raizo, the bold and adept ninja warrior was there in the room, a shell of his former self.  Lying on the floor on a worn smelly mattress, covered in sweat and filth was Raizo…Mika’s Raizo…her warrior…her protector.
 
Ryan couldn’t believe his eyes, but there he was with an overgrown beard….weeks long down his chin lying in a catatonic state.  The desperate crying baby lying next to him, was cold and obviously hungry.  “Raizo...Raizo! Good god man, what the hell have you done?,” an incredulous Ryan shouted at him as he ran over to the baby to assess the child’s condition.  Immediately throwing off his jacket, Ryan wrapped the baby up to get warmth.  He then reached over towards Raizo, pushing away his initial fear of the warrior’s killer instincts…he shook him.  “Raizo…Raizo, snap out of it man!....(*calling for help on his cell*) “I need an ambulance at 6565 Marlberry Street.  It’s an old deserted apartment building… medical attention is needed for two individuals one adult and one infant…hurry!,”  Ryan said to the EMS operator.  He couldn’t help but to feel for this broken warrior, unexpected tears welled in Ryan’s eyes.  “What have we done to you.…to Mika?,”  Ryan said as he waited for help to arrive.   Kneeling down next to the stained and putrid smelling mattress Raizo continued to lay upon, Ryan looked at his former prisoner with compassion.  “I’m sorry Raizo, I’m so sorry,” he whispered through guilt laden lips.  As he stood up from the floor, Ryan walked over to the boarded up window in the room facing the street…the only window.    Impatiently he watched….waited for the ambulance to arrive.  As he got up, Ryan notices faint movement across the room in a darkened corner.  His first instinct told him it’s just a hungry rodent.  The whole derelict building was filled with them, but at a second glance he realized it was no rodent scavenging in the corner.  “My god!,” Ryan said in utter disbelief.  What he saw floored him.  Tiny and frail lay the newest object of interest in Ryan’s continuing horror filled nightmare.  “This can’t be?  Mika, why didn’t you tell me?  How could you not tell me, goddammit?!,” Ryan said in frustrated disbelief.  There in the darkness….lay another baby, barely clinging to life.  “Twins??....Oh god Mika….oh god!!,” Ryan said as he frantically raced to the gather up this tiny being as well.
 
Holding both babies now, Ryan kept them close to his body for added warmth and continued to try and rouse Raizo.  Alas, the silent warrior neither “heard” nor “saw” anyone, or so it would seem.  ‘What the hell shall I do?,’ Ryan thought.   He rocked both babies trying to quell the cries of one and stir ‘life’ back into the other….”There, there little ones, help will be here soon….don’t you worry,” Ryan said as he feebly attempted to play nurse maid until EMS arrived.  Pacing the floor, Ryan continued to rock the babies as he held them close.   ‘With your mother gone and your father seemingly lost in ‘another world,’ what am I to do with you precious little ones, eh?,’ Ryan thought.  Raizo continued to lay on his side but somehow through the clouded haze that was now his existence, awareness that he was not alone, came to fore.  As he slowly turned and focused his gaze, Raizo saw an old familiar face, agent Ryan Maslow…..his rival….his enemy…..holding his babies.   At that moment, the eyes of the secret agent locked with those of the ninja warrior….a very unhappy and scarred ninja warrior.   From experience, Ryan knew better than to make any sudden moves, as he found himself in the most precarious of positions, holding the babies of the man who once threatened to slit his throat.  Raizo was thoroughly unpredictable.  In this situation, offense was his best defense.  ‘Distract the viper, before he has a chance to strike,’ rang in Ryan’s thoughts.  “Raizo, Raizo can you hear me?!  Are you in there man, are you back amongst the living?  If you can hear me, I’ve called EMS. The ambulance should be arriving shortly,” Ryan said as Raizo silently stared at him.
 
The way the warrior looked at him ‘chilled’ Ryan’s blood, but he had to keep his composure if for no other reason than making sure the babies were safe.  Just then the newly ‘awakened’ warrior spoke, “Why are you here?,” Raizo said calmly, tinged with a coolness that was as subtle as an Arctic blast.  His gaze went downward away from Ryan’s face then upward again, settling at Ryan’s eyes.  “Why are my babies in your arms…spy?,” Raizo continued with the same icy calm.  Ryan felt it then.  The warrior had truly awakened now and was primed to strike if this situation wasn’t handled proper.   “Raizo I’m only…….,” Ryan started to say (*blaring sirens of the arriving ambulance interrupt*).  “Hello, Hello!,” shouted one of the paramedics as they rushed inside the derelict building.  “We’re up here, second floor!,”  Ryan shouted back as he rushed toward the door so the paramedics could see exactly where they were.  Grateful for the distraction, Ryan was all too happy to have Raizo’s attention diverted.  Rushing into the room, the first EMS worker to reach Ryan immediately took the babies out of his arms and laid them down.  The worker began to examine the extent of their condition.  Raizo bristled, uneasy with anyone coming near him or the babies.  “What the hell are you doing?!  Don’t touch them, don’t touch them!!,” Raizo shouted as he tried to see what was being done to his infants.   He attempted to get up, but weakness took over.   He stumbled and momentarily fell back to the mattress, but he was a warrior who still had ‘bite,’ even in his weakened condition.
 
The second paramedic rushed to Raizo and attempted to subdue him, so that he could be examined as well.  “Please sir, the babies are being care for, they’re in good hands.  Please, let me help you.  Please calm down sir!,” the overwhelmed emergency worker said to no avail as he struggled to control Raizo.  Unfortunately, he had no way of knowing the deadly force of nature that was about to be unleashed….but Ryan knew.  Before anyone could react, the young paramedic found himself flipped over with the warrior’s ‘death grip’ clinched around his neck.  “Sedate him now!!,” Ryan shouted to the paramedic attending the babies as he also attempted to help subdue Raizo.  The hesitant worker looked at Ryan as all attempts at calming this rattled warrior were failing miserably.  “Listen, I take full responsibility, but trust me when I say you don’t know what you’re dealing with. Your colleague is about to die before your eyes do you hear what I’m telling you?!  Can’t you see?!  Sedate him now goddammit!!,” Ryan continued as he tried to loosen Raizo’s grip from the young man’s neck.  Still unsure, but the paramedic did as Ryan bid and hurriedly injected Raizo in his muscled arm with a powerful fast acting sedative.  If he had he been in top form, subduing him would have been impossible…they all would have come face to face with death.  A few minutes passed and Raizo began to calm down, allowing the shaken young worker to break free from his fierce warrior’s death grip.
 
 After a few moments, the young worker was able to regain his professional composure.  When calm and order were restored, Raizo was then examined.   After a preliminary examination, the EMS workers prepared to transport Raizo and the babies to the hospital.  “All three are suffering from moderate dehydration and some rodent bites.  They’ll be treated for those when we get to the hospital.  Tests will be run to make sure there’s no rabies or any other contracted diseases.  They haven’t eaten in a couple days either, so we’ll get some sustenance into them.  All in all, they aren’t too worse for wear considering the conditions you found them in,” the EMS worker said to Ryan as they put the gurneys in the ambulance.  “The father and infant son are strong and should recover quickly, but the infant girl was pretty tiny….probably born at a small birth weight.  She’ll need more care.  Any idea about the mother?,” he continued.  Ryan, feeling a swirl of emotions, was unable to answer the paramedic’s question about...the mother…..their mother Mika.
 
Raizo began to rouse from his sedation mid transport.   As he lay on the gurney, groggy eyes began to stare upwards…staring but ‘seeing’ nothing, once again escaping into oblivion…drowning in his own misery.   Sirens blared as the ambulance rushed to the CIA medical facilities in DC.  Ryan used his agent’s clearance through Europol to have the ambulance diverted to a more secure environment.  Raizo was groggy but somehow aware of what was going on, yet he remained calm.  This sense of calm he attributed to an overwhelming feeling of relief.  There was a part of him, albeit a small part however, that felt some relief…relief that someone other than himself would see to the care of his infant children.  He wanted to care for them….he desperately wanted to, he loved them but his mind and body couldn’t bare the pain of being without Mika.  His anguish was all consuming and left room for little else….even his babies.  He was ashamed to feel this way.  After all, he was abandoned by his own parents and he knew that pain.  But he was always honest with those around him and also with himself, even if that truth was ugly.  He knew he was not in an emotional place to care for his babies at present and it pained him.  ‘What if I give them up, give them to a loving family?  They will be safe and raised free from the constant threat of death and destruction,’ he thought to himself as he lay on the gurney.  A weak smile spread across his lips, partially covered by his beard, as he thought of his love….Mika.  ‘She would have my head if she knew my thoughts,’ he continued to think.  Drifting in and out of consciousness, his mind stayed fixed on her.  He missed her so much.  With Mika he always felt acceptance, he felt safe and mostly he felt loved.  She was his everything….where Mika was, so was home…she was his home.  “How could you leave me alone?,” Raizo whispered out loud as he drifted back into oblivion.

(**FLASHBACK SEQUENCE 1**)

“Gosh, I feel like a hippopotamus.  I can’t even see my feet now babe,” a glowing and very pregnant Mika said to her love.  “A hippopotamus?…..yeah, that’s about right,”  Raizo teased back with a twinkle in his eye.  He loved teasing her, but mostly he loved watching her belly grow heavy with his children inside her.  Her pregnancy was a testament to their passion….to their love.  Lying behind her on their chenille sofa…holding her close, Raizo gently rubbed her belly.  He loved rubbing her belly and feeling the babies move.  He was so happy and his heart was finally at a place when he could freely admit to himself, just how much.  His world, the world of the ninja, wasn’t conducive to living a life free of violence and death.  However, his life with Mika was just that.  He now realized just how much he always wanted this kind of life….peaceful and free. Mika gave him that and soon she would give him two little ones….two.  (*remembering when the doctor told them it was twins*)  “Well Mrs. Nakamura, you’re looking good.  Following my ‘orders’ to the letter I see,” the effervescent doctor said.  “So let’s take a look shall we?  Mr. Nakamura you don’t have to look so tense this doesn’t hurt her a bit,” the doctor lightheartedly continued, as he spread gel over Mika’s belly for the ultrasound.  

This world was all new to Raizo….doctors, nurses and babies.  ‘How can he say don’t be tense? A sword I can handle, but this is nerve wracking,’ Raizo thought to himself.  “Well Mr. and Mrs. Nakamura (the doctor had always assumed they were married), I’ve got some good news and…..some better news,” the doctor said smiling at the young couple with perplexed expressions.  “Do you hear that? One heartbeat…..now listen again…..that’s heartbeat number two,” he continued.  With eyes opened wide, Mika knew immediately but it took Raizo a minute as the information slowly sank into his addled psyche.  “Oh my god doctor, are you sure?,” an excited Mika said as she turned to look at her shell shocked warrior.  “Twins?, Oh my god Raizo!  We’re having twins!,” she elatedly continued.  Raizo was always a man of a few words, but he was utterly speechless.  Mika couldn’t help but to laugh at him and the terrified expression etched across his chiseled face.  She hadn’t seen that look since she first told him she was pregnant.  A small caress found his beautiful face….“It’s ok babe, now there’ll be one for you and one for me,” she teased.  Her words rang home then.  He looked down at his beautiful lady love.  “Mika,” he whispered as leaned in near her ear.  “I love you and I can’t wait to meet our babies,” he continued.  Seeing how happy the young couple was, Mika’s doctor decided to go one better.  “Would you like to know the sex of the babies?,” he asked.  It was a reasonable question after all.  However, Raizo was raised in the way of the ninja.  His early life having been indoctrinated by ancient wisdom and customs, he found it hard to divorce himself from certain mores. “I’d like to wait until the babies are born to find out, if you agree Love,” Raizo said to Mika.  She was honestly a little surprised that he would speak up so quickly, but she didn’t hesitate.  It felt right for them.  “Yes, I agree….we’ll wait to find out babe,” Mika lovingly said sealing their agreement with a sweet kiss to his soft lips.

(*PRESENT TIME*)

The ambulance turned into CIA headquarters and immediately transferred Raizo and his infants to a waiting medical team.  The medical staff at the CIA had already been alerted by agent Maslow while en-route and they were prepped and ready to receive and treat their wards.  (*Ryan speaking to his colleague Eleanor Davies on his cell*)  “Yes, I found them.  My god Red….he was hiding in a shit hole, abandoned building in East Newark with not just one infant but two.  Apparently Mika was carrying twins.  A little detail that somehow got by us.  How the hell could we not know that for goodness sake?,”  he said.  “Well, I had them transported to the CIA’s facilities in D.C. for much needed treatment but more importantly….for discretion.  This time we had better take more thorough precautions, we can’t lose them again.  I owe it to Mika.  How’re things in Japan?  Well, if anything comes down the wire, ring me immediately Red.  I can’t believe after three and half years, we’re still dealing with this ninja bullshit for Pete’s sake!,” said an exasperated Ryan.  “Last I heard anything there’d been some rumblings around the Tiger’s Eye clan again.  Well….for now I’m on my way to talk to the higher-ups and make sure things are in place.  After I make sure Raizo and his infants are secure, I’ll ring you later.” Ryan said as he hung up with Eleanor.  Keeping Raizo and the babies safe was now Ryan’s first priority.  He knew Raizo neither wanted nor needed his help, but Raizo and the babies were important to Mika….a part of Mika.  Now somehow, by a strange twist of fate they’ve become a part of him as well.  ‘This is madness,’ Ryan thought to himself.  ‘Agent Ryan Maslow of the Europol agency is now the protector of a ninja warrior no less,’ Ryan quietly chuckled out loud at the thought.  

Another thought washed across his mind as well, the thought that Mika was gone.  The thought of not seeing her again was almost too much.  He could only imagine what Raizo was going through and empathized with the emotionally wounded warrior.  Passing through the medical ward on his way to talk with Deputy Director Morell, Ryan paused when he reached the room where Raizo and the babies were.  All three hooked up to tubes and monitors.  The sight would have pained Mika had she seen them there.  Her three loves, ill and lying helpless….unable to do anything for them.  He wanted to protect them for Mika’s sake, but why?  ‘I certainly could have ‘washed’ my hands of this clan business ages ago,’ he thought.  Was it because he had learned the back story of Raizo’s early beginnings through his ever so diligent and favorite forensic researcher?  Certainly he must have felt compassion for a young lad abandoned by his parents and raised by a ruthless ninja master.  Ryan couldn’t bring himself to examine too closely why he felt compelled to do what had seemingly become natural, but he would make a silent vow to protect the ninja and his infants, whether the warrior wanted it or not.  After all, Europol and the CIA would never be able to repay the warrior for his loss in a thousand lifetimes.   

Lying in a hospital bed and with no real idea where he was, Raizo finally began to stir.  Still groggy from the sedative in his system and weak from not eating, he slowly began to open his eyes.  The warrior did what had always been second nature to him.  He surveyed his surroundings and momentarily panicked when he didn’t see the babies. The drugs in his system proved stronger than the warrior could manage in his weakened condition.  Trying to lift his head was nearly impossible.  Angry at himself for getting to this point, Raizo looks at his arm hooked to an IV and a heart monitor attached to his chest….it was at that moment he sees the little incubators to the left of his bed.  Overwhelming relief pierced his senses when he saw his little ones lying only a few feet away from him.  They looked so fragile lying there and Raizo’s anger began to grow at the sight.  His anger increased as he contemplated the circumstances he now found himself in. The warrior within was angry that he allowed himself to become so weak physically...so weak emotionally. Once again Master Ozunu’s words came rushing foremost into his still clouded mind….’You must hate all weakness, hate it in others, but most of all…hate it in yourself,’ he angrily thought.  He had to also admit that his anger was not just reserved for himself, but it was also directed toward his love Mika.  She had become everything to him and to be without her was unbearable.  He felt lost without her.  ‘How could he parent children alone?  He knew nothing about a parent’s nurturing love.  How could he truly give what he had never experienced himself?,’  his tortured mind said.  Mika was the glue that held them together and she was now gone.  “How could you leave me alone with two infants?  They need you….I need you!,” he said to himself.  One thing he knew, he couldn’t continue in this present state.  He had to move forward somehow.  Once again his gaze turned toward his babies and it became clear what he must do.  He had to become strong again for their sake, they needed him, this much he knew.  This is the way it needed to be….should be.  Mika would have it no other way and neither would he.

(**FLASHBACK SEQUENCE 2**)

It was a sunny day in Great Falls, VA.  A quiet suburb just outside of Washington, DC they called home.  Calm and serene, compared to the firestorm of death and destruction they found themselves in the middle of only a few months prior.  This place was truly what they needed.  The morning light found Raizo up early, as usual, practicing his Shin-shin-toitsu-do in their small sunroom.  He knew he had to keep himself strong mentally, physically…and ready for whatever may come.  They were never able to truly forget that their movements would always be monitored by outside forces and they would never know which ones.  That was always the ‘nagging’ question.  However, they dared to move forward with their lives in spite of the uncertainties surrounding them.  Missing the little cottage they shared for three years near the Shirakawa-go Mountains back in Japan was hard.  They took comfort in the fact that remarkably, Great Falls gave them that same small town ‘feel.’  Mika found the perfect little craftsman cottage home on a lot surrounded by tall trees, with a spacious lawn for the children to play in.  ‘That’s if Raizo let them play outside at all,’ Mika thought as she smiled to herself.  Her taste was exquisite, yet it was charming and cozy, nothing too over the top.  Raizo appreciated that that about Mika.  Having lived in a minimalistic world, his worldly possessions were precious few and the ones he now found himself privy to were mainly because of his lady love.  The home’s exterior was painted an earthy brown, trimmed in egg-shell white with little black shutters framing the windows.  Bricks made of natural stone adorned the home from the porch level to its foundation, giving it warmth and perfectly blending the cottage with its immediate surroundings.  The front door, however, was painted a deep crimson and adorned with gold tone fixtures.  Raizo felt it was too conspicuous, but Mika absolutely loved it.  ‘The first thing I’m changing is the color of this door,’ Raizo recalled, thinking back to the day they first moved into their little love nest.  

His morning routine found his thoughts shrouded in the memories of the first time Mika showed him the little craftsman home she picked out for them in Great Falls. Yoga had a way of stirring up one’s emotions and memories.  However, time had a way of setting one on a course not planned and soon the babies impending birth became priority number one in their world.  Home improvement projects became a distant memory.  His desire to protect his babies had gone into overdrive and they had yet to be born.  Since the babies were coming soon, contemplating his life choices became synonymous with the first breath he took each morning.  After all, the life of a ninja warrior could be cut short at any time….without warning.  The life of a ninja could be taken like a thief stealing in the middle of the night.  (*ding dong….the doorbell rang*) “Babe could you get that, I’m a little busy right now….these little ninjas are working their Mama’s bladder,” Mika said to him from behind the closed bathroom door.  Jarred from his meditative state by Mika’s voice, he found himself in instant warrior mode.  Sometimes Mika reverted back to her old way of doing things.  She was friendly by nature.  Being neighborly was not unusual or out of the ordinary for her, opposite of all that he was.  Doing his lady love’s bidding was not a problem….not usually.   Quietly peeping outside the window next to the front door, he saw a blond Caucasian woman standing there.  Non-threatening in appearance, possibly in her mid fifties she seemingly looked to be a homemaker, nothing more.  She carried a round shaped decorative tin in her hand with a red bow on top.  Still watching the woman as Mika walked up behind him, “Who is it babe?,” she asked as he simultaneously put his finger to his lip to quiet her.   An impatient Mika stepped up to the door and looked through the peep hole herself.  “Babe, she’s probably just one of the neighbors welcoming us to the neighborhood that’s all,” she whispered to him.  Mika found her hand seized within a warrior’s fierce grip, as she tried to open the door.   He trusted no one and wasn’t about to let anything happen to Mika or the babies.  “That may be, but you forget just how close we came to death only a few short months ago.  We can’t afford to let our guard down being careless love,” he recalled saying to her in a matter of fact tone.    Although his over protection ‘rubbed’ her nerves at times, Mika also knew he spoke the truth and kept the door closed.  The woman eventually walked away but left the tin on the front porch.

(*PRESENT TIME*)

A week had passed since Raizo and his infants were brought to CIA medical.  “All three are progressing and showing marked improvement,” the attending physician said to Agent Maslow in the hallway outside Raizo’s room.  As Raizo shifted in his bed, he turned….now facing the opened door to his room.  At that moment he saw agent Maslow standing there watching him and the babies.  He knew he should feel grateful to Ryan, but he still couldn’t bring himself to the point of gratitude.  Mika had always trusted him, but as far as he was concerned agent Ryan Maslow brought nothing but pain and trauma into his life.  Something else about agent Maslow also bothered him, but he chose not to examine it too deeply at present.  However, he knew that despite his misgivings, he would have to look to Ryan for help yet again.  He would have to make another agonizing decision.  A decision for which he’d gladly give his life than have to make, but it wasn’t just his life at stake anymore, but those of his babies.  He had to do what he felt was best for all three of them, but the lives of the twins would always take precedent.  This much, he knew Mika would want him to do…expect him to do.  He also knew that his lady love would never even begin to contemplate what he was about to do either.  ‘Mika….I must do this for our babies, you know I must,’ Raizo thought to himself as he turned his gaze to the ceiling.  

Doctors and nurses flitted about the room like busy workers bees attending to their patients, checking their IV levels and vitals.   After a few moments of distant observation, Ryan came into the room fully aware that Raizo wanted no part of him, but he approached the warrior anyway.  The room was sterile and cold, a direct parallel to Raizo’s demeanor….it was quite ‘apropos’, he thought.   Walking over, he took a seat in the chair nearest the bed. (*he signaled to the nurse to give them privacy*) Ryan tried his best to get a read on the man who was an open book with blank pages, at best.  “Raizo, I know I’m the last person you want to…………,” Ryan said, cut off suddenly by Raizo’s words.  “I need time……….please….take care of them for me,” Raizo said in a cool even tone, not looking at Ryan.  Though stated simply, the weight of Mt. Everest would have been easier to bear had it suddenly been thrust upon his shoulders…easier than hearing Raizo’s unexpected words.  Shocked by what he just heard, Ryan didn’t know whether to be angry or grateful.  He knew Mika would never allow her children to be left alone.  He also knew that it was only because of the warrior’s depressed state of mind that this shocking unfathomable request was even made at all.   As a matter of fact, the only reason he was even able to track Raizo down in the first place was because the warrior’s current emotional state had a direct affect in slowing down his reflexes and skewing his usual razor sharp perspective. The only reason the usually adept and highly efficient man had let his guard slip even an inch at all, was because the love of his life was gone.   

“You need time?....what exactly do you want me to do?,” Ryan asked.  Unsure to what extent Raizo was actually making this request, Ryan wanted him to spell it out.   “I will leave my children in your care (*turning toward Ryan he looked him in the eye*)….temporarily. (*again turning his gaze away from Ryan’s face*)  I think you know I would not ask if circumstances were different.  They need a father who is strong and sure….not weak,” Raizo said to Ryan. The words left a ‘bitter’ taste in his mouth, but they had to be said.  He had to be alone to re-group…to focus and regain some semblance of balance….some semblance of self.  He knew he was ill-equipped to give his children the nurturing care they needed, while trying to regain his warrior’s stance.  He was weak at present and he couldn’t abide this failing within himself.  These were the times when Mika’s absence pierced through his heart like one of Indigo’s poisoned tipped arrows.    Moving forward despite one’s weaknesses was her forte.  This was something she would know to do like the back of her hand and execute with ease.  She would always just do what needed to be done.  It would come as easy as a summer’s breeze to her and one of the many reasons he loved her so much.  Without question, he would return to his children.  He and his little dumplings would begin their life’s journey together…..together without their mother….without Mika….his Mika.  He closed his eyes at the thought, as he lay with the back of his arm pressed to his forehead.  If only it could be this easy to shut out the world and his thoughts of her. “Let me get this straight, you want me….a certified bachelor no less to take care of two infants while you go off alone somewhere.  Are you mad, man?,”  Ryan said incredulously even though the revelation was not a total surprise.  Given Raizo’s state of mind and the conditions he found them in, he could see how this rather unorthodox request could be made.  He knew the warrior needed to get himself together.  He also knew that without any immediate family, who else was there to take care of the children.  Who else did Raizo know? Who else knew him?  Ryan knew this was not an easy request this proud warrior was making and it was not made frivolously.  He also knew that accepting this request could mean his life, if anything happened to these children while in his care, there would be no government agency to hide behind.  None would be able to save him from Raizo’s wrath otherwise. 

It was an unfortunate set of circumstances, ones that Europol and the CIA helped to perpetuate.  He owed him.  He would accept the responsibility.  “How long are we talking here?  I mean you don’t plan to leave them with me until they’re off to University, do you?,” Ryan continued.  

“How long?  I can not say…I do not know, but if one month passes and I have not returned, please see to it that my children are provided for in every way.  (*his gaze turned back to look Ryan in the eye*) I will trust you to do this, agent Maslow,” Raizo said barely above a whisper as medication began to take effect.  With fluttering eyes, Raizo slowly drifted back into an ‘unconscious’ state.  Not quite sure what just happened, Ryan sat for a few moments by the warrior’s bedside.  Still in shock, but fully aware of the warrior’s expectations and also the not so veiled threat if any harm ever came to his children.  He had already suffered one incredibly painful loss and Ryan shuddered to think what would happen if anything or anyone harmed his infants.  

Looking at Raizo’s peaceful almost childlike face as he slept, you would never know he could be a merciless killer.  Still trying to digest the request made of him, Ryan knew the children would be lost if they were put into the system.  He would never allow that to happen.  He then turned to peer at the incubators and stared at the littlest patients at CIA medical.  “Well, looks like you two will be stuck with Uncle Ryan for a bit.  I know I’m not your Dad, but I promise on my life that I will do everything within my power to keep you safe.  Get better little ones,” Ryan whispered to them.  He soon left the room, giving the family their space and time for their much needed recuperation.  (*Raizo slowly opened his eyes and watched as Ryan exited the room*)

Chapter 7:  A Warrior Reborn

A couple days had passed since Raizo made his request of Ryan.  He and the babies now rested comfortably, all the while being well cared for by the CIA medical staff.  Having been cleared of all disease, regaining their strength was now the order of the day.  The twins were eating at a healthier pace now, beginning to look like the bouncing three month olds that they were.  Watching the nurses feed them, made his heart ache even more.  ‘It should be you feeding our babies….you!,’ a tormented Raizo spoke within his own mind.  After the babies were fed and changed, the nurses quietly left the family to their solitude.  The warrior, whose hair was always long, now sported a newly shorn cut and clean shaven face, making him look even younger.  His new look signified a renewal of sorts, but ‘renewed’ was last thing he felt.  Emotionally still a wreck, tears welled in his eyes as he watched his beautiful babies lying peacefully in their incubators.  They were perfect he thought, unlike himself.  Putting his hands in the sterile gloves attached to his son’s incubator, Raizo took hold of his tiny hand.  “My son, chichi must go away for a short time.  I want to be strong again for you and your sister.  You deserve to have a father who is strong in every way.  I want you to be good for your Oji-san (*Raizo swallowed hard at the thought*).  When I return, we will go far away from this place.  We will be together always, no one will separate us…this I promise you.  (*Now sitting beside his daughter’s incubator*) Repeating his actions, Raizo reached into sterile gloves once again and grabbed hold of an even tinier hand.  My sweet baby girl, I want you to keep eating.  You must get bigger and become strong like your brother.  Papa will come back to you as soon as he can.  (*laying his head against the incubator with arms outstretched as if in an embrace*)  I love you both….so much,” the warrior said to his infants.  

The moment was as fleeting as it was profound, Ryan thought to himself as he peered in the door to catch the sight of a warrior baring his soul to his little ones.  Ryan came to Raizo’s room first thing, as he requested.  Watching Raizo in this tender moment was a rare sight and likely never to happen again, at least for his gaze to bear witness to.  Not wanting to intrude on the moment, Ryan felt he should make his presence known.  However, the warrior already ‘felt’ his presence.  “Agent Maslow, don’t be shy….do come in,” Raizo facetiously said before Ryan had a chance to react.  This was the moment both men dreaded…feared, but knew would be a necessary ingredient if this family was to pick up the pieces of their lives.  “I will leave before dawn tomorrow,” said a resolute Raizo.  His mind was made up.  He would put his life and that of his family’s back together the only way he knew how.  He had to reconnect with the warrior within.  Mika was the glue that once held the family together.  Since she was now gone, Raizo knew he had to be the foundation….the solid ‘ground’ that his children would come to rely upon.  He wanted to be what Ozunu wasn’t, a true father to his children.  This he was determined to do.  

“Where will you go?  There’s a possibility I may need to contact you regarding the children, you know,” Ryan said in a feeble attempt to keep tabs on Raizo.  Even by Europol standards, it was beyond weak.   “I think you of all people should know that my trust in government agencies has worn thin.  Shall I remind you of what that trust cost me?,” Raizo stated bluntly, watching the guilt flash in Ryan’s eyes.  “I am ‘fighting’ for my children….my family…do not disappoint me.  If anything were to happen to my little one, I would have nothing left to lose as you know,” he continued.  With those words, the two men regarded one another for a few moments…an unspoken understanding passing between them.  

(*RYAN’S BRIEF FLASHBACK MEMORY*)

“I saw him observe me through the window chief.  No…he didn’t open the door of course, so I left the tin on the porch, as a neighborly gesture.  Hopefully, he’ll read it as such. Ok, will do sir…I’m coming in,” said the veteran CIA agent under Ryan’s command.  “I know this is a joint Europol-CIA surveillance operation, but it’s my call and I think now’s the time to scale back.  The clans that we’ve identified have been relatively quiet as ninja clans are concerned and I do believe Raizo is certainly capable of protecting his own home.  Think about it…he’s been doing it for years without any help from us.  I think we ought to step back a bit and let them live their lives.  We’ll keep our eyes on the outer perimeters of the woods surrounding the home as a precaution of course, but the day-to-day we’ll leave to them.  It’s time,” Ryan said to his joint team of operatives.
 
(*PRESENT TIME *)

“Well, at any rate, you know how to contact me at anytime and don’t worry I will protect the children with my life,” Ryan said to Raizo, fully meaning his words.  “Yes…....I know,” Raizo stated as he coolly regarded Ryan yet again.   “Agent Maslow…..one more thing, they will carry the names their mother picked for them.  Hiroshi Kai is my son….Aiko Tai is my daughter.  He smiled then. “She wanted the names of our babies to be in harmony with one another,” Raizo said.  His smile vanishing as quickly as it came.  Ryan stared at the broken warrior as he stared at his two little ones…pain etched in his eyes.  (*a mysterious stranger talking on his cell in CIA medical*)  “Seems he’s taking a little trip and he’s leaving without the babies”…..”Ozunu warrior, are you abandoning your children so soon?  You are definitely a kindred spirit to Ozunu.  Don’t worry precious ones, soon you will be united with your real family.” 

Dawn was fast approaching, as an eerie calm fell over CIA Medical.  Staffers turned a ‘blind eye’ as they were instructed not to interfere with their patient leaving.  Raizo….warrior….father, took one long last loving glance at his sleeping infants.  ‘Our babies are so beautiful. We did good love,’ Raizo thought….speaking to his lady love in spirit.  A perfect blend of Raizo and Mika, two little golden caramel cream colored mini replicas of the two ninja lovers, their tiny heads sparsely covered with silky black ringlet curls….both had his decidedly Asian sparkling light brown eyes.  ‘My beautiful little warriors,’ he continued…doting in his thoughts.  Leaving them was an open wound that would ache until he saw them again.  Then without further preamble, he swiftly exited the medical ward…speaking to no one, he vanished into shadow.  “Take care of yourself Raizo.  We’ll be waiting,” Ryan whispered aloud as he watched Raizo leave quietly…as if walking on air.  

As he made his way out of Washington, DC in the pre-dawn hours, Raizo left without any agency connections or ties.  At least this is what he told himself.  He knew they would always try and track his movements and he would always be prepared for it.  However, the present moment was not the time to dwell on what would always be.  To that end, the warrior wasted no time in doing so.  He needed to return to a semblance of serenity, he knew he couldn’t rest until he reached a place where he could possibly begin to calm the turbulence within.  Raizo soon found himself at the Port of Washington looking for the first ship to set sail…set sail to anywhere far away…far away from the pain of losing Mika.   Raizo, with heart in hand, talked his way aboard a shipping vessel bound for the Adriatic Sea.  (*junior agent to Ryan Maslow*….’He just boarded a merchant ship, according to dock records this ship is headed to Croatia.  Right, I’m on it sir*).

He knew Mika would not approve of his leaving the babies this way and he would carry some guilt because of it, but the decision was twofold.  He knew now more than ever…the life of a ninja warrior was one that put on a false face.  Raizo never knew his real family and the Ozunu clan was nothing more than a façade, a pseudo family.  Existing only to destroy lives….lives of those it killed but also the lives of those who killed in its name.
 
Giving in to one’s individual emotions was expressly forbidden within the clan.  Because of this edict ingrained into young Ozunu warriors from childhood, Raizo had no real clue how to grieve.  He was ill prepared for the depth of such despair.  The pain of losing Kiriko was difficult enough, but he always had his anger to fuel him.  Avenging her death against his former clan gave him purpose and always kept him going despite his hurt.  However, he now realized that nothing in his life experiences could have prepared him for the loss of Mika…mother of his children, nothing.  How could he look at his children and not think of her?  Not long for her?  Razio, also knew that his ninja’s life would see the twins constantly uprooted.  Stability is what they needed.   He wanted to be that for them, but could he?  Would this world of the ninja even allow for it?  ‘They are safe with Ryan….they had better be,’ Raizo thought as the ship entered into wide open seas.
 
A week and a half had passed and Raizo began to feel even more confined within the cramped quarters of the ship.  A seaman’s life would never be his if at all possible.  It was restrictive and cold in a stark way.  Raizo’s shipmates tried their best to engage him, but ultimately left him to his solitude.  He carried his weight and didn’t stir up trouble.  Other than seeing him as a bit strange, they really had no problems with him nor did he with them.  Just when he thought he couldn’t take another day out to sea the captain gave them news.  (*The captain speaking over the ship’s intercom*….’We will soon be arriving at the Port of Rijeka, next stop Hvar Island, be ready to disembark when we dock).  Raizo couldn’t be more ready.  He needed to be alone….completely.  After pulling up slowly into the dock, Raizo’s shipmates began to leave the ship one by one.  “Great sailing with you mate, maybe we’ll see you ‘round the island?,” said one of the crewmen to Raizo as he left the ship headed towards town.  

In town there was a ferry that would take tourists and villagers alike over to Hvar Island.  In usual form, Raizo offers no words, but politely nods to his shipmate as he heads in the opposite direction quickly disappearing into shadow.  He had no idea where he was headed….he just knew he wanted to be alone. 

Raizo soon found the solace he was so desperately seeking, on the small secluded island.  Hvar, located on the Croatian coast in the Adriatic Sea boasted of vast pine forests and lavender fields that blanketed its mountain slopes.  The aromatic scents that emanated from the lavender and pine that spread across the landscape served to mask his presence and also gave him the privacy he needed.   Lavender, as far as the eye could see was like looking into a rippling sea of purple.  Raizo knew Mika would have appreciated this breathtaking view of nature had she been there to see it.   A familiar ache came to fore, but he couldn’t give in to the deep pull of emotion just yet.  He needed to find a place to settle, so that he could take respite from the emotional chaos that sent him on this journey in the first place. The island, home to several small coves, was a quaint fisherman’s paradise, but quite modern as well.  Hvar was fast becoming a popular tourist destination, Raizo overheard some locals saying, as he inconspicuously made his way through town and up toward the mountainside.  Even so, at present, the island would serve to help bring Raizo back to the peace he once shared with Mika.  At least that was his hope.

During his search to find a place to stay, he found what looked to be an abandoned mountainside cottage. The previous owner of the tiny home was obviously a fisherman by trade.  Old rods and rusty fisherman’s tackle boxes littered the front lawn.  As much as he could, he tried hard to keep his wits about.  He knew he still had to be cautious, even though he felt unlike himself.  Tentatively, he approached the home.  As he came closer, Raizo saw a side door at first glance with a tiny four square window.  He peered through the window and deduced there was no one inside.  He proceeded and entered the surprisingly unlocked door leading into a small kitchen.  Directly proportional to that small kitchen, sat a small white dinette set with two chairs in the middle of the room.  On one side, sat a gas stove and a tiny refrigerator…that smelled rank since there was no electricity.  On the other side of the room, a rusty sink threatened to fall to floor as it sat precariously between rotting pieces of wood masquerading as the kitchen countertop.  Raizo continued his ‘inspection’ of the cottage as he walked on silent feet, through to the small sitting area.  This room was just as sparse as the kitchen, although traces of lovelier days gone by could still be seen.  The sitting room was adorned with only a green velveteen Victorian sofa that had worn arm rests and a small oval shaped wooden coffee table as its only accompaniment.  The table was slightly chipped but had undoubtedly seen better days.  The space itself was quite pitiful and sad really.  There was a short hallway, off the side of the sitting room that lead to a tiny bathroom.  At the very end of that hallway, Raizo came upon a small bedroom which marked the back of the little house.  

After only a span of five minutes, it had become apparent that he had seen all the tiny home had to offer.  All in all, this seemed like an inconspicuous enough place to settle….he would stay.  After becoming acquainted with his ‘new’ digs, the weary warrior dropped his bag by the door of the tiny bedroom….the only bedroom.  A rusting old spring coiled bed stared back at him, still adorned with a worn mattress covered up in a dusty old patchwork blanket and topped with a flattened feather down pillow.  The room had a tiny wooden dresser and matching vanity, with a cracked mirror mounted directly above.  The walls were covered in chipped white paint with long cracks that shone through.  This room was a perfect metaphor for his emotional state.  The home was old and un-kept, obvious signs of neglect were apparent.  However, this tiny hovel also showed signs that love once resided there as well.  Raizo wanted to feel love again….with Mika….his love, but that was an impossible dream.  The ache returned, this time with a vengeance.  The silence of the room all at once broken by the sound of the squeaky old spring coiled bed as the warrior, plopped flat on his back.  One moment passed….two, then finally, able to bear no more, Raizo gave in fully to his grief.  His body shook the fragile bed springs as the tears he kept in for so long flowed like the river Nile. “Mika!,” Raizo shouted out through his tears.  Hours would pass.  A still anguished Raizo, blankly stared at the long cracks in the side wall as he laid on his side.  It was an exact replica of the crack left in his heart by Mika’s absence, he thought.  After staring at the wall for what seemed like an eternity, he finally managed to shut his tear stained eyes and drift off to into a deep sleep.  

Sunlight came blaring brightly into the tiny bedroom the next morning.  The worn dingy curtain sheer hanging over the tiny bedroom window did little to keep out the ‘intruder.’  The morning also found a grieving Raizo tucked in a fetal position feeling like the world had caved in on him.  He knew he had to move forward but grief kept him in its firm grip. It was then thoughts of his little ones flooded into his mind, he had to get himself together….he had to…they needed him.  Slowly…sluggishly, he would will himself to get up.   Raizo sat up on the side of the rickety old bed, gathering his chaotic thoughts.  He would soon make his way outdoors.  Shirtless, with only black linen yoga pants adorning his still beautifully sculpted body, he made his way through a sparsely wooded area in back of the little cottage. Waiting on the other side of the woods was a nearby clearing.  ‘This seems like as good a place as any,’ Raizo thought as he took in a long deep breath….slowly exhaling.  There behind the little cottage, he began his ‘journey’ anew.  Letting the fresh mountain air wash over his senses, he began to re-connect with the warrior spirit within.  Meditation became the key to his rejuvenation….rejuvenation of the body, mind, heart and soul.  

“There’s been no sign of him since he disappeared from the hospital two weeks ago.  The spy is playing ‘daddy’ to the babies.  He never lets them out of his sight.  Yeah, I’ll keep you posted,” (*mysterious stranger talks on cell from CIA medical*). “Ozunu trash, I will find you and your life will be mine. I will destroy you and take away everything you hold dear.  After all, turnabout is fair play I always say.”  

Ryan was surprised at how quickly he became attached to the little bouncing curly haired beauties.  They were beautiful and the spitting image of both their parents.  He took a three month leave of absence from his duties to be there round the clock for the children.  He hoped Raizo would return within that time frame.  With their mother gone, they needed their father now more than ever and he no doubt needed them.  “Hiroshi you’re a greedy little bugger aren’t you?,” Ryan smilingly said to his very hungry three month old ward.  As he gave him his bottle, Ryan contemplated what his life may have been like had he married and had children. The life of a government agent had never been conducive to a normal civilian home life….although…’it would have been nice,’ he thought as he looked down into little Kai’s sweet face. With help from the private nurse he hired, baby Aiko was already full and napping in her crib.  Ryan bought matching cribs and everything else double as recommended by the sales clerk at the local Dawn Price Baby superstore.  

‘Babies cost tons,’ he thought as he looked around his now baby friendly living room.  However, he found that these little infants began to fill a void in his life, he was unaware even existed. “You know little one, your mother was quite a special lady and I know she would have loved to be here right now holding you like this,” Ryan continued as he talked to his little house guest.  Mika was a special lady indeed.  He had always felt so, especially during the time they worked together at Europol.  She had a calm soothing demeanor, never letting herself become too rattled under pressure and working at Europol brought on plenty of pressure.  ‘How could that day have gone so horribly wrong?  Why didn’t you just get down?  Why did you have to jump in front of Raizo like that?  Didn’t you know I would protect you?  I would always protect you,’ Ryan thought to himself. (*Ryan’s cell rings….he speaks to Eleanor Davies of the U.S. Embassy in Japan*)  “Hello Eleanor…..oh I’m just now feeding the world’s hungriest little tyke and he can eat, that’s for sure.  So, tell me any new developments on Tiger’s Eye? What….Greece?  Well that’s a surprise.  Listen, we’re still trying to work up a complete profile of the clan as it seems there’ve been a couple Three Feathers sightings around Tiger’s Eye.  We need to get on top of what that’s about.  As usual, give me a ring if anything more comes up….alright….good night then,” Ryan said hanging up from his conversation.  

The remaining clans had mainly kept a low profile and stayed out of the public so as not to draw any attention.  It also made profiling these clans an even more daunting task, but one Ryan along with Europol, the CIA and his colleague at the U.S. Embassy more determined to rise up to.   Uncovering and exposing these groups for the assassins they were had become an agency priority.  The ninja way was one of stealth and secrecy and had been since ancient times.  However, as with all powerful groups there would always be a weak link.  They must find these groups and within them their weakest links, if their long standing reigns of bloody terror were to come to an end.  

****

“This is a beautiful island is it not? I’ve always loved it here…so picturesque and peaceful.  A far cry from the life of the ninja, wouldn’t you say?  (*met with silence*)  Well, maybe you wouldn’t say.  Either way, it’s been great here.  We’ve been here for years and no one knows we’re here.  One of the keys to keeping people off the scent is to actually engage the locals, but you already knew that didn’t you? (*continued long silent pause*)  What happened was unfortunate, but the ultimate revenge will be yours…will it not?  I have been content these last years, but you need me now and I have answered the call.  Because of their government’s incompetency, an unexpected gift landed in our laps.  It couldn’t have gone any better if we had planned it ourselves.  (*sounds of the ocean breeze fill the silence*)  Well, I know you have a lot on your mind, so I’ll leave you in peace.  I’ll be in my office if you need anything.”

****

The warrior within was slowly but steadily returning to the fold, beginning to ‘feel’ like himself again. Reassured in the fact that his babies were safe and being well cared for, allowed Raizo to begin to regain his focus, center his chaotic emotions….mend his broken heart.  Another week had passed and Raizo had finally begun to sleep through the night without feeling gut wrenching pain.  His mornings he spent in deep meditation, his afternoons and evenings were spent re-conditioning his gorgeous body and honing his skills….razor sharp skills….skills of the ninja.  The warrior’s blade, shurikens and his favorite chain knife all came to feel natural within his hands again.  Raizo had never really lost his touch, his body movements were still as fluid as the ocean.  Meditation had now become his soothing balm and he looked forward to it daily.  He found the more time he spent in meditation, the more his thoughts came to rest upon two sweet little angelic faces waiting for him.  He smiled then.  “Papa’s coming back.  We’ll be together soon,” he said out loud.  With that, Raizo became shadow leaving the clearing, as he headed back to the tiny ‘borrowed’ hovel he called home.  Dinner was warm noodles per usual, nothing elaborate very basic.  Mika always enjoyed a good meal and oh how he loved to watch her eat.  (*Raizo smiled to himself at the thought*)  Every little thing reminded him of her.  She was constantly in his mind, but now it didn’t hurt as much.  He could think of her now and feel warmth….not just the inescapable loss.  He was tired….sleepy.  He would turn in early for the night.

****

“I can see why he fell hard.  Beauty is a blessing and a curse, if you ask me....but you’re not asking me are you?  (*silent pause*)  “Ichiro….please focus…everything is going accordingly and I don’t want anything to go wrong now,” said a mysterious one.  “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure success is ours,” Ichiro said.

****

“Roberts, I need you to get me all the information you can find on remote Greek Islands, the more remote the better.  I’ve got a hunch about something.  Yes, yes Roberts, fax it…email it….send it by carrier pigeon….I really don’t care just get me that information as soon as you can,” Ryan said to his ever loyal assistant as he hung up his phone.  One thing Ryan Maslow knew for sure about the clans was that they loved remote and in some cases desolate areas.  Some hid behind the cover of small local villages as well.  Tiger’s Eye clan members had been spotted in the Greek Isles as of late and Ryan was determined to find out why.  ‘What were they plotting? Who were their next targets?,’ he pondered.  At any rate, there was a lot of activity circulating around Tiger’s Eye, a clan that had been less than active prior to recent rumblings….or so was the perception.  Their unique specialty was to silently slit the throat of their victim while they slept and then proceed to cut out one of the victim’s eyes, leaving a gaping scar that would settle in the shape of a tiger’s eye over the hole where the eye once was.  ‘Boy, gotta love these clans and their calling cards.  Talk about a flair for the dramatic,’ Ryan facetiously thought as he read over documents he had on the Tiger’s Eye clan. (*looking at a picture of a Tiger’s Eye victim*)  “Well…..it actually looks more like a cat’s eye to me, but…hey, no point in splitting hairs…eh?,”  Ryan said to himself.  

Looking over at the sleeping twins in their cribs, a wave of sadness came over him.  What kind of life would these children have?  This world…the world of the ninja was nothing but gore and death.  This was not a life that children should be raised in.  However, Ryan knew that Raizo would come back for his children and he would have absolutely no say so regarding their lives whatsoever.  Such thoughts were a waste of time on his part, but he couldn’t help but ‘feel’ for the little angels and the life he felt they would have no choice in leading.  Raizo loved them, he knew that…he had seen it, but the life of a ninja warrior would keep his little ones in constant danger.  “They need you mate.  I just hope you know what you’re doing,” Ryan said as he continued looking at the sleeping babies.

(*RAIZO DREAMING/FLASHBACK SEQUENCE*)

“Mmm….that feels good.  I didn’t think ninja’s were allowed to do that,” a smiling Mika said as her warrior lover rained soft kisses down her bare back.  “Kissing soft skin is definitely allowed,” Raizo said with his lips against his lady love’s back, lying close in their bed.  “There’s one more little trick I learned in ninja school….I take my hand and…… (*Mika cuts him off in mid sentence*)  “You are so, bad…. Um, you do know I’m about to be a mother soon…..Oh….. (*deep breath intake*) you shouldn’t make a woman who’s nine months pregnant feel these types of things,” a very sensitive Mika said to her lover breathlessly.

(*RAIZO’S FLASHBACK DREAMING CONTINUES*)

“Raizo, Ryan has always been there for us and offered us protection through impossible situations.  Why are you being this way? Can’t you try and trust him just a little?,” Mika said to him.  “Are you defending that spy to me? He has an agenda Mika,” Raizo said back to her. “Raizo, what could his agenda possibly be…huh?  You have no response because you are so jaded when it comes him?,” an exasperated Mika said to Raizo.  “At present, I do not know exactly…but my instinct tells me he’s not being honest and my instinct has always served me well,” Raizo continued.  “But babe,” Mika started to say.  “I will hear no more Mika……,” he said. “Raizo!,” Mika said as her voice became elevated.  “Mika, I said NO MORE!,”  Raizo yelled in anger cutting her off.  Stunned into silence Mika could not believe Raizo would show her such anger.   However, this warrior had no idea the ‘hornet’s nest’ he just stirred.  “Did he just yell at me?  Oh Hell no,” Mika whispered to herself.  “He must have temporarily lost his mind,” she continued to whisper under her breath.  (*Mika stepped up to Raizo and looked him square in the eye*).  Raizo had no idea what was about to happen, but he had never felt such unease with Mika before.  He had never seen the look that had now washed across the beautiful face standing before him.  “Let me tell you something ninja….you will never….as long as your ass is Japanese….Ever yell at me again. You got that!!,” an angry Mika said very succinctly.  “Try it again and you just might find a shuriken in your groin.  You won’t have to worry about Tiger’s Eye…I’ll kill you myself!,”  she continued as she stormed away from him.  A shocked Raizo had never seen her so angry, it scared him quite frankly…....and turned him on.

(*RAIZO’S DREAMING CONTINUED *)  

“Push, push…..(*waaaah, wah!!*)…..It’s a boy! Mrs. Nakamura.  (*another two minutes pass*) Get ready to push again Mika….alright here we go.  Now push, push…keep pushing…..one more big push,” the doctor said.  “Oh god! Uuh!!,” Mika uttered in painful agony.  Raizo, wincing every time Mika’s voice elevated in pain, he felt so incredibly helpless. (*wah, waaaah, wah!!!*)….it’s a baby girl!  “Oh my god Raizo, a boy and a girl…..look at our babies….our beautiful babies,” an ecstatically exhausted Mika said with tears of joy in her eyes as she looked at her ‘bloody’ newborns.   So filled with emotion, Raizo joined his love as his eyes unexpectedly welled with tears of joy as well.  “Mr. Nakamura, you do the honors,” said the always cheerful doctor.  Raizo, clueless, looked at the doctor blankly.  “Cutting the umbilical cord we bestow upon all new fathers here.   Don’t worry you won’t hurt the babies,” the doctor continued with a wide smile on his face.  Carefully taking the scissors in hand…..one snip….two snips, Raizo cut the babies’ cords.  “Good job, Mr. Nakamura,” the nurse said as they whisked the babies away only for the few moments it took to clean them off, weigh them and swaddle them up.  “The baby boy is a healthy 5 lbs., however the baby girl is a bit tinier weighing in at 3 lbs,” one of the nurses said to the doctor.  Seeing the concerned look on the faces of the new parents, the doctor reassured them.  “Don’t worry Mr. and Mrs. Nakamura, after I release you in a couple of days Mika, you’ll be able to take your son home…but I’d like to keep your baby girl here just a little longer.  This is routine, we just want to get some more weight on her before we send her home.  This happens with twins sometimes.  One twin has a tendency to take more nourishment from Mom over the other twin, while in the womb.  All in all, she’s really healthy considering her low birth weight…it’ll be fine,” said their friendly and reassuring doctor.  After putting tiny footprints on their birth certificates, nurses handed over their baby son, laying him on Mika’s chest.  Their baby girl was put immediately in a little incubator but near Mika and Raizo.  Tears fall down her face as she holds her newborn son and looks at her baby girl.  “I want to hold her too Raizo….I want to hold our baby girl,” she said through teary eyes of joy and angst.  “So do I love…so do I,” Raizo said to his tired but happy lady love.  “Hey, Mr. Nakamura…..don’t you want to hold your son?,” Mika teased looking up into water filled light brown eyes.  Raizo very gently reached for his son.  Mika placed him into to his father’s strong arms.  Never had he felt such joy….such happiness, it was overwhelming.
 
Their home was filled with even more love and now the promise of what the future would bring.  Funny how newborns can give one a renewed sense of life and purpose….especially someone whose past was lived very much from minute to minute, hour to hour never knowing if the end was lurking in the shadows nearby. “We’ll have to give them names soon Love.  Don’t you think?,” Raizo teased his blissfully happy lady love. “Ha, ha!….Very funny Mr. Nakamura.  For your information, I’ve thought plenty about it and even though they’re equal parts of us, I want them to have Japanese names babe.  I want their names to be a reflection of you, of us….how we met.  Mainly a reflection of where we started our life together…almost lost our lives together as well.  Japan represents unpleasant memories, yes I know, but also some beautiful ones.  They’re the best of what came from those memories babe.  What do you think about Hiroshi Kai for our son and Aiko Tai for our sweet baby girl?,” Mika said lovingly to her man.  “I think our babies have the most beautiful and loving mother who I love and adore very much….and I love the names too,” Raizo said to his caramel cocoa beauty smiling…holding her close.
 
(*RAIZO STILL DREAMING….RESTLESSLY*)

Two weeks had passed since the babies were born and it was time for their first checkup.  Raizo and Mika were in heaven as new parents, he distinctly remembered.  He also remembered being completely oblivious to all things ninja.  Unfortunately, he and Mika were unaware they were being tailed by government agents, the Tiger’s Eye clan along with their Three Feathers accomplices simultaneously.  The CIA and Europol each became aware that Tiger’s Eye was about to “strike” the couple in some way.  Still working jointly, they combined their efforts to keep Raizo and his young family safe.  Ryan had beefed up surveillance without their knowledge.  “Yes, my darling Mommy will feed you soon,” Mika said while holding little Hirsohi.  As the family exited the medical tower, Raizo smiled as he looked at Mika give loving kisses to their baby son while he held onto the portable baby carrier.  They would see baby Aiko over at the neonatal unit before they left.  Suddenly, a familiar feeling of unease came over Raizo.  He pushed the feeling aside, so he wouldn’t worry Mika. “I’m so happy babe,” she said smiling at him.
 
Being the diligent government agent that he is, Ryan Maslow saw a Three Feathers warrior about to strike from the nearby commercially wooded area adjacent to the medical tower building.   There was no time to waste…no time to prepare them.  He yelled……”RAIZO….MIKA get down!!”  Mika turned only moments before she saw two poison tipped arrows coming toward Raizo.  “RAIZO!!,” she screamed as she immediately ran to shield him, while she herself was still holding their baby son.  With precision, both deadly arrows struck her in the back.  “MIKA!!!,” Raizo yelled as he watched the love of his life fall to her knees in front of him. “MIKA, NO!!,” Raizo screamed out as he ran to catch her and the baby before she fell with him…..an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu came over him.  ‘This isn’t happening, not again…..please not again!!,’ he thought in anguish, trying to hold onto her and the baby was impossible, but Raizo hung on for dear life…..his life…..Mika.  Ryan, rushed up to the couple, without hesitation he forced Raizo to leave the scene with the baby.  He reassured him he would see to Mika. “Raizo, you’ve got to get the baby out of here now!  You have to dammit…we’ll see to Mika…get to the van….go NOW man!!,” Ryan yelled at the disbelieving warrior.
 
In shock, he felt like the breath had left his body as well.  Knowing Ryan was right, he quickly hopped in the nearby waiting CIA van surrounded by several agents, carrying a very tiny and shaken up newborn.  Like demons they sped off headed back to CIA headquarters.  Shock and disbelief completely consume him….”This can’t be happening, not again,” he whispered as he held his crying baby close.  The bliss he felt only moments before, shattered in the blink of an eye, he thought.  CIA operatives took Mika’s lifeless body off of the street.   After reaching CIA headquarters, the baby was temporarily taken from Raizo and cared for by a female junior agent.  Raizo was beside himself still incredibly anguished but now the warrior within had awakened and his anger threatened to spill onto anyone in its path.  “Where is she?….I want to see her NOW!!,” Raizo yelled in anger at the agents in the room.  “I WANT TO SEE HER NOW!!,” he continued to yell wild eyed.
 
After returning to the CIA building in the second van with Mika’s body, Ryan saw the lethal warrior about to strike.  He had to head him off the only way he knew how.  “Raizo, ole boy…..I know you’re angry, I know you’re distraught, but please try to calm down!  Think of the baby, man! He’s going to need you now more than ever.  Think what you’re doing.  Mika is being taken downstairs to the medical examiner as we speak,” Ryan said to him choking back tears himself.  He watched the pain manifest in Raizo’s eyes as he made the unbelievable declaration.  With that, Raizo began to calm himself.  ‘He had to keep it together for the baby….the baby? Didn’t he know?,’ Raizo thought.  He had to keep it together for both their babies.  Seemingly, unbeknownst to the CIA and Europol….there were two babies, a fact Raizo would keep to himself.  Some time had passed and Raizo was finally able to see Mika in the CIA morgue prior to the routine autopsy.  Seeing her lying still on the table, she appeared as if she was only sleeping….serene….angelic.   Softly, he caressed her beautiful face as tears spilled from his eyes….he shut them….the pain too much to bear.  Before leaving, he leaned in close and kissed her still warm lips…one last taste to remember for the rest of his lifetime.  “Don’t worry I will protect our son with my very life (*he chose his words carefully*).  For you my Mika, they will pay with their lives love.  They.…will…..pay,” Raizo whispered into Mika’s ear as he said his heart wrenching goodbye.
 
He left the room completely distraught….disillusioned with government agencies.  ‘You said trust him, I did love…now you’re no longer with me,’ Raizo angrily thought.  ‘How do I do this without you?,’ turbulent thoughts still echoing in his mind.   Not really wanting to go on without Mika, he knew he had to somehow because of the babies, but he would do so without government interference.   On the pretense of needing alone time with his newborn, the junior agent left the distraught warrior alone with him.  Wasting no time, the warrior became shadow and slipped out of the CIA headquarters, taking off with the newborn.  He made his way back to the medical tower complex.  Returning there made Raizo acutely aware, now more than ever, that Mika was gone.  Still in disbelief, he was resolute.  He would leave this place and go as far away as he was capable…far away from the clans….far away from any government interference.  Unaware there was a second newborn in the nearby hospital, preoccupied CIA and Europol agents continued to ‘sweep’ the medical tower area for any remaining evidence, as well as clear the area from well meaning civilian interference.  On silent feet, Raizo entered the neonatal unit at the nearby hospital and without hesitation became shadow. He would take his still very tiny daughter from her incubator.  With newborn babies only a couple weeks old, he vanished…vanished off the government radar…..vanished seemingly off the face of the earth.
 
****

(*Suddenly…Simultaneously*)  Soft brown eyes pop open on a remote Greek Island.  Light brown eyes fly open in kind off the Croatian coast.  From a rickety old spring bed in a tiny borrowed hovel, Raizo, jarred from his sleep, clutched his chest as his heart began to beat without mercy…beating in a familiar tandem rhythm……a rhythm divine. 

Chapter 8:  Reawakened Love

“Welcome back to the land of the living beautiful!  You gave us quite a scare….after all, the arrows of the Three Feathers aren’t meant for delicate creatures such as yourself.  No….Three Feathers arrows are meant for those of a more virile persuasion like your Ozunu lover….for instance,” a mysteriously cheery voice said.  My, my but you’re a pretty one…..no, no…don’t try to talk just yet.  Please, just rest easy.  Try and have a sip of some water first, you’re mildly dehydrated dear.   After all, it’s been ‘lights out’ for you for the past few weeks.   I’ve been taking care of you all this time and I must say I’ve grown quite fond of you lovely lady, even though our conversations have been a little one-sided…..you being in a coma and all,” the mysterious stranger continued.  Just then, the loud squeak of an old metal door broke the flow of conversation coming from the spirited chatterbox.  The room fell into an eerie silence….a silence short lived.  

Footsteps….slow and deliberate, reverberate throughout the sterile room as cognac colored Prada wingtips make contact with its concrete slab floor.  A visitor coming to call on his newly awakened and very beautiful ward, slowly approached the state-of-the art hospital bed serving to keep its patient as comfortable as medically possible. “Hello….please permit me to introduce myself lovely one.  I am Ichiro and you are my very special house guest,” he said with a bright smile.  “I see that you’ve finally come to.  For a while, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get to see the lovely eyes that I’m delighted are staring back at me now,” he continued.   He was handsome, tall in stature, cosmopolitan in appearance.  Dressed in a slim fit navy blue pin striped suit, accompanied by a crisp white shirt unbuttoned at neck…he was every bit the epitome of a male model….a fashion designer’s dream.  His clothes fit him to perfection.  He seemed out of place in the sterile yet drab environment.  “Adrianna has been taking care of you, while you’ve been incapacitated my dear.  She will continue to attend to your needs.  All you need do is ask.  When you’ve gained your strength, we’ll move you to the rooms upstairs.  It’s much more comfortable there.  Don’t worry, we shall spend some time getting to know one another when you’re better, in the meantime….rest,” Ichiro said with a wide smile, as he turned to exit the room.  At that moment, a soft voice barely above a whisper spoke….”Where am I?,” Ichiro’s beautiful house guest said.

Surprised to hear any utterance so soon, he looked back and was stunned at the beauty staring back at him.  The beauty now fully awakened…the beauty that was Mika…..Raizo’s Mika.  Ichiro was momentarily speechless and unnerved that she should affect him so.  Feeling like the wind had just been knocked out of his sails, he was stunned and it showed.
 
‘Why did she have to be so beautiful?,’ he thought.  It wasn’t as if he hadn’t already seen her beauty.  After all, he watched her many nights while she lay in a comatose state in her hospital bed.  But something about an awakened and vulnerable Mika staring at him with questioning eyes, made what felt like tiny embers begin to smolder within him.  His body was on the verge of betraying him.  This was not a part of the plan.  “Not to worry lovely one, all will be revealed in due course,” he said to her.  He turned and then exited the room.   Pausing as he closed the huge metal door behind him, he was concerned.  Would he be able to trust himself?  Now…he wasn’t so sure.  

“You’re attracted to her aren’t you? (*Ichiro regarded his inquisitor*) There’s no need to answer, it’s written all over you….you reek with it,” an accusing voice said in the corridor outside of Mika’s makeshift hospital room.  “I don’t really care if you are or not.  Yes, she is indeed beautiful, so I do get it.  (*the inquisitor briefly paused*) Let me be clear Ichiro, if you get in my way I will kill you,” continued the accusing stranger.  Ichiro was indeed attracted to his gorgeous house guest, but she was just a pawn in a grander scheme nothing more…or at least this was what he told himself.  She would stay with him in his home until he decided otherwise.  ‘If only Raizo knew where his woman truly was,’ Ichiro wickedly thought.  “What would you do if you knew she was with another man, not unlike yourself?,” he whispered aloud to himself. “It’s true…ignoring such beauty is nearly impossible, especially for a man with healthy….appetites like myself, however dear one you needn’t threaten me.  I am well aware of what’s at stake and I intend to see it through to the very end,” he continued.  There were other elements at play, working toward a common goal….the goal being Raizo.  Meanwhile, a confused Mika lay in her hospital bed.  ‘How did I come to be there?  Where exactly am I?  How long have I been here?,’ she frantically thought to herself.  The most nagging questions of all she tried desperately to block from her mind.  It was impossible.  She felt she may shatter into pieces if the answers were as she imagined. ‘Where is Raizo? Where could he be?!,’  her chaotic thoughts continued to lay siege.

Taking the full brunt of the poison laced arrows was extremely toxic to Mika.  Her lean feminine frame not meant to take all the poison.  The poison meant to only incapacitate a virile warrior, nearly killed the beauty.  The fear that lay within her heart and mind was ever present, after all she knew nothing.  In a strange place without her love Raizo….’What happened to you Mika?  Try to remember?,’ she frantically thought, trying to piece together her last conscious memories.  The last thing she remembered was excruciating pain, falling to her knees and staring into light brown anguished eyes.  Fear, agony and chaos surrounded her as everything faded to black.  ‘Raizo where are you? Are you here too?,’ she thought.  “I know he wouldn’t just leave me,” she whispered aloud.   Mika was no stranger to unorthodox methods, especially since she reluctantly entered into the world of the ninja but judging by her immediate surroundings, this was as unorthodox as it came.  

She may have been confused, but she was lucid enough to realize that nobody keeps a hospital bed in an underground basement, at least no one on the right side of the law.  ‘What exactly does he want with me?,’ she thought.  She wasn’t exactly sure what Ichiro’s purpose was, but instinctively she knew to give him as little information as possible.  However, giving him personal details wouldn’t be much of a problem, as her most recent memories were sketchy at best.  She also had a nagging feeling that Ichiro had no real intention of being forthcoming.   She could tell he was as sly as he was handsome and the silky tongued charmer wouldn’t hesitate to splay his wares.

Her head was beginning to hurt….she rubbed it as the dull ache began to throb incessantly.  “A headache baby cakes?,” Adrianna said, concerned as she saw Mika rub her temples.  “Yes, it started just a few moments ago.  It’s really throbbing now,” Mika said to her.  Feeling like a freight train was rolling across her forehead, Mika closed her eyes in an effort to quell the pain…but to no avail.  “Take two of these painkillers dear and try to relax.  (*Adrianna handed Mika the medicine*)  Unfortunately baby doll, the toxin from those nasty little arrows is still in your system and it’s going to take quite a while before you’ll be able to put your dancing shoes on,” a smiling Adrianna went on to say.  “But don’t you worry, I’ll take good care of you.  Can you turn over for me ‘hon?  I’d like to take a look at the wounds on your back from those zingers….gotta make sure they’re healing properly.  We have to make sure this cocoa brown skin of yours stays as smooth as a baby’s bottom,” an impossible Adrianna said smiling at her patient.  In spite of the uncertain circumstances she found herself in, a faint smile found its way to Mika’s face.  Mika was sure Adrianna was a study in the art comic relief….all by herself.

****

“He must never know what happened Eleanor, at least not until we’ve been able to verify who’s responsible.  All hell would break loose and these babies would lose both their parents.  Do you want that on your conscience as well, I know I don’t?  It was bad enough Mika was killed right before our eyes, but what happened after was unforgivable.  We’ve caused so much pain to them both and you think I want an emotionally sensitive ninja warrior to know that the body of the mother of his children was taken right from under our noses.  I still can’t believe how impossibly inept this agency has become.  For god’s sake! How could our ranks have been so easily infiltrated?,” an exasperated Ryan said to his colleague.  “I’m still working the Tiger’s Eye sightings in Greece, but my gut keeps telling me what happened to Mika is somehow related.  Oh I haven’t a clue really, I know it’s a stretch…after all, these clans apparently hate each other more than they do their own victims I think.  At any rate, we’ve got to move carefully the two of us.  We can only depend on each other now… you’re the only one I trust.  

My goodness Red, who the hell knows just how far up or down the ranks we need to go to get at the truth….the real truth? ,” Ryan continued.  The truth of what happened to Mika’s body haunted him.  He hated to lie, but he would do so without question if Raizo ever found out.  After all, it wouldn’t be unusual for the grieving warrior to want to visit the final resting place of his love…the mother of his children.  Ryan was determined he would find out the truth of what happened to Mika’s remains if it took him the rest of his life.  This happened on his watch and it was completely unacceptable…..unacceptable for the agency….unacceptable for him personally.  Protocol would dictate a thorough investigation but only through agency channels.  However, trust was in short supply and Ryan had to do this his way and that meant minimal agency participation….minimal agency interference.  

 “Oh just so you’re up to speed, we’ve been cross referencing Raizo’s DNA information against our database just to see if we might get any hits.  I thought it would be a good idea since there’s such a huge question mark over much of his formative years and all things ‘ninja’ seem to center around him at the moment.  Of course we’ve had no luck so far, but I just thought why the hell not? We should at least try every angle I say.  We’ve been doing it for a while now, but he’s a walking ghost apparently.  No family anywhere it would seem.  He was truly an orphan in every sense.  You know, these clans are the most clandestine organizations I’ve ever come up against in the whole of my career.   They truly are shadows in human form are they not?  Trying to ID them is like trying to prove the Loch Ness monster exists,“ Eleanor said to Ryan lightheartedly.  “Hey, I have it on good authority old Nessy is out there, by the way….she told me so herself?,”  Ryan jokingly retorted.  “Oh really, this coming from Special Agent Maslow….Europol’s finest?,” Eleanor smilingly said.  “Whoa, no need to get testy darling Red,” Ryan continued jokingly.  There was very little opportunity to have light hearted moments.  Their worlds and that of the ninja had become all encompassing.  Ryan was appreciative of the fleeting moment, but his thoughts soon came back to the little beauties in his care.  He hoped their father would return soon.  He was beginning to feel an attachment to the babies that was becoming hard to fight.  He didn’t want to love them.  Love was an emotion he couldn’t afford….the cost was too high a price.  No one knew that more than their father Raizo.  “Well, it’s time for Mr. Doubtfire to check on the babies now.  Thanks again for bringing such warm and fuzzy news…you really know how to brighten up a man’s day Red.  Talk with you later then,” Ryan facetiously said to Eleanor as he hung up.  The truth is he did care for them much more than he knew he should, it was hard not to.  

With feet clad only in socks, Ryan quietly walked into the makeshift nursery that sat adjacent to his home office.  He found that he enjoyed watching them sleep.  The innocence that resonated on their little angelic faces would allude to a certain obliviousness of the danger that in fact surrounded them.  It was almost too much to bear as looking at them sorely reminded him of Mika.  ‘God, Mika….how could I let it happen? How could I let you be taken away like that…..taken away from me like that?,’ Ryan agonized as thoughts of her washed over his mind.  (*at that moment Ryan’s phone rings unexpectedly*).   “Hey, did you forget Mr. Doubtfire’s off the clock?,” Ryan jokingly said assuming Eleanor to be making a return call.  He was met with silence….eerie silence.  He immediately knew without knowing, but it didn’t matter….he wasn’t kept in suspense for very long.  “Raizo…..Raizo it is you isn’t it?,” Ryan whispered expectantly.  (*another silent pause*) “Are they alright?  Did something happen to my children?  

Choose your words carefully Agent Maslow,” said a very anxious and resolute warrior….a warrior named Raizo.

****

After a few hours, the pain that pounded Mika’s head had finally subsided.  She had drifted off to sleep, apparently.  This she realized, as her groggy eyes slowly opened and began to focus.  Lying quietly, Mika took in her surroundings, although they left a lot to be desired.  The room was very stark and the complete antithesis of Mika under better circumstances and also her bubbly caregiver.  Feeling a little restless, Mika shifted her body in the bed.  “Uuh…goodness…why are the ‘girls’ so sore?  Oh my god and leaking,” a surprised Mika whispered aloud.  “Honey you have a little suckling don’t you remember dear?,”  Adrianna said as only she could.  Unaware that her caregiver was still in the room, Mika was momentarily startled when she heard the bubbly woman speak.  “Suckling….a baby….I have a baby?,” a confused and agitated Mika asked.  “Why, yes baby cakes you……..(*cut off mid sentence*)  “Adrianna, your nursing expertise is needed in the main infirmary post haste.  You mustn’t forget our other staff personnel require your very capable nurturing care as well,” Ichiro said most charmingly as he entered the room.
  
Adrianna left the room without another word.  Her leader’s tone, although charming, was not to be mistaken.  The exchange between boss and employee was not lost on Mika.  ‘He knows something,’ she thought.  Ichiro was smart, cunning and shrewd.  He had to choose his words carefully because beautiful Mika was key to his future plans and he needed her to believe whatever he said.  Although she was confused at present, he knew her to be extremely sharp on her best days.  She wouldn’t fail to ask questions and she would expect answers.  Looking into her soft brown eyes, he was falling and he knew it.  Mika had no idea what was about to happen but he knew.  He would make a crucial decision, a decision that could make or break everything….everything he and his partner had planned.  However, he no longer cared.  Ichiro was also a selfish man and his desires began to beat at him.  He found that he had no choice, he wanted her for himself and he decided he would have her.  ‘Mika, when you come to my bed….and you will come.  I’ll make you burn with a passion like no other man.  I’ll make you forget Raizo ever existed,’ Ichiro wickedly thought as he looked down into her beautiful face.

Chapter 9:  Warrior’s Return

His nights were restless and he couldn’t sleep.  His mind was flooded with thoughts of her, thoughts of his babies.  His heart continued to race out of control, sometimes without warning.  ‘Am I ill? Is it the babies?,’ his thoughts were once again chaotic.  It was as if he still felt her, but that couldn’t be.  He watched her fall right before his own eyes, struck down by poison arrows meant for him…his world shattered in an instant.  Realizing now he had been away from the babies too long.  Three weeks away from infants was a lifetime.  His heart knew and he always trusted his heart….they were calling to their Papa, they needed him.  More importantly he needed them, now more than ever.  Just shy of the one month deadline he gave Ryan, Raizo’s eye would turn towards home.  He was tired now.   He would try yet again to get some much needed sleep, as he slowly closed his eyes.  The worries of the day soon passed into oblivion as Raizo finally drifted off.  Suddenly….(*abruptly sitting up in bed*)  Raizo clutched his chest again.  

He reached over to the tiny nightstand next to the rickety old bed, picking up his cell….he dialed.   

“The babies are fine Raizo, sleeping peacefully tucked away in their cribs as we speak,” Ryan said to him.  “I promised you I’d take care of them and I have…you needn’t worry,” he continued.  Raizo’s mind was temporarily calmed at Ryan Maslow’s words but his heart continued to race.  (*silent pause*)  “Raizo…..you still there?,” Ryan said to the warrior.  A few more seconds of silence passed between them…..….“I’m coming back,” Raizo said to him in kind.  Without the usual cursory pleasantries, Raizo hung up the phone.  He had no clue what was happening to him.  The ninja warrior was always so strong and sure, but after Mika’s death nothing was certain in his world.  The only thing he was absolutely sure of was that two little ones were waiting for him.   He missed them terribly.  He didn’t realize just how much until he spoke to Ryan.   ‘Raizo, what are you doing?  You should be raising your babies, not some government spy.  Aiko….Hiroshi….Papa’s coming home,’ he thought.

Ryan should’ve felt relieved, glad even.  ‘Well, straight from the ninja’s mouth, eh? So he’s coming back,’ he thought.  He didn’t feel relieved.  He felt guilt, dread and deep regret.  He really didn’t want to face Raizo....How could he?  He didn’t even know what happened to Mika’s body yet.  ‘What the hell have you done about that Ryan Maslow for god’s sake?,’ he asked himself as his thoughts weighed heavy on his mind.  Peering into the cribs of two curly haired little angels, Ryan contemplated his next moves.  “What will I tell your father when he asks where your mum’s resting place is?  Do I act like a responsible Europol agent and tell him the truth.  I’m sorry Raizo but Mika was stolen right from under our noses, or do I lie to him per usual?  Would he believe me do you think little ones?  Would he believe me if I told him I’ve only ever worked in his and your mum’s best interest?  Yes, I know….Oji-san is indeed pathetic.  I can answer that one….truth be told your Papa would just as soon have my head rather than to trust anything I said at this point.  He has no reason to trust me.  However, I won’t rest until I find out what happened to your mum little ones….I promise,” whispered Ryan to his young wards after a moment of deep reflection.

****

The view overlooking the Aegean Sea was breathtaking.  Ichiro’s mountain top villa, partially chiseled from the mountain itself, was perfectly in tune with its natural surroundings.  Soothing winds flowed through open balcony doors, lightly fluffing the snow white curtain sheers so meticulously hung against them.   Upon waking, Mika slowly…lazily sat up in her bed.   Inexplicably, she found herself drawn to the calm blue waters below.  As if answering a siren’s song, she got up from her place of slumber without any real thought.  Something within her moved her to seek a closer view.  From the balcony of her room, she witnessed the beauty of nature’s vast array of colors spring to life before her eyes. The beautiful secluded island, among several nestled in the Cyclades, was expansive….panoramic….picture perfect.  As she walked over to the railing at the balcony’s edge, she continued to avail herself of its views.  Momentarily closing her eyes, Mika let the warmth of the morning sun in tandem with the cool winds of the waters below caress her soft face.  However before she even had the chance to open her eyes, acute awareness that she no longer occupied that space alone pricked her senses. 

“Aah, it’s gorgeous isn’t it?  This…my lovely….this is why I chose to make my home on Sikinos Island.  The views from its mountains are undeniably bar none.  I have also found a certain level of peace here….it’s very calming, as you have come to see.  It soothes the savage beast within, as the saying goes. There’s only one thing my home is missing…...a woman’s touch…..my woman’s touch,” Ichiro said to Mika as he came closer, lightly caressing her upper arm with his forefinger.   Feeling uncomfortable, Mika immediately pulled away as her blood felt a sudden chill…she shuddered at his touch.  Not quite ready to leave the mountaintop view, Mika eased her way to the opposite end of the balcony leaving Ichiro feeling momentarily bereft.  The toxin from the arrows still had a stronghold on her body.  She was still confused and she knew it.  ‘Try to remember Mika….I need to remember....Did I have a child?…Do I have a child? Adrianna said I had a suckling, nobody just makes that up….do they?….Raizo, where are you?  I need you!,’ Mika said to herself.  A myriad of questions still unanswered.  She also surmised that Ichiro most definitely had an agenda and just what that could possibly entail scared her, even though she had no real clue.  

She knew it would involve her somehow.  She would, however, play along until she got the answers she needed….until her memories were no longer a chaotic hodge-podge…..until she laid eyes on her beloved.  

Ichiro was not used to rejection and didn’t take it well….usually.  However, he knew he had to take his time with Mika. She wasn’t the type of woman that came to a man’s bed easily.  She was the type of woman that would make a man wait…..’Until he begged for it, no doubt,’ he angrily thought.  He was angry.  He was competing with Raizo’s ‘ghost’ of sorts.  She loved him…adored him, Ichiro knew that.  After all, he had plenty of time to observe them together.  The first time overlooking the indoor Mohri  garden at the Roppongi Hills towers.  He remembered a very agitated Raizo and a very loving and reassuring Mika, a very beautiful Mika.  By all accounts, they were the perfect picture of a couple in love. ‘Damned annoying really,’ he thought.  Surprisingly, they had no idea he was even there at the time.  Ninjas, having developed innate sensibilities, at times can sense when other warriors are near.  However, love was blind and as careful as they were, their love play shifted their focus more often than it should have.  This made it easy for him to go undetected by them.  With his presence masked, he was able to observe them at will.  He had been dispatched to observe the couple soon after the fall of Three Feathers.  

With the destruction of the Three Feathers clan sending shockwaves through the remaining ninja clans, Raizo had become the equivalent of ninja kryptonite.  No clan had ever been subjected to complete annihilation before Ozunu.  Knowledge of their existence alone meant each clan had to now regroup, re-strategize and re-hone their ancient skills to razor sharp perfection just as their ancestors before them.  Destroying the clans should never have become a possibility, much less a reality….but a reality it was.  It had become apparent that clans were being identified one by one and with two clans having been completely destroyed, it would only be a matter of time before they all fell.  As much as he was drawn to Mika and determined he would have her, Ichiro was a warrior first.  He would not see Tiger’s Eye fall.  He was a ninja with an ancient lineage and he would carry on with the traditions of the Tiger’s Eye clan as long as he had breath.  No one would take away his focus, not even the beautiful Mika.  However, she would remain under his ever watchful eye.       

Yes, he was quite the observant ninja.  He knew she was frightened, confused and unsure of who to trust.  He would keep her in that state for as long as possible…for as long as it took to get rid of Raizo….get rid of her love for him, once and for all.   A few moments of awkward silence passed between them.  Mika wanted answers…needed answers, now was the time….she would query her handsome host, but not before he continued to unleash his ever present charm.  “I trust you had a good night’s sleep.  I think you’ll agree the rooms in our guest quarters lend themselves to a more accommodating and pleasant experience.   While you recuperate, please feel free to avail yourself of anything in my humble home.  As I’ve stated previously, all you need do is ask,” said a smiling Ichiro.  ‘His humble home? It’s practically the size of the very mountain it sits on,’ Mika thought.  She silently observed him for a few moments, trying her best to assess if he would indeed be forthcoming.  Temperatures from the ocean breeze gave her a slight chill as she stood by the balcony railing watching the rolling waves.  She crossed her arms in an attempt to stave off the cool, as the ocean breeze whipped through her long curly raven colored tresses.  “This is indeed an incredibly gorgeous island.  Sikinos…you said?  So, I’m on a Greek island I gather?,” Mika said as she questioned her charming host, without looking at him.  “Please, tell me.  How did I end up on a Greek island and in your care?  How do you know me?  (*turning to face Ichiro*)  Where is Raizo?  I know he wouldn’t just leave me.  He wouldn’t!  What did Adrianna mean when she said I had a suckling? I have a child? Have you seen my child?!  Please, I need to know!!,” a now distraught Mika continued.  She meant to be calm and collected but the floodgates of uncertainty overflowed in her mind and the questions came barreling down. “Sssh, please take a breath lovely (*gesturing to the nearby lounging chairs on the balcony*)…let’s sit and have a chat,” Ichiro said to her.   This was the time he would stake his claim. There would be no turning back.                                                  

****

Raizo began to pack the few things that he came to Croatia with.  He was a minimalist by nature so there was very little he needed to gather.   Reflecting over the past few weeks, he concluded that the derelict little cottage had served him well.  The time away had been good for him, but if he were truly honest with himself he would admit it did little to silence the emptiness in his heart.  The ache for his lost love wouldn’t be ignored no matter how much he wanted to.  ‘I have to find a way to go on Mika….for our babies love.  You left me no choice,’ Raizo solemnly thought, as he momentarily closed his eyes to block the painful sting.  He missed her beyond words but his feelings would now have to take a back seat.   He had to return to his little ones, he missed them just as much as he did their mother.  They were his never ending connection to her as well and for them he was determined to be the father he never had.   He would raise them in a way befitting the love he and Mika shared.   ‘This would be the best way to honor her memory,’ he thought.  He didn’t want to waste anymore time…he would fly home.   Besides, he never acclimated to the life of a seaman anyway.  The confined spaces were too stifling, too restrictive.  He had had his share of restrictions and couldn’t abide those placed upon him by others, especially those who have tried unsuccessfully in the past.   (*Raizo’s stomach loudly rumbles*)  He often forgot to eat, but his body would send him insistent reminders that he was not superhuman and he needed nourishment.   Heading to the tiny kitchen, Raizo couldn’t help but to reminisce about his life with Mika. ‘Well , I may not be the best cook of Japanese cuisine Mr. Nakamura but I can whip up a mean lasagna that will make your mouth water Babe…..Honest!  What…you don’t believe me?,’ Mika laughed.   He smiled at the thought, as he prepared his usual fare of warm noodles and tea.  The littlest things, at times, made him think of her and often as of late.  

He came to realize and now accepted that he would never get over her.  She had become a part of his very being and there would be no one else but her….could be no one else but her.                    

(*the sounds of a ringing cell*)  “Oh, for crying out loud who the devil is calling at this god forsaken hour?,” an annoyed Ryan said as he looked at his watch on the night stand by his bedside….(*4:00 am……..*).  “Red, you had better have a damned good reason for disturbing my beauty sleep for Pete’s sake!  After all, I…..(*cut off by an enthusiastic Eleanor*) I couldn’t wait until sun up to call, this was too important to sit on.  We still have no hits on Raizo’s DNA, but through our cross agency searches, we seemed to have stumbled across the “how” as to how our ranks were being infiltrated.  Seems our agencies in the U.S. had been recruiting across continents to replenish the ranks.  The big two, the CIA and the FBI, wanted new young recruits that could quickly and easily assimilate with the locals in every way possible in just about every part of the globe, including Asia of course…Japan specifically.  The idea in theory was a good one but somehow and we’re still not quite sure how, these clans always managed to stay one step ahead of us.  At this point, we’ve surmised that the ninja masters of the few clans we’ve identified so far, take some of their most highly skilled young warriors, train them specifically and deliberately in the ways of the West.  The intent to make them highly attractive as skilled spy recruits, the kind our agencies would be looking for.  Get this….several of these recruits have legitimately trained for, applied and become hired by the CIA, the FBI and Europol, in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy and its allied Embassies around the world,” Eleanor enthusiastically said.  

“My god, these ninja bastards have been under our noses all this time, mocking us...keeping tabs on our every move from within!  One of these clans has to have taken Mika’s body.  I would wager an educated guess as to why, but where exactly?  Oh and just in case we didn’t feel completely inept, I received a call out of the blue from the ‘ghost’ ninja himself,” said a discombobulated Ryan.  “Raizo?,” Eleanor queried.  “Yes, Raizo’s coming back here Red, I spoke to him only a few hours ago and I get the feeling he’s going to be here sooner rather than later.  He was on edge when he asked about the babies and there’s no predicting his moves.…ever.  We may not know exactly why her body was taken or by which clan, but we need to try and pinpoint a location and get her back. She needs to be laid to rest with the respect and dignity she so very much deserves.  Whatever happens Red…..and I can’t stress it enough, we can’t let this information get to Raizo before we have a clear plan for proceeding in place.  The babies need their father and I can’t have him going off half cocked and disappearing like before, there would surely be no survivors of his wrath this time.  Thanks for this intel Red.  I’ll be at the office in a couple of hours once the children are taken care of,” Ryan said as he hung up.      

(*MIKA’S RESTLESS DREAM*)

Water…..Trickling……Trickling……Steam……Mist…..Steam……Heat…….Steam…..Hot…..Bodies…….Glistening…….Honey…...Gliding……Cocoa……Glistening…..Skin.….Silky……Gliding…….Lips Melding…....Skin…….Pulsing…….Heart….Beating….Beating…..Beating……
Oh…..Yes!..…..Ebbs…..Flows…..Ebbs……Flows…….Fire……Intense……
Aching….……Ecstasy.  


(*RAIZO’S RESTLESS DREAM in tandem*)

Water…..Trickling……Trickling……Steam……Mist…..Steam……Heat…….Steam…..Hot…..Bodies…….Glistening…….Honey…...Gliding……Cocoa……Glistening…..Skin.….Silky……Gliding…….Lips Melding…....Skin…….Pulsing…….Heart….Beating….Beating…..Beating……
Oh…..Yes!..…..Ebbs…..Flows…..Ebbs……Flows…….Fire……Intense……
Aching….……Ecstasy.  

****

Mika was awakened from her slumber by an incessant, urgent need.  Her breathing was measured ……‘Raizo….I can feel you,’ she thought as her body called to him.  Her dream seemed so real, it was as if she felt his very hands touching her body.  She ached for him as only a woman could for the man she loved.  Her silk nightgown clung to her body, as a sheen of light sweat coated her supple curves.  Still filled with mother’s milk, her breasts peaked even higher.  

As tender as they were, she couldn’t help but touch them as she thought of her love.  

****

Raizo felt a quickening in his loins as he slept.  A burning ache he hadn’t felt in weeks came from deep within him.  The warmth of smooth silky cocoa skin under his capable palms made his breathing come in labored spurts.  He could feel his soft honeyed lips gliding along dewy moist, glistening skin.  His body “felt” her, as if he was actually making love to her.  “Mika?,” he whispered as he woke from this impossible dream.  Raising himself up on his elbows in bed, he looked down at his body’s tell tale sign.  ‘Was it just a dream?  It felt so real,’ he thought.  A deep sigh escaped his lips as he brushed his hair back with his hand.  Raizo laid his weary head back down. With his folded arm splayed across his forehead, he closed his eyes in contemplation…contemplation of his solitary life without his love Mika.

Mika could still feel her love. What Ichiro said just can’t be true.  She closed her eyes tight as she tried to shut out his words.  (*reflecting back to their talk on the balcony*)  “I hate to be the one to bring pain to your heart lovely, but I’m afraid your warrior….Raizo is no longer among the living, as well as your infant child,” Ichiro said…each word calculated and measured to maximize their impact on Mika.  “Your family was attacked by a rival clan outside of a doctor’s office in Washington, DC, poisonous arrows struck you and within seconds rendered you unconscious. Your warrior lover came to your aid, as any chivalrous man would do….however, in doing so he was unfortunately struck by several deadly arrows himself before he could render aid to you.  He was just able to grab the baby you carried in your arms before you fell, however the child suffered the same fate as his brave warrior father.  

As you may or may not have guessed, I am the leader of one of the remaining seven clans.  We are called Tiger’s Eye and as with all other clans we are centuries old…in our customs and teachings, even though we are a young clan formed in recent years.  However, you needn’t fear my lovely, not all the clans seek to have you executed.  When chatter of rival clans on Sikinos became a more urgent proposition, I took it upon myself to find out firsthand what was happening.  News of a possible assassination attempt of the rouge ninja named Raizo brought me to the States to see with my own eyes this warrior.  After all, he was rumored to have caused the destruction of his own clan Ozunu, as well as the Three Feathers clan.  Each of these clans having been steeped in ancient traditions, were thoroughly skilled and thought to be indestructible. I wanted to know what my clan was up against should he turn his eye toward Greece.  However, it had become apparent not all Three Feathers warriors were destroyed as previously thought.  Some survived and they were quite bent on taking their pound of flesh from Raizo.  It would seem fate was in their favor as they were able to carry out their plan for revenge.  The poison tipped arrows that hit you rendered you unconscious.  You, beautiful one, slipped into a comatose state shortly thereafter.  You needed protection from the other clans that would put a price on your head…time was of the essence.  With the unfortunate death of your young child and your warrior protector, I took it upon myself to assume the role. So my dear lovely, I brought you to my home,” Ichiro calmly said.                                           

‘He can’t be dead, he just can’t!  A baby that I barely knew….my baby…our baby’s dead too….No, No!,’ Mika’s tortured mind raced remembering the chilling words of her host. Tears fell from her eyes like Whitewater rapids.  ‘Why can’t I remember my child, a mother wouldn’t forget her baby…how could I forget?,’ she cried out within her own mind.  Filled with anguish over the loss of her love, the loss of a child her confused mind wouldn’t let her remember, Mika collapsed into a deep wave of grief.  

Ichiro observed the dejected beauty as he peeked through the half opened door to her room, wickedly smiling to himself.  She was exactly where he wanted her to be.

****

“Boy, I’ve really got to stop giving you little bundles so much formula, I’m getting muscles in places I didn’t know I had.  You two are getting bigger by the minute,” a smiling Ryan said to the babies in his arms, after they returned home from a quick morning run to the market.  He now had a new found respect for hard working mothers everywhere and their day-to-day ability to multitask.  Carrying two babies, a huge bag for nappies and all the while trying to bring in the few grocery items he had was no easy feat.  “I’ve chased after terrorists, thieves of all sorts, ninjas even for goodness sake and none have given me quite the challenge of you two,” he lightheartedly continued.  “If I ever sign on to become a dad in earnest, you can bet I’m definitely going to settle down and share the load with a pretty brunette….or redhead, never let it be said that your Oji-san didn’t have discriminating taste, eh?,” he jokingly said all the while stumbling inside the front door…hands and arms full.  Ryan left the small grocery bags by the front door.  He had to relieve his arms before they fell from his body.  “Uncle Ryan’s going to put you cuties in your swings whilst he gets dinner ready,” he said to his little house guests as he placed them in their swinging seats.  Suddenly, the eeriest feeling washed over his senses, it was palpable…..it was familiar.                                                                          

Once again, he felt that feeling of knowing without knowing…..“Raizo……is that you?,” he asked tentatively.  Without speaking, the Ozunu warrior “revealed” himself, slipping out of the shadows from a corner in Ryan’s living room.  Still without any utterance he looked at his babies swinging happily in their little seats.  Looking at them, he felt the high of great joy mixed with the sting of great pain.  He couldn’t help but see Mika when he looked at the little golden caramel colored bundles.  He couldn’t stay away from them any longer.   Silent tears ran down the warriors chiseled cheeks as he knelt down, picking up one baby….then the other.  The ninja warrior fully embraced his two little loves.  ‘Oddly they didn’t cry, they were curious more than anything,’ Ryan thought as he witnessed this intensely loving reunion.  Burying his face in the top of their little curly crowns, he kissed their tiny heads.  Raizo embraced his babies lovingly, tenderly for a long length of time.  ‘Who knew a ruthless killer could be this tender? He’s downright sweet right now,’ Ryan facetiously thought.   

“Well, since they’re already in your arms you might as well jump right in with both feet ole boy,” Ryan said to Raizo as Kai began to whine in his arms.  I do believe it’s time to change ye ole ‘nappie’ my prodigal Papa.  Ryan couldn’t help but smile at the sudden wide-eyed look that came to Raizo’s face.  “Don’t worry, I know you’re a little rusty…but it’s just like riding a bike or in your case tossing a shuriken.  You never really forget how,” Ryan smilingly said, as he handed off the twins’ diaper bag to Raizo, held within his outstretched hand.  (*quietly chuckling as he pointed Raizo to their makeshift nursery*).  “Have you forgotten I am directly responsible for the destruction of two clans?  Do you really intend to keep smiling at the back of my head spy?,” Raizo calmly, coolly said to Ryan from over his shoulder.  “Oh no….wouldn’t dream of it,” Ryan said still smiling.  An unlikely bond began to forge between the warrior and the secret agent.  After the twins had been changed and feed, Ryan sat down with Raizo and the two exchanged and compared notes about babies like two mother hens.  ‘This is so surreal. I’m talking nappie brands with a ninja for goodness sake,’ Ryan thought to himself.  He felt compelled to share what he had come to learn about the twins, to help the warrior re-acclimate to the day-to-day responsibilities of a parent.  ‘He needs to re-connect with his children,’ Ryan continued in thought.  After all talk of baby formula and feeding times ceased, Raizo quietly made his way back to the twins’ cribs. He couldn’t stop watching his little miracles.                                      

Unexpectedly, emotions bubbled to the surface of Ryan’s heart…emotions buried deep within.  Sudden feelings of abandonment and stark loneliness came over him, while watching Raizo watch the twins sleep.  Ryan also felt another emotion, foreign to his nature, push to the surface as he continued to watch the obvious love overflow from a young father to his offspring…..it was jealousy.  How could he not be jealous?  ‘Look at him for god’s sake. He’s young, strong, capable and too bloody handsome. He had the love of a beautiful woman and made equally beautiful babies with her…..twins no less. Hmphf…damned overachiever,’ Ryan bitterly thought.  “It could have been your life Ryan Maslow….should have been your life,” he whispered to himself.                                                  

Raizo’s heart was full.  He was beaming inside, although one would never know judging by his outward expression…or the lack thereof.  He didn’t realize just how much he needed his little ones.  ‘Never again….I’ll never leave you again,’ he thought as he continued to watch his sleeping babies.  He felt comforted and at ease now that he could see them, touch them, hold them.  As the twins lay peacefully in their cribs, he would now shift his focus to another matter of utmost importance.  Raizo continued to have feelings of unease regarding Mika, feelings he couldn’t explain or shake. Things were happening to him…unexplainable things.  Sudden palpitations in his chest, vivid recollections in his dreams of their many nights of passion and he couldn’t make sense of it.  He still felt a strong, deep connection to her that felt all too real, but she was dead….wasn’t she?  He did see her fall right before his very eyes.  He held her lifeless body close to his, even as government agents rushed to them insisting he get the baby out of harm’s way.  He kissed her still warm lips in the CIA morgue and…..…’lips?…..…still warm?,’ Raizo’s brain froze in time as the thought echoed in his mind. “Why didn’t I realize before?.....Mika….Oh Mika could it be?,” he whispered aloud to himself, afraid to let his heart hope.  His mind was racing now, still watching the babies sleep, but he couldn’t let his emotions get away from him.  As much as it pained him, he had to admit he needed Ryan’s government connections. (*Raizo watched Ryan from a side eye view*) His ancient skills had limits, however, he wanted answers. 

At the very least, he wanted access to the technological means by which he could extract the information he needed.  Agent Maslow would prove useful once again.
       
Two days had passed since Raizo’s return.  At Agent Maslow’s insistence, he stayed at the agent’s residence in an effort to keep the twins from being uprooted so abruptly.  In actuality, Ryan couldn’t bear to part with them so soon.  Against his better judgement and his will, he had fallen in love with the little angels.  Their father Raizo would not make things any easier for the secret agent either.  He would insist on one very important thing as well……seeing Mika’s final resting place.  Under pressure, Ryan chose to lie yet again.  He couldn’t bring himself to tell Raizo the truth that Mika’s body was taken from under their noses, ‘by ninjas posing as agents, no less.  ‘My god,’ he thought.  It was all just too bizarre even in the abnormal world of secret agents and espionage.
 
As was the custom of government agencies around the globe, their agents were never identified not even in death.  No grave marker or acknowledgement of any kind was the rule, however desperate times called for desperate measures.  ‘You would insist, wouldn’t you?,’ thought an agitated Ryan.  With the help of his agency accomplice Eleanor, he took Raizo to an undisclosed location in rural Virginia.   The warrior wanted a visual and a visual he would get.  He had to show the warrior her ‘grave’ site.  Upon arrival, there was a visible white cross underneath a large oak tree atop a hill by itself.  They would make their way up the tall hill.  Grass covered the surrounding meadow as far as the eye could see, like a plush mint colored blanket.  In keeping with agency tradition, there was no name engraved…no visible way to identify who, if anyone was laid to rest there.  

Raizo took a few moments for what appeared to be reflective meditation.  Agent Maslow would soon find out otherwise.  “Something is not right….I know it.  (*Raizo spoke with his eyes closed*)  Where is Mika?  I still feel her…..Do not lie spy!,” Raizo said as he turned to look Ryan eye to eye.  His demeanor was calm, but his resolve was crystal clear.  Ryan did what any good secret agent would do in times of uncertainty and great distress, he lied….again.  “Look Raizo, I’m the first one to admit that we’ve stepped in deep shit as far as you’re concerned, but face it you’re still grieving for her man.  You can’t let this bloody ninja mysticism you’re so fond of cloud the reality of this very tragic situation.  Mika is gone man and she’s not coming back!  You’re a man still longing for the love of his life, the mother of his children.  I do understand….more than you know,” a passionate Ryan says to the resolute ninja warrior.  

Raizo looked at Ryan with stone cold eyes….determined to find out what had happened to her.  “What you call mysticism, others would call a gut feeling…..you’re a secret agent, I’m sure you’ve had your share.  My gut tells me that Mika is still among the living,” said the warrior.  “I will find her,” he continued.  “You’re not going to let this go are you?  (*the two men momentarily regard each other in brief silence*)  Well, if you’re not going to let this go then at least let me help,” Ryan said to the determined ninja.  “Hmphf….help?,” Raizo lets out. “Yes, I know I deserved that but you may need my connections, my access to certain places and people,” Ryan continued.  This was exactly what Raizo wanted.  He would now have access to the technology he needed.  “If you want to help me in my search for Mika, I can’t stop you but do not get in my way.  I know you think she is dead, but the ‘ancient ninja mysticism’ I’m so fond of, as you say, is what tells me she is not,” Raizo said.  After a long silent drive back to D.C., the two men finally arrived at Ryan’s home.  Raizo thanked Ryan sincerely for keeping his babies safe, yet he was determined to take them to another secret location and make a new home.  Uprooting them was not what he wanted to do, but keeping them safe was now his utmost priority.  Ryan still had ways to keep tabs on the warrior, however, and would do so for as long as he deemed necessary.  He would also do it because he felt Mika would want him to and he would do anything for Mika….in life and in death.                                                              

Ryan still had doubts even though Mika’s body was still unaccounted for.  He saw her lifeless body, just like Raizo did.  He didn’t have that extra special ninja mojo churning within his gut to tell him if Mika was still alive or not, but he wouldn’t let Raizo go off into the wilds of the ninja clan wars without at least having an idea of where he was headed. To the extent that he could be, he was determined to be the navigator of this ninja’s ‘ship’ in particular.  ‘Those babies deserve to have their father and I will keep you alive in spite of yourself Raizo,’ Ryan thought.                                                                       

The secret agent, the warrior and the babies all went to Ryan’s office the next morning. “Raizo, I told you the nurse is really quite reliable.  I had……..(*cut off mid sentence by Raizo’s cold stare*)…..umm….well…..moving on,” Ryan said.  “Ah, here we are.  This is my office and as you can see we’ve been very busy trying to identify and track down the remaining clans.  I don’t have to tell you that you really shouldn’t be here and my superior’s would have my head on a chopping block if they knew how involved I’ve let you become in governmental affairs,” he continued.  “I am as involved as it gets Agent Maslow.  My life has been about nothing but the clans….all my life,” Raizo said in kind.  “This I know ole boy, this I know.  Umm…would you excuse me a moment?,” Ryan said as he saw his colleague just outside of his office door.  (*stepping out into the hall*)  “I don’t know Eleanor, I just don’t know.  Raizo said he still felt connected to her.  It’s like he had some damned ninja super power going on inside his head.  If I were to believe him, dear god Red, this means Mika may very well still be alive.  I hope to God it’s not just a figment of an overactive ninja imagination,” Ryan said.  “With her body gone missing and still unaccounted for….it’s a viable possibility.  We can’t rule it out,” Eleanor said in response.  “He’s in my office with the babies right now Red.  Come in when you have a moment, I’d like you two to get re-acquainted.  If something ever happens to me he needs to know there’s someone else on the inside he can trust…..as far as his trust goes that is,” Ryan said to his ever trustworthy colleague.  

Upon returning back to his office, Ryan told Raizo the truth of what he knew and implored him to accept agency help once more, but he knew the warrior would leave and begin tracking Mika’s whereabouts on his own.  However, he would give him a target area, an area with which they were familiar and where clan members were last seen. Greece was now the target destination on everyone’s radar.   After all, they both had the same goal.  That goal was to bring Mika back, but where exactly was she?  Was she even in Greece?   Was she in another country?  However, the most unnerving unanswered question of all still lingered.  In what state would they find her in?   This, unfortunately, remained to be seen.  ‘Mika, I pray to God Raizo’s right and you’re still alive….you have to be.  If only you knew.  If only you had an inkling my beautiful Mika.  He’s not the only one who misses you…..loves you,’ agent Ryan Maslow would finally admit.


Chapter 10:  Time Will Reveal
 
“While you’re playing house, I’ve been busy making sure our plans come to fruition. There’s something you need to see….(*pulling up a computer screen*).  Seems that Ozunu filth is back home and he has been reunited with his spawn, but that really isn’t the half of it,” said Ichiro’s mysterious partner.  This was certainly not welcome news for the handsome charmer.  However, he had Mika right where he wanted her.  She was heartbroken and confused, emotionally distressed.  She would soon come to depend on him.  It would only be a matter of time.  He couldn’t let Raizo’s reappearance ruin the plans he had for himself and Mika.  ‘She will be mine warrior, count on it,’ he angrily thought.  “By the way, I’ve been working on another little surprise while you’ve been ‘busy’…….follow me,” continued his partner.  “Aah, a surprise dear one?  Your surprises always intrigue me,” said charming Ichiro.  As they made their way down to the basement level of the villa, Ichiro could only imagine what his partner had in store.  (*Knock, knock, knock…..Open the door….now!*) Screeching of the metal door reverberated throughout the basement warehouse of Ichiro’s mountaintop home.  Upon entering the room, they were greeted by a pitiful sight.  There sat a frail and shivering Japanese villager tied to a chair bloodied from his head to his chest.  Ichiro’s partner proceeded with formal introductions…..“Ichiro, I’d like you to meet Katashi Uchida.….Katashi Uchida I’d like you to meet your host, Ichiro.  The small man was understandably unresponsive and listless.  It was apparent he had taken quite a beating.  (*water was splashed into Katashi’s face*)  He stirred, slowly raising his head to expose deep gashes across oozing blood soaked swollen eyelids.  The man was old and this seemed cruel, even to Ichiro.  “How is it this poor unfortunate soul came to be in my home?,” Ichiro inquired. “Inquiries were made on our behalf regarding recent events, which led me to the tiny Japanese village Mr. Uchida calls home.  It would seem our friend here has quite a fascinating story to tell, a tale of Ozunu intrigue. So I insisted he accompany me to your home so we both could hear this incredible tale together,” his partner continued.
 
A couple days had passed and Mika felt as if she couldn’t shed another tear.  She felt numb….numb to the pain of losing her love, but she still felt him.  ‘He can’t be dead.  Warriors like Raizo don’t just die.  They fight and keep fighting until there’s nothing left,’ she angrily thought.  Unable to just sit in her room feeling like the walls were closing in, Mika decided to take a walk through the villa, it was huge after all. She had no idea how long she would be kept there, so she decided to explore her surroundings.  She really wanted to find out about her host…..find out something…anything.  He wanted more from her.  She may have been confused still, but she was no fool.  This man would soon make advances that she was not prepared to give.  After all, she had a man…….’no….I have a man.  I refuse to believe he’s dead!,’ Mika anxiously thought.  She continued her long walk through the villa.  It was beautiful…a showplace indeed with more bedrooms than she could count and at least three swimming pools, with one indoors.  Ichiro obviously had exquisite taste, she couldn’t deny that.  The walls were adorned with paintings by Picasso and Chagall.  Fine furnishings could be seen throughout the villa, an eclectic mix of modern and traditional Asian styles accessorized in light airy hues. Setting aside his high brow taste, she couldn’t forget he was also a clan leader which meant he had secrets and he would never be completely forthcoming.  Mika would never really know if his explanation of Raizo’s death was a true one.  She only had his word and no way to refute it.  What he said could in fact be true, after all she had been at Ichiro’s villa for weeks and there had been no sign of Raizo.  ‘He hasn’t even attempted to find me, which is not like him.  He loves me, he would come for me….wouldn’t he?,’ Mika continued in deep thought.  
 
Without taking into account her exact whereabouts in the enormous villa, Mika would somehow end up on the basement level.  She realized this was exactly where she was originally bed ridden and cared for.  It was a dank place and it still gave her chills. Coming upon the main basement hallway, she heard voices in one of the rooms.  This scenario was like déjà vu to her, yet curiosity kept her feet moving forward.  At the end of the hallway, a large metal door to one of the basement rooms was ajar.  She peeked inside.  Startled by what she saw, she let out an involuntary gasp.  All eyes in the room turned towards the door and the audible sound that would signal they had a ‘guest’ in their midst.  “Aah, it’s my lovely Mika.  I see you’ve found me.  I didn’t mean to keep you waiting, but I had some very important business to attend to.  I do apologize,” said the ever charming Ichiro.  Mika didn’t respond to him as her eyes couldn’t believe what she was seeing.  An old man tied to a chair and bloodied.  She could only imagine what his crimes could have been to warrant such cruelty.  
 
“Who is he? How can you do this to him?  He’s just an old man!......(*the clicking of high heels echoed in the room*)  Mika turned to see who was walking up behind her.  She would turn around and look headlong into a nightmare reborn.  “You!.....I thought you were…….,” Mika startlingly said, as she was cut off mid sentence.  “Dead, perhaps?  Sorry to disappoint you but I’m not one to be killed so easily.”  The obvious tension between the two was palpable, prompting Ichiro to lightheartedly interject……“So, the two of you have met already I see,” the handsome charmer said.  “Well, not formally,” smirked his partner.  “Aah, then please allow me introduce you.  Mika, my lovely, I’d like you to meet the woman dearest to my heart, my beautiful sister…..(*Ichiro cut off by Mika’s response*)…………………“Indigo,” said a shaken and completely stunned Mika.
 
Mika couldn’t believe her eyes.  The Three Feathers compound was completely obliterated.  No one could have survived the catastrophic destruction.  Alas, Indigo did.  She was like a cat with nine lives.  “I’m flattered you remember, seems I made quite the impression on you dear,” Indigo said to a still stunned Mika.  “You know, I really must apologize.  You’ve been ill as of late and it seems I must take full responsibility for that. (*whispering next to Mika’s ear*)  You see, it was really your Ozunu lover I had intended to kill.  My beautiful arrows, long…streamlined and aimed with precision, archery at its finest bound for their target destination, then suddenly….before I could bear witness to the end of all of the Ozunu clan forever, there you were.  A real ‘Florence Nightingale’ to the rescue…..American folklore come to life. You just jumped right in there didn’t you?  (*Indigo sighed*) Planning an execution just can’t seem to go off without a hitch these days,” she facetiously continued.  
 
Her words gave Mika’s blood an ice cold chill.  That someone would so boldly…brazenly admit to plotting an execution, especially the execution of someone she loved, made Mika’s stomach churn.  Somewhere in her shocked senses, Mika was not entirely surprised that Indigo was alive.  It made sense.  Her body was never accounted for, but somehow Mika had lulled herself into thinking it possible this wicked, vile woman had perished along with the rest of her clan.  ‘Of all the gin joints…., (*as her thoughts paraphrased an old movie quote*), Indigo would be alive here at Ichiro’s villa and his sister no less,’ she thought.  
 
“So, I guess the two of you have had quite the laugh at my expense? (*Mika….turning to face Ichiro*) I mean, you had to have known we had a ‘history’ and not a very pleasant one I might add,” a now agitated Mika said.  “Well, beautiful lady….I must confess I was in fact aware of the history you and your lover shared with my dear sibling, but I simply couldn’t let that knowledge ruin the lovely time we were beginning to have,” Ichiro said as he walked closer to a trembling Mika.  “I do enjoy your serene presence in my home and would like nothing more than for you to stay, lovely,” he continued to say as he walked in back of her, placing his well groomed hands on each of her shoulders.  Mika trembled even more as his hands traveled downward, slowly stroking her upper arms.  “You’re shaking…there’s no need to be frightened, my lovely.  As long as you’re here with me, no harm will befall one hair on your gorgeous head,” Ichiro said, as his ever present bright smile gleamed.  She knew this was no real invitation.  It was clear she was a prisoner here and would remain so until her fate was decided by this brother-sister duo.  ‘Either become the concubine of a rival clan leader or forever be at the mercy or worse of his evil sister.  Boy, a hell of a choice….as if I even get a choice,’ she thought.  “Having a laugh at your expense is not exactly what I had in mind.  If it were up to me, I would have slit your throat weeks ago,” Indigo callously said.  “But it’s not up to you…..dearest sister,” Ichiro said in a tone more stern than his usual lighthearted banter.
 
Brother and sister didn’t exactly see eye to eye, however, Mika’s situation couldn’t have become more dire now that Indigo was back in the mix.  Ichiro was the only thing standing between her and certain death.  His sister made that abundantly clear.  Only because he wanted her for himself, was Indigo kept at bay.  Even though it was apparent he was holding her captive, Mika couldn’t deny he at least did so with a certain…savoir faire.  She was not yet herself, but she had to calculate perfectly the situation she now found herself in.  Getting out of this predicament and back to the child she couldn’t remember, was her new goal.  She knew Indigo wasn’t interested in sparing lives, she took them.  Ichiro wanted her and maybe that could at least buy her some time….time enough to heal….time enough to piece together the puzzle of her fractured mind.  Obviously, an agenda was underway and Mika had no doubt she would be an integral part.  She would ‘play along’ for as long as was feasible….for as long as it took to unscramble her memories…for as long as it took to find out exactly what happened to her beloved.  “What do you intend to do with me?  I’m not stupid.  I know you’re not just going to let me leave here once I’m all better.  I mean, my god, look at what you’ve done to this poor old man!,” Mika angrily said to the beautiful yet ruthless Indigo.  “But then again, you have no problem killing men….it’s what you do, isn’t it?!,” she continued in anger.  

Momentarily, Mika became brave in her anger, not caring what her captors thought.  However, fear was indeed present, but without her love and her baby nothing else seemed to really matter.  Throwing back her head, Indigo let out a hardy laugh upon hearing Mika’s words.  Almost as quickly as it began the laughing stopped, replaced by an evil smirking grin.  “Yes, I kill men.  Hmm, which reminds me….where is your man, dear?,” taunted Indigo.  She wickedly smiled, as she witnessed the pain register in Mika’s soft brown eyes.  Raizo’s whereabouts were actually unknown to each of the three.  However, brother and sister would keep Mika in the dark, for reasons each their own.  As far as Mika knew, Raizo was dead….precisely what both Ichiro and his sister wanted her to think. 
 
“Please have a seat dear, I was just about to tell my dear brother here a little story, in great detail. This story begins as most great works begin…..Once upon a time, I was the leader of a great and magnificent band of female warriors.  A world class clan headquartered in a beautiful underground compound. A once impenetrable underground fortress that was destroyed….destroyed by an Ozunu piece of filth and his lover (*hazel eyes pierced straight into soft brown ones*).  I believe it has become common knowledge how that particular chapter in my story ended,” Indigo said to her captive audience.  “Quite naturally, your Ozunu lover had to pay for the damage done to my beautiful home…to my reputation as a leader, as a warrior!…(*spoken through clenched teeth*),” she angrily continued.  “Seeking to avenge the wrongs exacted upon my clan, I sought to find out anything and everything that would aid me in the destruction of Raizo.  That journey led me to another small village in Japan, where our friend Mr. Uchida resides,” Indigo said as she walked up behind the listless old man in the chair.  
 
“I was told this gentleman had very intimate details of the history of the Ozunu clan…So, I used my persuasive charms and convinced him that it would be in his best interest to accompany me to Ichiro’s lovely villa.  It is lovely isn’t it, Mr. Uchida?,” she sarcastically continued.  “So without further ado, I’d like my very special guest, Mr. Uchida to enlighten us with the little known history facts of the now defunct Ozunu clan.  As I’ve also heard, it’s quite the interesting tale indeed.  Mr. Uchida, the floor is now yours,” Indigo facetiously said.  “Well, in the words of my American friends, I’m all ears,” said a smiling Ichiro.  “Let’s hear these bountiful tales of intrigue,” the handsome charmer continued.  Mercilessly, Indigo splashed another glass of freezing cold water in the old villager’s face.
 
Three faces stared at Mr. Uchida….frozen in stunned disbelief.  Indigo, Ichiro and Mika expected there would be horrific tales of war and espionage among the clans, but not one of them was prepared for what they heard.  The old villager had even managed to silence the affable Ichiro with his solemn tale of betrayal and death.  Ichiro ordered his men to help the old man to the hospital bed Mika once occupied, as a brief moment of compassion took over.   “He must die Ichiro! No one must know. The other clans must……….,” Indigo shouted at her brother as he cut her off.  “No! I have indulged you long enough…imouto.  This is my home and I will decide what is to be done with the old villager,” an unusually stern Ichiro said.  “These revelations could have far reaching implications for us and all the remaining clans, it’s true. However, we mustn’t be hasty.  We need to think this through, carefully….thoroughly.  The old timer may yet reveal more.  We must use his knowledge to our advantage.  Patience, dear sister as always is a most resourceful virtue,” Ichiro said as a sinister grin came to his handsome face.  
 
With brother and sister preoccupied by the recent turn of events, they momentarily turned their attention away from the battered old man lying in the bed nearby. However, it had become apparent that Mr. Uchida was not done.  As Mika sat in quiet contemplation, still stunned by what had been said, empathy overflowed for the gentle old soul lying quietly in the bed once her own.  She compassionately turned her attention to the frail old villager.  Her eyes locked with his.  Sensing her compassion, he very feebly beckoned to Mika while the others were preoccupied.  On the pretense of providing comfort, she cautiously approached him.  He beckoned her closer.  His voice was so weak he spoke barely above a whisper.  Mika thought she had heard all there was to hear.  She thought he had said all he needed to say.   If she thought she couldn’t be stunned any further….she was wrong.
 

Chapter 11:  Family Matters
 
The warrior who so ably dispatched his enemies with a ruthless and cold heart, beamed with pride inside as he lay close to his napping babies.  He found that Hiroshi was the more spoiled of the two.  He wouldn’t fall asleep unless he lay against his father’s broad chest first.  Baby Tai was just the opposite.  Already an independent little lady, she had no trouble falling asleep all on her own.  Their daily routine was always eventful.  The babies were quite active now, bright and bouncy little bundles…completely nosy.  The ninja warrior found that trying to keep two active babies still long enough to diaper their little bottoms was a feat unlike any other he had come to experience.  Raizo also found that leaving the room, even for a few moments, caused the twins to whine in sync at times even.  It was almost as if they felt he wouldn’t return. However, if Papa didn’t return in all haste Hiroshi had no problem expressing his disdain…loudly.  ‘Geez, how did that spy do it?, Mika would laugh her head off completely if she could see me now,’ he smiled at the thought.  Aiko was Papa’s mellow one…cool as a cucumber.  She was only fussy when wet or hungry, but once she was satisfied her calm was restored.  She was so like Mika that way.  ‘Almost four months of life and you’re so like your mother already,’ Raizo couldn’t help but to think.  He found that watching them sleep had become his new favorite pastime.  
 
Spontaneously, at times he would pick them up at will, nipping at their little fingers while tiny light brown eyes tried to focus on their Papa’s handsome face.  He thought Agent Maslow had spoiled them, but if truth be told…he was doing a good job of it himself.  ‘I love them so much already, how can anyone abandon their children? This I can not comprehend,’ Raizo continued in deep thought.  He loved his babies with a voracity he would never have been able to conceive of prior to Mika giving birth.  He often marveled at how he was able to do so.  After all he had no parents, orphaned as a young boy and raised by an abusive tyrant.  His love for Kiriko was innocent and sweet yet brief.  Although that brief young love altered his life permanently in many respects, he never really knew love could continue to grow and grow and become more powerful….until Mika.  He had to find her.  He would always believe she was still alive no matter what.  Ryan had to come clean about the fake grave site the government erected.  Raizo would have gone in search of Mika from that very moment, but he had to make sure his babies were secured and safe to his satisfaction.  His initial intent was to leave the Washington area completely and go far from the reach of government agencies, especially Ryan Maslow.  However, he had to make his way back to the little cottage he and Mika shared in Great Falls one last time.  This was where he and Mika began their new life together after they destroyed Three Feathers.  This was the place where he watched Mika grow round with his babies.  This was the place where she wanted the babies to grow up….to have a semblance of a normal life.  This was the place they both called home.  This was the place where he decided he would now stay.
 
“We still have eyes on the cottage do we not?  I intend to keep that warrior and those little ones safe no matter what I have to do.  I can not let Mika down again.  I will not, got it!,” Ryan shouted to the junior agents on his team as he thoroughly canvassed the area surrounding Raizo’s home.  Ryan was determined to never take his ‘eye’ off of Raizo or the twins….ever.  They would become his permanent mission in addition to his already massive work load.  This assignment was personal.  This he would do for Mika.  A penance of sorts, but one he would gladly pay.  Ryan fancied himself an intelligent man.  He had always been the type of man who knew which ring to throw his hat into before he would give it a toss and there was one thing he clearly knew. He knew he could never have her.  He knew she never would have been his.  Raizo had her heart completely…without question, but he would love her in the only way he could.  He would protect her family until his last breath.  After all, this was the kind of thing one would do for those he loved and he did love her.  
 
It was a burden at times, but it was his to keep and to bear.  Ryan never meant to disrespect the relationship Raizo and Mika had, but try as he might….not falling in love with her was an impossible task.  She was light and warmth…her disposition was always so easy never complicated.  She had a big heart and gave it freely to those she chose to love.  She was tenacious when it came to matters she deemed important and above all else she was just too damned beautiful for words.  ‘How could any man remain immune to all of that?,’ Ryan asked himself as he contemplated his feelings.  “You couldn’t possibly have expected me to not be affected by you,” he said out loud as he sat in his government issued vehicle.  
 
Ryan’s car sat atop an incline a short distance away from Raizo’s cottage home. “Make sure we have radio contact at all times and keep your relief schedules tight. This is now a permanent detail.  Let me make it clear, I never want this agency to take its ‘eyes’ off of that cottage….ever.  Got it!  Anything goes wrong, I am to be contacted immediately day or night without fail do you understand?,” Ryan said to his fellow field agents via his hand held radio. “Yes, Agent Maslow we’re on it,” one of the junior agents responds.  “You had better be,” Ryan responded in kind.  Before leaving the area, Ryan would pay a short visit to Raizo’s home.  In all honesty, he wanted to see the babies.  He missed them terribly.  He would use work as his excuse to see the little curly topped cuties.  He knew Raizo wouldn’t appreciate being summoned to his office, besides the warrior always did as he pleased when it came to protecting those he loved.  However, Ryan would do his best to set him on the course to Greece.  This was where Tiger’s Eye activity was beginning to stir and Ryan felt it may somehow be connected to the disappearance of Mika’s body.  He gave the warrior a few days to settle in with the babies, but now the CIA in conjunction with Europol was forging ahead with their plans to move on Tiger’s Eye.  Ryan felt he needed to keep Raizo apprised.  He knew the warrior would do as he damned well pleased, but he didn’t want him mucking up field agents already primed and in position to strike.  He didn’t want him running in headlong without any inkling of government activity in the vicinity this time around.  

****

“Is this true Mr. Uchida?  Is this the absolute truth?  My god, I can’t believe what I’ve just heard.  The cruel inhumanity of these clans knows no boundaries.  The awful burden placed upon you and your family….I can only imagine.  (*Mika sighed*) This is so hard and so unfair that I would learn of this now.  (*Mika held the old villager’s hand as she looked in his eyes*)  I’ve been told that the love of my life is dead, but I refuse to believe it, I just can’t believe it.  I can still feel his presence.  It’s strong within me,” Mika whispered to the frail little man as tears welled in her eyes.  “He needs to know what you’ve told me.  It’s not fair that he, most of all, is not here to hear these words,” said an exasperated Mika.  “Please forgive me, I know it seems as though I’m rambling,” Mika continued as she stayed by the villager’s side.  Her heart ached terribly at Mr. Uchida’s words, a bitter tale filled with irony.  The life of anyone unfortunate enough to cross paths with the clan known as Ozunu was a life left scarred…bruised and forever changed.  However, Mika refused to feel like a victim even as her fate teetered precariously on the edge at present.  She would carry on as long as fate would allow.  She would do it for her child.  She would do it for her love Raizo.
 
****

“So, let me guess.  You were just in the neighborhood and thought you’d drop by to say hello….right?,” Raizo said dryly in hushed tones to Ryan after opening his front door.  “Uh, yes…something like that,” a smiling Ryan said to the seemingly emotionless warrior.   Raizo regarded his unexpected guest while holding his daughter Aiko.  Her little curly head lay peacefully against her Papa’s strong shoulder as she still slept quietly.   Ryan’s heart lurched at the sight.  The urge to reach out and touch the little one was so strong, he found his hand involuntarily moved to touch the baby’s curly locks as Raizo continued to hold her close.  The warrior regarded Ryan’s hand for those few seconds.  The instinct to protect was immediate and swift.  Raizo had to remind himself that Agent Maslow had been a surrogate parent to the babies in his absence.  Thus the only reason his hand remained intact.  “May I come in or shall we just stand here and stare at each other?,” Ryan lightheartedly said  “I’d really like to have a little tete-a-tete and I don’t think you really want to keep the baby exposed to the elements do you ole boy?,” Ryan continued.  Without speaking, Raizo stood back and allowed Agent Maslow entry into his cozy cottage home.  
 
This was Ryan’s first time inside the house that the couple called home.  Thoughts of Mika’s apartment back in Germany came to his mind as he walked inside.  The décor of this cozy little cottage was just as inviting and warm and it had Mika’s soft touch written all over it.  Raizo, a surprisingly gracious host, led the secret agent to the small family room filled with all things baby.  This was where he and the twins usually spent much of their day.  Raizo escorted the secret agent to this particular spot in the house as there was no need to be formal.  Instinctively, the warrior knew this visit was about government business or interference.  He wasn’t sure which at this point, as the two were not mutually exclusive.  Whichever was closer to the truth he considered both to be intrusions on his life and his plans to find Mika.  The next few moments would give rise to a brief yet tense and uneasy conversation between the two.
 
As the two men walked down the small hallway toward the family room, Ryan’s eye caught a brief glimpse of the master bedroom.  ‘So this is where sweet surrender happens eh Coretti?,’ Ryan jealously thought, speaking within as if Mika was standing in front of him.  His mind couldn’t help but to wander to that forbidden place, as he regarded the virile warrior.   Raizo was certainly not a man to leave his woman wanting….it oozed off of him and the fact that Mika was that woman made him green with envy.  “See something that strikes your interest spy?,” the warrior said as if eyes were in back of his head.  The utterance ‘jolted’ Ryan out of his own jealous thoughts.  Raizo’s innate ninja abilities had always unnerved the secret agent.  He felt vulnerable….exposed.  It was as if Raizo could feel the turbulent swirl of emotions within him…emotions he tried hard to keep buried.  The truth was Raizo could hear the secret agent’s rapidly increasing heartbeat pulsate as they walked past the bedroom the couple shared.  “Umm…no…just following your lead ole boy,” Ryan said in answer, grateful for the distraction.  “I can see Mika’s hand all about this lovely little place you call home.  It’s a great place for the twins I think…being able to grow up in a home surrounded by their mother’s things,” Ryan continued.  
 
Lost in his effort to control his momentary emotional lapse, Ryan failed to see the agitation beginning to register across the warrior’s handsome face.   Raizo neither wanted nor needed his unsolicited opinion about where the twins should be raised. Agent Maslow had an agenda as always and Raizo wanted the agent to dispense with the pretense of visitor protocol and get on about the business of his unannounced visit.  His patience was wearing thin.  After laying baby Aiko down in her crib, Raizo looked over at his still sleeping little warrior mini me Kai.  He smiled as he regarded his little ones.  With the twins now down for a few hours, he would turn his attention to his guest.  “So, Agent Maslow shall you tell me why you really came here,” Raizo said to the secret agent.  Ryan knew better than to test Raizo’s patience any further, besides he knew the warrior would soon go looking for Mika on his own.  He would at least steer him to the most likely place to begin.  
 
“I hear Greece is lovely this time of year, very beautiful and serene.  I’ve been told there are many tiny islands, some very secluded and just right for that perfect romantic getaway,” Ryan said smiling, looking Raizo square in the eye.  Both men contemplate each other as a few moments of silence passed between them.  They often had moments like that, each fully aware of the other’s intent.  “Of course, I’d need to be dating someone before I could even begin to contemplate such an extravagant destination.  Well ole boy, I really just wanted to see how you and the twins were getting on and now that I have….I’m off,” Ryan continued as he walked back to the front door.  “No time for tea spy?,’ Raizo sarcastically asked.  “Nope, not this time.  I’ve got to get back.  As they say, when the cat’s away…..yada, yada, yada. Well, anyway you take care,” Ryan smiled as he answered in kind.  

‘So Greece is where you want me to look is it spy?,’ Raizo thought to himself.  The warrior also knew Agent Maslow wouldn’t just throw out that ‘crumb’ if he didn’t know something.  As much as he never completely trusted Ryan, the one thing he knew for sure is that he cared for Mika very much and would do anything for her.  Greece had been mentioned before.  Even though he knew he was being manipulated by Ryan, the ninja warrior would indeed begin his search in the Greek Isles.


Chapter 12:  Love in Flux
 
Mika’s eyes were sore and swollen.  She had cried herself to sleep yet again.  Would her memories ever return?  Would she ever see Raizo again? Would she ever see her child again?  She couldn’t even begin to contemplate a life alone.  She knew she wouldn’t be able to hold Ichiro off much longer.  His impatience was becoming unmistakably palpable.  Brief memory flashes would come to her mind from time to time, but nothing she could make coherent sense of.  All she knew is that her heart ached terribly.  She felt so alone and empty inside. “I don’t know how much more I can take,” Mika whispered to herself as she lay across the foot of her bed.  “Funny, I was thinking the exact same thing lovely,” Ichiro said startling her, as he stood in the doorway to her room.  His strong voice broke the still of Mika’s quiet room.  Slowly walking over to where Mika lay, Ichiro came to stand in front of the beauty.  Taking her by the hand, he pulled her up onto her feet.  As his long arm encircled her by the waist, Ichiro gently pulled Mika close….very close.  His desire held at ‘bay’ only by the jacket of the impeccably tailored steel gray Gucci suit he wore.  She knew this man was not her love, she knew he would just as soon kill her as make love to her….but she was a woman and she was not completely immune to his charm.  Momentarily giving in to the charmer, Mika found herself leaning into Ichiro’s warm embrace.  She closed her eyes as she allowed herself to lie against the warmth of his body and deeper into his embrace.  This type of warmth she hadn’t felt in what seemed like forever.  Ichiro was a strong physical male specimen as well, she couldn’t deny that fact.  ‘It won’t be long now will it my lovely? Soon your nights will be filled with ecstasy instead of tears and the pleasure will be all mine,’ Ichiro wickedly thought to himself as he continued to hold her close.
 
‘Mika what the hell are you doing?!,’ jarred back to reality by her thoughts. The beauty realized the mistake she was about to make.  She was vulnerable, but she couldn’t let herself fall ‘victim’ to this warrior’s charms.  He was as smooth as they come and she was ashamed of her weakness and also frightened.  She was frightened not only of losing her life to the brother and sister duo holding her captive, but frightened of losing herself to this slick operator.  It was becoming harder to dislike the handsome warrior leader.  ‘Why did he have to be so damned charming,’ Mika angrily thought to herself.  ‘Mika do not fall for this snake oil salesman!  Oh Raizo, where are you?! Please be alive….please!,’ her troubled thoughts continued as Ichiro continued to hold her close.  Mika tensed under his touch.  As she began to pull away, without warning Ichiro bent down simultaneously raising Mika’s beautiful face up with his fingertip at her chin.  Before she could protest, the warrior’s warm lips met hers.  She knew she should pull away, she knew she didn’t love this man, really didn’t even know this man….but the warmth she felt was hard to fight.  Without thought, Mika would give in to Ichiro’s kiss.
 
‘My god,’ Raizo thought as he clutched his chest.  The rapid beating of his heart was happening more frequently and was, quite frankly, beginning to unnerve him like never before.  He was no longer a man alone.  He had the twins to think about. What if these palpitations weren’t his lost love calling out to him but in actuality the onset of a true physical ailment?  These feelings were strange to say the least.  He was a young man and quite healthy by all accounts.  His babies needed him. What would become of them if they lost both of their parents?  Raizo knew the answer to that question in explicit detail and it shook him to his core to think of his twins having to live a life without him.  “Looks like a doctor’s visit will be on my check list before heading to Greece little ones,” Raizo said to his little curly top cuties as they sat in their high chairs.  They looked at him in wide-eyed wonder.  ‘So innocent, so pure,’ he thought as he looked with pride at the little miracles he created with his lady love.  After the warrior finished feeding and changing his little ones, he made a phone call to Ryan Maslow.  He never liked dealing with the protocols of government agencies, but there were times when he had no choice.  
 
Raizo always had to be smart about his whereabouts and now even more so about his health it would seem.  ‘I’ve had the bottoms of my feet gashed, I’ve had poison arrows cast at me, I’ve had shurikens thrown in my gut and I’ve even fallen off the top of a skyscraper into the ocean and I still managed to stay alive.  I’m sitting here now….actually worrying about my cholesterol? Would I even have high cholesterol?  I hardly eat. How surreal is this?,’ Raizo lightheartedly thought as a small smile brushed across his lips.  
 
The warrior did manage to smile sometimes, whenever he thought of his lady love.  He wasn’t completely without humor.  Mika both loved and hated his dry sense of humor, at times making her want to either kiss him or slap him…’At least that’s what she always told me,’ Raizo smiled as he continued in thought.  He was thinking about her round the clock now it seemed.  If he was truly honest, there were times when he just wanted to shut out all thoughts…even thoughts of her, so that his mind could be at rest if only for a moment.  Lately, even his morning meditations failed to silence his thoughts.  Why was he so haunted?  ‘She had to be alive….she just had to,’ Raizo thought.  There could be no other explanations for the onslaught of turbulent thoughts and feelings his body was experiencing.  “Mr. Nakamura, would you come with me please?,” the nurse at CIA medical said as she called out into the waiting room.  “You stated you wanted a general once over before heading off on your travels?  Well, not to worry…we aim to please,” the bubbly nurse said to her stoic patient.  “Please have a seat in the first exam room. The doctor will be in momentarily.  He’s just finishing up with one of our young field agents.  I swear, these young recruits are usually the first ones to get banged up.  So eager to please and all,” the smiling nurse continued.  
 
The doctor gave Raizo a clean bill of health, attributing his chest palpitations to the everyday stresses associated with becoming a new parent.  Taking on round the clock responsibility in such an abbreviated amount of time was the likely culprit, as far as the doctor was concerned.  “Mr. Nakamura, I don’t see anything we should be concerned about in the immediate, but I do recommend that you take it easy and relax a bit.  If you do that, the symptoms you’ve been experiencing should soon ease,” the doctor instructed. Obviously the doctor had no idea of the life and death mission the warrior was about to embark upon.  His distress could only be attributed to losing the love of his life.  Finding the mother of his babies was imperative.  He needed closure for himself and for his children.  Knowing what happened to her once and for all was his mission.   He was determined that wherever his journey led him, he would bring her home…no matter the condition he may find her in.  He was about to face down a new enemy clan with no real idea if Mika was even among them, but he had to begin his journey somewhere.  Agent Maslow made sure he charted that course toward the Greek Isles.  Raizo was, as usual, resolute in his decision to confront the Tiger’s Eye clan.  “I feel you love…I feel you.  Our babies need you….I need you,” Raizo whispered to himself out loud.  “Mr. Nakamura, just one more thing and we’re done.  The doctor would like me to get a blood sample from you, just to make sure he didn’t miss anything.  Once, I get that then you’ll be on your way in no time.  Just follow me sir,” the nurse said as she led him to the lab.
 
If Raizo had his way, he would probably never see a doctor.  However, he had acclimated quite well when it came to seeing physicians, especially after Mika became pregnant with the twins.  With his exam over and done, Raizo wasted no time heading back home.  He wanted to get back to the twins as quickly as possible.  The conscientious warrior had to make proper provisions for the care of his babies, as he would soon begin his journey toward Greece.  Although, he wasn’t particularly surprised that ninja clans had been found on remote Greek islands, still somehow he never contemplated ninjas in the Mediterranean.  Raizo couldn’t help but to be critical of himself.  ‘My edge is slipping.  I would have been one step ahead of the government in the past,’ the warrior thought to himself as he walked down the corridor toward the elevator. 

“Roberts get in here, I need you to get a memo to the Director’s office….like...yesterday.  Anytime now Roberts!,” an overworked agent Maslow barked at his hard working assistant.  Rubbing the back of his neck, a weary Ryan stood up from his desk to stretch his legs walking over to his office window.  He peered out.  At that moment, the secret agent caught a glimpse of Raizo from his office window as he was leaving CIA headquarters. 
 
The government agent was not the sentimental sort but he found himself feeling somewhat bereft, even if it was superficial.  ‘So what’d you expect? He was going to stop by for a chit-chat before he left the building.  Get it together man,’ Ryan thought to himself, watching below as the warrior walked toward the parking lot.  As he watched Raizo drive off, Ryan reluctantly acknowledged that a bond was beginning to form.  Intellectually, he knew that he and Raizo would never go to the local pub to toss back a few, nor would they catch a Monday night football game together.  However, despite the obvious, he couldn’t help but to feel a certain warmth toward his stoic ‘friend’….the mysterious ninja with no past.  Even so, Raizo had become his rival of sorts…most notably his rival in love.  Ryan felt trapped.  He didn’t want to care but he had become a prisoner in the ultimate paradox.  He had actually begun to like the man whose woman made his own heart sing and fallen equally in love with the warrior’s babies as well.  He should have been ashamed, but he wasn’t.  As much as Ryan wanted to extract his feelings, he couldn’t.  In a rather unorthodox way, this young family meant everything to him, filling a void he hadn’t known was empty until their lives became intertwined.  (*Ryan calling down to the CIA medical offices*) “Hello Ms. Pataki, I’m going to need a copy of Mr. Nakamura’s recent medical exam.  The information is crucial to a case I’m working on at present, which I’m not at liberty to discuss.  Bring it directly to me….no one else do you understand.  This is a very delicate case and must be handled with extreme caution.  It is imperative that no one sees the documentation except the staff physician and myself,” Ryan sternly said to the nurse. 
 
The clan wars were far from over and Raizo was still an integral part of the most active ones at present.  Ryan had to stay on top of any information the CIA or Europol may collect on Raizo, as well as, any other identified clan groups or warriors.  He also needed to be aware of any developments or changes in Raizo’s health for the sake of the twins, at least that’s what he said to himself.  In actuality, Ryan just wanted see if he could ever get to the bottom of what truly made Raizo tick.  What made him so special? Would there ever be anything that would or could give his agency a clue as to exactly who Raizo truly was?  Ryan wasn’t so sure, but he intended to keep a firm grip on all the possibilities.  This warrior was a ‘rare bird’ indeed.  ‘He would be full of mystery and intrigue me thinks, even if he wasn’t a ninja on ghost feet,’ Ryan thought.  “You would’ve fallen for him regardless, wouldn’t you Coretti?,” the secret agent whispered to himself while sitting at his desk.

****
 
“Let me be clear Ichiro, that is never going to happen again…so please don’t try.  I know that I’m in a vulnerable place right now and I also know what you want from me, but I do not love you.  I can’t love you.  I will always…always love Raizo,” Mika stated as she looked at her charming captor.  Ichiro regarded Mika in silence.  He realized he had never seen this side to her.  It exhilarated him and unnerved him equally.  This was the first time since bringing her to his villa that he actually saw a fighting spirit within her water soaked eyes.  There was ‘bite’ in her declaration of love for his ninja adversary.  For a brief moment in time, he envied Raizo.  “I know that it may take some time Mika my lovely, but as of late, I’m learning what it means to be a patient man.  Raizo, my dear beautiful one, is not here….but I am.  You may bristle at the thought now, but make no mistake you will be mine before all is said and done.  Think of how it will be.  I can give you everything you could possibly want and……(*cut off by a now angry Mika*).  “Can you give me back my memories? Can you give me another day with my child?  A child I try desperately to remember every day that I sit in this ivory tower.  Can you give me back that last few moments I looked into the eyes of my love?  Can you give me the reassurance that he knew how much I loved him?  Can you give me that?!,” Mika stated angrily…plainly with tears spilling from her eyes.  “No, I don’t think so.  What I truly need is beyond even your very capable hands,” she sarcastically continued, silencing the affable warrior.

****
 
Raizo was at a loss.  He didn’t know what to do.  The baby was fed and dry.  ‘What did he want?,’ the confused young father thought.  (*Waaaaah, waaaaah!!*…..baby Kai screaming at the top of his lungs).  Maybe the babies sensed he was about to leave.   As if on queue, baby Aiko joined her brother in a chorus of wails.  The usually even keeled ninja felt his nerves stand on edge.  How could he leave with the twins unsettled like this? He had no idea how long he would be away.  Finding Mika could take days, maybe even weeks.  He was truly in a quandary.  (*dialing out on his cell*)  “I need a favor,” said Raizo.
 
 
Chapter 13:  Love Is Found
 
“When you ask for help, you really go for the gusto, eh ole boy?,” said a teasing Ryan. “I don’t trust anyone,” Raizo said in response as he sat comfortably with eyes closed. “I know you will keep them safe,” Raizo continued.  Turning his head, he looked at Ryan then, making his meaning unmistakable.  The government agent couldn’t help himself, he felt downright elated.  Although, he didn’t dare let it show.  ‘You trust no one, but you’ve asked me to care for the babies twice now. Does this mean you actually trust me then?  If you don’t watch out ole boy, we just might become mates,’ Ryan lightheartedly thought.  “Yes, I will keep them safe.  I said to you once before I would protect them with my life and I meant it,” Ryan continued.  “You were going to try your best to track me anyway.  So you may as well come along and give me the kind of help I can really use this time,” Raizo said with his poker faced dry humor.  “Now, you have a legitimate reason to be intrusive…spy,” Raizo said as he continued to needle his traveling companion.   (*Captain speaking over the intercom*) “We will be arriving at Athinai airport shortly. The weather currently is a warm, sunny 90 degrees.  We will begin dropping altitude to prepare for landing.  So sit back, relax and enjoy the rest of the flight as we begin our decent into beautiful Athens.”  At the captain’s words, Raizo and Ryan along with the twins (*already sleeping*) did just that.  Ryan decided that being a government agent did have its perks.  ‘Flying via private jet to Greece is most definitely a perk a bloke like me could get used to.  Not too shabby agent Maslow,’ Ryan thought as he tried to nap unsuccessfully.  In actuality, Ryan had to call in some hefty favors to get use of the private government jet that technically did not exist.  When Raizo called him, he knew this was a golden opportunity. The ninja warrior knew it too and he was right. Ryan knew that Raizo was fully aware that he would’ve followed him to hell and back if it meant he could help to bring Mika back home.  He prayed they would find her alive.  Her young family needed her.  At least that was the reason he told himself as to why he was trying so hard to help find her.  Truth be told, he needed her too, even if it was only to marvel at her beautiful face from afar.
 
After taking a small chartered boat and then a ferry to the heart of the Cyclades, the government agent and his wards finally reach the CIA safe house on Kimolos, an island of the Polyaigos Islands.  This was no easy feat while traveling with five month old twins.  Between the two men, they managed to keep the babies relatively calm considering the time and climate changes they experienced.  The safe house, nestled deep underground directly beneath the tallest hill on Kimolos, was actually an underground fortress.  Raizo likened the bunker to the Three Feathers compound.  This one however was government sanctioned and highly fortified.  It was completely high tech with access to every conceivable type of weaponry.  In actuality, this was really a secret government command center, which upon their arrival, served to double as a safe house for Raizo and the babies.  After taking in his surroundings, it became glaringly apparent to Raizo the extent of the ‘might’ behind these government agencies.  They had extreme power, untouchable almost, without a doubt making them worthy adversaries to the clans.  Raizo also realized the clans’ only advantage was their unique ancient practices that kept them shrouded in secrecy.  If the veil of secrecy were to fall, one by one they would crumble under all that government might.  However, his concern was not the future prosperity or destruction of the clans, his only concern was finding Mika.  If his search brought about the destruction of a clan or two, then so be it.  
 
Before heading out, Ryan insisted that Raizo take advantage of all the high tech gadgetry at his fingertips.  “At least get a feel for the landscape man.  I know your ninja mojo is working overtime, but take a look at these infrared images,” Ryan implored the antsy warrior.  What he didn’t know was the ninja rebel had already slipped out of the fortress to conduct his own personal reconnaissance mission, in true Raizo fashion.  After doing so, it had become apparent why at least one of the clans would choose islands in the Cyclades to call home.  The terrain was mountainous with hardly any lush vegetation making it difficult for approaching enemy warriors to go undetected.  Ninjas needed to ‘disappear’ into shadow.  The white washed homes, synonymous with Greek island life, impeded Raizo’s ability to use the element of surprise.  The environment called for a change in his ninja attire.  He would wear his white ninja regalia by day…the black by night.  Like a boy scout this ninja had to be prepared.  With Ryan caring for the babies below ground, Raizo would be able to spend most of his day searching for Mika.  He hated to be away from his twins even for a moment, but the warrior needed the latitude to put all his concerted efforts into finding their mother…finding his love.
 
At first light, Raizo disappeared yet again from the safe house.  He was becoming familiar with the surrounding islands in the Cyclades.  The islands’ ferries, which usually ran every hour, had become Raizo’s way of moving from island to island undetected. At least, he hoped.  He very easily stowed away on the ferries, by becoming shadow...not so easy to do in daylight hours.  To say he was compelled to search day and night was a gross understatement. The hills on most of the islands were peppered with homes the color of clouds against the back drop of a bright azure sky. He made every effort to push further into the hills choosing to search on the islands closest to the safe house, but to no avail.  He was becoming exhausted in his searches.  Raizo soon came to realize he was running on pure emotion, wanting desperately to find a clue…any clue to her whereabouts.  ‘Why would he suggest Greece, if he didn’t have at least some idea that she may be here?,’ he thought to himself.  “Am I running around in circles spy?,” he whispered to himself in contemplation.  He had to take a step back and re-group.  He would change his approach.
 
“You truly are a ghost, when you care to be,” Ryan facetiously said, startled by Raizo reappearing in the safe house without warning.  “You certainly come and go at will.  I really hate that by the way,” the unnerved secret agent said.  “Sorry, I’ll cough next time,” Raizo said in his usual dry speak.  In between diaper changes and bottle feedings, Ryan was also working feverishly with the small team of agents assigned to the ‘safe house’ detail.  Even though he was caring for the babies as Raizo came and went, he was in complete control of the operation, monitoring all activity of the Tiger’s Eye clan.  Momentarily distracted by a phone call from a fellow agent on other agency matters, Ryan turned away.  The normally meticulous agent left the Tiger’s Eye file in plain view.  His intent was not to keep Raizo in the dark necessarily, but there were some details he felt needed to be given to the warrior on a ‘need to know’ basis.   He knew this ninja was a law unto himself and could never fully predict which way he would turn.  Raizo took complete advantage of the unguarded file. ‘Classified? Sikinos Island…supposed clan leader goes by the name Ichiro,’ Raizo read silently.

****
 
“You see dear brother, this is why I take pleasure in ridding the world of men.  Men are worthless!  While you spend every waking hour daydreaming about making love to a woman who will never be yours, I am keeping abreast of all incoming threats to Tiger’s Eye!  What you should be doing.  Case in point,” Indigo angrily said. (*Showing her brother images picked up by the villa security monitoring*) “Is it?”......(*Ichiro cut off by a curt Indigo*) “No, it’s not him…but we’ve picked up government activity nearby.  Needless to say brother, we are being monitored. Look Ichiro either take her now, or kill her it really doesn’t matter to me one way or another, but do it soon.  She’s a distraction! I need you to get back to the business of being a warrior!,” she angrily said to her sibling as she stormed off.  To become the most powerful clan had now become Indigo’s mission.  Having her clan obliterated forced her to join forces with Tiger’s Eye.  Once a powerful leader in her own right, Indigo found it hard to take a backseat to her brother.  His whims and his over the top tastes forced her hand.  She wanted him to focus on solidifying their position among the clans as the most powerful.  Mika was a distraction they could no longer afford to indulge.  She would be rid of her one way or another.  
 
The sun was setting behind the hills in the distance, as Mika stood out on the balcony of her room taking in the cool ocean breeze.  This, she found, was the only true pleasure of being held prisoner in this gilded cage.  Standing close to the balcony’s railing she momentarily closed her eyes, while letting the sea winds tickle her face.  So peaceful was the ocean breeze, she could almost forget how uncertain her fate truly was.  Moments like these found the beauty reaching back into her memories, trying her best to recall the sound of Raizo’s voice.  It was becoming apparent that she would probably never see him again.  If he were truly alive, he would have rescued her by now.  She was becoming fearful of giving in fully to that line of thinking.  As long as she held on to the hope that he was indeed alive, she could endure whatever Ichiro and Indigo threw at her.  At times, it even felt as if she could actually hear his voice calling her.  Just then she heard it.  The faintest whisper…the whisper of a voice so familiar.  This voice seemed so close yet far away, it just couldn’t be true.  (“Mika…….…..”).  Opening her eyes, she shook her head….startled by her own thoughts.  “Ok, you are really losing it lady.  I think you need a lay down…seriously,” Mika said as she walked back inside, chastising herself.  Unsure, she turned to look back toward the hills once more but she saw nothing.  Likening her feelings to an overactive imagination, the anxious beauty went inside to lie down and rest her weary mind.  
 
(*Tiny hands….tiny toes.…more tiny hands….blues….pinks….hospital.…Raizo….baby in arms….doctors…push Mrs. Nakamura, push!....government agents*). Memory flashes flitted chaotically across Mika’s confused mind, as she slept.  They were coming to her more frequently, without rhyme or reason.  While she slept, her closed eyes jetted back and forth.  Her breathing became more pronounced and labored.  Frown lines furrowed in her forehead, as unintelligible murmurings escaped her lips.  “What’s going on inside that beautiful head of yours clan killer,” whispered Mika’s captor.  Even as she slept, Mika eerily sensed someone standing over her.  Slowly she opened her soft brown eyes only to find fiery hazel-green ones staring back.  “Indigo,” Mika said as she swiftly raised herself up from a resting position. “What do you want?,” an unnerved Mika said.  She could have answered her own question quite frankly.  She knew that Indigo wanted her dead and she would have been long ago, if Ichiro didn’t want her so badly. “Oh, you’re a smart woman….I think you know.  It’s unfortunate that you and your lover took it upon yourselves to destroy Three Feathers.  You and that Ozunu filth killed my noble warriors…my honorable clan sisters. (*speaking inches away from Mika’s face through clenched teeth*)  It was an affront to me that can only be made right, quite naturally, by the deaths of those who committed the offense. (*Indigo…looked a Mika with a sinister grin*)  I will destroy you beautiful one….one way or another.  It’s a pity. You could have been a great asset to the Three Feathers’ traditions believe it or not.  After all, female empowerment was what we were all about,” Indigo said as she turned to leave the room.  A chill ran through Mika’s blood like never before.  “I’ve got to find a way out of here.  Oh god, time is running out for me,” Mika nervously whispered to herself as the ice queen left the room.

Prior to continuing his search, Raizo shifted gears.  He came to realize he might pick up clues if he mingled among the locals at nearby cafes.  Upon entering Café Posto, he tried his best to casually blend in but his male beauty coupled with a stoic yet virile presence made him a hard one to ignore.  This fact was made evident by the giggly blushing stares of several female locals inside.  When the attention finally ebbed, he ordered a cup of warm tea.  The tiny little rustic outdoor café in Chora was very popular among the locals.  Many of whom lived nearby but came to the café to socialize with their neighbors and friends.  While he sipped his tea, he overheard talk of the handsome rich owner who lived in the villa on the hill.  “Could it be you Ichiro…leader of Tiger’s Eye?,” Raizo whispered to himself, as he sat in a quiet corner of the village cafe.  It was then he noticed a tiny little chatterbox who went by the name Adrianna.  A name he overheard as she spiritedly socialized with a group of her friends.  She was quite the informative one indeed.  After a few glasses of wine shared with her friends, she soon began to tell tales of her larger than life boss and a gorgeous beauty being held captive.  ‘Could it be? A beauty….held captive?,’ Raizo wondered as he turned the words over in his mind.  

It soon became apparent that the warrior’s considerable charms weren’t lost on Adrianna either.  Even as she entertained her friends, she couldn’t help but to notice the handsome stranger sitting all alone.  “Well, well my lovelies who is that gorgeous piece of man flesh?,” she said amongst her lively group of friends.  All eyes at the table immediately turned Raizo’s way.   Smiles and winks ensued, as Adrianna tried her best to ply her feminine wares from at least three tables over. Although the little sprite of a woman didn’t stand a chance with him, the considerable effort she put into getting Raizo’s attention didn’t go unrewarded.  Completely tickled and flattered by Adrianna’s ‘interest’ he likewise returned a wink and a smile.  After finishing his cup of tea, he exited the little café to a chorus of giddy giggles.  “Oh my ‘stawhs’…who was that masked man?,” the tiny woman said, feigning light headedness as the sexy ninja walked by.  Raizo’s lips couldn’t help giving way to a rare smile.  ‘So this is what it feels like to be hit on?,’ he thought still amused.  Albeit brief, he was grateful for the momentary distraction.
 
Unsure of what he would find, he decided to take a closer look at this villa on the hill. What could it hurt?  He would do so at sundown.  His hope was to get close enough to observe, yet keep a safe enough distance in case other clan warriors sensed him nearby.  Becoming shadow at dusk was always the preferable choice.   As the night sky began its cloaking of the evening sun, the determined warrior also began his trek up the largest hill overlooking Chora.  
 
While continuing to make headway up the hill, the weary ninja had to come to the realization that the routine of searching for Mika had become just that…routine…dismally routine.  Having thoroughly searched every inch of every island within a few miles radius of the safe house and turning up nothing, his expectations were decidedly grim.  ‘This search will probably end up like all the others,’ he thought as he continued to climb up the islands hills. Compounding matters, Raizo also spotted Ryan’s team of junior operatives shadowing his steps.  Their inexperience very easily gave them away.  ‘He’s so predictable,’ Raizo smirked somewhat agitated.  The average person would never know they were being followed, but a ninja warrior with acute sensitivities was another story indeed.  He was concerned that rookie agents following him could inadvertently reveal their positions to enemy clan warriors in the vicinity. If Mika was amongst those in the villa, he didn’t want harm coming to her because of rookie carelessness.  Ultimately, he had no real problem with them following his trail.  Losing them was easy when he became shadow and he did so whenever he felt the need to observe alone, which was often.  
 
Finally reaching the top of the hill, Raizo found a small hiding place tucked behind an empty home nearby the villa.  The villa itself overlooked all the homes in the local village below, including Raizo’s makeshift hiding place.  Plant life on the abandoned property, clearly overgrown and ill kept, temporarily sheltered the Ozunu rebel with some much needed cover.  Dark shadows cast by the massive flowering vines allowed the ninja warrior to go undetected as he ‘faded’ within.  It was quiet, eerily quiet.  Only the sounds of the flowing wind off of the water could be heard, as it whipped through the nearby vegetation.  
 
As he climbed further still to take a closer look, Raizo suddenly found himself lurching forward simultaneously dropping to his knees.  He clutched at his chest as he felt his heart unexpectedly begin to pound.  The erratic rhythm that was becoming like second nature couldn’t have picked a worst time to plague him.  With sweat beading across his brow, the warrior was forced to take a few moments to catch his breath.  ‘Why is this happening to me now?,’ an exasperated Raizo thought.  He would soon have his answer.  As he inhaled deeply to quell the rapid beats in his chest, he happened to turn his gaze toward the star filled sky.  Still trying to catch his breath, Raizo’s lackadaisical gaze turned back toward the villa as he continued to inhale and exhale deeply.  What came next was the shock of his life…a shock he would gladly accept.  Feeling as if he had been suddenly hit over the head, he couldn’t believe his eyes.   ‘Am I dreaming? Is this just wishful thinking?,’ he thought.  The warrior very quickly realized what he was seeing was truly real.  Raizo saw his love standing on the balcony of the largest villa on Sikinos.  To his amazement…his astonishment there she was alone on that balcony….Mika….his Mika.  “Mika,” he whispered out loud.  Briefly, she turned to look back toward the hills before heading inside.  ‘Did she sense he was near?,’ the hopeful warrior thought.  His heart sang.  She was alive.  ‘She’s alive!,’  Raizo shouted within his mind.  He had to get her back.  Every nerve in his body was on edge.  His every instinct was to immediately storm the villa, but he knew he couldn’t let his emotions take over.  He had to be smart about his approach.  Any wrong move could cost Mika her life truly and he wasn’t about to lose her again.  He would devise a plan.  
 
“He seems ill?  What….he found her?!  Are you sure it’s her?  Make absolutely sure agent and whatever you do keep close eyes on Raizo.  Now that he’s found her ill or not, there’s no way he’s going to stand down.  I just hope to God he doesn’t rush in with ‘guns blazing.’  Try to keep them both alive will you,” said an excited Ryan to his field agents by radio.  The news was incredible, so incredible that Ryan had to take a moment.  He had to collect himself so he wouldn’t bring attention to the mist gathering within his eyes. “Coretti, you’re alive……thank….God,” Ryan whispered as he tried to remain calm.   
 
Raizo very stealthily continued his ascent up the hill attempting to locate any and all entry ways into the villa.  Instinct and experience told him this was not just some rich man’s home, but more than likely it was serving as the Tiger’s Eye compound as well.  ‘Why else would Mika be there?,’ he thought as his mind raced.  Surveillance equipment would surround every inch of the grounds no doubt.  ‘Rich types like this always pride themselves on having the best of the best and the security to go with it,’ Raizo thought as he continued to observe.  He saw two guards patrolling the main balcony, but the smaller balcony where he saw Mika earlier was not guarded and looked to be directly connected to a suite of bedrooms.  He could easily see inside, as the entire back of the villa had floor to ceiling glass windows.  He surmised that the villa had at least three levels maybe more.  With all the rooms on levels one and two brightly lit, the lone villa was visually stunning against the night sky….nature’s backdrop.  No doubt it could be seen far into the distance, by any who dared to approach.  “Leader of Tiger’s Eye, you are very sure of yourself aren’t you?,” Raizo said to himself.  This man was smart and cunning to be sure and obviously quite brazen to boldly display the inside of his plush estate.  Expensive furnishings, priceless works of art, the inference being he can display whatever he wants, as no one would dare try to come near his estate.  ‘You think you’re untouchable, we’ll see about that?,’ the warrior thought.  Clan operations were more than likely taking place underground…far underground much like the government safe house.  The hills of Sikinos were nearly the size of small mountains and could very easily contain covert operations deep within them.  A man with unlimited means could build a compound to rival that of any government agency and more than likely this was the case.  
 
Trying to keep his eyes on his beloved, he continued to observe while she lay down calmly in the bedroom next to the intimate balcony.  He thought it quite odd.  Mika seemed calm in her surroundings, quite comfortable in fact.  Why would she be lying calmly across a bed?  She didn’t seem to be in fear for her life.  What did that mean exactly? His love didn’t appear to be a distressed person held in captivity.  It was as if she was a guest.  The ‘scene’ was a confusing one, which had Raizo beginning to question Mika’s emotional state.  The woman he loved would be angling for a means of escape, not lounging around a bedroom.  The Mika he watched from the shadows seemed different somehow.  Raizo felt his inner being open itself up to another uncomfortable and unfamiliar emotion….fear.  He was beginning to fear that the Mika he knew and loved may no longer exist.
 
As much as his first mind told him something wasn’t quite right, he chose to trust his instincts.  At the very least, Mika was alive and from all indications appeared to be safe for the time being.  This he hoped would buy him some time.  He decided to head back to the safe house and re-group with Ryan.  The two of them needed to put their heads together and devise a plan to rescue Mika and take down Tiger’s Eye simultaneously.  Raizo didn’t want to jeopardize Mika’s life by rushing in.  He had to fight smarter.  “I’ve found Haha my babies…I will bring her home to you soon,” Raizo whispered aloud to himself before he left his hiding place.  The trek back down the huge hill would be just as arduous but the ninja warrior felt a burst of renewed energy.  All at once, the overwhelming need to hold his infants came upon him.  

Stealing one more glance at Mika, he observed a visitor entering her room.  The female visitor looked familiar but with her back turned he was unable to get a good look.  Strangely, she stared at Mika as she lay sleeping.  He continued to observe as the woman took slow deliberate steps stopping mere inches in front of his sleeping beauty.  There was something sinister about this woman.  She watched….she waited, her posture likened to that of a snake primed to strike.  When the strange woman’s presence startled her awake, he could see that Mika’s demeanor appeared to change abruptly.  Just when he thought the night could hold no more surprises, the ninja warrior was completely stunned when Mika’s visitor briefly turned toward the window.  “Watashi wa shinjimasen…..Indigo?,” Raizo said out loud.  She was alive and in the same space as Mika.  He had to get back to the safe house and all that government artillery.  If he was unsure Mika was in danger before, he knew it unequivocally now.  Although, he could not tell by mere observation the circumstances by which Mika was being held, he instinctively knew with Indigo ‘in bed’ with the Tiger’s Eye clan Mika’s life was in complete and total danger.

Chapter 14:  Reunited
 
“So Red, your little DNA experiment got a hit, eh?  After weeks of nothing, I thought you’d just about given up on the notion,” Ryan teased his colleague Eleanor.  His trusted friend had now become an integral part of the clan missions as well.  He knew he could always count on Eleanor for complete loyalty and discretion.  Dealing with Raizo and Mika’s situation was unique and precarious within the agencies themselves.  If the powers that be had their way, both Raizo and Mika would be jailed right along with the rest of the clans.  They were seen as reckless troublemakers by the rank and file with total disregard for law and order.  They were liabilities that the government didn’t need or want.  Protecting them was becoming a distant memory.  Ryan had to keep his protection of them under the radar at all times, even while utilizing government facilities and weaponry.  This wasn’t an easy task.  Eleanor served as a buffer of sorts between him and his superiors, thereby keeping his activities largely undetected…at least for the time being.  It was also her idea to use junior field agents for his ‘off the radar’ secret missions.  He was grateful for Eleanor’s ingenuity in actually making it the craftiest way he could accomplish his goal to protect the warrior and his love.  The missions, always identified as training, kept seasoned veteran agents at bay.  The higher ups always hated the ‘baby-sitting’ missions. This was well suited to meet Ryan’s needs.
 
“At present, our resident ninja is out doing his own reconnaissance on Tiger’s Eye.  He’s so damned wily it’s almost impossible for my agents to keep eyes on him.  Well Red, what’s the skinny on this DNA hit?,” Ryan continued as he ribbed his friend in jest.  He had the feeling that what he was about to learn was something highly significant.  The mysterious life of this Ozunu warrior was nothing short of intriguing to say the least.  “Well, Ryan hold on to your hat because you are not going to believe this,” Eleanor said with a gleam in her eye.  
 
Fifteen minutes had passed and Ryan was still in shock. “My god Red, you’re serious aren’t you?,” the secret agent said.  “Oh, yes….quite,” Eleanor replied.  “This is quite extraordinary….truly extraordinary and bizarre.  Do you have any idea what this means?  Boy, you never cease to disappoint my dear.  All I can say is this has got to be the damnedest double edged sword that I’ve ever come across, I’ll tell you that,” said a suddenly off kilter Ryan.  I thought keeping secrets from him was bad before, but this?  I’m most definitely in a massive quandary of unimaginable proportions this time Red.  I have absolutely no damned clue how to proceed with this little bombshell you so conveniently decided to drop,” he continued.  “What the hell do I do right now?,” he said to himself in contemplation.  He already knew what he had to do.  He knew that the primary goal, first and foremost, was getting Mika back safely and he was going to make sure that that remained priority number one.  Realizing he may pay for his decision later, he decided to keep the information he just learned from Eleanor under wraps, at least until he could figure out the most expedient way to move forward.
 
A few hours had passed since Eleanor left the safe house and Ryan’s mind in a state of unease.  He had been working non-stop since their conversation.  Needing to take a mental break from the information overload swirling around in his head, he walked to the small room at the back of the safe house to check on the little cuties in his care. They were just the distraction he needed.  Before opening the door expecting to find tiny ones at play in the small crib purchased at the local market square, Ryan smiled to himself thinking back to the moment he sent one of his female junior operatives on a special ‘mission’ to buy a crib shortly after arriving in Greece.  The ‘mission’ was perfect for the young operative…a prime opportunity to exercise her particular area of expertise, feigning pregnancies and taunting unsuspecting shop owners with fake labor pains. (*Oh, no! I think my water is about to break but before it does, I really need that specially handcrafted wooden crib you have there.  See that one in the corner….in the back….all alone….just waiting for a place to call home, namely mine.  You wouldn’t be saving that for anyone in particular.  Money is nooo object here.  Oh, oh water breaking….water breaking!!  Somebody call a doctor!  Oh gosh, oh no!  baby’s coming, baby’s coming!  I need that crib!! You don’t want to upset the baby do you?! Somebody get a doctor.  Oh, oh, oh!! I need that crib!*).   
 
‘Such a comedian…that one,’ Ryan thought as he chuckled inside.  Young Jennifer Capone had taken to being a surrogate baby-sitter like a fish to water.  This young operative was so helpful and always on hand to relieve Ryan when work took his attention away from the babies.  The junior operative was also well aware that to care for the babies meant that answering to Agent Maslow would be moot.  If one hair on their tiny heads went missing, a certain renegade warrior would make sure the same would happen to her.  Ryan made this abundantly clear to any and all junior operatives who would take on the task of caregiver for the babies.

Cooing infants wrapped in their father’s strong arms was the scene Ryan came upon as he opened the door to the CIA’s version of a baby’s nursery.  Peering through the doorway Ryan said nothing, but Raizo sensed his presence as he always did.  He kept his silence as well, nipping at tiny fingers trying their best to explore his beautiful face.  Ryan continued to watch the touching scene as the warrior held his infants close against his chest.  Choosing not to intrude on the loving moment between a father and his little ones, Ryan turned to quietly walk away when the silence was broken.  “She’s alive…..and so is Indigo.  I need to get her back now,” Raizo said in his usual stoic tone.  “Three Feathers….Tiger’s Eye….they are together somehow.  I do know they will kill her….soon if we don’t get her out,” he continued.
 
“So it’s a fact the ice queen has nine lives...eh?,” Ryan said to Raizo.  “She survived the Three Feathers explosions after all...well, well,” he continued.  Raizo’s revelation about Indigo being alive wasn’t terribly surprising, after all it was Three Feathers arrows that flew into Mika’s back.  This after the clan had been completely destroyed…or so had been the assumption.  Actually, it was Eleanor’s recent revelation that made it all fit.  Ryan knew now more than ever he couldn’t share any of this recent information with Raizo.  The renegade warrior was at least at a point of considering a government alliance, with respect to rescuing Mika.  The government agent didn’t want to upset the already delicate balance.  To mildly put it, Raizo wouldn’t have taken his words with ease. 
 
“This villa….well…..compound seems to have at least three levels maybe more.  Balconies on each level are guarded except a smaller one connected to what appeared to be bedrooms, but I’m sure you already know that…..having me followed so closely,” Raizo said slightly annoyed as he sat the babies down in their crib.  The warrior was not a fool and Ryan knew that.  There was no need to pretend he didn’t send the junior operatives.  “Sorry, about that ole boy…just trying to make sure those little ones get to have their father to a ripe old age,” Ryan replied. “You’re right.  We’re on the same page in our observances.  We’ve also been able to detect or locate, if you will, at least two entrances by sea via underwater sonar.  He’s clever, that one. These entrances were made to look exactly like the surrounding rocks and debris below the surface.  To the naked eye it would be impossible to tell.  Sonar picked up vibrations coming from the door seals,” he continued.  This gave the two men an idea.  They each looked one to the other square in the eye.  “You thinking what I’m thinking?,” Raizo asked.  “This time I’m way ahead of you ole boy,” Ryan answered in kind.  Entrance to this villa would be made by sea.   
 
The waves were crashing against the rocks at the base of the hill.  The swells in the water were quite treacherous to say the least, but nothing would keep Raizo from getting to Mika.  With Indigo still a factor, they couldn’t afford to wait it out in hopes of unraveling the plans of Tiger’s Eye.  Even so, Raizo found himself momentarily distracted…still stunned as he thought of the last minute sit down he and Ryan had.  
 
A guilty conscience seemingly sparked a change of heart in the secret agent, just prior to attempting Mika’s escape.  ‘Before you go into that villa, there’s something you need to know Raizo.  I can’t in good conscience let you go in without full disclosure. I want you to know this goes against all government protocol and my own good sense.  Uh, you’re going to want to have a sit down for this one,’ Raizo recalled, thinking back on Ryan’s words. 
 
‘In an attempt to get information regarding the clans, we had practically exhausted all avenues but one and that was through DNA testing.  I’m sure you remember my colleague and friend Eleanor Davies.  Well, she took the initiative to have your DNA tested when blood was drawn from you on your last visit to the agency.  Yes, I know….bloody rude of her to do it without permission, but time wasn’t on our side…as you well know.  Weeks went by without a peep…that is until recently. Out of the blue, a match was discovered….a match to you,’ Ryan continued.  ‘What are you not telling me spy?,’ Raizo remembered asking.  ‘Well ole boy, it seems you do have family after all….although a family reunion might prove to be little awkward at present,’ Ryan anxiously joked as a non-amused Raizo stared back at him.  ‘I hate to be the bearer of possibly unwelcome news, but it seems you have family in that villa Raizo.  Apparently you and the Tiger’s Eye leader, the charismatically infamous Ichiro share patriarchal DNA.  Being that he’s too young to be your father, it would seem you have an older brother ole boy,’ Ryan said to a floored Raizo.  
 
Shock, couldn’t begin to describe what was going through Raizo’s mind.  ‘A clan leader is my biological brother?  How could it be?  The only parents I knew left me alone to fend for myself in the slums of Japan.  Ozunu found me and raised me as his son…raised me in the way of the ninja.  Is it possible I’ve actually seen him before?,’ Raizo frantically thought.  Ryan couldn’t have picked a worse time to give Raizo this news.  At a time when he needed complete control of his wits, he found his resolve momentarily wavered.  Inevitable questions continued to crowd his mind.  “You do this to me now, spy?!,” Raizo spoke aloud as he gave in to a long sigh.
 
However, one fact still remained.  Brother or not, this clan leader was holding his love captive.  Nothing would stand in the way of getting Mika back.  Anything else would have to be sorted out later, if there was a ‘later.’  Breathing in deep and exhaling strong, the warrior had to de-clutter his mind…reconnect to his center.  The mission at hand was to get Mika out.  “Ready?  let’s go!,” Raizo said to the junior operatives flanking him.  One by one they all dove into chilly waters at the base of the large hill.  
 
The ocean currents were brutal and almost impossible to navigate, just as they had predicted.  However given the importance of the mission, failure would not be an option.  Raizo, as well as, each of the operatives gave it as good as they got it from the angry swells.  At times it felt as if the ocean was swallowing them whole. Dogged determination pushed them through and finally they made it to the outer rock wall door deep under water.  This hidden entrance had to be penetrated in such a way so as to avoid detection. This wouldn’t be easy.  Breathing steady from his oxygen laden scuba gear, Raizo waited until Operatives Alpha one and Alpha two strategically placed shock absorbing explosives around the door seal. Shortly thereafter, Operatives Omega three and Omega four activate dual timers precisely in sync.  
 
As the operatives and Raizo swim back several feet to avoid any residual effects of the explosion, the explosives detonate on queue timed to the very second.  They each hear the countdown in their earpiece devices….(*detonation in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one……bubbles, splash*).  Only slight underground vibrations could be felt, the only indicator there had even been a breach.  The door itself remained intact and in place.  All activity underground was being monitored by Ryan at the safe house. 
 
From the government’s underground command center, the Tiger’s Eye security system was momentarily breached and their security feed temporarily taken over. With the Tiger’s Eye warriors unaware, Raizo and his operative cohorts were able to slip into the villa compound undetected.  Pulling off the heavy oxygen tanks and slipping out of their wet suits, Ryan monitored his team through heat sensor detection.  Ryan was the surveyor of the compound’s layout.  He was the ‘eyes’ of his team, as they would be ‘blind’ in the dark corridors of the deepest basement levels of the compound.  Following his prompts, the team continued on until they reached the next level of the basement where the corridors were dimly lit.  This wasn’t as much of challenge to Raizo as it was to the operatives with him.  He was used to becoming ‘shadow’ himself at will, so this was old hat.  His senses, as always, were extra sharp and on point.
 
Now able to ‘see,’ they re-familiarized themselves with the villas’ blueprints on handheld computers the size of I-phones.  ‘Modern technology is an amazing thing,’ Raizo facetiously thought as he looked at the tiny gadget.  As the team leader on the ground, Raizo was responsible for picking which sections of the villa he wanted each team of operatives to search.  He wasn’t a trained operative, so the choice to make him team leader was unorthodox and understandably ruffled a few feathers. However, there was no question he would lead the team.  
 
Ryan knew the warrior would fly by his own rules anyway, but he also knew he would be as careful as he possibly could.  He would take few risks where Mika was concerned and especially now that he had the twins.  More importantly, Raizo knew the world of the ninja.  He had the advantage when it came to how they worked, how they moved and how they could possibly strike.  He was familiar with their unpredictability and nearly undetectable presence.  Rituals and practices that dated back to ancient times was something the government was still flying blind on.  As much as certain government officials saw Raizo as a threat to security, Ryan saw Raizo as the government’s greatest asset in the fight to stop the clans.
 
‘Where’d you learn that in ninja school?,’ Raizo continued in thought as one of Mika’s snide comments came to his mind.  He smiled thinking about it.  She never had a problem throwing a sassy comment his way.  He loved that and he couldn’t wait to have it back in his life.  Only a few moments more and it would be as he hoped.  “Alpha One and Two you take the corridor dead ahead.  This should lead you to the Tiger’s Eye ritual rooms.  If we’ve timed it properly, their warriors should be in deep meditation at the present time.  It is important to know that Ninjas live by ritual, as well as, precision fighting techniques…disrupting either could mean your life.  Omega Three and Four you’ll take the corridor to the left.  This should lead to the hub of the villa’s security system.  Once there, disable whatever security forces are in the room by whatever means.  Make sure there are no problems with the feed signal.  We need to make sure Tiger’s Eye continues to ‘see’ what we want them to see,” Raizo said to the junior field agents.  
 
“I will take the corridor to the right.  If I’m correct, this corridor should take me to a set of tri-level stairs leading to the private quarters of the villa.  Once I have eyes on Mika, you’ll hear the signal in your earpiece.  If all goes as planned, we’ll meet back here in 10.  I know I don’t have to remind each of you, that silence is golden.  Limit the amount of noise you make, walk on feet made of feathers.  Ninja’s have been trained to be hypersensitive to sound and scent.  If they sense you, you will be dead before you take your next breath,” he continued.  From this moment on, all communication will be by hand signal on the ground along with earpiece prompts from Agent Maslow,” Raizo continued as he gave the team last minute instructions.  
 
Tension was running high to say the least.  Ryan kept careful watch on each set of operatives and Raizo as each made their way to their assigned part of the compound.  “Slow and steady as she goes everyone,” Ryan said reassuringly to the team.  “Alpha One and Two easy goes it. The corridor you’re on will veer to your left. Be prepared to ‘dance’ with two armed guards on your approach,” Ryan continued. The Alpha team continued steadily down the corridor ultimately reaching their destination, then without making a sound they each grab one guard from behind.  Swiftly snapping their necks, they dropped them silently where they once stood.  As expected they came upon the ritual rooms, without making a sound they peered inside the rooms.  All that could be seen was a ‘sea’ of warriors all sitting in the same meditative pose with their eyes closed.  They sat so still they looked like human statues.  “It’s like seeing those terra cotta statues….only these ones you can bet your sweet ass are very much alive,” Alpha One whispered to his fellow operative.  
 
“Keep your mouth shut Alpha team! Unless you want your tongues cut out of your head.  These ninjas see everything even with their eyes closed.  They can even hear tiny little mice pissing on cotton….you numb nuts! I do recollect your mission leader requiring you to use hand signals at this point, so use them goddammit!,” said an irritated Ryan into their earpieces.  Raizo smiled to himself picturing the scene, after hearing Ryan’s outburst in his earpiece.  He could only hope that these inexperienced operatives would pull it together.  He needed them to stay sharp just long enough to help him get Mika out of the clutches of Tiger’s Eye and Indigo.  After that he had no doubt Agent Maslow would ‘whip’ the juniors into shape in no time.  Even in the face of sure danger, the humor of the fleeting moment wasn’t lost on the ninja mission leader.
 
“Omega Team just keep it moving forward until you reach the corridor’s end.  You two are also about to go head to head with two armed guards outside the security room,” Ryan said to them.  “Take them out, inside there are four others.  If you can coax them out of the room, that would be even better.  When they’re all disposed of, make sure the room is secure.  Once that’s taken care of, then we’ll be able to patch in the override so that you can keep eyes on Raizo and any approaching warriors from within the room itself.  We’ll continue sending out the false continuous feed we’ve already patched throughout the villa simultaneously.  Raizo, this should buy you the time you need to extract Mika and get back to the rendezvous point,” Ryan said via earpiece contact to the entire team.
 
The tri-level staircase seemed to go on forever as Raizo made his way up on silent feet.  The closer he got to the bedroom quarters he began to hear voices.  One voice in particular was familiar….unmistakable….it was Mika.  Without realizing it, he began to listen intently as he got closer to the door at the top of the stairs.  Instinct tried its level best to take over.  Every fiber of his being wanted to rush in all at once, but a cooler head prevailed.  He had to be careful and precise.  Continuing to listen, he could also hear a male voice.  It gave him pause with good reason.  
 
Opening the door from the stairwell connected to the room adjacent to Mika’s, Raizo slipped inside without being noticed…at least he thought.  His eyes, immediately drawn to his love, watched quietly from the shadows, as Mika stood talking to Ichiro in her bedroom.  Raizo felt his blood begin to stir with anger.  Ichiro stood close…too close to Mika as far as he was concerned.  Ichiro’s intentions were quite clear.  Seduction was his goal.  He wanted Mika and was intent on having her. 
 
Mika’s protest fell on deaf ears.  “You know I don’t love you, I’ve told you this before.  Why do you insist?,” she said to Ichiro in exasperation…in fear.  No longer in the mood to sit idly by, he answered plainly.  “I’m a selfish man lovely, as I’ve told you before.  I want you Mika….waiting is no longer an option,” Ichiro seductively whispered.  Pulling her close, he placed a light kiss on her neck.  Ichiro’s desire was palpable.  Mika felt as if she couldn’t breathe….she needed space from him.  She had to push him away.  Suddenly, a familiar ‘blur’ came into view.  She knew…she just knew.  Her heart began to pound so hard, she was sure Ichiro could hear it.  It was then that Raizo came out of the shadows.  A myriad of emotions came crashing down on Mika.  In the blink of an eye, her lost memories flooded her mind.  She saw her babies.  She saw clearly not one baby, but two.  ‘My babies? Oh god….our babies,’ she thought as the reality continued to mount within her mind.  She saw within her mind the faces of her little newborns.  They were newborns when last she saw them. Her heart instantly began to ache with the realization that her newborns were now at least four months old.  
 
Her whole life came rushing back the moment she saw her love.  Her breathing changed and Ichiro noticed.  Mika felt Ichiro began to tense….he sensed something, a warrior near perhaps?  “It really is ok lovely.  I promise you’ll more than enjoy it.  I haven’t had a complaint yet,” he said provocatively, but still sensing something was amiss.  Trembling in his arms, Ichiro wondered what had suddenly shaken her so.  Instinct told him it was more than just the advances he was making.  
 
She couldn’t let him sense that Raizo was near.  She had to do something…quick. Mika did the only thing she could do to distract her unwanted suitor.  Momentarily locking eyes with Raizo, she could only hope he wouldn’t misunderstand.  “Ichiro,” Mika whispered as she pulled his head down towards her mouth.  It was then she kissed him.  Raizo’s heart lurched.  He was so stunned at the sight he couldn’t move…..he couldn’t believe his eyes.  ‘Those lips are mine….they belong to me. Don’t they? I couldn’t have lost you this soon? Could I?,’ he achingly thought.  ‘Ichiro? Did she say….Ichiro?,’ he continued in thought as the agonizing revelation came to fore.
 
So stunned was the warrior, he didn’t sense his arch enemy nearby.  Quietly walking up behind him was the evil that once led the Three Feathers clan.  “My, my, my, what have we here? A warrior arisen from the dead?  Well….it seems we’ve been mistaken,” whispered the ice queen…..Indigo.  She watched the shaken warrior from the shadows as he watched his love kissing another man and not just any man.  ‘If only he knew,’ she thought with a smirk in her heart.  Old habits die hard and she couldn’t help but to rub salt in Raizo’s wounded pride….his wounded heart.  “They make a handsome couple, don’t you think?,” she whispered near Raizo’s ear, taunting him.  “She resisted for weeks as I understand it….but what’s a lonely woman to do, without a handsome hot-blooded warrior to warm her bed?,” she continued.  “It was only a matter of time you know.  In the end, he always gets the girl,” she continued still with her merciless taunts.  
 
Mika’s heart nearly stopped when she saw Indigo walk up behind Raizo.  The one person who wanted both their heads more than the other clans combined.  Even more unnerving, was the fact that Raizo had no idea who she truly was.  Mika knew she had no choice in the moment.  She continued to kiss Ichiro like her life depended on it.  ‘A probability that may come sooner rather than later,’ she thought.  “Slow down lovely, we’ve got all night.  Believe me, I intend to love you quite thoroughly,” a breathless Ichiro said.  “Although I am curious, why the sudden change of heart?,” he asked.  She really hadn’t thought that far ahead and had no idea how to answer the simple but loaded question.  She continued to watch Raizo over Ichiro’s shoulder.   Within moments Indigo and Raizo left the adjacent room, disappearing from view.  All at once, Mika was desperate to get to him.  She needed to get to him to protect him and to let him know what he saw wasn’t real.  She didn’t care anymore what consequences may befall her.  He had finally come for her and the first thing he sees is his love kissing another man.  ‘What must you be thinking now?  Oh god Raizo, where did she take you?!,’ Mika frantically thought.  The thought that he may be harmed or worse before she could even explain herself, was more than she could bear.  She had to get out of that room.  If only she could get away from the ‘tiger’ she “pulled” by the tail.  
 
The suave leader, completely in tune with Mika at the moment, noticed a furrow across her delicate brow.  “What’s wrong beautiful one?  You don’t look too well all of a sudden,” the concerned warrior said.  Having to think quickly on her feet, Mika used an age old ruse to get out of Ichiro’s clutches.  “I think I’m going to be sick? Oh no……..,” Mika said as she ran to the bathroom.  (*Uuuh….uuuh….uuuh*….all that could be heard from the bathroom)  The cocoa beauty feigned a sour stomach much to her captor’s chagrin.  This was decidedly not the prettiest way to end things, but it’s always an effective means of ‘escape.’  She was not about to sleep with this man.  “It sounds like you are quite ill lovely,” Ichiro said to her through the bathroom door. “Damn,” he whispered to himself.  Umm….well…I’ll send Adrianna up to take a look at you.  When you’re able, come and lay down….I’ll come back a little later,” he continued saying.  To say he was disappointed was a gross understatement.  This woman’s passion was as ‘lethal’ as they come.  He would have to spend several hours walking off her fiery kisses.  Walking out of her room, the handsome warrior stopped for a brief moment outside her door.  “Aah, c’est la vie is it not?,” he said to himself, smiling as he left Mika to recover in her solitude.
 
“Boss, are you seeing this? How the hell can we possibly get them both out of here and back to the rendezvous point?!,” said Omega One.  Raizo’s team, as well as Ryan, saw and heard everything go down.  The ice queen had taken him by force undoubtedly, yet so calmly that her brother had no idea she and Raizo had only been a stone’s throw away.  “Boss, as far as I can tell neither the ice queen nor sticky fingers has any idea about the rest of us.  Waiting for you to advise…standing by,” Omega One continued as he quietly spoke to Ryan from the villa security control room.  Four dead warriors strewn about the floor was the scene in the elaborately high tech room. The Omega team easily dispatched each one and wasted no time taking over the security feed.  
 
“Sticky fingers? Uh, never mind Omega One enlighten me later,” Ryan questioned aloud.  “The only inkling of trouble was Mika’s startled demeanor, which she played off brilliantly I might add.  That ought to buy us a few more minutes at least.  We need to get some eyes on Raizo.  Woman, I swear you continue to be the bane of my existence,” said the government agent referencing Indigo in exasperation.  Ryan had to try and communicate with the warrior somehow.  It was imperative.  Time was of the essence.  “Raizo can you hear me ole boy?  If you can, I need you to give some sign…please,” Ryan whispered into his earpiece.  “Does anybody have eyes on him yet?,” a frantic Ryan said.  “Not yet boss….wait…..hold a minute….aah dammit!,” Omega One continued, as his team watched Mika exit the bedroom via the security feed.   “Now we need eyes on Mika and Raizo both, boss,” he continued still.
 
The ice queen was oblivious to Raizo’s earpiece, enabling him to still communicate with agent Maslow.  His lustrous locks once again nearing shoulder length covered it nicely.  He knew he had to ‘drop some bread crumbs’ so the team could locate him in the huge villa.  Even though the team had ‘eyes’ throughout most of the villa….certain ‘blind spots’ still remained.  Time was of critical importance and Raizo had no idea what was happening with Mika, if anything.  He also knew agent Maslow would be on edge at this point.  The one thing he felt he could still count on was Indigo’s cockiness.  Warriors like her never failed to disappoint, when it came to exhibiting their real or imagined bravado.  Raizo would use it to the extent that he could.  He would make Indigo play right into his hands.  “Still, using basements and dungeons to torture the innocent I see,” Raizo said as they continued walking downward from yet another staircase.
 
“Hahahaha……You’re still just as brazen and sure of yourself, even in the face of certain death just as I recall…..and still just as handsome.  Now, however, it seems the tables have turned yet again to my favor.  Oh….hahahaha….the absolute irony of it all warms my heart and makes the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up. You see before I kill you and get rid of you once and for all, there’s something you should know….something you must know,” Indigo said tauntingly.  She watched as the warrior’s sure steps slowed for a brief moment.  She touched a nerve. “Curious?.....of course you are.  Not to worry, when we reach the basement level you’ll soon have all the answers you seek….and then some,” she continued as they were almost to the basement floor.  ‘Damn,’ he thought to himself.  He hated to show even the slightest emotion….the slightest temperance shift.  This was a ninja’s greatest advantage above all.  Letting a weakness show was unacceptable and something he was intent to not show again.
 
“Everyone did you get that?  Alpha team, keep your eyes peeled.  They’re heading back your way.  Omega team, continue standing by.  I’ll signal when ready,” Ryan said to everyone.  Raizo knew Ryan was a seasoned agent who would’ve had no problem picking up on his clue.  Even so, Indigo’s ego pushed her mouth wide open to confirm it for him as he expected it would.  He also knew he was walking into sure death.  Exit strategies should be foremost in his mind, but he couldn’t erase Mika and Ichiro’s kiss from his mind.  Now was not the time to wallow in petty jealousies….this he knew, but his love in another’s man’s arms he couldn’t fathom. Her lips pressed against the lips of another man….another warrior….a warrior who was also his brother.
 
Indigo made sure she wasted no time getting Raizo to the basement level.  This was in actuality advantageous for the warrior, returning back to the basement level and the rendezvous point.  If only he could see where Mika was, then his plan of escape could be executed with all parties present and accounted for.  He left her in Ichiro’s embrace and as far as he knew that’s where she still was.  ‘Mika,’ he pitifully said within his mind.  His shattered heart began to ache at the impossible thought. However, he needn’t have worried at least regarding what Mika was doing.  Exactly who should be waiting for them when they reached the basement floor?  It was none other than Ichiro himself.  Confused as to how quickly his foe made it downstairs to the basement and why he was not still with Mika, Raizo silently…decidedly rejoiced at the fact.  He found that he could at the very least be happy that she was no longer in the clan leader’s arms.  However, Ozunu’s former protegé needed to steel his mind and quickly.  He needed to keep his wits about.  A battle was coming, it was inevitable and death was likely.  The question was whose?  He was determined that it would not be Mika’s.  He had to make sure of it and if it was the last thing he did, he would do just that.  Hiroshi and Aiko needed their mother.   If he didn’t make it out alive, at least she must.

 
Chapter 15:  The Moment of Truth
 
It felt like a death march, as they reached the basement floor.  Ichiro had been looking at the villa security feed, as they approached.  For a moment, Raizo wasn’t sure if the warrior sensed that the feed had been altered.  A quizzical look briefly came to the clan leader’s handsome face as he studied each screen meticulously.   However, Raizo was glad their entrance momentarily distracted the Tiger’s Eye leader from his task.
  
“Well, I’m sure you’re wondering why I haven’t put a poison arrow through your heart or sliced that gorgeous neck of yours?  Well, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer handsome one,” Indigo said speaking closely next to Raizo’s ear.  Upon hearing his sister’s voice, Ichiro turned to face her and their unexpected guest…..his unexpected rival.  Not one to be outshone by his sister, the handsome Tiger’s Eye leader gave the deepest of bows to his guest as the brightest smile spread across his lips.  “Aah, Indigo my dear one, you’ve come bearing gifts I see.  None other than the most famous renegade warrior has come to call.  Welcome to my humble home Raizo,” Ichiro said with equal parts pomp and circumstance.  “I would ask what brings you here, but I won’t play upon your sensibilities my friend.  To be honest, I quite expected you much sooner actually.   I do understand you see….she is an incredible beauty, definitely worth the efforts to secure her release.  Dare I say, if she were mine I wouldn’t give her up without a fight either,” Ichiro continued, his threat made crystal clear.
 
Like Raizo, Ichiro was a determined warrior and usually got whatever it was that he wanted.  As far as he was concerned, it would come down to a final battle between warriors, with Mika as the prize…his prize.  Yet he couldn’t help but to feel a certain curiosity now that Raizo was standing in front of him.  ‘What is he really like?  Did it have to come down to a final showdown ending in the death of one?,’ Ichiro thought.  
 
“It has been a long time...has it not, since I’ve been graced with your presence Raizo.  I wanted to make sure you, above all others, felt special,” Indigo sarcastically said. “Ozunu, evil master that he was, took great pride in raising orphans to become skilled assassins.  You, being his pride and joy most of all.  He didn’t just pick up orphans off the streets Raizo…oh no…the great evil master took great pride in brutally snatching children from their families as well.  Effectively breaking their youthful spirits, making them give up all hope in life.  Some of these young orphans, he would kick out and they would take to the streets barely able to survive. You see, he was so masterfully clever…that evil one.  Ozunu would then come back to ‘rescue’ the very orphans he himself had created.  Feeling grateful their surrogate ‘father’ had come to bring them back into the fold, they were willing to do anything asked of them.  He very easily turned them into the blood thirsty warriors of his clan.  Does this sound like something you may be familiar with?,”  Indigo tauntingly said as a sinister smile spread across her face.  Raizo didn’t want to admit that her words affected him, but they did.  Even after all the years of killing, still he winced at the thought of having possibly been taken from his family and made to believe they had abandoned him.  The child within still ached to know the truth. 
 
Mika presumed that Indigo had probably forced Raizo down to the basement level.  After all, this is what she was used to, torturing her victims down in the doldrums.  As she came closer to the basement floor, Mika heard voices.  The voices became clearer the closer she got.  She heard Ichiro and Indigo speak interchangeably.  The ice queen had a particular penchant for the psychological taunting of her ‘prey’ before she went in for the kill.  Mika continued to listen as the brother and sister duo took turns mentally tormenting Raizo, it had become apparent what Indigo’s intent really was.  ‘Oh no, she’s going to tell him.  He can’t learn about it, not like this,’ Mika anxiously thought.  She had to disrupt Indigo’s little performance before the ice queen sent Raizo into a further emotional tailspin.  Mika could only imagine what he must be feeling already, after he saw her kiss Ichiro.  Softly, she entered the room.  
 
As luck would have it, her presence was noticed immediately.  As if on stage, all eyes looked to her.  Mika could see Raizo immediately tense as Ichiro swiftly walked over to her securing her tiny waist within his large hand.  Both warriors regarded each other fiercely.   Tension so thick the air became suffocating.  Just like his sister, Ichiro took great pleasure in taunting his rival.  From across the room, he looked Raizo in the eye as he placed a light kiss on Mika’s shoulder.  Immediately pulling away from him, Mika tried to run toward her love as she called his name…only to be caught up in Ichiro’s vise like grip.  “Raizo!....Ichiro let me go…damn you!,” Mika said as she tried her best to squirm out of his grip.  
 
“Boss, trouble in the basement….from the look of it, it’s about to go down real soon.  How do you want to play it?,” Omega One said to Ryan.  “Stand by Omega team.  Alpha team…...Team Front Door, I want you ready to move in on my go and not a moment before.  “Roger that boss,” the teams answered in kind.  Team Hillside copy that as well.  “You got it boss,” was the response from the Hillside team.  Omega team, keep your eyes on.  Do not lose sight of them do you hear me?  Everyone keep your eyes, ears and noses open.  We are about to be knee deep in ninjas.  Here’s to hoping we snag a few Tiger’s by the tail before all’s said and done as well,” Ryan said to all teams.
 
“I suggest you take your hands from her Tiger’s Eye,” Raizo said to Ichiro through clinched teeth.  Just then, as if some invisible bell had been rung, the room began to fill with warriors by the dozens it seemed.  “A bit excessive don’t you think?,” Raizo sarcastically said to the clan’s leader.  He very carefully regarded the growing number of warriors as they continued to fill the room.  “It’s only one of me and I’m surrounded by dozens, hardly seems fair,” he continued.  “Aah, but your magnificent skills have become legendary among the clans, one can never be too careful I always say,” Ichiro retorted with aplomb.  Raizo did indeed put those skills to good use, spotting what looked to be the confiscated swords of their enemies encased in glass and mounted along the basement walls like trophies.  Raizo planned his next move in short order.  “Did you not hear me say to remove your hands from her?,”  Raizo stated slowly…deliberately once more.  “Mika, come here to me,” he continued still.  As she tried to get away from her captor, his grip strengthened.  She was stopped in her tracks.  “Oh my lovely I just can’t bear to part from you,” Ichiro seductively whispered near the beauty’s ear.  His words sent a chill down her spine.  It was then Mika’s eyes met Raizo’s.  She knew he wouldn’t idly stand there and take the taunts much longer.  She knew this implicitly.
 
“Now, now no need to be rude.  I was just about to get to the best part,” Indigo interjected as she snatched Raizo’s hair sharply pulling his head back.  “Since everyone is all here.  There is something else I’ve waited quite a while to share with my honored guest,” Indigo dramatically said.   Unaware of what Raizo was already privy to, Mika protested against Indigo’s emotional and physical abuse of her love.  The atmosphere was so unpredictably deadly there would be no way to know just how Raizo might react.  “Indigo, please…not now…not like this,” Mika said trying to reason with the ice queen.  Her pleas came to no avail swiftly falling on deaf ears.  “So…Raizo of the Clan Ozunu, I feel it’s my duty to inform you that all was not lost when you became Ozunu’s favorite orphan.  You see, it came to my attention that you, dear warrior, do indeed have family still.   Hahahahaha….imagine that?  As a matter of fact, I’d like to personally introduce you to your family.  Facing Ichiro as he held Mika within his grip, Indigo began what was to be an introduction rivaling the best of academy award performances.  “Raizo, please meet……….(*cut off by Raizo’s curt response*)  ”My brother Ichiro….yes…I already know, seems you’re a little late,” Raizo said effectively stunning his evil nemesis.  Surprise registered on the faces of all present….three in particular.  
 
“You know?,” a shocked Mika said to her love from the across the room.  “Yes, I know,” he answered in kind.  Raizo momentarily wondered how Mika came to know that he was related to Ichiro, but quickly decided that it didn’t really matter.  She had been captive for quite a while and it would stand to reason they would tell her.  “Wow, I have a little brother…imagine that!,” Ichiro said with feigned surprise.  “I always wanted one growing up, now here you are,” he continued spiritedly.  Although surprised by Raizo’s knowledge, Indigo was not one to be outdone.  There was still one more little detail she hadn’t heard the warrior mention.  She had to be sure he knew the whole of Ozunu’s sordid past, as it would stand she reveled in it.  “So handsome one, you know that you have a brother, it’s true.  However, that isn’t end of the story of your pitiful little life,” the ice queen said.  Indigo would not be satisfied until all was revealed.  She wanted to break Raizo’s spirit completely before she killed him.  “I have one more tidbit of information to give to you……Ozunu’s pet.  “Did you also know that your brother Ichiro, who stands so boldly and handsomely before you, also has another sibling?  Did you know that?  Your brother here has a twin sibling to be exact.  I’ll give you one little guess as to who that might be handsome one,” Indigo tauntingly stated.
 
A maddening reality swiftly crept into Raizo’s psyche.  He was no fool.  The realization felt like a ton of bricks had suddenly landed on his head, so stunned he closed his eyes in an effort to shut out this nightmare of reality.  As Indigo came full circle to stand in front of him, he slowly opened his eyes looking from her hazel green ones to Ichiro’s to Mika’s.  Unable to bear the pity he saw in Mika’s eyes, he quickly looked away to avert her gaze.  
 
Indigo loved to taunt, it was her specialty.  She continued to circle the warrior…walking slowly….deliberately until she was standing behind him again.  “You’re still with us aren’t you?,” said the ice queen as she snatched Raizo’s hair again.  He had never felt so angry and confused as he did in this moment.  He couldn’t fathom that the same blood coursing through his veins he shared with the most vile, evil woman he had ever come to know.  To make matters worse, the brother he never knew was primed to be his rival in love and at all costs it would seem.  Mika could see the anger and confusion register on Raizo’s face.  Instinctively, she also knew the child within him ached at these revelations.  
 
As confused, angry and sickened as he was, he had to return to the mission at hand….rescuing his love.  He had to shake off all that he had just heard.  He returned his focus to the mounted swords aligning the walls.  Raizo wasted no time.  He had his fill, he wanted out of there in the worst way.  It was time that he and Mika got back to their babies….back to their lives.  That time was now.  
 
Without warning, a backwards head butt to Indigo’s face proved effective.   Stunned…as her head popped back, she was forced to let go of Raizo’s hair.  Swiftly flipping himself head over his heels through the air, his feet made contact with one of the mounted sword cases in seconds.  Glass shattered as a sword fell into the warrior’s capable hands.  With precision, he swung the sword that was now in his possession effectively freeing a second encased sword.  Raizo, the renegade ninja warrior now stood battle ready before a room filled with Tiger’s Eye warriors.  “Bravo, bravo little brother your skills are indeed impeccable,” said a brightly smiling Ichiro.  “But I’ve got something you want and you’ll have to kill me to get it,” Ichiro challenged.  That challenge would not go unanswered. (*Aaaaaaaah!!!.........*), the warrior’s challenge reverberated within the room, as Raizo ran toward Ichiro with swords drawn he lunged forward.  Warriors swarmed him….contact was harsh, swift and brutal. (*Clink, clink, clink……metal upon metal…..angry clashing of swords ensued*).  Ichiro had no choice but to release his grip on Mika.  Snatching a sword from the hands of one his warriors, Ichiro would defend what was his to the death even if it meant dispatching his brother.   
 
“All teams go, go, go, go, go!!  Get to the basement now…..right now!! Get them out! Do whatever you have to do but get them out now!!,” Ryan shouted as the government teams simultaneously burst into the villa compound.

Chapter 16:  The Great Escape
 
“This way baby cakes…..hurry, hurry,” said Adrianna quietly to Mika.  From a darkened corner nearby, Mika’s spirited caretaker hurriedly beckoned her over to the protective shadows out of the ensuing melee.  Mika wasted no time and quickly ducked into the tiny hidden space. “Adrianna?,” said a questioning Mika.  This was not the gentle, sweet comedian who dressed her wounds. This was a woman in full military combat gear ready to do battle.  “Special agent Adrianna Pettigrew at your service,” the spritely woman said to a surprised Mika.  “I’ve been undercover for several months prior to your unexpected arrival pretty lady….wasn’t sure how your presence was going to affect how this thing played out.  However, seeing your handsome hottie in action I should’ve guessed,” she continued brightly smiling.  Adrianna was only able to give Mika the abbreviated version of the events leading up to her infiltrating Tiger’s Eye.   She was one of a dozen agents sent from Europol to work in conjunction with the U.S. Special Forces division of the CIA.  Assigned to infiltrate the clan, the mission was to lay low and gather as much intel as possible.  Taking Tiger’s Eye down from within was the ultimate goal and most logical one.  
 
“Getting inside this puppy was next to impossible.  Having Asian ancestry myself, was a distinct advantage for obvious reasons.  I looked the part, shall we say,” Adrianna said.  Up to this point, I’m the only agent who’s ever managed to get this close and that’s from Europol and the CIA combined.  Not too shabby huh?,” said Adrianna.  “No, not too shabby at all,” Mika answered.  “I guess it’s my bubbly personality that won them over.  What do you think?,” a gregarious Adrianna continued. “I think we’re going to have a heck of a time getting past all these swords and guns,” Mika answered in kind.  “Well, you just take cover over here baby doll, while I join the party.  No need for that pretty face to get all banged up,” she said as she gave Mika a playful wink swiftly joining the fray.  
 
The fact that Adrianna could even joke with utter chaos all about them, spoke volumes.  Obviously, she wasn’t one to be shaken easily.  However, what Adrianna didn’t know was Mika had no intention of sitting idly by while her love was fighting the enemy clan to save her.  Even if they were vile killers, she couldn’t just sit and watch Raizo fight his own kin.  She wouldn’t sit back and watch him fight alone.  Fighting side by side is what they did…..who they were.  She was a little rusty to be sure, but her ninja training was never far from the surface.  Just like riding a bike, it all came back with the avalanche of memories already crowding her mind. It was an old hat she would gladly wear again.  She watched as Raizo dispatched warrior after warrior, with a vitality unlike any he had exhibited before.  
 
Raizo fought with a renewed energy, more determined than ever.  He looked briefly around the room for Mika needing to keep his eyes on her at all times.  However, amid the ensuing chaos of the moment, he lost sight of her.  He began to panic.  Raizo was only afforded a few short seconds before he was swarmed by a continuous deluge of warriors.  He had no time to think, no time to see where his love was.  To compound matters, Ichiro and Indigo both sensed the warrior’s momentary loss of his bearings.  They watched him as he stood for some seconds among the melee.  The warrior continued to fight as he looked for Mika.  He felt the piercing eyes of the brother sister duo, but the only eyes he needed to connect with were the only ones that mattered…..Mika’s.  ‘Where did she go? Is she hurt?,’ he frantically thought.  His light brown eyes continued to dart around the room looking for his love.  Like sharks circling bloody waters, brother and sister both decided now was the time to end it….to end him.  Each looked one to the other and as if special twin-synching abilities activated, without saying a word they both ran towards their ‘prey’ with swords drawn.  
 
(*Boom, boom, boom…….blasts at the front door of the villa*) Agents swarmed in, as machine guns blasted holes through the onslaught of Tiger’s Eye warriors.  Simultaneously, agents storm out of the shadows of the hilltop and climbed over the balconies of the villa.  Machine guns blast out the huge windows and agents file into the compound of the notorious Tiger’s Eye clan.  “Get to the basement…move it, move it!!,” shouted one of the agents.  Field operatives made their way to basement level as fast as they could.  Hearing the blasts to the villa, Raizo knew Ryan and company were there to back him up.  He was relieved.  Now he could concentrate solely on locating Mika again and getting the hell out of there.  His relief was short lived.  *Aaah!!*.....Raizo yelled out.  Searing pain was all he felt as the tip of Ichiro’s sword made contact, slicing across his chiseled back.  Quickly, Raizo flipped his body out of harm’s way immediately spinning around he came face to face with his older brother.  “Wow, you continue to impress me little brother.  We would have had much to learn from each other you and I,” Ichiro said spiritedly as his sword continued to clash with Raizo’s.  
 
Momentarily caught by off guard by machine gun blasts of field operatives swarming the basement, Indigo turned her swordplay away from Raizo.  However, her distraction lasted mere moments.  The evil queen’s attention quickly shifted yet again, back toward the war weary ninja.  Once again, her hazel-green gaze focused squarely on him.  The ice queen decided Ichiro had ‘played’ with their younger brother long enough.  She wanted him to die.  ‘Ichiro keep him preoccupied just long enough for my sword to pierce his filthy Ozunu heart,’ she thought as she approached Raizo from behind. 
 
“Oh no!,” Mika said out loud to herself.  She watched as Indigo’s sword was about to make contact.  The beauty felt as if she was watching Raizo’s impending demise happen in slow motion.  The warrior wouldn’t see it coming.  “Aaaaaaah!!......was all that Raizo heard coming from behind him.  Indigo’s rage was palpable all its own, yet her war cry reverberated above all the other acts of clan war throughout the room.  Raizo had been a ninja long enough to know that he could only fight off warriors of this caliber for so long.  As it stood, they were both coming at him with equal force.  He had his hands full with Ichiro alone.  
 
‘I wanted to save Mika….I needed to save her...why was I not able to do so? I’m sorry love, forgive me,’ Raizo thought to himself, as he acquiesced to the thought of his impending fate.  He knew without question, one of his siblings would end his life but he was determined to take one of them with him.  He continued to fight Ichiro with everything that he had, but he felt the reaper’s fast approach.  “Die, you Ozunu filth!!,” Indigo yelled as she raised her sword continuing to charge toward her mark.  “Just be gone you evil bitch!!,” said an angry Mika.  Stunned to hear her voice in that moment both Raizo and Ichiro suspend their swordplay mere seconds before fate made another bold and sweeping turn.  
 
Each saw their lives change in an instant, as the former forensic researcher surged forward attacking her arch nemesis.  Without real thought, Mika stabbed through Indigo’s back with one of the nearby discarded swords.  Her only thought was saving Raizo….saving her love.  As fate would have it, Mika had pierced straight through the ice queen’s heart, killing her.   ‘How ironic,’ Raizo thought. ‘So you, you evil witch, met your match today……yes, quite ironic indeed,’ he continued in thought as he looked at his love still trembling in anger.  He couldn’t help but to feel a burst of male pride in that moment as well.  The woman he loved, whose own chest had been pierced only a few short years prior, would unbelievably be the one to exact the very ending that had been intended for him.  Yes, he was proud of her.  Indigo was a seasoned warrior and to kill her, even with her back turned still would have been next to impossible for those new to clan warfare.  New warriors like Mika…..his Mika.
 
Shocked at herself, Mika stared blankly at her bloodied and trembling hand.  Killing people was not something she would ever get used to.  The caramel colored beauty would never be okay with killing, even if these were the most evil people she had ever come to know.  She couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt.  As evil as Indigo was, she was still Raizo’s sister after all.  A sister he never knew and would never get to know now because of her.  “What have I done?,” Mika whispered to herself. 
 
“Indigo!!! No, no, no, no, no my dear one….you can’t leave me!!,” a tearful Ichiro said as he ran towards his twin.  Frantically, he picked up his twin’s lifeless body simultaneously shaking her….holding her close.  “Indigo, Indigo, Indigo!!,” the grief stricken warrior achingly said.  Shock….then disbelief immediately colored the clan leader’s senses.  However, it was only an instant before his shattered emotions soon gave way to cold bitter hatred.  He couldn’t believe his twin was lying dead in his arms and at the hands of the woman he wanted for his own no less.  All bets were off now.  ‘Both shall die,’ were the angry thoughts of the grief stricken leader.  Ichiro looked up from Indigo’s body…tears streaming down his handsome face.  He soon turned to Mika.  She felt a momentary pang of compassion for him.  Killing was not a choice for her, but a necessity and for that she was sorry.  She hadn’t meant to take away the only family that Ichiro had.  She only knew that Indigo’s thirst for revenge would end only in death.  Mika knew only that she had to save her warrior love the only way she could…she had to.  There was no other option.  Like Raizo, she also wanted to get back to her life…their life together and the only way that was ever going to happen, Indigo’s had to end.  She knew that intellectually, but emotionally the guilt she now felt was difficult to bear.  
 
Now, staring into Mika’s soft brown eyes were dark brown eyes filled with wild rage.  The once charming clan leader had now given in to the predator….the warrior within.  Raizo readied himself.  He was prepared to take on the full brunt of Ichiro’s emotional rage. “You dare take from me…kill my twin….my family, my blood?!!  Ah yes that’s right, please…do pardon me.  This is all just so new to me still.  However, I needn’t worry…no.  After all, I do indeed still have you….don’t I dear brother?,” Ichiro said sinisterly through clenched teeth as he looked from Mika to Raizo.  With equal parts rage for both the Ozunu warrior and his love, the Tiger’s Eye leader would only rest assured when these same two people were dead as well.  The irony that these two could have become integral parts to his life, although not in the way he had envisioned but integral nonetheless, was something he had wanted to explore.  That feeling was lost to him now. 
 
“You dared to take from me as well Tiger’s Eye.  So it only seems fair the gesture should be returned,” Raizo said uncharacteristically taunting his rival.  He knew he struck a nerve when cold rage spilled from Ichiro’s eyes in streams of angry tears.  Ichiro, the warrior, was now in full effect.  
 
As he took the warrior’s sword from his deceased sister’s still warm hand, the leader of Tiger’s Eye came to his feet.  He stood bold and strong before Raizo, his rival in love….now his rival in war.  Swords and bullets continued to claim lives all around them as Raizo, Mika and Ichiro stood in an eerily calm contemplation of what would happen next.  Government field agents and clan warriors continued to clash, as the three prepared to fight.  
 
“She thought I was becoming soft you know?  I must admit, beauty has always been a weakness of mine my lovely Mika and you are so beautiful.  I hate to think that I must deprive the world of such a glorious marvel as you gorgeous one,” Ichiro said to Mika with his sword primed to strike.  “Who says the world will be deprived of anything? You Tiger’s Eye?,” Raizo answered as if he were the one being addressed.  
 
Ichiro’s body tensed at Raizo’s taunt.  It would be the last time.  ”Aaaaaaaaah!!”…....the cry of the warrior was the only thing uttered as the clan leader rushed forward, with Raizo in his sights.  “Aaaaaaaaah!!”......Raizo answered the war cry in kind.  The two brothers rushed in toward each other….two warriors prepared to do battle.  (*clink, clink, clink, clink, clink*)…..the sounds of clashing metal from the angry sword blades of highly trained warriors was all that could be heard.  For Raizo, this was a fight for life….for his life and Mika’s.  For Ichiro it was a fight to the death for them both.  He wanted Mika to die for killing his beloved twin and for not loving him.  ‘How could she not want me?,’ the clan leader thought in spite of himself.  Even now as his sister lay dead, he still wanted Mika so badly.  He knew he shouldn’t, but alas he did.  He decided yet again he would have her for his own.  
 
“Mika my lovely, I have decided to forgive you.  But my forgiveness comes with a price,” Ichiro said winded, as he and Raizo continued to clash swords. “I’ve decided that I want you beautiful one despite all that has transpired here today,” he continued, looking his rival square in the eye. “Raizo, you skilled one…you must die, because she loves you.  She can never be mine with you alive in the world. That is my price.  For the death of my beloved twin, Mika’s sins will be forgiven when your blood flows free upon the ground and you no longer draw breath,” the evil warrior continued.
 
Ichiro provided Raizo with a much needed energy boost.  His words would serve as motivation to end this battle once and for all.  He wouldn’t give up his ground and he would never give up Mika.  “You’re quite sure of yourself Tiger’s Eye, but I have no intention of dying or giving up Mika.  I’m the only warrior she will ever belong to and the only one she will ever love!,” Raizo answered in kind as the two continued battling.  Mika stood by helplessly, wanting to take part in the fight that would determine her fate, but unable to come between the two.  She knew it was no use.  They would fight until one lay dead.  She had to do something.  She couldn’t just stand by and watch her love grow wearier as he fought for both their lives.
 
“Give it up Tiger’s Eye, Mika’s life is with me besides…this house is much too big for us.  I prefer a simpler lifestyle myself,” Raizo taunted yet again.  “Hahahaha, you have quite the sense of humor skilled one.  It would have been nice to get to know just how humorous an Ozunu warrior could be, but unfortunately….you must die,” Ichiro said in answer.  (*clink, clink, clink, clink, clink*)  The warriors’ swords continued to clash in mad fury, with neither Raizo nor Ichiro giving up their ground.  ‘This back and forth has to end,’ Raizo thought.  Immediately, the warrior flipped head over heels, as he had done so many times in battle, to avoid the reach of his foe.  As he came to land on his feet, Raizo found himself face to face with Mika.  Even as he fought for their very lives in this death match, she took his breath away as they stood a few feet apart.  Looking at her in that moment reminded him of their little ones, their family and the life he so desperately wanted to get back to.  Only moments went by before he saw sheer terror come to her soft brown eyes.  He knew he was in trouble when he saw her demeanor shift.  “Raizo……look out!!!,” Mika screamed.  “Aaaaaaaaaah!!,”  The warrior’s war cry bolted from Ichiro’s lips.  Raizo turned only to find the tip of his brother’s sword inches away from making contact with his chest.  However, the reaper came calling yet again and would claim another of Raizo’s siblings.  Rounds of gunfire blasted into the clan leader’s back ripping through vital organs, as agent Maslow delivered the lethal punishment.  “Raizo….Coretti are you alright?!!,” shouted Ryan as he came rushing up to the Ozunu warrior and his love.
 
“Damn, this is not exactly the scenario I had envisioned skilled one,” Ichiro said to Raizo, as he dropped to his knees clutching his chest. Blood began to spew from his mouth, as he looked up and into Raizo’s eyes. A feeling of relief mixed with sorrow came rushing into Raizo’s consciousness.  He knew he should only feel hatred toward the man who took Mika…held her captive and tried to force her to love him, but the moment seemed to only spark feelings of regret.  Something deep within, something he couldn’t explain made Raizo go to Ichiro’s side.  He didn’t know this man and what he did know he despised, yet in spite of it all, he couldn’t let the sibling he never knew die alone.    
 
There was little doubt that Ryan’s gun blast to the evil warrior’s back did irreparable, irrefutable damage. Falling to the ground, Ichiro quickly began to drown in his own blood.  Despite the sword play that had taken place only moments before, the Tiger’s Eye leader and the Ozunu warrior were now side by side.  The dying warrior slowly raised his trembling and bloodied hand, in an apparent effort to touch Raizo’s face.  As the Ozunu warrior looked down at his dying sibling, his thoughts were now of what could have been.  ‘What would my life be like had I been raised with Indigo and Ichiro both? Would they have turned into the evil warriors that lay before me now?  Would they have grown to love me as they obviously loved each other?  Should I even care?,’ Raizo thought as he looked into Ichiro’s fading eyes.  As the clan leader continued to reach toward his face, Raizo decided to relent and give in to what surely was to be his sibling’s last wish.  As he leaned in closer, Ichiro’s bloodied hand made contact with Raizo’s face.  “I always wanted a little br….broth….brother,” the clan leader said with his last breath.  Ichiro’s last words surprised and left a malaise that shook the warrior to his core.  
 
With his last breath, he gave and took away what Raizo hadn’t realized he longed for most.  A longing the warrior didn’t know ran as deep as it did until both his siblings lay dead before him.  In one day’s time, he had family and all at once they were gone.  However, feelings of malaise soon left the warrior’s consciousness, when his thoughts came full circle.  Looking at the carnage in the villa basement, he was reminded yet again that both his siblings were evil, ruthless assassins.  They would have stopped at nothing to get what they wanted and they both wanted him dead.  This was a fact and this fact would surely have prohibited them from ever becoming anything that resembled family.  His sorrow, although real and palpable, was brief.  Now…..it was gone.
 
Coming to his feet, Raizo looked toward his love whose eyes were filled with tears….and love.  She ran to him.  Mika flew into Raizo’s arms with the force of a tornado nearly knocking him off his feet again.  “Mika,” Raizo managed to say as they held on to each other so tightly.  Ryan looked on feeling both relieved and jealous.  Getting Mika back was all that truly mattered and they had done that.  The twins would have both their parents and Raizo and Mika would have each other.  Ryan knew the both of them had been through hell and he couldn’t really begrudge them their love for one another.  Although, he selfishly wanted to truth be told. 
 
“They do look gorgeous together don’t they? Well…umm….as far bruised and bloodied, sweaty warrior lovers go.  All I can say is, there’s not an ugly warrior in the bunch I tell ya…and that’s counting the dead ones too,” Adrianna said with a smile, as she looked from the reunited couple to the deceased warriors about the room.  “Now how did I know it was you Pettigrew?,” Ryan said with a chuckle as Adrianna walked up next to him.  “Probably because of my ever present bright and sunny disposition Chief,” Adrianna said with a wide smile across her face.  “No, probably because you’re the only one who would be so crass,” Ryan lightheartedly answered.  “We only got word on the back end there was an undercover agent on the inside, but I had no idea it was you.  We didn’t exactly have time to research it further.  As you can see, ninjas seem to have a time table all their own, eh?,” he continued.  “Omega team, Alpha team, team Hillside, team Front Door…I need a status update, talk to me,” Ryan continued still as he inquired about his field operatives through his earpiece communications.  “Omega team checking in boss, the gang’s all here,” said Omega’s leader.  “Alpha team here boss, we’re pretty banged up but still here,” said Alpha’s leader.  “Team Hillside checking in too boss, sorry to say we lost three but everyone else is accounted for,” said Hillside’s leader.  “Team Front Door here agent Maslow, I’ve lost six on my team.  Still re-grouping here we’ll rendezvous shortly,” said Front Door’s leader.  
 
“Damn,” said the secret agent in contemplation of the operatives lost.  “All teams let’s get back to headquarters underground so we can all debrief,” Ryan said to his field operatives.   “And you too Pettigrew,” Ryan lightheartedly said to his operative colleague as he walked over to Raizo and Mika.  Watching the ninja warrior and Mika in a passionate kiss was torture and not Ryan’s idea of a good time.  He felt like an intruder upon the loving scene but he had to break up the ‘party’ so they could all get back to their underground headquarters and to the twins.  “Boy, Coretti I can think of better ways to take a Mediterranean vacation,” Ryan said as his words broke up the lovers’ kiss.  Feeling euphoric, a smiling Mika left Raizo’s embrace and excitedly threw her arms around the neck of a very surprised yet elated Ryan.  “I would ask what brought this on, but I’m going to concede that it’s because you’ve been reunited with a certain Ozunu warrior,” said the very grateful secret agent.  Mika was beyond words.  She thought she would never see Raizo again…she had come to believe he was dead until she saw his beautiful face.  She felt she owed a debt of thanks to Ryan.  He had always been there for her, protecting her as best he could from the wrath of the government and ninja warriors alike.  She knew this time was no different.  A warm hug was the least she could do and it cost her nothing to do so.
 
Feeling bereft when Mika so quickly left his arms to embrace her former colleague, Raizo found himself annoyed but he did understand. He also knew that Mika was his and this brief moment of harmless affection between friends was not a concern, at least not a concern with respect to Mika’s feelings…Ryan’s feelings, however were an entirely different matter.  Although he hated the fact that other men sought to make her theirs, Raizo couldn’t really blame them.  She was light to the darkness….his darkness specifically and her natural warmth and loving spirit was contagious to everyone she came in contact with.  Her inner glow was the only thing that outshone her outer beauty.  Raizo knew that to be able to love her was more than he would have been able to hope for given the hand that life had dealt to him.  The circumstances by which the two of them even met, was the stuff of legendary fairytales or so he liked to think.  “Come on….let’s go you two.  I think there’s some little pint-sized operatives who would like a special debrief from two ninja warriors in particular,” Ryan said smiling brightly as they all set out to leave yet another scene of death and destruction.  
 
‘Little pint-sized operatives,’ Mika thought.  As she replayed Ryan’s words in her mind, a familiar ache tugged at her heart.  Her babies were waiting for her.…babies she hadn’t seen since they were two weeks old and she couldn’t wait to see them, to hold them close and wrap them up so tightly in her arms. “Are you alright love?,” Raizo said as he watched Mika stop in her tracks.  “I’m fine, it’s just that I can’t wait to see the babies,” Mika said smiling to her love as tears welled in her eyes.  Raizo couldn’t wait either.  To have his family back together was all he really wanted. His wait was now over. As they began exiting the villa basement, something else pricked Mika’s consciousness and she suddenly remembered something…..someone.  That someone was a meek, fragile and battered old soul.
 
“Oh no, Mr. Uchida!,” she excitedly said.  “Mr. Uchida, who’s Mr. Uchida?,” questioned Raizo.  “My sentiments exactly ole boy,” Ryan chimed in as well.  During the melee, the whereabouts of the old villager were completely forgotten Mika realized.  She was somewhat surprised that neither Raizo nor Ryan had been aware of the frail man’s presence, especially since their mission had the use of some sophisticated high-tech equipment.  Yet she didn’t give it further thought.  “There was an old villager who was also held captive on the basement level as well.  He was such a tiny, frail little man.  I’m concerned for his well being.  We should check to see if he’s still down here.  If he is, I can’t just leave him here,” Mika said with a look of deep concern in her soft brown eyes.  Seeing the empathic look on Mika’s face gave both men pause.  They both would do anything for her. “Check everything, all doors…locked ones especially, even closet spaces,” Ryan said to everyone as they all spread out to do a search.  Everyone looked diligently for the sickly old villager.  “Boss over here,” a member of the Alpha team called out.  He found what they all had been looking for.  There he was, the battered old man lying on the cold concrete of the basement floor, tucked inside a small room the size of a broom closet.  It had become apparent that the room he was held captive in was not connected to any of the villa’s surveillance.  As a result, Ryan’s team never had ‘eyes’ on this poor unfortunate soul.  It was also apparent that he had been left there to die.
 
“Is he still alive?,” Ryan asked as Raizo leaned down to examine him.  Using the gifts of the ninja, Raizo was able to revive the frail little man.  Though his breathing was labored, he managed to cling hardily to life.  The spirit of survival was apparently still quite strong within the elderly villager.  As he very weakly turned his face toward Raizo, a noticeable ‘light’ came to the old villager’s eyes when he saw Mika standing next to her love.  His reaction to seeing Mika was not lost on Raizo or Ryan.  However, the two men let the moment pass.  “Let’s get the hell out of here shall we.  This place gives me the willies,” Ryan said.  “What?,” he continued feigning ignorance as all eyes turned and looked at him.  Raizo very handily picked up Mr. Uchida and carried him back to the safety of the underground headquarters.  There he would be protected and cared for.  Mika was beyond relieved.  She knew what the others did not.  This battered and bruised little man was the key to Raizo’s past, present and his future.

 
Chapter 17:  Life Renewed
 
As they arrived back to the underground safe house, Mika wanted to rush to her babies but the hand of agent Maslow stopped her before she went further.  “I know you are dying to see the babies and you shall, but I think we all need a bit of a wash up….don’t you think?  It wouldn’t be good to wrap the little munchkins up in ‘bloody ninja sweat’….just a thought,” Ryan affably said as they all observed their clan tattered and bloody appearances.  “You’re right.  I don’t want the babies to see me looking like this.  Where can we get cleaned up?,” Mika asked.  “This way love,” Raizo said, putting his arm around her while simultaneously looking Ryan in the eye.   “I hear you loud and clear ole boy,” Ryan whispered to himself as he watched the two walk off.  He was no fool.  With that simple gesture, the Ozunu warrior set clear and definitive boundaries….boundaries the secret agent had no intention of crossing.  He planned to live to a ripe old age, thank you very much.   
 
Raizo led his love to the quarters he and the babies shared in the safe house.   The junior operative who sat with the babies while Ryan and Raizo went to save Mika was on high alert.  “Ssh,” said the operative with a finger to her lips, as the couple entered the room.  The twins were fast asleep in their cribs and she didn’t want to awaken them.  “They were a little fussy and I’ve just been able to get them to sleep,” whispered the operative.  Mika saw her little dumplings for the first time in months.   Like a moth drawn to a flame, Mika couldn’t help herself.  She walked over to her babies.  As she looked down at them sleeping peacefully in their cribs, the ache to hold them was almost impossible to bear.  She had to touch them, she had to.  Raizo knew completely how she felt.  He watched as she brushed her fingertips lightly across their little curly heads.  “They’re so big now Raizo,” Mika said barely above a whisper, still lovingly caressing their little silky ringlets.  She couldn’t believe how much their babies had grown.  “Let’s shower love,” the warrior said as he urged Mika toward the bathroom door.  
 
Sensing something was afoot, the little cuties had already awakened by the time their parents returned to the room.  The warrior lovers, now clean and tidy, wasted no time.  Without hesitation, Mika ran toward her babies with Raizo closely on her heels.  Motherly instincts kicked in with a vengeance.  Mika reached out to baby Aiko Tai first.  However, the unexpected happened, at least in Mika’s eyes.  The baby spurned her mother’s waiting embrace.  “Maybe she’s still a little sleepy,” Mika said in an attempt to assuage her bruised feelings.  Still hopeful, she attempted to hold baby Hiroshi, now being held by Raizo and he too spurned his mother’s embrace.  A knock at their door served to break the moment’s awkward mood.  “Can a middle aged secret agent join the party as well?,” said a joking Ryan as he walked into the room.  He immediately walked over and picked up a now bouncing and cooing baby Tai.  She came to him without hesitation.
 
Mika was a smart woman.  Logically, she knew that being away from her infants for such a long time would mean they needed to get to know her again.  They needed to become familiar with her smell…her touch, but the mother within herself that longed to hold her babies was shattered by their indifference.  As warm tears fell from her eyes, Mika ran from the room…devastated that her babies no longer knew her.  “I’ll take the baby, you go after her ole boy,” Ryan said as Raizo handed him baby Hiroshi.  The warrior’s heart ached for Mika when he came upon her crouched in a corner of one of the empty conference rooms drowning in her tears.  Crouching down beside her, the warrior tried his best to coax her up.  “Come, come on love…please get up now.  It’s ok,” Raizo said attempting to comfort his love.  “My babies don’t know me, they don’t know me Raizo…they don’t know their mother!,”  Mika said to him amidst her anguished sobs.  She was hurt beyond words.  ‘Of course she didn’t leave them purposely, but how would they know that,’ she thought.  “It’s just going to take time love, but they will come to know you.  I speak from experience,” Raizo said to her as he began to recount his life after they lost her.
 
Mika hadn’t yet begun to put into perspective what her disappearance had done to her young family….what it cost them.  Raizo was just as devastated as she had been, both of them uncertain as to what had happened to the other, both of them thinking the other was dead.  “So you see love, as far as I knew you had died and life as I had come to know it was no more.  I left with the babies, but grief had taken its toll.  Needless to say, agent Maslow found us before it was too late,” Raizo said to her.  “In the hospital, I somehow came to realize that I could no longer allow weakness to be my master.  I had to be strong for the babies…our babies.  I made the decision to allow agent Maslow to care for the babies while I went away.  (*Mika stared at him in disbelief*) Don’t look at me that way, I can feel you wanting to chastise me for leaving them,” he continued.  He was right.  She did want to chastise him.  She was now becoming angry at his words and wanted to scream out…’How could you leave them alone?,’  she thought. 
 
However, as if he could read her mind he soon answered the questions he was certain she wanted to know.  “Mika you must understand, I was raised by a ninja clan master.  He was ruthless, a tyrant who expected absolute loyalty yet he was without emotion, or at least he never gave in to them.  Under his tutelage, I flourished devoid of expressing emotion of any kind.  What do you think I knew about grief? (*he turned to her then*)  I had just come to know what it truly meant to love…with you.  Then, you were suddenly gone and I was left alone to raise the babies.  I needed to take time to become strong again, the only way I knew how.  I became strong again in the way of the ninja,” Raizo said to her with clarity and conviction.
 
Mika could see now and she understood.  Grief was not completely foreign to him, but grief after loving someone so deeply was.  She understood this was his way and proud that he came to realize what he had to do for himself and most importantly for the babies.  She couldn’t love him any more than she did in this moment.  “Shall we try it again?,” Raizo said with a faint smile breaking across his lips.  “Yes, let’s try it again,” Mika said smiling as her warrior love wiped away the now happy tears falling from eyes.
 
After leaving Greece, the young family easily settled back into their cottage style home nestled in the Washington suburbs.  Just as Raizo has predicted, it didn’t take long for the babies to become comfortable with their mother again.  They unabashedly took up residence in their parent’s bed which was partially Mika’s fault.  Since returning home, she had been unable to let them go wanting them near at all times.  The twins spent more nights in their parent’s bed it seemed than they did in their own cribs.  However, Raizo felt in his heart of hearts that it was time they shared their bed alone, but how could he tear a mother away from her infants?  Raizo wanted her...needed her so badly, yet he didn’t want to seem insensitive.  However, his warrior’s blood had begun to reach fever pitch.  He wanted so desperately to be near her…to feel her.  The feeling had become all consuming, but he was determined to keep himself in check no matter how uncomfortable it was.  
 
As had been the custom every night since they returned home, Raizo entered their room fully expecting Mika to be lying next to sleeping infants.  Mika was indeed lying still in their bed with her eyes closed but she was alone.  Somewhat surprised that the twins were not sleeping next to her, Raizo took a moment to gaze at his love as he stood in the doorway.  Thinking she was asleep, he came to lie next to her on their bed.  At first, he was content to just hold her close but with a lightning quickness, his body raged at him.  He couldn’t hide his desire if he wanted to, however he was determined that he wouldn’t press Mika before she was ready.  
 
He embraced her from behind as he lay by her side.  Her caramel cocoa skin was so silky soft and tempting, the ninja warrior soon found his hands had a mind all their own.  Involuntarily, they began slow caresses along her lean arms, as his soft lips lay light kisses on her shoulder.  Raizo knew he should give her more time, after all Mika had been through a traumatic experience and he was just being ‘selfish’ now.  It bothered him that he was having a hard time restraining himself.  
 
Mika kept her smile to herself.  ‘How sweet, he’s trying to be a gentleman right now….and it’s killing him,’ she lightheartedly thought.  What her warrior lover didn’t seem to realize was that she was just as hungry as he was.  They had been apart for far too long.  This night would be about give and take…..and take she would.  He had no idea what he was in for.

(*LOVE SCENE EDITED OUT*)  

Sunlight peeking through the couple’s bedroom window, found a blissfully happy Mika lying next to her warrior love watching him as he slept soundly.  ‘He’s so beautiful,’ she thought as she continued watching him.  She admired how his silky black locks softly caressed his handsome profile making her wanton nature shamelessly begin to rise all over again.  She smiled at herself, as naughty thoughts continued to dance across her mind.  “Don’t worry, I’ll let you sleep in babe…because you my dear….more than deserve it,” she whispered aloud smiling wickedly, as she thought back to the previous night’s very vigorous activities.  She wasn’t ashamed to admit to herself that she wanted more and as soon as Raizo was rested, he would be ‘attacked’ yet again. 
 
“It’s your fault, you know.  For being so sexy,” she continued to whisper to a sleeping Raizo, or so she thought.  “Next time I’ll be sure to keep my sexy under lock and key,” the warrior teasingly said smiling with his eyes still closed.  A surprised Mika immediately tossed her pillow across to her love’s side of the bed, making contact with Raizo’s head.  Swiftly rolling over, the warrior grabbed Mika and pulled her into his loving embrace as he deftly placed fevered kisses on her soft lips.  Mika quickly found out that she was not the only one in ‘attack’ mode.  Just then, her cell phone rang.  Mika, hating to break up their fun, regretfully looked over at her phone only to see Ryan’s name pop up, much to their chagrin.  Agent Maslow seemed to have a special penchant for always knowing just when the couple would otherwise be engaged in rather rigorous and steamy activities.  Despite the fierce ‘appetites’ of Mika and Raizo both, the cocoa beauty decided to take the agent’s call.  Pulling away from Raizo’s capable hands wasn’t easy, but she managed to slip out of bed to take the call in the next room.  Raizo found himself somewhat annoyed by Mika’s need to speak privately with Ryan. However, he decided he would not make it an issue.  Having his love back home and back in his arms where she belonged was infinitely more important he concluded. 
 
“Ryan, how has our friend been fairing? Well, I hope.  You know I wanted to give him some time to regain his strength and become acclimated to life in the States, but now…..I think it’s time.  I think enough time has passed for us all to have gotten our second wind.  I also feel like the conversation is long overdue and I don’t want to keep Raizo in the dark any longer.  He needs to know,” Mika said as she talked to Ryan on her cell.  “Funny you should ask me that Coretti,” Ryan said to Mika as he contemplated his recent conversation with Mr. Uchida.
 
*Ryan’s Brief Memory Flashback*
 
“You and your team have been most kind to this old man (*referring to himself*).  I am grateful for the care you have given me,” Mr. Uchida said with a smile.  “You are most welcome Mr. Uchida.  However, it was because of Mika that we found you in the first place.  Only she knew of your presence in the villa.  Had it not been for her, dare I say, we would not have known you were there,” Ryan said to the kind man.  “Tell me agent, where is the young woman and the warrior?  I ask as there is much that needs to be said….much they need to know.  At my age, the wind blows the sands of time more frequently and with more vigor.  I would like to see them both before memories begin to fade,” he continued.
 
~~~
 
“He’s asked to see you and Raizo, sooner rather than later.  So you two had better get a move on.  Eleanor’s got the location details.  I’ll give her a ring and ask her to pass the information on to you.  We’ll talk after you’ve seen him.  Bye now,” Ryan said to her, smiling as he hung up his cell. 
 
Mr. Uchida had become a ward of theirs of sorts.  Upon returning from Greece, Ryan immediately contacted Eleanor his colleague.  As requested, she made sure the kind man wanted for nothing.  Ryan and Mika both wanted to make sure that particular attention was paid to the customs of Japan…customs observed by many of its rural villagers.  Making sure Mr. Uchida was cared for in the ways by which he was accustomed was a definite priority for the secret agent and his favorite forensic researcher.  Mika, in particular, wanted to make sure he felt as comfortable and as at home as possible.  She had always been concerned for him and made it a point to keep his well being foremost in her mind.  Her concern, however, was also twofold.  She felt responsible for him, even though she needn’t have.  Since they both survived under dire circumstances in the same space, she felt akin to him because of it.  Also, the forensic researcher within her deemed it important to protect the knowledge of ancient ninja life that this old villager had been privy to.  Passed down to him through his own ancestry coupled with his own first hand experiences, the gentle old soul knew even more about how ninjas operated in the days of old than Raizo did.  He was a living library and his knowledge was invaluable to Ryan and his team, as they fought to expose the clans and their crimes.  She also knew he was the one person….the only person who could give Raizo what Ozunu could not….what she could not and it was time they met again.  
 
“So this is the place where the old villager has been staying?  It reminds me of Ozunu’s dojo,” Raizo said as he thought back to his days under his Ozunu master.  Mika had finally ‘come clean’ and told her love that at her insistence she and Ryan took it upon themselves to see to the care of Mr. Uchida.  She told him that like most things ninja, his care was largely kept private from Ryan’s agency.  Even though, technically, they were the ones providing Mr. Uchida with all the creature comforts of home.  
 
“Eleanor picked a lovely little place off the beaten path don’t you think babe?,” Mika said to Raizo.  He smiled then.  ‘Babe’, he thought to himself.  “It’s been a while since you’ve called me that.  I missed hearing it,” Raizo said seductively to Mika, whispering near her ear.  His unexpected sauciness caused a somewhat embarrassed grin to come to Mika’s soft lips.  She quickly had to remind her naughty warrior love they were there for a specific purpose.  “Don’t lose focus mister.   We’re here to pay a long overdue visit to Mr. Uchida,” Mika lightheartedly chastised.  The little Japanese style cottage was surrounded by beautiful gardens, green and plush with at least three accompanying water fountains placed about.  The vegetation itself provided a natural tranquil privacy, much like the Japanese gardens in the rural villages of Japan.  The sounds of the trickling water lent to the tranquility that immediately encapsulated them, as they approached the humble dwelling.  It felt like the days of old.  Raizo had to admit there was a certain peaceful beauty about Japan he did indeed miss.
 
Mika rang the doorbell as soon as they approached the front door. A light breeze made the small wind chime hanging near the front door dance in tandem.  It was as if nature itself decided to announce their presence.  Only moments went by before Mr. Uchida’s housekeeper came to the door.  She too was a tiny woman and also of Japanese descent.  She was demure and beautiful, gentle in her mannerisms.  Her age was hard to pinpoint by sight alone, but Mika guessed that she was probably a woman nearing forty.  After customary pleasantries were exchanged, the housekeeper directed Mika and Raizo to the small garden adjacent to Mr. Uchida’s bedroom.  There he sat, peacefully as he enjoyed his cup of tea.   He soon sensed that he was not alone.  His eyes immediately brightened when he turned to see the couple approach.  Mika couldn’t help but to rush to the old villager’s side.  She was so happy to see him doing so well.  Suddenly, this tiny little man didn’t seem as frail as he once did.  
 
“Mr. Uchida, you look wonderful!,” said an excited Mika.  “I’m so happy to see you’re doing so much better,” she excitedly continued.  “Thanks to you young lady and the special agent, this weathered old soul has been allowed to flourish once more,” he said smiling brightly.  Mr. Uchida turned to look at Raizo then.  “So this is the young warrior who carried me out of that hell on earth?,” he said as he continued to look at Raizo.  After he gave Mr. Uchida the customary respect of an elder, Mika then formally introduced her love to the kind man who she knew had much to tell.  “Mr. Katashi Uchida this is my love Raizo, Raizo this is Mr. Katashi Uchida.  I told him about you when we were held captive.  Mr. Uchida asked to meet you…to see you,” Mika explained.  As Raizo looked at her through bewildered eyes, the housekeeper returned with more tea and gestured to the couple to sit.  ‘Why would this old villager want to see me?,’ Raizo thought as the two sat down to tea.  Mr. Uchida soon began to relate the same awesome tale he told Mika, Ichiro and Indigo back at the villa.  Only this time, the story would be told in its entirety.  Raizo, the reluctant Ozunu warrior, was about to see his life change yet again.  
 
“Young lady thank you for bringing your young man, to visit this old soul,” he said as he smiled at Mika.  Raizo still bewildered and confused as to why he was really there sat in silence.  He needn’t have worried.  His wait soon came to an end, as Mr. Uchida began to speak directly to him.
 
“Young warrior I am about to take you on a journey, a journey of life…your life in particular.  When I have said all, you will then know who you truly are and who you were meant to be,” he said looking directly in Raizo’s eyes.
 
*Katashi’s Story to Raizo*
 
“Many moons ago the youngest son of the Ozunu clan, the one you came to know as master, married a beautiful young girl from my village named Miyako.  She was a rare beauty, with eyes the color of jade.  The marriage was an arranged one but in time grew to a love match. The youngest Ozunu son and his bride were very happy in the beginning, or so it would seem.  Ozunu, as you know, was descended from a long line of warrior assassins, today known as the ninja.  As a young man, he became quite adept in his skills as a warrior.  The more adept he became the more powerful he became within the Ozunu clan.  With the passage of time, Ozunu became the undisputed leader of his clan.  As his power grew, his love for Miyako began to diminish.  Now one with the sword, he looked less to his young wife.  Gradually, he became a distant and cruel husband to her.   After enduring months of his cruelty and abuse, Miyako ran away.  She ran away to a small neighboring village where she met a young village lad.  Comforted by the young lad’s kindness, Miyako fell in love with him.  Unable to quiet the feelings of her heart, Miyako took to the young lad’s bed.  
 
The shame of his young wife running away was more than Ozunu was willing to accept.  Unable to tolerate the public humiliation, he vowed to find her.  In a day’s time, he tracked Miyako to the tiny village of her young lover.  Unbeknownst to him, Ozunu’s cruelty preceded his arrival and Miyako was hidden well by all the families of the tiny village, never staying with one family too long.  When news came that Ozunu was coming, Miyako hurriedly left the tiny village and hid in a nearby field.  She did so in order to save the villagers who had helped to save her from the wrath of her ruthless husband.  He eventually found her hiding nearby.  Suspecting she had an affair, he beat her mercilessly in front of the villagers in hopes that her young lover would reveal himself.  Locking eyes with her lover, she bid him to stay quiet.  Miyako endured Ozunu’s public beating.  In a show of solidarity, the villagers rallied around Miyako’s young lover effectively preventing Ozunu from finding out his identity.  Before dragging her away, Ozunu decided to leave the tiny village with a clear warning.  He and his warrior accomplices gathered all the young village males they could find and without warning he had them beheaded. 
 
Fortunately, Miyako’s young lover was able to escape before he was discovered.  They would never see each other again or so she thought.  Shortly after returning with the evil ninja master, Miyako discovered she was pregnant by her young lover.  With that discovery, came even more cruelty from Ozunu toward his young wife.  He couldn’t forgive her nor would he let himself be publicly humiliated further by her pregnancy with another man.  He decided he wanted nothing to do with her whatsoever, yet he wanted to hurt her….punish her for her betrayal.  She was to be confined and would not be allowed to be seen outside the dojo for any reason whatsoever.  Miyako carried her pregnancy to term and eventually gave birth to twins….one girl and one boy.  Miyako named her twins Indigo and Ichiro.  Yes, the very warriors who sought to kill you and your young lady.
 
Proving that his cruelty was without limits, Ozunu banished the twins (Ichiro and Indigo).  He had them stripped away from their mother.  He wanted Miyako to feel the pain of losing those she loved.  Even though Ozunu vowed to have nothing to do with Miyako, he was still not above exercising his rights as a husband and brutally did so whenever he wished.  Even though fathering children with his young wife was a very real possibility, he still declared it a law of the clan that as long as she lived Miyako would be stripped of any children that she bore.  She would never be allowed to raise them or love them.  Miyako became pregnant for Ozunu only once yet by the will of the Divine, she miscarried.  Unable to endure his immeasurable and continued cruelty any longer, Miyako ran away for a second time.  She soon reunited with her young lover, who had taken refuge in a village not far from the one he escaped. The young lovers resumed their affair.  
 
Discovering she was pregnant again and fearing Ozunu’s edict, Miyako vowed to stay with her young lover leaving Ozunu for good.  Word travelled fast among village locals reaching the ears of the Ozunu clan.  While her young lover was away trying his best to earn money for their new family to be, Miyako stayed behind happily awaiting the birth of their child.  Unfortunately, Ozunu found Miyako, by then very heavy with child, and brought her back forcibly to his dojo for a second time.  Shortly thereafter, she gave birth to another set of twins conceived with her young lover.  Once again the unfortunate beauty gave birth to one boy child and one girl child.  Ozunu held true to his edict and he immediately stripped the babies from Miyako’s arms only moments after she gave birth.  
 
His instructions were quite clear.  He gave the girl child to a female servant and ordered her to get rid of the child…to kill it.  The servant took the child and promised to carry out his orders.  However, something within the evil clan master shifted.  He realized he would never become a father if he threw away all of Miyako’s babies so he decided to keep the boy child.  Unbeknown to Ozunu, the female servant who had custody of the Miyako’s hours old daughter decided to visit Miyako’s chamber one final time to tell her of Ozunu’s plan to have the female child killed.  Miyako then confided in the servant giving her the name of her young lover….the father of her children.  She knew Ozunu would never give up the boy, but she told the servant to make sure to take the girl to her father and tell him he must leave with the child never to return.  The servant did as she was told.  
 
Ozunu returned to Miyako’s chamber only to taunt her mercilessly.  In his cruel inhumanity, he wanted her to agonize over the thought that he had her girl child killed and planned to take the boy and turn him into a heartless, cold-blooded assassin.  Tears flowed as Miyako knew all too well he would do as he promised.  Pleased that he had affected her so, Ozunu left her to drown in her mental anguish.  Her mind crowded with thoughts of having to live a life without her children to love and with only the bleakness of Ozunu’s certain cruelty to fill her days, it was all too much. Unable to bear the weight of her husband’s relentless abuses, Miyako quietly slipped out of her chamber and went to the cliffs nearby.  Sadly, she made the decision to end her life.   A servant who saw what was about to happen screamed out and everyone came running including Ozunu, but it was too late.  She leapt to her death over the edge of the highest cliff nearest the dojo.  
 
Miyako’s sudden death sent Ozunu into a downward spiral of despair.  Despite his vicious cruelty toward her, Miyako’s death apparently reminded the evil warrior of the love he once felt for her.   In his despair, he found he could no longer look at the boy that was hers with her lover.  Ozunu then decided to take the boy and abandon him in the slums of Japan.  Still angry at Miyako for her betrayals and for taking her own life, he decided to continue with his plan to turn her son into a ruthless assassin.  
 
When the boy was approximately eight years of age, Ozunu decided to ‘rescue’ the child he himself had abandoned to the streets.  Knowing the child would have feelings of anger at his abandonment, he was primed to become a ruthless killer….a ninja by tradition. This was Ozunu’s last act of cruelty toward Miyako.  That eight year-old boy was you young warrior.  You were the son of Miyako of the Ozunu clan and her then young lover Yoshimi Akita.  It is still unclear as to how Miyako and Yoshimi’s other children faired as they grew into adults.  However, it became apparent to your government agent friends that each had formed their own Ninja clans steeped in the traditions of the ancient clans in the days of old.  One clan Tiger’s Eye and the other, being the Clan of Three Feathers.  
 
I believe the three of us know exactly how this story has ended.   You young warrior…young Raizo, now know that you were the child he kept and trained in the ways of the Ozunu ninja.  In some ways, Ozunu kept his promise to destroy the children born of Miyako’s womb. However, you Raizo, my young friend…you possess the essence of Miyako’s gentle spirit within, the part of her spirit that was meant to love.  I know this because I have met your love Mika who sits by your side before me.  Her loving and caring spirit calls to the same spirit within you….the gentle spirit of your mother Miyako.  Dare I say, you have carried a part of her within you, whether you have been aware of it or not.  The journey of your life has been long…it has been hard and at times cruel for one so young.  However, I sense that you have always been led, by your heart, to do that which you deem just and right.  Please hold on to that spirit within yourself always as you continue your life’s journey young warrior.  It will serve you well,” related Mr. Uchida to a shocked and stunned Raizo.
 
Raizo was a pillar of silence.  Mika and Mr. Uchida worriedly regarded each other.  Neither knew what to make of Raizo’s absolute stillness.  It was frighteningly eerie, even for the normally stoic warrior.  “I always knew I was justified in killing Ozunu, but now more than ever I wish the moment of his death could be on this day.  I would make him die one thousand times.  His evil was pure and his heart was as black as miner’s coal from deep within the earth.  I hate him so much!,” Raizo said as his clenched fists dugs his nails into the flesh of his hands.  He felt cheated.  For the first time, he felt a thirst for blood….Ozunu’s blood.  He wanted desperately to kill him once again.  Had he known about his mother Miyako and the indignities she suffered at the hands of his master, Raizo would have made sure Ozunu suffered a slow and torturous death by his hand.  He had no idea what to do with his renewed anger, which slowly churned into a burning rage.  How would he begin to assuage these unbearably intense feelings of anger, loss and betrayal?  
 
Katashi ultimately realized that Raizo was lost in a sea of emotions that he could do nothing with.  Those that he could have exacted his revenge upon are all now dead.  His mother….his pitiful and tortured mother, he never knew and like his elder twin siblings would unfortunately never get that opportunity.  Katashi’s heart went out to the young warrior who was visibly shaken and filled with painful emotional agony.  He could only hope to soothe the savage beast within Raizo….the beast he could see wanted desperately to break out.  “Young warrior, I know my words bring little consolation, as I am sure you feel burdened by unspeakable pain.  However by my calculations, there are still two people who yet live and I am sure they have more than enough love yet to give,” Mr. Uchida said to Raizo as he watched the warrior give in to his anguish.  
 
Mika wanted to immediately comfort him, but Katashi quietly beckoned her away.  “These grounds are so tranquil, would you mind taking a walk with an old soul young lady?,” he said to Mika.  He implicitly knew that Raizo needed time to process all that he just heard and good intentions would do nothing to ease the sting of the immediate pain.  As they walked along, Mika decided that she was grateful for the momentary reprieve.  Neither she nor Mr. Uchida talked very much. The serenity that surrounded them had a certain calming effect.  “You love him very much.  I can see that.  It is apparent that his life is ripe with blessings and I believe strongly that he knows that, but for the moment he needs to work through his anger,” Mika’s kind friend said to her, breaking the silence.  “You should not worry too much young beauty.  While it is true your young warrior has much to discover within, I am confident he will cling to the light inside himself.  During my long years, I have seen many young warriors such as he, give in to the darkest reaches of their inner selves, yet I do not believe that shall happen with Raizo.  You see my dearest Mika, he has you.  When he looks at you and his young ones, he will always see the best of himself.  The light within you calls to the light within him and as long as you both walk the same path, he will hold true to all that is good,” Katashi continued with a reassuring smile.
 
“I believe that, I really do but sometimes I wonder just how much of a toll all of the killing he’s done has taken over the years,” Mika said in contemplation, with deep concern in her voice.  She realized she didn’t want to think too long about what that cost might be, so she shifted her thoughts to a safer topic of conversation.  “You know Mr. Uchida, you never mentioned how you came to know about Raizo’s family and Ozunu. The level of detail was……,” Mika questioned, cut off by the lively senior.  “Uncanny…..ah, I do apologize but it is really not a complicated matter.  You see, Miyako, the young beauty from my village was also my beloved cousin.  Much of what I told young Raizo I actually bore witness to.  However, I was not sure it was your young warrior until I overheard the name of Ozunu mentioned by the evil pair, as I was beaten.  How, the evil queen came to know of me I am still unsure.  It was only after the chat I had with you, it all became quite clear.  I then came to realize that the Ozunu warrior of whom they spoke and your young warrior, were one in the same.  I realized that Raizo and the evil pair were the offspring of my beloved cousin Miyako and my friend Yoshimi.  
 
I am relieved I followed my first instinct and spoke the details of their origins only in part.  Keeping the identity of Yoshimi and his daughter Midori hidden within my heart, I now realize through Divine purpose was meant to be.  Had the evil pair found out about my dear friend Yoshimi and his daughter Midori it would have meant certain death for them both without question.  I felt it was my duty to protect them by keeping their identity safe.  It was my honor to have shared that information with you alone.  I believe it was the will of the Divine that we were to be the bearers of young Raizo’s legacy,” Katashi said to Mika. “You are the one who has literally given Raizo his family back.  Although Ichiro and Indigo were lost to him long ago, he now has another chance at life with his father and sister.  Wow…..his father and sister!  I can’t believe it really.  I’m so overjoyed for him and you…you’re his family too!,” Mika said excitedly.
 
Upon returning to the patio table where they had tea, Mika and Mr. Uchida saw a much calmer Raizo sitting in a meditative state.  Mika let out a sigh of relief.  When they left him, she was unsure as to how Raizo would be able to cope with something so heavy.  She needn’t have worried.  The warrior did what he always did in the face of emotional chaos.  Whenever he found it necessary to collect himself and center his mind, meditation was Raizo’s method of choice…his go to.  It was the only thing that could be deemed as good coming from his association with Ozunu.  When the need to cope became overwhelming, this was always Raizo’s way.  Hearing them return, the warrior slowly opened his eyes.  He remained quiet for several moments. Then suddenly something inside his consciousness clicked.  “Yoshimi Akita? Mr. Akita….from the inn?,” Raizo whispered aloud as he continued in contemplation.  Mika had the brightest smile on her face when Raizo’s eyes finally met hers.  She knew the moment the realization hit….the moment the orphaned Ozunu warrior realized he was an orphan no more.
 
Raizo’s blood tests taken at Europol and the CIA, confirmed that Yoshimi Akita was indeed his natural father and Yoshimi’s daughter Midori was his twin sister.  Autopsy results on both Ichiro and Indigo, also confirmed that they were Raizo’s biological siblings as well.  Mr. Uchida was the master of understatement. This was no ordinary journey. The warrior’s life seemingly took more twists and turns than the German autobahn.  Raizo, the ninja warrior, also discovered that the line between good and evil was a precarious one at best.  On one side stood evil in the form of his twin siblings Ichiro and Indigo and his evil clan master Ozunu and on the other stood those who championed for good.  He liked to think that he and Mika represented that which was good.  He was well aware that there were those who would completely disagree, as he too was a ruthless killer when called upon to do so.  However, the warrior took no delight in killing like his deceased elder siblings did.  Killing to him was a means to an end…always.  He felt justified in doing so when it was to right wrongs.  To protect those he loved, he would also do it without hesitation but he never reveled in killing not once…not even when Ozunu met death at the end of his sword.
 
Raizo also knew that he could easily give in to his hatred of his siblings and Ozunu, even in death.  It was a dark, dark place.  However, he would fight that urge.  When he thought of his own twins, he knew unequivocally that he wanted to give his babies his best self and that could only come from a place in a heart filled with love.  Raizo vowed to himself, from that day forward he would surround himself in nothing but.
 
The warrior was grateful for the miracle that brought his cousin Katashi Uchida into their lives.  Although the circumstances were dire, they were inevitable.  He came to realize that this old villager was meant to carry the knowledge of his origins and present it to him.   The true story of his turbulent beginnings was meant to unfold only when the precise point in time dictated.  Raizo believed that with every fiber of his being.  He too began to feel a kindred bond that would see him become a guardian of the kind old man as well.  Katashi Uchida would have the warrior’s protection for as long as they both lived.  For as surely as Raizo lost his elder siblings to the destructive force of evil, this kind old man returned to him what those same evil forces would seek to destroy again if he were to allow it.  The warrior….the ninja assassin would never allow it to happen….never again.  
 
Wasting no time upon returning home, Raizo didn’t have to say anything…Mika already knew. “Hello…..Ryan, I think we’re going to need to use the ‘company’ jet one more time,” Mika said smiling as she called her former colleague and friend. Without a word exchanged between them, she began to pack their bags.   Mika always seemed to effortlessly connect with the deepest desires of his heart without him having to utter a single word.  This was one of the very reasons he loved her so much.  ‘Sometimes it’s scary how well she knows me,’ he thought.  
 
The next morning, Raizo…Mika and the babies began a new chapter in the life of their young family…a new chapter that would take the couple back to where they began.  (*Good morning this is your captain speaking. I’d like to welcome everyone aboard, we anticipate fair weather arriving into Tokyo with a flight duration time of approximately 14 hours, so please sit back…relax and enjoy the flight.  Everyone, please prepare for take off….*).  With that said, the Nakamuras took to the skies headed to Japan.  The warrior….the ninja assassin felt as if he was taking in the first breath of his life all over again.  
 
Raizo tried to calm his mind during the long flight, but it was no use.  There was no escape from his anxious thoughts.  He eagerly wanted to re-connect with Yoshimi and Midori, but he was unsure if they would feel the same.  After all, the last image they had was of him and Mika desperately trying to get out of town after blowing up the ice queen’s compound.  “Babe, he knows we’re coming.  Don’t worry, it’ll be ok,” Mika said reassuringly sensing his nerves beginning to fray.  It wasn’t until Mika broke the silence, that Raizo even realized that he was lost in deep thought.  He was actually nervous and it read clearly across his beautiful face.  ‘Why should I feel this way?,’ he thought to himself.  
 
After arriving safely at Narita International, the young Nakamura family collected what seemed like enough luggage to accommodate a traveling rock band.  This was the first time Mika travelled with the twins and it was a tad overwhelming.  “My goodness, did I really pack all this?  Boy, as soon as you two munchkins are of age…..summer jobs for you both,” she jokingly said as she held baby Tai close.  Raizo smiled then…holding his infant son.  “Ready babe?,” Mika said to her love.  “Yes, I’m ready,” he answered in kind.  Finally leaving the airport, they made their way to the little inn of Yoshimi and Midori.  
 
The train ride from Narita to the countryside, where the inn was located seemed like forever.  At least, to a very nervous ninja warrior that is.  As they arrived at the inn’s entrance, memories of the fateful day they first came upon the inn came rushing back.  Raizo began to feel something…a feeling he rarely ever felt, that feeling was fear.  He told Mika he was ready, but now that the prospect of meeting his family formally was only moments away, he felt like a scared little boy. “You know it was at the inn, when I first felt morning sickness babe,” Mika said lovingly to Raizo as they approached the front door.  “Yes, I remember love,” Raizo answered her in kind, as each held a sleeping twin.  He realized his love was trying her best to help him remain calm and he was grateful for it, but the truth was he was beyond nervous.  He was always one to be in complete control and this unusual situation was the antithesis of that.  There was something else the warrior hadn’t realized until this very moment.  He didn’t know how badly he wanted and needed the love of family….the love of one’s own kin.  ‘What if Yoshimi rejects me too? Would Midori want a warrior…an assassin for a brother?,’ he thought as his nerves almost consumed him.
 
The door to the quaint little inn opened slowly, as if on cue.  The familiar faces of a handsome, mature man and a very pretty young woman appeared before them.  Both stepped outside to greet their only guests.  Raizo was silent, at a loss for words.  He stood there, holding baby Kai unable to move.   With her hands already full with baby Aiko, Mika relieved Raizo of baby Kai.  This was a moment she knew called for a true connection between a father and his prodigal son.  The normally stoic warrior continued to stand there, unsure of what to do….unsure of what to say.  The two men regarded each other for several long minutes.  Tears began to form and soon fell from the eyes of a still speechless Raizo.   “Watashi wa musuko o shitte iru, I know my son…I know,” Yoshimi said as tears of joy fell from his eyes as well.  Without hesitation, he then opened his arms wide in expectation of his son’s embrace.   Raizo, happy and scared, slowly walks into the loving embrace of his real father’s arms.  “I should have known you, the first moment I saw you,” Yoshimi said lovingly as he embraced his warrior son.   With those words, Raizo finally fully embraced Yoshimi back….finally through tear stained eyes he managed to utter the word he only ever dreamed of being able to say ….……”Father!”)  
 
THREE YEARS LATER
 
As active as ever, the twins were quite the effervescent pair and kept their parents on their toes more often than not.  “Mommy, I want French fries,” said an exuberant Aiko.  “No, let’s eat hot dogs with ‘lotsa’ ketchup and chocolate milk Mommy!,” chimed in an equally exuberant Kai.  With a loving sigh, Mika looked at her active tots and counted her blessings once again.   She and Raizo had settled back into suburban life with the twins now that the clan wars had calmed, at least for the time being. 
 
After their most recent extended stay in Japan, Raizo ultimately decided to bring his father and sister Midori to the States.  He felt it would be a bit safer with his new found access to government facilities.  Their safety could be handled quickly and discreetly within minutes if the need arose.  He also wanted the family together, especially since the twins were growing so fast. (*ding-dong, ding dong*) “I’ll get it Mommy!.....No, me….I wanna get it!,” the lively little pair said as they bounced out of their chairs.  The pitter and patter of little bare feet could be heard throughout the house it seemed, as Hiroshi and Tai ran towards the front door.  They never made it to their destination as strong arms grabbed them both from behind.  “Where do you think you’re going little ones?,” Raizo said as he kept his tiny tots away from the door.  “Papa, hahahahaha…..that tickles!,” said two happy bubbly twins.  
 
Mika was only too grateful to have a ninja warrior as her partner.  ‘Running after highly energetic twins can wear a secret agent out,’ she lovingly thought while smiling brightly.  As she watched the dynamic duo give their father a run for his money, Mika’s smile grew even wider.  She chuckled out loud watching the two tots pounce on their father’s back, as they had effectively wrestled the warrior to the floor.  Traveling coast to coast, unraveling terrorist plots and fighting ninjas she could handle, but these two cuties were more than a handful to say the least.  Even so, her heart overflowed every time she looked at her three loves.  “I’ll get it babe,” Mika said as she went to open the front door.  
 
“Ryan, hey…how are you, what brings you by?,” she said giving her colleague and friend a big hug.  Raizo wasn’t so preoccupied with the twins that he didn’t see the hug shared between friends.  He didn’t like it.  Any man touching Mika always set his nerves on edge.  A weakness he acknowledged he would have for the rest of his life.  “Oji-san, Oji-san!!,” shouted the twins as they ran up to greet their ‘adopted’ uncle.  It was then the secret agent saw Raizo look at him with that ice-cold stare that always curdled his blood.  “Hey my little dumplings how are you two today? Keeping your mum and papa busy no doubt,” Ryan said, as he swooped the twins up into his arms for a big bear squeeze.  “Listen, I’ve come to have a little chat with your papa, about grown-up stuff…you don’t mind do you?,” he continued as he held the little tykes. Of course they didn’t mind, they adored their Oji-san almost as much as they adored Raizo…almost.
 
“You two go talk, while I take these two out back with me….I’m going to do a little reading, if that’s possible,” Mika said with a chuckle as she took the twins from Ryan’s arms.  “Thank goodness….I was about to have a coronary.  My god Coretti what are you feeding them? Seriously,” Ryan joked, watching Mika roll her eyes as she walked off.  Raizo knew why Ryan had come.  It had become apparent some time ago.  Mika had been dropping hints that were about as subtle as a nuclear bomb.  However, he would let the secret agent broach the subject himself.  “Raizo, you should really consider becoming a trained agent?  You’ve already been operating as one…a little too renegade for my taste, but a field agent nonetheless.  You know the clans are still out there and we need you to help train others in ninja warfare,” Ryan pitched to a stoic Raizo.  “Besides, you might as well become a trained agent.   After all, you’ve been on practically every one of Mika’s missions unsolicited anyway.  Oh….you thought we didn’t know?  Come on ole boy, you should know me better than that,” Ryan teased when he saw a tell-tale gleam spark in Raizo’s eye.  
 
“Become a spy?  Me?  I work better alone, you know this.  Besides….following orders….this I won’t do,” Raizo stated plainly.  Ryan knew it would be a tough sell, a complete uphill battle.  Since he knew it would not be worth the head butt against the brick wall that was Raizo’s personality at times, he decided to let the matter go for the moment.  “Well, you think about it then and get back to me as soon as you can eh?  Oh by the by, you do know Raizo the pay is not too shabby….have you seen the statistics on what it costs to raise a girl child these days?,”  Ryan smiled as he turned to leave.  He couldn’t help but tease the warrior, as he walked to the front door.  “Oh, how I love that ‘pained’ look on your face ole boy,” Ryan whispered to himself as he continued chuckling out the door.
 
“I can’t believe I agreed to this, what was I thinking?,” Raizo lamented.  “You were thinking you wanted to right the wrongs of the world and fight evil wherever it may rear its ugly head….side by side with me…the mother of your babies…the woman you love more than life itself,” Mika teased, while she watched her handsome man don his government issued gear.  
 
Although she was teasing him, Raizo couldn’t deny her words.  They were the absolute truth.  He did love her more than life itself and wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of his life fighting with her by his side.  The warrior whose humble beginnings were filled with heartbreak, tragedy and despair, now saw his life filled with hope, joy and most of all love.  He could ask for no more.
 
“Babe, we’ve got to get to Italy by 0800.  You ready?,” Mika said.  “Yes, love I’m ready……let’s go,” said the warrior…the ninja assassin. 

Epilogue - 15 YEARS LATER
 
As she twirled the huge pear shaped solitaire on her left hand, a smiling Mika couldn’t help but to think about how her life had come full circle and what a beautiful life it was.  She smiled as thoughts of her children, washed over her mind.  ‘Unbelievable,’ she lovingly thought.  If the kids hadn’t insisted, she and Raizo would probably still be living in sin.  (*She laughed recalling her daughter’s words*).  Recollection of the day Raizo made an ‘honest woman’ of her was truly one of her life’s greatest joys and a complete surprise.  
 
*(Mika’s Flashback memories)*
 
‘The morning was a quiet, peaceful one…typical of most of our mornings.  Taking advantage of the opportunity to curl up with a good book, I couldn’t help but to wonder what was going on when my four loves all walked in the study at the same time.  
 
“What is it, what’s going on?  Another clan attack?,” I said slightly unnerved.  “Mom, please…no…nothing like that.  Please calm down.  Papa has something to say,” my beautiful Tai said to me.  I should have known something was up.  Raizo only solicited help from the kids when he needed to apologize for something.  “Ok, Mr. Nakamura...what did you do now without telling me?,” I said to him, with hands placed squarely on my hips.  I really had no clue…no inkling at all of what was about to happen. Without saying a single word, Raizo walked up to me as if in slow motion and completely out of the blue….dropped to one knee.  He reached inside his pants pocket and pulled out a tiny red box and opened it.  Our children, who by this time were beaming ear to ear, flanked him on each side as he went down on bended knee.  Then, while still holding the box, my babe raised his outstretched hand to me.  I must admit the radiant brilliance of what had to be the most gorgeous ring I had ever seen rendered me completely speechless.  Raizo, still on bended knee, said nothing.  He just waited with his hand outstretched. I knew without knowing the question my brave warrior was asking me.  
 
When I looked down into his questioning eyes, I just couldn’t help myself…I started balling like a crazy woman.  (*Smiling as she remembers*) I can see the moment with complete clarity in my mind, as if it were yesterday.  He just continued to wait with his hand outstretched toward me.  “Yes babe…Yes!  I will marry you,” I said to him.  I was shocked that I was even able to get the words out and so overjoyed I could barely speak.  I had never seen Raizo so happy.  He immediately whisked me up into his arms.  The kids were absolutely ecstatic.  All we heard were shrieks of joy.  “I love you Mika, I want you by my side always love,” he said to me as he continued to hold me tight. “Over twenty years together and three children later you tell me this now,” I teased him with tears still running down my cheeks.  I can honestly say after all these years, there’s no place I’d rather be…and on that day I told him so.
 
And so our big day came and what a perfect day it was.  The sky was a gorgeous crystal clear blue accompanied by a light spring breeze wrapped in the warmth of the sun.  On that day, my beloved and I became one in a small pagoda, three stories high.  Just so happens it was built on the tallest mountaintop near Shirakawa-go.  This was the perfect place to begin anew we thought.  This was where the journey of our life together began many years prior. 
 
We especially wanted to share this day with everyone and everything we held dear. Aiko…my sweet girl made such a beautiful bridesmaid and Hiroshi, our strong son, was so handsome standing up for his father as his best man.  Our baby Kenji was the cutest ring bearer ever, at least I thought…much to his chagrin.  “Mom...a ring bearer?  Seriously?,” my baby said to me.  (*Mika chuckled aloud, mid thought*) Although at fifteen, it did become glaringly apparent that he was a tad too old for the task.  At his request, I decided to amend his duties from ring bearer to junior groom which made him quite happy….ecstatic in fact.  Besides, he would’ve walked desert sands to be able to stand next to his big brother Kai truth be told, although he would probably bite his own tongue before he would admit to it.  (*Mika softly chuckled to herself once again*)
 
 Raizo, my love, was particularly beaming because his father Yoshimi, twin sister Midori and cousin Katashi Uchida were also in attendance at our mountaintop nuptials.  Without them, the day certainly would not have been complete.  It was truly a family affair and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Raizo smile so much as he did on that day.  My babe was dressed in an all white hakama, with his hair pulled back in a ponytail looking sleek and gorgeous.  He absolutely took my breath away…..”Damn him” I thought.  “How am I supposed to concentrate on the ceremony?” (*Mika smiled to herself again*) As for myself, I tried my best to account for every little detail.  It had been my intent to pay particular attention to the Japanese customs and traditions of brides in the days of old.  I’m not entirely sure I rose to meet that challenge. However, try as I might, I think I came as close as I could.  My white floral kimono was so beautiful and made me feel completely like a Japanese princess.  I also made sure my hair was especially adorned with white camellias.  I wanted to do that in honor of Raizo’s mother Miyako.  Katashi said they were her favorite and I thought it important to honor her at least in some small way, especially on our beautiful day.
 
The only bone of contention between us came with the decision to invite or not to invite Ryan.  Neither Raizo nor Ryan could ever really hide their feelings from me, even though they each felt they were savvy enough to do so.  (*Mika smiled at the thought*)  If we never saw Ryan again, it would be too soon for Raizo.  My babe always tried so hard to mask his jealous nature, but that notion was a lost cause I think.  (*she smiles again*) As far as Ryan goes, I do feel for him, because he’s the one person who has always been there for us.  As a couple…as a family, we’ve always been able to count on him in times of crisis, no matter how dire.  Since the beginning, he’s always been there for me especially and my gratitude is without bounds.
 
However, when I think of Ryan, I do feel a tad guilty and a little bit sad at times, because Raizo and I are so happy.  Truth be told, just like my babe, Ryan could never really mask his feelings from me.  He had been in love with me for a long time and I’d always known that.  What makes me sad is that I always knew I was never going to be able to give him what he truly wanted, not even if Raizo and I had never met.  However, I do hope he finds true love someday. I really want that for him because he truly deserves to be happy.   As far as I’m concerned, he has a heart as big as the ocean, even if he does fail miserably at hiding it.  Needless to say, our wedding was one moment in the Nakamura saga that Ryan politely declined to bear witness to and I completely understood. This time, it would have been asking too much.
 
Our family of five was already bound by love, but on that day we officially became a family bound by law as well.  I wanted us to be united in matrimony in the ways of Raizo’s culture.  It was important to me that Raizo and I shared that with the kids.  To be honest, I thought it was important for Raizo as well.  After all, my love, culturally speaking, had only ever experienced emotional pain, death and destruction.  I wanted him to truly experience its beauty as well.  Raizo really didn’t care just as long as I was happy. He only wanted to get married. How we did it was of no real consequence. To that end, we were officially declared man and wife by a traditional Shinto priest, in the most beautiful centuries old Japanese ceremony.  
 
Raizo…Me…Aiko…Hiroshi and our baby Kenji were now legally one family bound by one name.   All we’ve ever really wanted was to be together and on that day we made it legal and we couldn’t have been happier.  The joy and happiness I felt for us as a family, I felt even more so for my husband personally.  It’s no secret life dealt him some terrible blows as a young boy.  After years of the abuse suffered at Ozunu’s hands, my babe knew only anger, sadness and loneliness…stark loneliness. They had become his closest ‘friends’ but finally….finally life decided to grant Raizo a much deserved reprieve.  Being reunited with his true family…his blood kin, I think has truly made Raizo feel whole and no one deserves it more.  ‘Who would’ve imagined? Now my babe has more family than he knows what to do with,’ (*she continued to think…smiling at the thought*).  
 
Now that we’re living back in Japan with our beautiful grown up kids, life couldn’t be more amazing.  We’re together, happy and filled with love for each other, not to mention the talk of the clans has calmed considerably as well.  In all the ways that matter, life has indeed been good even though it hasn’t always been that way.
  
We’ve had some real roller coaster moments, Raizo and I, but even so not all those moments dealt with death and destruction.  Some of those moments have been amazingly beautiful as well, which brings to mind a sweet little unexpected surprise Raizo gave me….in more ways than one.  What’s a little Parisian detour between CIA operatives?
 
*(Mika’s Flashback of the mission detour)*
  
(*flying over Rome, Italy*) “We’re going to take a little detour love, I hope you don’t mind,” Raizo said to me with a sly smile.  I just knew he was up to something.  It wasn’t like him to change plans in the middle of a mission.  However, instead of protesting I decided to just ‘go with the flow’ of things. Besides, I was curious. ‘What do you have up your sleeve Mr. Nakamura…hmm?,’ I thought to myself.  Before I knew it, within the blink of an eye it seemed, the iconic Eiffel Tower came into view.  I was shocked.  “Are we where I think we are?,” I said to him.  I felt like a giddy teenager, barely able to contain my growing excitement.  Paris had always been a dream of mine since childhood and I told him about it countless times….too many to even remember. “Babe? You remembered?,” I said to my love, still so excited. “I remembered,” he answered simply, while he held me close.  Even now, it still surprises me that I never made it to Paris, even though I worked for Europol a number of years.  Raizo’s little detour was definitely the best unexpected treat a girl could ask for. (*Mika smiled at the thought*)
 
I presumed he wanted to do something romantic.  I presumed right.  Once the plane landed, we wasted no time getting to our hotel.  My love chose the beautiful Hotel Vernet.  It was elegant, typical of Parisian opulence yet it had an understated charm.  I was actually quite surprised that my babe picked such a gorgeous hotel without my help.  (*Mika smiles at the thought*)  My senses had fully awakened.  Being in the city of my childhood dreams with the man I loved so deeply, opened me up emotionally like never before.  In that moment in time, there was no thought of missions or ninjas only the feeling of being a woman.....his woman.  Dinner was just going to have to wait.  What can I say? We were both quite ravenous but we were hungry for far more than just food.  
 
“Had I known this would be your reaction, I would have taken this little detour months ago,” a breathless Raizo said.  We were barely able to tear our lips from each other long enough to put the room key in the door, but somehow we managed to open it despite our clumsy attempts.  We were like rabid teenagers in heat.  Let’s just say our clothes were handily ripped to shreds, because neither of us could wait to get undressed. Passion had completely taken over.  Needless to say we were at fever pitch and burning hot. (*Mika gushes at the thought*)  As we hastily pushed our way into the room, without taking a breath whatsoever, I soon found myself pinned against the nearest wall next to the front door of our room.  Raizo, my love, unapologetically staked his claim and I was more than willing to give him what he wanted as he continued to kiss me……..thoroughly.  
 
(** THE TOO SEXY IS EDITED OUT**)
 
“We really should stop.  This is the fourth time babe,” was all I managed to say.  “No we really shouldn’t.  Besides who’s counting?,” said an equally breathless Raizo.  (*Mika smiled to herself, thinking back on their impromptu Parisian rendezvous*).  “We’ve got to get to Rome babe.
 
They’ll be looking for us to rendezvous soon.  I don’t think we can..……….,” was all I could utter, as Raizo continued to do incredibly sinful things to me.  He loved me like no other…….., with no signs of slowing down.  My hungry warrior had quite a healthy appetite. “This is the only rendezvous that concerns me right now.  Sssh, no more talking,” Raizo said breathlessly as he put his fingertip to my lips to quiet me.  
 
Well….needless to say, our bouncing baby boy Kenji was born almost nine months to the day after our little detour.  Yes, the ninja warrior that is Raizo was truly in rare form during our little jaunt to the City of Lights.  
 
“No more detours while on duty for us mister,” I lightheartedly said to Raizo, as I nursed our newborn Kenji.  “What about just one more detour?….only for a couple days….there’s this little nook in Morocco………(*cut off by a pillow to the head*),” Raizo said in answer….barely.  (*a bright smile spreads across Mika’s face at the memory*)
 
~~~
 
Still reveling in her beautiful memories of the past, Mika soon found herself softly jolted back to reality as she walked past Kai’s room.  A forlorn look was spread across her handsome son’s face.  He was completely oblivious to his mother’s presence, apparently lost deep within his own thoughts.
 
“Kai…baby…what is it?,” Mika said as she walked into his room and sat beside him at the corner of his bed.  “Tell your mother all about it,” she said with a soft smile as she watched his furrowing brow.  Something troubled him and she hoped he would confide in her.  She wanted her children to be able to come to her or Raizo always…with anything.  She also knew that her beloved warrior husband, as much as he loved his children, was not one to be very open when it came to deep emotional discussions.  
 
Sharing feelings in many aspects was still a foreign concept to Raizo.  ‘That’s where mom comes in,’ she thought.  “I know Papa wants us to stay in Japan and go to the university here because we’re closer to family, but……(*Kai stops in hesitation*) I really want to study in the States Mom.  I’ve applied at several universities and….well….I’ve been accepted at all I’ve applied for but….I’d really like to attend Princeton,” Hiroshi hesitantly tells his mother.  Mika found that becoming a mother blessed her with her own set of innate abilities, just as powerful and mystical as those of the ninja.  The older her children became, the more powerful her skills became.  “Kai, my love…..(*smiling brightly at her son*)….what’s her name?,”  Mika said to a surprised Hiroshi.  “What?  What do you mean?  You know?....She’s nobody…..I mean…..it’s nobody.  I just want to spread my wings away from home, that’s all Mom.  You know, just like a normal college student,” a stuttering Kai tried to explain to his tickled Mom.  “We’ll have to meet her eventually my handsome son.  You know the clans are never too far from our consciousness as a family.  Safety is always our first priority…always,” Mika said.  “She must be very pretty.  I already know she’s smart because she picked you.  I can’t wait to meet her,” she continued, as she gave her son a warm embrace and a kiss on his cheek.
 
“Talk to your Papa my sweet son.  I know at times it seems as though he’s hard to talk to, but he really does love you Kai.  He would give his life for you, you know?,” Mika said with the reassuring love of a mother.  “I know he loves me Mom, but talking to him about this….I don’t know, I’ll think about it.  At least, I know I can talk to you,” Hiroshi said to his mother with a smile.   
 
However, what he didn’t know was a certain Ozunu warrior happened to be walking by his door at the moment he confided in his mother. To see Kai troubled was a bit unnerving, but to hear Kai’s words cut him to the quick.  Like an angry wasp, his son’s words stung….even though he knew they weren’t meant to.  He felt as though he had taken a powerful punch to the gut. ‘Why should he be afraid to come to me?  Doesn’t he know my heart?  So….my son is in love,’ a hurt Raizo thought, feeling slighted by his eldest son. 

Kai, still within his mother’s embrace, didn’t see his father standing at his door, but Mika did.  She saw the look in Raizo’s eyes and she empathized.  She knew her handsome loves absolutely adored each other, but the strong warrior within each of them sometimes hindered their ability to relate in times of vulnerability.  It was endearing at times and also exasperating….’Ah, what am I going to do with the two of you,’ Mika thought with a light heart, as she saw Raizo quietly walk away from his son’s room door.  “Kai, baby, try not to fret about it too much.  I’ll talk to your Papa in the meantime and I’ll see if I can teach a seasoned warrior some new tricks,” Mika said smiling.  Kai looked up at his mother and smiled then.  “Ok, I’ll try,” he said in kind.
 
“He’s in love and he wants to leave us,” Raizo stated plainly, hearing Mika come into their bedroom.  “Before you say it my answer is no Mika,” her forever stern warrior said in an unmistakable matter of fact tone.  “Raizo, father of my babies….my husband….my love….you’ve got to let Kai grow up.  For all intents and purposes, he’s a man now and all three of our babies have been warriors from the time they could talk practically,” Mika reminded her stubborn husband.  “We taught them to fight in the way of the ninja out of necessity, but tradition….our own traditions as a family has taught them as well Raizo.  They’ve been taught to value honor, respect, loyalty but most of all love and Kai won’t ever forget that babe.  We have to trust and believe in his instincts now,” Mika continued to try and convince her unresponsive love.  With his back still turned to her, Raizo continued to gaze outside their bedroom window not wanting to admit that her words were true.  She walked up to her husband and embraced him by his waist from behind.  Looking up toward his still broad shoulders, she admired the sprinkles of gray that now touched his temples and the goatee now adorning his chin.  He was still undeniably the most handsome man she had ever met and still completely took her breath away, but the moment was not about her.  She wanted only to comfort her love.
 
Mika knew how much Raizo’s heart ached.  The irony of the moment was not lost on her either.  Raizo, who felt rejected by his eldest son, wanted only to hold on even tighter and not let go.   Yet, Ozunu, who raised Raizo from a small child, wanted only to kill and be rid of the ‘son’ who had rejected him.  “Trust his instincts you say?  He is not yet a man Mika.  He’s……., (*Raizo cut off by his wife*)  “No longer a baby to be diapered Raizo.  He’s at practically the same age as you were when you made your first kill for the sake of the Ozunu clan.  We will have to let him go his own way sooner or later babe.  At least, let him go fearlessly with our blessing….ok…think about it please,” Mika said.  Raizo turned to her then and pulled her from behind him and into his embrace.  “I’ll think about it,” Raizo said to her.  Seems both her loves were more alike than even they realized.  Both had much to think about it.  “Well, I’ll leave you to your thoughts while I spend a little girl time with Tai.  We’ll have dinner later,” Mika said as she placed a sweet peck on Raizo’s soft lips leaving him to himself.                                
 
A few hours had passed and the entire family had gathered in the kitchen area for dinner.  Life altering decisions would be put on hold at least for the time being, as the family lovingly gathered together.  Raizo, Mika, Aiko Tai, Hiroshi Kai and baby brother Kenji were all at the kitchen table and family chatter was in full effect.  “His name is Rain dweeb and he’s hot.  You’re a kid, doesn’t matter what you think anyway,” a sassy Tai said to her teasing baby brother Kenji.  “Hot? Ha….yeah, hot like a wet firecracker,” Kenji said to his big sister rubbing salt in her wounded ego. “Rain?....Rain? What kind of name is Rain?,” a confused Raizo questioned.  “Papa (*Tai rolls her eyes*) he’s only The King of K-Pop and the hottest ticket in all of Korea.  I’ve got to see him when he comes to town.  You gotta let me….please!,” Tai implores her father.  Mika couldn’t help but to laugh as she watched the confused yet revolted look that came to Raizo’s face as he painfully listened to his eighteen year old daughter refer to an adult male he didn’t know as hot. ‘Hot? Did she say he was hot?,’ Raizo thought with an ache in his gut as he looked at his baby girl.  
 
Raizo hated to admit it but Mika was right.  The twins were no longer the babies he wrapped in his arms and rocked to sleep.  They were indeed at the threshold of adulthood and he was completely unprepared.  He could slice ninja warriors in half in seconds and not flinch, but the idea of letting his kids go out into the world on their own absolutely terrified him….shook him through and through.  How would he ever be able to let go?  He had no clue.  “It scares me too babe?  After all, I birthed all three of them.  Watching them grow up right before our eyes terrifies me, it’s true, but I have to believe in and rely on the fact that we’ve taught them well.  We have prepared them for whatever may come, babe.  I may be a bit biased, but I think they can handle anything.  After all, Raizo Nakamura of the clan Ozunu is their father,” Mika lovingly said as she spoke softly to her husband while they sat at the kitchen table.  They watched their kids continue to annoy each other when suddenly the oddest feeling of déjà vu washed over Raizo’s acute senses.  “Everybody move back!!,” he shouted without warning.  With precision and without question, five warriors swiftly…instantly flipped from dinner chairs and away from the table.  Warrior instincts were on high alert, as the room was now in complete silence. Within seconds, however, the silence was broken by the whizzing sound of flying daggers through the family’s kitchen window.  There were five flying daggers to be exact. Each dagger landed precisely in the wall directly behind the place at the table Raizo had vacated only moments before.  It was a warning and the message was clear, death to Raizo and his family.
 
The handle of each dagger was made of ivory, draped with three small tiers of black pearls.  After years of calm, it appeared clan warfare was about to begin anew.  The Children of Desert Pearl had finally come to call.  Raizo and Mika both knew that the fifteen year reprieve from clan warfare wasn’t going to last forever and so it now goes once again.  “Well, I guess the dry spell is over now babe,” Mika said quietly to Raizo as they were both on high alert.  She knew they didn’t have much time before they all had to vacate the premises.  Mika looked to her husband, then to her son Kai.  Kai looked at his father Raizo with questioning eyes, it was do or die time and they all knew it.   Raizo, the ninja warrior of the clan Ozunu, made his decision.  With a nod of his head, the torch would rightfully pass from father to son.  He looked directly into his eldest son’s eyes then.  In that moment, Kai realized he was now the leader at the helm.  With that simple gesture, a monumental shift happened in the life of their family and Mika couldn’t have been more proud.  
 
In those few seconds, Hiroshi Kai became the leader….the warrior he was raised to be.  Though he was young, he was quite capable and more than ready to fulfill his destiny.  He also knew somewhere down deep, with each decision he made, the need to make his parents proud….his father proud would never be far from his mind.  Now, it was go time.  With no time to waste, Kai then called out to his siblings.  “Aiko……*Hai*, she answered…..Kenji…..*Hai*, he answered as well.  Nakamuras....Ready?,” he asked as they prepared for the battle to come.   “Ready!,” each answered in unison.  As he looked once more into his father Raizo’s eyes, his parents heard a very familiar call to action once again.  “Let’s go!!,” Kai said with a wink and a smile.   The young warrior, his twin Aiko along with baby brother Kenji set out to take clan warfare….ninja warfare into the night and into the next generation.
 
“You’re just going to let them go?,” Mika whispered to her husband completely surprised.  However, she needn’t have worried.  “Of course not,” Raizo stated in his typical stoic, even keeled tone.   “I didn’t think so,” Mika said as she smiled at the stubborn yet loving warrior she loved so much.
 
“You do know Papa is going to be a shadow to our shadows right?,” Aiko whispered lightheartedly to her brother Kai.   “Of course he is,” Kai smiled whispering back to Aiko.  With that the Nakamura clan prepared to do battle as they always had….side by side, taking out one ninja clan at a time.

FADE TO BLACK……………………The End

               

           

Cloud USA

Last Edited By: cloudusa Dec 1 13 1:54 AM. Edited 3 times

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bialamode

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Dec 4 13 12:51 PM

cloudusa wrote:
Great story and great imagination, BiAlamode.  :-}

Terri :-}

Thanks so much Terri!   These characters "inspired" me....that's for sure.   *SMILES*

 

 

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