I held a crouched position, sitting as still as a statue and watched the guards. I dare not move, not even to adjust my footing on the thin house ledge least the light shuffle from my tabi boots would draw attention to myself. It was the kind of attention a young assassin in training didn’t need when on a mission. I continued to watch the two guards, noticed the distance they walked from the front door of the house, how many steps they took, and which way they looked before turning around to repeat the process in the other direction. Timing. It was all about timing.
Rain lightly beaded on my bare arms and soaked my black gi. Though we wore our traditional black masks my shoulder-length hair was still exposed and it hung like a wet curtain around my face. The summer days were warming, but the nights were still cool, the rain even cooler. I shook off a shiver, ignored it, and focused on the task at hand. My attention was drawn to static through my headset, it forced me to move my hand and adjust the tiny earpiece to hear better. It was our sensei watching us through binoculars from a roof in our training area.
“Alright team, let’s see how well you do,” Master Jun quietly said to myself and the other two boys I was paired up with. “Your objective is to retrieve the vial and bring it to the base.”
“Do we get a prize or something for doing good?” Shinji smirked, trying to lighten the mood. I couldn’t see him in the dark, but knew he was perched on the opposite side of the house near the fence.
“How about two hundred push-ups?” Master Jun spat.
“Sucks to be you,” Masakazu sniggered quietly from his position on the roof.
“Three hundred for you Masa!”
Our sensei was getting angry, but quickly regained his self and sighed. “Ready? Go.”
We were being timed. Practical and necessary, an assassin trained in the ninja arts must learn to get in and out without being noticed, leaving no trace of entrance. From the age of five we’ve been training. What we thought were just fun and games was actually preparing us for a life as protectors of our village and country. And though we no longer lived in the feudal era, a ninja, even in the twenty-first century in modern day Japan, was still a much sought after commodity. Other governments, as well as our own, sought out our services constantly. Not all of us made the cut for special ops training; most didn’t get past regular taijutsu or weapons classes. For those that fell to the way side a different career was chosen, but for the teens that excelled this was our path.
“Duncan,” came our sensei’s voice in my earpiece, “stay calm.”
Stay calm, stay calm, I was so sick of hearing that warning. I knew I had a problem with keeping my temper under control. And it wasn’t simple temper tantrums, it was unusual bursts of anger where I blacked out, my body reacted on its own as if something else took control. My sensei watched me like hawks. The constant warnings from them were an everyday occurrence lately and it was becoming annoying. I shook my head slightly and sighed before giving a respectful reply.
“Yes, sir,” was all I could get out, my throat instantly tight.
I rose up from my position, muscles slightly cramped from fighting off the night chills, but they sprung to life as soon as I moved. Using no weapons or climbing apparatus I was to maneuver from my lookout on the ledge, cross the yard and take out the guard positioned at the right of the house. Shinji was to take out the other guard, and Masakazu was to clear the back entrance of servants in the kitchen – our escape route. In a matter of seconds Shinji and I followed through with our tasks, rendering the guards unconscious with minimal struggle. Unfortunately I had a bit of trouble; my guard elbowed me in the side several times before I finally hit the pressure point to take him down. Stupid! My hesitation angered me and I could feel my heart pounding hard against my chest.
“Stay calm…think,” I silently told myself.
My anger had become an issue over the past year. Not only were my sensei’s worried about it; I was too. I had become unpredictable lately, having anger fits that left many of my fellow Shinobi with broken noses, broken arms, or simply beaten senseless. I had to keep it under control, or my career choice would be changed weather I liked it or not. It was added pressure I didn’t need right now. To stay calm and keep a clear head was the only thing that seemed to help, but that was easier said than done.
Time was running out. Shinji secured the front door, slipped in silently and waved me on to enter the dark house. We couldn’t speak to each other; we could only use our ninja training, eye contact and silent communication we’ve developed over years of working together.
“Switch to night vision,” Master Jun whispered in our ears.
I lifted the small red goggles that hung around my neck and secured them over my eyes. With the press of a button the dark turned red, the furniture and layout of the room visible. All was quiet and no one was in sight. Shinji wanted to search the living area, but I motioned for him to follow me to the bedroom. If the vial was that important the master of the house was sure to keep it close by. Shinji nodded, went to follow then stubbed his toe on a chair and bumped into a floor lamp.
I paused and glared at him from over my shoulder, but when I turned back around I found a kuni knife being held an inch from my face. The master of the house found us out. Time for Plan B.
I grabbed his wrist and twisted trying to take him to an arm-bar and forced him to drop the knife. He fought me and broke free then delivered an elbow strike to the back of my neck. I went down on one knee; rabbit punched him in the side several times then tried to flip him to the floor. He was quite skilled and countered my actions driving a knee into my middle several times before throwing me into the furniture. I was fuming from the stupidity of the situation. The noise probably woke the whole city by now.
During my struggle, Shinji had abandoned me, breaking a rule, then wound up fussing with Masa while scavenging for the vile in the bedroom. The whole mission was compromised; we looked like idiots and my anger flared out of control. I stood and faced my opponent; my hair hung in my face and I gritted my teeth.
“Your team failed, Duncan,” Shimo said mockingly. Still playing the part of the keeper of the vial he stepped closer and got in my face. The taut and well defined muscles in my arms flexed as I balled my hands into fists. “You guys are such losers. Even with all your special skills you still couldn’t take this from me,” he taunted, shaking the small vial in front of my face.
His comment struck a nerve. The lights came on; I tore off the goggles and glared at him. A low growl escape my lips and a strong breeze suddenly whipped around my legs and body even though I was inside the house. It was the anger again, an uncontrollable energy that enveloped me whenever I lost control. I couldn’t think straight and that’s when I knew I couldn’t stop it.
I grabbed Shimo by the neck and flung him to the floor – hard! I heard a soft crack as a gasp escaped his lips. He moaned and tried to get up, but I was on him. Not thinking, only acting, swift and vicious I laid into him, throwing kicks and punches in a whirlwind of motion. The vial dropped out of his hand and skittered across the floor. I wasn’t sure what happened next, I must’ve blacked out, for the next thing I knew Shinji, Masa and five other Shinobi we restraining me, shouting for me to stop.
Breathing hard in a fit of sudden panic I found myself trying to desperately stop my limbs from fighting my training teammates. I looked at them dazed and confused then cast a glance at the bloody Shinobi lying on the floor.
“Shimo…I didn’t…mean to…” my words trailed off, I was shocked at what I had done.
Master Jun rushed up to me and backhanded me across the face. I was shocked at his actions; he’d never done that to me before. This time I knew I deserved it.
“What’s wrong with you?” he shouted, getting only inches from my face.
“Sensei, I-I…” there was no excuse and I just stopped trying to explain and looked away.
One by one the guys holding me let go as they felt my body relax. I was calm once again, but the pain I felt deep inside due to my uncontrollable actions tore me apart. I was doomed this time.
“Duncan, this is a training exercise,” Master Jun lectured, “If you can’t keep control during training how can Captain Yoshida trust you on a real mission? You’ll never get accepted into the Black Dragons like this!”
I lowered my head and looked at the floor. Being part of our elite Special Forces squad was all I had ever hoped for, what I had been working towards all my life to carry on my family legacy, our shadow legacy, and now it might be pulled out from under me before I had completed my training.
“This cannot continue! Look at Shimo!” he pointed at the young Shinobi now being hoisted onto a stretcher by a medical team. “He was only playing his role in this exercise. He was supposed to resist your entrance. And you two,” he now rounded on Shinji and Masa who stood close by. They quickly snapped to attention and took his verbal abuse, “bumbling fools! You’ll repeat this exercise until you can get it right!”
“Yes, sir!” they chorused then relaxed when our sensei turned back to me.
“I’ll have to report this,” he said sternly, his chiseled facial features hard, but his eyes soft. “Your uncle will not be pleased.” He paused and blew out a troubled breath, and then steered me away from the others, walking me to the front door of the training building. “Look, Duncan, I don’t know what’s going on with you, but something must be done. We can’t have you turning on your fellow Shinobi, not in training and not on a real mission. You’re a most exceptional ninja, a prodigy that comes along once in a lifetime. I’d hate to see all your hard work go to waste.” He walked away from me shaking his head in disappointment.
My teammates skirted around me, obviously afraid of me. The idea of such a thing ripped at my guts and I suddenly felt so alone. Maybe they had a right to be afraid. Maybe I was some kind of freak, a crazed animal deep inside. And I suddenly considered running away so I wouldn’t hurt anyone else, but what good would that do? It wouldn’t solve my problem. If I did run away I would never have a chance to join the Black Dragons, just like my father did. Well, at the rate I was going I wouldn’t have a chance to finish my training to even get that far. I was sixteen, almost seventeen, and only had two more years of training to go before I would be up for the task of trying out for the team. Would Captain Yoshida even consider me? If I didn’t make the cut what else would I do with my life? I sighed and leaned heavily on the doorjamb with my forearm, resting my face in the crook of my arm. I was at a loss, a crossroads in life where I didn’t know which way to turn. The weight of my troubles bore down on me, smothering me, suffocating any hopes, pride or dreams.
Releasing another deep sigh I stepped out into the night air, allowing the drizzle of rain to wash over me, welcoming the coolness that had so recently chilled me. I just stood there listening to the night creatures as my training team cleared the area leaving me alone to my thoughts and horrors of the next day’s outcome.