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Ninjas were historically spies and assassins, trained to blend in using disguises and stealth. Beyond these facts, we have only myth and legend, but there is unquestionably an element of the erotic, the mysterious, the fantastical, in the idea of the ninja. Stories by Hero Freyr, C.V. Madison, Emily Moreton, Nina Parker, Kaysee Renee Robichaud, and Vinnie Tesla.
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Excerpt from “A Job to be Done”
by Nina Parker
Rubbing the back of her head and grimacing as her fingers found the developing goose egg there, Leila pushed herself upright and quickly slid along the smooth-polished marble to press her body into the comforting shadows against the tower’s wall. Only her perfect training kept the curses from coming, but it was a near thing; as it was, she felt her cheeks flush with a potent mix of anger and embarrassment. It was lucky that her master had not witnessed such a monumental slip. She never would have heard the end of it. For someone who held the speed record for scaling the Emerald Mountain, finding, and snatching a purple Roc’s egg… It moved beyond embarrassment and into mortification when one fell from a very simple climb up a perfect stone wall down to the balcony outside the room of the target’s personal bodyguard. Aided by gravity, her stinging lump reminded her peevishly. Plenty of natural toeholds, and she’d found nothing but air. It was a less than auspicious start to her first assignment.
A noise to her left brought Leila from her rare moment of self-pity, and she quickly brought her feet back under her, crouching even though her muscles tensed instinctively for rapid response. One hand helped balance her weight, fingertips barely pressing into the cool marble beneath her, while the other slipped without thought to the pouch at her belt. She felt the smoke bombs there, the poison darts with their tiny protective caps, the slick length of silken cord to fit around throats of all sizes. The gadgets gave her comfort, and she slowed her breathing as her grey eyes peered through the moonlight to search out the source of disturbance.
Before too many heartbeats, a figure appeared in the wide doorway. The lanterns in the room behind cast all features into indistinct shadow, but there was no mistaking the alert stance or the powerful silhouette: broad shoulders tapering into the preferred V-shape of the standard guard, noticeably thick neck, arms folded over a barrel-like chest, legs like tree trunks. Unlike Leila and her kind, agility and flexibility were not hiring points for most respectable military sorts. Normally, this translated into the very basic principle of “the bigger they are, the harder they fall,” but, as she searched for the inevitable weak spots in the guard’s frame, she caught her attention lingering on non-vital points. Something about him seemed… more. More potent, more dangerous, more tempting as a foe to press against and strive. It was an unsettling thought, something out of her usual iron control.
A shaft of silver moonlight made a tempting puddle mere feet in front of him, and she rocked onto the balls of her feet as if her slight movement could will him to step forward and into the light. Electricity ran up and down her spine. She licked her lips without thinking, completely engrossed in the guard’s presence and her possible reactions to him. If he never moved she could not proceed with her mission, and that was out of the question. A girl had her professional pride. The lord of this particular manor deserved a lingering and mysterious illness that would eventually remove him from all earthly concerns. This one guard, standing quiet just out of the light, stood in her way–but there were ways around that. So very, very many ways, and some were quite enjoyable for both victim and victor. Setting her pretty jaw firmly, Leila lifted her hand from the floor and pressed her palm against the wall behind her. The stone was cool and rough to touch, reminding her again of the ridiculousness of her fall. She pushed the thought from her mind, though, and used her hand for balance as she rose to her feet in a noiseless, graceful arch. Then she drew a small, weighted ball of silvery metal from her pouch, aimed, and let fly.
It fell with barely a sound, just the faintest of dings, before rolling merrily past the guard and coming to a well-timed stop in the pool of moonlight. To her smug amusement, there was no hesitation whatsoever; in three strides, the man stood in the full brightness and peered down at the foreign object. When he sank into a crouch and reached out his hand, he twisted a bit and Leila stared, gap-mouthed, at his profile.
Of all the thrice-damned castles to find a familiar face in, and for it to be his face? Karma was laughing her head off; Leila felt sure of it even as she pressed her back harder against the night-chilled stones behind her. Not so much a friend as someone that she had once spent girlhood fantasies on, Hiro still featured occasionally in the dead of night when she was alone and private in her room at the shrine. She felt her heart hitch into her throat but held completely still, freezing her muscles and willing her pulse to slow once more as he turned further toward her. His subsequent attention unnerved her, though she knew he could not possibly see her there in the shadows.
As he straightened, the light played over broad cheekbones and the familiar eagle nose from childhood, now grown into as a man. He held the metal ball in strong, large fingers. She listened to his breath roughen and speed slightly and allowed a smile to curve her lips. This she knew. Fear and uncertainty were the most primal of tools in her arsenal. Maybe she could give herself a few extra memories along the way of this mission, too.
Reaching up, Leila pulled the hood from her head and shoved it into her belt pouch before giving her head a little shake. Her hair brushed at her cheeks, soft and silken and short. She allowed herself one more slow smile before wiping all amusement from her face and lowering her lids in feigned sleepy confusion. She let a soft noise escape from the back of her throat, watched Hiro tense all over, and then took one sliding step out of the shadows. While still away from the full moonlight, her form was visible, features obscured but with a small frame and non-threatening posture. She had practiced the posture endlessly.
Still, she watched as Hiro tensed even more and his hand slipped unconsciously to his side. Where a sword was worn. Where a sword would have hung had he not been disrupted in the midst of his nightly preparations. Leila fought down another smile as an instant of alarm crossed the familiar face but was quickly hidden away again. Instead, he held up the tiny silver ball in his hand and stared levelly at her.
She was careful to keep her hands in view and tilted her head to one side, an innocent gesture as old as time. “You’ve caught me,” she murmured. She took three more steps across the marble. Watching his face closely, she recognized the moment he saw her for herself. Though the rest of his body remained still, his eyes widened slightly and his mouth opened as if to speak. He caught himself in the next second, however, and lifted his chin. She allowed a smile to play over her lips. “Now what are you going to do with me?”
She paused, and her smile grew. “Hiro,” she added in a breathy purr.
That hit home harder than anything else, and his stony expression softened again. “Leila?” he hazarded a guess, and she rewarded him with a toothy smile, gleaming white in the moonlight. Confusion colored his dark eyes, and he looked as if he were about to take a step back. His own training stopped him. Gaze sharpening, he glanced down at the metal ball in his hand and then back to her. “Yours?”
“Guilty as charged.” She took another sliding step closer, leading with her hips, body loose and languid. If she spun on her heel and lashed back, she knew she would be able to catch him with a foot, a flying kick to send him off balance. She did nothing except hold out her hands, palms upward. Her weight balanced on one leg, she jutted a hip out. She might not have the killer curves of some of her classmates, but she knew how to work her lithe charms well enough. Whether he properly remembered her or not, she had Hiro’s attention, and the almost inaudible noise of his shallow breathing indicated that it was far from mere polite interest. “I didn’t know you had become a personal strong-arm.”
She spoke in light, conversational tones while her gaze skittered over his body, all the closer now, muscle definition clearly more utilitarian than for display. Not that any red-blooded woman leaning that way would complain about the show. Leila allowed her eyes to linger very deliberately on his taut abdomen, the waistband of his sleeping pants. Licking her lips, she watched his unconscious reaction, light fabric shifting and tightening over the slow-growing erection that she knew he would deny. “You’ve grown up well,” she murmured. “I guess this palace life agrees with you. All those muscles must take a lot of feeding and work.” In slow motion, she brought a hand up to toy with the shirt-strings at her throat. The bow came undone under careless fingers, but her face held a look of intense concentration only on him. A sliver of pale skin, soft and vulnerable, appeared as the dark fabric parted. A tug revealed more until the neckline hung loose and the upper swells of her firm breasts–just about enough to fill his huge hands, she thought–came into view, inviting and soft. “Maybe I shouldn’t be so dismissive of the nobles….”
The ball snapped toward her with barely any warning, but Leila had seen the tiny flex in his chest, the momentary hitch of breath taken before action, and she tilted easily to one side while bringing her free hand up to snatch it from the air. The wide-eyed look she gave him in return spoke of small, wounded forest creatures. Hiro snorted rudely, but he did not do the amateur thing: he did not turn away to dismiss her. Instead he held his arms loose at his sides and stared hard at her. He said nothing.
Which only made Leila giggle. “You really haven’t grown up, after all,” she teased. “No other thoughts in there except to throw things at me? Oh, sweet memories of childhood!”
When he came for her, she was well prepared but still feigned shock as his large hands closed around her upper arms. He gave her a shake, and she released a gasp before looking up at him with wide eyes again. There was no pain. She had gone almost bonelessly limp the moment she felt the strength of his grip and only returned to herself so as to remain upright when he stopped shaking. Leila smiled then, noticing the surprise again just behind his careful mask. Her palms rested against his chest now, and she could feel the shallow lift and fall of his breath. She knew her touch made it worse. Shifting her hands, she searched out his heartbeat to feel it thudding hard and fast beneath golden skin and hard muscle. “You don’t really remember me,” she whispered, all velvet and darkness. “You never looked my way back at the village. But I’m different now, too, you see.”
Hiro swallowed and tightened his hands even more on her arms. She could feel the power, wondered if there would be bruising come morning. She smiled. “You see. I know you do.” She took a step closer until only a breath separated their bodies. One of her hands snaked up to press long, sensitive fingers to his collarbone. “But, if you don’t remember me, maybe I’m just a hallucination. Maybe I’m just a sweet dream of what a girl you used to know, some silly little thing named Leila, could grow up to be.”
He flinched minutely as a short fingernail dragged over the sharp line of bone beneath skin. “You’re not–”
“I am.” Leila moved again and almost laughed at the sudden rigor that flooded the man at her touch…
Read the rest in SILENT SHADOWS COME!