She clung to the wall like a shadow. Miko was a ninja, through-and through, a living weapon with black fur and golden eyes.
After scaling the outer perimeter, she had dropped herself to the interior grounds without a sound. Her ninja outfit hung comfortably on her frame, loose enough to allow freedom of movement and tight enough not to be bulky. A collar hung from Miko’s neck with a single, golden charm in the center—a memory to her mother.
Her breathing was shallow. Purposeful. After all, this was a mission. Miko pulled a dart from inside her tunic and held it between the pads of her front paw. The feel of metal was reassuring. Years of training were contained in her grip. She aimed and released the dart with a flick of her wrist.
It flew through the air. Silent. Accurate. Her victim slumped forward before they knew she was there, the sleeping agent taking hold immediately. Miko pulled herself away from the wall and advanced slowly, reaching over her shoulder to draw her sword from the scabbard lashed across her back. She stood over the now-motionless guard and poked the body with her toe. The dog didn’t move.
Amai Fukushu as the name of her sword; it meant “sweet revenge.” Most thought it was a katana but technically it was a kobachi—a shorter sword more suited to a cat. A ninja cat. It was forged to great sharpness, made by a grandmaster using the seven layers technique. What did that mean? That there was no blade in Kyoto as deadly.
Her eyes scanned the area. The residence was lightly-guarded. Security was lax. It was a perfect scenario for Miko—a simple mission with a clear goal. She wasn’t much for complexity: get in, steal the item, leave, get paid. And that was good, because she and her partner were in a particularly tough situation. They needed money, and fast, for different reasons.
She advanced, one paw in front of the other, sword held out, arms straight and ready for action. Miko dispatched two more guards who didn’t see her until it was too late. Once through a moon gate in the secondary wall, she approached a corner and crouched. The path bordered a well-tended garden of bonsai trees and carefully-raked stones. It ended in a “T” with one part disappearing into the darkness to her left and the other, dimly lit by lamplight, heading toward the house. Miko checked behind her, being cautious, but there was no one there. Her only company was the trilling sound of the tree crickets.
The starless night sky helped cover her advance toward the mission’s target, a rare feudal Japanese coin called a koban, a gold coin. Miko thought of the phrase “neko ni koban,” which roughly translated to “gold coins for cats.” It meant not to waste things on people who wouldn’t appreciate them. Ironic to be sure, since she didn’t care about the koban for its own sake. Miko valued the coin because the price to be paid for it meant her partner Sukoshi could eat, and Miko could settle the debt she took out to pay for her sword.
It didn’t take long before Miko was standing just outside the front doors of the estate. Thin beams of light pierced out into the darkness, escaping from gaps in shuttered windows. Someone was home, of that she could be sure.
She slinked up to the door and tried the latch. It was unlocked. Odd. It should be locked. Miko pushed lightly on the door, which opened quietly on well-oiled hinges. She stepped back from the light cascading out, keeping to the shadows. Confident no one was near, Miko slipped inside.
If she understood the layout of the residence correctly, the coin should be upstairs, locked in a display case in the den. Luckily, the owner liked to show off his prized item, and it was no secret where the coin lay. The inside of the home was luxurious, with thick oriental rugs covering dark wood floors and grass cloth on the walls.
Miko climbed the imposing stairwell, Amai Fukushu in front, ready for action. The carpet was plush beneath her paws. With each step, she grew closer to her goal. The den would be to her right at the top of the stairs. As she crested the last step, Miko noticed the den’s shoji—a wooden-framed door covered with rice paper—was ajar. The fur prickled on the back of her neck. Something was off.
Still holding her blade, Miko pushed the door open with the back of her right elbow. It slid back smoothly on its rollers. Inside, the room was richly appointed. A large desk took up most of the room, with a hand-carved chair tucked in behind it. Antique books lined the walls. A daisho isplay hung behind the desk—a curved Japanese tachi sword with a shorter wakizashi blade underneath. Her target, the koban, lay just beyond the desk in a display case.
Miko approached. Despite her training, her heart beat just a bit faster with each step. Securing the gold coin for their client would be a great relief. But as she grew closer, she sensed something was wrong. A feeling of dread began to fill her body. The shackle of the lock was hanging from its clasp.
Inside the case, the koban was gone. Failure. And with it, any hope for payment. It didn’t matter who had taken it. No coin meant no money.