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Authors: Maya Snow

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BOOK: Chasing the Secret
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T
eeth bared, Manabu launched himself at us, blade slashing down in a silver arc.

Hana thrust Moriyasu behind her as I leaped forward to meet Manabu's strike, my sword singing.

Manabu let out a blood-curdling cry that seemed to carry across the camp. At once, several samurai came rushing to his aid. One battle-scarred warrior hacked at Mother, but she met him with a high block. Another slashed at Hana, who quickly deflected his blade and thrust a cut in toward his throat.

I turned my attention to Manabu, engaging him in a deadly battle. His yellow teeth glistened as they caught the glow of a nearby lantern. “I should have killed you myself while I had the chance,” he sneered, bringing his sword down in a deadly curve.

“Well, you didn't,” I said, blocking him with an upward swing. “And now I've come to kill you, instead.”

Manabu's face darkened with rage. He cut left and right. I avoided each of his strikes, then bent at the knees and executed a fast two-handed slice. He leaped back, and then feinted—first one way, then the other.

For a moment, I tried to read him. Then a memory flashed into my mind of my fight with Yorio on the riverbank. My father's words whispered through my mind:
Hush your thoughts, Kimi
….

The only way I could be victorious was if I could find the peace inside myself.

Manabu and I danced around each other. My gaze was fixed on the whole of his body, his center. He feinted again, but this time I was ready. I would not be fooled into acting. I stood firm, my blade held high.

Manabu snarled and feinted again. Again, I held back. His gaze darted to Hana, who was cutting and parrying, battling hard with a seasoned warrior who grunted as he attacked. Moriyasu was behind her, his face pale.

Suddenly Manabu dropped the sword he was holding in his left hand. His arm flashed out, and he caught Moriyasu by his kimono. Moriyasu yelped and struggled. But there was nothing he could do. Manabu held him tightly.

Holding my brother at arm's length like a half-
drowned kitten, Manabu cast me a triumphant stare. “Drop your weapon,” he snarled, “or I kill the boy.”

My heart was racing, my breathing ragged. But I steadied myself.

Find the strength within you, Kimi
….

With my father's words still echoing through my soul, I leaped forward. Power surged through me. With a twirling slice, I brought my blade down hard. The steel sang, alive in my hand, as it went through hardened leather armor, into flesh and bone—the arm that clung to my little brother.

As his severed arm fell to the ground, Manabu let out a yell that shredded the night air around us. He clutched at his shoulder. Bright blood pumped out from the gaping wound and he fell to his knees, gray faced and moaning.

The justice of what I had done rose up in me with a surge of energy. He had deceived us for so long and now he would live the rest of his life one armed.

But Moriyasu was free. He rushed to me and buried his face in my side with a whimper. I put my arm around him and held him tight. “It's all right, little brother,” I said gently. “You're safe now.”

Beside me, Mother dispatched her opponent with a sudden slash. The enemy fell to the ground, groaning. Shaking the blood from her blade, my
mother turned to me, her face grim. But before she could speak, a conch horn blared on the far side of the camp. The thunder of horses' hooves made the ground shake.

An army of battle-ready samurai came pouring between the tents like a swarm of locusts, their red and gold silk banners flying.

“Uncle is coming,” Hana said in horror.

I caught a glimpse of Yorio racing toward us. Behind him, an enormous ebony horse reared. Uncle was sitting astride it, his face a mask of venom. His armor gleamed and his crimson robes rippled as he slashed his sword left and right, dispatching students and villagers with ease.

I pushed Moriyasu behind me. “We must help our friends,” I said breathlessly.

But in the next moment, Yorio reached us. He turned me around, propelling me toward the dark edges of the encampment. “Go,” he urged us. “Get out of here now, all of you.”

I caught a glimpse of Uncle in his terrifying horned helmet, directing his horse over the body of a slain villager. The muscular beast pranced and reared, trampling the dead underfoot.

I shook Yorio's hand from my arm. “Your people need help,” I insisted. “We must fight with you.”

“No,” Yorio said, shaking his head. “Moriyasu must
get to safety—he must be ready to take Hidehira's place.”

“Your friend is right, Kimi,” Mother said, ramming her bloodied blade into its sheath. “Come, we must leave this place before Hidehira sees us.”

Hana nodded. “If he gives chase on that horse, then we cannot hope to outrun him.”

I held Yorio's gaze for a moment. “I will do it. Go, Kimi,” he said. “We will meet again, you and I.”

Yorio turned and raced back into battle, toward Uncle on his horse, sword swinging. I caught my breath as he cut down first one opponent and then another. Watching him, I wondered how we could ever repay all these people who had helped us on our journey. The
ronin
captain; the fisherman and his family; Master Jin; Yorio; and of course our dear friend Tatsuya, who was out there
somewhere
. We would have to find him somehow and rescue him from the ninja.

Hana's fingers touched my own, dragging me back to reality. “Come on, Kimi,” she said. “We must get Moriyasu to a safe place.”

Uncle Hidehira's soldiers began to pour toward the walled town, bellowing their battle cries. Swords clashed and arrows sang as they cut the air.

My heart ached as I turned my face away. But I knew that it was right for us to leave now. Hana and I
had achieved what we had come for. We had rescued Mother and Moriyasu. We were a family again.

We set our backs to the carnage and headed for the river…and freedom.

T
hat night, we left the battlefield knowing that the town would fall.

Hidehira's army would overcome the
shinden
. Samurai would stream through the streets. The people would be slaughtered. And the
Jito
, the Lord Steward of this part of Sagami, would be murdered.

Hidehira would seize the estates. Piece by piece, Uncle would take over the lands.

Meanwhile, we would be fugitives. Together as a family once more, but still on the run.

That day, as Hana and I reached the riverbank with Mother and Moriyasu, a soft spring rain began to fall. I tilted my face up toward the sky, letting the warm droplets splash away the blood that streaked my skin and clotted my hair.

But when the stain of combat had been washed away, my tears remained. Because I knew in my heart that only the blood of my uncle could wash away my family's grief.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Special thanks to Helen Hart

Thanks also to Dr. Phillip Harries
of The Queen's College, Oxford,
for his invaluable advice and expertise

About the Author

Maya Snow
once had an aikido teacher who told her that the best place for a tree to hide is in the forest. Maya decided that the best place for a writer to hide is among her own words.

Visit www.AuthorTracker.com for exclusive information on your favorite HarperCollins author.

ALSO BY MAYA SNOW

Sisters of the Sword

Jacket art © 2009 by Brandon Dorman

Jacket design by Ray Shappell

SISTERS OF THE SWORD 2: CHASING THE SECRET
. Copyright © 2009 by Working Partners Limited. Series created by Working Partners Limited. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

EPub © Edition DECEMBER 2008 ISBN: 9780061985645

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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BOOK: Chasing the Secret
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