Down the Dark Path by Victor Moore

DISCLAIMER: Marvel owns everyone, except Sakura, Agent Li, and the old woman, they're mine. No money will be made from this. This is for enjoyment purposes only. Yada, Yada, Yada.

PROLOGUE:

A brisk wind caused Sakura's long black hair to lash out to the side of her. She shuddered slightly as the cold air from the ocean below was carried by the gust. Rubbing her arms brought little warmth, nor did her attire. A blue denim jacket and a matching skirt, a white silk blouse, and some white nylons were all that she was wearing. Her heels had been left in the car some forty meters away.

Leaning forward on the railing on this cliff, she could see the lanterns from the various junks and boats in the bay. Stars, both bright and dim, reflected off the calm waters. A few small clouds overhead haphazardly blocked out the moonlight as they sailed by.

Sakura, though not a native to Hong Kong, felt at ease here. This was her favorite spot, and despite the cold wind, it calmed her, calmed her troubled soul. Years ago, she would have never thought it possible, to be free. Her whole life had been controlled by a feared society that once was home. They chose what she could do and whom she could be with. Loyalty and a code of honor were all that mattered. This had been engrained in her since her tenth birthday. It did not matter that they were a guild of assassins, or that she had been trained to kill quickly and ruthlessly. She had sacrificed all to be one of them, the best of the best. All that changed ten months ago. On her last mission, she fell in love. It was like a scene in some silly romance novel. The target was sleeping with only a sheet, and before she could quietly slip the blade in his throat, the moonlight caressed his face. There, was the most beautiful person she had ever seen. After minutes of hesitation, she sank to her knees beside the bed and began to cry. He awoke startled. She told her former target what she was to do and why she could not, a warmth shone in his eyes. So, he, agent Li of Interpol, got her into a witness protection program. As she started to live life without the society's influence, she found that she enjoyed being free and able to make her own decisions. Now, Li was her friend and more importantly her lover.

Earlier today, she played games with some orphaned children. They were so innocent, so precious that she felt sorry for all the ones she killed or left orphaned herself. Her motherly instincts had finally been released after so many years of being trapped. She wanted a child of her own to care for, to love, and nurture. Unfortunately, she, or any in the society at her position, male or female, was not able to have a baby, because it had been made impossible. So caught up in her musings, Sakura never heard a man approach her from behind. Only when she felt a soft kiss at the nape of her neck, did she awake from her thoughts. She let out a pleased sigh.

"You were miles away, what were you thinking, my little firefly?" Li asked in her natural language of Japanese, while showering her neck with soft kisses. He wore a nice black suit with a white shirt and black tie. The stubble on his chin was just starting to show.

"Oh, nothing important."

Kissing her ear tickled her and she giggled slightly. He whispered, "I know what it was."

"Do you?" Sakura tried to sound surprised, but it was not very convincing, between giggles. Turning her head to face him, she saw the man she loved more than life itself. His arms curled around her with such gentleness and strength, that she felt safe, as if nothing could harm her. "Come closer, I have something to tell you."

"What is it?" He asked with a warm smile.

She kissed him gently. Then again and again. Each time she exerted a little more passion. He responded in kind.

Li withdrew his hand and grabbed a small box out of his pocket. Nervously breaking the kiss, he handed her the object.

After she opened it, a gasp escaped her. In it was a gold ring sporting an elegant diamond. She tried to form words, but they escaped her.

"Will you marry me, Sakura?" His voice faltered slightly as he asked.

Tears of joy began to fall from her eyes. She turned and threw her arms around his neck. "Hai." She answered repeatedly between kisses, stopping only for him to put the ring on her finger.

Slowly, their passion for one another increased. Li removed her jacket and undid the buttons on her blouse. Peeling the garment over her shoulder, he kissed the soft flesh underneath. As he gently slid the bra strap over, her heard the soft moans that fled her lips. His hand lightly crept up towards her left breast.

Without warning, the car alarm sounded from his car, jarring them out of their foreplay. Li sighed, and took a step away from her. "I'll check it out. Be right back." He jogged over to the red car, while fishing his key chain out of his pocket. Using the remote on the chain, he turned off the alarm. After its final protest, the car fell silent. A small branch rested on the trunk. "I just had to park under a tree." He mumbled.

Seeing that everything was all right, Sakura looked out over the cliff. A movement from the sea below caught her eye. One of the junks was entering the harbor. As she watched it, she felt a kiss on her bare shoulder. Then she noticed the kiss was rougher, the stubble longer. Powerful dark red gloved hands kept her from turning to face this new person. "No!" she thought to herself, as fear entered her. A deep cold fear. He turned her head and she saw Li sitting on his knees, looking blankly at her with blood streaming down from the wound in his neck, where an ornate dagger still resided. Tears of sadness streamed from her eyes as she tried to reach him. Still not being able to move freely, she began to grow hot with rage. Her muscles tightened as she asked furiously, "Why?"

Abruptly, the assassin released her and she stumbled into the ground next to Li. He put his mask back on and faced her, legs slightly spread apart, and the moon to his back. All of his garments were of the same color as the gloves. With the exception of the tight bands of cloth around his forearms and lower legs, it was a ninja outfit, one she knew all too well. "To finish the assignment you had not."

She noticed that his Japanese, like his kiss was also rough. As she stood up, she entered a counter-stance, as has been trained into her since youth. Something about him gave her a small glimmer of hope. Her opponent had no visible weapons. "For Li, you will pay, in blood." She shouted in anger.

"We shall see, betrayer." He answered icily.

Sakura sprang into action. A feint with a kick, then a palm strike into his nose. Instead of blocking or dodging, he just stood there until the last second and lowered his forehead so her palm hit it. A loud crunch echoed in the wind as several bones in her hand and wrist shattered from the impact. Leaping back she cradled her broken limb and bit off the waves of pain stemming from it.

"Pathetic! Is that the best you can do?" He taunted, still staying in the same spot.

Anger welled up in her from depths of her soul she never knew existed. While charging towards her opponent, she leaped into a summersault and landed behind him. Then swung her good arm to strike his throat with the base of her hand. It too was a killing blow. He grabbed her wrist just centimeters before it could connect, then savagely brought his elbow upon hers. The loud snap of her arm breaking rang through her ears. He let go and she stumbled back.

"You were supposed to better than this. Our brothers said you would be a challenge. Pity."

Pain shot through her body. Both of her arms were useless. He was faster, stronger, and deadlier than she was. She knew, she was going to die. "Chikusho! I will die as I learned to live, as a free person." She turned and leaped over the railing, over the edge of the cliff. She smiled.

It did not last. He grabbed her by her long hair and swung her back to the ground on his side of the rail. "No, you are not free." He said as he approached her letting large amounts of her black hair fall from his fingers. As she tried to get up, he kicked her hard in the left knee, shattering the bone. "You can not escape." Sakura collapsed on the ground. As he propped her up to sit on her knees, she begged him to release her.

"And to think, you, little sister, were one of us." He balled up his right fist and placed it under her throat.

Tears streamed out of her eyes. "I don't want to die." She said weakly.

"You were dead the moment you betrayed us." A noise of steel on steel sang in her ears as a metal blade exited out from just above his forefinger knuckle, and entered quickly though Sakura's exposed throat. "No one escapes the Hand." The blade retracted into his housing. He got up and left without a sound.

The cold wind whipped her hair around her shoulders. She was dimly aware of it but gave it no thought. The excruciating pain was fading. The stars above seemed to be blinking out one by one. The diminishing warmth of her own blood was flowing down her chest and back. But none of that mattered. She got careless and it got Li killed. Repeatedly that single thought echoed in her mind. The last sounds she heard was, her own gasps of breath gurgling into silence.


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