Stop me if you’ve heard this one . . .

The Killing Joke

by Franko Stephens © 2004

The first thing the prophet noticed when the stranger entered was the smell of blood. Old blood, crusted on the blade of the scimitar sheathed on his back. The stranger looked like any lost soul. He was a typical wandering samurai, despite his choice of sword. His leather padding creaked as he sat cross-legged in front of her.

"I am sorry," he said, his accent thick and foreign, "I must be mistaken. A local told me you were a prophet."

"Then he spoke true. I am Mishi. Be welcome in my humble home."

"But- you are a woman! How can I expect advice from a woman?"

"Fool!" Mishi flared. At her outburst three candles ignited on their own, illuminating the low ceiling of the hut and its moist dirt floor. The stranger, sitting a mere three feet away, raised a single eyebrow quizzically. "You are supposed to have lived two thousand years, and still remain ignorant?"

"So," he calmly replied, " you know of my condition, my immortality. Then truly you be whom I seek. Forgive me. I assumed. . ."

"Let us cease talk of your prejudice. We have business to discuss. Yes, I foresaw your arrival, and your name and nature were visions in a dream. I have the answer, so waste no breath with the question." She held out her hand.

The stranger nodded. Reaching into his knapsack, his coarse hand closed around the neck of an expensive bottle of rice wine, which he handed to her. "Here is your payment. Now tell me."

"Saki Oriyamu, you view your blessing of eternal life as a curse, and wish for it to end. That is sad, yet understandable. Of the numerous methods of death only one is meant to suit you. There is a story of an assassin who was also blessed with a gift. This person could slay a man with any blow, even a tap from a stick. After years of sanctioned murder for the emperor, the assassin is said to have retired, and lives with a family by a cliff, near the town of Najutu. It is a week's travel on foot."

"I have visited the place before, during my travels. Thank you Misha, and pray you never see me again." Saki rose to his feet, bowed curtly, and left.

The prophet had the bottle open and to her lips before the spot he had sat became cold. Images flocked to her mind like fowl searching for food. Saki's face haunted her for many moments until the potent alcohol enacted its numbing trick.

* * *

In the seven days after the revelation Saki Oriyamu pondered the extent of his existence. He regretted his temporary journeys into vulgar indulgence that heated his skin and moistened his palms, while simultaneously stretching a vile grin across unkempt teeth. He tried to convince himself that wholly evil men felt no regret towards their actions, but he knew better. For each vow he had made to atone was immediately broken by a despicable act of rape or cowardly murder. And he would regret. And atone. And relapse.

Again. And again. And again.

It had to end, he recited to himself through rain and shrieking winds, dragging the soles of his sandaled feet over watered down crops and muddy small town roads. There was no repenting strong enough to dispel the sins of his considerably long past other than a dishonorable death, and that was impossible to achieve while stricken with the illness of infinite life. Although Saki reminded himself that this was not a sure thing, his hopes to finish it all bested him. A release from his anguish. A finale to the story. Soon Yes?

On the night of the seventh day he came to Najutu, where he drank hugely and bought several whores. One last celebration, he smiled to himself as he squandered most of his money. The next morning he approached a modest house overlooking a cliff, its papery walls slightly bent as a sea breeze washed over it, smoke billowing from the chimney. Yes, he thought, this is as good a place as any.

* * *

So, Saki thought as a man dressed in a silk robe opened the door, I am face to face with my own demise.

He had a broad build enforced by a square jaw, and dark eyes which made even Saki want to flinch. Behind him a slender hand rubbed his shoulder. A face, fit for a priceless portrait, emerged from the shadowy doorway, her chin resting snugly against his neck.

"Can we help you?"

Saki bowed deeply, not surprised in the least that it was not returned. "I apologize for disturbing you at this hour, but I am in grave need. My name is Saki Oriyamu, a traveling samurai. May we speak in private?"

The man whispered into his wife's ear. She smiled, then nodded and abruptly turned, her black ponytail cutting the air with a soft swish. "Let us talk now, samurai," he said. "Walk with me."

They went to the edge of the cliff, where a rope ladder ran down a hundred feet to the beach. A small wooden boat tied to a frail pier rocked along the passing waves. "I am Haoran Nomo. Forgive me for being wary and taking you from my home, but I am merely a fisherman, and must wonder how I can aid a warrior such as yourself."

"A fisherman now, yes, but I know what you were before. And that is why I come here."

Haoran retreated a step and reached into his robe. "I must warn you, I would not have come out here with a stranger unarmed."

"You need not worry. There is no danger from me. In fact, I have a request. You are- were- a killer, yes?"

"Yes. A long time ago. One of the best. However, I am retired. No more murdering, no more blood. It sickened me, after a time. So now I raise my children, and put food on the table, and sleep comfortably by my wife's side. And I am content."

"What about one last kill, Haoran?" It is a simple one, without a finger of resistance. And you will not have to travel far. I want you to kill me."


"Use this scimitar. It is the first of its kind ever made, a gift to me for a provided service I'd rather not mention. You can keep this, plus two emeralds in my bag, if you slay me with a single stroke."

A silence, then, "No."

"I don't believe you've thought this through . . ."

"You are wrong. And you are wrong in assuming I will break my piece of mind with another death. If an illness wracks your body, or if life holds no joy, you have my sympathy. Yet you shall find no end here."

"I was sent by a prophet!" Saki boomed. "She said you would aid me!"

"She was wrong."

The words echoed around him. All these years . . .

He made no sound as he departed, save for the grinding of his teeth and the low moan of centuries of anguish.

* * *

Aya watched her husband leave for the boat, troubled at his slumped shoulders. Ever since the samurai visited two days ago he rarely spoke, and refused to reveal what they discussed. Tonight, she thought, I'll force him to talk to me. Or no sex for a week.

As she went outside to do her morning chores Saki slipped his way soundlessly into the back of the house.

There were three children, more like teenagers, really, sleeping on the floor in a tiny, chilly room. He killed the oldest first, cutting his throat slowly with his curved blade. The boy's eyes were full of shock as they registered the grim concentration of their murderer. He barely moved, and offered no resistance as he died silently.

Luckily the other two were boys as well. Saki hated killing little girls. It made him depressed and moody.

As he turned around the siblings jumped awake. One let out a short scream. Saki moved swiftly with the grace of a reaper, striking the youngest across the mouth with his palm. As he impaled him to the ground, blood spurting up at him, the remaining child kicked him solidly in the groin. Swirling, Saki flicked his wrist, stunning the last son.

"I have a special death for you, brat," he hissed at him. "You should not have kicked me there." Saki drew a dagger and pressed it not very lightly into his victim's chest. "Scream," he said simply. "As loud as you possibly can. It may save your life," he added, though he knew the lie for what it was. The young man obliged, and then abruptly stopped.

Afterwards Saki recoiled at what he had done. He had snuffed many lives in his long span. Sometimes, it was for money. Other times, it was out of drunken rage, or plain madness. Always he regretted it, though his regret never changed things.

This would be his last regret. His last murderous spree. Soon it would end.

The mother charged into the room suddenly, a dagger clutched in her hand and frenzy in her eyes that was more powerful than lunacy. Saki figured the screaming would summon her.

* * *

"I killed your family, Haoran."

This was not the greeting the fisherman expected to hear as he climbed over the cliff with a bushel of fish. His house burned bright like a beckoning star and his family lay at Saki's feet, their blood decorating his scimitar as it lay limply in his fist.

"Your woman almost cut me when she threw her knife at me. I stepped barely half an inch away, and then thrust my blade into her bosom. She died painfully, her fingertips just short of clawing my face. "Now that I have taken all that you have, will you slay me?"

He tossed his weapon at the fisherman's feet, his arms stretched and his chest exposed. His haggard face betrayed his eagerness. Haoran's response was instant. Saki did not even see him drop his full net and pick up the sword. With the skill of a veteran he sliced his belly open and left the steel lodged inside the shallow heart. Astonished, he watched the samurai's gut close itself without so much as a scar. It took an entire minute.

"W-what in the hells are you?" he asked in horror as Saki rose and pulled the sword out of his chest.

"An immortal," he answered, "offspring of a demon and a mage, enchanted at birth to walk the world forever. I was told you were an assassin, gifted with the touch of death. Apparently, I was misinformed."

"I am no assassin," Haoran said, tears streaming down his cheeks. "I was the private guard of the emperor, killer of hundreds of men who dared openly oppose him. I was so good, so loyal; he let me leave when I desired to marry a woman under his employ.

"My wife was an assassin, you bastard, not me. The best of the best. I met her in the emperor's palace, where we married." Her fingertips, the samurai thought, just short of clawing my face?

"The prophet you mentioned was either short of sight or very, very cruel." Haoran dropped to his knees. "Perhaps my wife could have killed you. I cannot. We both know this. You now owe me a debt, Saki-San. You know what you have to do."

Saki nodded. "I guess she played me for a fool. The joke's on me, I guess. On us both. Goodbye, Haoran," then, almost inaudibly, "I'm sorry." Haoran’s head bounced twice and rolled off the cliff.

Saki sheathed his dirty blade, turned, and began the journey to visit an old woman named Mishi. In a week's time, his blade would be dirty again. But this time, there would be no regrets.


That Mishi’s a real card, isn’t she? When Saki catches up with her, I think she’ll get cut from the deck. I thought this an interesting tale because of the characters involved. What do you think? -GM

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