Mitsuharu of the Fūma ninja clan crouched under the window, listening with keen ears for any sounds inside. His colored cloak, so obvious in the day, now hid him better than black ever could. Hearing nothing but the quiet muffled sounds of people going about their nightly business, he quickly glanced left and right down the alley, then stood up and entered through the window. This deep into the castle, no one expected intruders, so the windows and doors were usually left unlocked.
The room was simple, as expected of a Samurai. The few items therein were of high quality. Mitsuharu quickly glanced around the rest of the room, his keen eyes missing nothing. His target was Hōjō Narinaga, a mid-ranking Samurai moving quickly up the ranks. The Hōjō family, and Narinaga in particular, had thwarted too many carefully laid plans, and for those successes he had received awards, honors, and most dangerously, more power. Thus, the Hatori clan had decreed that he be assassinated, and Mitsuharu had been chosen for the task.
Seeing nothing in the room indicating that Narinaga would soon return, he turned to leave. As he raised his foot to step through, he sensed that something wasn’t right. Glancing behind him, he noticed the door, which had been closed before, was now open. Turning around in a flash, he saw that inside the doorframe stood Narinaga, his target, hand already on the hilt of a Wakizashi…
The Samurai were a noble class in feudal Japan who occupied the upper tier of society just under their lords. Originally little more than hired mercenaries to protect rich landowners, they became an important part of society with the rise of the Minamoto clan who seized control of Japan in 1192 and set up a military government. They would remain an integral part of society for almost seven centuries.
The Samurai were skilled warriors and, contrary to popular belief, were adept at using various weapons including bows and spears. However, their primary symbol, and mark of their status, was their paired swords - originally a Tachi and Tanto, later evolving into a Katana and Wakizashi. These swords were worn with their kimono, and marked their identity as Samurai. While the Katana was the longer and thus, primary weapon, only the Wakizashi was allowed to be worn indoors.
The Samurai are well known for their code of honor, which celebrates killing an opponent honorably, often face-to-face, and discourages underhanded attacks or ambushes. As Samurai were the top tier of society and most of the threats to society came from domestic sources, they could expect their opponents - mainly other Samurai - to adhere to the same code.
The Ninja, on the other hand, were commoners. Generally coming from the lowest tiers of society, Ninjas were basically assassins or spies for hire, willing to do or accomplish any task - for a price. As they did not enjoy any of society’s protections, they were willing to use whatever means necessary to get the job done, even if those means were considered dishonorable.
While they may have existed as early as the 12th century, the formation of the Ninjas as we know them today occurred in the 15th century. They were most prominent in the Igla province, and from the clans in that area we derive most of our knowledge of them. Because of the Ninjas’ commoner status, not as much interest was taken in recording them literarily as was taken in recording the Samurai.
However, even with the lack of contemporary sources, or perhaps because of it, legends abound about them. While many are fanciful, such as stories of them having the ability to levitate or move things around with their minds, others are more likely. Traditions say they carried a straight sword, unlike the Samurai’s, which was curved. While the Samurai would traditionally dress in a kimono, a bright, loose-fitting garment that leaves the head exposed, the Ninja, according to legend, would wear dark, tight-fitting clothing that covered the head, revealing only the eyes.
...Cursing himself for not hearing the footsteps approaching the door (how had the man snuck up to him?), Mitsuharu quickly judged the distance between himself and Narinaga. The room was small, a mere 12 by 15 shaku (approx 4x5 yards), and once Narinaga drew his Wakizashi, there would be even less room to maneuver. Quickly drawing one of his two Tantos, Mitsuharu prepared to throw it.
Knowing that a trained Samurai with a Wakizashi beats a commoner-wielding Tanto in any fair fight, Mitsuharu knew that he would lose if he didn’t do something quickly to make the fight unfair. Thus, he hesitated for only a split second before throwing the Tanto and leaping backward through the window into the alley. As he did so, he heard the rasp of steel and saw a corresponding gleam of candlelight on metal as Narinaga drew his sword.
The alley was vacant, so Mitsuharu sprinted to the nearby corner where he had previously noted were some boxes allowing a quick escape onto the roof. He quickly climbed them, and just as he stepped onto the roof, he saw Narinaga rushing out of the alley into the main street. Mitsuharu flattened himself against the roof, while loosening the straight sword he carried in case he was forced to use it. He was careful to cover the exposed steel to ensure no reflected moonlight would give away his position. Silently cursing for the second time that hour, he vowed he would return one day and finish the job. After making sure Naringa hadn’t noticed his whereabouts and was heading off, probably to report what had happened to the guards, Mitsuharu quickly dropped down into the alley on the other side, and soon once again melded into the shadows.