Waves of grass blew on the hillside where Sakura lay with hands behind her head, watching the clouds rush against the blue sky backdrop. The clouds looked like puffs of cotton flowing on a clear stream. Sakura probably would have drifted into sleep if not for a wasp trying to work its way into her emerald green hakama–she swatted it away, reluctant to be drawn back into wakefulness, into reality.
But enough. Hanzo wasn’t going to catch himself. Reaching for the spear she kept at arm’s reach, Sakura kipped nimbly up to her feet. She brushed off her hakama, then gazed down toward the dirt road at the base of the grassy hill. It branched to the right and left–east and west.
Which way was Hanzo?
Holding her spear in the crook of her elbow, Sakura reached for a small coin purse on her belt. She felt inside. Drat—only three mon left. Still…
Sakura removed a single bronze mon.
Heads, Hanzo was west. Tails, he was east. Sakura flipped the coin high into the air, then—catching it—smacked it onto the back of her hand where it came up tails before fizzling into a cool, phantom-blue flame.
Tails. So Hanzo was in Edo after all. Sakura had suspected as much, but with time running out, she had to be sure.
Sakura grabbed her spear and made for the dirt road below, veering right toward Edo.
Having been raised in the countryside, Sakura loathed Edo and its populous machiya labyrinths, stuffed to the breaking point with ragged poor and shameless vendors hawking everything from overcooked eel to smutty ukiyo-e prints. Holding her spear close—she was lucky no one had yet tried to confiscate it—she hurried along the streets, keeping her head down. Soon she’d be through this mess of buildings and into the inner forests of Edo, home to the city’s Shinto shrine, where she’d find Hanzo. She didn’t have to flip a coin for that one.
A lone monk in auburn robes wordlessly greeted her approach. Heads, he knew where Hanzo was hiding. Tails, he didn’t. Sakura reached into her coin purse, withdrew her second-to-last mon, and tossed it high into the air.
Heads. Sakura dropped the coin as it burned out in sapphire flame, and moved for her spear, pointing the weapon at the monk. “Hanzo,” she said flatly.
The monk showed no fear, did not even start—merely pointed toward a small temple tucked into the woods behind the shrine.
“It’s rude to wear hats in temples,” Sakura said plainly to the aging man dressed in simple black robes, kneeling in the center of the floor. His conical straw hat shielded his eyes as he prayed with tan, weathered hands.
Hanzo—Sakura didn’t need to see his face.
She drew the last mon from her purse and flipped it high into the air.
But as she did so Hanzo came upon her like holy midnight lighting, and before Sakura could even react Hanzo had snatched the coin out of the air.
Their bodies, their faces—nearly touching. Sakura’s knuckles were white from the grip on her spear, angled toward Hanzo’s throat. Neither moved.
“Perhaps,” said the unwavering Hanzo, his outstretched hand still holding the coin, “rather than ask the coin, you could ask your father.”
“I don’t believe you,” Sakura whispered, voice fired by hatred and fury.
“If not me, then who?”
“I trust no one.” Her voice was bitter, jaded.
“So you trust mon?” Hanzo asked.
“The money never lies.”
“Maybe,” said Hanzo softly, “that’s because you only ask it questions you want the answers to.”
“Why should I ask questions I don’t want the answers to?”
“Because that is how we grow, my child—”
“—Oh you’re one to speak of growth,” Sakura interrupted, rapidly.
“I admit I’ve made mistakes.”
“You don’t say?”
Tears would have welled in Sakura’s eyes long ago—but years of journeying for answers had dried her eyes, hardened them.
There was silence between the two. Hanzo moved to lower his hand, but Sakura responded with a cautionary jostle from her spear.
Sighing, Hanzo smiled. “Tell you what,” he said. “That question you had, why don’t you ask it?”
Sakura stared with intensity into Hanzo’s eyes, then up his hand that still held the coin. Aloud, almost more to Hanzo than the coin, she said, “heads, you killed mother. Tails, you’re innocent.”
Hanzo sighed, then looked back with sympathy into Sakura’s stony gaze and dropped the coin. Sakura watched it fall to the ground and bounce once, twice, three times—
—then burst into flame before choosing a side.
Sakura’s shuddered, then dove for where the coin was still burning blue, but she could not make out an answer. “What?” she said, stuttering in disbelief. “Why?—“
“—Because,” Hanzo said gently, “as you will learn someday, dear child, many questions do not have such simple answers.”
No—it couldn’t end this way. Sakura whirled about, holding her spear.
But Hanzo was too quick. Sakura felt a blow against the back of her head, and there was darkness.
Sakura lay in a field of living grass, waves of wind blowing cotton clouds above. Rising, she looked down the dirt road, where the path split east and west.
Reaching for her coin purse, Sakura withdrew a single mon.