Washing up after preparing Lord Matsumura’s fugu dinner was a simple matter, as the daimyo kept a very well-ordered and spotless kitchen. In fact, the other cooks had been dismissed and sent home to allow Takenaka Chihiro to work in silence—a fact he detested, as conversation and jokes were essential to a good kitchen in his view. He was counting out some money to send to the chefs—waged for the day they missed, when he straightened suddenly.

“Would you like me to make you something to eat?” he said. “I’m all out of fugu, but I’m happy to whip up something else.”

The shadow that had silently entered through the window behind him did not reply.

“If you have a pufferfish to bring me, and it’s good quality, I’ll happily prepare it for you as well.”

Takenaka heard the blade being withdrawn from its sheath, and by the time the air was whistling with a furious blow aimed at his neck, he had taken up his knife. The Unmei no Fuguhiki, made for Takenaka by the hand of Sengo Muramasa himself after a particularly fine meal, caught and deflected the blow easily.

With an agility that belied his rotund frame, Takenaka spun around to view his attacker. They wore the mon of the Tamaribuchi clan, and were girded for assassination. The man’s eyes were wide at the chef’s maneuver, and his katana had been buried in a wooden table.

“I am very sorry, my friend,” Takenaka said. “They say the best chefs put something of themselves into every dish, but if anyone is to carve up Takenaka Chihiro to taste, it will be Takenaka Chihiro.”

“My name is Tamaribuchi Yoshimi, and I bear a message from my lord,” the man said.

“Speak it then,” said Takenaka. “Otherwise, I have not yet eaten for myself tonight.”

The assassin visibly strained to remove his sword from the wood. “I will deliver it once my blade is free.”

“Surely you have other blades,” said Takenaka.

“My lord was quite specific that it was to be this blade,” said Yoshimi.

“Well, while you work to free it perhaps you would care to tell me why?” Takenaka said. “If the recipe is death, I am at least curious to see its ingredients.”

“You have been asking questions about Ishikawa Akira—too many questions. My lord will not tolerate interference in his affairs.”

“And what if I told you that Ishikawa Akira was born Takenaka Akira, and that he is my own lost and very much beloved brother? What recipe to those ingredients make?”

“Death, still,” Yoshimi said. “But for different reasons.”

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