David Kudler

Waiting for Kuniko

A chance encounter behind enemy lines

A Risuko prequel short story

Mieko is waiting at a rendezvous behind enemy lines. In the rain. Without a hat. The person who comes up the road is the last person she expected to encounter.


Mieko wanted to leave.

She was waiting on a worn stone shrine beneath a dripping red pine. Rain was falling, and she had been waiting here, slowly getting wet, since the clouds had sloshed in around midday. She and Kuniko had split, Mieko searching the area on the south side of the valley while Kuniko searched in the village on the north side. They were looking for young Sachi and Hoshi, the two newest kunoichi, who were supposed to have checked in from their mission at dawn.

Mieko wasn’t worried — not really. Kuniko was more than capable of taking care of herself, and Sachi and Hoshi weren’t stupid. Their mission was a fairly simple one: wander up to Tiptown, where the Uesugi commander kept the headquarters for this part of the province, and see if any of the soldiers might let something slip to a couple of pretty girls. It was a mission that Mieko and Kuniko could have done in their sleep — had done more than once — but it seemed like a good, straightforward test for the two younger girls.

The two newly initiated kunoichi.

But they were behind enemy lines, and they hadn’t arrived at the rendezvous at the roadside shrine this morning. And while Mieko had wanted to charge up to Tiptown to make sure the girls were safe, Kuniko had sensibly pointed out that they had probably just lost track of time or gotten turned around. And so she had suggested that they split up and search this part of the valley before heading into the enemy’s stronghold.

They’d agreed to meet up on the main road at this battered old shrine to some nameless forest god. They’d agreed to meet at the hour of the horse — noon, which would give them plenty of daylight to make their way to Tiptown, if they had to. And Mieko had quickly confirmed that no, Sachi and Hoshi weren’t at either of the forest shrines further off the road, nor at any of the farms that dotted the southern side of the valley. And then she’d returned to their meeting point and, as the rain began to fall, she waited.

And waited.

She wanted to leave, but she couldn’t. She was waiting for Kuniko. And Sachi and Hoshi.

Mieko sighed, wiping the drizzle from her eyelashes. She should have worn a hat.

A movement to her left startled her —
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