Japan, 1500 AD
The walls of the castle glowed pale yellow before the face of the setting sun, with blue shingles sparkling on its stacks of curved roofs. This radiance conferred onto the structure the semblance of a tall gold crown encrusted with lapis-lazuli gems. Atop a wooded hill it sat, overlooking the fields, forests, and scattered peasants’ villages like an emperor surveying his rural domain.
A young woman hiked up the series of stone steps which zigzagged up the hill’s northern slope, cradling in her arms a yew chest. Her hooded waist-length kimono
and trousers, both dull green like the trees sheltering the path, protected her both from the evening’s damp chill and from any eyes which might be spying on her. Not that the woman had noticed anyone giving her a second glance so far, but nobody in her line of work could afford to let their guard down.
She reached the summit of the hill, strolled across the short bridge over