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Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Larger even than Raiden's Eye, Port Cirrus and its sister city to the south, Kelmura, occupy natural deep-water harbors that have become essential stops for ships and caravans traveling across the known world. Congested and growing at a nonstop pace with the constant infusion of funds from international trade, the cities have become hotbeds of opportunity for wealth as well as dens of intrigue and danger, where dreams collide with nightmares.

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Takaki Saeko
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Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Thu Feb 08, 2018 2:06 am

City of Port Cirrus,
Unknown location
Two weeks ago…


Tachibana Yukio furtively glanced at the three brick walls hemming him in the narrow, fog-drenched alleyway and knew that his life would end soon. Always a careful young man who’d set the highest of standards for himself, Yukio’s anger in that moment was not so much directed at his soon-to-be murderer, but at himself. I know the town better than this! he thought, making a fist. I should’ve never taken this turn! Now I only have myself to blame.

He grit his teeth and turned to look his pursuer in the eye. Yukio recognized the man, of course, even though his face was obscured by wrappings to make it seem like he was a random leper out to beg at night. Yukio he also recognized that any bonds between him and his killer-to-be were moot when the future of two of the nation’s most powerful individuals besides the Shogun himself were on the line. This had long been an issue bigger and more dangerous than any he’d had a right to get involved with, and now he’d pay the inevitable price.

“I just wanted to talk,” the rag-wrapped man said, his tone almost friendly.

“And I know what you want,” Yukio said, resigned to his fate. “So, how are you going to kill me? Firelock, knife, or are you going to try to strangle me with your bare hands?”

“Shit, Yukio. This is why you can’t score, you know? Always focused on the bottom line. No time for small talk or even niceties.”

“Shut up. What you’re doing is wrong. It’s treasonous, even. And it undermines the faith that regular people have in our entire system of government and finance!”

The rag-wrapped man sighed and drew a pistol from the folds of his beggar’s robes. Instead of an only-sometimes-reliable flintlock action, this one sported the latest in Tenouzan arms technology: a percussion lock. It could not fail in its task. “Regular people don’t give a shit. They know the system’s rigged, anyway. But as long as their bellies are somewhat full and they’re thrown an occasional public execution or parade or festival, they’ll continue not to give a shit. The only thing we can do is look out for ourselves. Any last words?”

“One day, this will bite you in the ass.”

The rag-wrapped man drew the percussion hammer back to full cock. “You know, I liked you a lot. It’s too bad it had to end this way.”

“Fucking cowa--” Yukio’s words stopped dead in his throat as the lead ball pierced his forehead, destroyed his brain, and blew the back of his skull all over the alleyway.

The rag-wrapped man retreated to the shadows for a few seconds, but then emerged. If anyone had heard the shot, they hadn’t cared. He bent over Yukio’s corpse and wrested the briefcase Yukio had been carrying from his still-warm but dead hands. “Tch. We wanted the same thing, you fool.”

And with that, the man vanished back into the shadows.


* * *


City of Port Cirrus,
Office of the compradore of House Tachibana,
Present day…


Usually, I’ll be the first to bitch and whine and moan about being sent on some hellacious mission by the likes of Raicorgi Yumers (may he forever lick he own butthole), but unlike in all those other cases, this one actually seems kind of interesting. That, and I’ve been promised some hard-core, competent assistance from the best of the best of the Main Branch. The case itself is a bog-standard murder in an alleyway, but the victim does bear some mention.

Tachibana Yukio is something like the seventh nephew twice removed of Tachibana Ami, who until recently was our chancellor and the most powerful person in Lightning Country save for the shogun himself. For years, she ruled with an iron grip on the throat of all eleven Daimyo and the hundreds of lesser nobility under them, and it was common knowledge that if you purposely screwed with her, you were going to get exiled (or your family killed, and that was considered getting off easy).

About a year ago, however, the Kaminari Council of Nobles--bakufuu, landsraad, whatever the hell you want to call them--suddenly pulled a unanimous vote of no confidence on Chancellor Ami and then speedily elected her replacement: a TV-famous but financially troubled real estate tycoon named Donado of Oranji. I’m not privy to the inner machinations of Lightning Country politics at that level, but I’m willing to get that the nobles probably just got sick of Ami’s constant shit and wanted out. However, the country’s time under Donado of Oranji has been, well…

Anyway, when someone like Tachibana Yukio dies, the investigation is automatically out of the hands of the local magistrate and jurisdiction goes directly to the investigators of Kumogakure. Shinobi are seen as an impartial force who answer only to the raikage and shogun, so this is thought to help minimize interference with politically sensitive investigations.

They called me into this one because of my great skill at handling all manners related to financial crime they had no one left because everyone got giardia in Tea Country. The money angle here is that both Tachibana Ami and Donado of Oranji are ultra-rich titans who own vast stores of wealth managed by their house corporations. Tachibana Yukio was a mid-level manager for House Tachibana’s financial arm, and recently may have been involved in shady transactions, is the report. That’s why the house compradore himself, Tachibana Eimin, is my main contact for this case. I’ve heard he has quite a few ideas himself on who the perpetrator could be, as well as the motive.

I haven’t met Eimin yet, as I’m waiting for my backup to arrive from Kumo. Yuii promised to send me experts this time: seasoned chuunin--maybe even jounin--with strong backgrounds in accounting as well as adequate combat preparation. Basically, people who can do the digging for me while I handle the C-suite and we all look very much badass while doing so. I’ll have this crime solved in a few days at most and then can look forward to my own vacation soon after. Word is that they’ve already arrived in the city and are on their way here.

I smile to myself as I take in the ambiance of Tachibana headquarters. It’s everything you’d expect from the most influential family in Lightning Country politics: subdued and yet refined, with warm stone accents everywhere and even a relaxing water feature with that bamboo rod that fills up and then dumps its contents with a “thunk.” One of the walls features the family crest carved in granite, while the others are done in tasteful stone. It’s far classier than anything we have in Kumo. Even the air smells of lilacs.

I check the time again, in anticipation of meeting my teammates. Even though I’m in a relationship already, I wouldn’t mind if the two guys were hot.
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Re: Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Thu Feb 08, 2018 1:16 pm

Asami had invested a lot of effort into avoiding her fate. Many a class had been dodged, and she’d missed all but a few opportunities to show the fruits of her labour. She may have been of above-average skill for a student, but there should have only been one or two shinobi that knew that. So how, she asked herself yet again, did the academy not only decide she was performing well, but well enough to be sent across the country to work? Weren’t missions supposed to go to graduates that had proven their worth? Either some administrator was feeling especially cruel, or the tournament had left the military so short-staffed that they were willing to send half-baked trainees to do their jobs. Truly, the work of the world’s greatest army.

Inner monologues weren’t going to change the fact that she had to go. Truanting was easy enough when there were others to distract from her absence, but she didn’t dare try to disobey a direct order. At the very least, nothing about the mission sent up alarm bells, other than the fact that she was given it. A murder investigation could be gruesome, but she figured it would be easier on her than a hunt and a brawl. It was easy to think that when she was far removed from either situation, but she had already convinced herself that if she was assigned to it, it couldn’t be that serious. A formality at worst, and a vacation at best. Indeed, if there was one upside to her predicament, it was that it gave a child reason to finally explore her country. Port Cirrus was easy to reach; the port city had major roads and many a coach travelling down them. Unwilling to frighten her fellow travellers with shinobi ‘witchcraft’, she spent most of the journey buried in books of the occult. She still needed to make sense of her heritage. Spirits, scales, exorcisms, barriers and enchantments… The books covered so much, and she struggled to separate truth from fiction. How much of those could she see and use? It wasn’t as if she had anybody to ask, and trying to find somebody would be an easy trip to the sanatorium.

…That hadn’t been why she was chosen for this, was it? Did they know about her ancestry before she did? Was she meant to be the local ghost whisperer? No, she realised. That was a bit too far-fetched, even by her standards. It was just an unfortunate coincidence.

***

A few uneventful days on the road led her to Port Cirrus. She’d made sure to take time out of the morning to make herself especially presentable. She didn’t know much more about politics than the average teenager, but she’d heard the Tachibana name enough to know that they held influence. Powerful people always made themselves look the part, and she intended to do the same. If her cohorts were around, she assumed that they were either on their way, if not already in the city. No, wait. She checked the time as she started walking. They were supposed to meet soon. Very soon. No time for her to explore, she realised with a gentle sigh.

Asami arrived ninety seconds late. Not too bad, considering she had just arrived in a new city, but a poor showing in her mind. She explained her presence to the house security (at least, she hoped that was who he was; surely, a building so grand would have somebody watching over it) and made her way into the main hall. ‘Exquisite’ was the first word that came to mind. Curious wide eyes took in a level of wealth rarely seen in Kumo, and never before by a young child. It was fortunate that she always prided herself in her appearance. Her clothes were casual (by her standards), but well-kept. She wouldn’t have looked out of place in a private school, so she almost blended in with the setting. Almost. Whether that was a good thing was subject to interpretation – the girl could pass off as a genin on age alone, but her behaviour gave away some inexperience. This was, after all, her first mission, and she had no idea what to expect. Soon enough, her eyes found another woman. An actual kunoichi, she hoped. There was only one way to find out.

She approached Saeko with a warm smile, showing but a hint of caution. “Excuse me, miss.” She stopped a foot away from her, reaching into her handbag. It was the only luggage she had with her, and if anybody chose to look, they would see that it was filled entirely with scrolls, besides her purse. It took a few seconds for her to find the mission details, so she continued speaking while she did. “I’m looking for a shinobi duo. I was sent to join them from Kumogakure to help investigate some trouble.” The mission scroll was offered to the lady with an introduction. “I’m Saotome Asami. Here to help as best I can.” Her best wasn’t much, and she wasn’t counting on there being much to do, but a strong first impression went a long way in her eyes.
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Re: Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Sun Feb 11, 2018 2:33 am

It had been a fine day in the life of one Hashiwa Risako. A late evening spent in the hellish training regime of the bloody demon made way to a restless, but desperately needed sleep. The new day made way to new challenges, namely, academy classes asserted their demands over the weary student, until only doggedness kept her awake through the lectures and other exertions. In hindsight, she should have paid more attention, particularly when so many members of the class made such an ominous rush towards the exits.

“Aha! A lone volunteer! How very inspiring to see petal out of the flower of our shinobi corps present herself when the needs of the village call for sacrifice”, declared a village cleric with a disturbingly cheery inclination.

Before Risako could even mumble a single sound, or figure out exactly how and to what she had signed up, a scroll and a bag of supplies commonly kept on the ready for field exercises were pushed into her hands. The cleric shoved her shoulder in a painful show of overenthusiastic encouragements, pushing the air out of her unspoken questions.

Apparently, at least according to the various threads of sentences of the cleric Risako had been able to blend into coherency, and the information from the mission scroll, the village hidden in the clouds had suffered a somewhat embarrassing case of “overbooking”. In other words, there were more accepted missions then there where Shinobi, due to what the teacher described an overenthusiastic administrative reshuffling, or put in a different way, someone had screwed up and now the village’s honour was at stake. A capable student could, with the assistance of experienced leadership do just as well as an academy graduate, claimed the cleric, assuming they survived.

A short while later, the young ninja found herself in a port city with only a vague recollection of her means of transportation. All she knew for sure was that the bombastic cleric had taken her with him on the unnamed task, slave-driving her through the countryside, running at speeds better left to the power of steam rather than human muscle, let alone this accountant with seemingly superhuman endurance. At the end of the track, Risako had been left in a near exhausted state; in front of her was the massive estate only slightly smaller than her own original home, but without a doubt, much grander in wealth and scale.

If there was a single positive in her detestable existence in Kumo, it was that she was no longer required to mingle amongst people with deeper pockets then was good for one’s health. Risako pouted and lifted her gaze towards the heavens, “you are having too much fun at my expense,” she muttered darkly. The sky did not seem to have anything to say in reply. A murder, or more probably, an assassination, was the object of her task. Terminology was all important; murder happened all the time in the name of honour, money or some crazy idea or another, but it was at it's core interpersonal violence committed by one or more consenting party of interest and perpetrator and one or more targets of said interest and violent action. Assassinations, however, happened only to an important minority of people to powerful to be directly confronted and, therefore, worthy of being eliminated by a paid agent working on behalf of a party with a vested interested in the target’s early demise.

Risako might not be a native of Lightning Country and was thus unfamiliar with the local elites, but she was not ignorant of the grand game. The Hashiwa family had perfected the tool of assassination, using it like a good plot device; sparingly and always to great effect. They commissioned murder like pieces of art, designed to create the maximum impression on the populace. Officially, the assassinations where all tragic accidents, unofficially everyone knew these people were being bumped off one by one. Officially, the identity and causes of death where ether vague or apparently innocent, unofficially everyone knew why these people were dying and that there was nothing they could do about it.

It was just too bad that the last operation went horribly wrong and the carefully constructed horror of the case inspired rage rather than fear in the target audience. Otherwise, Risako would not have had to work for a living.

It was with this frame of mind that she gained access to the house and made her way past the various servants and functionaries towards the only other Shinobi present.

Bowing her head in a show of ingrained courtesy, Risako presented her mission scroll to the older member of the pair, assuming age a safe indication of superior rank, and that in the event it was not so, only the pride of this theoretical young leader would be hurt.

“Hashiwa Risako”, she introduced herself, “I have…volunteered for a mission to gain practical experience in the appliance of my lessons in real situations and to gain firsthand knowledge about the layout of the land”, said Risako, with a calm air of confidence, that was quite out of place when set against the general falsehoods of the statement. In truth, she merely did not want to admit that she had been effectively volunteered for the task. There was no need for her companions to know the details, and besides, she was in on the mission now, and there was no getting out of it.

"If I may be so bold", she continued hesitantly, unsure if the team leader would accept a recomondation from a greenhorn such as her, yet confident of her ability in this paticular instance. "I suggest that we gain access to the scene of the crime, if only to determine the quality of the assasination an derive its potential cost. From there, we could extrapolait the affordiblity of the deed, and rule out class groups based on costs prohibtions, using the chance of faliure accepted by the assasin and their sponser as ether the upper resource cealing for the employer, or the access limit they had with to the victim. We can then set this information against a profile of the target's rivals and the main benifactors of his untimely departure from this world".

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Takaki Saeko
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Re: Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Tue Feb 13, 2018 12:05 am

They don’t make chuunin as tall as they used to, is my first thought when my team arrives. Also, any hopes I had of working with attractive guys in well-tailored suits were instantly dashed against the rocks, but that was kind of a frivolous bonus I’d been fantasizing about, anyway. Regardless, the two women both seem well-put-together, and as a bonus they weren’t late. The perky redhead’s named Saotome and the raven-haired one is Hashiwa--neither are names that ring a bell or set off any alarms. It’s a relief to not have to deal with any bloodline clansmen and their associated baggage and pompousness. The typical Santaru will demand I kiss ‘em on the hand and the typical Kagetsu will remind me that they’re the ones really in charge of the village and that I should be grateful to shit in their shadow and such.

Hajimemashite," I say in the proper Kaminarijin reserved for formal business transactions. “I’m Takaki Saeko, the case officer. Chuunin and Kagetsu Yuii-sama’s Hand.” I fail to do more than glance at the scrolls they’ve presented me because the raven-haired one starts speaking--she seems to know her crime-sniffing techniques, so it’s a wonder that I’d never run into her before during my time with the investigative division

“Agreed, and that’d be the ideal way to go,” I reply to her. “But first of all, we’re to meet the compradore--kind of like their CEO right under Matriarch Ami. You may not have worked with House Tachibana before, but they have a reputation as difficult, demanding clients with many arbitrary rules and restrictions. Our goal is to get the compradore to agree on terms and give us freedom to interrogate and infiltrate at our discretion. Sometimes doesn’t happen, but we have to try.”

The compradore’s inner chambers open and a kimono-clad assistant bows and beckons us in.

“That’s our cue. I’ll take point on dealing with him,” I tell the other two. “The matriarch doesn’t tolerate having her family members killed unless she’s the one ordering the hit, so I think he’ll be inclined to cooperate.”

Tachibana Eimin’s office follows the same general aesthetic as the rest of House Tachibana’s estate: classy refinement with an almost spartan restraint. It’s the largest of corner offices, of course, with a breathtaking view of a perfectly-regulated Zen garden beyond the divided glass. Two long couches face each other, squared off by his mahogany desk. Nobles like to remind the unwashed masses that their original claims to power were brought about by bloodshed, so nearly every office like this sports a nicely-appointed display of cavalry armor in one corner, and a daisho display in the other. But perhaps the most striking ornament on the wall, behind Eimin’s desk, is a stupendously large, Western-style painting of the house matriarch: Tachibana Ami, the Tai Pan of the noble house.

Her influence simply cannot be overstated. The woman is the sole reason for House Tachibana’s--and perhaps Lightning Country’s--continued existence up until recently. The painting, of her in full regalia of the noble house, with fan in one hand and sword in the other, is nothing short of intimidating. She also looks about thirty years younger on canvas than she currently is in real life. It’s something you can’t help but gawk at.

“Stunning, isn’t she?” Eimin says with a smile as he rises from his chair and gives a polite nod to us. “The paragon of leadership. Elegance and decisiveness, combined with insatiable ambition. But alas, I know that she would chide me for waxing about her virtues, when we have business to attend to. Welcome, Takaki Saeko. Thank you for bringing your team. Please, sit.” He gestures to the couches.

To be honest, his appearance is sort of a surprise. I had expected an obese, balding man crippled by gout. But Eimin is...well, hot. Like any noble, his symmetric, pale features haven’t seen a day of sunlight from toil in the fields, and the only calluses on his hands are those gotten from fencing practice, instead of tilling the paddies. He’s probably in his late thirties or early forties, and preserves a youthful appearance under a veneer of mature respectability. He wouldn’t fit in at a grunge concert, but I’d love it if he took me out for a day at the races and dinner at a stupidly expensive steak place. I’ve fallen hard for this type of asshole in the past.

“On behalf of the Raikage and Sennin Yuii, we accept your hospitality, Tachibana-sama,” I reply, overly polite as protocol dictates.

Eimin smiles. It’s quite pleasant to look at. “Please, none of that -sama stuff. Call me Eimin. Or, if you are uncomfortable with that, then my house title is fine, too.”

“As you wish, Compradore,” I say. I don’t want to look like I’m too quick to be chummy in front of two other chuunin I haven’t worked with before. After all, they’re also judging me for my fitness to lead the investigation. “I’d like to start by obtaining your permission to autopsy Yukio-dono’s body, followed by a thorough sweep of the scene of his murder, and…”

“Hold,” Eimin says, shaking his head. “I’d like to save you and your team a great deal of trouble, first.”

Oh shit, what now? I steel myself for bullshit.

“I already know who murdered Yukio, why he did it, and what retribution lies in wait for him,” Eimin continues. “Also, my cousin’s body has already been formally cremated as our house custom demands.”

Okay, this is something new. I raise an eyebrow. “If that’s the case, Compradore, then what exactly would you like we shinobi to do for you?”

“You and your team are instrumental in my plan for justice against Yukio’s murderer. The task I have for you is something that shinobi, and especially someone of your background, Saeko, would be best suited for.”

“Lady Yuii ordered us to investigate Yukio-dono’s death,” I say, trying not to grit my teeth.

“And here’s your answer,” Eimin says with a shrug. “Yukio’s murderer is none other than Oranji Kilin.”

“What?” I resist the urge to start from my seat. I was prepared for bullshit, but not for this. “Compradore, are you absolutely certain? Oranji Kilin is…”

“Compradore of House Oranji, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the country, the adopted and most favored son of the current chancellor, Donado of Oranji, and married to Donado’s daughter Ievanka,” Eimin continues, without missing a beat.

Fuck, really? I slowly exhale. “Yeah, that Oranji Kilin. How did you come to this conclusion?”

Eimin reclines in his hair and steeples his fingers. “Yukio was honorable and brilliant. He could predict market trends with accuracy that would make you think he’d signed a pact with demons. He knew when to short-sell stocks that were untouchable, right before they’d crash. He could pick, with unerring accuracy, which grubby, ten-yen-a-piece stocks would skyrocket to nine figures within a month’s time. And because of these traits, he’s made our noble house a lot of money. I trusted him to guide the company to everlasting prosperity.

“Recently, he’d begun to identify trends in the market--acquisitions and buyouts that signaled only one thing: insider trading on House Oranji’s part. Now, most companies will try to engage in some mild insider trading, but nothing that gets the shogun’s auditors excited. But he had come across evidence of something larger--more sinister--than that. House Oranji stakes their continued popularity with the bakufuu on a track record of strong economic performance since Donado usurped the chancellorship. If the economy were to falter in any way, then the nobles, not to mention the guilds and corporations, might start missing the stability of when Ami-sama was in power.”

“Of course, Compradore,” I say, shaking my head. “Losing trillions of yen to a crash would make this country tear the current chancellor a new one before he’d even realized it. But what can one house do against the invisible hand of the market? No matter what sort of shady activities House Oranji may or may not engage in, the market will correct itself one way or another. That’s been proven for many, many years.”

“I’m surprised that you’re familiar with ‘The Wealth of Nations,’ Saeko,” Eimin says, looking a bit surprised.

“House Kagetsu has long collected forbidden works from the Golden Age,” I say with a shrug. “Anyway, you haven’t answered my original question. Why would Yukio-dono be targeted for murder by Oranji Kilin, of all people?”

“I like an impatient woman,” Eimin says with a chuckle. “Yukio had uncovered evidence that Oranji Kilin was planning a massive short-sell of the entire economy. Not of one stock or individual company, but rather, of the entire national treasury.”

“That’s impossible. The Shogun personally holds the keys to the treasury.”

“And that’s irrelevant. We’re no longer an economy based on sacks of rice and gold bars, or any other commodity. We have a living fiat currency, whose value goes up or down based on the perception of national and economic stability by the country’s nobility and middling classes. Kilin had a plan to spend nearly all of House Oranji’s wealth on a massive borrowing scheme: acquiring enough stock in the nation’s major corporations and guilds to gain controlling interest in nearly all of them. Of course, borrowed stock is not the same as real stock. Having fifty-one percent of a company’s shares of borrowed stock won’t actually grant you controlling interest in anything. So, they were happy to lend shares to him, thinking that when their shares appreciated in value, he’d be forced into perpetual debt.”

“That’s only if those shares appreciate in value, though,” I say, nodding. The plan’s becoming a little more clear to me, although no less fantastic.

“Exactly. If the values go down significantly, then Kilin can easily buy back his borrowed stocks at the lower price, making him a massive profit, and also giving him a controlling share of equity in most of the economic powerhouses of the nation. Crash the market, and the man holding all that borrowed-turned-real paper becomes king. Of course, Kilin had no ambitions to become shogun himself--that is a hereditary position and comes with a lot of risk of assasination, not to mention severe constraints on personal liberty--but the position of chancellor would be his. He’d even be able to usurp his own father for the role.”

“But it’s not illegal to plan a short like that, just risky,” I say. “Why did Yukio have to be killed?”

“Because the illegal part is deliberately causing a crash. Which Kilin planned to do the old fashioned way: have his father, the chancellor, do what he does best: deliberately cause chaos. You don’t know how much effort it takes to prevent the current chancellor from plunging the bakufuu into chaos, or at least threatening to. And while such actions may rile his base up, it kills economic confidence. Enough actions over time, and the market slumps. And then, Kilin can make his move, usurp his father with the full backing of the hundreds of members of the government that he now owns, and come out on top as a savior of the nation. Yukio was determined for that not to happen. Not just because he was a Tachibana, but because he...genuinely had faith that a strong, united nation with a strong, united economy would improve things for everyone, even the common peasant toiling in the fields. He compiled evidence of Kilin’s transactions and was about to take them to the royal auditor to have them all invalidated. But somehow, Kilin caught wind of Yukio’s plan, and killed him and stole the evidence.”

I sigh. “If you know all of this so well, Compradore, then why not go to the auditor yourself? Why involve us? It sounds like you could bring Oranji Kilin down yourself.”

Eimin shakes his head. “I lack one crucial thing: the evidence that Kilin stole off Yukio’s body. Without it, I can’t proceed. If I go before the auditors without definitive proof, the chancellor will likely have me and many members of my house exiled. Thus, I hired you shinobi.”

“It sounds like you want us to break into Kilin’s chambers, steal back the evidence, and give it to you. Is that it?”

“In a word, yes,” Eimin says. “But even for advanced shinobi, such a task would be nearly impossible. I’ve been to House Oranji’s main compound, where Kilin makes his home. It’s not only heavily guarded against human interlopers, but against shinobi as well. Every wall, door, lock, and even floor in the place is saturated with dimeritium, which renders your techniques useless. And to add to matters, I don’t know the exact location of Kilin’s sanctum. No one does, save for his closest friends and business partners.”

“That’s troubling, if true,” I say. I look over at Hashiwa and Saotome. Breaking into a vault saturated with dimeritium would be difficult for even a sennin to accomplish, let alone a mere three chuunin. “But you mentioned you had a plan?”

“Yes. Kilin’s paranoia is only matched by his avarice and misogyny. He will not back down from an opportunity to stoke either desire. He especially likes systematically destroying and acquiring companies run by women, and seeing their owners beg and humiliate themselves in his bedroom. And you and your team, Saeko, are exactly his type. I want you to act as an independent company--a brokerage or a hedge fund, whatever--and start buying and selling on the exchanges. Become successful enough, and he’ll target you quickly, looking to drink your blood. Of course, you’ll pretend to have nothing to do with me, or House Tachibana. Get close enough to him, and you’ll have an opportunity to steal the evidence back.”

I suck my teeth. Ugh, they’re always creepy pigs. Eimin’s plan itself isn’t that hard to pull off, as a classic honeypot. But there’s one problem. “That’s all well and good, Compradore, but you’re forgetting something. We’re just three shinobi from Cloud. We’re not a company, we have no business experience, and...hell, we couldn’t put one together anyway. We control chakra, but we’re not venture capitalists with millions to drop on a dream.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Eimin says, and signals for his assistant. The kimono-clad woman pads over to us, carrying a large, leather briefcase. She kneels before us and opens it so we can see the contents. My heart sinks and flutters at once when I see what’s inside: ten-thousand-yen bills bound into packets of one million, and neatly stacked inside the case. There are at least...two hundred and fifty million yen in front of us. My mouth goes dry and my hands start to shake.

“I think that should be enough to cover a good range of transactions. With this, you’ll be able to make an immediate impression on House Oranji, and attract Kilin’s attention,” Eimin says, smugness writ large on his face. “Of course, this cash cannot be linked back to me or my house, so you have anonymity. I must of course remind you that this is mainly to be used to finance the operations of your new company, and not simply to be taken back to Cloud and blown on...kittens or whatever. The money still belongs to me, in the end, and I expect it to be returned at the conclusion of the case.”

“And...what if we make a profit?” I ask. The corners of my mouth twitch a little.

Eimin shrugs. “I suppose I can let you keep a bit of it as a bonus.”

“How about if we take a loss?”

“Then I’ll send the bill to the Raikage,” Eimin says, smirking.

Bastard. I close the briefcase much louder than I probably should. “So, I guess this is how we’re going to play it, then. A roundabout game, but, if it’s either that or trying to break into a chakra-sapping dead zone, then I guess these are the cards we’re dealt.”

“I knew you’d see things my way,” Eimin says with a smile. “Now, if there’s nothing else, I expect to see you at the Port Cirrus Stock Exchange bright and early at opening time tomorrow. Of course, you don’t know me, and this conversation never happened. Good luck with your mission, Saeko.”

With that, he rises and leaves the office without time for questions, leaving just us three and the briefcase full of cash. I let out a breath.

“Well,” I say to the others. “This is some shit we’re in. I’m sorry things turned out this way, but...I’m sure we can handle it. Even if the target's someone as dangerous as Oranji Kilin. Might even have some fun in the process, too. I’d say first order of business is getting some lodging and something to eat, and then if you haven’t brought them, getting clothing appropriate for the exchange. Saotome and Hashiwa, can I have you take care of those things and meet back up with me?” I open the case, lift out two of the million-yen stacks, and hand one to each of them. “Should be enough. I’ll stop by the nearest bank and deposit the rest of this into one of the village’s shell accounts so we’re not lugging a ton of cash everywhere. And then I guess we’ll see how good we are at picking stocks tomorrow. I personally doubt that Tachibana Eimin's entirely correct about the culprit, but that's our only lead right now.”

I’m about to take off, but turn back and smile at them. “And...hey, just so you know, I’m glad to finally work with real professionals for once. They usually send me into dangerous or outrageous situations with like, an academy student for backup. Glad to have some fellow chuunins on the road. Oh! And this is real dumb, but we should work this out beforehand. What should our company name actually be?”
Formerly Takaki Masao, and author of The Polaris Chronicles
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Saotome Asami
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Re: Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Fri Feb 16, 2018 12:55 pm

It didn’t take long for their third to arrive – a girl that couldn’t be much younger than herself, but just as collected. There was a small comfort in her precense, and what sounded like hesitation. She might not have noticed it if she hadn’t been so familiar with the feeling herself. The girl offered her greeting as the girl introduced herself – a warm smile, with a slightly sympathetic look. They were both stuck on the mission, but from the sounds of it, it was nothing too extreme. Better still, two of the three girls had a good idea of what was going on. She was only assuming Saeko was skilled from her claims, of course, but Risako wasn’t wasting any time getting to work. Asami would have thought to investigate after introductions, but she wouldn’t have had much of a goal in mind beyond finding any stray spirits. She was in good hands, she surmised. Thank goodness.

“It’s nice to meet you both as well.” Saeko didn’t show much interest in their credentials, so she stowed hers away. All she needed to do for the time being was follow, listen and learn. It was a simple task, even if the sight of pure wealth around them tempted her eyes to stray. Fortunately, her mother raised her with manners, and she knew better than to ruin a first impression by staring at the masonry… No matter how extravagant it looked.

She walked a few feet behind their apparent leader, showing a slight grimace at the notion of families murdering each other. The implications were quickly forgotten as they stepped into the office, and she gave in to the décor. Asami had lived a comfortable life before the CPSS came knocking, and money had rarely been an issue, but the near-exorbitant home was hard to take in. This was how the nobles lived? Did they look upon the small folk with as much surprise as she did to them? The portrait, the weaponry, even the desk probably cost more than all the money she’d seen in her life. She wasn’t sure if she felt good about being so humbled, but she didn’t let it show; her face still held the smile she had granted Risako.

Her gaze snapped to the man who must have noticed her attention was stolen. Even his body spoke of his affluence. She’d thought a business man would be bound to his chair, with extra fat and not enough hair, but Eimin… was not. Easy on the eyes (not that she was getting any ideas). Good charisma. She could only assume that the charm was another trick of his trade. One that she needed to practice as well, but that could come later. At his behest, she took a seat and listened.

There was a lot to listen to.

The briefing she had been given was just that – brief. The briefing they were getting from the Compradore felt more like a lecture. Were all missions that way? Should she have been taking notes? She had a strange feeling that it wasn’t entirely appropriate, but forgetting half the details would be much worse. A few seconds of shuffling in her handbag gave her enough time to realise taking minutes on a secret conspiracy would not be the best way to make a good impression. Neither would searching through the bag, but seeing as she only had papers in there, it wasn’t too distracting… she hoped.

She resigned herself to following as long as best she could. Retaining information was nothing new to her; she’d done very well in school before the shinobi world reared its head. What was new to her was all the financial talk. The girl understood that there was no body to check (and if Eimin was so confident in his accusation, there wasn’t much use in finding a lost soul anyway), and that their ‘enemy’ was a less scrupulous noble, but the financial jargon made keeping up with the conversation much harder than it needed to me. Asami was by no means a slow child, but none of her experiences had required her to understand economics. Context clues told her that insider trading was bad, and she could assume that the ‘invisible hand’ was all-powerful, but she slowly found herself feeling overwhelmed by the back and forth. She tried to take mental note of the key words – fiat currency, short-sell, controlling interest.

Then came the plan. It sounded simple enough in theory, but she could see several issues with it. Firstly, that it wasn’t what the initial briefing had indicated in the slightest. Secondly, that it didn’t sound entirely legal. That she really didn’t like the sound of having to be lured into some older man’s bedroom. That she was absolutely not an ‘advanced shinobi’. In fact, the only qualifier she seemed to hold for the job was the right gender and a decent face. Hints of doubt creeped their way into her expression, but Saeko pointing out the elephant in the room reminded her to keep calm. They could discuss the problems after, but she knew that the worst option was to start panicking in front of their client.

Any notion of keeping calm in front of him was dashed as soon as the cash was revealed. She’d thought about the furniture costing more than her, but the stacks of notes presented to them was inconceivable. And yet, there it was. Her brain wasn’t working well enough to make a proper estimate, but she could safely assume that it was more money than she would ever own otherwise. It was the kind of ‘rich’ her schoolyard peers would joke about; being able to bath in a sea of legal tender, just because the option was there. Her mouth hung agape long after the man left, and she realised she’d missed her chance to touch the money. Also, Saeko was speaking. She regathered herself and turned to look at the woman, then Risako. How was she handling the situation? Hopefully, much better than herself.

Focus, she reminded herself. She turned to Saeko, just in time to see that she was being offered money. A lot of money. She blinked. “This might be a bit excessive…” Then again, good business attire probably cost most than she knew, and she wasn’t about to turn down free money. She took the wad, and just like that, she was a millionaire. She couldn’t say she’d anticipated the mission going in that direction, but it was the most pleasant surprise thus far, even if the money was strictly for official business. Obviously.

Then came the slight issue of the miscommunication. In a few sentences, Saeko managed to explain everything. There had been a mix-up. Maybe there was another Asami Saotome amongst Kumo’s ranks, or one of the administrators had been taking drugs at work. Either way, she was on the wrong mission, and it was painfully clear the woman wouldn’t take kindly to that news. She doubted Risako would enjoy knowing they had been lumped with dead weight either. The girl pursed her lips, as countless thoughts ran through her mind. The million-yen question wasn’t as metaphorical as she had hoped: Should she come clean or run with it? None of their immediate goals required a shinobi’s expertise, as far as she knew. If everything went according to plan, it would be an excellent way to make an impression… But what did she care about making an impression when she had no interest in graduating? How much worse would she be treated once the others realised she was in over her head? Most importantly, what would be worse for her – the initial shock of her breaking the truth as soon as possible, or the fallout when the two inevitably realised she was not who they thought, plus the realization that she’d allowed them to be misled? The answer was fairly clear to her. Either outcome was going to be awkward, and she found herself feeling a little bad for two chuunin that were about to have their hopes dashed.

“Please, Takaki-san… Asami is just fine.” Especially in light of what she had to reveal. She rose to her feet, taking a step back so she could see both of them at once. “The mission is definitely not what I was expecting, but we work with what we’re given. With that said…” She furrowed her brow. The right words were hard to find, if there were right words for her predicament. “We’re a team here, and a team should be built on trust and honesty. I don’t think it helps any of us to lie to each other.” A sheepish tone kept trying to edge its way into her speech; she continued to struggle with it as she spoke.

“There must have been a mistake. I’m no chuunin. I’ve been in the academy for a few months now, and have no idea why I was sent out for this.” They were going to be pissed, and she knew it. “I know it’s not ideal, especially with a replacement so far away. If it helps, I can do my best to keep the mission running smoothly. It’s mostly acting, from the sounds of it. Of course, I’ll need to do a lot of reading around the stock market tonight…” Her voice trailed off as she looked at the two, awaiting the frustration, anger, disappointment, what have you. There had to be some way to ease the tension.

“…As for a name, I can suggest, er… Maboroshi. Written as the character for vision, or illusion, or dream. Something that appears to be too good to be true… Or maybe that’s a bit too on the nose?” She let out a nervous laugh, hoping one of them would at least entertain the idea.
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Takaki Saeko
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Re: Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Wed Feb 21, 2018 3:52 pm

“Is that...huh. I see…” I half-mumble-half-grunt as Asami makes her confession. I blink and pull out the scroll that she presented me earlier and go over it, for real this time. Yep, it’s right there in big, bold letters. Much like when you only have five minutes to grab your week’s worth of groceries and leave before your ride gets towed, but the cashier has a big old “TRAINEE” sign taped to their chest and can’t tell the difference between endives and romaine. “Is that true for you as well, Hashiwa?” I ask the other girl.

I don’t know what caused this, or whose fault it is, but one truth stands out above all others: Yumers is to blame. He’s been the source of pretty much all of the trouble in my life since before we even knew each other, and my last ten years have been spent in a relentless struggle against the weight of his idiocy.

Every time I’ve landed in a situation like this, thanks to his malicious derpitude, I’ve been faced with a choice: sink or swim. It’s the same choice you have after you’ve signed up for a karaoke competition where you can’t pick the songs and can only listen to the complete piece once right before you’re supposed to sing, and then they pick the original Macross theme sung by Luciano Pavarotti. You can either freeze up and piss yourself for the whole four minutes of agony, or you can just play it straight and belt out the words in your shitty alto that hasn’t been used since middle school chorus. They’re waiting: heaven or hell.

I slowly put Asami’s mission scroll away and lean in toward her with my fingers steepled for the best Ikari Gendo impression I can pull off. If I wore glasses, they’d be flashing opaque right about now. I’m pretty sure I look like a real idiot. “Maboroshi Incorporated, hmm? I like that. And if we want to play up the cute angle we can be nicknamed ‘Mabo-Co.’ That’ll do, Shinji--I mean Asami--that’ll do. Very well. You both have your work cut out for you tonight, so decide amongst yourselves how to divvy up the tasks. We should plan to spend about two weeks here, and then head on home.”

And when I get home, Yumers, I’ll beat you to death.
* * *
Port Cirrus Merchants and Bankers Stock Trading Exchange, also known as the PCSE
0930, opening bell…


The exchange has come a long way since its humble origins as a literal collection of market stalls back in the early days of Port Cirrus’s existence. Now, instead of a place to trade sundries like dried fish and nails, decades of collective evolution by banking houses and merchant consortiums have replaced the trade of physical goods with that of paper.

Of course, I don’t mean actual paper, although there’s a lot of that changing hands every day. The paper slips represent promises for shares of stock: certificates that grant ownership of a tiny sliver of an actual company, in exchange for an investment of currency. Own enough of those tiny slivers--equity, it’s called--and one can end up virtually owning a company outright. Of course, this only applies to what are called publicly-traded companies. The private mom and pop shops don’t have shares of stock floating around on the exchanges, and can’t be bought and sold so easily.

It seems illogical for companies, especially well-established ones, to offer significant parts of themselves up for sale, but they do this because it’s the fastest and easiest way to raise an ungodly amount of money. Shares of stock go up or down in price because of public confidence in the worth and longevity of a company: a company that performs well will see its stock price increase because more people are willing to invest more money in the hopes of continued increases, with the expectation that their individual wealth will also increase as this process continues. But poor profits, a scandal, or a war can easily destroy a company’s worth in the eyes of investors, and as they start selling their shares off en masse, the price per share tends to plummet, sometimes to nothing.

This is the volatile world of the stock market, where fortunes are made and lost every day, and sometimes multiple times in the same day. All of this action now takes place in a grand, marble-domed structure that occupies the center of the Port Cirrus financial district, near to what used to be a great seawall that kept the tides from washing away the low-lying tenements of southern Port Cirrus. Nowadays, the wall is long-gone and has been replaced by a street bearing its name: Wall Street.

I’m shaken out of my reminiscence by the clanging of the opening bell: it’s our signal that we’re allowed to start trading. In reality, the PCSE feels much smaller inside than it looks outside due to the crush of hundreds of traders, bankers, guild representatives, independent merchants, speculators, regulators, and security staff all trying to move around in a frenetic swirl of activity. The pale marble of the great dome has long turned a grimy brown-black color due to a relentless assault by cigarette fumes and perspiration, and the best part is that there’s only one godrotting lavatory in the entire place (this seems to be a Port Cirrus exclusive thing).

Essentially, what you want to do as a trader is to buy and sell your shares of stock before the market closes at 4:30 in the afternoon. You can either do this by making individual trades with other people at the market, or by approaching one of the many kiosks run by the various brokerage firms that companies will use to represent themselves in a more organized fashion. But the center of attention is always the “Big Board,” where the prices of stocks that are either commonly-traded or that move a large volume are constantly updated by a staff of workers who spend their entire day scurrying back and forth on stilts to adjust the wooden placards displaying the prices. A change on the board can facilitate a deal in progress or abruptly end it. The Big Board is our friend as well as our enemy.

I turn around and give Asami and Risako a squeeze on their padded shoulders. Despite the fact that they’re students thrown into this mess against their wills, they’ve done their jobs admirably. Wearing powersuits and carrying clipboards, we actually do blend in for the most part, save for the fact that we’re women and most of the people at the market are men. “We’re here! Go ahead and pick the stocks you think would do best! There’s no reason not to spend our entire budget, because any money we keep under the mattress is money that’s not working for us. Only one rule, though: no cryptocurrency. If you touch Corgicoin or BitBubble I’ll tear your heads off and shit down your necks.”

I flick their ears for emphasis. “I’ll try to scope out and get close to any House Oranji types who might happen to be here, and get a bead on Kilin’s comings and goings, as well. Oh! And if someone gropes you, which will probably happen, break his fucking hand.”

With that, I push them into the fray and hope that they make Maboroshi Corporation turn a profit. Or at least don’t send us into bankruptcy the first day. I would hate to have to explain to Yuii how I lost two hundred fifty million yen.

Meanwhile, I casually start to mill about in the ever-present crush of activity that characterizes the PCSE. It’s hot, sweaty, and smells of concentrated body odor and cologne. The Big Board’s busier than usual, I notice. In the last few weeks, I’d been reading about signs of an impending market crash, but after a few ups and downs, things look like they’re stabilizing. Risako and Asami should probably take advantage of that and buy a decent amount of long-haul stocks and exchange traded funds that follow the various indexes, in addition to whatever they think is the current hot shit on the market right now.

A few hours later, there’s been sign of House Oranji, nor have I spied out any of their representatives or brokers. And there’s definitely been no sign of Kilin. The only thing I can really do now, is wait and see how our fortunes end up. Something tells me that a major development on our part might serve to draw the sharks in our direction.
Alright, here's the main action of this mission. Risako, if you come back to the mission/site (and I hope you do!) you can hop in at any time, since I'll be continuing your character's involvement in a more passive role.

So here's how it works: You two have a budget of 248 million yen to spend on whatever stocks you wish. The twist is that the stocks you buy in this mission will mirror their REAL WORLD performance as determined by the markets! Hence, you can pretty much keep the names the same. You can buy shares of any stock you wish that's offered in the real world: Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), General Electric (GE), Google (GOOGL), Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA/BRKB), Facebook (FB), you name it. You could also invest in commodities like Gold, Silver, or Oil, too! You can buy treasury bonds, Exchange Traded Funds (try SPY, one of my favorite!), and even invest in the Volatility Index (VIX) if you felt brave enough.

Everything out there has a price. All you need to do is list in your mission post: what you want to buy, how many shares (or ounces/barrels if commodities) you bought, and what the price was at the time you looked them up. This is ALL information that can be found via a simple google search. For more information on current market trends, you can use any resource: I suggest the Wall Street Journal (wsj.com) or Bloomberg (bloomberg.com) or even MSN Money (https://www.msn.com/en-us/money) for some interesting reading and an overall look at trends.

For example, if I wanted to buy 500 shares of Apple, I'd google "Apple stock price" and get a current price of $173.58 per share. Same thing with virtually any other stock. If you want to buy commodities, look up something like: "Gold commodity price" and you'll get a current figure of $1329.80/ounce.

Note that Yen isn't really the same as dollars, but for the purposes of keeping things simple, we're going to treat the exchange rate as 1:1 (irl it's 1:100) since that simplifies the math. So basically, treat the RP as if we've been given $248 million USD.

When it's time for me to post again, I'll look up how those prices have fluctuated, and do some simple calculations for profit/loss. We'll ignore things like capital gains taxes and fees for now, just to keep things simple. I look forward to seeing how we do!
Formerly Takaki Masao, and author of The Polaris Chronicles
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Saotome Asami
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Re: Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Sat Feb 24, 2018 2:46 pm

Strange. Saeko didn’t seem nearly as annoyed as she had anticipated, and Risako was surprisingly quiet. She was glad that she wasn’t being scolded for something that was not her fault. On the other hand, she still had to go through with the mission. Apparently, a good shinobi would just have to make do. That was great for the chuunin, but she wasn’t a shinobi. The best she could take from the situation was that nothing required her to act as a fighter, or a traditional infiltrator, or an assassin… Yet.

She blinked. When she snapped back to reality, Saeko was almost uncomfortably close to her face. What was she doing with her hands? Whatever she was trying, Asami felt it could benefit greatly from a table. And glasses. Perhaps some sinister gloves. A confused smile showed itself as their leader accepted the name, and then got her name wrong. “We’ll see what we can do, Takaki-san.” She turned to Risako, offering the girl a confident nod and expecting one in return. Mabo-Co had its work cut out for it.
***
Left to their own devices, Asami tried her hand at taking charge. Their biggest priority was getting an education in the stock market overnight. Even if they could fall back on Saeko if they almost bankrupted themselves on poor choices, their mission would fall apart if they couldn’t answer basic questions about the field. Fortunately, they were in a major city, and while Port Cirrus’ wealth of knowledge would never compare to the Biblotheca, it would serve their purpose well enough. Asami declared her intentions to learn the basics of trading, something she should be able to do from the local library. She asked Risako to see if she could find out what the current trends and ‘top picks’ were, but didn’t mention that she intended to do the same if she had the time. Two heads were better than one, after all.

A quick trip to the library earned her several variations on ‘Trading For Dummies’, which were promptly checked out by ‘Ami Tome’. Paranoia told her that their mark’s influence was far and wide, and she didn’t want something as simple as a library card jeopardizing their plan. Presumably, the squad were staying in the same hotel, so once she’d picked up a few suits for herself (and experienced the wonder that was tailored attire), she made herself comfortable in her room and got to work. While her practical shinobi skills were sorely lacking, Asami considered herself an enthusiastic bookworm. Studying for hours at a time was nothing new for her, even if a troublesome attention span and a complex subject matter constantly threatened to distract her. She asked questions to Saeko – perhaps a few too many questions – about how quickly a fiat currency could collapse, or why the government didn’t just print more money for themselves, or if dropping hundreds of millions of yen into companies was going to upset the economy any. They were basic questions, and only partially related to what she needed to do, but curiosity often got the better of her. The next set of questions made that clear, as she asked why a shinobi bothered to understand stock trading to begin with, or why she sounded like she had such bad luck with students.
***
Wall Street’s bell rang through her ears. It wasn’t nearly as loud as her jolt would have others think, but to her it represented more than just another trading day. Their mission had officially begun, and despite her efforts to prepare as much as she could, she still felt it was all too easy to ruin everything. A lightly-fitted trouser suit disguised the fact that her arms and legs were a little too toned for the average businesswoman. She’d tried and failed to comb her hair into becoming straight, and settled for a series of pins holding the mess into a surprisingly presentable bun. A relatively small portion of her suit money was used to buy enough makeup to add a few years to her face. She could just about pass off as an adult, albeit one that had been blessed by a goddess of time. All in all, she looked the part; playing it would be the real struggle. Fortunately, the three made a good show of being optimistic, and it was at least slightly contagious. Saeko offered a few words of advice, and a threat, and mild violence… permission for violence? Asami assured herself that the woman meant well, even as she gave her ear a gentle rub.

Then they were off. Armed with a clipboard, pen, and half a day’s research in the market, two students were expected to turn a profit! For the first half hour, she stuck to what she knew best – studying. Observing more experienced traders gave insight to her readings, and helped her to decide her course of action. She would play it safe with stocks that were already on the rise, taking the slight profits that were bound to come out of them a few days down the line. The boldest investors tried to take advantage of falling prices, but she lacked the confidence and the knowledge to tell a goldmine from a bottomless pit. She could leave that to the others – and let them take the fall if it blew up in their faces.

She spent the next several hours people-watching, eyeing the big board, and occasionally stepping up to make a transaction. It was all oddly exciting, she soon realised. To a fresh newbie with little personal stake in her money, it was suspiciously similar to gambling. It was hard to miss that a new female’s presence had been noticed by the masses, though most of the admittedly few scoundrels limited themselves to a slimy smile or a knowing wink. At one point, she swiped a nearby stranger by the wrist and informed him that his hand did not belong there, holding him with a lot more force than necessary. If she had bothered to hone her taijutsu, she might have even carried out Saeko’s will by accident! For the most part, however, she was just part of the crowd. The people had come to make their fortunes, and that was all they were interested in.

Company/ETF/Commodity (Symbol) - Price in USD/NotYen * Shares purchased(Leftover in brackets, assuming everything is rounded down) = Money spent in USD/NotYen

Visa Inc (V:US) – 122.93 * 325388(.432) = 40,000,000
SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY:US) – 274.71 * 182010(.12) = 50,000,000
Amazon.com Inc (NASDAQ: AMZN) – 1,500.00 * 13333.(3333) = 20,000,000
NVIDIA Corp (NVDA:US) – 245.93 * 203309(.885) = 50,000,000
Microsoft Corp (MSFT:US) – 94.06 * 425260(.472) = 40,000,000
Yum! Brands(NYSE: YUM) – 79.80 * 375939(.85) = 30,000,000
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Takaki Saeko
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Re: Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Wed Feb 28, 2018 5:33 pm

At exactly four thirty the closing bell rings loud and clear, directing us and everyone else in the Exchange to figuratively--and in some cases literally--drop our pencils and clear out of the place. The big winners will go out to the city’s finest establishments to celebrate the night away with delicacies, daiginjo, and drugs, while the losers will sit alone in their offices clutching debit slips in one hand and a pistol in the other. A few, from both camps, won’t make it through the night. But most will come back at nine thirty the next day to again wrestle against inexorable fate and loss.

As for me, I’ve been super unproductive, mainly because I haven’t been able to make any headway on my search for agents of House Oranji. For people who’re deeply enmeshed in the workings of the markets, they sure keep a low profile. That runs counter to the narrative fed to us by House Tachibana. According to Eimin’s people, House Oranji should have been strutting around like kings proclaiming that they owned the place and grabbing us by the...balls. Right now, though, there’s little do but reunite with my team and assess the damage. As promised, we meet right outside the Exchange, in a little cranny off the main stairway so we don’t all get trampled by traders running out to buy pills and hookers.

Asami looks both confused and aroused at the same time as she shows me what she’s done with our millions. I can’t blame her--no one ever gets to just throw an ungodly sum of money into the wind like so much confetti, much less a student right on her first “real” mission. At first, my stomach churns a bit. Young people are into some weird shit these days: crypto, penny stocks, inverse volatility, and the like. But as I read over what she’s picked, I allow myself to crack a smile.

“You’re...pretty good,” I tell her, blinking back my disbelief. “Very conservative picks, but all of these are solid earners with good long-term growth potential. And when we’re dealing with hundreds of millions in capital, even a tiny percentage bump translates to substantial earnings.”

Initial investment:
Visa Inc (V:US) – 122.93 * 325388(.432) = 40,000,000
SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY:US) – 274.71 * 182010(.12) = 50,000,000
Amazon.com Inc (NASDAQ: AMZN) – 1,500.00 * 13333.(3333) = 20,000,000
NVIDIA Corp (NVDA:US) – 245.93 * 203309(.885) = 50,000,000
Microsoft Corp (MSFT:US) – 94.06 * 425260(.472) = 40,000,000
Yum! Brands(NYSE: YUM) – 79.80 * 375939(.85) = 30,000,000
Unrealized gains as of (Weds 2/28/18 9:58AM)
V - 124.82 * 325388 = 40,614,930.16
SPY - 276.08 * 182010 = 50,249,320.80
AMZN - 1525.80 * 13333 = 20,343,491.40
NVDA - 246.68 * 203309 = 50,152,264.12
MSFT - 95.31 * 425260 = 40,531,530.60
YUM - 81.68 * 30,706,697.52

Total unrealized gain: 2,598,234.6
Remaining capital to invest: 915.46

“Do you realize that in a day’s work here, you basically made over two and a half million yen? And I didn’t even account for dividends. Sure, we had to deal with groping hands and body odor and only one toilet in the entire freaking place, but there’s no comparison to a mission where we put our lives and limbs on the line for peanuts.” I hand the paper back to her. “Just so you know, this could all change tomorrow. That money’s not actually in our pockets until we sell all those shares, and we can’t do that right now. The market could crash entirely--we could see this all go to zero or worse. But you made us a good start. One that will be noticed by a lot of people. Tonight as a celebration, we’ll eat the good type of cup ramen!”

“Or you could join me for carpaccio and champagne at Dorssia,” someone says behind me.

I turn around and shove a finger into the man’s chest because he’s way too close and I hate being snuck up on like that. “Whoa, stranger danger!”

The man steps back and raises his hands apologetically. “My apologies. I’m used to the cramped quarters of the exchange. I didn’t mean any impropriety.”

I’m about to tell him to buzz off, but now I recognize him. I couldn’t have asked for a weirder, more unlucky, or more fortunate chance encounter, not even from the devil himself. The man’s who’s just invited us all on a weird group date is none other than Oranji Kilin himself. I take a breath. “No...I’m...it’s alright. I overreacted just now. Oranji-dono, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”

“Please, none of that Oranji-dono stuff here. On these streets, I’m just Kilin, and I would prefer if you called me that.” He bows with a flourish. Although younger than Eimin is, Kilin’s got the same type of refined, upper-crust build, with a chiseled, angular features, closely-coiffed and stylish hair, and expertly-tailored clothes that highlight a body carved from wood. He’s born to rule, and you’re going to like it. “I actually wanted to meet with the new superstars calling themselves Maboroshi Incorporated. You’ve made waves on your first outing, buying up an ungodly amount of shares and turning them into profit. And, I’m also pleased to encounter a women-owned and women-run company shaking things up. We don’t see many of those here.”

I consider my options carefully. Eimin’s called it: Kilin smells women making money like a shark smells blood in the water, and man and fish probably share the same desire. If we weren’t shinobi, we’d be best served avoiding contact with him like the plague. But our mission is not only to pretend to be an upstart hedge fund, but also to get close to Kilin himself and find out where he’s been keeping the evidence stolen from the murdered Yukio. We have to take risks if we want to clear our objectives and get back home with something to show our masters. That’s what we’ve trained for all our lives, and why we’re allowed existence.

“Dorssia’s kind of hard to get reservations at,” I reply, coyly. “Don’t you have to make them a year in advance? I don’t think they’ll take kindly to adding three more to your reservation at the last minute.”

“The owner’s a close friend of mine,” Kilin says. “Reservations don’t really matter when I’ve got dirt on him from our days at Lightning National. So, you coming or not? My carriage is waiting.”

I look back at Asami and Risako. “Sure, we could use a drink. So long as they’re on you.”

Kilin chuckles. “Well, that’s obvious. Anyway, come with me so we can beat the traffic. Unlike Dorssia, the congestion in this city doesn’t give a shit who anyone is.”

* * *

A few minutes later, we all step through the oddly gauche marble and glass entrance to Dorssia. Catering to the financial and political elites of Port Cirrus, it’s one of those places where a glass of wine costs more than an average citizen’s entire yearly salary, and is said to be the birthplace of molecular reconstructive gastronomy, which to my limited knowledge involves things like taking lobsters and making them into powder which is made into paste which is made into liquid which is then made into lobsters again and then sublimated into gas. Portion sizes are in the millimeter-range, but on the plus side, you can always ask your waiter for a hit of coke at any time.

“Kilin-sama, welcome!” The maitre-d almost kowtows to Kilin as he greets the man. If he’s nonplussed by the sudden addition of extra guests, he does a masterful job hiding it. “My dear Lady Ievanka is already at your table. Will you be having your usual?”

Kilin nods, but gives the man a slightly cock-eyed look. “I didn’t actually tell her to come here, but...that’s fine. She’s always interested in meeting new people, after all.”

The maitre-d looks concerned. “I didn’t realize that, Kilin-sama. Would you like her sent elsewhere?”

“No, no, I said it’s fine,” Kilin replies with a smile. “And bring extra champagne for my lovely guests.”

With that, we’re led to a nicely-appointed circular corner table, which is clearly meant for Kilin’s personal use at all times seeing as it’s permanently fenced off from the rest of the dining area. Hearing that his wife had arrived--and without telling him, at that--make me both concerned as well as relieved. I was worried that he’d try to do something creepy to me or my charges, and her presence does mitigate that risk. On the other hand, she’s also just another obstacle to deal with when it comes to digging information out of the man, particularly when murder might be concerned.

Ievanka sits at the far end of the corner with a nearly-empty bottle of top-shelf vodka nearby. And even though she’s clearly wasted, she still takes my breath away to see her. When Donado of Oranji took power, all the newscasters were abuzz over her beauty and charm and whatnot, but I never really believed any of it--until now. She’s dressed in a sheer evening gown that perfectly accentuates her sleek lines and alluring figure, almost like a racing yacht brought to life and turned into a cute girl (I think the greasy otaku out there have a show with that same premise), and the large amount of revealed skin is flawlessly porcelain to a tee. And although I’m about as straight a woman as they come, even I start to question my Kinsey score when I lay eyes on her.

Kilin, however, looks less than pleased. “Come, come, sit down! The drinks will be here in no time,” he tells us, not even acknowledging his wife. And the way the seating works out, he ends up about as far away from her as possible (with a circular table) while sitting right next to Asami, and I end up closest to Ievanka.

A crew of waiters descends on us with our drinks, setting a full flute of champagne in front of each of us, along with a small plate of tender filet mignon hammered into goofy hearts and topped with arugala and fancy aioli. Just from the smell of the champagne, I can tell it’s one of those 'costs more than my yearly rent' types. Kilin raises a glass. “To the success of Maboroshi Incorporated, and the continued prosperity of our nation!”

I politely extend my glass and clink it against everyone else’s spilling some of the precious liquid on the silk tablecloth. As I take a swig, it hits me: this is damned good champagne that I will likely never encounter again.

“Like it? It’s actually from the Waterfall Wars era. Only a few dozen bottles left,” Kilin says, enthusiastically. “Feel free to drain ‘em all, though!”

I notice Ievanka hasn’t participated in the toast. “Well, on behalf of our small startup, I thank you for the invitation, Kilin-dono.”

“Just Kilin,” he says, shushing me. “And in return I’ll call you Saeko, Asami, and Risako. We’re all in this business together, as equals, you know. We all want the same thing. And that is to get filthy rich, eh?”

“I guess.”

“So where did you guys get your capital, by the way? There haven’t been a lot of angel investors recently, especially with the whole Corgicoin and tech crash, and since ol’ Martin went to the clink.”

“Some of it’s from private sources--you know, friends and family,” I say, shrugging. “And some of it’s been backed by trustees of the Marquess of Roenesia. He’s interested in diversifying his holdings, you know. The rest comes from sources as diverse as the Tenouzan church and even the merchants guilds of Kagoshima. Really a motley collection of people who wanted a stable investment platform. And we aim to deliver.”

“Well, you’ve been doing a smashing job so far. Made over two and a half quid on the first day of the markets. If more hedge fund managers were like you three, I’d invest more with ‘em. I noticed you acquired a lot of AMZN. I can’t believe that shit’s still going up. Last year it was ‘only’ seven hundred a share. Next year it’ll probably be five thousand.”

“Well, we’re in this for a long game,” I say with a smile. “Oh! Kilin, you haven’t introduced us to your lovely wife.”

Kilin’s smiley facade fades for a split-second, but he resumes it. “Right! Where are my manners? Ievanka dearest, these fine ladies are Saeko, Asami, and Risako of Maboroshi Corporation, or Mabo-Co for short. And ladies, this is my wife, Ievanka. And yes, her father is The Donado, as featured on Twitter! Ha!”

“Hajimemashite, Ievanka-sama,” I reply, extremely politely. I only hope Asami and Risako do the same. “You know, I actually have met and talked with your father a few times.”

At first, Ievanka retains the glassy-eyed 'fuck you I’m dead to the world' stare that deep inebriation brings, but then as she regards me, she surprisingly clasps at my hand. “I...know about you. You’re the one who Daddy said was wearing that crown made of tinfoil, right?”

I’m not sure if that memory makes me proud or makes me cringe. “Ah! Yes!” I let out a half-chuckle. “That was me...and I’m sure it doesn’t bear mention ever again…”

“Daddy said you were really nice to him. You made him feel appreciated and special,” Ievanka says, to my surprise. “Everyone hates Daddy, and he knows it, but he said he’d like it if you wrote to him more.”

Jesus Saito, I didn’t expect half of this to be coming from her mouth. If she spills any more, she might inadvertently reveal who we really are. Why the hell did I have to brag about my time as Acting Raikage? It was actually a godrotting nightmare that I yearn to forget! “I certainly intend to!” I tell her, mentally pleading with her to drop the subject. “I just haven’t gotten around to it, but maybe I’ll write him a letter. Like, tonight!”

“If you would do that, it would make Daddy, and me, very very happy,” Ievanka says, with a sad smile crossing her face. Shit, she actually looks more beautiful than before. “Not even Kilin likes Daddy that much.”

“Ievanka,” Kilin says, “that’s enough. I love my adopted father, and he loves and supports me. Without him, I wouldn’t have anything, and I owe him everything. So don’t ever, ever say that I feel anything but adoration for the man. Do you understand?”

“Shut up,” Ievanka snaps at him. “You’re lying, Kilin. Like you lie about everything. Like you lie about loving me, and like you’ve lied about why you brought these girls here.”

And just like that, the mood turns from tension into shit. Kilin lets out a deep breath and quickly drains the rest of his champagne. A dark cloud flashes across his visage. “I’m sorry, everyone. My wife is feeling under the weather. Saeko, could you be awesome and help her freshen up in the bathroom or something? I’ll have the maitre-d call a carriage for her.”

“Of course…” I reply, taking Ievanka by the hand and helping her stand. “Asami, Risako, I’ll be right back. Don’t, uh, move.”

With some difficulty, I hustle Ievanka to the ladies’ room. It’s probably all well and good that Kilin basically sent us both away, since things have taken a dangerous and unexpected turn really quickly. It was my fault for mentioning my prior interactions with the Donado, but damn, I didn’t expect so much suppressed marital rage to erupt at the table. I look in the mirror and dab at the few beads of sweat forming on my forehead. What’s the best way to salvage this? I need to get Kilin to spill the beans, somehow, but this probably set us back. As I’m wracking my brain, I feel a woman’s hands on my shoulders. I turn to face her, only to find Ievanka unusually close to me. “Eh?”

“I like you,” Ievanka whispers, before drawing herself in and kissing me fully on the lips.

At first, I tense up like a motherfucker. This is not supposed to happen. I’m not supposed to be making out with the chancellor’s daughter in the bathroom of a molecular gastronomy joint after she’s just had a public spat with the chancellor’s son-in-law who we’re investigating as part of a murder case. This is how bad things happen that lead to people being killed or thrown in jail for a long, long time. But on the other hand, Ievanka of Oranji has the softest lips I’ve ever tasted. The scent of her perfume, sweat, and tears overwhelms my last vestiges of heterosexuality and before even a second passes, I’ve succumbed like a teenage girl in the world’s trashiest romance flick.

By the time she breaks off to breathe, I’m not sure how long we’ve played tonsil-hockey for, but it’s obviously been long enough for our clothes to have become completely rumpled and our hair to be completely knocked out of place. Ievanka removes her hand from under my shirt and caresses my cheek with it. “Saeko, do you like me?”

Dry-mouthed, I mumble the best thing I can muster. “Uh, sure?”

That seems to satisfy her. “Good. I want to see you again, and only you. I hate him, you know. Daddy said marrying him would be a great idea, but he’s so cold to me. We haven’t even done it once. He ignores me, and I’m left all alone. I want revenge, and I want out of this marriage. Kilin...he knows about a man who was killed a while ago, named Yukio. He has something that belonged to Yukio. I want to show it to you.”

And as if my heart couldn’t take any more, now it’s reached the breaking point. Did Ievanka just finger her own husband in Yukio’s murder? If so, that’s exactly the kind of break we need. Even more so if she knows where Yukio’s books are being kept. I nod, perhaps too enthusiastically. “Can you show me now?”

Ievanka smiles and kisses me on the lips once more, for shorter this time. “Not yet. I want to see more of you, first, and for longer.. Kilin’s going to hold a party at the manor soon. Invite only, but of course you’re invited.”

A knock sounds on the door and I hear the maitre-d outside. “Lady Ievanka, your carriage has arrived.”

Ievanka sneaks in yet another kiss and giggles. “I have to go. I’ll text you, though. Promise you’ll come, or I’ll punish you severely.” And with that, she collects her handbag and walks out of the bathroom.

I take in several deep breaths to slow my heart down. This was unexpected, but now we have a lead.

* * * Meanwhile * * *

Kilin shook his head as Ievanka made her way to the restroom, almost falling over her own feet and bowling Saeko over. Then, he turned his attention to the remaining two at the table. Risako, the raven-haired one, seemed quiet and absorbed in her own thoughts. Kilin, however, didn’t mind, as Risako wasn’t really the one he’d been scouting for the entire day while trading on the exchange. And neither had his target been Saeko, even though she was the officially registered president of MaboCo. No, Kilin’s target was the type of woman he’d always longed for: crimson locks and an overbearing aura of ennui.

“I’m sorry that happened,” he said to Asami, unable to meet her eyes. “I know it probably looks to you like I’m some sort of weird, abusive husband or whatever, but I want to tell you that it’s not the truth. Ievanka’s a wonderful person and I respect and admire her, but...the truth is that we’re just not really into each other and don’t really have a lot in common. Our marriage is kind of a political one, at best. She does her thing, and I do mine. We could probably conduct our marriage over the phone,” he said, with a sad attempt at a chuckle.

“Ah, but what am I doing? Anyway, I just wanted to get to know some new people on the Exchange, and I’m really happy to see an all-woman corp making big moves like you three are. A lot of my peers think it’s blasphemous or that it’s going to lead to the ruin of this nation, but I don’t think so. We’re all in here to get rich and change things for the better. Or at least, that’s what I want to do. I’m not a warrior or a chakra shinobi or whatever lives in Cloud. I’m good at one thing, and that is deals. So that’s all I can do to make the country a better place for the common people. They’re the ones who voted my father in to the government in the first place. They were fed up with the Tachibanas and their self-serving bullshit. The people wanted a change. So here I am. Shit, I’m sorry. I’m ranting now.”

His gaze now met Asami’s. “This is going to sound really sketchy coming from a married guy, I know. And I'm sure you've heard some shitty things about me flying around. But I would love to get to know you better, Saotome Asami. Not just because you’re good at picking winners, but because I’m...well, attracted to you as a woman. And hey, I’m not even asking you on a date or anything, but in a few days I’ll be holding a little party at my place. I’d love it if you came and we had the chance to chat more. Invite only, but obviously you’re on the list.”
Formerly Takaki Masao, and author of The Polaris Chronicles
Guns of the Temple | Swords of the Imperium | Knives of the Ring
Prince of Maladies | Ashes of the Old King
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Re: Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Mon Mar 05, 2018 3:26 pm

Another bell. Despite how engrossed she had become in the market, the second didn’t surprise her nearly as much as the first. It signalled the end of her struggle – for the moment, anyway. She could only hope her choices would allow them to break even, and if not, that her allies were able to pick up the slack. Examination of the big board as she was corralled to the exit revealed the truth. Things hadn’t gone badly. Not at all. She’d made a profit. A small percentage of profit, as far as she knew, but even that percentage was several times more money than she had to her name. It was no surprise that she was happy to report her results to Saeko, and the mildly impressed response sealed the deal. Things had gone well, which she had barely accounted for the night before. Though the woman tried to warn her that they weren’t guaranteed winnings, Asami didn’t seem too bothered. Nothing could bring her down – at least, she thought, until she mentioned that they would still be eating cup ramen. Asami was all too ready to point out that she’d left aside a small portion of their funding to keep up the appearance of wealthy professionals, and them eating at a fancy restaurant would aid with that and definitely not fulfil her desire to eat like she was an elite for once…

The arrival of their mark salvaged their dinner plans and left her feeling quite conflicted. Their dinner plans were salvaged, but they were also standing before the accused conspirer, cheating, manipulative slimeball that they were expected to betray. She was happy to let Saeko do the talking, whilst she did little more than look and smile. Words were exchanged, drinks were arranged, and Asami questioned whether or not Saeko was allowed to let two minors drink. Oh well. They were already planning to break a few laws, by nature of their mission. Why stop at just one?
***
She had a few minutes to chastise herself for such a thought. She was a good person, and good people didn’t run around being illegal whenever they felt like it. And yet, once they sat down at their exclusive table, in a restaurant that held as much wealth as a small bank, dining with a pair of aristocrats, the allure of the upper class began to blur her morals. The drunk damsel that was Ievanka Oranji threatened to ruin the scene, but even she was too beautiful to sour the occasion – as long as she was quiet, anyway. As much as Asami tried to play it cool, there was a constant underlying awe in her eyes. Perhaps it could be passed off as curiosity, but either way she realised she could get used to the lifestyle. It almost made her forget she was sitting beside a man that everybody at the table knew was a bit too hungry for women - except his wife. She hoped the lady was blissfully unaware, even if later events would prove otherwise.

A toast! She knew from television that they had to drink after, even if she technically wasn’t allowed to. What was the harm in it? She tried a sip, and found it… interesting. Not terrible, but not the kind of drink she would seek out in the future. Perhaps alcohol wasn’t for her. It was for the best, she told herself with a glance towards the lady. She heard at last one question she couldn’t have hoped to answer as smoothly as their leader had, and she found herself grateful once again that at least one of them knew what they were doing. The best she could do was shut up, look pretty, show respect when requested and hope nobody pressed her. It almost worked, but then the missus had to be excused (after revealing she definitely knew more than she had let on), and the two children were left with a hungry wolf. That was what they had been told, at least. Barring the brief crack, he seemed to be a decent man, who had even gone as far as to treat them to dinner. There was a good chance that it was part of the act, of course… Which brought her little comfort. She turned to get a better look at him, and realised he was focusing on her. Not her and Risako, just her. She heard the ‘stranger danger’ alarm ringing in the distance, even if his speech started off innocent enough. As soon as he mentioned attraction, it became a claxon, accompanied by an impoverished child ringing a handbell across her metal space. A pang of discomfort made its way through her confident façade. There was no chuunin to bail her out, and Risako may as well have been a doorstop for all the help she was being. She wanted to give him a hard pass, but how could she? It was exactly what they needed. Never mind that the man had somehow picked up their names. Never mind that he was practically doing their mission for them, under the guise of being attracted to a ‘woman’ he’d barely seen speaking. It was all a bit too bizarre… But maybe that was how missions were supposed to be. Still, there was something causing her concern, beside the idea of courting a man old enough to be her father was hard to process.

“I’m… flattered.” She turned away for a moment to clear her throat, and give herself an extra second to think. “That you think more highly of our business than most, and that you’ve taken such a liking to me so soon.” Her voice betrayed more hesitance than she would have hoped, but she was quick to justify it. “Ievanka-sama seems like a decent lady. Never mind embarrassing her, or the outrage that would come from a love triangle with some nobody from a new business… You’ve made a very bold declaration, very quickly.” She looked to Risako, though she wasn’t expecting much of a reply. The faintest of smiles appeared on her face as she focused on the man again. “I suppose speed is nothing new when you make your living on Wall Street… And I can’t deny that you have your charm. Why not, then? I’d be happy to see you at your party… As long as you could find a place for my partners. It’d be good for them to get to know the locals too, don’t you think?”
[MFT]
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Valentine's Event 2018

Re: Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Wed Mar 07, 2018 7:36 pm

The next time I wake up, it’s 3 in the afternoon, I’m back in our hotel room in the same clothes I wore yesterday, and somehow I’ve managed to end up sitting upside down on the couch. I’ve got a splitting headache, my mouth tastes like vomit, my neck’s bent in a way that shouldn’t be compatible with life, and my mobile’s buzzing away on the floor next to my ear and knocking into my skull with its incessant vibrations. In short, I think I might have drank too much at Dorssia last night.

It’s all a blur. Last thing I remember was coming back from attending to Ievanka, only to walk in on Kilin making a pass at Asami. Presumably he liked what he heard from her, because the next thing he did was order us all a round of drinks. And at a place like Dorssia, the drinks are the kind that don’t taste like alcohol at all. Before you know it, you’ve consumed enough booze to kill a whale and get yourself banned from NC Discord for life. But I don’t really remember what happened after the third or so round of shots. Hell, I don’t actually remember how I got home.

My mobile vibrates again and buzzsaws my head. I grope around like an imbecile before finally clasping it in my hands and bringing its bright, 8-bit screen to my face.
Hi, this is Ievanka, just want 2 confirm ur getting my messages

I’m so glad I met u! U’re really cute!

U definitely will come 2 the party, rite?

Don’t worry if u don’t have a dress, I have one for u if you need

Wanna go shopping 2gether?

Saeko are u getting my messages?

I wanna hold ur hand again

Are u there?

Saeko pick up I know ur getting these

---(18 missed calls)---

Look I meant everything I said to u I mean I was drunk but…

Come on don’t be a bitch pick up

Saeko pls I’m really lonely I wanna talk

Please

I showed u my **** please respond

---(Storage capacity exceeded--no more SMS messages can be displayed)---
“Oh...shit,” I mutter under my breath as I scroll through the hurricane of texts that Kilin’s wife has apparently sent me overnight. To be honest, I’m actually pretty baffled. I thought only virgin “nice guys” did this kind of obsessive stalker routine, not married women in the upper echelon of society. But Ievanka’s sent me enough of these to strain my mobile’s storage capacity to the limit (state of the art at a whole 500 kilobytes), virtually shutting my communications down in the process.

I groggily right myself on the couch and hold my head in my hands, trying to plan out my next move. It looks like Asami and I have both managed to score an ‘in’ to Kilin’s mansion, but now we’re going to have to deal with not one but two potential amorous distractions. Speaking of which...Jesus Saito, did I really get wasted enough to leave Asami and Risako in danger? Where the hell are they, even?

“‘sami, where the fuck are you? You okay?” I moan, lugging myself to my feet. “Risako, are you dead in a ditch?”

I’m about to look for them when a sudden knocking at the door derails my progress. “Gimme a second!” I shout at it. I don’t see either of my students present--typical, I guess. Before I open the door, I look through the eyepiece, just to make sure that it’s not Ievanka on the other side. The last thing I want to do is try to fend her off while dealing with a hangover at the same time.

To my relief, though, it’s Tachibana Eimin on the other side. I clumsily undo the lock and open the door. Without even greeting me, he steps in and immediately gives me a backhand across the face. The impact is such that I actually lose my footing and fall backwards right onto my ass.

“Huh? What the fuck?” I rub my cheek, dumbfounded at what’s happened.

“You’re supposed to be getting my godrotting evidence, not fucking around and getting wasted on my dime!” Eimin growls. He quickly shuts the door and locks it. “How much did you drink last night, anyway? I heard you and your crew made utter fools of yourself at Dorssia.”

“What? We didn’t…” I’m too dumbfounded to actually be mad at the man for assaulting me. How does he know where we were or what we did, anyway?

Eimin grabs me by the wrist and yanks me to my feet. “Do you know you nearly broke Kilin’s hand while drunkenly armwrestling with him? Or that you pissed away two hundred thousand of my yen betting on the godrotting Kelmura Browns? I mean, for fuck’s sake, if you’re going to try fantasy sports book, don’t bet on the team that lost every single game in their last season, including preseason warmup practice!

“Hey, you’re a little too close,” I object, mainly because his spittle is hitting my eyelashes.

“Shut up,” Eimin snaps, and grasps me by the throat. “I hired you to get Yukio’s documents back, not to carouse with my enemies like sluts. If you can’t do the job, then I’ll hire someone who will.”

Normally, if a man were restraining me like this and yelling in my face, I’d have him flat on his back on the ground missing his teeth, but the problem is that Tachibana Eimin’s a noble and we’re all commoners--shinobi, yes, but still not granted the hereditary right of rule. There are some fundamental laws that cannot be broken lest the nation’s very existence be threatened, and one of those is that a commoner can’t beat the shit out of a nobleman, or for that matter, really talk back. The only thing I can do is simply nod. “Yes, Compradore. I understand. We understand.”

Eimin lets me go and straightens his tie out. It only takes him a second to regain his composure, and moments later he looks like the same refined, affable gentleman we first encountered. It’s almost like he didn’t just turn into a rampaging shithead just now. “I heard you were all invited to Kilin’s soiree, though. That’s a good step. I’ll be there as well, just so you know.”

“Really?” I raise my eyebrows. “Why would Kilin invite you, his enemy?”

“Better to keep your enemies close rather than afar in this business,” Eimin replies. “We may plot each other’s downfall but that doesn’t mean we can’t raise a glass together in public. I expect during the party is when you’ll make your move, correct?”

“We plan to, yes.”

“Good. Then this will be over sooner than I thought. Your subordinate, Saotome--she’s perfect bait. I assume she’s to seduce Kilin while you and Hashiwa infiltrate the chambers?”

“That’s a little…” I grit my teeth. “She’s only a student, skilled as she is. We don’t use operatives that young in that sort of...role.”

“Really? I wasn’t aware shinobi had scruples. Don’t let it compromise your mission, though,” Eimin says, clearly annoyed. “Kilin’s a flagrant pedophile on top of everything else wrong with the man and his cursed house. Don’t you wonder why he’s never touched Ievanka? Give him that nubile redhead to play with and you could practically yank out his toenails without him noticing, I wager.”

I rub at my throat. “I’ll take that into consideration, Compradore. Now, is that all? We need time to make our preparations for the operation.”

Eimin snorts. “Yes, yes. I won’t take any more of your time. Just do your jobs and you’ll get rewarded, as I promised. Even though you’ve ended up losing nearly three million yen so far, I don’t really mind so long as you get me what I want. See you at the party.”

With that, he turns and exits our room, leaving me seething in addition to being hungover and an all around mess.
* * *
Unrealized gains as of (Weds 3/7/2018, 12:15PM)

V - 120.25 * 325388 = 39,127,907.00
SPY - 270.41 * 182010 = 49,217,324.10
AMZN - 1530.00 * 13333 = 20,399,490.00
NVDA - 240.28 * 203309 = 48,851,086.52
MSFT - 92.50 * 425260 = 39,336,550.00
YUM - 80.62 * 375939 = 30,308,202.18

Total holdings: 227,240,559.80
Total unrealized loss: 2,759,440.20
* * *

The night of the party

It’s finally time for the most important part of the operation to begin. Thankfully, since Asami had set aside a good deal of yen, we were able to go go and buy some excellent outfits for formal occasions and have then rush-tailored to fit us all the better. I’ve elected to wear a more traditional Kaminarijin-style outfit, mainly because the extensive folds and layers of my brocaded kimono will allow me to smuggle in the likely necessities I’ll need. A lockpick kit, gas and poison capsules, and, if needed, a garotte. If shit hits the fan, I can shed the outer layers for something much more suited to running and gunning.

Yukio’s documents apparently all fit into a small briefcase, so at least we won’t have to worry about lugging something huge out of the place. Believe me, trying to steal a large painting or a statue without causing a scene is almost impossible even for shinobi. I’ve advised Asami not to bring anything too flagrant or high-firepower into the place. Not only will those things get detected on a search, but also we’re not going in there with the intent of massacring a bunch of Lightning Country’s most powerful players. The demon-possessed axes and man-portable cannons have to stay home for this one. Risako is the only exception to this. She’s elected to go do recon and sniper duties outside the estate, and is ready to send a .50 caliber minie ball into whatever target we designate, if it comes to that.

I’ve ignored Ievanka’s incessant texts and calls, even those offering a ride to the estate. It’s better to arrive at one’s own time, rather than the time one’s target sets. Regardless, we have more than enough to get a luxury carriage there, and soon we won’t really be thinking about saving and budgeting. Soon, we’re going to either win or lose hard.

Aas we pull up to the massive Port Cirrus estates occupied by House Oranji, I can’t help but notice that everything there is, well...big. Much bigger and more ostentatious than anything held by House Tachibana, the entire place follows Donado’s aesthetic: go huge and cover it with gold. Even the fences topped with barbed wire are gold, for that matter. Our carriage joins a line of vehicles that slowly snake their way through the imposing gates and rigid security checks, and after what seems like forever, we’re finally let out right in front of the main banquet hall, amid a crowd of other elites clad in their silks and brocades and yet more gold. I can’t help but gawk at the fact that the stairs leading to the main entrance are lined with statues of Donado of Oranji, all done in gold, of course.

“Alright, let’s get the lay of the land first,” I tell Asami. “Split and get a sense of what sort of security coverage they have inside--who’s guarding the stairs and doorways, and how many. Pretend you’re enjoying the food and drink, but obviously don’t overindulge.” Like me, I think with a sigh. “Report back once you’ve made your recon.”

I squeeze Asami’s hand and break off from her, grabbing a flute of expensive champagne from a passing server and pretending to mill about while taking sips from the glass. It’s really good champagne, so I regret not being able to actually drink it. Although I recognize some faces from the Exchange, no one really comes up to me or acknowledges me, which is probably for the best.

Already, I can tell security’s tight. Although they do their utmost to blend in, Kilin’s plainclothes guard staff are practically everywhere. They’re not just covering the entrances deeper into the estate, they’re also actively patrolling the entire party. Each man’s got a concealed baton and pistol under expensive robes, which the civilians don’t notice but to a shinobi stick out like sore thumbs. There’s no way we’ll be able to simply sneak past or incapacitate them, not with overlapping areas of surveillance like they’ve got here. Professionals...just what I didn’t want, I think and clench my teeth. I find my way over to Asami.

“Looks bad,” I mutter in her ear while pretending to eat some canapes. “We need to change our approach. Ievanka is a bit...uh, obsessed with me for some reason. I’m going to find her and try to get into the main house that way. You just stay put and keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t...don’t worry about trying to take advantage of Kilin. You’re not expected to be a honeypot and I won’t order you to do that. If you need to leave the place for your own safety, just go and don’t worry about me. I have Risako backing me up with a rifle, anyway.”

With that, I pat her on the shoulder and go off in search of Ievanka. It’s not hard to find her. In fact, scarily enough, she’s the one who finds me.

A pair of arms wraps around me from behind. “You’re really, really hard to get a hold of,” Ievanka whispers in my ear. The tip of her tongue flicks against my earlobe and I shiver a bit.

“I kept my promise,” I protest, laying my hands on hers.

“Why’d you ignore my texts? Why didn’t you pick up my calls?” She bites the top of my ear with the last sentence and I let out a wince.

“My...my mobile’s an older model and my service plan’s really basic,” I say, slowly extricating myself from her grasp. “It like, crashed after the first few messages while I was asleep, and I couldn’t even place a call without getting charged out the ass,” I say, smiling. “But don’t worry, I’m here now! You, uh, said you wanted to show me something, right?”

Ievanka gives me a coy smile and cocks her head. “Maybe. But first, let’s get out of here. This party’s annoying. Everyone’s here to suck up to Kilin and no one pays attention to me.”

Despite the creepiness of her approach, I can’t say I mind the way she looks right now. In a pearl-white, western-style dress with her hair done up and her makeup flawless, she’s basically a paragon of beauty at the moment--so pretty, in fact, that it’s actually hard to feel any carnal attraction to her for fear of spoiling the picture. Next to her, I feel and look pretty damned plain. As she extends her hand to me, I can’t help but feel some butterflies--not from the mission, but from the fact that, well, this is pretty damned awesome.

With Ievanka practically dragging me along, the guards don’t even blink as they let her up the balustraded main stairs and into the restricted inner chambers of the Oranji compound. Thankfully, the living quarters are sparsely guarded, if at all, since all manpower seems to have been diverted to the party. But even without men patrolling the halls, there’s a different force to contend with: dimeritium.

Dimeritium is a vanishingly rare earth ore--only second in rarity to vibranium--whose main use is as an anti-chakra compound. Its very presence dampens and absorbs the energy emissions that we shinobi depend on for all of our skills, making it the perfect countermeasure against our kind. When around the metal, we’re no better than normal humans--actually, probably worse. As a result, the elites tend to buy it up for their own use--a small amount will guard against many offensive techniques or attempts at sabotage, for example. The Shogun’s throne in Raiden’s Eye is actually entirely made of dimeritium as well--the ultimate deterrence for any chakra-dependent attacker.

Eimn wasn’t lying earlier: the Oranji compound is dense with the stuff. Probably had small fragments inserted into all the door frames and locks and major walls. Simply walking around, I can feel my combat potential dissipate almost to nothing. If Ievanka tries something violent… I shiver again.

“Here,” Ievanka says, and unlocks a nearby door. As she pushes me in, I’m hit with a blast of steam to the face. Did we just enter a hot springs? I blink away the condensation and take a look around. We’re not actually at the springs, but rather in a nicely-appointed bedroom that just so happens to have a massive marble hot tub sunken into the floor, surrounded of course by gilded furnishings. In true Oranji style, everything’s overdone and overblown. “Don’t just stand there, babe! Get naked,” Ievanka orders me with a laugh, and then starts to strip her own outfit off.

“But I’ve got makeup on,” I protest. “It’ll run…”

“What, you think I don’t? I don’t give a shit. I want to chill with you in here. Or is that...steam in here with you? I don’t know!” She comes over to me and thrusts a bottle of vodka in my face. “Drink!”

Not seeing any other alternative, I press the bottle to my lips and pretend to down a massive swig. That’s a basic skill we’re all taught in the academy. Satisfied, Ievanka takes the bottle back and then proceeds to drain it almost entirely in one gulp. I can’t help but gawk at the sight. “Uh, hold on, just lemme take this off. There are a lot of layers here…”

The thought of using a capsule of sleeping poison on her comes to mind, but I realize that if I do, I won’t know where the hell Yukio’s evidence has been stashed. I have to bear with this for a while longer. Quickly, I strip off the kimono and the undergarments, making sure to hide my infiltration gear. By now, Ievanka’s already in the hot tub splashing around and cavorting. Gritting my teeth, I step in.

The water’s quite warm--actually almost uncomfortably hot. I sink to my shoulders, trying to acclimate. Ievanka wades over to me and starts a sloppy attempt at making out.

“Ievanka, you really want out of this marriage, don’t you?” I ask her, trying my best to passively fend her off.

“Hell yes,” she replies. “And I’ve got enough dirt on him to make him agree to a divorce!”

“So, uh, what kind of dirt do you have on Kilin? What makes you so sure he’ll agree?”

Ievanka backs away, finally, to take another swig from her bottle. “Remember that kid who died, Yukio? Well, Kilin got the stuff that belonged to the kid, and it’s all sorts of evidence of dirty, shitty deals. The kind of stuff that’ll crash the market and turn every billionaire in this country into a beggar overnight. I can threaten to expose it to his enemies, like that scumbag Tachibana Eimin. Kilin will have to do what I say, then!”

“Did Kilin...kill Yukio?”

“What? No. Kilin’s a shitty husband but he’s not a murderer. He did try to go after Yukio that night because he wanted to warn the kid, but someone else got to Yukio first. Kilin caught up with the guy and surprised him, made him drop the evidence, and then stole it from Yukio’s murderer.”

“Wait…” Realization dawn on my face. “Does Kilin actually know who murdered Yukio?”

“Yeah,” Ievanka says with a shrug, “but he wouldn’t tell me. He said it was better that I didn’t know and kept out of the whole mess.”

“Look, I need to see that evidence. If someone was murdered to get it, that means you’re in danger, too. This could be a matter of life and death. So you need to show it to me right away, okay?”

Ievanka gives me a frustrated pout. “Oh, fine! If you think it’s that important. I’ll show it to you...hold on.” She clumsily gets out of the hot tub, and drips a trail over to a large oil painting of The Donado hung on the wall. She swings the painting out on a hinge and punches in a combination to the safe right behind it.

Classic, I think, as she withdraws a small, leather-bound volume from the safe. It’s no bigger than a small manga. I step out of the hot tub and throw on at least my under-wrap before going over to inspect it. For all intents and purposes, it’s a ledger showing a history of some pretty massive short-sells in many of the country’s most expensive stocks. To his credit, Yukio was a meticulous note-taker. Every last yen is accounted for, and in detail. But as I flip through the pages, I notice something else. Most of the transactions aren’t done in Kilin’s name. Actually, most of them were performed by...

“Eimin?” I wonder aloud. More shivers down my body, but now for a completely different reason. The information within this volume doesn’t actually implicate Kilin...it implicates the compradore of House Tachibana itself!
* * *

It didn’t take long before Kilin found who he was looking for. He’d been enduring the party until now, disinterested in the endless compliments of sycophants and bootlickers, but always scanning the crowd for that certain shade of deeply passionate red so intense as to be purple, like a lover’s bedroom bruise. And once he’d caught sight of it in the crowd, he immediately broke off all of his conversations and headed straight for her.

“Saotome Asami,” Kilin said, bowing deeply to her. “I am so...so glad you came here. I didn’t think...I was actually pretty afraid you wouldn’t show up. You’re the first woman who’s made me feel kind of bashful about being so forward, but maybe that’s because you’re you. I hope you’re enjoying yourself here. I’m not,” he added with a chuckle. “I actually prefer a quieter setting, more intimate. I’m guessing you might as well. Please, come upstairs with me for a drink. Don’t worry, it’s not to try and take advantage of you. I’ve got to talk to you about something important. Something about...well, a dead man.”

Offering his arm to Asami as expected of a gentleman, Kilin walked up the stairs with her past the stone-faced guardsmen, and opened the door to a small study. Within were two comfortable chairs and a small table, upon which were crystal glasses and a decanter of fine spirits. Kilin poured Asami a glass and them himself, and sat down across from her.

“I wasn’t lying when I told you I was attracted to you,” he said, looking her in the eye. “And I disagree that you’re just some ‘nobody.’ Both because you’re exceptionally beautiful, but also because, well, I did some digging. I know that you and your companions were all hired by Tachibana Eimin.”

He slowly showed Asami his hands. “I’m not going to hurt you, believe me. And I assume that with your combat training, you could probably beat me senseless regardless of all the dimeritium in this place. But I’m not a fool. Eimin’s tried this kind of ploy on me before, sending beautiful women in to entice me into saying or doing something stupid. It doesn’t take a genius to know that your investment capital came directly from him, probably as a cash transfer. But sending shinobi after me is kind of a step up for him. And it’s because I know that he killed his own cousin, Tachibana Yukio.”

Kilin rose from his seat and started to pace. “Yukio was actually kind of a friend of mine. A really moral and upstanding guy. Despite our political differences, we had a lot in common. A while back, he came across some evidence of Eimin’s attempts to crash the markets, probably in an attempt to disgrace my house and bring his back into power. He’ll do anything for that matriarch of his, even if it means sending the entire nation into starvation and misery. But Yukio wouldn’t have it. He threatened to go to the authorities, and was dumb enough to say that to Eimin’s face. The night Yukio was killed, I tried to find him myself and protect him, but Eimin got to him first and shot him. I came on the scene a few moments later and tussled with Eimin, and made him drop the folio. That’s why Eimin’s after me so hard.”

Kilin sat back down in his chair. “There. That’s my side of the story. It’s up to you to believe it or not. I won’t show you the folio because I don’t want to risk anyone taking it, no offense. I won’t even show it to Ievanka. But I wanted to be honest with you, and for you to be honest with me. And in the spirit of honesty, I want to ask you something. Will you consider being my concubine? I’ll provide for you everything you wish. I could buy your contract from the Raikage if you desired--free you entirely from his service. Or, if you for some reason wanted to continue as a shinobi, I’d support your career, so long as you could visit me occasionally. Hell, if you were ever in a dangerous situation, a man like me would be a valuable ally. And... you might be wondering about, well, those details. I, Oranji Kilin, swear on my honor that I will not touch you until you are completely ready. No matter what our relationship may be.”
Formerly Takaki Masao, and author of The Polaris Chronicles
Guns of the Temple | Swords of the Imperium | Knives of the Ring
Prince of Maladies | Ashes of the Old King
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Saotome Asami
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Re: Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Tue Mar 13, 2018 2:04 pm

The man left the room, leaving the squad leader rightfully pissed. It was enough to make Asami second guess withdrawing from her hiding place. A good chunk of her memories had become a blurred mess, but she recalled Saeko having a lot more energy after the drinks had come out. She had to suggest an end to their gathering after the woman started burning their funds away; if she hadn’t fallen under the alcohol’s spell, she would have thought to do so much earlier. Alas, such an inexperienced child assumed all alcohol could be tasted. She’d knocked back a few too many before she realised how much she was swaying in her seat, gently humming along with the live band. She couldn’t remember who had called their carriage home in the end, only that she had tripped at least twice before they left Eimin, and attempted to carry Saeko for some of their journey.

She’d also elected to stay close to the woman, to make sure there weren’t any more accidents. Being under the influence, that meant the most logical option was to hide in the wardrobe and keep an eye on her. She’d fallen asleep at some point, sitting down and propped up against its side. A pounding headache welcomed her as calls and knocks pulled her from dreamland. She couldn’t see much through the small crack between the doors, and pushing it open would risk her being spotted, but she could hear plenty from her hiding spot. She discovered an ugly side to the man, and almost immediately gave herself up when she saw her partner fall into her view. Fortunately, Saeko was too capable to be defeated by one man, but his behaviour was enlightening, to say the least. It sounded as if their riches had already been lost to the whims of the market, and she’d heard both compliments and insults thrown her way. Well, she assumed ‘nubile’ was an insult, but she’d have plenty of time to check after the fact. More importantly, there was a reason Kilin had taken an interest in her, and the rest left her stomach churning. Her instincts had made the right call on him, but somehow Eimin had fallen under her radar. The way he assumed they lacked morals didn’t sit well with her, especially when he made it clear he had no qualms about using her as jailbait. If anything, he was the one that should be criticized… But it wasn’t her place to mention that.

She waited for him to leave before she pushed one of the doors ajar. “Saeko-sensei…?” Hopefully, announcing her presence beforehand lessened the chances of her being mistaken for an assassin. She pulled herself onto her feet and out of the furniture, showing a sympathetic frown as she approached the woman. She wanted to say something that might help, but a lack of experience and her first hangover stopped her from thinking of anything. A hand reached halfway to the woman before she decided trying to comfort her superior might be inappropriate. “Don’t worry. You’re much better than him anyway.” With a faint smile, she set off to find a real bed and try to sleep the pain away.
***
Saeko was right, as much as she hated to admit it. Even a trainee like her was perceptive enough to spot hidden weapons, even if her efforts were a tad more conspicuous. She’d already held little hope for a student managing to infiltrate a mansion, but the security detail effortlessly stomped on what little hope she had. Their best bet, as the chuunin quickly confirmed, was to bait one of their hosts into giving up the goods… Which couldn’t be much easier than taking it for themselves.

At the very least, she blended in well. Asami had lived a comfortable life, but the profits of a small business owner could never compare to several generations’ worth of wealth. To blend in, she’d ‘allowed’ herself to splurge on attire fit for the upper echelon – as far as she knew, anyway. Between the clothes and the makeup, she looked ready to bait a grown man into doing something he’d regret (though she couldn’t say she felt entirely comfortable with the task). She’d packed light for the occasion, though her choice was mostly due to a lack of creativity, rather than any confidence in her own skills. Her hibiscus hairpin would act as an emergency lockpick, but any other tool she could think of would have been spotted with a simple search. She would just have to rely on what little skills she had, and failing that… Scream and run.

Her superior left, but not before offering a few words of advice. It almost sounded as if she cared for her wellbeing, though it was just as likely that she didn’t want a botched rescue attempt to complicate matters even further. Either way, it sounded as if she didn’t have much to do beyond keeping out of trouble. She didn’t mind. It gave her time to observe, and there was plenty to learn from observing. She popped a canape in her mouth – something with salmon and heavenly cream cheese– and took up a slow walk around the mansion.

Nobody wanted to bother with a stranger when there were big names to brownnose, and she found herself a lot less bothered by it than she’d imagined. Having to commit to smalltalk would have meant not only pretending to be an adult, but an adult with in-depth knowledge of the city, the market, and the high life they shared. Small parties admired the décor, while some of the more brazen visitors used it as a bragging opportunity. A few were clearly looking for somebody they knew, or somebody they could use to boost their standing. She spotted at least two men unsuccessfully attempting to charm some ladies. The alcohol was probably doing some of the talking, she mused, as she claimed a flute of the devil juice for herself. Her mishap at Dorssia had ensured she’d respect the drink for the next several years, which was for the best. As soon as Kilin made himself known (reminding her a little too much of a returned puppy). She knew she needed a clear head.

“Kilin-sama.” She returned the favour with a curtsy and let him speak. He was eager. Much too eager for her liking, but she knew better than to let it show. A gentle smile grew slightly, hoping to placate him… Until he said something that actually caught her interest. A dead man. She raised an eyebrow, maintaining a calm but curious expression. Internal alarm bells began to ring, albeit distantly. If he was going to feed them a lead, who was she to say no? “That’s a bit morbid for a party, but I’m sure you have your reasons. Please, lead the way”

She linked arms with the man, and immediately felt a thousand eyes boring into her soul. They desired to be in her place – so obviously friends with one of the city’s most powerful men. It almost felt nice to be envied, until she remembered she was only there because the man had a fondness for the taboo. She felt grimy, as she realised that and that he went out of his way to specify that he had no ill intentions. For all his wealth and status, his reputation must have preceded him.

She showed no signs of discomfort as they entered the study. Kilin may have had years of experience under his belt, but she doubted a day of them had been spent on the field. Even she could take out one unarmed man – it was the dozen or so others between her and a safe exit that she had to worry about, with no chakra to even the odds. If all went to plan, she wouldn’t need to resort to that, but walking straight into the dragon’s lair made her cautious, and rightfully so. Once they had settled down, Kilin revealed just how much she knew. Asami was silent, showing the occasional slight sign of her thoughts. Heightened senses listened for anybody trying to surprise her, but nobody came. Her eyes fell to his hands as he showed them, then his arms, then the rest of him. No weapons, as far as she could tell, but that made no sense. He knew why her squad was in his house and that his enemies had sent her. What on earth did he have to gain from being in a room alone with him? What if she had been an assassin, sent to silence him? Even if escaping alive would prove difficult, the job could be done in seconds (if she had been a capable shinobi).

A furrowed brow showed itself. Two nobles, pointing the finger at each other. She felt inclined to believe Eimin’s side (mostly because she had heard it first), but as Kilin offered his side of the story, she realised it was one man’s word against the other. They’d need more time to investigate before they could draw any conclusions, but either way, it didn’t explain why the man had chosen to reveal what he knew. Another attempt at luring her in did a much better job of that. She wasn’t entirely sure what a concubine was, but she could hazard a guess. A mistress, bought to satisfy him in exchange for a life of luxury.

She couldn’t pretend she didn’t consider the offer. Even a noble probably understood that most shinobi had little say in whether or not they chose the career. A life of murder, lies and thievery wasn’t one that she was too interested in living. There he was, offering an escape… But at what cost? He was highlighting all the positives, and skirting around everything else. Was she prepared to be shipped across the country, pandering to the whims of a man with very dubious tastes, and a potential murderer? It was hard to take his honour seriously when he was asking a young child to act as a love interest for a married man. It was, in essence, trading one birdcage for another… But at least one was upfront about what it entailed.

There was a good half-minute before she spoke up; hopefully, Kilin understood that he had given her a lot to process. “Well. That’s a twist if I’ve ever heard one.” A weak smile showed itself. Fortunately for them, one of Asami’s few strengths as a shinobi was a level head. As long as violence didn’t break out, she could keep surprisingly calm. She never raised her voice, and barely sounded surprised. If anything, she seemed inquisitive. “There’s no point in me denying any of that at this point – that would be an insult to both of us. I am curious, though… If you’re so sure that me and my friends were brought here to bring you down, why am I sitting here, alone with you, where I could do any number of things to you?” Never mind assassinating him. As they spoke, Saeko was probably securing their evidence, while Risako acted as their eyes and ears. He had to realise they were after him or the portfolio… Right? Was the idea of having her so blinding that he was going to let a squad of shinobi make off with his prize, even when he knew they were making their move? Eimin had proven to be of questionable character, but he seemed to have been right on the money when it came to her target. She hoped for Kilin’s sake that he was a bit smarter than that, but it did make their job a lot easier.

“Then there’s your offer. It’s… flattering. I think it’s supposed to be, but it still doesn’t make sense to me. You see a woman, or girl. Either or, but I’m guessing if you did that much research you know my age too. In your eyes, you have on your hands a lady trained in deception. A fake business, fake career, a freshly bought wardrobe, forced personality… So what is left for you to be attracted to? A body that could easily been faked as well? …It isn’t, for the record, but it could have been. Or… is it something else that interests you?” She tapped her cheek a few times. Having a shinobi in one’s service was a luxury even amongst nobles, and no doubt an advantage when one needed dirty work handled. As far as she knew, Kilin was currently being driven by the brain between his legs, which meant whatever he was after had to benefit that too. Even an academy student could help with that – the transformation jutsu could keep a maiden looking young and beautiful for decades, with enough practice. Finally, she showed real emotion – a grimace, as she realised she never wanted to think of being used as a living sex doll again.

“You’re only half right, for the record. Eimin has his part to play, but he’s not the only reason I’m here." A moment later, she realised that confirming her client was implicated with them wasn't her brightest idea, and so she went for some misdirection. "Living the life of luxury is very nice, even if it’s only for a short while.” She picked up her glass, allowed herself a sip, squinted her eyes shut and put it back down. Even if the rich could afford better-tasting spirits, the devil juice still burned her throat. “Most of the time...” Eimin had definitely helped them, but at the end of the day, they answered to the Sennin before a compradore. Their job was to solve the murder, and if completing Eimin’s task contradicted that, then they knew where their priorities – and morals - lay. At least, she hoped Saeko would agree. There was no need for Kilin to know all of that, in her eyes. If the man in question had attended the party, goading her patron into running downstairs and potentially provoking House Tachibana didn’t help.

“I hope you don’t mind if I… respectfully decline. I don’t think the life of a mistress is the one for me. Not now, and perhaps not ever, if we’re being honest with each other. But that should be alright. You could probably lure almost any lady into your arms if you wanted, but I think for now, 'just friends' would be fine.”

[MFT]
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Re: Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Wed Mar 14, 2018 9:33 pm

Kilin let out a soft sigh and let his half-lidded gaze fall to the carpet upon hearing Asami’s rejection of his offer. In his time as a young, hotheaded Lightning University student, he would have howled in frustration and thrown the tray and its expensive crystal through the nearest window. But age and experience with failure had tempered him. His hard-earned qualities had given him the right to rule, though that only applied to a nation and its people, and not to any individual woman. He hurriedly tapped a foot and clenched and unclenched a fist, composing himself.

“I...I see. I don’t think I need to tell you how disappointed I am to hear a ‘no,’ but I appreciate that you at least heard me out. I just want you to know that I wasn’t actually interested in you for any of the things that you mentioned. I already have many capable advisors and friends in the business. I can have any material possession I desire. I can hire shinobi of the highest caliber, if I want some dirty work accomplished. And yes, I could even have a young woman with your exact physical features delivered to my bedchamber on demand…” He sighed again. “No, I wasn’t interested in you for any of those superficial things. Otherwise I’d be the happiest man in the world with Ievanka by my side, and the chancellorship in my lap. The universe is inherently cruel, Asami. It’s cruel because who you fall in love with and who you don’t is entirely out of your hands, and never respects logic or circumstance. It’s why men have risked death, disgrace, and getting their cock-and-balls cut off to pursue relationships that didn’t make a damned bit of sense to anyone involved, and have been doing this for all human history. Hell, I know I’m risking my neck by having a private talk with you without a guard in the room, but that goes along with what I’ve just said.”

He drained his glass of spirits and set it down, and gave Asami a bleary-eyed look.

“I don’t mean to offend you, but I would rather not be friends, if we can’t be lovers. I’m not one to be satisfied with a consolation prize, and I’d rather have you out of my sight than out of my reach. I hope you understand. Please, though, feel free to go and enjoy the rest of the party. Snoop Tomm’s going to be performing in a little bit. But I need to be alone for a while.”

* * *

Jesus Saito, that was close. As I exit the private bedroom-cum-sauna, I check again to make sure that the record book is securely attached to my body and concealed adequately under my formalwear. Of course I don’t need to check so compulsively--and doing so actually draws more attention me--but I can barely control my own anxiety as it is, given the revelations I’ve just encountered. And what just happened between Ievanka and I.

After I’d read through enough of Yukio’s compilation to realize that our employer was probably the one guilty of murdering his own cousin, Ievanka remembered why she’d dragged me back to her chambers in the first place. It’s easy, though, to convince horny people to take strange pills--you just call them aphrodisiacs. With minimal convincing, she downed a capsule of sleeping poison and went down for the count. Right now, she’s enjoying what must be an extremely erotic dream, and I can claim to still be completely straight. But the effects are temporary. To reduce accidental casualties, the mednins make it so that subject doesn’t sleep for more than a half hour at most, which gives me adequate but not unlimited time to find my team and get the hell out of here.

Fortunately, slipping by the guards proves easy enough. My frizzy hair, smeared makeup, and overall dampness tells them all they need to know about why I’m coming back from Ievanka’s quarters, and I even mimic having a bit of a limp for good measure. The book feels a giant, bulging tumor erupting from the small of my back, but the men don’t notice or don’t give a damn.

By the time I reach the main floor, the lights have gone down and loud, thumping music blasts from speakers set up on a glittering gold main stage. The popular entertainer Snoop Tomm shuffles around like a drunk and croons on about all the ways he’s gotten high, much to the roaring approval of the crowd.

”Rollin down the street, smokin nip, sippin on milk and cream
Laid back with my mind on my toxo and my toxo on my mind”


I can’t help but roll my eyes, even while I realize I should be concentrating on more important things than moralizing over some singer. But being constantly addled on catnip, fighting over scratching posts, and relentlessly impregnating queens is what makes feral colonies a huge problem in our cities, and I don’t think artists should glorify the things that make a lot of cats suffer like that.

A flash of red hair catches my eye, and I reach out to grasp Asami’s hand. “Sami?” I rasp at her, trying to speak over the music. “I thought you’d be gone by now! Anyway, sorry if you’re a Snoop fan, but we need to get the hell out of here! I’ll brief you in the carriage! Come with me!”

“Ma’am,” someone says, stepping in to block our path. He’s a mountain of a man, but not one of Kilin’s security staff. “Tachibana-sama requests your presence. Immediately.”

Shit. Shit shit shit. I throw a long glance over at one of the tables at the far end of the banquet hall, and realize that we’ve been trapped. Eimin, dressed in his finest and flanked by House Tachibana bodyguards, meets my glance and gives me an expectant nod. There are two open seats at the table, presumably meant for us. And in the back of my mind, I know that if we actually go there and sit down with him, none of us will leave Port Cirrus alive.

“Of course!” I reply, cheerfully. “Oh! Sir, hold on, there’s like a piece of food on your cheek…”

The guard’s probably been told not to allow one of us to touch him, but I’m not a chuunin for nothing. Before he can swat my hand away i’ve pressed my fingertips into the side of his head and sent a small jolt of current into his central nervous system. It won’t kill him, but it’ll make sure he can do nothing but stand stock still for at least a good few minutes.

“Sami, follow me!” With that, I yank her toward the exit, elbowing my way through the dancing crowd and hoping like hell that more of Eimin’s toughs aren’t embedded in the crowd. As we get closer to the main entrance, I quickly turn my head to see Eimin on his feet, panic on his face and his mouth agape shouting orders. His goons are trying to make a dash for us, but are getting intercepted by Kilin’s goons, no doubt hungry for action.

Asami and I make a mad dash across the carriage lot and quickly find our hire. “Get us out of here, now! It’ll be worth your while!” I shout at him and thrust a handful of high-denomination bills into his hand.

He looks back from the driver’s seat, clearly perturbed. “To your hotel, madam?”

“No. Take the direct route to Kumogakure!”

“Madam, that’s…”

I take out the rest of our reserved cash--more than he’ll make in a year of doing fares, and hold it out to him to see. Wordlessly, he nods and whips his horses into a gallop, and we’re finally off. After a few tense minutes, the lights of the Oranji manor recede from view, and I can finally catch my breath. I look over at Asami and let out a nervous laugh.

“Don’t worry about Risako. I made sure she knew to get to one of the main branch’s safe houses in the event this went south. They’ll only take a single operative a night, though, so we’re stuck with the hard way back. Oh, look what I found!” I take Yukio’s logbook from out of its hiding place and hand it to Asami. “Long and short of it is that the guy trying to crash the market was Eimin himself, and not Kilin. And Ievanka told me that it’s probably Eimin who killed Yukio in the first place, to prevent him from squealing. Of course, we have no definite proof of the murder. Still, Eimin probably figured out that we’ve figured that out, so if we’d gone to his table we’d all be dissolving in barrels in some warehouse by now.”

I let out a sigh and pop my head out of the carriage window, taking a paranoid look backward to make sure we aren’t being followed. So far, so good.

“Anyway, we were hired to find this and get it to Eimin. And, technically, we could still do that, without endangering ourselves. An anonymous branch courier could drop it off at his office tomorrow bright and early, along with the bill for our services. He’d be contract-bound to pay, and other than keeping an eye on us for the next few months, wouldn’t actively try to harm us again. The other alternative is to abandon the mission and turn this in to the authorities. Hell, we could level murder charges at Eimin, although they wouldn’t stick. We’d forfeit payment and get complaints lodged against us from every source known to man, though. It’s also likely that someone in the bakufuu would either ‘lose’ the book or find a way to get it back to Eimin. And finally, the third option is to give this to Sennin Yuii. To be honest, she’ll probably end up giving it back in the end. House Kagetsu and House Tachibana aren’t allied, but they’re not enemies, and both aren’t on good terms with House Oranji. On the plus side, Yuii won’t do anything to hurt us, and she could extract some concessions from Eimin in exchange for his precious little book. Oh yeah, you’re probably wondering why I’m blabbering about this, right? Aren’t I the one in charge of this mission? Haven’t I already decided what to do?”

I take out something that I’d been meaning to give Asami earlier, except for the fact that I’d gotten wasted and forgotten. It’s a shitty piece of sand-cast pot metal that definitely won’t protect you from a direct blow with a melee weapon. And if you’re unlucky enough to catch a bullet with it, the dinky slab will probably fragment from impact and send many little shards of itself into your brain. Everyone knows not to actually put these on anywhere near your head, but the old name for it means “forehead protector,” and that hasn’t changed for hundreds of years.

“Here! I’m authorized to promote you both to the rank of genin. If you switch branches later on, that’s your choice, but most people still start off with the main. You more than deserve it, given how you’ve done so far. And because you’re now one of the people responsible for shaping your world, that’s why I’m giving you the choice of where we go from here. Now you’ve seen how fucked up the people in charge really are, and what sort of system we live in. Our only compensation is that we can sometimes, if we choose, make their lives inconvenient. So what will you choose?”

I’m so wrapped up in my soliloquy that I don’t notice the unmarked carriage with no lights speedily and silently gaining on us until it’s almost alongside our ride. But it’s hard not to notice when said carriage’s side doors swing open and a bunch of thugs with shotguns and rifles open fire. Instinctively, I pull Asami’s head down and throw us to the floorboards before our cabin gets chewed to fuck by lead. Blood splatters on my face and hair, but by Jashin’s grace it’s not Asami’s. On the other hand, our driver’s slumped over with most of his skull missing and his gray matter splashed on the seat.

“Shit!” I curse. “If I don’t take the reins, we’re gonna crash! Sami, do something about these fuckheads!”
Unrealized gains as of (Weds 3147/2018, 4:30 PM Market Close)

V - 122.58 * 325388 = 39886061.04
SPY - 275.30 * 182010 = 50107353.00
AMZN - 1591.00 * 13333 = 21212803.00
NVDA - 248.74 * 203309 = 50571080.66
MSFT - 93.85 * 425260 = 39910651.00
YUM - 82.27 * 375939 = 30928501.53

Total holdings: 232,616,450.23
Total unrealized gain: 2,616,450.23
Also, congratulations! Asami is officially promoted to GENIN (authorized by myself and Yuii) Council, please pay for an A-rank modded mission once Asami makes her post and I wrap up.
Formerly Takaki Masao, and author of The Polaris Chronicles
Guns of the Temple | Swords of the Imperium | Knives of the Ring
Prince of Maladies | Ashes of the Old King
The Hundred Arms (coming early 2018!)
Check out the website and sign up for the mailing list at http://www.storygamers.com
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Re: Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Sat Mar 17, 2018 10:19 pm

His answer was surprisingly reasonable, in her eyes. Not rational, but at least he acknowledged that much. It did nothing to sway her mind, but even she had experienced her first crush and knew that the heart had its own whims. Unfortunately, he chose to send her away. It was for the best, she told herself. By the time the sun rose, the man would know that he had been tricked and betrayed, and he definitely wouldn’t want to be her friend. She rose to her feet and took a half-step closer to the man. It was in her nature to try to offer comfort, but something told her it wouldn’t be her wisest choice. “I understand. Please take care, Kilin-sama.” She offered a faint smile, albeit one tinged with sadness, and made for the door. Once she had turned away from the man, she realised that sympathising with an alleged murderer-paedophile was not on the list of things she had expected to be part of her mission. Or her life. She passed by the guards, who knew not to stop the woman that had entered with their employer, and returned to the party itself.

She had a few minutes to explore the residence, keeping her eyes peeled for her leader. Hopefully, she’d bought the woman enough time. If she’d been caught, the commotion would be hard to miss, so she had to assume all was well. The lights had dimmed, the music was blaring, and the student was wondering why they hadn’t arranged some sort of signal in advance. At least she would be able to tell her friends she got to see Snoop Tomm live. She could never claim she was a fan – his lyrics were so vulgar, and he spoke of a life she had never known – but who was she to turn down a free performance? Halfway to a free spot a few feet from the stage, she was interrupted by Saeko. She didn’t get a chance to comment on the irony of a house of nobles, businessmen and politicians dancing to the rough rhymes of the hood before she realised things might have gone south. It was a shame, but she wasn’t going to wait around to be told twice.

Asami turned and almost walked into a mass of muscle, sent on behalf of… Eimin? Had he come to the party to ensure he would get his order as soon as possible? It didn’t matter, since Saeko made short work of him and jerked her towards safety. Good thing, too – Asami wasn’t well-trained for anything that a shinobi would consider a high-stress situation. Her partner in crime cleared most of the path, and failing that, a sharp jab of the elbow and an “Excuse me!” would force almost anybody to move from surprise alone. She could hear chaos erupting behind them, but it wasn’t important – as long as they could get to their carriage, they wouldn’t have to risk the party-goers’ lives.

And so they did. Asami settled in as Saeko bribed their hire, keeping an eye out for any foes – and Risako, who was nowhere to be seen. Hopefully, she was either too well-hidden for her eyes or had already fled the scene. Once the manor had become but a dot in the scenery, she realised that the girl was on her own. The chuunin began to explain before she could get the words out; the girl was visibly relieved to hear that their comrade had a safe place to hide. The book’s recovery brought about a little less comfort, until she remembered that they’d have no chances to try again after the stunt they just pulled. With the book in their hands, the mission had been a success… Right?

Not quite. She sat back in her seat again and listened to Saeko’s speech. That made two people and one book that suggested Eimin was the killer after all, but… Why? Had he really expected them to collect the portfolio and either not look inside, or not care? Her mind jumped back to his actions and suggestions in the hotel room, and she realised he was counting on the latter. Or to just murder them anyway. Neither outcome sounded appealing to her, and it showed with a deep frown.

She listed her options, and predicted her question yet again. It was nice that the woman was willing to hear her input, but at the end of the day she had next to no authority to decide their actions. Her offering didn’t change that, but it did shake a lot up for her. She’d been trying for months to avoid standing out and being selected for a genin exam. She didn’t believe herself to be ready – not physically, not emotionally, and perhaps not morally either. Somehow, without even trying, she was being presented with a gift she hadn’t asked for, and it didn’t sound like declining was an option.

What was she to do? She got the impression that she was supposed to be thankful, but her face showed both confusion and dismay. Before she could find the right words, chaos erupted again. Blam. Her body is pressed against the floor of their carriage. Saeko had saved her the trouble of watching her first death, but the blood against her face told that somebody had taken a hit. If she wasn’t quick, all of them would take several.

Unsurprisingly, a girl that went out of her way to avoid combat struggled when it was forced upon her. Rather than leap into action, she stayed in her hiding place for a few precious seconds. Fear threatened to paralyze her, but adrenaline won out. There was no better time to learn defence than in a do or die situation, after all. She steeled herself – mostly out of necessity. Most jutsu she knew could distract, if not defeat their attackers, but most would also cause them serious injury, if not a painful death. Even as she crawled forward to the edge of the carriage, she still considered the lives of her enemies worth saving. A less-violent approach would have to do.

Even in the darkness, it didn’t take a genius to know where the ground was. Handseals allowed her to send her chakra into it, reducing the ground beside their carriage into a pit of mud. She hadn’t had a chance to test how well horses and wheels fared against sudden rushes of slick liquid, but it appeared to work as she intended. The carriage slowed in an attempt to stay upright, giving them a lead and a few seconds while their assailants steadied their aim again. Asami had enough time to fall back onto her specialty – a transparent wall erected a foot behind the carriage. It was stationary and doomed to be abandoned as the group continued to flee, but it was more than capable of standing up to several bullets until they disappeared out of sight, and the carriage itself, if it managed to catch up before the jutsu faded. Asami had learned her lesson; long after their attackers had vanished, she kept her eyes and ears open for the slightest sign of trouble. If they were lucky, they wouldn’t find it.
***
They had to find their way to safety. If her initial tricks didn’t stop the nobles’ hitmen, the girl was much more willing to fire ‘warning shot’ jutsu, at a distance they could better dodge at. Watching for enemies also gave her a lot of time to review the night’s events, especially Saeko’s speech. She wasn’t sure where the headband had gone, and had a sneaking suspicion it was lost in the chaos, if the woman had given it to her to begin with. No sane shinobi would use it as protection, but it was their de-facto proof of graduation-

‘Right. I’m a… genin now.’ She furrowed her brow. Her head turned halfway to the woman before she realised she shouldn’t be taking her eyes off the path. “Saeko-sensei, I… Are you sure? I’m not much of a fighter, or a killer, or… most shinobi things. I don’t see what you see.” She paused, mistaking an errant shadow for another carriage. Eager hands came together, but it was all for naught, and she’d lost her train of thought. ‘One of the people responsible for shaping your world’, she’d said. Asami had to admit she’d never thought of the shinobi life that way. It was an oddly eloquent insight from her otherwise eccentric squad leader, and perhaps one that would stick with her for a while after. It was hard to refute the rest of her words, wherever she wasn’t being mentioned. The amount of power both nobles held made the chances of repercussion close to zero for them. Almost all of their choices would end with the affair being a mild headache for Eimin, while they would probably have to watch their backs for the next few months. Still…

“I don’t want to give the book to Eimin. I know it’s what we’re being paid to do, and we might even make a lot of money from it, but… It wouldn’t be right, would it?” Her eyes almost strayed to her again. “Helping a man get away with murder. If you’re right, that is. Maybe there’s more to the story that we still don’t know. At the same time, giving it to the proper authorities may as well be useless against somebody like him, and Kilin didn’t seem like he had plans for it. With that in mind… I think we should give the evidence to Kagetsu-sama. Technically, we would still be investigating the crime, which is what we were sent to do… But it sounds like the Main Branch might be the least corrupt option we have, even if he might get it back anyway. You said before that you work under Kagetsu-sama as well, right?” A slight detail from several days prior, but listening was one of the few skills she had to offer. “Maybe you could explain the situation, and see if things could go better. In the end, none of them are really ‘good’ options. The good option would be seeing the right man get punished for his crimes, but we don’t even know who that is for sure.” She sighed. Several seconds passed, mostly comprised of her watching the ground.

“Saeko-sensei, how do you manage to stay so… I don’t know. Carefree? Casual? You… have a lot of energy, for somebody that seems to put up with this a lot. I don’t think that I can… do that. Not like you. I think… Those things might break people over time, and I don’t want to be one of them. Maybe it’s the way most shinobi end up, but I can’t say it sounds appealing to me.” That was a slight understatement. The idea of killing her personality was almost as bad as death itself. Who wanted to become a shell of their former self for following the orders of some shadowy figures? She feared that it was all she had to look forward to, especially now that she had been ‘blessed’ with an early promotion, but she was very willing to listen to anything that might suggest otherwise.

Several minutes passed before she spoke again, regardless of the answer she recieved. "Also... You know my name is Asami, right? I- Maybe you misheard me the first time, or you thought it would be cute. It's alright if you did...! I was just wondering..."
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Takaki Saeko
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Re: Greed is Good [Mission--Risako and Asami]

Wed Mar 21, 2018 12:18 am

All the jokes about Kaminarijin women drivers are true: I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. Theoretically, operating a vehicle is another thing that we’re supposed to receive training on in the academy, but my session was just a half-assed loop around a track on a one-horse buggy pulled by a mule. Why the hell did admin have to ban motor vehicles? My kingdom for power steering! I curse to myself while struggling to maintain my grasp on the reins.

Fortunately, whatever Asami’s done to our would-be murderers in the other carriage seems to have worked. We’re still flying along at breakneck speed and we’re not completely shot up with lead. I let the horses run on for a while longer, not only to assure myself that we’ve truly lost our pursuers, but also because slowing them down takes a lot of effort and cajoling and a little bit of crying. Did I mention I hate horses? Eventually--and mainly because they’re tired--the stallions slow to a canter and then a trot, and I somehow manage to perform the world’s worst parking job in front of a small roadside inn.

There’s nothing more I’d like to do right now than check in and flop myself down on a mattress, but there’s still a dead body in the forward cab, and that means way too much attention directed our way. “It’s shitty, but we have to walk the rest of the way,” I tell Asami while hurriedly trying to comb out the bits of obvious gore plastered to my hair. Before I exit, though, I dig my hands through the driver’s pockets and pull out his hackney papers. On them are his name and address, which I make sure to copy down (in Eimin’s book, too). I promised the poor man a shit load of money to take us to Kumo, and his family should at least collect on his death.

The walk back will probably take us all night, but we should hit the gates by morning. I have no idea if those hitmen were sent by Kilin or Eimin or even Ievanka, and there’s probably no way we’ll be able to find out. Just one more unsolved act of evil in an already murky case. At least I’m wearing flats instead of heels, though. Asami’s still jumpy, which is understandable after what she’s just been through. And now that she’s seen death and danger up close and personal, she’s starting to experience the aftereffects. The best thing for her right now is to walk. Idle shinobi are Jashin’s tools.

“You heard right, ‘sami. I’m Yuii’s hand, and authorized to act on her behalf. If you truly want to give her the book, then I’ll abide by that and leave its final fate up to her. And yes, that’s probably the least distasteful option out there, for all the reasons you mentioned.” I let out a chuckle at her wish for justice. “Reality is that none of these guys are truly innocent. Even though the evidence implicates Eimin, who’s to say that Kilin isn’t in cahoots? We also don’t know if Yukio was actually trying to cause some chaos of his own. All we have is what Eimin told us about him, and Eimin’s not a credible source. Justice is complicated and infuriating. Most of the time, we end up going with what’s in our gut. And even then, we’re wrong half the time.”

I can see that my answer does nothing to assuage the tension and self-doubt roiling Asami’s insides, though. And I know she’s in a bad way when she starts holding me up as some sort of standard to look up to. I stop for a moment and bend down so I can meet her eyes at her level (she’s still thirteen).

“There’s a lot of people in the village who’d laugh their sides into orbit to hear you praise me like that,” I say, patting her cheek. “But I appreciate it. Truth be told, I always wonder myself when the breaking point will come. What’s the next part of my soul that I have to carve off for the sake of the mission? So you’re not wrong to have doubts and fears. Nobody in our line of work escapes that except for the real psychopaths, and you definitely don’t want those shitbags on your team. I guess all I can tell you is that you have to find something worthy of the sacrifices you’ll make. Something that’s more important than your own life or even happiness. And trust me, it’s not the raikage, and it’s not the continued existence of the village or our honor or any bullshit like that.

“Lots of things have motivated me, though. First, it was trying not to disgrace my father’s reputation. Then, it was honoring the memory of a dead boyfriend. For a while, I turned into a rabid ethno-nationalist! And then I got sober. But now, whenever I start to think it’s not worth it anymore, what keeps me from quitting are, well, my friends. There are decent people in this place, despite their many problems. People I’ve shared memories with, not just during the big events but also in the filler episodes, so to speak. If I left this place, I wouldn’t get to see them again. And that’s something I’m not willing to give up for cheap. It’s hell of cliche, I know, but the power of friendship is stronger than crack cocaine.”

Her next question, though, makes me chuckle a bit.

“Oh yeah, that! Well, uh, when we were drinking with Kilin, he asked you for a business card--and your measurements, the pervert--and of course you didn’t have one, so you drew something on a napkin and it said something like ‘hello yes it is me sami’ and that was friggin’ genius. So you’re ‘sami’ to me from now on. Alright, it’s time we stopped yapping and started moving. You’re a genin now, so act like one!”

[End]
Formerly Takaki Masao, and author of The Polaris Chronicles
Guns of the Temple | Swords of the Imperium | Knives of the Ring
Prince of Maladies | Ashes of the Old King
The Hundred Arms (coming early 2018!)
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