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
I showed u my **** please respond
---(Storage capacity exceeded--no more SMS messages can be displayed)---
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.
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.”