Chapter Two: Desperate Measures

“Arashi,” whispered Kaika.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ve said this a dozen times now. Kai is fine.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“…I’m starting to think I’m the stupid one for trying.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

In a perfect emulation of Rin’s hammerfist, Kaika whacked Arashi on the head.

“Ow..!” Enduring the pain, Kaika kept her voice down. She rubbed her sore hand as she confirmed the results of her attack.

Arashi simply tilted her head with a sleepy look on her face.

Does she literally have rocks in her head!?

The two girls were crouched behind a low wooden barrier. They spoke in hushed voices, their bodies mere inches apart.

“We’re going to begin the mission in a minute. As we’ve discussed, I’ll handle most of the talking. All you have to do is move according to the plan.”

Arashi nodded.

“When I give you the signal, attack swiftly and gather as much attention as possible.” Kaika sighed. “I really wish Saya was here, but she’s busy with other things right now. I’m not expecting much, but at least don’t drag me down, got that?”

Arashi nodded with a bit more vigor than before.

Kaika peeked out over the top of the wooden barrier. “Looks like they’re all here. I’ll go out first. Don’t mess up the timing.”

Without confirming Arashi’s nod, Kaika raised both hands into the air and slightly lifted her body. She was met with a thunderous sound. Sharp clapping noises surrounded the two teenage girls.

“Look! It’s a prince and a witch!” shouted a little boy.

“Wow, they look so cute!” said a girl in the front row.

Of course they do, I made them myself!

Kaika grinned proudly.

She and Arashi were holding a puppet show in the courtyard of an orphanage. A large number of children were seated on benches several feet away from the colorful wooden stage. Kaika expertly manipulated the glove puppets and began narrating the script she had prepared.

The witch pointed her broom at the prince. “Once upon a time, a prince visited a tiny kingdom in the snowy mountains of the north. He was warmly welcomed by the people of the realm,” said Kaika, perfectly mimicking the voice of an old woman.

The tiny prince puppet, sporting elaborate royal garb, moved perfectly according to the script. He eventually visited a small village under attack by a man-eating bear. He went to the forest to slay the animal and returned to the village victorious. Switching out the witch, Kaika brought out a villager puppet for the next scene.

“Thank you for saving our village, prince Hage A. You’re so strong!,” said Kaika, this time in the voice of a young lad.

“Of course I am. I’m a prince! I wasn’t even trying my best. That bear was just too weak. Actually, you guys are too weak for having trouble with such fodder,” said Kaika, emulating a young man’s voice.

One of the children frowned and said, “Hey, isn’t that prince a little full of himself?”

“Yeah, and what’s with that name? Hage (bald)? Is he bald under that crown? And he even has an A at the end of his name, like Villager A, or Thug B. Is there going to be a Prince Hage B?”

“So uncool.”

Eh?

What’s with this cold reception?

I even used Ageha’s personality for the prince…

No one had ever read Kaika fairy tales when she was a child. Due to her prodigious nature, she had skipped children’s books altogether and had started reading high level material at a very young age. Naturally, she did not have a good sense of what normal children would like. Lacking the experience and knowledge to use as a base for the prince’s character, she had used Ageha as a model. After all, to Kaika, Ageha was pretty cool.

He is, isn’t he?

The genius started to question her opinion of the young man.

No matter.

For now, she decided to ignore the children’s dislike for the prince and continue the story.

“After performing numerous heroic deeds, the prince became well known in the small northern kingdom.” The witch puppet twirled her broom. “One day, a messenger from the palace visited the prince and sought his help. The kingdom’s princess, Princess Sheath, was kidnapped by a dragon, and the king requested for the prince’s assistance in her rescue.”

“What was her name?” asked a young boy wearing a cap.

Another boy scratched his cheek and said, “I think it was Princess Shit.”

“Seriously? That’s a shitty name.”

The children laughed.

Kaika had suspected it would end up like this. Saya, feeling guilty for not being able to help with the actual performance, had volunteered to name the characters. Kaika knew how terrible Saya’s sense of naming was, but after seeing the burning desire in her eyes, she had given in.

Princess Sheath sort of made sense in Kaika’s head. The name “Saya” meant “sheath” in English. Kaika understood that Saya wanted to be a couple with Hage A, an anagram for Ageha, at least in a fairytale. What she had failed to take into account was the poor English vocabulary of young Japanese children.

A bubbly little girl pointed at the newly introduced puppet. “Look, it’s Princess Shit! She’s even cuter than the others!”

Despite Kaika’s growing reprehensions, she knew the show must go on.

From the summit of a snowy mountain, the captive princess saw the incoming prince and asked, “Who goes there?”

“It is I, Prince Hage A. I’ve come to rescue you, Princess Shit, I mean, Sheath.”

Despite being fluent in over a dozen languages, Kaika had been influenced by the children’s mispronunciation.

Is this what they call peer pressure!? thought the girl who did not have any friends of similar age.

Kaika shook off unnecessary thoughts and winked at Arashi, signaling her to appear on stage. Arashi languidly raised the puppet on her right hand until it was visible to the audience.

“Wow! It’s the dragon!!! It looks so adorable!!!”

“What’s with those puppy dog eyes!? I want to hug him!”

The children went crazy over the endearing and fluffy blue dragon, also handmade by Kaika.

Ha! As expected of my skills.

This dragon is my best work, if I do say so myself.

Now the show really begins!

Arashi, or rather, the dragon, moved gingerly towards the prince, blocking the path to the princess.

“…G-Ga-Gao~” said Arashi.

Several young girls in the audience spouted nosebleeds. Even Kaika, who was watching from backstage, used up all her willpower to resist embracing Arashi’s dragon.

And then the dragon tripped and fell over.

Everyone from the audience unconsciously stood up, as if wanting to catch and support the delicate and unsteady creature.

The mishap had actually been caused by Arashi bumping into Kaika backstage as she was moving  the dragon closer to the prince. That tiny accident had captured the hearts of everyone watching.

It’s the opposite of the frightening impression I wanted to give, but I guess this still counts as a success.

Having gone this far, she could only go forward.

The prince brandished his dual swords and approached the dragon. “You shall pay for abducting the princess. In the name of fairness, face the wrath of my blades!”

The prince proceeded to smack the dragon repeatedly with his twin swords. The dragon just stood in place and took the one-sided beating. An awkward silence gradually enveloped the entire courtyard.

“This… this is wrong,” said a rugged-looking boy.

“That prince is going too far.”

“He’s crazy.”

“As expected of a bald guy.”

“Stop bullying Mr. Dragon!” screamed one of the youngest children in the group, tears flowing down her cheeks.

The children began rooting for the dragon.

“You can do it, Storm Wing!”

“Beat that arrogant prince!”

“Use your Frost Breath!”

What!?

Who the hell is “Storm Wing!?”

And if you can speak that much English, say “sheath” properly too!

Kaika was shocked by the audience’s negative reaction to the original plot. Cornered, she decided to adlib and change the story’s direction.

The princess climbed down from the mountain and defended the dragon. “Please stop, Prince Hage A! I was not abducted by the dragon! I met him near the outskirts of the palace. He was injured, so I nursed him back to health.” The princess embraced the dragon. “It was then that I… that I fell in love with him!”

“Whoa!!” shouted the children simultaneously.

A girl in glasses did a fist pump and said, “Here comes the love triangle!”

The prince stepped back upon hearing the shocking revelation. “What!? How can that be!? What will happen to my plans of taking over the kingdom after marrying the princess!?”

The children shouted in unison, “Let it go!”

“No, I will not! I shall slay the dragon and take the princess as my wife, even if by force!” said the prince.

Kaika kicked Arashi to get her attention. Arashi looked at her employer and tilted her head.

“We’re going to adlib the rest of the show,” whispered Kaika. “Just move the dragon while reacting to the other characters. You don’t have to say anything, well, except that… that cute roar.”

Her eyes wide open, Arashi shook her head with uncharacteristic vitality. Kaika interpreted this to mean that she did not know what to do.

“Just put yourself in the dragon’s shoes and act accordingly. I’ll do my best to support you, okay?”

Arashi nodded hesitantly.

“Here we go!”

The prince dashed towards the dragon and swung his blades. In response, Storm Wing took a giant leap backward, lowered its body to the ground…

And slept.

You put too much of yourself into the character!!!

Left with no choice, Kaika took matters into her own hands, literally.

The princess intercepted the prince and kicked his left hand. The prince, surprised by the princess’s battle prowess, could not defend and got one of his swords knocked away. The princess leapt into the air and caught the sword. She landed gracefully, looked at the prince, and stabbed the sword into the ground.

“You shall not pass!”

From then on, an epic clash unfolded between the warrior princess Sheath and the balding evil prince Hage A.

The children thoroughly enjoyed the battle. Everyone cheered for the princess and hurled curses at the prince. It was not the most wholesome show on earth, but the end justified the means. Kaika peeked at the video camera behind her, which captured everything that was happening backstage. She closed her eyes and sighed.

I hope this was good enough.

After defeating the prince, the princess approached the sleeping dragon and said, “You don’t have to worry, Storm Wing. I shall always protect you. You do not have to see the horrors of this cruel world for I shall be your shield. As long as my heart beats, we shall be together in this secluded haven of ice. It is a little cold…” She embraced the dragon’s neck and nuzzled up to his cheek. “But if we stay like this, it is more than warm enough.”

The children all gave a standing ovation.

“So cool!”

“Now that’s one badass princess!”

“She has a shitty name, though.”

“What a great ending!”

Kaika finally relaxed her shoulders.

Whew.

I got worried partway, but all’s well that end’s well.

Then she heard a rumbling noise beside her.

Ouch!

Kaika felt something pinch her left hand, the one controlling Princess Sheath.

The youngest girl in the audience walked forward with unsteady steps and asked, “S-Storm Wing, what are you doing?”

Kaika looked up, and her mouth went agape in terror.

Storm Wing was eating the princess.

Children’s cries permeated the orphanage courtyard.

On a positive note, Kaika learned to feed Arashi thoroughly before sending her off on a mission.

 

***

 

Akane emptied a glass of brandy and left several bills on the bar. She probably overpaid by double but did not care. Money was the least of her concerns due to her unexpected inheritance.

Her world was spinning, and the urge to empty her stomach came and went. She had always been bad with hard liquor. Wine had been her preferred drink, but its taste reminded her of her celebratory toast with Kazuki, strangling her heart with regret. That was why Akane had decided to reserve her next glass of champagne for celebrating Saionji’s death.

Akane staggered to the bar exit, but the bartender called out to her before she could leave.

“Are you driving? Want a cup of coffee to sober up?”

She appreciated the offer, but coffee was another beverage she had given up, permanently in this case. Just the smell of it brewing caused her to tremble from guilt. Ignoring the bartender’s offer, she pushed open the rickety bar door and climbed up the dusty cement staircase. Her car was only a few paces away.

Whenever she was woken up by nightmares, she drove around alone to clear her head. Unused to needing protection, Akane frequently moved without her newly acquired bodyguards. She always ended up in this bar, a hole in the wall she had found completely by accident months ago. There was nothing special about it except for the scarcity of its patrons, just a few regulars drinking the night away. She appreciated the sparse company. Silence and noise were things she had trouble with ever since she lost Kazuki.

Akane pressed the unlock button on her car key and reached for the car door. A hand covered her mouth from behind. The alcohol in her system prevented panic, and she recalled the moves from her basic self-defense lessons.

How did it go again?

She grabbed the hand blocking her mouth with both hands, twisted it with the aid of her body weight, and then kneed her opponent in the balls. The last step was her own personal addition to the maneuver. The attacker fell to his knees and turtled up as he squirmed in pain.

So weak.

Akane tried to get into the car and escape, but the hooded man grabbed her ankle. She lifted her stiletto heel and prepared to stomp on his head.

“Stop! It’s me! Jin!”

Jin?

The name was familiar. She had overheard Kazuki speaking with him on the phone a couple of times.

“I don’t know anyone named Jin.”

“I worked for your boss, Kazuki Nikaido!”

His reply confirmed her suspicions.

“What do you want?” she asked.

Groaning in pain, Jin supported himself on the wall as he stood up. “I wanted to ask for your help.” He lightly hopped in place a couple of times.

Akane did not understand what that action meant and chose to ignore it. “Assaulting someone from behind isn’t the best way to do that.”

“That’s not my intention. I just didn’t want you to suddenly take off.”

She thought for a moment and concluded that if she had been approached by a random man in a dark alley, she would have escaped into her car and driven away. In fact, it was surprising she had not done so already. Her mild inebriation dulled her sense of danger.

“There’s no reason for me to help you,” said Akane. “Now leave before I call my bodyguards.” She pushed her glasses up with her middle finger and pulled out her mobile terminal from her purse.

“You mean the guards you didn’t bring along? I’ve been watching you for a while now.” Jin snorted. “I thought you wanted revenge for Kazuki’s murder. Was I wrong?”

“…What makes you say that?”

“A rich single woman getting wasted in a dump like this?” He pointed his thumb at the bar entrance. “Wouldn’t make sense otherwise. You loved him, didn’t you?”

The emotion that gripped her heart was not surprise nor anger. It was relief. Jin was the only person who believed she did not kill Kazuki. She had succeeded in getting the cops off her back by doling out large bribes. It helped that no one, excluding herself, really wanted to get justice for Kazuki’s death. However, everyone still suspected her, the one who served him poisoned coffee, of killing her boss.

“What business is it of yours?” she asked.

“I want to offer you a deal. I’ll help you with your revenge, and you help me get someone off my back.”

“I don’t need your help.”

“But you do. I know Kaika Nikaido, Saya Saionji, Ageha Shikimi, and Rin Natsume much more than you do. I was about to take care of them, but your boss suddenly died on me. Did Kazuki leave you out of the loop?”

Akane tried her best to maintain her poker face but failed.

“Looks like he did. Well, I’m sure he had his reasons.”

Jin was right. She wanted revenge but did not even know where to start. If he was indeed the man Kazuki entrusted with the task of dealing with Kaika, he was surely competent.

She narrowed her eyes. “…Let’s say I take you up on that offer. What exactly do you want in return?”

“I want your resources so I can get rid of Ageha Shikimi.”

“Shikimi? Why him?”

“It’s a long story that I can explain in detail later. Basically, I need him dead before he finds me.”

“I have no interest in that man. Right now, I want Saionji dead, that’s all.”

Killing Saionji was her utmost priority. She would never forget what that witch had tricked her into doing.

Jin shook his head. “And you said you don’t need my help? You’re already going about this the wrong way.”

Akane was puzzled, and it showed.

“If you really want revenge, you have to kill Kaika Nikaido first. Nothing would hurt Saionji more than failing to protect her cute little mistress. You should know that better than anyone.”

Akane recalled her despair during Kazuki last moments. A grin naturally spread across her face as she imagined Saionji plunged into the same anguish.

“I’m a lot more useful than you can imagine,” said Jin with a confident smile. “With your money and my intel, you’ll definitely get vengeance.” He handed Akane a slip of paper. “That’s my number. Call me when you’ve made up your mind.”

Jin walked into a dark alley and disappeared. Akane crumpled the piece of paper in her hand and threw it away. It was useless now. She had already memorized the number.

 

***

 

Looks like she took the bait.

While carefully ensuring that he was not being followed, Jin made his way back to his new apartment. He wanted to avoid another surprise visit like the one a few nights ago. If he had not checked his apartment’s video feed using his terminal, he would already be dead. The masked man waiting in his room would have made sure of that.

Jin was desparate. Ageha was hot on his heels, but he had no power to retaliate. He could probably disappear if he wanted to, but his wounded pride and desire for revenge would not allow it. He had the connections but lacked the money to use them. Akane, more specifically her resources, was his last hope. Luckily, she was quite gullible.

Women in love are the easiest marks.

Akane reminded him of Rin. They were both absurdly dedicated when it came to love. Stimulating those powerful feelings made manipulating them a breeze.

Just you wait, Ageha.

Just you wait.

 

 

Next Chapter

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